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Problems In Old Plumbing

November 22nd, 2012 · No Comments

“Any plumbing from the ’60s or older is on its last legs,” A home inspector once said owing to the fact that most of the  piping used pre-1960s was galvanized steel, the bane of old-house plumbing. In fact, if you are looking at a house from that era or earlier, chances are it probably has had so many problems that it’s already undergone substantial re-plumbing.

However, in the event that they have not been fixed beforehand, here are two top plumbing concerns you are likely to find in most old houses.

Old plumbing problem no. 1: galvanized pipes

For a quick test of an old house, turn on the hot water. If the pressure is low, the house most likely has galvanized pipes that have corroded and plugged up. The hot-water pipes are the first to go.

The house could have good pressure in the hot-water lines, nevertheless it still have undetected galvanized-pipe problems. It is in all probability that only the bad pipes were replaced, leaving lots of old galvanized pipes still in the house and either in need or soon-to-be-in need of replacement.

Experts in this field will tell you to change the entire piping system as soon as galvanized piping starts to go bad, but that is costly, and often homeowners go for the more economical, halfway fix by repairing only the pipe that is the immediate problem. Worse, the bad galvanized pipe may have been replaced with more galvanized pipe instead of copper or plastic pipe. This could mean that the problem has just been extended, rather than cured.

It’s hard to consider the entire plumbing picture, since most of the system is behind walls. You could look under the sinks to get some understanding — often, plumbers run new pipes up through the floor under the sink instead of through the wall, he says, so you can see where there is new plumbing.

If the house has enough space for you to crawl, it would be much better to go down and see the real problem first hand.

Anytime copper piping has been attached to galvanized pipes, dielectric coupling is required to stop the corrosion caused by dissimilar metals touching. Unfortunately, these junctions may be hidden inside the walls. If a plumber did the replumbing, the presumption is that it is correct. If it was a do-it-yourself job, the homeowner may not have included the dielectric coupling.

Old plumbing problem no. 2: sewer line

What most people did not know is that plumbing isn’t confined to the house. It starts and ends at the street.

As a rule, all piping on the house side of the meter belongs to the homeowner, and everything on the street side belongs to the water district. The meter should have a dial that shows minute water flow, so that if you turn off all the water inside the house, and the dial still moves, in all probability there is a leak in the system somewhere.

If the house is on a sewer line, the homeowner owns the line from the house to the street, and that line can be worrisome in old houses.

You can probably rent a sewer camera for a half-day if you want to inspect the line yourself, but it really needs a professional to really comprehend the situation.

Sewer lines can be cast iron, clay or plastic. A World War II-era product, Orangeburg, was made of tarpaper, and if you have that in the house, there is no question it needs to be replaced. Old cast-iron pipes corrode, and clay is particularly susceptible to root intrusion. Plastic, which became common in the 1980s, is durable, but can be crushed. Of course, all types of pipe material can give way to an impenetrable plug from grease, tennis balls or diapers.

Old houses, like anything else that have aged, can be notorious for age-related ills. When it comes to plumbing troubles, you can suspect galvanized pipes and bad sewer lines are the source.


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