Plumbing challenges in older homes

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Managing the Plumbing Challenges of Older Homes

Before you purchase an older home it is a good idea to understand the common plumbing challenges you may discover. Pipes, sewers and drains can require expensive renovations before they will be reliable. Replacing old water pipes and drains in a 1,500 square foot home with two bathrooms can run between $4,000 and $10,000, depending upon how difficult it is to reach the old plumbing in walls and floors.

Before you buy a home, it is wise to have a professional plumber evaluate the condition of the existing plumbing. You will be charged a fee for this so ask for a price quote before they begin the inspection. If you eventually hire a plumber to do the work, be sure that the renovations will bring the house fully up to code.

Know Your Pipes

Before the early 20th Century, homes routinely used lead pipes which have a life expectancy of about 100 years. While they wear well, they also leach lead into the drinking water, which has serious health consequences. Lead pipes need to be removed wherever they are found.

During the 1960s, galvanized steel lines became popular. They are gray metal pipes and last about 40 years so they are due to be replaced where they are found in the 21st Century. The coating on old galvanized pipes flakes off, and the pipes will rust and become leaky as they age.

Copper pipes began to be routinely used in the 1960s. Although they are very expensive for home plumbing, they are especially durable and reliable for day-to-day use because they are not prone to leaking. These days, copper is especially common for hot water lines although some CPVC (chlorinated polyvinyl chloride) pipes are used for both hot and cold water. Copper pipes more than 20 years old may have been joined with lead-based solders, so it is wise to have the water tested as a precaution. When left unprotected on construction sites, copper plumbing is a common target for thieves because the metal is valuable.

Polybutylene plastic pipes were popular from the 1970s through the 1990s. They are extremely brittle so they often break. Wherever they are found they should be replaced because they waste water and pose health hazards.

Newer plastic pipes that are most commonly used today are widely approved to carry drinking water. They aren’t particularly eco-friendly from the standpoint of production or recycling, but they are less expensive than copper and quite durable. The most common type, PEX pipe (cross-linked polyethylene) is flexible rather than rigid, maintains heat well and is resilient. These are made of a hard plastic that is safe to use, indestructible and will not react to various chemicals so it is not susceptible to corrosion over time.

Regardless of whether you are using plastic or copper for the fittings, installation of pipe insulators is a cheap option but can help you reduce heat loss by 80%. Before you buy a house, a licensed plumber or the city plumbing inspector can advise you about whether the pipes will need to be replaced and what your choices will be.

Sewer Lines and Septic Tanks
The plumbing in your home brings water in and takes waste away. In addition to the deterioration of the pipes, it’s possible that tree roots or significant settling of the house can have strangled ancient sewer lines under basements and in foundations. Before you buy a home, have certified professionals check the foundation and conduits to and from sewer lines or septic systems to prevent expensive future repairs.

Remodeling an Older Home

Remodeling an older home may bring you joy if it’s the design and history that attract you, but of course you will also require modern conveniences. Be aware that there will be many challenges involved. Renovation may require:

  • The replacement or repair of older pipes that are galvanized or made of lead with new copper or CPVC plumbing
  • The replacement or repair of drains and water lines
  • The replacement or repair for vents to roof tops
  • The possible relocation of pipes, drains and vents
  • The cleanout or replacement of sewer lines and drains

Make sure that the estimate you get from the plumbing contractor covers all aspects of the work. It will need to comprehensively list all required materials and labor.

Older homes can be very charming because of their historical associations and adornments but they can also rack up higher renovation costs than you might expect if you aren’t careful. Be sure to look at the stability of all the systems of the house, including the plumbing, before you buy a home, so you will know what to expect in terms of time and money.

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