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Things to Inspect Before Buying a Home

Plumbing is one of the most essential considerations when buying a home, although for most homeowners, it's one of the last things on their minds.Sadly, many people buy homes without looking into the condition of the plumbing system and end up having to pay for costly repairs or replacements. Any home can come with a variety of plumbing issues — many of which aren't immediately noticeable without tests and inspections.

To make this process less stressful, we've compiled a handy list of what to check when buying a home.

Toilets

inspect toilets

One issue homeowners often fail to notice is a leaky toilet base. Such leaks may look negligible early on, but this water will eventually cause the subfloor to rot — and may even make its way in between the finished floor and subfloor. Some homeowners, not knowing how much damage this can cause, attempt to seal the base themselves, which can make the situation even worse.

When examining the toilets, any of the following issues could spell trouble:

  • There is warping or discoloration around the toilet's base. 
  • The floors feel soft at the base or move when you apply weight using your foot. 
  • The toilet bowl rocks or slides when you grasp it on either side. 

If you notice some movement, it could mean one of three things:

  • The seal is bad. 
  • The flange isn't completely secured. 
  • The toilet isn't secured properly to the flange.

Sewer

inspect sewer

While we're on the topic of toilets, we'd like to mention another crucial area to cover during your plumbing inspection: the sewer.

Since sewage-related problems are disgusting, smelly and costly, it's one of the last things you want to deal with after moving into your new house. When looking at the home, ask about its sewage system. If the home has a septic tank, find out where it is, its size, the location of the lines running to it and the most recent service date. Look closely at the area around the tank and try to find any indications of seepage, which include bad odors and standing water. 

You'll also want to inspect the main sewer drain, especially if the house is older, because the drain may have become blocked by tree roots or could be deteriorating due to its old age. Determining the condition of the sewer drain, however, is not easy. You will have to hire a licensed plumber to perform an inspection with a camera. 

Remember, these sewer-related issues require costly repairs. If a professional plumber discovers any of these problems before you close on a home, don't finalize the sale unless the owner fixes it or offers a significant decrease in their asking price.

Pipes

inspect pipes


Plumbing pipes perform a vital service, but due to their location behind walls and under foundations, homeowners usually aren't aware of pipe-related issues until they've caused a lot of damage. Below are some aspects of the piping you should inspect. 
 
  • Pipe size: Low water pressure is an issue we've all dealt with at least once and is commonly a result of undersized pipes. You can determine if the home has sufficient water pressure by inspecting the water pipes' size and then consulting a professional. You can also research it yourself. The size of the pipes leading to the house from the water source should be at least three-quarters of an inch, and pipes going to the faucets should measure at least half an inch. Although very few sellers with undersized pipes will go to the trouble of re-plumbing their homes, inspecting them will at least let you know what you have to work with, and you'll be able to consult a professional on how to deal with the situation.
  • Water pressure: Another way to see if something is wrong with the pipes is by checking the hot water pressure. Homes built before 1980 contain galvanized pipes, which can cause headaches for homeowners. They corrode much faster than PVC pipes, and the hot water pipes tend to be the first ones to go, so inspect the hot water pressure first. Low pressure could mean either the pipes are corroded or are stopped up.
  • Under the sink: Because hot water pipes tend to fail first, some past owners may have already encountered issues with their pipes. Peek under the sinks and see whether they have gotten new pipes. When they are building a new house, contractors install plumbing pipes into the walls. During fixes and upgrades, however, going through walls is much more costly and laborious, so they more often go through floors instead. 
  • Water meter: When water is running in the home, there is a dial on the water meter that displays the water flow. Turn off all of the water in the house, and once you're certain nothing is running, go check the meter. If the dial is moving even slightly, it most likely indicates a leak. Remember, leaks don't necessarily stain floors or walls right away — some are sneakier and you may not even be aware of them until your bathtub comes crashing down from the upstairs bathroom. 
  • Water color: If you're like most people, you like your water clear, and water that's anything but transparent is an obvious sign something has gone wrong. However, discolored water is not always dark brown and sludgy — sometimes it's just a faint brown or yellow, which may be a sign of rusting pipes.

Water Heater

inspect water heater


When inspecting the plumbing of a home, the water heater is something you don't want to overlook, as it can be expensive to repair or replace. Keep the following considerations in mind when checking the water heater. 

