Plumbing Problems in Old Homes

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Older plumbing in a cinderblock basement being repaired to illustrate plumbing problems in old homes.

Many of Vancouver’s neighborhoods were built at the turn of the 20th century, and the plumbing systems present unique challenges to homeowners. Old pipes and fixtures can cause common plumbing problems in old homes as outdated pipes are composed of materials long abandoned by modern home builders.

Older neighborhoods, such as Officer’s Row, Carter Park and much of West Vancouver often have been dealing with their home plumbing systems for years.

Common Plumbing Problems in Old Homes

There are several reasons for plumbing problems in old homes and, unfortunately, few easy solutions. Here are a few of the most common issues facing owners of older homes:

  • Outdated Materials
  • Tree Roots
  • Pipe Bellies
  • Failing Connections
  • Poor Repairs

Outdated Materials

The most common plumbing problems in old houses usually stem from materials that have outlived their usefulness. Once the standard of indoor plumbing, galvanized steel and cast iron pipes should be replaced at the earliest signs of failure. If you’re buying a home, or are beginning to notice discolored water and other issues, a plumbing inspection is a must.

Galvanized Steel Pipes
Galvanized pipes are usually to blame for failing water pressure. In the 1970s, plumbers stopped building with these materials and switched to copper or plastic (polybutylene) pipes. Galvanized pipes easily corrode and close up. Often, the only long-term solution is repiping everything.

If you’re looking to purchase a home built in the 1960s or earlier, it’s important to know the condition of the piping. Because it’s far more cost-effective to merely replace sections of piping where things have corroded but leave the majority of the galvanized pipes intact, future piping costs may be in the near future. So, just because the water pressure is excellent in the house, doesn’t mean there aren’t galvanized pipes supplying the structure.

Cast Iron Pipes
When utilized as waste piping, cast iron pipes are unfortunately demolished by corrosion, ruining the pipes from within. This is because sulfuric acid can manifest from hydrogen sulfide gas, which is found in abundance in waste piping. This acid corrodes the very material it’s made from and causes significant damage. There are two visible signs of failing pipes:

  • Cracks found at the top of the pipe. As sulfuric acid collects, it causes major damage and can compromise the structure’s integrity.
  • Splotches of rust as large as coins or as small as pinpoints. They’re usually found on the underbelly of cast iron pipes.

Polybutylene Pipes
Once hailed as the piping of the future, polybutylene (plastic) pipes were meant to take over the copper pipe as the most dependable type of pipe for the home 50 years ago. But it didn’t take long for plumbing issues to arise as a chemical reaction with water additives caused it to become brittle, flake away, and eventually break.

Though not widely used outside of mobile homes, these plastic pipes may still be used in older houses built in the 80s and 90s. However, the material has long since been removed from circulation and no longer meets building codes or regulations.

Tree Roots

When sewer line materials begin to break down through general wear and tear, it becomes much easier for tree roots to burrow their way in. Either through small cracks or at junction points, as the roots grow, those small entry points get much larger. This can lead to blockages or even sinkholes in the yard.

Pipe Bellies

Just like older homes, pipes of yore can settle a little bit. This causes a negative slope, where sediment can pool and cause blockages. It also makes it more difficult for water to run its natural course during daily use and may cause pressure issues.

Failing Connections

To keep things watertight, plastic or rubber washers are used where plumbing fixtures meet the supply lines. Over time, they will become brittle and porous and lead to small leaks. As we all know, a small leak in the cabinet can lead to big problems. Luckily, they are relatively easy to replace.

Poor Repairs

As much as we like to see homeowners maintain or take care of their plumbing, wholesale changes should be done by professionals. But in older homes, that wasn’t always the case. Trying to bring two different types of materials together and other stopgap methods may work for a short amount of time, but often doesn’t stand the test of time.

Tips to keep your older home in excellent condition

Pay close attention to the pipes you can see. Look for leaks in basements and crawl spaces if you can access them. General signs of possible corrosion are a metallic taste in the tap water or discoloration in the water that’s either blue/green or rusty color.

Ensure the water pressure is strong. One of the most obvious clues to an old plumbing system in disrepair is low water pressure. If it isn’t up to par and slowing down inexplicably, you could have major corrosion. Contact a professional plumber to inspect your exposed pipes right away.

Find a plumber to take care of common plumbing problems in old homes in Vancouver, WA

Simpson Plumbing has been providing quality service to the greater Vancouver metro area since 1981. Contact us today and speak to an experienced plumber about repairs, installations, or any plumbing questions you have.

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