Question: My wife and I are finally in escrow and hope to take title to our first home in a few weeks. The house is in a nice Goleta neighborhood that seems to be mostly occupied by seniors, but a few young families like us have moved in and we think it would be a good area to raise our family.
The seller is the original owner, the house was built in 1962, the kitchen and bathrooms are original, and not a whole lot has been done in the way of improvements, but the house appears to be in solid shape.
We are in the process of having a home inspection scheduled but are worried that something may get missed and that we will have little money left over after escrow for unexpected repair work.
What kinds of problems should we be looking for that might get missed in the inspection?
Your Handyman: Congratulations on your new home! You are smart to be on the lookout for unexpected repairs that may cause financial strains to your family budget.
Most of the tract homes in Goleta were built in the late 1950s and the ’60’s, coinciding with the completion of Lake Cachuma to provide water to Goleta, and UC Santa Barbara and Delco expanding to provide high-paying local jobs.
In that time period when a house was built, the drain lines from the kitchen, bathrooms and laundry were made from cast iron, and were buried in the ground under the cement foundation.
The lateral sewage pipe that connected the house to the main sewer line in the street was usually made from red clay, much like a mission-style roofing tile.
These cast iron and clay pipes worked fine for many years, but now that these homes are approaching their 6oth and 70th birthdays, the pipes are at best in poor condition and often are in the early stages of failure.
Cast iron pipes, of course, are prone to rusting, and it is not uncommon for a plumber to remove an old 2-to-3 inch exterior diameter iron pipe and to find corrosion clogging the pipe to the extent that a finger can barely be inserted.
When buried, these pipes can rust away and partially collapse, allowing soil and roots to fill sections of the pipe.
The red clay pipes of the lateral line connected together with a sort of bell-shaped opening on one end that slid over the opposing narrow end of the next pipe.
These connections leaked to some degree, and quickly attracted roots that slowly broke the joints apart as the roots sought the moisture and fertilizers in the sewer pipe.
Like any type of clay or ceramic product, these clay pipes were brittle and cracked when compressed by a tree root or pressured by shifting soil.
Large amounts of money will be spent with local plumbers by homeowners in these Goleta housing tracts over the next 10-15 years as, house by house, the sewer lines will fail and need to be replaced or repeatedly repaired.
Replacing a cast iron drain line that is buried under your cement foundation is not an easy thing to do, and usually requires cutting into the foundation inside the house and installing new black plastic ABS pipe.
In some cases, a new sewer line can be laid around the perimeter of the house and out to the street.
ABS sewer pipe and fittings came into wide use in about 1970, are made from a super tough thermoplastic resin called Acrylonitrile-Butadiene-Styrene (ABS for short) and will likely survive until the end of time if installed properly.
When the lateral sewer line to the street is replaced, it can either be dug up in the same manner or most plumbers now offer what is advertised as “trenchless technology” in which, basically, a new flexible polyethylene pipe is pulled through the old clay pipe, sparing the homeowner the problems caused by having a trench dug across the front yard.
I have read many home inspection reports over the years and don’t remember ever reading a mention about the issue of cast iron drain lines under a slab.
As part of doing the due diligence in inspecting your potential new home, I suggest that you hire a plumbing contractor to run a video camera scope down your drain lines so that the actual condition of the pipes can be completely inspected.
These remote video scopes have been around for some years now and most plumbing contractors own one.
It may be that the home’s drain lines are not immediately failing, but it is important to accept that it is just a matter of time until they do fail. If immediate work is required be sure to get quotes from at least two plumbers.
In my opinion. it does not make sense to start remodeling in your new home until these issues are resolved, especially installing new bathrooms or a new kitchen.