Delving Deeper into Pipes, with Inspections and Solutions
A curved plumbing pipe required to be installed in drains to avoid toxic sewer odors from seeping into the home. Sinks have a “P” trap underneath, while toilets have an “S” trap built into its base. Items that fall down a sink drain (such as a ring) will generally be found and recovered in the P trap.
A vent is a pipe that allows toxic sewer gases to escape out of the house. It balances the air pressure by bringing air into the drain system, which prevents siphoning and back pressure of the water in the traps. A house is outfitted with a system of pipes that circulate air and force the gases outside the house.
The very top vent that goes through a house’s roof is known as the vent stack. This drain waste vent pipe pushes out sewer odors and gases, allowing them to escape and prevents them from going into the house.
In a vacant house, the process of preparing it for winter so the pipes and fixtures do not freeze or burst. The water pipes and water heater are drained, and products are applied to the toilet bowl. In addition, the pipe insulation may be verified.
The public water system that delivers fresh, clean water suitable for drinking and bathing, from the city or municipality’s water supply. It is tested for quality, and often it is conditioned and chlorinated. Listed below are some components.
Rural properties often generate their own fresh water from a private well on the property, rather than piping in from the city’s water supply. Electricity is needed to operating the pump that draws the water and fills the water tank. The water must be tested regularly to ensure it is safe for household use and conform to county health regulations. A buyer will typically request a well inspection before purchase.
A tank that fills with clean water and then heats it for distribution to the house’s hot water supply lines. Water heaters vary in their storage capacity (measured in gallons of water) and may be heated via gas, electricity, or solar power. Although equipped with magnesium (anode) rods to prevent corrosion, the galvanized steel tank will eventually rust and leak.
Industry standards require the water to be kept heated to 110°minimum (to kill bacteria) and 140° maximum to prevent burning. It must have a pressure relief valve to release water if the pressure is too high, preventing the tank from bursting. It has an exterior vent to expel combustion gases outside the home. And in earthquake-prone areas, it must be strapped according to state laws.
In regions where the water is hard (contains a lot of minerals), a water softener system removes the minerals from the water. Build-up of minerals such as magnesium and calcium can clog fixtures cause pipes and water heaters to corrode and shorten their lifespan. Hard water also leaves a white film-like coating in tubs. Many water softener systems are sodium / salt-based and require regular refilling and maintenance. In a real estate transaction, the seller should disclose whether this system is fully owned by the seller or is leased from a third party; and if so, the terms of the lease. A water softener is a type of water conditioner.
A system that conditions the water within the house by improving the water. Water conditioner systems may remove chlorine, filter the water, or improve its taste. A water softener is one type of water conditioner. In a real estate transaction, the seller should disclose whether this system is fully owned by the seller or is leased from a third party; and if so, the terms of the lease so the buyers understand their commitment if they must assume the lease.
As a buyer’s agent, you will read and understand the home inspection report. Knowledge of plumbing terms will help you decipher the report. The inspector, of course, will have disclaimers regarding plumbing pieces of the inspection. And if they recommend repair work or a further inspection, your client is advised to hire a licensed inspector. As always, when your buyers have questions you call the inspector with your buyers on speaker phone — and even go back to the property for another visual inspection if needed.
CHALLENGE & SOLUTIONS
What can possibly go wrong with a house’s plumbing? Seasoned agents know that anything and everything can go wrong that may affect a listing or a sale! Some problems include:
The toilet that runs continuously is always an annoyance for buyers, but thankfully it is usually fairly easy to fix. Leaks, on the other hand, require more repair work.
Leaks — toilets, tubs, showerheads, faucets, and pipes inside of the walls can all leak. Some are simple fixes, such as adding a 52 cent washer to the handle, or replacing the entire faucet. Others are difficult to discover and repair, such as the hidden leak behind the walls. Those are the problems that can be the most damaging over time. Any type of water leak, no matter how small, can cause irreparable damage. For example, a leak at the base of the toilet can rot the flooring under the toilet, and if it’s an upper floor, it will affect the ceiling of the room under it.
