As a home inspector who provides services throughout Western NY, I encounter lots of plumbing problems. The majority of the big problems are found in houses built before the late 1970s, which is when copper supply plumbing started to become standard in the Buffalo area.What are the most common problems that home inspectors in Buffalo find?
Galvanized piping was used in residential pluming in the Buffalo area from the 1930s up until copper became commonplace in the 1980s. Galvanized pipes can be identified by their shiny appearance that is somewhat similar to aluminum or lead.
Galvanized piping is made of steel, and through a chemical process is coated (or galvanized) in zinc. This zinc coating was meant to prevent the underlying pipe from rusting or corroding.
The coating did prevent rust, but only temporarily. Over time, the zinc coating wears down and the pipes begin to rust from the inside out.
Most commonly, rust on galvanized pipe is first noticed at threaded connections. Unfortunately, there is no cure for this rust. Over time all galvanized pipe will rust through and will require replacement.
On my home inspection reports, I advise my clients of any leaks that I find and suggest that they budget for eventual replacement of any galvanized pipe. I also inform them that it might be more budget-friendly to replace small sections at a time.
Ancient Sewer Drain Lines
Drain lines that connect to the public sewer or septic systems on brand-new houses are typically made of PVC plastic, which is long-lasting and won’t break down or rust.
But, many homes in Western New York built up until the 1990’s use cast iron piping for their sewer lines.
Cast iron pipe usually works perfectly well for decades, and in my experience it takes about 50 years before problems will be significant.
Rust is typically the killer of cast iron pipe. On sections of the pipe on the inside of a house, look for tiny “blobs” of rust that might appear on the pipe. These blobs result from pin-size holes that rust from the inside of the piping, which gradually enlarge until the integrity of the pipe is in question.
Sump Pump Problems
If a house was built without a floor drain in the basement, then a sump pump is almost always required in order to prevent the basement from flooding, causing mold and other damage.
I always test the sump pump during home inspections, simply by lifting the float switch. There are a few items I pay attention to during this test.
- Does the pump remove water from the sump pit?
- Does the water fall back into the pit? If so, the pump is missing a check valve.
- How does the pump sound? If it makes a grinding noise then it may be past its prime and should be replaced.
- Does a wash basin, clothes washer or other plumbing drain into the sump hole? This is a major no-no!
- Is the sump pump plugged into an outlet that is protected by a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI)? This technology is critical for life safety and can prevent death by electrocution!
- If the house has public water service (instead of well water), is the home equipped with a water-powered backup sump pump?
Sump pumps are important for obvious reasons. Make sure that yours is in top shape by checking it’s operation frequently!
Dangerously Hot Water
When I inspect a house, I check to make sure that hot water only is produced from the left knob on a faucet, the far-left position in a shower, or other positions that are considered safe for kids.
Every once in a while I notice that the hot water coming out of a faucet or tap is extremely hot. I am talking steamy hot!
When this happens I pull out my thermal imaging camera and take note of the temperature. I have measured water temperature at over 160 degrees Fahrenheit. This is hot enough to cause 3rd-degree burns in seconds!
If my client is a home buyer, and the home is vacant I typically turn down the water at the water heater. If someone lives there or if I’m performing a pre-listing inspection for the seller, then I either leave a note or I inform them directly of the danger.
It’s generally recommended that water heaters are set to about 120 degrees fareinheit, and no more.