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An older home can be a great way to start with homeownership or to invest in Tennessee history. Even after a thorough inspection, though, chances are you’ll need a good plumber from time to time for repairs, upgrades, and improvements. To keep your home purchase savings in the bank, make sure you choose a plumber with a solid reputation for quality work and excellent pricing like Metro Plumbing, Heating and Air. It’ll make it easier to establish a long-term relationship and enjoy your home and its many classic features.
Being Prepared for the Top Plumbing Problems in Older Homes
In the Chattanooga, TN area, it’s possible to buy classic or just well-worn homes over 100 years old. There is also a good supply of older homes built in the 1930s and later. Each home has considerable history represented in its plumbing, from original sewer lines to plumbing that could represent any time period and may be professionally installed or a do-it-yourself project. During the last century there were many types of piping that have since been found to be toxic or unreliable. We can help you identify and prioritize any pipe material concerns in your home, along with sewer line issues, fixture concerns, and other plumbing issues urgent or inevitable. Knowledge is power, but it’s also the basis for a good home improvement, repair, and renovation budget that takes into account unexpected expenses.
Old Pipes Can Be a Concern
Affordable and convenient pipe materials used over the last century have sometimes turned out to be a big problem over time. Galvanized steel, lead, polybutylene, and cast iron piping all have their unique problems, from lead toxicity to house-wide breakdowns of polybutylene. Many homeowners consider whole-home repiping if the problem is significant enough, and a skilled plumber can do the job quickly and efficiently, bringing peace of mind for years to come. Solutions for specific old pipe problems are listed below, including making sure shut offs and flood detection are protecting the rest of the house. Your plumber can provide you with specific information about the types and risks of the plumbing in your old home, and make sure that you can protect the beautiful architectural features in a classic building to preserve your investment.
Sewer Lines and Root Intrusions or Heavy Equipment Damage
Cast-iron sewer lines can last up to a century, but some older homes are approaching or already past that milestone. The roots of aging trees may have intruded on the sewer line, even if the tree itself is long gone the damage may have been done some time ago as well. Sewer pipes are also made of clay, which is of course not nearly as resilient. Ask your plumber to use video to inspect the sewer line, or make sure you have a copy of a pre-purchase video inspection to note specific issues that may be emerging in the sewer line, and ask your Chattanooga, TN plumber which of the many recently developed options can be used if you have problems to repair.
What Are Bellies?
Older sewer lines and drain pipes can develop bellies, sagging that accumulates material and makes clogs much more likely. These can indicate a need for repairs to your sewer line or drain pipes before additional clogging or pipe damage results. Pipe bellies typically result from sagging of the pipes as the home settles over time, so where you find one instance, it would be wise to ask your plumber to keep an eye out for additional problems throughout your home.
Water Quality Can Worsen Pipe Damage and Risk
Some of the additives in municipal water are used to protect homeowners from pipe problems. If you have well water or the city water doesn’t have the right additives, you are more likely to experience problems with lead leaching from pipes and being present in your drinking water, which is a danger to your family, especially for children. Galvanized and cast iron pipes don’t respond well to water acidity, and some plastics also decay more quickly when the water is not of good quality. One solution you can use to mitigate these risks is a water purification system, but it is wise to consider the damage that’s already done, from pipe degradation to buildup of lead deposits in the lines that may release over time even if the pipes themselves are more stable.
Amateur Missteps that Plumbers Find
Convenient but unreliable repairs such as “accordion pipes,” that help adapt pipe sizes in makeshift repairs can prove to be unexpected weak points in your home’s plumbing that cause trouble later. They may be hidden in walls or other spaces, invisible until leaks begin to show. Failure to include dielectric fittings when installing dissimilar pipe materials during a repair can lead to accelerated pipe corrosion and decay due to the chemical interaction between the pipe materials, mostly metals. An experienced plumber knows to include these fittings, but amateur plumbers may leave you, the later homeowner, with another unexpected issue that only reveals itself over time. Additional problems can include tight joint angles, improper leveling of drain pipes, and improper installation of water supply lines and fixtures. Omission of shutoff valves is a particularly serious problem, and even if shutoff valves are present it’s important that they are still operable.
Straight stop and angle stop shutoff valves are essential for the installation and replacement of fixtures, and also helpful if the fixtures, as decades-old often will, develop leaks, cracks, or other problems. Older metal units may have accumulated material such as lime from drips over time, and may no longer be easy to operate, or may be completely stuck. Replacing these simple devices can be cheap insurance up front while you upgrade and service the fixtures in your home. Without these devices, it’s a race to the basement or wherever your main water shutoff valve is — hoping that it is in working order.
