The housing market is booming. For new home buyers, the pressure is on to find and grab the right property. Meanwhile, the median home price in the Dallas / Fort Worth metroplex is up 21.7%. Families about to make such a huge investment can’t afford unexpected plumbing disasters after move-in. Follow these pre-purchase strategies to spot possible problems and get them addressed before closing.
Look for visible signs of water damage.
If water is getting where it shouldn’t, it will eat away at the home and even cause health issues. Look for dark patches on walls. If you touch a dark spot and it’s soft and mushy, the leak is most likely active. And don’t forget to look up. Sometimes leaky pipes are overhead.
Peeling paint, black mold and soft spots in walls or floors around bathroom or kitchen fixtures can also indicate unwanted water. In fact, if you sense squishy areas on floors in any room, it could be caused by deterioration of the flooring from water.
Look at any visible pipes for discoloration, especially around joints and unions. That color-change might indicate a very slow leak which could grow out of control quickly.
Check the water meter.
First, turn off all appliances that draw water and watch the water meter. If it’s still running, there’s probably a leak somewhere. If there’s no obvious indications pointing to where that leak might be, call some professionals to help you pinpoint the problem.
Inspect past repairs.
Recent extreme weather may have caused plumbing problems. For example, Texas pipes aren’t generally protected against freezing weather. If repairs were made recently, ensure they’re done right.
Mismatched plumbing parts, for instance, raise a red flag. If you look under a sink and see plastic and metal components patched together, there was likely a recent repair that wasn’t done professionally. Tying together the wrong pipe materials can cause future leaks or complete failure at the connections.
Other tip-offs to poor repairs include plastic or tape wrapped around pipes and boards or ropes holding pipes up.
Test water pressure.
When you’re checking faucets, look for a consistent, healthy water pressure. If pressure is low, you may have leaks or clogs. If the low pressure isn’t caused by leaks or clogs, the pipes may be sized too small for the demand, requiring an eventual upgrade.
Keep your ear to the wall.
Listen carefully for any water noises that can’t be explained. If there are any swishing or dripping sounds when faucets are off, there may be leaks.
When you turn faucets on, however, you should hear only the sounds of rushing water. If you get high-pitched keening or see the faucets shake, air has collected in the pipes and will need to be bled off.
Also, pipes knocking in the walls could indicate they’ve pulled free of fastens or are shaking from inconsistent water pressure. Knocking pipes can severely damage walls and should be addressed quickly.
Also, listen for toilets filling when they haven’t been flushed. It’s common for a toilet flapper to lose its seal or for overflow water to leak into the bowl. These are easy fixes to make, but you should be aware of them because small leaks can add up to big water bills over time.
Sniff out sewage problems.
Fill one or two basins with water and check for any unusual or unpleasant smells, especially on the first floor or a basement, if there is one. Bad smells can mean damaged or clogged sewer lines. A rotten-egg smell may also come from a blocked drain vent that’s keeping sewer gases from releasing to the outside.
Check water color.
While you have the basins filled look for any discoloration in the water. Brownish tints or little rusty particles may point to a bad water heater or corroded pipes.
Watch how water drains.
Once you’ve tested for bad smells and colors, ensure all drains are working smoothly with no backups or clogs. Flush all the toilets and ensure they empty and refill cleanly. Slow drains suggest the pipes are clogging frequently. They may need a professional cleaning.
Corroding pipes also cause frequent clogs and slow drains. This is especially a problem with galvanized steel pipes; you’ll need to replace them eventually.
Test hot water.
Make sure you get hot water from all faucets. Hot water heaters last between 8 and 12 years on average. One nearing the end of its lifespan probably isn’t working optimally. It could be clogged with sediment from hard water or the heating element may be damaged.
Check for common problems in the local area.
In the DFW area, some environmental conditions, such as hard water, can cause plumbing issues. Take time to investigate these typical problems.
1. Hard water
Many areas in Texas have hard water which has high levels of dissolved magnesium and calcium. Hard water is safe to use, but it can cause damage to fixtures and water heaters. Water heaters may fill up with sediment, lowering the efficiency of your heater and shortening its lifespan.
2. Slab leaks
Concrete foundations shift around slightly, especially after heavy North Texas rains, and that movement can lead to pipe damage in the slab. Slab leaks are hard to find, especially if there’s been a lot of rain and the ground is saturated. Listen closely for any unexplained running water and inspect all visible areas around the slab for dampness.
3. Tree Roots
That gorgeous live oak in the front yard may have won your heart but be sure it’s not breaking your sewer line. Tree roots in older neighborhoods can grow into the sewer lines and cause leaks or clogs. Have your inspector look for any sewer line issues with a remote camera which runs down the pipe.
Work with your home inspector.
You don’t have to evaluate a house’s plumbing situation alone. Most home sales involve a home inspector who should help you uncover looming problems for all systems in the house. The American Society of Home Inspectors has some good information about an inspector’s standard of practice and state regulations.
But don’t rely blindly on the inspector. Follow your own instinct. Ask about anything you see as a red flag and bring in expert plumbers if needed.
For new and old homes, if you suspect any plumbing problems, book an appointment with one of our local, licensed plumbing professionals to check it out. There’s never a trip charge!