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3 Plumbing Problems to Look for When House Hunting

Nick B

When you are touring a home or apartment it can be an overwhelming experience.  Between thinking about where you would put all of your furniture, analyzing the commute from that location, and mentally balancing your budget with the new place in mind, it’s easy to forget something like the plumbing.  That being said, forgetting to check that can be an extremely costly slip of the mind.  Doesn’t matter if you are buying or renting, bad plumbing will cause a headache and a hurting wallet down the road.  Getting an inspector to give the home a look is typically a part of the buying process, but it’s always best to check for yourself.


1) Rogue Water: Water is great, when it’s where it is supposed to be. When water decides to venture out past those boundaries, it becomes a problem.  But unless the realtor doesn’t care at all, they’ll clean up any water before you get there.  There can also be issues that only spring up during certain situations.  So how can you tell?  Give these tips a try.


  • Look Up: In any room you enter, be sure to look at the ceiling. Brown, circular stains are a tell tale sign of water damage from either a bad pipe or roof.  That being said, a clean ceiling doesn’t mean you’re in the clear, a fresh coat of paint or a patch can cover up what was once there.  Ask about how old the roof is and, depending on the situation, check out the pipes for yourself.


  • Take Time For The Toilets: Whether it’s an old wax ring or some other porcelain problem, water can seep its way out where the toilet connects to the floor. Check for moisture, examine the caulk to see if it is in good shape, and step around the floor next to it to see if it is soft.  A soft foor means that the water damage messed up the flooring and that is a big red flag.


  • Snoop Around: Open up cabinets and look in closets with plumbing. Sure, it isn’t the most exciting part of the tour, but these random places may hide leaks and water damage that the people showing the property might not have noticed.


  • Wait For A Rainy Day: This one is a little tougher to pull of depending on your timeframe, but if it is at all possible, visit the home when it’s raining, or right after it has rained. You don’t even need to go into the property, drive by and walk around the property a bit (depending on the situation and how welcoming the people who own the home are with people stopping by).  Look for water pooling next to the home or in other locations around the property.  That’s a sign that there isn’t proper drainage.  Also be sure to look at the drainage of the road, because even though you probably won’t get property damage from that, you’ll have to deal with that and it’s just a general bad sign for the water handling of the area.


2) Check Out That Flow: When touring a home it’s your time to take it for a test drive. Test all the fixtures to be sure they are up to your standards.  Here are a few things to keep in mind when you are looking around.


  • Water Pressure: This one is especially important in the shower, kitchen sink, and outside hose (when there is one), but it’s important to all of your fixtures.  So turn them on, hot and cold, and see what you are working with.  While the realtor probably wouldn’t be cool with you taking a quick shower, stick your hand under and then do the same thing when you get home to compare.


  • Drainage: Let everything run for a moment and be sure the drains can handle a normal workload. It’s easy to just turn them on and off quick without actually checking this.  A slow drain can be a sign of build up, or insufficiently sized pipes.


  • Temperature: See how fast everything heats up or how cold the water comes out for when you want it cool. That’s something you’ll have to deal with every day, so know what you are getting into.  Waiting for the kitchen sink to warm up to do dishes will add up.


  • Flush Power: Give the toilets a quick flush to see how they work. Wait for them to fill back up and pay attention to if the tank seems to be running a long time after.  You know how a properly functioning toilet behaves, just be sure to check.


3) Time Conquers All: Regardless of whether there are no problems at the moment, there will be at some point. Find out the age of a few things around the home so you can figure out generally when to expect issues down the road.  Be sure to learn about these areas.


  • Water Heater: The average lifespan of a water heater is about 10 years.  If the realtor doesn’t know the age of the unit, a professional will be able to figure it out using the serial and model number.  If you don’t want to go through that effort, give the unit a look for yourself if you can.  Look for dampness, corrosion, or other signs of wear and tear.


  • Sewage Systems: Get the details on how the sewage is handled. There are a few methods that could be used and each will come with upkeep and risks.  Depending on what happens, an issue with this could cost a whole lot and just generally be nasty.  Again, a professional will be able to fill in any gaps the realtor may leave.


  • Additions: If anything has been added to the original home, find out where and when. Any plumbing run through there will have been connected to the old system, leading to potential issues if not done correctly.  Speaking of which, the quality of the new section might not be up to snuff with the original.  Don’t assume the new part is better since it is new (which goes against the “Time Conquers All” theme but whatever, it’s important).


  • Everything: Seriously, the more you know, the more informed you will be about the risks you are facing. Everything from the roof to the pipes can cause water issues later on.


So depending on the situation you are in, you may or may not check all of those things, but before you move into somewhere try to get through as much as you can.  If you are renting, you are under far less risk, but if you are buying it’s all on you.  This is one of your biggest investments, so be sure you know what you are getting into.  Water damage can ruin a home.  If you can, have a professional give the property a look to be sure it’s all as it seems.  Oh, not really related to plumbing, but check the foundation for cracks or unevenness.  Most things can be fixed, but a messed up foundation will require a complete tear down.  Thought I would bring that up too.


With these checks you should reduce the amount of issues you face, but eventually something will happen.  When something does happen come to for all of your plumbing, heating, and HVAC needs.  Together we’ll keep your home in good shape.


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One Response to 3 Plumbing Problems to Look for When House Hunting

  1. Thomas Peery says:

    Great Article. I wish that my adult children had read it before purchasing there older homes. You should add Septic Systems to the list. Since I have never had one I gained experience after my son purchased and older home with a thirty year old septic system. Yes they also have a projected life span and it is between twenty and thirty years. His system needs to be replaced. This goes along with the water well and the chemical composition of the water. These are of course more rural issues but they all affect the plumbing questions that one should ask before purchasing that home.
    You should have put the instruction for testing the sewer drains in BOLD. Running everything at once with consecutive flushing of toilets would be a good test. I have heard of many of these homes built in the 1960s with old cast iron systems that were in need of repair when the house was sold. The House Flippers usually do not address this issue.

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