I’ve had many plumbing customers tell me there should be a class for new home buyers before purchasing a home. Unfortunately, they say this after signing on the dotted line. “But my home inspector was my friends uncle!” There are many very good home inspectors. But they only work for you once every 7-10 years statistically. They work for real estate agents every day. A conflict of interest can arise for some of them. Because I try to see my business as a holistic plumbing company I try to inspect all homes I enter if time permits. If I can’t help I’ll try to refer another contractor, in my trade or otherwise, that I find to be ethical. But for now lets discuss 6 common plumbing inspection issues for new home buyers I often find.
The first thing I look at when I walk to a customers front door is the exterior home grading, landscaping, gutters and downspouts. I know this doesn’t sound like plumbing but it is. Foundation ground water problems can cause a lot of problems. And foundation repairs seem to cost $20,000 and up. Most of these problems can be fixed with some landscaping, gutter repairs and maybe concrete mudjacking. Some problems that can arise due to poor grading are:
- Cracked and settling concrete walks, stoops & driveways.
- Foundation cracks and heaving walls.
- Water & sewer service breaks.
- Flooding basements.
- Lawn, tree & landscaping damage.
If you’re ever concerned about drainage at a new home purchase try placing a garden hose in the trouble spots against the exterior foundation and turn the water on. Letting the water run for a while you’ll be able to see where the water flows during a heavy rain. It should always flow away from the house at every point around the exterior foundation.
If the home has a sump pump the discharge piping should extend to the ground and at least 3 feet away from the house above ground. If it’s underground the pipe should be at least 3 inch pipe. This is due to freezing water in the pipe possibly plugging the line during a quick thaw and burning up a sump pump motor. I prefer it to be rigid pipe instead of black corregated pipe. It’s less likely to collapse.
And every home that has a sump pump should have a clean sump pump pit free of rocks, mud & construction debris. You should always have a back up sump pump system. Because all pumps fail. It isn’t worth gambling thousands of dollars in water damage and future insurance premium hikes.
Burst Wall Hydrants (Spigots)
Many homes being sold have damage from the previous home owners neglect or forgetfulness. If a garden hose connection, or hydrant, is left on during the winter it has likely frozen. If it’s frozen it’s likely cracked. This problem is elusive. The leak will only show itself if you’re outside and turn the hydrant on. The water leak will be inside your basement wall or ceiling. Most new home buyers don’t discover this problem until long after they’ve purchased the home and after running the hose for a long time and flooding their basement.
A wall hydrant is designed to stop the flow of water from inside the house. It then drains itself so that no water can come in contact with freezing temperatures. If a hose is left attached the hydrant won’t drain itself. It will freeze. When water freezes it builds pressures up to and exceeding 100,000 psi if allowed. A capped hydrant with a wye splitter will plug it in the same way.
If the home has an unfinished basement you can usually find the hydrant inside the basement. If so, simply run your hand over the faucet housing and feel for cracks or bulges. Even then I’d probably have someone turn on the faucet while you watched from the inside. Sometimes the crack is too well hidden. If the home has a finished basement you can cap the hydrant outside by putting a hose on it with a triggered attachement and turn the water on. With no water flowing out of the attachment you shouldn’t hear flowing water. If you do it’s burst.
The sewer is such an expensive replacement that I always recommend having it camera’d by a professional prior to purchasing a home. The average cost to replace a sewer is $5,000 – $10,000. Why not spend $200 for an inspection. I say replacement rather than repair because it’s incredibly irresponsible to try and patch a broken sewer. There’s so much pressure at those depths underground that removing dirt in one spot will create pressure changes throughout the length of the sewer. Once a “sewer repair” is covered up the dirt will shift and break the sewer in other spots.
Some superficial signs of sewer problems are:
- A settled line in the yard from the house to the street
- A large tree above the sewerpoint
- A sewer clean out plug thats been replaced or obviously removed at some
- Spots on the female threads of the clean out that have been rubbed off.
- White flakes of paper stuck to the floor near the floor drain or sewer clean out.
Excessive Water Pressure
Too much water pressure is considered a good thing by those that don’t know. “I have great pressure in the shower.” I hear it often. But it’s not a customers job to know that any water pressure that exceeds 80 psi will prematurely wear out a plumbing pipe system, plumbing fixture and plumbing appliance. You can purchase a $15 water pressure gauge at a home store and check the water pressure at an exterior hydrant. Simply thread it onto the hydrant, confirm no water is being used, and turn on the hydrant.
Some signs of excessive water pressure are:
- Past leaks at the water heater pressure relief valve drain pipe
- Noisy pipes when water is turned on
- Multiple drippy faucets
- Refrigerator icemaker or water dispenser breaks
- Washing machine solenoid valve breaks
- Dishwasher problems
- Toilet makes excessive noise when filling with water
- Banging pipes during water flow
- An old water pressure regulating
Water pressure regulating valves are installed just above the entrance valve. The entrance valve is the water shut off for the whole house located where the water service first enters the house.The water pressure regulating valve is a bell shaped valve with a bolt at it’s apex. If it’s old or plastic you probably have issues. They need replacing about every 10 – 15 years. This is the single best investment you could make into your home plumbing system. It will prevent many future plumbing issues.
A cold shower is a motivating moment. I’ve never been man enough to try one. But I’m told. When inspecting homes this plumbing appliance is critical. It’s an expensive replacement cost. I don’t want that for my customers. It’s also one of the first places a home seller will try to save money by either disguising the age of the hot water heater or replacing it with a cheap one
Some signs of needed hot water heater replacements or repairs are:
- Burn marks around exhaust piping at top of water heater
- Burn marks around the outside of the burner chamber
- Electrical ground burns
- Moisture anywhere on or near the water heater
- Inconsistent water temperature
- Rust on the water heater
- Rust in the hot water
- The brand Whirlpool
The life span of a water heater is generally 12 – 15 years. To find the age of the hot water heater find the manufactured date. If there isn’t one look up the brand online and determine the age using the water heater serial number. It will tell you how to determine the age. The replacement cost of a water heater is between $1,300 – $1,800 on average.
A smelly house is a concern. Different smells can mean different things. Anything from gas leaks, methane from the sewer, mold and mildew or just plain filth. Some are common sense stuff that your average home buyers will figure out. Earthy smells can mean mold and mildew. Onion odors can imply gas leaks. The most common of these is definitely sewer odors. The following is a list of plumbing issues that could cause sewer odors:
- Dry p-traps in plumbing fixtures (floor drains, sinks, showers, toilets)
- Missing clean out plug in the floor drain
- Cracked vent pipes
- A dry toilet wax seal
- An improperly terminated or abandoned drain
Clean out plugs can easily be replaced. Just as a toilet wax ring can be. A dry p-trap can have water poured into it. But a cracked pipe or improperly terminated or abandoned drain should be addressed by a professional.
Always Call A Plumbing Professional
Buying a home can be a stressful time. Don’t get caught up in the excitement and make concessions you’ll regret. If you find yourself doubting your home inspector call the professional plumbers at Advocate Master Plumbing. We’re a family owned and operated local plumbing business with a holistic approach to serving our neighbors. We offer free general plumbing inspections with all paid plumbing service calls.