Plumbing Systems and
Pre-Purchase Home Inspections
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Plumbing describes different systems in a home or building. Plumbing can mean fixtures such as a sink or tub, pipes that bring water to the fixtures, pipes that drain the sewage from the fixtures, gas supply lines, underground sprinkler systems, heating pipes, etc.
The Licensed Engineers from Heimer Engineering examines the plumbing for function, leaks, sufficiency of water supply, etc.
One of the biggest concerns of many home, building, condo, and co-op purchasers is leakage. Water dripping from a pipe is an obvious leak. Other types of leakage can be difficult to detect, since all that is visible is a dry stain on a ceiling or a piece of duct tape wrapped around a drain line. The Engineer evaluates both the obvious leaks and the difficult to detect leaks.
The Water Meter
Water for a building is supplied either by a municipal water supplier or is pumped from a private well. Regardless of the source of the water, it travels through underground pipes and into the home, building, condo unit, or co-op unit. These pipes are buried below the frost line to prevent freezing during the cold winter months. If the building is served by well water, there is usually a water storage tank in the basement.
If the water comes from a municipal water supplier, the water is metered. The water meter is often located where the main water line enters the building, although many communities now locate the water meter outside the building to facilitate reading of the meter. In these buildings, you will see a cover, typically labeled Water Meter, outside the building. There is no need to meter private well water. If you see a water meter, the building likely has municipally supplied water.
Water Supply Pressure
If the building is less than six stories tall, the pressure supplied from the street can usually push the water up to all the levels of the building.
Taller buildings, and buildings in areas with low street pressure, may need supplemental pumps. Otherwise, sufficient water pressure and flow rate may not be available on the upper floors.
During hot and humid days, water supply pressure sometimes drops. This is usually caused by a large volume of water usage. For example, fire hydrants may be opened on hot and humid days. If your house or building is inspected on a hot and humid day, expect a slightly lower water pressure.
If there are a lot of underground sprinkler systems in your neighborhood, water pressure may drop off when the sprinklers are in operation.
Water Supply Plumbing
Water supply lines are made of copper, brass, galvanized steel, plastic, or lead:
- Lead water lines were used until the 1930s. Since lead water lines increase the risk of lead in the water, they are no longer used. If the building is served by a lead water main, it should be tested for lead in the water.
- Plastic, until recently, was used for outdoor plumbing and underground sprinkler lines. With the increasing cost of metal, interior plastic water lines are becoming much more common in newer buildings.
- Galvanized steel plumbing was used for water lines years ago. Galvanized steel plumbing becomes clogged because of corrosion over time. Galvanized steel plumbing is also more likely to develop leaks as it ages.
- Copper and brass are the most popular types of material used for supply lines today (although plastic is seen more and more). Copper and brass plumbing has the longest leak-free life expectancy.
Our Engineers evaluate the plumbing in the home, building, condo, or co-op. If there are any problems in the observable plumbing lines, our engineers will advise you of them.
Some buildings have an underground sprinkler system. The underground pipes for most sprinkler systems are made of plastic. Since the pipes are underground, leakage problems are difficult to find. Often, leaks are found only when a building owner observes that part of the lawn is turning brown because it is not being watered properly.
Steam and Hot Water
Many homes and buildings are heated by hot water (hydronic) or steam. Hot water is typically pumped by a circulator pump, while the steam rises naturally. The steam or heated water are distributed in pipes throughout the building:
- Steam heat is typically distributed in steel pipes to large cast-iron radiators. These pipes may be covered with asbestos containing insulation. The steam pipes are typically connected to cast iron radiators.
- Hot water heat is usually distributed in copper pipes, although plastic is found in newer home, building, condo unit, and co-op unit. The hot water pipes are connected to either cast iron radiators or baseboard radiators in the rooms. Baseboard radiators are typically made from copper tubing with aluminum fins.
The drain lines carry wastewater through the building and into the sewer, septic tank, or cesspool. The wastewater flows due to gravity. Therefore, the waste water lines are considerably larger than water supply lines and are pitched toward their final destination. Drain lines are typically made of copper, cast iron, brass, or plastic.
The most common problem with drain lines is leakage. Drain lines sometimes become blocked, but this is less common than drain line leaks. Drain line leaks are sometimes intermittent. For example, a drain may leak when someone is standing in a bathtub, but not when they are sitting in the tub. The Engineer evaluates the accessible drain lines.
