In the grand scheme of things, a dripping faucet or toilet that continues to run long after the tank should stop refilling may be no big deal. But they could slow down the smooth close of a real estate transaction, and that might be a very big deal. Meanwhile plumbing problems themselves can range from annoying to downright catastrophic, so buyers and sellers should pay close attention to any and all comments about the plumbing system that a home inspector may include in the inspection report.
Possible Problems or Red Flags
Because the plumbing system is one of the most significant parts of any home, there are dozens of things that could go wrong or warrant a closer look. Here are some typical examples of issues that are commonly flagged:
Inadequate Water Pressure or Venting
Oftentimes, especially if the original plumbing was not accurately designed, there will be too little water pressure. You may turn on a shower upstairs, for example, while someone else has the kitchen faucets on downstairs, and you won’t get enough water.
Pipes also need proper venting, otherwise flow will be compromised and you may have unsavory and unhealthy odors from clogged sewage vents.
Outdated Pipe Materials
Old –fashioned galvanized steel pipes, used extensively in homes built in the 1960s, can corrode and leak. Meanwhile if copper pipes are jointed to galvanized ones, the two metals do not play well together and can corrode – which often happens in places where you cannot see the joints because they are hidden inside the walls.
Pipes utilize gravity to safely and reliably drain the water that you have used away from the home. But many times pipes are not installed on a steep enough angle or grade to allow this kind of flowing “downstream” and that can cause plumbing to back up in troublesome ways.
Too Little Septic Capacity
Homes that are on a private septic system can also suffer from too many gallons of water draining into an undersized septic system or tank. Even adding a water-using appliance like a dishwasher or an extra toilet in the house can be enough to cause the septic to hit its capacity. This is not part of a standard home inspection, and this inspection should be done by companies that install and/or service septic systems.
Hot Water Tank Problems
Hot water tanks also tend to reach the end of their lifespan and show signs of rust – and the important safety valve installed on the unit could freeze-up with corrosion and stop working. In that case it presents a safety hazard because pressure can build up inside the tank and have no place to go.
Dripping Faucets/Running Toilets
Not only are drips and running toilets aggravating, they can cause you huge water bills each month. So your inspector may note these relatively minor details in the report, but don’t overlook them or minimize them because not addressing them can have expensive consequences over time.
What to Do Next
If your inspector makes any notes regarding issues with the plumbing, the first step is to communicate with them about any questions you may have to make sure you understand why they included those in the report.
Then get competitive bids from at least three qualified plumbers and an itemized list of any necessary or recommended repairs or upgrades. If this is a sales transaction, the buyer and seller should then negotiate regarding who will pay for or perform the repairs, and whether it will be done prior to closing or afterwards.
Once any plumbing issues have been addressed, it is a good idea for the homeowner to have the inspector make a follow-up visit to inspect the work and give the home a seal of approval.