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Knowing What to Look For Can Help Prospective Homebuyers Avoid Expensive Plumbing Fixes

Late spring through summer is the season many homebuyers will make their move to purchase a home. Household plumbing problems could prevent an owner from selling in a competitive market and likewise, could cost an uninformed buyer plenty if he or she fails to recognize the signs of potential plumbing problems.

The average home plumbing system represents approximately 8% of a home’s overall value, meaning that the plumbing in a $200,000 home is valued at $16,000. To help avoid unexpected and costly plumbing problems, the experts at Roto-Rooter, North America’s largest provider of plumbing and drain services, recommend home buyers inspect prospective homes carefully. Knowing how to identify telltale plumbing problems when shopping for a home can safe a buyer money and disappointment. Similarly, sellers should address plumbing issues to make the house more appealing and better their chances of selling the home:

Check for toilet plumbing problems

  • A soft floor around the base of a toilet is a sign of water damage. Straddle the toilet and rock back and forth on each foot. If the floor feels spongy, it has probably experienced serious water damage.
  • Check for toilet flushing problems. See how fast each toilet flushes. Slow toilets may indicate a problem with toilet tank parts, drainpipes, or the main sewer.

Inspect bathtub plumbing

  • Check for loose tiles that may indicate a water leak behind the wall or beneath a floor.
  • Press on the walls where they meet the tub. If they're soft, water damage has occurred.

Test water supply pipes

  • Test water pressure by turning on the water in a bathtub and the kitchen sink at the same time. If there is a noticeable reduction in volume flowing from the taps, the water supply pipes may be undersized, or the house has low water pressure.
  • If the house has a basement or crawl space, check for the signs and smells of mold and mildew around floor joists above and on the walls. This may be a sign of leaks and water damage.
  • Be sure the house has a main sewer line “cleanout access” port and that it is accessible. It may be found in the front yard between the house and the street. These are usually 4-inch diameter PVC pipes with a screw-on cap that will be sticking out of the ground.

Water heater troubleshooting tips

  • Check the manufacture date on the water heater (the first four digits of the heater's serial number are the month and year it was built). Any conventional gas or electric water heater over 13 years old is on borrowed time. The average life expectancy is 11 years, so it’s better to replace a water heater on your own terms than wait for the tank to fail and risk flooding and water damage.

Other vital home plumbing inspection tips

  • Use a flashlight to check for signs of water damage inside cabinets around and beneath sinks, and in the laundry room. Turn water supply valves on and off to test for leaks and to be sure the valves work properly.
  • Inspect shower heads, faucet taps, and the inside of the dishwasher. If you see chalky, white buildup, that’s a sign that the house has hard water, which can damage appliances and plumbing fixtures over time. Installing a water softener will prevent additional damage, but it won’t fix what’s already damaged.
  • Find the main water shutoff valve. Test it to see if you can easily turn off the water and turn it back on again. If the valve doesn’t work or is damaged, insist that the seller have a new quarter-turn ball valve installed. In the event of a pipe break or water heater tank failure, you’ll want to be able to minimize water damage by turning off the water supply.
  • A professional video camera inspection of a main sewer pipe before the sale, could save a buyer thousands of dollars in underground sewer repairs, depending on depth and length of the pipe. The video camera snake pushes through the sewer and will identify damage, root intrusion, separated pipe sections or other structural problems that could soon result in complete sewer failure.

A good house inspector will check for many of these problems, but a sewer inspection always costs extra. Since the video camera snakes are very expensive, your house inspector probably doesn’t offer sewer inspections services. Check online for a professional plumbing company that provides the service and will give you a video file of the inspection that you can keep.

It’s also a good idea to be there when the inspection is going on so you can watch the video monitor with the plumber in real time. Depending on where you live, a sewer inspection will cost between $200 and $400, but the average sewer repair is over $2000 and a replacement could cost over $10,000. For more helpful plumbing tips, visit



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