Old homes are a witness to years of growth in families and communities. These houses were able to endure the passing of time and weather. This does not mean, however, that repairs, whether small or significant, will never be needed. As the years go by, more and more maintenance works will be necessary to keep your old home safe and sturdy.
What are old homes?
Homes built in the 1920s are known as old or antique homes. These may have been handed down from generations. Only houses erected after the 1990s are considered as new homes.
Looking at the home’s architectural and construction style, the area’s climate, as well as any renovations done, can also give you an idea of how old a house is. Although the terms ‘old’ and ‘new’ may be subjective, a safe way to classify homes as old is when they start to show signs of weathering.
In this article, we discuss some of the water problems we usually find when we do plumbing inspections in older houses.
5 Most common water problems among old homes
Here are the top 5 most common water problems which can be found in old homes.
When it comes to water problems, the first things that come into mind are the pipes and plumbing system. These are one of the most important foundations of your home and are also the key to preventing leak issues. In an old house, pipes are among the number one feature that is likely to be outdated.
Imagine a community without a developed water and plumbing system. Clean water will be limited, forcing people to settle only where freshwater is available. Additionally, a sanitary sewage system will be unavailable, so people will be prone to acquiring water-borne diseases. Indeed, the plumbing system we have now is a revolutionary way of delivering fresh tap water and collecting liquid wastes from homes.
It’s made possible by a network of interconnected pipes. Whether used for delivering freshwater or collecting liquid waste, these pipes do their jobs as vessels to convey substances to where they are supposed to be delivered.
For newer homes and buildings, pipes are often made from copper and PVC or other types of plastic. These materials are safer and last longer. Old homes, however, typically used either lead, iron, or steel materials, with the iron or steel sometimes galvanised with a zinc coating to prevent corrosion.
This is where the problem comes in. A lot of homes, especially those built before the mid-1940s and even until the 1960s used galvanised steel or iron pipes for their water supply. Worse, some even use lead pipes. But what is the big deal about these materials, anyway? Also, why are they not used now?
- Galvanised Pipes
Of all the materials originally installed in old houses, galvanised steel pipes are the most commonly used for water supply piping systems. The pliability of steel allows it to be bent into cylindrical tubes while keeping itself durable. The main disadvantage of steel is that it corrodes easily. This problem is solved by galvanising the steel to protect it from corrosion for years.
In galvanising, molten zinc is applied to both the interior and exterior of the steel pipe. This method has been found to limit corrosion for about 45 to 65 years. However, once the zinc coating wears off, the corrosion begins. This rust will, in turn, reduce the water flow of the pipe.
Make sure that you consider your budget in repairing these old pipes. When replacing galvanised steel pipes, it is typical that only damaged individual sections are replaced, instead of replacing the entire piping. This is because these materials are expensive.
- Lead Pipes
We all know that lead is poisonous and generally harmful for our health, but why was it used for plumbing in the first place? The answer dates back at least a thousand years, when lead, or plumbum in Latin, was widely used by Roman civic engineers. This is because lead is leak-resistant and pliable. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until the 1900s that we discovered that it is also toxic.
If you are unsure if your building has lead pipes, you can check them yourself. Lead is a soft, dark grey metal that leaves a light grey mark when scratched. If lead is present, have your water tested to make sure that it is safe.
Make sure to replace your lead pipes if they are found to contaminating your water. A huge range of lead-free pipes and fixtures are available today.
- Outdated Drainage Diagram
Your current drainage diagram should be included in the purchase contract if you are buying an older home. If not, it is a wise investment to pay for one because this will be helpful in both preventing and solving problems. It contains essential information on the drainage layout of your home so you can easily trace causes of leaks and other pipe problems. It will also help you prevent potential problems, and guide you in making small changes or renovations to your home.
Ensure that you are looking at an up-to-date drainage diagram when you purchase an old home or update it each time you have a renovation. Hire inspection services, if needed, and keep a copy of your drainage in hand to serve as the plumbing map.
- Sewer Pipes
Sewers can be an easily overlooked part of the house. But the truth is, many old homes will need sewer repairs at some point. This is especially true of the clay sewers commonly found in the bases of downpipes as well as garden taps. Common sewers, usually found in terraces, can also cause water problems when repairs are needed on neighbours’ properties.
Make sure you have already factored in the costs of replacing sewer pipes when projecting future expenses. Watch out for the clay sewers as they can fail without warning . Also, keep a healthy relationship with your neighbours and prepare a contract, if needed. This will help you ensure a hassle-free sewer repair when the time comes.
