I was doing an inspection once on a house that had a lead water main line and I told the client about it. Before I even got a chance to tell the client about the health concerns, the dishonest Realtor that was at the inspection jumped up and said, "Oh, well so what. What's wrong with a lead pipe? Plenty of houses in this area have them." I don't suppose his commission on the sale of the house had anything to do with that comment? Of course in his opinion it wasn't a problem for my client to buy this house with the lead water main pipe. After all, it wasn't this Realtor's children that would end up getting brain damage. I went on to tell the client about the health concerns with lead piping. The client realized the importance of getting the lead water main replaced with a new copper pipe. He contacted the water utility company to obtain an estimate to install a new water main line. You should recommend the same thing for your clients as well for health reasons.
I'm telling you ahead of time, that if you come across any lead piping in a house, some Realtors and other third parties will try to sugarcoat the problem. They're going to tell your client that "they only need to install a water filter and it'll be fine." Don't let your client be snowed with that line! Tell them to remove all lead piping and eliminate the problem for good.
Check to make sure that the main water line isn't loose which can cause damage at the plumbing joints and leaks. Gently check this line so you don't do any damage yourself. Tell the client to have a support bracket put on if needed. I did an inspection once that when I checked the main water line for sturdiness, it began to leak. Check the condition of the water main shutoff valve. This valve is used to turn off all he water entering the house in case of an emergency or if any repairs are being done. Sometimes there will be two shutoff valves at the water main entry. Don't test these valves by shutting them on or off. They get rusty over time and if you test them, they may "freeze" in the on or off position. There is also the possibility that they'll begin to leak and you'll have a problem on your hands.
If the shutoff valve is the older turn-knob type of handle, then you might want to recommend that a newer valve be installed. The lever-type shutoff valves are used in newer construction. The lever valves are more reliable and have less of a chance of freezing over time.
Check for the installation of a water meter reading device. Some areas don't have water meters. In these locations, the property owners are taxed a set fee for the water usage, no matter how much they use. Water meters are usually installed next to the foundation wall within a few feet of the water main entry line.
Check for a remote water meter reading device that will look like a telephone wire attached to the water meter. This wire connects to a small meter on the exterior of the house. Its purpose is to allow the water company employees to read the meter without having to enter the home.
Check for an electrical grounding wire. This is a very important safety item!!! It should be located by the water meter or the water main line entry.
Check for an electrical grounding wire. This is a very important safety item!!! It should be located by the water meter or the entry of the water main line. The purpose of this is to ground the house electrical system for safety. Electrical systems can also be grounded to an exterior metal rod driven 8-10 feet into the ground. The grounding wire doesn't have to be insulated like most electrical wiring because there's normally no current passing through this wire. It may be enclosed in BX cable or a conduit, which is a metal covering for protection from damage.
The grounding clamps should not be rusty or loose, but often they are. The grounding wire should be clamped on both sides of the water meter, if there is a water meter installed. If there is no water meter, then the grounding wire should be clamped on both sides of the water main shutoff valve. Often it will only be clamped to one side of the water meter or main shutoff valve. Tell the client that they need to have a jumper cable installed with clamps to span the water meter. This is an inexpensive item to install and it's a safety requirement of the National Electric Code. A jumper cable is merely an additional heavy gauge wire about three feet long, that's attached on both sides of the water meter. A jumper cable normally doesn't need to be an insulated wire because no electrical current should be passing through this wire unless there is a problem condition.
It's very important to stress to the client and all third parties about the importance of installing a proper grounding wire that spans the meter. I'll walk you through the basics of what an electrical ground does. This will give you a better understanding of its importance. Let's say, for example, that a live wire somewhere in the electrical system came loose from an outlet and rested on a plumbing pipe or another metal object. A surge in the electrical current would then follow the plumbing lines back to the grounding cable and to the water main entry line. If the grounding cable is installed properly, then the current will go literally to the earth or ground. This will cause an electrical overload and the electrical panel circuit breaker will trip off or the fuse will blow. This will then shut the power off leading to the loose electrical wire branch line. The entire electrical system will also shut off if the main disconnect is overloaded as well.
