Birmingham Plumbing Inspection

The Water Meter

Water for a building is supplied either by a municipal water supplier or is pumped from a private well. Regardless of the source of the water, it travels through underground pipes and into the building. These pipes are buried below the frost line to prevent freezing during the cold winter months. If the building is served by well water, there is usually a water storage tank in the basement.

If the water comes from a municipal water supplier, the water is metered. The water meter is often located where the main water line enters the building, although many communities now locate the water meter outside the building to facilitate reading of the meter. In these buildings, you will see a cover, typically labeled Water Meter, outside the building. There is no need to meter private well water. If you see a water meter, you know the building has municipally supplied water.

Water Supply Line

Water supply lines are made of copper, brass, galvanized steel, plastic, or lead:

Lead water lines were used until the 1930s. Since lead water lines increase the risk of lead in the water, they are no longer used. If the building is served by a lead water main, it should be tested for lead in the water.

Plastic, until recently, was typically only used for outdoor plumbing and underground sprinkler lines. With the increasing cost of metal, interior plastic water lines are becoming much more common in newer buildings.

Galvanized steel plumbing was used for water lines years ago. Galvanized steel plumbing becomes clogged because of corrosion over time. Galvanized steel plumbing is also more likely to develop leaks as it ages.
Copper and brass are the most popular types of material used for supply lines today (although plastic is seen more and more). Copper and brass plumbing has the longest leak-free life expectancy.

Heimer Engineering evaluates the plumbing in the building. If there are any problems in the observable plumbing lines, our engineers will advise you of them.

Underground Sprinkler Systems

Some buildings have an underground sprinkler system. The underground pipes for most sprinkler systems are made of plastic. Since the pipes are underground, leakage problems are difficult to find. Often, leaks are found only when a building owner observes that part of the lawn is turning brown because it is not being watered properly.

Steam Heat Lines and Hot Water (Hydronic) Heat Lines

Many homes and buildings are heated by hot water (hydronic) or steam. Hot water is typically pumped by a circulator pump, while the steam rises naturally. The steam or heated water are distributed in pipes throughout the building:

Steam heat is typically distributed in steel pipes. These pipes may be covered with asbestos containing insulation. The steam pipes are almost always connected to cast iron radiators.
Hot water heat is usually distributed in copper pipes, although plastic is found in some newer homes. The hot water pipes are connected to either cast iron radiators or baseboard radiators in the rooms. Baseboard radiators are typically made from copper tubing with aluminum fins.

Drain Lines

The drain lines carry waste water through the building and into the sewer, septic tank, or cesspool.The drain lines carry waste water through the building and into the sewer, septic tank, or cesspool. The waste water flows due to gravity. Therefore, the waste water lines are considerably larger than water supply lines and are pitched toward their final destination. Drain lines are typically made of copper, cast iron, brass, or plastic.

The most common problem with drain lines is leakage. The Engineer evaluates all aspects of the accessible drain lines.

Plumbing Fixtures

The plumbing is more than just the pipes. Your must be able to use the water.The plumbing is more than just the pipes. The water has to be turned on and off, the flow rate needs to be controlled, and the water temperature needs to be adjusted.

Plumbing fixtures accomplish these tasks. Some fixtures have a one handle control. Other fixtures have a separate control for hot and cold water. Some bathtub fixtures have additional controls to set whether the water comes out of the tub spout or shower head.

Checking a plumbing fixture may seem relatively easy, but it is more than just seeing if the fixture either leaks or does not leak. Heimer Engineering checks for flow rate problems, other functional problems, insufficient water pressure, and scalding hot water.

Shut Off Valves

You need to know all the defects in a house, not just the location of the shutoff valves.One of the more common questions asked is “Can you show me the location of the shut off valves?” Many prospective buyers feel this is an important piece of information that should be obtained at the inspection.

The Engineer will tell you the location of the shut off valves if the location can be determined. Often, these valves are hidden by stored material. After you move into the building, make sure that you do not block the shutoff valves.

While the location of the shut off valves is of interest, there are more important issues with which to be concerned. The structure, foundation, wiring, heating, hot water, termites, water in the basement, and environmental issues are a few of the other important areas checked by our engineers during the home inspection or building inspection.

Gas Lines

Natural gas is almost always distributed in black iron or galvanized lines.Gas is distributed to most buildings at low pressure. The gas comes either from pipes that run under the street (called natural gas) or from propane storage tanks. The propane storage tanks are either located behind a building or are buried underground.

A perfume is added to natural gas. It is this perfume that you detect when you “smell gas”. If you smell gas, or even think that you smell gas, call the gas company or fire department immediately. Gas leaks should only be repaired by qualified individuals.

The gas is distributed through the house through pipes. Natural gas is typically distributed in the house or building via black iron or galvanized lines. Propane gas may be distributed in copper lines, although many communities prohibit copper lines due to the risk of damage and leaks.

Gas is safe as long as the gas equipment is installed and maintained properly. The Engineer checks for visible problems with the gas plumbing.