Do you love the charm of an old home? While they are classically beautiful, they can come with some hidden problems associated with when they were built. Plumbing systems in old homes may need to be updated or come with some critical issues needing immediate attention. Some common plumbing problems associated with homes built before the 90’s are pipe material, pipe bellies, failing sewer lines, outdated fixtures, questionable repairs, and drainage issues.
- Pipe Material – Home’s build prior to the 90’s likely (if not updated) have plumbing systems using pipe materials that are no longer approved by US building codes. If large renovation projects have been completed, replacement of old plumbing pipes was likely completed.
Problematic Pipe Material –
- LEAD: This was most commonly used for sewer and main water lines. Due to leads malleability and durability it was believed to be an ideal plumbing material; however, lead is highly toxic. Using such a toxic material in main water lines can cause contamination to drinking water.
- GALVANIZED: Galvanized steel was a popular choice for plumbing pipes in homes built prior to the 60s. Overtime, the zinc within galvanized steel erodes leaving the pipe susceptible to corrosion. Aging galvanized pipes become very brittle overtime.
- POLYBUTYLENE: As a replacement for copper, polybutylene was introduced in the 70s. However, polybutylene, when mixed with the oxidants in public water systems, caused a chemical reaction leading to flaking, cracks, and brittleness.
- Pipe Bellies – Pipes that are installed underneath homes (buried in the ground or within a concrete slab) will be affected by normal gradual movement and shifting of a home overtime. If during this shifting, the pipe shifts downward, this creates a negative slope called a “belly”. This belly restricts the flow of water leading to pooled water. This water backup can collect waste or sediment and unfixed pipe bellies can cause blockages or leaks.
- Sewer Line Failure – A sewer line is one of those home items that is rarely considered until there is a problem. Sewer lines in older homes were often built before modern appliances (meaning they were not built to withstand the power and capacity of new appliances). Sewer lines shifting overtime or being interfered with by tree roots is not uncommon either, and the longer a system is in place, the higher the chances of these plumbing problems occurring.
- Questionable Plumbing Repairs – When dealing with a home that’s 30+ years old, plumbing problems have definitely occurred over the years, and that means so have plumbing repairs. In today’s world full of educated consumers, hiring unreliable contractors and/or DIYing complicated unfamiliar items is much less common than it used to be. This means your 19-20th century home may have undergone some questionable repairs, which could lead to the need for more expensive repairs or headaches for you (the new homeowner) in years to come.
- Drainage Problems/Buildup – Many years of scum, hair, cleaner, etc. buildup can take a toll on older drains. Toilet, kitchen, and bathroom sink drains are the most susceptible to clogs. If you are purchasing an older home, it is best to have the pipes and plumbing inspected prior to move in and/or shortly after moving in to avoid costly problems down the line.
If you are in the market for purchasing a home and are considering an older home, a plumbing system inspection should be an important step in your purchasing process. While most homes that are 30 or more years old have been renovated and/or updated over the years, certain important repairs may have been overlooked or completed incorrectly. When inspecting your new home, make sure to pay particular attention to the areas of the common plumbing problems listed above.