6. Plumbing

1. Roof gutter downspout system (gutters can be inspected and viewed as either roofing or plumbing)

2. Perimeter drain tile and sump pump system

3. Aseptic Systems - potable water systems  

4. Lawn sprinkler system

5. DWV Drain waste vent system

6. Septic system

7. Fire suppression systems

8. Fuel piping systems

Exclusions: Solar systems and green rain water systems are currently outside the scope of  this training manual

Plumbing - General Issues: When inspecting use all your senses and walk around the interior and exterior of the building looking for signs of moisture and moisture damage. It is always best to walk around twice to assure completeness and to follow-up on evidence in other areas for more indepth analysis. Signs of moisture and water problems include visible water, past stains, evidence of moisture migration such as salt crystals on masonry and concrete, damage to painted surfaces such as splits, bubbles, blisters, sags and other signs of paint failure, other damage such as wood rot, moisture staining, wet or punky materials, rust and corrosion, as well as the smell of mold and mildew.  Infrared and regular photography surprisingly may highlight problems not otherwise visible to trained and untrained eyes. 

1. Roof gutter downspout system

    It is important the all roofs drain rain and snow melt away from the building's siding and foundation to avoid moisture, erosion, and hydrostatic pressure related problems. Gutters direct and carry water away using gravity. Gutters historically were made of wood, but copper, galvanized steel, aluminum, and now vinyl gutters are now the norm in SE Michigan.  

    Wood gutters are used on historic homes and some custom homes. They are expensive to install and maintain. Wood gutters need cleaning, sealing, priming and painting to prevent premature deterioration.  Expected useful service life is more limited than with most other gutters. Gutter attachment to the building can be made with brass or stainless steel fittings.  Wood rot and sunlight are the worst enemies of wood gutters

    Copper gutters are expensive and are usually custom made for deluxe homes and buildings. The metal joints are typically soldered. In the past, lead was used in the solder and flashings. Lead posses a health and pollution hazard. Current copper gutters utilize less hazardous solders. Copper oxidizes to a green patina with exposure to the elements outdoors.  Attachment is with copper nails and hangers because of the problems with electrolytic corrosion. As a noble metal copper will deteriorate and corrode steal and iron, (see galvanic scale for the relationship of differing metals). Copper can be lacquered to maintain is copper shine

    Galvanized gutters were the standard residential gutter from 1910 to the early 1970's in SE Michigan. These gutters were made up of 10" sections connected together. They were long lived if properly maintained. Unfortunately, builders would not pay painters to properly prepare the metal for paint priming and painting. The resulting short life of the paint finish before it peeled helped bring in the age of low maintenance building components. If left unpainted, the better galvanized gutters lasted several decades and a few are still functional in 2009. Long iron nails and spacing sleeves known as gutter spikes and ferrules attach the gutters to the fascia and are usually spaced 32 inches apart.  Over time the nails work loose and need repositioning.

    Aluminum gutters are now the standard because they can be made seamless to any length and have factory applied finishes for low maintenance and long life.  These gutters can also be purchased in 10' lengths for the do it yourself homeowner.  The gutter is light weight and comes in various cross sectional sizes though the 4" size is most prevalent. Long aluminum nails and spacing sleeves known together as gutter spikes and ferrules attach the gutters to the fascia. they are usually spaced 32 inches apart.. Over time condensation rots the nail connection and the weight of ice and debris work the nails loose.  The nails then require repositioning. Since 2000, mounting clips have been installed inside the gutter in place of nails, and are screwed to the fascias.  Some buildings use straps from under the shingles to hold and hang the gutter. Home owners, architects and builders also create unique gutter systems and components. All joints are caulked or otherwise sealed preferably from inside the gutter to prevent joint leaks using butyl, polyurethane, or a manufacturer's proprietary sealant.  Aluminum gutters can be washed and repainted. The ammonia in latex paint may bubble when applied to bare aluminum, therefore prime exposed bare metal areas with oil base paint. 

