Plumbing Questions to Ask During a Home Inspection

So, You Going to Purchase a New Home…

Okay, you just made one of the biggest, most important decisions in your life. You’re buying a home. It’s your picture-perfect home, in your picture-perfect neighborhood, close to everything you have on your wish list. You’ve done practically everything except finalize the deal.

Wait just a darn minute! You’re buying a home, not a blender.

If you find out there’s something wrong with it, you can’t simply make a trip to the return department at Macy’s. Buying a home is a considerable investment and needs to be treated as such. So, before you finalize anything, your “picture-perfect” home needs to be formally inspected, lest you find yourself throwing your hard-earned dough into a money pit. (We invite you to watch the Tom Hanks’ movie, The Money Pit. It’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you’ll get the point.)
Many first-time home buyers don’t realize that it’s their responsibility to hire a home inspector. Make sure you make an offer conditional upon inspection or get one done before you make a bid.

A home inspection is a professional visual exam of the home’s roof, HVAC and electrical systems, foundation and, of course, the plumbing. A home inspection helps discover potential expenses above and beyond the agreed upon sale price, which puts you, the homebuyer, in a position for negotiation. If issues are found, you, the buyer, can stipulate that the seller either repair them before closing or agrees to help cover the costs.

Perhaps even more importantly, a home inspection buys you peace of mind. After all, you’re considering purchasing something that’s going to cost you thousands of dollars, and your inspector could uncover a major flaw that can’t be seen with the naked eye (like evidence of plumbing leaks). You may even decide to walk away from a property that could cost you thousands of dollars in repairs beyond the purchase price.

When do I request a home inspector? The best time to consult an inspector is right after you’ve made an offer on your new house or building. The real estate contract usually allows for a grace period to inspect it. Ask your real estate agent to include this inspection clause in the contract, making your purchase obligation contingent upon the findings of a professional inspection.

Should you attend the inspection? Absolutely, positively! As the homebuyer, you have the unequivocal right to go through the home with the inspector and take your own notes on the home’s condition. You can ask questions and share information about things the seller might have disclosed.
One of the more common issues found by a home inspector is plumbing. In this blog, we are going to take a couple of minutes and discuss the more everyday plumbing problems you might encounter as well as the questions to ask regarding the home’s plumbing system during an inspection.

Moisture and Leaks

Moisture and leaks are by far the most common plumbing issue an inspector could find during home inspections. Leaks can pop up in plenty of places around the home, causing costly problems, not to mention the health risks.

Hidden leaks increase your water bill and can eventually damage your home. The problem is you typically don’t know where the leaks exist until the damage is done. Imagine a water leak in your walls slowly creating more and more damage over time, destroying the drywall or flooring, and eventually creating mildew. Even the smallest leaks can lead to big water damage down the road. A second story bathroom with a tiny leak in the shower can lead to plenty of damage below, given the time.

Discoloration of pipes, rust or general corrosion, especially at the base of behind toilets, and stains on the walls or ceiling can all be signs of leaks.

You may also need to check for old leaks or old water damage. Old watermarks are a sign of earlier problems. Even if a leak was fixed, you’d want to look for symptoms such as rotting floorboards. Check the floor around the toilet. Is it soft or warped? Does the toilet move if you attempt to rock it? The bowl should feel stable and steady with no movement.

How’s That Hot Water Heater?

Though the average water heater lasts about 8 to 12 years, it’s a good idea to have it inspected. The lifespan depends on the water quality, how the heater is being used, maintenance and installation. Faulty water heaters might include bad thermostats, sediment buildups, internal rust, high water pressure, and even the wrong size unit.

Ask your home inspector to check the water pressure as well as the temperature gauges. You need to make sure that these different parts are working correctly so you can avoid permanent damage to your water heater or burning out your system altogether.

It’s also not unusual to find water heaters placed in areas where they’re out of sight yet could cause a lot of damage if they leak, including utility closets, or a garage that abuts a finished living space. When a water heater is installed where it’s likely to cause property damage due to a leak, you might want to consider a replacement as a preventative measure before it’s too late.

Another thing. Make sure the heater will provide hot water for your whole family, so size is a priority. A family of four should have at least a 40-gallon tank.

Bottom line, If the water heater appears old, chances are good that it will soon fail. You can request that the owners install a new heater as part of the purchase agreement. If that isn’t possible, start shopping for a new unit. Rebates are usually available for energy-efficient models. Ask the pros at J&A South Park about rebates and installation.