The plumbing is more than just the pipes. The water has to be turned on and off, the flow rate needs to be controlled, and the water temperature needs to be adjusted.
Plumbing fixtures accomplish these tasks. Some fixtures have a one handle control. Other fixtures have a separate control for hot and cold water. Some bathtub fixtures have additional controls to set whether the water comes out of the tub spout or shower head.
Checking a plumbing fixture may seem relatively easy, but it is more than just seeing if the fixture either leaks or does not leak.
Our Engineers check for flow rate problems, other functional problems, insufficient water pressure, and scalding hot water.
Shut Off Valves
One of the more common questions asked is "Can you show me the location of the shut off valves?" Many prospective buyers feel this is an important piece of information that should be obtained at the inspection.
The Engineer will tell you the location of the shut off valves if the location can be determined. Often, these valves are hidden by stored material. After you move into the building, make sure that you do not block the shutoff valves.
While the location of the shut off valves is of interest, there are more important issues with which to be concerned. The structural system, foundation, electrical system, heating system, hot water system, structural termite damage, and water in the basement, are a few of the other important areas checked by our engineers during the home, building, condo, or co-op inspection.
Gas is distributed to most buildings at low pressure. The gas comes either from pipes that run under the street (called natural gas) or from propane storage tanks. The propane storage tanks are either located behind a building or are buried underground.
A perfume is added to natural gas. You smell this perfume when you "smell gas". If you smell gas, or think that you smell gas, call the gas company or fire department immediately. Gas leaks should only be repaired by qualified individuals.
The gas is distributed through the building in pipes. Natural gas is typically distributed in the house or building via black iron or galvanized lines. Propane gas may be distributed in copper lines, although many communities prohibit copper lines due to the risk of damage and leaks.
If you smell gas,
or think that you smell gas,
call the gas company or
fire department immediately
Gas is safe as long as the gas equipment is installed and maintained properly. The Engineer checks for visible problems with the gas plumbing.
During the inspection, the Heimer Engineering℠ examines, analyzes, and/or reports on (as appropriate based on the building):
Inspections New Condo
Punch List Co-op
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Heimer Engineering℠ is happy to help you. Senior Staff members are available to answer your questions from Monday through Friday from 9 AM to 5 PM. After 5 PM, please leave a message. Messages are checked during the day on Sunday, and Sunday evening through Thursday evening. Inspections are performed seven days a week. Choose Heimer Engineering℠.
Inspection orders are taken by senior staff members. A real estate purchase is complex, and you should be able to speak with someone who can give you real answers to your inspection questions.
To set up an appointment for a pre-purchase inspection, or to find out about Engineering services or expert court testimony send Heimer Engineering℠ an email at WebInfoRequest@heimer.com, send Heimer Engineering℠ a text at 888.769.6910, call Heimer Engineering℠ at 800.605.1500, or call Heimer Engineering℠ at 646.757.4500. If no staff member is in the office, leave a message.
Heimer Engineering℠ serves the Metro New York area, including New York City (Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, Bronx, Staten Island), Long Island (Nassau County, Suffolk County, and Upstate New York (Rockland County, Putnam County, and Westchester County).
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In the event of a life-threatening emergency call 911. Emergency situations need to be handled by first-responders who can evacuate buildings, shut utilities off, and take other steps necessary to preserve life.
Heimer Engineering℠ Standards of PracticeThe Licensed Engineers of Heimer Engineering℠ substantially adhere to the InterNACHI® Code of Ethics, to Subpart 197-4 of the State of New York Code of Ethics and Regulations for Home Inspectors, and to the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE®) Code of Ethics. All State of New York Licensed Engineers are also bound by New York State Education Law Article 145.
Heimer Engineering℠ Code of Ethics
The Licensed Engineers of Heimer Engineering℠ substantially adhere to the InterNACHI® Standards of Practice and the ASHI® Standards of Practice. In the event of a conflict, the Licensed Engineers of Heimer Engineering℠ use Engineering judgment to decide what standard or Engineering principle takes precedence.
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Heimer Engineering℠ performs home inspections, building inspections, condominium inspections, and co-op inspections in the State of New York. We do not perform inspections or recommend Inspectors or Engineers outside of the State of New York. We provide Licensed Professional Engineer consultation services including hurricane and storm damage and damage from adjoining construction. Expert witness services are provided regarding playground injuries, parking lot, walkway, and stairway slip, trip, and fall.
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