Tips: Check plumbing carefully before purchasing a home

While most home buyers cite location, price and school system as their primary considerations, prospective purchasers should be aware of potentially costly plumbing problems, which often surface after a family has settled into a new home. A recent study found that as many as 44 percent of consumers call a plumber within a year of purchasing a home.

The average home plumbing system represents approximately 8 percent of a home's value, so the plumbing in a $200,000 home is valued at $16,000. To help avoid costly problems, the experts at Roto-Rooter, North America's largest provider of plumbing and drain cleaning services, recommend watching for telltale clues when shopping for a home:

  • Straddle toilets and rock back and forth on each foot. If the floor feels spongy, it probably has water damage.
  • Slow flushing toilets may indicate water pressure problems or partially clogged pipes.
  • Press on the walls where tiles meet the tub. If they're soft or loose, water damage has occurred behind the tiles.
  • Turn on the water in the bathtub then the kitchen sink. If there is a noticeable reduction in volume, pipes may be partially clogged by mineral build-up.
  • Check pipes in basements and crawl spaces for rot, mildew or signs of leaks and recent repairs.
  • Make sure the house has an accessible main sewer "cleanout" port.
  • Water heaters over 15 years old should be replaced. The first four digits of the heater's serial number represent the month and year of manufacture).
  • Make sure the gas water heater vent is a "class B chimney" or at least 6 inches away from wood.
  • Make sure water appliance hoses have a good seal and aren't cracked or worn.
  • Check for water damage inside cabinets beneath sinks. Turn water supply valves on and off to test for leaks.
  • Marshy spots or areas of especially green grass in the front yard indicate possible breaks in water or sewer pipes.
  • A 1000-gallon septic tank for a household of four should be pumped at least every five years.

This article originally appeared in the 05/01/2005 issue of Environmental Protection.

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