However, let's say that the electrical grounding cable did not have the proper jumper cable to span the water meter or main shutoff valve. There's a chance that the rubber washers in the water meter or shutoff valve joint connections could prevent the grounding circuit from being completed. Therefore, the unwanted electrical current from the loose wire touching the plumbing lines won't travel to the earth or ground. The circuit would be prevented from grounding because the electrical current would be blocked by the rubber washer. If this happened, then the plumbing lines would remain electrified and the first person to reach for water would get an electric shock. Another hazard would be that the metal object the loose wire was touching, would heat up from the surge in electrical current and start a fire.
Sometimes there will be a pressure reducing valve before the water meter or main shutoff valve. This is an indication that there may be strong water pressure in the water lines of the street. A water pressure reducing valve looks like a small liberty bell and is used in areas where the municipal water system has very good pressure from the street water lines. The pressure reducing valve reduces the water pressure from the street down to about 30-60 psi, (pounds per square inch), before it enters the house plumbing supply lines.
During the interior inspection, check the water pressure and drainage by briefly running the faucets and tubs. In the bathrooms run the sink faucet, the tub or shower faucet and flush the toilet simultaneously. Watch the faucets to see if the pressure drops significantly. A minor pressure drop is normal but a large pressure drop can indicate either poor water pressure or possibly some clogged supply lines. Poor water pressure in some supply lines may be due to the street water pressure being too low. However, it's most likely caused by some supply pipes inside the house that have clogged over the years. Tell the client to have a licensed plumber check it out to determine if there are many clogged lines or just a small section that needs replacing.
An important point to remember is that I always try to have the client present with me when I'm testing the water pressure. This lets the client see for themselves what the water pressure level is. Your client can then decide if the pressure meets their standards of being acceptable. Different people have different tastes. One client might not mind low water pressure, while another client might be furious with you if you don't point that out to him and he ends up buying the house. Don't leave anything to the imagination, let the client decide for themselves if the water pressure is satisfactory or not. Don't try to make the decision for them. Remember to turn off all faucets you're testing during the inspection. You don't want to flood someone's house. Water damage can be very messy and expensive to repair.
As I mentioned earlier, there are aspects to be aware of when inspecting a vacant house. If the property is located in a cold weather area, then the heating system must be kept on all winter or else the water pipes must be winterized. This protects the pipes from water freezing, expanding and cracking the pipes. A plumber "winterizes " the plumbing system by putting an anti-freeze chemical in the drainage pipes and "U " trap. The supply pipes should be drained of all water. Once the plumbing system is winterized, the water should not be turned on in the house! If the water is accidentally turned on then the anti-freeze chemical will be flushed out of the system and flow out the drainage lines. This will "dewinterize" the pipes. So don't make the mistake of testing the water pressure if the plumbing system is winterized. Plumbers usually tape notices on the water fixtures of the house to remind people the system should not be used.
Another important aspect to note is that you should tell the client to find out how long the house has been left vacant. The client needs to get written documentation confirming when the house was vacated, if the heating system was left on, and/or when the pipes were winterized. The reason for this is that pipes that have frozen and cracked behind walls may not show water stains until after the home inspection. Some pipes burst when they freeze and cause extensive water damage. But some pipes only get cracks when they freeze and will not reveal water leaks for a long time.
Realtors are always going to say, "Oh, the pipes were winterized before the weather got cold, " or else they'll say, "The heating system has been left on all winter so the pipes wouldn't freeze. " My response to that is, "Great, just get the written documentation to my client so he can confirm that's an accurate statement." I say this because I've learned one million times over that dishonest Realtors say ANYTHING that sounds good, whether they know if it's accurate or not!!!! I've done foreclosure appraisals on houses that were left vacant for two winters. The only problem was that the heating system was left on or the pipes were only winterized for one winter! Or, the house was properly winterized while the heating system was turned off - but later someone mistakenly turned on the water in the house to test the water pressure during a home inspection without realizing that the plumbing system was winterized. By running the water you flush-out the anti-freeze chemicals in the pipes and then the plumbing system is no longer winterized. Let's say this were the case in a house that you're inspecting. Your client may find cracked and leaking pipes behind the walls after he moves-in. So learn a lesson from this and tell the client to obtain written documents for: 1) the date the house was vacated, 2) the heating bills to prove the heat was left on during all vacant winters, 3) the plumber's receipt showing the date the pipes were winterized, 4) a written statement from the owner and Realtor that the water was not turned on in the house while the plumbing system was winterized.