1. Location

When buying a new home, find out where the water heater is and see if its placement could lead to any property damage. For instance, if there's a leak, will it ruin a hardwood or carpet floor? Will it damage the drywall? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, consider what steps you can take to prevent damage.

Most water heaters get installed in discreet locations, but could cause serious damage if they leak. These places include utility closets, water heater closets found in mobile homes and garages adjacent to finished living spaces. While water heaters in these locations are often sitting on top of pans with drains, these pans can only contain so much before overflowing. In most cases, homeowners do not discover these leaks until after they've caused significant damage.

2. Condition

Look for any indications of corrosion or buildup on the pipes going to and from the tank. If there is corrosion present on the tank, that means you need to replace it. Also, examine the space around the heater to make sure all the connections are absolutely secure. See if the real estate agent can provide any information regarding the unit, including its most recent service and who performed it.

3. Age

To minimize the chances of a leak, replace old water heaters, especially those installed in locations where they may cause damage. Not all water heaters show their age, which is why should you find out the installation date. Almost all manufacturers can provide a water heater's age if you provide them with the serial and model number. You can also have a plumber inspect it and confirm whether it's functioning properly and is up to code. 

The average lifespan of a water heater is around 10 years, although this varies depending on its installation and maintenance history.

4. Capacity

You can also get the plumber to assess and record the water heater's size and determine whether the unit is big enough for the size of the house. Homes with soaking tubs sometimes have water heaters that are too small for that water volume, often because the previous owner decided to downgrade to a smaller unit because they were no longer using the tub. When considering buying a home, make sure to find out whether the water heater is sufficiently big for the needs of your family. 

By gathering all the above information, you will know whether a replacement will soon be necessary, and will be prepared to budget for the expense.

Showers

inspect showers

Showers are a common source of leaks, so it's a good idea to perform leak tests on them during your plumbing inspection. Here are some methods for inspecting various types of showers. 

1. Metal Showers

To test for leaks with metal showers, run the water. If it leaks, you'll need to replace the shower.

2. Glass Door Showers

To find leaks with glass door showers, point the showerhead at the intersection of the door and wall, then turn on the water. If you don't see any leak after several minutes have passed, the shower has passed the test. If there is a leak, the repair is simple — caulk the inside of the shower where the wall and base intersect.

Although a leaky glass door usually lets only a small amount of water leak on the floor, be sure to correctly caulk the tub or shower base around the floor to avoid causing significant damage to the subfloor.

3. Showers With Tiled Floors

showers with tiled floors

Tiled showers look beautiful, but they're also prone to leaking. As the leaks tend to be minor and slow, however, they often take a while to detect. If the shower has only seen once-per-day use, it is unlikely that the water damage will be visible on the ceiling downstairs, although it could still be occuring.

When inspecting tile floor showers, look for cracks and caulked joints on the floor and patching on the ceiling downstairs. It's also a good idea to fill up the shower with around two inches of water, which a rubber shower dam can help you accomplish. This test is an effective way to discover leaks, and although it takes a while for leaks to appear on the ceiling downstairs, if the shower is leaking, you'll be glad you know about it so you can take proactive steps to repair it.

If it turns out the tiled shower has a leak, you can't fix it by caulking cracked areas — you'll need to tear the tiles out and install a new one completely. 

4. Shower Drains

Some leaks occur when there is a faulty connection between the shower and the drain. You can discover these by closely inspecting the area right below the drain after running the water. If you're inspecting a bathtub, you can fill the tub up to the top so the water pressure is at its highest.

Bathroom Sinks

inspect bathroom sinks

To most, sinks are a familiar source of leaks. To put these fixtures to the test, fill them to the top with water, then allow them to drain. Doing this forces a large amount of water down the drain at once and helps you detect leaks that may otherwise escape your notice. Examine the drain closely during this test. A common location for leaks in sinks is the drain stopper, and fixing it usually only requires you to tighten the nut.

Sinks that are slow to drain often have hair stuck in the drain. If you hear a "glug glug" sound once the water has drained, it means air is getting sucked through the sink's trap, which indicates a venting issue.