      Vinyl gutters are mostly installed by do it yourself homeowners using the 10" sections and the manufacturer's connectors and hanging brackets. These lightweight gutter install relatively easily and are low maintenance for their 15 to 20 useful life. The sections need gutter bracket support every 24". The ultraviolet (UV) light of the sun weakens the brackets and other plastic components. Replacing deteriorated brackets may double the useful life of the gutter system, but some manufacturers have gone out of business and  replacement parts are no longer have available. Vinyl can be painted the same color as purchased or painted lighter. Darker paint colors will cause shrinkage and leaks.

    All gutters must slope to direct water to the downspouts. One downspout is needed to drain every 30' to 40 ' of gutter. Gutters are readily available in 4" and 5" diameter as well as downspouts.  The downspout may discharge into piping in the ground to drain into a drywell or resurface downhill or into a drain field. Many building codes allow the downspout to drain into the foundation perimeter drain tile system, but most jurisdictions discourage practice as storm drainage back-up can occur after heavy rainfalls and cause large problems down stream or at the building's foundation.

   Safety note; when leaning a ladder against a gutter, try to position the ladder against the gutter at the clip or mounting nail so as not to crush the gutter when climbing.  Also try not to damage the paint surfaces. 

Typical gutter problems:

 

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2. Perimeter drain tile and sump pump system

    Surface water that percolates down beside a foundation would accumulate and exert tremendous significant pressure on the foundation wall to the point of collapsing the wall.  To prevent this stress and to help avoid water leaks into basements, a perimeter drain tile, (a perforated pipe) is installed and run to the storm drain system, sump pit or down hill to open air.  The pipe is installed in the soil outside and beside level with the foundation footing to carry water away. 

Before PVC piping in the 1970's, the pipe was made from 4" clay drainage tiles butted together yet slightly spaced apart, in a large size sand or pea gravel bed. The butt joints were covered with heavy tar paper to minimize silt washing into the pipe.  

Over the life of the piping, the pipe slowly fills with earth and silt and clogges.  

    

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3. Aseptic Systems - potable water systems

Inspecting and testing plumbing water supply fixtures such as kitchen, bath, utility tub, hose bibb faucets

Always assume the worst when approaching to inspect plumbing fixtures.  As with all actions in an inspection a certain amount of risk exists and you have to take appropriate action. If the lid is closed, open and inspect before operation. 

It is also an embarrassing and unprofessional to operate a visibly damaged fixture and have an avoidable problem. Never test operate the water supply shut off valves to any fixture or the main gate or ball valves as they will fail and cause you un-needed problems..

Rule #1 - Visibly inspect entire water supply fixture and the drainage system for noticeable defects and damage before attempting to operate the faucets. Report and rate the severity of visible defects or damage and determine if further inspection can be safely performed. It is surprising how many sinks and lavatories have damaged and leaking drain piping or are missing piping.  Have towels avaiable to clean up leaks.

Rule #2 - Test that the toilet is not terribly loose before flushing. Place your leg against the side of the toilet and apply pressure. If the toilet readily moves it is loose. It is not your job to determine how loose and its' cause, (broken flange, rotted floor, etc.). Always look at the building structure below a toilet for signs of rot and leakage. In older homes, especially those without air conditioning, condensation forms on the cold surfaces and may slowly rot the surrounding structure as well as rust the iron waste pipes. Report and rate the severity of visible defects.  Do not flush a terribly loose toilet that may flood the area.. 

Rule #3 - Step on floor around toilet to determine if the floor is stable and should not flex noticeably.  Look at the floor around the toilet for signs of moisture damage and leaks. Loose tiles, popped grout, loose and discolored caulk and water and stains all indicate leakage of the toilet or surrounding or near by water problems.  Report and rate the severity of visible defects. 