- Hot Water Unit
In a temperate or tropical country where hot baths and showers are found relaxing, a water heating system in your home is quite vital. The water heating systems in homes have constantly evolved through the years, from tank-type storage water heaters to electric shower heads. Old houses may use an inefficient system which can also be energy consuming. However, renovated bathrooms may install modern hot water units.
Make sure that the hot water unit of your home is maintained and serviced regularly. This is commonly overlooked in Australian households and results in a substantial decrease in its life span. Even with servicing, a hot water unit is only expected to last 15 to 20 years with regular maintenance. However, it usually lasts 8 years, so prepare to replace them soon when your hot water unit has aged about a decade.
2. Root damage
Old homes commonly feature an aged tree or a bountiful garden in the back or front garden. While this can surely add to the aesthetics and antique feel of your home, this can also cause water problems. From simple water interruptions to total pipe blockages, roots can make its way your drainage system and lead to a various intensity of problems.
Make sure to invest in periodic root removal since this is still a lot cheaper than repairing root damage to pipes. On top of the costs, the hassle of excavation will be a sure problem if root damage becomes extensive. Imagine how deep and costly the excavation will need to be for a root damaged pipe. As they say, prevention is better than cure.
3. Roof leaks
A downpour of rain can be refreshing, but can also be a curse to the interior of an old home. Roof leaks are silent breakers of your home as they often remain unseen until the damage is already extensive. This water problem seeps in through your ceiling and becomes noticeable only after a heavy flow of water.
- Gutter Damage
Gutters that are undersized or poorly installed can lead to water leaking around your home. At first, it may only seem cosmetic and annoying, but this can also cause damage to your walls, foundations, and, most especially, your old home’s sidings. Spending the money to get this fixed is a better decision than leaving it and dealing with irreversible damages later.
- Newly Painted vs. Renovated Roof
Also, be wary of newly painted roofs and ceilings as this may be an attempt to conceal an old roof already prone to leaks. Renovated roofs and ceilings in old homes must also be taken note of because this may mean fewer chances of water problems soon.
4. Leaks leading to moulds
As a result of leaking roofs, old homes are also prone to mould infestations. Often caused by poor ventilation and the presence of moisture in the air, moulds grow where there is any dampness in the air. This includes daily activities involving water, such as cleaning, bathing, and cooking. If the mould is untreated, it can cause a lot of health hazards from allergies to respiratory problems.
Every home has a certain amount of mould. It naturally exists in the environment to help decompose decaying matter. However, it has no particular use when found in homes. It can be often seen in walls, floors, and ceilings. More noteworthy, this mould can grow in hidden areas when leaks are present.
Make sure to ventilate your home to improve the circulation of air and moisture in and out of your house. If mould is are already a problem, make sure never to touch or physically remove the mould yourself! This will only cause spores to be released inside your home. You should use a non-toxic, mould cleaning solution to get rid of it. To get rid of the mould in those hidden areas, make sure to routinely check for them, and clean and fix any water problem, such as leaks in the roofs and plumbing.
Leaks coming from the roof or ceiling are not always the fault of broken pipes. Contrary to common belief, water problems coming from the upper floors are often due to faulty waterproofing. One problem in old homes is that, as an owner, you may be unaware of the materials used in building or repair in the house’s past. Poor quality materials look good at first, but often last only a couple of years before causing heavy water problems.
Make sure to inspect the flooring of an old home before purchase. A poorly done floor may indicate poor waterproofing beneath it. Also invest in a reputable plumber when dealing with leaks, as some may only offer band-aid solutions and fail to detect the real problem. It is better to spend on fixing the real cause than spending over and over for minor short-term repairs.
How to track common water problems before they create massive damage
- Look for holes or cuts in the concrete around your home.
Most likely, these are areas where examinations have been done in the past. This could be one way to track the repair history of your old house to ensure if a problem was already resolved or could potentially re-occur.
- Pay attention to your water supply.
A slight change in water colour may indicate a foreign substance in your pipe. Supply interruption can also indicate developing problems. Noting these doesn’t just help detect issues early but also prevents health hazards to you and your loved ones.
- Note the age of your water system.
Hiring a specialist to predict its life expectancy will help you determine when a repair or replacement is most likely to take place. This also help prevent unexpected damage and expenses.
- Hire reliable companies for repairs or renovations.
It takes skill to detect small problems before they become big problems. Find a plumber you can trust so you can be confident that every repair or renovation you spend for will last a long time.
Contact Green Planet Plumbing for your Newcastle plumbing problems
Old homes take a lot of special care and knowledge to maintain. Do not risk damage to your unique home by unskilled or DIY work. Contact us now for your plumbing and water concerns.