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There’s a long list of important points to consider when you’re buying a new house, including location, schools, neighbors, and of course, the price. That list contains plenty of potential landmines, but it’s important not to lose sight of some of the smaller issues that might not rise to the level of ‘deal-breaker,’ but are important to know when looking at your next home. One of those seemingly small — but potentially major — issues to keep an eye out for is how well the house’s plumbing system drains. A slow drain or a leak could be a minor and easily fixed problem, but it also could be a red flag indicating a more serious issue that bears closer examination. Red flags that could be signs of big damage:
- Signs of prior water damage in the basement or on the lowest floor of the house. The seller should disclose if there’s been an “Act of God” flood in the area, but might not let you know if the sump pump failed or a pipe burst. Be sure to check around the baseboards and drywall for signs of warping or repair.
- Check the sump pump in the basement. Not every basement has a sump pump and the house may not need one, but regardless, the basement should be dry. If there’s a drain, it should be clear of obstructions. If the basement is damp on a clear day, there may be some drainage issues that need to be explored.
- Look for repaired walls and ceilings. Often the first sign of leaking tub drains is on the ceiling of the floor below the bathroom. Similarly, drainage or other plumbing issues can show up on the walls behind toilets and under sinks. Of course, prior damage doesn’t mean that the problem is continual, but if you see this sort of damage, it’s something you should inquire about with the seller.
- Missing or broken gutters and downspouts. Unless the house is in an area where there is little precipitation (or if the yard is completely paved), there needs to be a system in place to divert rainwater away from the structure. Gutters should lead to downspouts and these should lead to a downward slope away from the home. If possible, walk around the outside of the house an hour or so after a good rain – if there is standing water near the house, you have cause to be concerned about drainage that can seep into the basement or even affect the foundation if the house is on a slab.
Other things to check:
- Toilets. A leaking toilet isn’t that big a deal in the big picture, but again, it’s something that’s better to know before you buy than after you move in. A quick way to check the toilet is to sprinkle a couple drops of a darkish food coloring in the tank and let it sit for twenty minutes or so. If any color has made it into the bowl then there’s a leak.
- Sinks. Unlike with a leaking tub drain, it’s pretty easy to tell if a sink drain is leaking. Turn on the water in the sink and take a look underneath. You might need a flashlight, but lacking that, just run your hand along the pipe that leads from the drain to the wall – it should be completely dry — no exceptions. If there’s a dishwasher in the kitchen, there’s a good chance it drains into the sink drain, so if possible, run the rinse cycle on the dishwasher and then check the connections once it’s drained to be sure everything is dry.
- Clogs. Clogs happen, and more often than not, they can be fixed with chemical drain cleaner or a drain snake, but there are serious clogs to look out for. If you have the time, fill up a bathtub and let it drain – if it takes more than five minutes to drain, it’s draining too slowly. If you don’t have time to fill the tub, just turn on the shower for a few minutes to ensure that the drain can match the pace of the shower. Multiple slow drains could indicate a serious problem or blockage in the house’s primary drain
- Water heater. There should be no water on or around functional water heaters – if the pipes are wet or if there’s water in the drain pan, there is probably an issue to look into.
Household drainage isn’t what you should be spending most of your home-buying energy on, but if you have the luxury of buying in a market that allows you to closely examine your potential purchase, it’s an exercise well-worth investing time in. And of course, even if you do find one or more of the above-mentioned problems, it doesn’t mean you should move on, but it will give you an idea of the what type of issues to expect if and when you move in (and it might give you a little more ammunition when you sit down at the negotiating table).
Angelo DiGangi is a Chicago-area sales associate at Home Depot. Angelo contributes often to Home Depot’s website, and writes on plumbing topics ranging from sump pumps to water heaters. If you would like to view Home Depot’s selection of sump pumps, visit here. Also, a variety of water heater options can be found at Home Depot.