The plumbing system's function is to bring safe, potable (drinking) water into the home while removing waste water without contaminating the safe water supply. Although it may sound simple, the plumbing system is more complicated than a homebuyer might expect.
Most people assume when they turn on the water faucet, safe water will come out and the water that exits the drain will disappear. While that is true most of the time, it is not always the case. The most common signs of a plumbing problem are when water backs up in the sink, shower or toilet, or the smell of sewer gas in the house. That certainly is cause for concern, but homeowners should be aware of other tell-tale signs of problems that an ASHI inspector may detect during an inspection.
Basics of the Plumbing System
The supply of water typically flows through copper pipes, steel pipes or plastic tubing. The drains usually are made from the same materials, as well as cast iron. Older homes may have lead pipe still in use. The health hazards of lead pipe in our water supply is a concern. An ASHI inspector will identify all the visible piping material types during the inspection.
Another important part of the plumbing system is the vent piping. Vent piping allows air into the system so drains flow easily. For example, if a gallon of water is turned upside down, a "glub, glub, glub" sound will be heard. If a hole is poked in the other end, the water will flow smoothly. That is why air is needed to flow behind the water in the drain. The vent pipe also allows sewer gas out of the system. Homeowners may notice an odor in a bathroom that is rarely used or in the basement. Often, that odor is a sewer gas smell that all plumbing systems produce but are supposed to vent outside. The problem could be that the trap in the bathtub or a basement floor drain that has dried out and the sewer gas is seeping out. Water can be poured into the drain to refill the trap. It is also possible that there is a damaged pipe behind a wall or in the attic. That can be a costly repair that would require a plumber to fix.
During a home inspection, the following systems should be inspected:
- Water supply and distribution systems, including fixtures of the house such as sinks, toilets, showers and tubs
- Interior drain, waste and vent systems
- Water heating equipment
- Fuel storage and fuel distribution systems
- Sewage ejectors, sump pumps and related piping
The inspector also will describe the materials the visible interior supply, drain waste and vent piping systems are made from. In addition, inspectors will describe the water heating equipment (such as the water heater) and its energy source. And importantly, the location of the main water and fuel shut off valves are noted.
Plumbing Maintenance Tips
Following are some useful tips homeowners can follow to keep their plumbing systems operating efficiently.
- Don't dispose of any products besides toilet paper in the toilet.
- Be sure to occasionally run water in fixtures (tubs, sinks, showers, floor drains, etc.).
- Watch for signs of leaks under the sinks.
- Don't pour grease, fat, coffee grounds or other food products down the drain.
- Flush the garbage disposal and bathroom sinks monthly by adding one pot of hot water, then a half cup of baking soda followed by one cup of vinegar.
- Drain a gallon or two of water from the bottom of your water heater every month to prevent sediment build up.
- Check the sump pump once a month to make sure it's working. There are two basic types of sump pumps. One type has a float that can be lifted up to activate the pump. The other type has a pressure switch that the homeowner can activate by sucking on a little tube at the plug. In addition, YouTube offers videos that demonstrate how to check a sump pump.
Plumbing systems are designed to last for years if properly maintained. But even with proper maintenance, parts of the system eventually will wear out and need to be replaced. It is important to use an ASHI inspector who is trained to report on the existing condition of a home's plumbing system.
Schedule a Home Inspection
Periodic inspection of the entire home is recommended every few years. Find an ASHI home inspector in your area to schedule a home inspection and improve your home maintenance.