Time flies, and many homeowners can forget how old their homes are getting. A home built in the mid-1960s is now more than 50 years old, and houses of that age can often present a host of headaches, such as plumbing problems. Below we’ve gathered a list of common plumbing problems in old houses. Call a plumbing specialist at ACE Home Services by phone at (602) 428-9453 or schedule a Service Request Appointment online to receive plumbing repair support. Our Phoenix plumbers offer solutions such as bathroom or kitchen fixture installation, reverse osmosis water treatment systems, water softener installation, gas line installation or repair, drain cleaning, appliance installation, plumbing inspections, and water heater repair.
6 Common Plumbing Issues Older Homes Face
Plumbing problems in older homes often stem from two different sources: original equipment and multiple owners.
Equipment installed as part of an original ’60s floor plan is likely nearing the end of its expected lifespan. Six plumbing problems in old homes originate with original pipes; namely galvanized pipes in older homes.
- Galvanized pipe
- Pipe bellies
- Polybutylene pipe
- Sewer lines
- Original fixtures
These six old house plumbing issues do not overlap, so once you fix one problem, another could still crop up unexpectedly. We need to consider each in turn.
1. Galvanized Pipes
A 1967 vintage home has charm, spaciousness and 20th-century technology, right down to the pipes. Common in older homes, galvanized pipes are a constant source of potential problems after a half century. Your home’s water may appear discolored. The pipes may corrode, causing drops in pressure.
The galvanic process means coating an iron pipe with molten zinc to prevent the iron from corroding. The zinc lasts a while, but not forever. As the zinc erodes, the exposed iron begins to rust. This can cause pipes to fail, but the warning signal is easy to spot: Your water will become discolored from the rust in it.
The answer is to have galvanized pipes professionally replaced by modern alternatives, such as copper or PEX (Cross-Linked Polyethylene). A well-trained plumber and assistant can perform this work in relatively short time, ensuring a constant water pressure, no odd taste or color to your water and no leaks.
2. Pipe Bellies
As your Phoenix home rises and falls in its surrounding soil, the pipes leading into your home will rise and fall, too. When they buckle or bow, they form a pipe belly, a low spot that defies gravity’s pull on sewage. While this settling occurs slowly, you will eventually notice poor drainage, slow-flushing toilets and, ultimately, a clogged sewer line.
Similar to pipe bellies are pipe channeling, where hard water carves its own channel in the bottom of a sewer pipe, rendering it very weak.
3. Polybutylene Pipe
Once thought of as a great water pipe product, polybutylene pipe (PB) was used from the late ’70s into the early ’90s because of its low cost and easy installation. It breaks down with exposure to water and water’s dissolved solids, so it is not acceptable anymore. As time goes on, homeowners experience more and more polybutylene pipe problems.
If you have an entire house piped in PB, you need the services of an experienced local plumber to replace every run, every elbow and tee, and every connection to fixtures throughout your house. Otherwise a leak could destroy furniture, furnishings, flooring and more.
4. Sewer Lines
Sewers and sewer lines are definitely at the top of a lot of people’s old house plumbing problems. Sewer lines take your home’s gray and black water from drains to the sewer main, where it travels on to a municipal treatment plant. Sewer lines are always wet, so they attract tree roots. Cast iron pipes are particularly susceptible to cracking and intrusion by tree roots, which can completely clog a line.
Professional plumbers can send a camera into your home’s sewer pipe to diagnose channeling and bellies, and they can find and fix tree roots that clog your pipe. This is a much more affordable option than the disgusting and expensive issues created by a sewer backing up.
Fifty years of draining water, soap scum, sewage and shampoo can take a toll on your older Phoenix home’s drains. Clogs develop in pipes in all drains, but toilet, kitchen, and bathroom sink drains are particularly prone to clogs.
Toilets are infamous targets for children, fascinated by the disappearing act. While you may never know a small action figure or toy car went down the toilet, you will know a backed-up toilet when it strikes. A small item could start a very slow-building clog.
