Avoiding pipe, drain, and sewer line issues when purchasing a home
Along with roofing and electrical, plumbing is one of the essential parts of what makes a house a home. There’s something else that your pipes, drains, and lines have in common with your wiring and roof: when something goes wrong, repairs and cleanup can be a major expense. Whether you are a current homeowner or looking to buy a home, your goal should be to avoid plumbing issues when and wherever possible.
In this article, we’ll review a few important aspects of a home’s plumbing you should be concerned about as a homebuyer. We’ll also discuss the importance of a sewer line inspection, and for both buyers and current owners to know the state of their sewer line or septic system.
Should you be concerned about plumbing when buying a home?
The short answer, of course, is yes. An long-term investment of this size deserves all the homework you can possibly do. By the time you close, you and your realtor should have a good idea of what the home’s history is, what its current state is, and what repair or replacement needs might be coming down the road.
With that being said, it is impossible to know everything. On some things, you may need to make educated guesses based on the home’s age and several other factors:
- Pipes: Most homes built before the 1960s have pipes made of galvanized iron with a zinc coating. Unless the home has been repiped in the time since, these pipes are probably nearing the end of their lifespan (about 60 years on average). If you are buying an older home, ask the homeowner what the pipes are made of and if they have been replaced. In the event that the current owner does not know, you should be able to do some research about the builder.
- Waste Disposal: About 80% of American homes have access to a municipal sewer, while the remainder use a septic system to dispose of wastewater. If you are buying a home with a sewer line, ask if the owner has ever had sewer line issues or if the line has been replaced at any point in the lifespan of the home. When purchasing a home with septic disposal, inquire about the condition of the septic field and how old the system is.
Unfortunately, what you probably have no way of knowing by asking is how the homeowner has treated their sewer or septic line. Have they been cautious about what they dispose of, or is there 30+ years of collected grease, coffee grounds, and more forming a massive, line-clogging glut deep in the line?
Make avoiding sewer line issues your priority
A sewer line clog or leak is an expensive project that you, as a homebuyer, do not want to be saddled with as part of your new home. The average cost of repairing a sewer main is more than $2,500, while the cost of replacing the entire line can run homeowners between $3,000 and $25,000! That’s just the price of dealing with the line itself. In the disastrous event that your home experiences a sewer backup—an incident where a clog blocks wastewater from exiting your home and backs up through toilets and drains—you will be responsible for both the cost of fixing the initial source of the problem in the line and any needed cleanup costs. The average nationwide cost of sewer backup cleanup—which can include dealing with mold, methane gas, and property damage—is about $4,400 per incident.
Well, that’s what you have home insurance for, right? Actually, most home insurance policies do not cover damages from sewer line backups, since they consider maintenance and care for the sewer line to be within the homeowner’s responsibilities. In the event that your insurer does offer some form of coverage for the water and property damage caused by a backup, it is typically a policy addition that, on average, costs about $100 per year.
Is a sewer line inspection worth it?
Most buyers do not think to schedule a sewer line inspection on top of the other home inspections they hire out prior to closing. However, given the potentially high cost of repairing or dealing with a sewer line leak or clog, this additional inspection could be well worth the upfront cost—especially if you are purchasing a home that is 25 years or older.
For answers about the state of the sewer line, you will need to call a locally trusted plumber and schedule a sewer line inspection. Using a specialized camera attached to a long snake tool, the plumber can “travel” through the pipe, looking for signs of either damage—such as cracks or intruding tree roots—or a clog. This information can allow you and your realtor to make decisions about whether or not you want to move forward with the purchase or ask for the current owner to deal with the sewer line issues prior to finalizing the purchase.
Issues with sewer lines and septic systems can be a deeply unpleasant surprise for any homeowner. However, being proactive and taking care of your home’s drains and pipes can help prevent leaks, backups, and other disasters. Be sure to check out this infographic from the team at King Heating, Cooling & Plumbing in Chicago for more tips on maintaining your home’s drains and plumbing:
Home Service Writer