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Common Plumbing Issues in Fixer-Upper Homes

Thursday, June 11, 2015 - 2:20pm

Old homes seem to have a certain charm, and you can usually get them at below-market price. If the idea of an old fixer-upper is appealing to you, there are some things to consider, and one big one is plumbing. Plumbing has changed over the last few decades, and so have materials used in pipes. Even outdoor changes, like tree roots seeking water, can affect vintage plumbing.

Before delving into that buying that new old home, or if you’re already living in one, you need to understand some common problems in order to avoid a potential disaster. Be sure to find the answers to these questions before buying the home and signing on the proverbial dotted line.

  • How old is the electrical wiring? Old wiring can pose a fire hazard, and may need replaced.
  • Does the home have a solid foundation? Fixing a home’s foundation can be very expensive and can lead to a wet basement and other moisture issues.
  • What type of heating system does the home have? You may have to pay to update the heating system. An old heating system can end up costing you more in monthly utility bills.
  • How old is the roof? Repairing or replacing the roof is the most costly repair for older homes.
  • How old is the plumbing? You may need to update all the plumbing in older homes.

You shouldn’t let repair needs prevent you from buying a fixer-upper. Wear and tear of older homes is expected, but if a major repair is necessary right away, this is grounds for negotiating with the seller. The issues listed above are definitely reasons to haggle on price and see if you can bring the price down, so repair costs fit into your home budget.

Old Homes Equal Outdated Materials

The plumbing materials you have in your home depend on its age. Homes build from about 1950 to the present generally have PVC pipes. PVC plumbing pipes are made of hard, white plastic with markings along the side to indicate size and temperature rating.

Homes built in the latter 1990s to the present may have PEX pipes, which are also hard plastic and often blue or red to indicate cold or hot water lines. While all plumbing eventually needs repair or replacement due to daily use and normal wear and tear, old plumbing often contains outdated material. This is why replacing plumbing in old homes may be necessary.

Older homes have pipes made of materials that can corrode over time:

  • Galvanized iron
  • Brass
  • Polybutylene

Galvanized Iron Pipes: These pipes were used in homes more than 50 years ago. These pipes are made of steel and coated with zinc. Over time, the zinc coating erodes, causing deterioration of plumbing pipes inside and out, which leads to a host of other problems, such as:

  • Discolored water
  • Lead in drinking water
  • Clogging due to sediment
  • Low water pressure
  • Sediment left behind in tub or shower
  • Leaky pipes

Brass Pipes: These pipes were also used in homes decades ago. Brass and copper look similar, but brass is not rigid and joined by fittings the same size as the pipe. Like galvanized pipes, brass tends to corrode over time. While brass pipes can last for decades, the life expectancy for these pipes depends on the corrosiveness of the water. Excessive amounts of lime in your home’s water supply can lead to clogged brass pipes.

Polybutylene Pipes: These were commonly used in homes built between 1978 through 1995. This material is inexpensive and easy to work with, but over time, polybutylene becomes brittle. The main problem is that these pipes can fail without warning, causing extensive water damage in your home.

Old Drains, Vents and Valves

The drain, waste and vent systems used in plumbing has evolved just as other plumbing materials have. Depending on the age of your home, it may not have a vent system to aid in waste drainage.

Drain and waste systems in older homes used gravity and venting to encourage proper drainage, but as homes settle over the years, it can affect how well your system works. You may start to notice some problems such as:

  • Sewer odors
  • Drains taking too long to empty

If your home was built before venting was used or it has vents that are too small, it can affect the speed of drainage and make your plumbing prone to a buildup of toxic gases.

If you notice problems with your drainage, replacing your current system with a completely new design will help you not only improve drainage but also reduce your water usage. You can replace it with other, sounder materials:

  • Cast iron drain, waste and vent piping is a good choice. It is approved by most plumbing codes, is fireproof and offers sound insulation.
  • Copper drain, waste and vent piping is approved by most plumbing codes, is lightweight and is easy to work with.
  • Plastic drain, waste and vent piping, like Polyvinyl Chloride, are inexpensive, easy to install and are approved by most plumbing codes.