Rule #4 - Flush the toilet, but remain in the room throughout the entire flush cycle. The water should forcefully drain from the bowl. If other toilets are located below the tested toilet, a second person can observe if these toilets at the time of flushing above for gurgling or other water disturbances that may indicate drain pipe  air venting problem.  Venting problems are typically caused by constrictions and pipe blockages. Some inspectors listen for the complete refill of the toilet, but it is probably wiser to test flush all the toilets again, in short order, to verify that timely refill occurs and problems are not hidden from the inspector.  Report and rate the severity of visible defects and recommendations. 

 

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4. Lawn sprinkler systems

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5. (DWV) Drain Waste and Vent system

For safety, always keep an eye open for plumbing cross connections which may result in drainage waste from contaminating the potable drinking water system. The usual cross connections are:

Traps, venting & pipe slope for drainage, (pitch) - plumbing roof, drainage, cleanouts, piping and air admittance valves

Traps are assisted by venting the drain pipes to the atmosphere. Venting helps prevent sewer gas from entering the building and creating a health and safety hazard.  

    Traps are "U" shaped bends in the drain pipes directly below sinks, shower pans, bathtub bottoms , floor drains, etc. where gravity will retains some of the water sent down the drain. Toilets and bidets have internal traps.  Water fills and remains in the "U" shaped portion of the pipe preventing sewer gases from coming back into the building.  To prevent siphoning this water out of the trap and creating an open pipe which allows gases in to the discharge side of the "U" needs a 90 degree pipe  connection who's length is at least twice the diameter of the drain pipe to meet plumbing code. This is call a "P" trap because of .its shape. Prior to the 1940s, a "S" trap was used. The "S" traps occasionally self siphoned the water out of the trap and allowed sewer gas back in.  "S" traps need to be replaced with "P" traps.

    To further prevent siphoning, the plumbing code only allows sloping drain pipes to be of certain maximum lengths if an air vent connection pipe is not installed near the trap.  These lengths are based on pipe diameter, use and slope. This prevents a slug of water or waste from sucking the water out of the trap and down the sloping pipe. Venting further prevents the water or waste from developing a vacuum behind it or building up pressure in front of it which can stop the discharge.  The entire plumbing system has at least one main vent above the roof to provide air to prevent waste stoppage.

 

 to various diameter of to run 

 

water drained in a tub, shower, etc. puddled, (trapped) in th e "U" portion of a trap directly below a "P" 

he purpose for traps and venting of the plumbing drain lines is to 

Venting helps prevent siphoning as well as to promote and prevent drain stoppage in the piping. The pitch is the slope of the pipe which allows sludge and sewage to wash and travel down the piping ultimately to slide into the sewer or septic system. Low pitch of the pipe, (1/4" to 1/8" per foot) and water movement washes 

Pipe slope - plumbing roof, drainage, and air admittance valves

Toilet - Inspecting and testing, (the water closet)

    A peeved client once said disparagingly, "anyone can flush a toilet". Well, yes and no. Always assume the worst when inspecting a toilet. Inspections have a certain amount of risk and you need to plan to take appropriate action. If the lid is closed, open it before flushing. Children plug or overload the bowl with paper, etc.. If the toilet overflows the biohazard is time consuming and somewhat difficult to clean up during an inspection. It is also an embarrassing and unprofessional yet avoidable problem. 

    Also never test operate the water supply shut off valves to any fixture, or the main gate or ball valves as they will fail and cause you un-needed problems. These should be outside the written scope of your inspection. (see emergency equipment <{ :o).

Rule #1 - Lift lid and inspect entire toilet including bowl for noticeable defects and cracks before flushing. Report and rate the severity of visible defects and any china cracks that can potentially split and cause sever injury. Lift any covered tank lid  to determine if it is cracked or dangerously chipped. (Some inspectors also look into all tanks for wear, damage, bacteria build-up and clogging.)

Rule #2 - Test that the toilet is not terribly loose before flushing. Place your leg against the side of the toilet and apply pressure. If the toilet readily moves it is loose. It is not your job to determine how loose or its' cause, (broken flange, rotted floor, etc.), but only to report on conditions. Always look at the building structure and finishes below a toilet for signs of rot or leakage. In older homes, especially those without air conditioning, condensation forms on the cold surfaces in summer and may slowly rot the surrounding structure as well as rust any iron waste pipes. Report and rate the severity of visible defects.  Do not flush a very loose toilet as it may flood the area. 

