Just like a new workout routine shows you where your muscles are weak, a change in use can reveal flaws and weaknesses in your home, particularly in your plumbing system. Your plumbing is hidden in walls and crawlspaces where issues often go unseen until it’s too late. Here are the clear signs to look for and steps to take to prevent a plumbing disaster.
Visible warning signs that piping is corroded and dangerous.
- Low water pressure
- Rust color in the water
- Limescale buildup on fixtures and piping
- Plumbing Leaks
- Dramatic fluctuations in shower water temperature
- Unusual change in water bills
- Presence of substandard pipe
Worn on the inside: older homes
Piping wears from the inside-out, leaving you to guess when a leak could occur. Older homes built prior to 1970 may have galvanized steel pipes. These pipes do naturally corrode, and as they do, rust will appear in the water as minerals build up. Over time, the corroded pipes will leak. Small leaks can go undetected and create mildew and mold hazards long before you see them.
An additional risk for older homes is having a mix of pipes installed at different times by different plumbers over the life of the house. Knowing your plumbing history will help you predict future issues.
Substandard pipe failures: newer homes
Another issue is the use of substandard pipe brands, such as Kitec and Quest pipe (polybutylene), which were used in the last 40 years. Hailed at the time as “piping of the future”, both of these pipes are known to fail and burst causing flooding. There is such a high rate of failure (and numerous class action lawsuits), that plumbers often recommend proactively re-piping. Susan, from Lynnwood, a customer of Washington Energy Services plumbing told this story:
“We had just adopted a cat from the local shelter and made an area for her in the laundry room. The next day there was water on the floor, and we assumed she had knocked over the water dish. But the water came right back when cleaned up. It was coming from under the wall with no obvious leak anywhere else. Our plumber found the source, a burst piece of Quest pipe (see photo below). It was three rooms away! The water was leaking under the vinyl and wood flooring. The whole subfloor of the house was ruined. When we removed the flooring and parts of the walls there was mold growing. Needless to say, this was a big insurance claim, lots of our stuff ruined and months of difficulty.”*
Customer provided photo: Quest pipe leak, November 2014
Outside plumbing issues
Visible signs of an outside plumbing issue may be harder to see, with the notable exception of septic system issues. Some signs to look for are:
- Trees growing above the path of your side sewer
- Dips or water in the yard near the side sewer
- Main drain backups into basement or crawlspace
- Presence of Orangeburg Pipe
For most of us, running alongside our home is a side sewer. This is where the main drain connects from the house to the city or town sewer system at the street. While parts of this system may be on your property and parts on city property, the entire side sewer is considered your legal responsibility and it’s important to maintain it as you would your indoor plumbing.
One of the most common side sewer issues is invasion by tree roots. Tree roots can work their way into small cracks and then grow in the pipes. There is nothing a tree root likes better than a source of water. Depending on the species, tree roots can spread wider than the tree branches above. If your side sewer is hijacked by a tree, it will need to be removed and the pipe dug up and replaced, which can be a costly repair.
Many Seattle area outdoor pipes have been compromised because they were made of Orangeburg pipe that has gone end of life. This type of pipe, which was used from the war years until the 1970s, is made of tar paper and is no longer considered up to code in our state. It is prone to failure.
Time for re-piping?
The best approach is to start with an inspection of plumbing and ask for video inspection of your main drain. This will ensure that you know the status of all of your pipes.
If it is time for re-piping, it can be a complete or partial replacement of your system. The process may include using new high quality copper piping, stainless steel water supply lines and some plastic pipes depending on your home and its needs. Copper and PEX (plastic) piping will not rust. The new piping will be attached to all existing fixtures. If they have to open up walls to complete the re-piping, some wall patching will be required. Once the new piping system is installed, the plumbing system will be tested and flushed.
Washington Energy Services’ plumbers are re-piping specialists. Contact us for more information or to get a home plumbing inspection.