It’s a Fact: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was the first area of the country to have water heaters. After Norwegian mechanical engineer Edwin Ruud created the first tank water heater, he brought the idea to the U.S.

Do You Know What Type Piping Is in Your New Home?

Galvanized pipes: If the home you are planning to purchase was built before the 1960s, it might have galvanized pipes, which are lead pipes covered with a protective layer of zinc. The problem is, however that the zinc erodes over time. Galvanized pipes that have had lead service lines run the risk of releasing lead into your water supply. According to the EPA, consuming excessive amounts of lead places adults at higher risk of cardiovascular issues decreased kidney function and reproductive problems.

PE and PB pipes: Some pipes are meant to be strictly utilized for specific purposes, while others are illegal for home use altogether. For example, polyethylene (PE) pipes are only allowed for home use pertaining to water pressure tanks and main water turn-off valves, while polybutylene (PB) pipes are banned for household use throughout the U.S. as of August 2010. The plumbing industry concluded that PB pipes deteriorate with exposure to chlorine in the drinking water. That’s right; someone developed a water supply pipe that can be destroyed by chlorine!

Bottom line: Make sure the inspector identifies what type of piping is in your prospective new home.

Don’t get distracted easily by the smell of a fresh coat of paint in a potential new home. Try to pick out any foul odor emanating from the plumbing system. The scent is often distinct and unbearable. Any foul smell could be a telltale sign that the piping is damaged and needs repair.

Don’t Forget What You Can’t See!

Okay, your home inspection is complete, and all is well. Or is it? There are some things on a typical home inspection that cannot be seen by the naked eye, perhaps no more important than the main sewer line.

Sewer lines can be damaged due to cracking, pipe shifting, and tree roots invading the pipe, to name the most common issues. Repairing a damaged sewer line could become one of the more pricey repairs you will ever make to your property. It’s good to know what your risks are with this before you purchase the home. The internet is filled with horror stories of people who did not perform an inspection of the sewer line on the property they were buying.

Did you know that traditional sewer replacement is comparable in cost to a new roof? In addition to that cost is the price to pour back the concrete slab after trenching through your house, to replace tile, to repair drywall and to make repairs to your yard and the city-owned street/sidewalk.

Unfortunately, a typical home inspection will not include the necessary video inspection of the sewer lines. Many home buyers are on a budget when purchasing a new home and don’t have the funds to complete all the necessary inspections, but sewer line pipe scopes can save you thousands of dollars in major repairs that go unseen during the routine visual inspection. Costing roughly $200 to $300 depending on the area, it is well worth the cost of a sewer inspection during your home inspection.

Contact the team at J&A South Park for a quote on a video inspection of your new home’s sewer line.

A live badger – plumbers in Scotland found the poor little guy during a routine drain inspection. The good news is he was rescued and made a full recovery.

But I Have a Septic Tank

If your new home is equipped with a septic tank, find out where it’s located and when it was last emptied and serviced. Soft or wet ground or odor surrounding the septic tank is evidence of a septic problem and should be addressed and resolved before signing any contracts.

Tip: The majority of the waste clearing process happens in the drain field.  If your septic tank is fine, but the drain field isn’t working correctly, you could still be paying out thousands of dollars in a new drain field sooner rather than later.  It is equally important to get the drain field inspected.

Exactly Where Is Your New Home Located?

Proper grading and drainage are critical. The grading of your new home should slope away from the property to ensure proper draining. Water pooling near or under a home’s foundation can be a bad sign and could lead to basement floods or rot and structural damage. If you notice this during a home inspection, you might want to have a plumber come and look at it as soon as possible.

Health of Plumbing System – Bottom Line

Buying a home is a huge investment but knowing if you have any plumbing issues such as galvanized water pipes, a deteriorating water heater or an inferior piping system can be handy when negotiating the final purchase of the home. There are so many different types of piping systems and conditions that it’s probably a good idea to get a whole house plumbing inspection in addition to a sewer camera inspection. Plan to be there with the plumber and ask plenty of questions such as, “What would you do if you were buying this house?” Spending a little bit of extra money and time on a plumbing inspection and minor maintenance can go a long way towards knowing what you’re about to purchase or whether it’s even worth buying at all.

For complete information on a plumbing inspection prior to completing the purchase of a new home or building, contact J&A South Park at (412) 835-1010.