Kitchen sink drains also tend to accept things that should not go down the drain, like kitchen fats, bits of food that should go through a sink strainer and even bone. You can do your part, of course, by keeping waste out of the kitchen sink or having a garbage disposal installed, but in an older home you will not know what others have stuffed down there before you.
6. Original Fixtures
While some original fixtures are notably sturdier and of better quality than their corresponding modern fixtures, many older ones simply wear out with time. Washers and valves degrade and cause leaks. Stems and handles break. If your home still has its original spigots, faucets, handles and valves, you may not notice the tiny leaks that lead to higher water bills and unpleasant smells.
A worry spot in any home is the shut-off valve for a toilet. This little-used valve attaches where the rigid pipe exits the wall, down below the tank, and a flexible metal and plastic tube connects the water supply to the tank. That shut-off valve can get stuck in its typical, open position, so any attempt to close it may actually cause it to leak. A trained plumber can replace not only the flexible tube to the toilet tank, but the antiquated or stuck shut-off valve. This means you never have to worry about turning off the water to the toilet should a bowl clog cause your toilet to back up.
8. Plumbing Problems from Multiple Owners
A 50- or 60-year-old house may have had three or four owners before it came to you. Many Phoenix homeowners consider themselves handy with a basin wrench and brazing torch, but that does not make them plumbers. Unfortunately, even many homeowners who do not consider themselves handy with tools still attempt home repairs. You may inherit a lot of questionable repair work when you purchase an older home.
Do-it-yourself kits sold by big-box home improvement stores provide temporary, amateur repairs for sinks, toilets and showers. One simple way to spot these lower-quality repairs: flexible plastic pipe (looking like an accordion) that allowed the homeowner not to worry about pipe length. This is a cheap repair that will not last as long as the piping around it. Consider professional attention that includes proper, rigid pipe and possibly an additional shut-off valve.
Mix-and-match plumbing is another amateur fix. Here some lengths of copper pipe may have been replaced with plastic, creating a joint between two unlike materials. The joint is often a trouble spot, as the ridges from interior threads and unlike diameters can catch hair and soap scum, leading to clogs. Whenever possible, a professional plumber will replace like with like, so your home stays all copper or all PEX.
Many homeowners with no skills or money may turn to odd chemical patches, glues, adhesives, hose clamps and even duct tape to repair plumbing pipes in older homes. These are neither code-compliant nor safe. Water is constantly under pressure; otherwise it would not come out of your spigots. Relying on a piece of rubber and a hose clamp to prevent a leak in a corroded pipe is foolhardy, since a leak could cause damage far beyond the cost of a plumber to replace the corroded pipe.
Additions, remodeling and upgraded appliances are also areas where questionable plumbing may leave you vulnerable to surprise leaks, pinholes in pipes or clogs. A refrigerator that supplies fresh, cold water and ice through the door needs a tiny (usually copper) supply line, and often this is run from an existing cold water pipe using a saddle valve. This type of fixture is completely proper, but is prone to leakage over the years. Adding a vegetable sprayer to a kitchen sink, you encounter the same chances for problems.
Need Plumbing Help On an Older Home? Call ACE!
ACE Home Services can solve all these problems with just one telephone call. Once you engage our professional plumbers to inspect and solve your older Phoenix home’s problems, you can rest easy knowing you will enjoy years of worry-free plumbing.
Consider the many ways ACE Home Services can solve old problems and prevent new ones:
- Water leak detection
- Plumbing inspection
- Emergency repairs
- New water and plumbing lines
- Recirculation pumps to save water and energy
- Sewer drain cleaning, repair and maintenance
- Residential fixture installation
- Professional appliance installation
While you may call ACE Home Services for a leaky kitchen sink, if you take the time to allow our professional technicians to examine other fixtures and appliances, we may be able to save you substantial money on a suite of repairs and upgrades. We have convenient financing options, offer senior and veteran discounts, and provide special offers.