When you moved into your home, you were probably taken in by its charm, character and nostalgic value. After all, many older properties were built with unique details and crafted with materials deemed too expensive by modern-day standards. For many of us, a period home that needs TLC is what dreams are made of – not to mention an attractive option as a first-time buyer.
However, behind the fancy veneer, these quirky homes can often hide a range of plumbing problems. While some issues might be a mild pain in the proverbial, others are waiting to surprise us when we least expect it! As attractive as these old-school homes are, homeowners, landlords and tenants would be wise to keep potential plumbing issues that can come with old houses in mind.
To help you along the way here are five of the most common plumbing problems in older homes – and how to fix them!
1. Old pipe materials
If your home is over 30 years old, then there’s a good chance it was made with outdated piping materials. The three most common forms of old-fashioned plumbing pipes are lead, galvanised steel, and polybutylene.
A form of dated pipework to be most cautious of is lead, which was first controlled in the 1920s before being banned in 1986. Lead was most often used for sewer and water main lines and is one of the oldest metals used in piping. Before blast furnaces made it possible to cast iron, lead was the ideal material for plumbing due to its malleable and durable nature. It was also used to join copper pipe fittings.
Although risky, lead is far less common than galvanised steel – the type of piping that usually replaced lead until the 1960s. Recognised by the thick black layer of zinc that protects the pipe, galvanised steel was later found to be corrosive, leading to levels of rust in water (no thanks).
How to solve the problem
Pipe repairs and replacements can be a complex thing. It’s always wise to seek the know-how of a qualified plumbing expert. Asking for professional advice may save you a lot of time and a hell of a lot of money in the long run.
If you’re experiencing overflow pipe leakage, find out how to fix it here.
2. Pipe bellies
We all know that homes are capable of gradual movement and shifting over time, especially older properties. However, we bet you haven’t given much thought to how this can affect the pipes under your home.
A common issue seen in period properties is when underground pipes shift downwards, creating a negative slope or “belly”. This slope restricts the water flow and makes pools that collect waste or sediments – pleasant, we know. Left to their own devices, these pesky pipe bellies can cause stoppages or leaks over time – not good!
How to solve this problem
Depending on the situation, a trenchless pipe bursting repair may be the best solution. However, you will need a professional plumber to check out how severe the pipe belly is.
3. Failing sewer lines
The funny thing about sewer lines is no one gives them much thought until they fail – and trust us, you’ll know if yours does! Built long before modern appliances like dishwashers, rubbish disposals and even modern toilets – older homes are often more vulnerable to sewer line failures (especially if there’s been extensive remodelling). They’re also more likely to have sewer line issues due to shifting or tree root damage, seeping sewage into the ground or pushing foul-smelling wastewater up into your home.
For more tips on how to combat outside drain problems, read our Outside Drain Is Blocked: What You Need To Know article.
How to fix the problem
Your best bet is relining or a complete trenchless sewer line replacement. In many cases, trenchless repairs can be completed in a single day by a qualified drainage expert – plus there’s minimal mess involved, as you don’t need to dig up the pipe.
4. Outdated fixtures and connections
As the old saying goes, nothing lasts forever. Nowhere is this more accurate than in your older home. Ageing fixtures, fittings and supply line connections are all factors that can cause issues in your historical dwelling. Corrosion and general wear and tear can lead to broken knobs, leaks and eventually weak water flow that makes using water inconvenient at best and a pricey chore at worst.
Though many people try to “get by” with failing plumbing, Murphy’s law is determined to rear its ugly head at the worst possible time. We think we can all agree that no one wants to return from a holiday to find that rusty water line valve has finally given up the ghost, causing a pretty penny’s worth of water damage.
How to solve the problem
We all know that prevention is better than a cure. Taking measures to stop general wear and tear from causing expensive repairs further down the line is the best course of action. However, opting for an annual plumbing inspection from a professional plumber is always a good shout. They’ll have the tools and training to find and repair problems that Average Joe might miss.
5. Bad repairs
Think of your older home like a vintage car. With age comes problems – and your property’s plumbing is no exception! If you own a period property, it’s not a case of if your home has had plumbing repairs, but who carried them out. It’s common for older homes to feature DIY jobs made by the homeowner or a handyman rather than a professional plumber. These issues can range from a simple unsecured pipe or backwards sink trap, to much more complicated and expensive mistakes, like improperly sloped showers and even faulty water heaters.
How to fix the problem
While you can’t control the life your home had before you, you can certainly rectify any wrongdoings. Making sure previous odd jobs in your home are still up to standard can prevent any nasty surprises further down the road. It’s always wise to seek the advice of a plumbing expert when fixing or surveying pipework. However, there are some minor plumbing issues you can fix alone. To find out how, check out our article on the “Top 5 Plumbing Issues and How To Fix Them.”
How to fix plumbing problems
While old homes have their own unique charm, they also present several challenges, especially if you’re renovating. Anyone moving into a house built more than 30 years ago should have a thorough inspection completed by a plumbing expert.
However, there are some plumbing problems you should keep your eyes peeled for when doing up a “fixer up” property. For more information on these, check out our blog on “Top Plumbing Issues To Watch Out For When Renovating”.