When a home inspector inspects a home, plumbing is one of the critical systems he examines for his report to you. Naturally, one of the first things he will do is to check faucets and fixtures, looking for leaks. According to the American Water Works Association, almost 15 percent of all the water used in a typical household is wasted through plumbing leaks, leaky faucets and wasted water.
Also, though it sounds silly and unnecessary at first, your home inspector will make sure cold water comes from the right side and hot water from the left when faucets are turned on. That's the conventional standard. You wouldn't want anyone to be surprised by getting scalded in the shower because they thought they were turning on the cold water.
Your inspector will check the type and condition of water pipes, which are usually made of copper, brass, or galvanized steel. Copper is the most desirable material, with brass next, and galvanized steel the least desirable.
Copper is best for water distribution piping. It lasts the longest and is usually trouble free. As for brass pipes, mineral content in the water affects their durability. White mineral deposits on brass pipes means there are pinhole leaks. This shows the pipes are deteriorating and may need replaced at some point in the future.
Galvanized steel pipes corrode on the inside which constricts water flow. It's like trying to merge three lanes of highway traffic into two or even one. When these pipes are in poor condition, using more than one water fixture at a time causes problems. For example, if someone is taking a shower, avoid flushing the toilet, using the dishwasher or the washing machine because the shower will either become very hot or cold.
When you're purchasing a home, your inspector should tell you what material the plumbing pipes are made of and what condition they're in. Replacing water distribution piping is quite costly, should it be necessary.
Your inspector should also let you know about the water supply pipe that brings water into the home. Again, copper is the best material because, if the pipe is made of galvanized steel, it could have the same corrosion problem noted above. If this pipe is made from lead, excessive amounts of lead may be leaching into the water, which poses a health hazard. The best solution is to replace this pipe. However, this costs thousands of dollars.
If contaminants such as lead are coming into the home's water supply, consider adding a water filtration system where water enters the building. Also consider adding a water treatment system in the kitchen where water is used for drinking and cooking.
The water heater is another important item your inspector will check. If it's a gas water heater, it must be installed properly and allow for good ventilation. A metal flue pipe must let toxic gases flow up and out of the home through a chimney. Improper ventilation will result in accumulation of toxic and deadly carbon monoxide. If the flue pipe slopes downward it should be repaired and replaced. Heat from the water heater's gas combustion must rise upward, as it is meant to do.