Pay attention to plumbing
Originally appeared in Hills Publications, April 5, 2002
In buying or maintaining a home, we logically tend to emphasize those areas that cost the most to repair or replace. Plumbing is usually downplayed because the need to totally overhaul it is rare. Difficulties with plumbing, however, can lead to other, expensive issues. Three common problems deserve attention.
Banging, thumping, clunking or clanking sounds in your plumbing are signs of an event called “water hammer.” This occurs after the water is abruptly turned off, as when the washing machine or dishwasher switches cycles. The sound is a result of pressure in the pipe after the sudden cessation of water flow. Newer homes have equipment that allows the pressure to dissipate.
Even if you have a water hammer arrester, it could be waterlogged and require a bleeding of the water line. Water hammer might have a cause as innocuous as a loose or damaged faucet washer. It may also be the sounds of pipes banging or clanging inside the walls because they need better strapping. On the other hand, it could be a sign of water pressure that is too high.
Inspectors tell me that the normal range is 30 to 80 pounds per square inch (psi). My plumber insists anything over 65 psi is a bad thing. He considers 55 to 65 as the acceptable range. Regardless, it is wise to have the water pressure tested during a buyer’s home inspection. If you already own, you can buy a tester at the hardware store and check yourself.
Low pressure may be the result of occluded pipes or, it might be endemic to your area. Ask your neighbors if their water pressure is similar to yours. High pressure can create a plethora of problems, including noises associated with water hammer.
One consequence of too high water pressure is a leak in a valve or pipe joint that is unseen and goes unnoticed. The upshot might be pest control problems or, possibly worse, mold buildup that threatens the house and its occupants. If you have a pressure regulator, make sure it is working correctly.
High water pressure may also damage dishwashers, water heaters, toilet valves, washing machines and faucet washers. In addition to possible appliance replacement, excessive water pressure could lead to serious harm, such as a broken washing machine hose spewing water that floods the floor below.
A large percentage of older homes in the East Bay contain a combination of copper and galvanized pipes. One of the most common items mentioned in home inspections is the need for a dielectric union, a device used to join two dissimilar metals, such as copper and galvanized.
This coupler contains a plastic spacer inside that keeps the metals from contacting each other. One end is soldered to the copper pipe; the other is screwed onto the galvanized side. Without this connector, the two metals create an electrochemical reaction that results in corrosion. This will eventually cause a leak, with the possible negative outcomes discussed above.
Recently, I noticed corrosion at the connection between one of our outdoor hose bibs and the water pipe. There was also rust on the concrete below, a sure sign of trouble.
After I removed the hose bib and fittings, I discovered that the water line was copper, but the hose bib was galvanized. The connectors were totally rusted. I replaced the bib and fittings with copper. Left unattended, water might have eventually leaked inside the wall, something I prefer not to contemplate.
Fortunately, we rarely experience one of the main causes of major pipe leaks—freezing. This may be one reason many of us think about plumbing only when something has gone wrong. A better alternative might be to have a plumber do a periodic check of your system. Being proactive could keep the big headaches away.
Sewer Line Blues