Rule #3 - Step on floor around toilet to determine if the floor is solid, stable and should not noticeably flex .  Look at the floor around the toilet for signs of moisture damage and leaks. Loose tiles, popped out grout, loose and discolored caulk, and water and stains all indicate leakage of the toilet or from another near by water problem.  Report and rate the severity of visible defects. 

Rule #4 - Flush the toilet, but observe the entire flush cycle. The water should forcefully drain from the bowl. If other toilets are located below the tested toilet, observe them for gurgling or other water disturbances when your client flushes the upper toilet.  These usually indicate drain pipe obstruction or other venting problems.  Venting problems are typically caused by constrictions and blockages in the drain waste vent system . Some inspectors listen for the complete and timely refill of the toilet, but it is probably wiser to test flush all the toilets again, in short order, to verify that timely refill occurs and other problems are not hidden from the inspector.  Report and rate the severity of visible defects and recommendations.

 

Drain fixtures - Inspecting and testing plumbing drain fixtures such as faucets, lavatories, showers bath and laundry tubs, sinks washing machines, (laundry, dish, etc.) except toilets.

Always assume the worst when approaching to inspect plumbing fixtures.  As with all actions in an inspection a certain amount of risk exists and you have to take appropriate action. 

.Rule #1 - Lift lid and inspect entire fixture for noticeable defects and damage before use. Report and rate the severity of visible defects or damage. Lift any covered tank lid  to determine if it is cracked or dangerously chipped. (Some inspectors also look into the tank for damage and bacteria build-up and clogging.)

Rule #2 - Test that the toilet is not terribly loose before flushing. Place your leg against the side of the toilet and apply pressure. If the toilet readily moves it is loose. It is not your job to determine how loose and its' cause, (broken flange, rotted floor, etc.). Always look at the building structure below a toilet for signs of rot and leakage. In older homes, especially those without air conditioning, condensation forms on the cold surfaces and may slowly rot the surrounding structure as well as rust the iron waste pipes. Report and rate the severity of visible defects.  Do not flush a terribly loose toilet that may flood the area.. 

Rule #3 - Step on floor around toilet to determine if the floor is stable and should not flex noticeably.  Look at the floor around the toilet for signs of moisture damage and leaks. Loose tiles, popped grout, loose and discolored caulk and water and stains all indicate leakage of the toilet or surrounding or near by water problems.  Report and rate the severity of visible defects. 

Rule #4 - Flush the toilet, but remain in the room throughout the entire flush cycle. The water should forcefully drain from the bowl. If other toilets are located below the tested toilet, a second person can observe if these toilets at the time of flushing above for gurgling or other water disturbances that may indicate drain pipe  air venting problem.  Venting problems are typically caused by constrictions and pipe blockages. Some inspectors listen for the complete refill of the toilet, but it is probably wiser to test flush all the toilets again, in short order, to verify that timely refill occurs and problems are not hidden from the inspector.  Report and rate the severity of visible defects and recommendations. 

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6. Septic system

On-site sewage facilities are typically a septic system or engineered waste pond system that processes the waste discharge from buildings and households. Much of rural American's buildings are on their own septic system because they do not have access to a municipal treatment plant where governments like to control and charge for the service.  It is thought that private septic systems cost half the cost of municipal treatment plants to operate over their lives.  Some neighborhoods have community septic systems. The basic process is for the waste from the DWV system of the building, (considered "gray and black water waste"), discharges into the septic system for full treatment into potable water again.  What happens in Las Vegas, stays in Las Vegas. 

