Imagine that you have found the perfect house: the bedrooms are spacious, the neighborhood is idyllic, and there is just enough room for your family to grow. Unbeknownst to you, however, there is a dark secret that the sellers do not want you knowing about. There is a major plumbing problem with the property, and it is going to cost you a small fortune to fix the problem if you cannot catch it before it literally explodes sewage throughout the house.
Plumbing is always a critical issue for a homeowner, and a homebuyer needs to make certain that the house's plumbing is in order before making the purchase. How can you inspect a home for plumbing issues before making that most critical and costly of investments? Here are a few tips for the prospective homeowner who wants to make certain that they are not going to wind up with a sewage nightmare ruining the home's appeal soon after their purchase by doing an inspection of the plumbing:
Inspection Tips & Tricks:
- First, ask the seller to help you check the plumbing. Most reputable real estate agents and home sellers with help you verify the condition of any aspects of the home you wish to check. If they refuse to provide you access to the home's plumbing system so you can inspect it, that should be your first warning sign that there may be a serious problem.
- Before beginning the actual inspection, make sure to bring a durable, high-quality flashlight, gloves with a strong grip, and wear clothes you wouldn't mind getting dirty or having to replace. Checking faulty pipes can get messy, so be prepared.
- Once you begin your inspection, you should start by locating the house's water meter and check the shut off valve to see if it is functioning properly. For homes operating on a well water system, this valve is normally located under the kitchen sink in the home, but can be elsewhere within the house. Once again, ask the homeowner or real estate agent to help you locate this valve.
After you trigger the shut off valve, try various faucets within the house. If the valve is functioning correctly, the faucets should not dispense water when turned. Turn the valve back on, and check the faucets again to see if the water is flowing.
- Inspect the pipes. Check not only for signs of corrosion or damage, such as worn connections or residue, but also find out what materials the pipes are made of and their diameters.
If the house is older, specifically if it was built before 1986, there may be lead pipes in the home. Lead is a known toxin, and can pollute the house's water supply. If the house does have lead pipes, have an appraisal done for the cost of replacement and see if you cannot have that appraisal value deducted from the cost of the sale.
As for the dimensions of the pipes, make sure that the pipes closer to the water source are at least .75" to 1" in diameter and that pipes throughout the home are at least .5" in diameter. If the pipes are too much smaller than these minimum sizes, it could cause restricted water flow and cause problems further down the line.
- Check the hot water heater. Inspect it for capacity, age, location, and condition. Ideally, the water heater's tank should have a capacity of forty gallons for the average family of four. If you can, inspect the tank for mineral deposits and buildup, as these can settle in the bottom of the tank and leave less room for water, in addition to contaminating the home's hot water supply. If the connectors are overly corroded, you may want to ask the seller to replace the water heater before you make the purchase.
- Verify the waste disposal system. Does waste water go to a municipal disposal system or does the home have a septic tank? If the home uses a septic tank, check to see where it is on the property, what its capacity is, and where the connecting lines are located. Ask the seller when the last service was performed on the tank, if it has been recently repaired or emptied. Check the soil near the septic tank's location for signs of seepage or strong odor. If there is an excess of water or foul odor near the septic tank, that is an indicator of a problem with the tank that needs immediate fixing. The replacement or repair of a septic tank can run into the thousands, so it is imperative that any and all issues with the septic tank are resolved before the sale is closed.
- If you live in an area that is expected to experience severe weather within the next few years, make sure the plumbing system is equipped to handle the expected weather conditions. For example, if you are buying a home located in a state such as Maryland or New York, you can expect to have your home be exposed not only the mild weather of spring and fall, but extreme heat in the summer and extreme cold in the winter. When checking for winterized pipes, check if the pipes have been wrapped and that if the house uses well water, the well is protected or insulated from the cold.
- Check and operate every water dispensing system in the home. Flush all of the toilets, run all of the faucets. After you have finished running each system, see if the faucets drip or if the pipes underneath the sinks are leaking. All toilets should completely empty and then refill. The showers should maintain a specific temperature and flow even when other water systems are in use elsewhere in the house.
By identifying and addressing any and all plumbing issues before completing a home purchase, you can save yourself from having to spend thousands of dollars fixing problems that should not be present in a home that is for sale anyways. Save yourself from the headache of leaky pipes and water damage by getting the seller to do preventative maintenance before the sale is complete. If you find that you are unable to inspect the house yourself, it is worthwhile to have a friend or a professional appraiser do the inspection for you.
Remember, buying a home is an enormous expense and investment of both time and money, make sure your investment is worthwhile before committing your resources to the purchase.