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By: Tyler Gatewood on November 24th, 2020

Should I Be Concerned About the Water Safety in My Older Home?

We have all heard horror stories about homes with foundation issues, cracks in the walls, appliances breaking down, and other problems that seemingly came out of nowhere. But what about the safety for your household with water?

Older homes have received a spotlight in the news lately with busted water pipes and water safety.

Common Plumbing Problems in Older Homes + Solutions

Many older homes have had work done on the exterior for curb appeal to attract future buyers, but what about the pipes and framework of these types of homes?

Sometimes, the plumbing inside is older than the home’s actual structure, which can lead to a multitude of problems and unanticipated costs. Below are the most common plumbing issues:

Old Pipe Material

As technology evolves, there are new ways to construct many old ways for plumbing and electrical work. Houses built before the 1990s could have pipes made from outdated material that are no longer used in new homes or approved by the U.S. building codes.

Recommendation: Have your home’s plumbing inspected to ensure there are no surprises when you drain the clogs for the first time.

What are the three outdated types of plumbing pipes?

Lead

Lead is one of the oldest metals used for the construction of houses, mainly in water and sewer lines. It was the primary metal for plumbing due to its malleability and durability. Lead was also used as an additive in solder to join copper pipe fittings.

Unfortunately, lead is highly toxic and could result in joint and/or gastrointestinal pain, irritability, fatigue, and even memory loss. While lead exposure is not ideal for any age group, children are the most affected by it, and the toxicity could cause issues with physical and mental development.

Lead pipes weren’t banned entirely at the national level until 1986 due to the Safe Drinking Water Act amended by congress.

Galvanized

This material was used in homes built before the 1960s and was made of iron and coated with a zinc layer. The erosion of zinc leaves the pipe very susceptible to carrion and even breakage. The durability of Galvanized pipes can last close to 60 years, but clogging is developed by rust. The lines become brittle, that they will have to be replaced.

Polybutylene

In the 1970s, polybutylene was known as the “pipe of the future,” replacing the copper lines and became even more popular a decade later. After a class-action lawsuit alleging the pipes were defective, it caused the manufacturers millions of dollars.

Oxidants in public water systems caused a chemical reaction with the plastic material that led to flake, then became brittle and eventually cracked. These pipes continued in mobile home installations, but homes built in the 1980s and 1990s used plastic pipes.

Polybutylene is no longer rated by U.S. building codes, and if your home has these types of lines, they should be replaced.

Failing Sewer Lines

Broken sewer lines cause sewage to seep into the ground, causing terrible odor wastewater to get into homes. This is a common occurrence in older homes, and the sewer lines were constructed before modern appliances that include garbage disposals, toilets, and dishwashers. Another issue with older homes is when the sewer lines shift.

Trenchless sewer line replacement, also called relining, might be the fastest way to fix these failed sewer lines that could be contracted in one day.

Outdated Fixtures and Connections

Corrosion along with wear and tear can lead to restricted water flow from older faucets, fixtures, and supply line connections. One of the worst things a homebuyer could do is to leave these older fixtures unattended, which could cause more monetary issues in the future and possible flooding inside the home.

Preventative maintenance is the best solution for preventing general wear and tear that can have expensive repairs down the road.

Tip: Always hire a professional plumber to inspect the plumbing in your home once a year.

Bad Repairs

Another hot topic is to discover who has done the repairs in your home. There has been plenty of evidence of amateur “Do-it-Yourself” projects that have caused even more problems than expected.

Some of the issues can come from unsecured pipes or backward sink traps that will lead to unsafe water heaters or even sloped showers.

Tips to Check the Safety of Your Home’s Tap Water

If you are moving into a home that is more than 30 years old, you should have a thorough inspection conducted by a licensed plumbing contractor. Be proactive now rather than reactive later, which could lead to more expensive problems in the future. Here’s some things to keep in mind during the process:

Know how old your home is

Like we discussed earlier, know when your home was built and how old the faucets are. Consider installing a water filtration system that removes lead and other unwanted contaminants. 

Call your water company

Ask these professionals whether the utility-owned portion of the service line was made from lead and to also review the service of these lines. They could have replaced some of the lines in the past. If the person on the line is not sure, ask for a supervisor because the utility company often owns part of the water lines that extend from the water main in the street to your home.

Know the limitations of testing

Even if your water test doesn’t show any lead contamination, it does not mean the water is consistently safe if it’s passing through the pipes made of lead, per water-testing expert Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech.

Dangerous pieces of lead solder could break off at any point, and corrosion of lead changes over time, meaning it can pass into your water.

But Is My Tap Water Safe to Drink?

That’s a tough question because even though it may be rated safe by the government’s standards, it may not be that the water is 100% free from contaminants. Below is a summary of what the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found. The group studied and tested more than 28,000,000 records from 50,000 water utilities serving 280,000,000 people in the United States.

  • 81% of the utilities tested positive for contaminants linked to cancer
  • 77% of Americans are drinking Hexavalent Chromium
  • 7,000,000 Americans are drinking water with unsafe levels of Nitrates (chemical fertilizers)
  • 19,000 of the utilities tested for high levels of lead
  • 250 chemicals and 160 contaminates were detected in America’s water.

Luckily, we have the technology to filter water easily that’s relatively inexpensive. Most of the contaminants can be filtered through evolving technology.

What Next?

At the end of the day, is it worth taking the risk? Water is one of the basic building blocks necessary to have a healthy body, not just for you but your entire household.

Having Exell water filtration equipment installed or making the choice to have bottled water delivered right to your doorstep are just a couple easy ways to keep your home safe from these concerning water safety issues, especially if your home is older! 

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