The first component in the system is a water tight, buried single or multi-chambered tank, (usually of cast high psi concrete), where the waste discharge liquids and solids from the household need to sit for 48 hours or more. The anaerobic bacteria, (from our guts and in the waste) in the tank will do the first digest of the tank material. The sludge and solids will fall to the bottom of the tank and will eventually need pumping. Sludge displaces volume needed for the first 48 hour digestion process and eventually will need to be pumped out. The scum composed of grease and digestive gases will float to the top of the tank. The more fully digested middle layer of waste is the effluent that will be sent to the second section of the system for further processing. 

The tank and system can not be closer than 15 feet from the dwelling, but I've seen them installed up to 100' away. The drain pipe must slope 1/8 to 1/4 inch per foot to maintain proper flow of waste.

The second part of the system is connected down stream from the tank attached by the tank's discharge pipe; Called the leach, drain or tile field takes the effluent from mid level of the septic tank and flows it into the level field.  The field has perforated pipe or tile in an absorption trench of permeable material such as stone, sand, gravel, etc. so that the effluent runs into it to seep down into the ground where the aerobic bacteria does the final cleansing.  The cleansed water ultimately seeps down to the water table.  The field has be in permeable soils and has to sit several feet higher than the height of the water table so as not to pollute the potable ground water with less than fully cleansed effluent.

An alternative configuration in place of a drain field is a series of two or more bottomless tanks buried in well drained soils. These perform the same function as the field but are usually installed on hilly sloping sites.

Usually the tank and the leach field are at the same height.  This allows every drop of waste dropping into the tank to force an equal amount out into the field.  If the sight is hilly, pumps may be needed in the system to lift liquids as needed.  The tank top can be within inches of the soil at grade, or it can be buried deep. The piping to the tank needs to be vented and should also vent the tank at the pipe inlet to the tank. Local code officials dictate the various heights of tanks inlets and outlets, as well as the other aspects of the system.  In Michigan, the county governments regulate the septic systems as well as wells. The tank and system size is usually based on the number of bedrooms or expected occupants. Currently the tanks have to be a minimum of 1,200 gallon capacity and the system has to be located at least 100" from the well. (Note that many older homes cannot meet these requirements. Governments usually allow some leeway). Before 1980s the minimum was 750 gallons and at least 50' from a well. The fields are generally large, (typically four sixty foot leads).  However, new engineered systems can be quite small in size but much more costly to install. Systems  can cost between $4,000 and $20,000 in SE Michigan, (2009 USD)

Septic tanks will eventually leak or experience other deterioration and will need replacement. The tank can last 80 years. When the tank is pumped to remove the sludge, (solids stealing tank capacity), and scum, (greases and floatable waste that can clog the drainfield ), the interior can be sprayed clean to view and inspected the interior for any deterioration. Poisonous gases exist in the tank and can quickly asphyxiate anyond breathin it.

The drain field usually lasts 20 to 40 years before the waste created by the aerobic bacteria digestive works create a bio-mat too thick for water to percolate downward. Any fine particles that have flowed into the field from the tank can also clog the system prematurely,  A failed field allows the field fluids to pond and rise above the piping.  The fluids will eventually break and flood above the ground.

Only human waste should be disposed of into a septic system. Disposable diapers, sanitary napkins, paper towels, grease, disposal grindings, and coffee grounds should never be discharged into the system as they degrade too slowly and will lessen the tanks capacity. Strong chemicals and compounds should also not be disposed of in the system as it can kill the bacteria utilized and/or pollute the ground water. 

Water softener manufacturer's indicate that the salty discharge water from their systems will not affect septic systems, but other disagree. Flush coarse gypsum into the system each month to neutralize the sodium from affecting the drain filed soils.

Do not run large volumes of water into the system. The tank needs to hold at least two days worth of discharge from the dwelling.Any less time the fluids will go prematurely into the drain filed and cause premature failure.

Annually, the University of Michigan holds a five day seminar on septic systems in January in Lansing. The cost has been very reasonable and the information valuable.

Inspecting septic systems:

Signs of system problems or failure:

 

 

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7. Fire suppression system

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8. Fuel piping systems return to top

 

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