Older homes with aging plumbing also have old valves. It’s important that shutoff valves and gate valves work properly when needed. When these valves become loose, they allow water to leak, and bad valves mean you can’t shut off water to your home in case of an emergency. They are located in various places around the home:

  • Main shutoff valve cuts off water to the entire home
  • Toilet shutoff valves are located near each toilet in the bathroom
  • Sink shutoff valves are located under all sinks have a separate valve for cold and hot water

If you have a dishwasher and clothes washer, both should have shutoff valves nearby.

You should consider upgrading decades-old valves for newer, quarter-turn ball valves. They don’t depend on a washer or gate to shut water off; instead, they have as stainless steel ball with an on and off position.

Tree Roots in Sewer Systems

As homes age, so do the trees and tree roots growing around the home. Aggressive roots can grow into water and drainage pipes, causing a jumbled mess. These gnarled and tangled roots can cause slow drains and complete blockages.

The problem worsens as debris from your sink and/or toilets get stuck in your pipes. A plumber can use a camera to inspect the pipes, determine the problem and advise you on what repairs are necessary.

The plumber may also advise you to have a tree removed if it the tree is expected to pose ongoing problems with plumbing. Some trees have aggressive root systems that grow toward the moisture in your underground pipes and drains, and will continue to do so unless the tree is moved or removed from the area.

Should You Buy an Older Home?

Older homes are most likely fixer-uppers. Buying an older home can save you money if you take the necessary steps to decide if the home is within your budget, including the cost of repairs and permit that may be necessary.

What Skills Do You Have?

If you are good at do-it-yourself projects, you can most likely handle some small jobs, like hanging wallpaper and painting. Do you have electrical or plumbing skills? Most homebuyers don’t, and that’s where professionals are needed, which means more expensive repair. Decide what your boundaries are when it comes to fixing up the home and start looking for contractors.

Are You Prepared for Anything?

Living in an older home means you must be prepared for anything. Even if you find and take care of repairs found during inspections, other things can go wrong later. Being prepared for issues with the home later is a good idea. Be sure you have emergency funds for potential problems; then you can be ready for future repairs.

How Much Will Repairs Cost?

Hire a contractor to do walk through, but make sure you hire a professional – an electrician to inspect all things electrical and a plumber to inspect all things water-related. Get estimates before you make an offer on the home, so you can include the costs of repairs into your budget.

Home Inspections Should Include a Plumber

A home inspection is part of the process when purchasing a house. A regular inspection includes plumbing as well as other potential problem areas of the home. Someone paid to do an overall home inspect may flush the toilets, turn on the faucets and check the water pressure in the home, but this does not include inspecting old plumbing for potential problems.

Hire a plumber to do the inspection. If you call Mr. Rooter Plumbing of Greater Syracuse, we can schedule an appointment to give your new home a plumbing checkup and diagnosis.

Mr. Rooter Plumbing has licensed plumbers who are certified by Onondaga County for plumbing leak detection or any plumbing-related project. We can offer you other services along with a checkup and diagnosis to ensure properly working plumbing throughout your home:

  • Installation and upgrades
  • System maintenance and cleaning
  • Common plumbing repairs
  • Emergency plumbing services

Mr. Rooter Plumbing offers camera inspection to detect problems quickly. A camera helps us see the cause of leaks, blockages and potential plumbing problems. This includes detecting tree roots that have invaded nearby water lines.

Mr. Rooter Plumbing can provide preventive care by finding sneaky little leaks that can cause big problems, like mold, wood rot and corrosion.

