Antique Plumbing: What to Look and Save for When Buying an Old House

Written by Tom Elliott. Posted in Rakeman Blog

antiqueplumberMany potential home buyers gravitate to the character in older homes, even though there are sometimes issues with updating the functions of the home—especially plumbing.

Not all old houses have plumbing problems, so how can you know if the home you’re looking at is a flood waiting to happen or a generally water-safe home? Here are some things to look for, ask about, and save for when you’re walking through and purchasing an older house.

Things to Look For

When you begin looking at older homes, it’s important that you know the signs of good, bad, or outdated plumbing. You should take special care to look for and in the following.

Inside Closets

Closets in older homes often hide plumbing. This is because many plumbing features, such as second bathrooms, were added years after the home was built. It is easier to run plumbing through a closet than to open a wall. Check all the closets for older or outdated pipes or water damage. Also, since closets provide unseen access to the ceiling of a room, you should check the see if the ceilings of any closets have water damage from pipes running above them.

In the Basement

If the older home has a basement, this is where the drainage of the home gathers. It’s also most likely where your water heater and your washer and dryer are installed. Check the ceilings (if the basement is unfinished) for evidence of updated plumbing. Basements will also show signs of water damage in the open ceiling or the bare concrete.

Look for an installed sump pump and follow where the lines flow to and from the rooms above to check for water damage or other plumbing issues.

For Bulging Ceilings or Walls

Bulging ceilings or walls can be caused by previous or hidden water damage. Not all bulging walls in older homes are caused by plumbing problems (structural issues also contribute to bulging), but bulging ceilings are almost always due to damaged plaster from a plumbing leak. Leaks are most likely to occur in corroded plumbing or plumbing that has been updated inexpertly.

For Outdated Materials

Copper and PVC piping are the most durable materials, although copper pipes under the sinks can be difficult to change out in the future. Less effective plumbing is polybutylene piping, which is generally more leak prone as it ages.

The most outdated, however, are original clay, steel, lead, or iron pipes. Iron toilet stacks, for instance, that drain into the basement, can suffer metal fatigue and crack. Iron pipes taking waste water from the house become corroded and clogged with rusty deposits. Lead pipes can be toxic to your health and should always be replaced.

Inside Tub Enclosures or Behind Shower Walls

Some bathrooms that are added after the house was built have access to the shower or tub plumbing from a different room. This isn’t always the case, but if it’s possible to get a glance at the plumbing and piping, you’ll get an idea of the workmanship used to upgrade the plumbing components in the rest of the house.

Below the Sinks

Sinks are an easy place to spot shoddy plumbing work. Replacing under-the-sink plumbing is also one of the easiest DIY plumbing jobs, so if the sink plumbing is original and in rough shape, it’s safe to assume the more difficult aspects of the home have not been addressed.

Things to Ask a Plumber

There are a series of questions a plumber can answer for you, which is why you should bring one with you to the home inspection. A home inspector might notice certain issues, but if he or she is not a plumber, your more in-depth inquiries will go unanswered. Homeowners should ask plumbers about the following.

How Much the Outdated Elements Will Cost to Replace

This is dependent on how easy the pipes are to access. A pipe taking waste water from the house to the main infrastructure is hard to access and requires extensive labor. It will be more expensive than running new lines from the sink to an open basement. Plumbers can take a look at plumbing using cameras and other equipment to give you a better idea of what needs to be done and how much everything will cost.

How Difficult Some Plumbing Will Be to Access

Will walls need to be torn open? Floors ripped up? Sometimes, repairing plumbing can be simple, requiring only a little demo work. Other times, it means overhauling an entire room. A plumbing professional can help you determine how extensive the work will be.

What Types of Plumbing Are Present

If you are not sure if a pipe is lead or iron, your plumber can tell you. They can also let you know what shape older fixtures are in, letting you gauge how soon they’ll need replacement.

Things to Save For

Unless the plumbing in your whole home has been updated to perfection, you should use the quotes your plumber gives you to save for component replacement. Any outdated plumbing should be top priority in your home renovation budget.


You should not be scared away by a few plumbing issues here and there. Many problems are manageable if you are proactive and prepare for their replacement.

This guide can assist you in basic analysis of the location and quality of the plumbing in an older home. However, sometimes you need even more help from a plumber before knowing for sure if you’re going to face huge plumbing problems down the road.

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  • Rakeman Plumbing
  • 4075 Losee Rd
  • North Las Vegas, NV 89030
  • Phone: 702-642-8553
  • Fax: (702) 399-1410
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