Who doesn’t love the look and feel of a stately older home? That charm can come at a cost, especially when it comes to plumbing. Should one steer clear of buying an older home? Not at all, but you need to be aware of some potential risks, how to spot them, and what to do should any of these issues arise. All of the problems we’ll be discussing here have been encountered by me personally over 25 years of property management.
1. Galvanized pipes:
These were really common in Canada and the US in pre-1960s construction. Galvanized pipes are just iron pipes that have a zinc coating. The zinc coating will erode over time which exposes the iron which leads to rust and a weakening of the pipes (which can and will lead to failure). Once the pipe is damaged there is no turning back, the only solution is to replace the damaged pipe – whenever I encounter this in a home I advise repiping the entire house as in my experience if you find one damaged section there are undoubtedly others.
2. Poly B piping (or polybutylene pipes):
The bane of homeowners everywhere and every plumber’s nightmare. While you don’t see anybody using this type of piping anymore it was popular for about 20 years starting in the early 70s. Early on poly pipes were adopted quickly as they were easy to work with and cheap – so homebuilders took advantage and the use of poly exploded. Unfortunately, that’s not the only explosive thing about them, the failure rate of these pipes and the damage caused is astronomical. If I ever see poly b pipes in a property I advise the homeowner to replace them immediately before they have a major insurance claim on their hands – it really is a matter of when it’s going to fail. Re-piping is the only option.
3. DIY Repairs:
Let’s face it, hiring a professional plumber near me can be expensive. That’s why so many homeowners try to tackle jobs themselves, and while there’s nothing wrong with a handy homeowner tackling a routine plumbing job we have often seen the results of an amateur biting off more than they could chew (and hiding the results under a sink or inside a wall). Be on the lookout for previous bad repairs – one has to do a visual inspection of all critical systems to be able to see what’s going on – usually, it’s pretty obvious.
4. Pipe Bellies:
Ever heard of the Pipe Bellies term? This one is a little less known, but a pretty serious one worth mentioning. If you’ve ever been in the basement of an old house you’ve probably noticed how things aren’t exactly level? Over time the home will settle, foundations will shift, and contours will form. The earth under our homes isn’t static and a certain amount of shifting is to be expected. Where it becomes a problem is when this shifting causes pipes to bend and buckle. These buckles are what are known as bellies. And while we’ve seen pipes with a “belly” last for years, in some cases this can compromise the water flow and create backups. This one can be costly if you need to work within the foundation.
5. Old Worn Out Fixtures:
While antiques have their charm, when it comes to plumbing fixtures old is not necessarily a good thing, Original fixtures like faucets, valves, spigots, hose bibs, and handles are often held on by a thread in an old house. One of the things that happen with old fixtures is slow leaks, and eventually outright failure. You’ll notice when these things start to go it often feels like they go at the same time. A good idea when buying an old home is to thoroughly inspect the fixtures and consider replacing them en masse.