Building Code Issues
As you repair, upgrade, and remodel your older home, you may find that you’re uncovering building code issues that may need to be addressed as part of your project. That can lead to additional costs and concerns when you do what you thought was a simple bathroom or kitchen remodel, expecting existing plumbing to be sufficient. That may be the case in newer homes, but when you’re dealing with up to a century or more of history, it’s hard to tell. Your expert plumber can advise you on the suitability of existing pipes for your project.
Accessing Plumbing Problems in Walls, Floors, and Ceilings
Older homes were built much differently from recent ones. Builders often employed heavier construction materials and used plaster walls instead of drywall. Accessing plumbing problems to repair leaks, or making modifications and upgrades can be more difficult, with the damage done in the process also difficult to successfully repair. In the case of leaks, exploratory holes cut to locate the source can create more repair challenges, and working with water damage to plaster walls can be complicated. The same goes for floors and ceilings, where the materials are likely to be different that you are used to in modern homes. Your plumber will probably be familiar with some older forms of construction, and it may take some research to fully understand what you are dealing with, which may include unexpected insulation materials, old and unused gas lines for lighting, old-style electrical wiring, and other surprises.
Basement and Slab Plumbing Problems
As your older home settles, the basement and foundation or concrete slab can place pressure on water lines and drains that pass through or under the foundation. There may also be lines passing through the sill and over to the garage or other outbuildings, experiencing pressure from decades of shifting and also exposed to weather changes that may have become more extreme in recent years. Dealing with “digging under the slab” and other significant plumbing projects in modern homes is a big deal, but handling all the changes time has brought to your basement structure and pipes of various materials can be a big project, requiring an expert plumber to sort it out.
Shifting Soil and Concrete
In addition to your home settling over time, changes in the earth may occur that place forces on your incoming water line and outgoing sewer pipe. If you see cracks in your foundation or other evidence of shifting in the soil outside, you may want to have your plumber check the integrity of pipes that pass from outside into your home.
Main Water Line
Your main water line leading from your well or city water could be the cause of exceptional plant growth in a line from the street to your Chattanooga, TN home. Leaks over time waste water and cause instability in your yard’s soil, and should be addressed before the pipe is no longer effective as a water supply for your home. Inside, it’s critical that your whole-house water shutoff works easily in case of emergency. This is the key element that protects your home in case of fixture or pipe failure anywhere in the home. One of the solutions we’ve noted below is an automatic shutoff system that monitors your home for signs of a leak and automatically protects your home by shutting off household water.
Sump Pump Issues
The rains have been significant in this part of Tennessee lately, and you may want to consider a sump pump in your basement if there isn’t one there already. Your plumber can create a new sump and install an appropriate pump and external drain, or test and, if needed, replace an existing unit. For larger homes and ones with remodeled basements, a second pump may be helpful both in keeping the entire space dry and acting as backup to protect the basement interior.
One of the major benefits of having an experienced local professional working on your older home is local knowledge, especially when issues of historical preservation are involved. It may be necessary to consider requirements for preserving historic character as well as meeting plumbing code, and your service provider can help you navigate these regulations.
Some Additional Solutions and Cautions for Owners of Older Homes
Here are some ways to protect yourself and your home against expensive plumbing and water leak problems while you make your long-term plan for upgrades and maintenance. By using modern technology to catch leaks quickly, even alerting you on your phone, you can preserve your precious home. In addition, modern tools such as video inspection and sonic pipe leak detection can target repairs and keep pipe access damage to a minimum, preserving walls and decorations that have stood for decades or even a century.
- Leak alarms are low-cost protection against unnoticed water damage
- Check piping and shutoffs first
- Whole house leak detection and shutoff system can be a house-saver
- Watch your water bill for signs of unexpected water use, and ask about your plumber’s leak detection tools
- Be careful with drain cleaning chemicals on older pipes and unknown pipe materials
- Be extra careful with what you put down drains (grease, food, hair, toilet) since clogs could be more serious in older piping
- Video inspections can find problems in your pipes and sewer line and help you target repairs economically
- Weather protection for pipes running outside or through the sill, or in unheated spaces is essential
Your Expert Plumber for Classic and Older Chattanooga, TN Homes and Recent Construction
Count on Metro Plumbing, Heating and Air to help you with your home’s plumbing needs whether you have a recently built home or one that belonged to an early arrival in the area. We’ll help you understand your home’s plumbing if needed and identify areas where our experienced plumbers can help you protect your investment. Whether you need us urgently or want to plan a future project, give us a call and get to know your local plumber.