What’s worse than a water leak? A closed sewer line! Drains can be another source of problems. Slow drainage in the sink, tub, or dishwasher is a red flag of a possible clogged sewer line. In older homes, sewer drains may be blocked, collapsed, or down.
Houses with septic systems may not have had their septic maintained or cleaned out, and that can lead to a problem developing during the sales process. Most septic systems are maintained by inserting Rid-X in the drains monthly, which helps maintain the “good bacteria” that break down the solid waste.
Water heaters may present challenges during the home sales process. In California, the water heater must be strapped and secured at specific intervals. It must also comply with building codes to ensure the gases are ventilated, the temperature is adjusted, and the pressure valve is working.
In areas where weather freezes the pipes and fixtures, vacant homes must be winterized to prevent damage. Event occupied homes should have insulated pipes to prevent them from freezing and bursting.
In hot weather regions, vacant houses should have the water turned on. If not, the clean water in the toilet evaporates, allowing sewer gases to escape. That causes toxic fumes as well as a horrific odor that scares off home buyers. Also in hot areas, lack of water will cause the landscaping to dry up and wither away, detracting from the curb appeal.
And the one thing we don’t think about often, and yet it is more common than you think, is a cockroach infestation in sewer lines. A recent plumbing video from the roof vent all the way down to the sewer later at the street of a listing showed the entire pipeline was infested with giant cockroaches reveling in the water waste. As a buyer who would want to eradicate pests, it would be challenging to completely eliminate the source.
Solving Plumbing Problems: Preventive maintenance helps sellers avoid plumbing problems during the sales transaction. That includes cleaning and replacing fixtures, not pouring grease down a drain, flushing the garbage disposal, draining the water heater and checking the anode rod annually, and physically inspecting the house for leaks. Any plumbing repairs should be made by a licensed plumber, and of course the sellers should keep the receipts in case the buyer requests them.
To prevent that “worst case scenario” of a listing becoming unsellable due to a plumbing problem, listing agents can help their sellers secure a home warranty that takes effect upon signing the listing contract. Sellers do not have to wait until their house is sold to protect it with a home warranty.
Now that you know the basics of plumbing, you can understand how pipes affect your listing and your buyers. You can recognize potential problems. The MLS listing will be accurate. Lastly, as a real estate agent, you also know when it’s important to refer your client to a licensed plumber. Be recognized as the expert real estate advisor because you know the lingo!
Article is also published in The San Diego Realtor® magazine, pages 24-25.
Read more in our "Learn the Lingo" series:
1) Backyard & Outdoor Structures: Learn the Lingo
2) View From the Windows: Learn the Lingo
3) Architectural Styles: Learn the Lingo - Part 1
4) Architectural Styles: Learn the Lingo - Part 2
5) Learn the Lingo: Luxury Bathrooms
6) Learn the Lingo: Fences & Gates
7) Learn the Lingo: Vintage Features of Historic Homes
8) The Kitchen: The Heart of the Home Can Be Gourmet
9) The Gourmet Kitchen: Everything and the Kitchen Sink
10) Open the Door of Possibilities (Exterior Doors)
11) The Difference a Good Door Makes (Interior Doors)
13) Sustainable and Eco-Conscious Home Features (Part 1)
14) Sustainable and Eco-Conscious Home Features (Part 2)
15) Sustainable and Eco-Conscious Home Features (Part 3)
16) Roof Architecture – Don’t Let it Go ‘Over Your Head’
17) Let There Be Light Fixtures ... And There Are Many!
18) A Discussion of Ceilings Will Have You Looking Up
19) Fireplaces: Literally the Hearth of the Home
20) Learn the Lingo of Walls
21) Apply Your Knowledge to Major Appliances
22) Don't Be Floored By this Topic: It's Right Under Your Feet
23) HVAC / Mechanical Lingo
24) Rural Properties - A Sustainable Life "Off the Grid"
25) Land Usage, and Showing & Selling Rural Properties
26) The Dramatic Effect of Stairs and Staircases - A Flight of Fancy?
27) Electrical Components - Get Wired for Understanding
28) Learn the Lingo: Plumbing Fixtures (Part 1 of 2)
29) Learn the Lingo: Plumbing Fixtures (Part 2 of 2)
30) Swimming Pool and Spa Lingo