Knowing about the plumbing in your home is a required skill when working as a Realtor. Being able to identify plumbing types is part of the job. Prior work experience in construction is definitely a big plus. Of course I learned about plumbing in Real Estate College too. But my biggest source of knowledge about plumbing when I first became a Realtor is the very old house I call home.
Having said all that I’m pretty quick to note what’s in a home, both the good and bad. So here’s a quick break down of the various types of plumbing in your home and your neighbours.
Plumbing Supply Types
On the supply side copper pipe is the most prevalent here in Ontario. I’d say it’s in 95% of the homes, with the balance being mostly PEX tubing. There are other types as well but they are way less common.
Copper is an excellent material for water sources that are slightly alkaline in nature. A pH above 7 stops metal leaching and corrosion that occurs if a water source is acidic. This keeps your pipes intact and prevents lead from leaching out of the 50/50 lead/tin soldered joints common in older properties. Municipal water supplies are made intentionally alkaline for this exact reason. Alkalinity also protects against lead leaching in places where lead supply piping still exists such as the Beaches area of Toronto.
PEX tubing is the other popular choice for water supply. It’s easy to install and cheaper than copper which is why it’s found in so many modern homes. But there are several different manufacturers so it’s important to know which brand you are working with. It come in white, red and blue colours. Concerns about PEX center on chemicals leaching from the plastic over time. I think this is a valid worry due the relative newness of this material in supply piping.
Kitec is the other type of plastic supply piping. It’s bad stuff! You still find it from time to time unfortunately. It’s usually orange colured for hot and blue for cold. This piping eventually ruptures if given enough time. It was used in Canada from 1995 to 2007. The manufacturer settled a class action lawsuit a number of years back. It’s big bucks to have it ripped out and you would be entitled to a hefty discount if you were buying a property with Kitec.
The last type of supply piping you’ll find is galvanized steel. You can still get this stuff although it’s hardly ever used anymore. It rusts out over time both inside and out and can become clogged and even plugged up from internal corrosion. It can be hard to identify by sight alone. Using a magnet is a great way to find out.
Plumbing Drain Types
In Ontario the gold standard for single family residential waste plumbing is ABS plastic. It has been in use since the 1970s. It’s cheap, durable and really easy to work with. PVC is a great alternative too. It’s less common though and a bit more complicated to join together. The usage of one type or the other is dependent on your local building code.
You’ll often find other types of waste lines in older properties. Homes in the 1960s and early 70’s had sewer lines entirely of copper. This material can be a poor choice in many applications. Waste water is acidic and eventually corrodes copper from the inside out. Runs of line that hold standing water are especially problematic.
In many older homes cast iron was the material of choice. It’s durable due to its very thick walls but brittle and will rot out eventually due to corrosion. Cast iron was common in properties from early last century into the 1950’s. Large vertical sections of cast iron (called the stack) will often have galvanized steel or even copper coming in from sinks and bath tubs. Toilets are usually connected directly to the stack with bronze and lead.
I’ve come across many older homes with several types of waste plumbing from various repairs or renovations over the history of the property. Replacing the entirety of the waste system is an expensive and daunting proposition and it’s rarely done. So knowledge really helps. Get a good Realtor and an inspection too. And make sure you know what to look for when buying property.