Old Plumbing Poses Problems for Historic Homes
Repairs and renovation are more difficult with his 80-year-old home than newer houses. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Maureen P. of Indianapolis)
Sally Krause's 1910 Irvington home has been a single-family residence, apartments and a church. But in April, 100 years of multiple uses and plumbing configurations resulted in 6 inches of drain water backing up in her basement.
She hired Jack Hope of highly rated Hope Plumbing in Indianapolis, who found a secondary clay sewer line overrun with tree roots. Krause, who wasn't aware of the clay sewer line, says she spent about $800 to install new sections of sewer pipe and a new cleanout. "Typically in older house plumbing repairs, time has taken its toll," Hope says.
Many local plumbers, including Hope, say old house plumbing repairs and improvements often presents challenges not found in newer houses. "Anything older than 1970 gets a little crazy," says Joe Siebert, general manager for highly rated R.V. Hallam Plumbing in Westfield. The problems stem from age and outdated plumbing materials such as galvanized steel water supply lines, cast-iron drain pipes and clay sewer lines.
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"The most common issue is water pressure problems due to the original galvanized steel pipes rusting and closing up like an artery," says Andy Jasper, general manager for highly rated Village Plumbing in Indianapolis.
Plumbers stopped using galvanized steel water supply lines prior to the 1970s as copper and plastic pipes became industry standard, but they can still be found in homes with old plumbing. Making small repairs, such as replacing corroded sections of pipe, may temporarily solve the problem, but if it's a widespread issue, Jasper recommends replacing all supply lines with a new material such as flexible PEX or copper pipes. "Putting Band-Aids on something that's 90 years old isn't always the best option," he says.
Siebert estimates the average cost to replumb all supply lines in a home starts at about $2,000, but plumbing costs can vary widely.
Hope says older home repairs also can be difficult due to old-fashioned craftsmanship, such as thicker wood framing and plaster walls rather than drywall. "They were built so much stronger than new houses, so simply drilling into wood or cutting into a wall is substantially more difficult," he says.
Properties with historic designations also require working through copious red tape to make changes. Alison Chestovich says the historic status of her 90-year-old duplex in Indianapolis' Old Northside neighborhood meant more time, effort and cost for her plumbing projects.
Last year, Chestovich hired highly rated L.E. Isley & Sons in Westfield to install a new tankless water heater. The water heater's exhaust vent needed to exit through her home's original masonry foundation, so she needed approval from the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission and Indiana Landmarks. "As a first-time homeowner, I had no idea how much you had to do," Chestovich says.
After completing paperwork, having an IHPC inspection and altering the exhaust pipe's location to exit the back of the house, Chestovich says the plumbing upgrades, which also included a new water purification system, cost more than $5,000. "The next home I buy, I'm not sure how enamored I'll be with the historic woodwork, windows or neighborhood," she says.
For Krause, the additional hassle simply requires more patience. "We love the history, the character and the charm," she says. "So the repairs are worth it."
Editor's note: This is an updated version of an article originally posted on 3, 2011.