Lead

inspect for lead


The water crisis in Flint, Mich., may make you wonder why people ever used lead in plumbing pipes. The answer to this question goes back several millennia to the earliest plumbing systems, where lead was a desirable material because of its ability to withstand pinhole leaks and its malleability, which allowed people to shape it in ways to effectively deliver water. The word "plumbing" originates from the Latin word for "lead," plumbum.

Lead was common in a wide variety of everyday products until 20th-century research revealed the toxicity of the element. While these discoveries led to the plumbing industry discontinuing its use of lead pipes, lead pipes still exist in many older homes today. 

Needless to say, a house with pipes made of leadshould be a deal-breaker for any buyer. That is, of course, unless the seller offers to replace the pipes. If you're an investor looking for houses under market value, you could likely budget to have them replaced, but in most cases, replacing lead pipes is a headache you'll want to avoid. Lead can also be harmful to your health. According to the Centers for Disease Control, even low levels of lead in blood affect IQ and concentration.

There are three places where you can find lead in home plumbing:

  • The service line running between the home and the water main
  • The solder in the plumbing 
  • Faucets and valves made of brass, especially older ones

To determine whether your pipes contain lead, follow these three steps. 

1. Learn About the Service Line

The service line, which is what connects the home's plumbing to the water main, is usually in the basement or, if there is no basement, in the home's lowest point, typically near a corner close to the street. Sometimes, you can also find it at the water meter.

To find out if your service line is lead, you can usually get a good idea by scraping it using a key or screwdriver. If the metal is easy to scratch and becomes a bright silver color, this most likely means it is lead. If you touch a magnet to lead, it will not stick.

The following materials are also common in service lines.

  • Galvanized: Galvanized steel pipes are a dull gray-silver color, and magnets will usually cling to this material. 
  • Copper: Copper pipes are the same color as pennies and other copper materials. 
  • Plastic: Plastic pipes are white, rigid and connected to the water supply with clamps. 

You may want to consider buying an EPA-approved lead testing kit. Although their original intent is to test for lead paint, you can also use these kits on service lines.

Keep in mind, even if the segment of the service line you accessed is lead-free, that doesn't mean the entire line is free of lead. For instance, the part of the line you examined may be a replacement. Also, the service lines running from the curb to the water main may contain lead, so we recommend calling the city to find out if it has any records. Getting the water tested is also a good idea.

2. Learn About Your Home's Plumbing

In 1986, the U.S. made solder containing lead illegal, so knowing the age of the house in the home will help you determine whether its plumbing contains lead. 

Plastic or galvanized steel are other common piping materials. While galvanized steel does not contain lead, older pipes made of galvanized steel can corrode, which may allow lead to gather. 

3. Check the Faucets

Many home faucets and valves contain brass, though they can also be made of steel, ceramic and plastic.

Brass is an alloy made primarily of zinc and copper, but brass faucets and valves made from the late '70s until 2014 may also contain up to 8 percent lead. Manufacturers intentionally added this lead to facilitate the manufacturing process and allow the valves to maintain leak-free connections. 

Starting in 2014, new laws mandated valves and faucets used for drinking water contain no more than .25 percent lead, and elements including silicon, sulfur and bismuth have replaced the lead found in brass. These new alloys are thought to work just as well or even better than the old ones containing lead.

These laws do not apply to faucets and valves not normally used to carry drinking water, including those for toilets and showers.

If You Detect Lead, What Do You Do Next?

As mentioned above, if you determine the piping contains lead, we recommend walking away from the purchase. If the above three tests suggest your piping does not contain lead, we still urge you to perform a water test when buying a house. To do so, call your county health department or drinking water utility and ask how to go about testing the water.

Contact Mr. Rooter Plumbing of Greater Syracuse

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If you're planning to purchase a home, having a professional plumber inspect your home is essential. Plumbing issues are among the most common problems new homeowners face, and they are often difficult to detect from a casual inspection. If you're buying a home in or around Syracuse, N.Y., Mr. Rooter Plumbing is just the service you need. 

We are licensed to perform professional plumbing inspections and strive to provide the best customer service possible by treating you and your home with consideration and respect. If there's an emergency, we will schedule service for you as quickly as possible. Our prices are fair, upfront and flat-rate, meaning you won't have to worry about hidden costs or inflating prices. 

Contact us today to receive a free quote for a whole-house plumbing inspection by calling us at 315-472-1203 or filling out our online form.