If small leaks are not caught early, the water slowly seeping out can cause structural damage to the home. Leaks often go unnoticed under sink drains and below water heaters. Depending on where the leak is located, it can cause mold growth on sheetrock and plaster. Small leaks can also cause wood surfaces and porous materials in the home to warp or become discolored.

A professional plumbing inspection can find these unnoticed and ongoing problems that damage the home, so you know upfront what other types of repairs may be necessary in addition to plumbing.

Cost of Inspections and Plumbing Work

Before buying an older home, having a professional plumbing inspection and estimate on work needed can help you decide if the home is worth the extra expense.

The cost of a plumbing inspection can vary by contractor, but usually runs between $50 and $150. During the inspection, the plumber checks out your entire plumbing system, including:

  • Pipes
  • Fixtures
  • Water lines
  • Waste systems
  • Vent systems
  • Indoor and outdoor drainage systems

All areas are inspected for current and potential problems.

Depending on problems found during an inspection, you may need to add certain plumbing repairs into the total cost of your new home. You can go by the national averages to get an idea of what the repairs may cost.

A sewer inspection is often more expensive than the typical home inspection. Costs can range from $100 up to $800, according to Cost Helper Home & Garden, and depends on certain factors:

  • If the inspection is done independent from other plumbing work
  • Length of the pipes
  • Average local rates
  • Whether images are sent to a monitor and viewed immediately or sent to a recorder to be viewed at a later time

How Long Do Plumbing Materials Last?

The life expectancy for plumbing materials can vary depending on where it’s located and the type of water a home has; however, there are some guidelines you can go by when choosing materials.

Different Pipe Materials Vary in Life Expectancy

  • Cast iron pipes are long-lived whether above ground or below; they can last up to 60 years.
  • PVC and Acrylonitrile-Butadiene-Styrene (ABS) pipes can last up to 80 years.
  • Copper water lines have a life expectancy of up to 70 years, while plastic water lines can last up to 75 years.

Water Heaters Also Vary

  • Traditional water heaters last up to 12 years
  • On-demand/tankless water heaters last up to 10 years

Other plumbing, like fixtures, showerheads, sinks and other accessories, can last indefinitely with proper care.

At Mr. Rooter Plumbing, we can help you decide which plumbing materials are best for your home based on your needs and budget. Our friendly staff makes every effort to understand and appreciate your needs.

Consider Necessary Permits and Codes

Permits are necessary for certain types of plumbing repairs and projects, which may include:

  • Replacing a water heater
  • Replacing underground plumbing
  • Repairing or replacing pipes inside walls, under floors or ceilings
  • All new plumbing installations
  • Installation of new water service, exterior drains and sewers

The fees required for permits can vary by the size and complexity of the plumbing job. In some cases, fees are also based on the number of fixtures installed or number of feet of pipes for water, rain or sewer drains. Permits are issued by your local building code division. They can be issued to your plumbing contractor or yourself, if you plan to do the work.

Mr. Rooter Plumbing can help you determine if a license is required for your home plumbing job, and we adhere to all local codes. You should always call a professional to do any job that requires building permits and:

  • Installation of new plumbing material
  • To diagnose and fix water heater problems
  • Leaky septic systems
  • Sewer lines breaks and leaks

Never ignore a leak, even a small one. As pipes corrode and become more brittle they can burst, turning a little leak into a big problem. Whether you need an inspection of the plumbing in an older home or you have specific plumbing issues, we can offer you many perks:

  • Guarantee of all our workmanship and parts
  • Upfront pricing
  • Plumbing issues fixed right the first time
  • No charge for overtime
  • Services offered 24/7
  • Scheduled appointment times
  • Holiday appointments at no extra charge

Call Mr. Rooter Plumbing anytime to make an appointment or get help in an emergency situation. Whether you own an older home or plan to buy one, you can count on us to thoroughly inspect the plumbing and advise you on what repairs or replacements are necessary. We can provide an estimate for the cost to replace plumbing in old homes, giving you peace of mind before you take that plunge.

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