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4 Plumbing Problems to Look Out For in the D.C. Metro Area

The Secret Guide for Super Moms #3 Plumbing Problems John C. Flood

This is the third post in our four-part series, "The Secret Guide for Super Moms” — tips, tricks and hacks for busy moms who need to know everything that’s happening in their house.

Living in the Washington, DC area means that you and your family has access to an eclectic and attractive housing market. It also means that you may have a pretty broad range of plumbing problems. Because the vast majority of the area's housing stock ranges from 45 to 75 years old—or older! — D.C. plumbers tend to see the same kinds of problems over and over again.

Here are four examples of what you can expect—or avoid, if you want to be proactive.

Plumbing Problems to Look Out For

  1. Flooded Basements

Between clay soil and frequent, heavy rains, homeowners in the District, Maryland and Northern Virginia find themselves vulnerable to flooding. The clay tends to hold water, and as basement and foundation repair specialist Philip Oldham describes it, many Washington-area homes may as well be sitting on top of “a bowl of water with a foundation built in it.”

Advice for Super Moms: You can't stop the rain, but you can combat flooding by examining your foundation. If it's made of brick, which was common in pre-World War II construction, it will be especially susceptible to water penetration because mortar breaks down over time. Check for cracks, no matter what the foundation and slab are made from. And super moms know that your lawn should be graded to slope away from your home!

  1. Dripping Faucets

Even if the rest of your plumbing seems to be working fine, there's one small problem that many people overlook: the washers in their faucets. If you own a home constructed before the 1970s, your faucets probably contain rubber washers—and rubber wears out. That's what causes leaking and dripping, both of which can raise your water bills.

Advice for Super Moms:  Some washers actually need to be replaced once a year. When is the last time you checked yours? If your washers need replacing, you may be able to find replacement washers at your local hardware store, but if you have an older faucet, finding and installing these parts can be tricky. Find a plumber near you to lend a hand.

  1. Old or Galvanized Pipes

Depending on where you live and how old your home is, it’s a good idea to assess the state of the supply pipes in your home. If your house was built before 1946, at least once a year, take a look at any exposed pipes in your basement, crawlspace or utility room. If you see discoloration, stains, dimpling, pimples, or flaking, your pipes are probably corroding, and you’ll want to bring in a plumber to do an inspection.

Advice for Super Moms:  If you’re lucky, your pipes are made from brass or copper, which last longer. If they’re made from galvanized steel, you’ll want to talk to a professional about replacing them. These pipes, which were installed in many homes that were built before the 1960s, are covered with a protective layer of zinc. Over time, the zinc erodes and corrosion can build up; corrosion can lead to lower water pressure, water quality issues, and worst of all, the potential for lead accumulation. If your pipes are made from lead—used in the early 1900s—or polybutylene—popular in the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s—they should be removed immediately. Lead in your drinking water is a serious health hazard, while polybutylene pipes are extremely prone to breaking.

  1. Clogged Gutters

Believe it or not, keeping your gutters clear will prevent future plumbing problems. If your gutters are blocked, water will pour over the sides, pool around the foundation, and either cause cracking or seep into any existing cracks. If the fascia boards that hold your gutter system are made of wood and the gutters consistently overflow, those boards will deteriorate and rot—and the same thing will happen to your wood siding. During a cold snap, ice dams can form on clogged gutters or the lower edge of the roof, and when that ice thaws, water can seep into the home.

Advice for Super Moms:  Clean those gutters out! Gutters can get obstructed by leaves, dirt, dead animals and other detritus. Separately, these objects may not seem like a big deal until a major thaw or rain event molds this crud into a big, gross dam in the middle of your gutters – and that’s when the trouble starts.  

If your gutters are near tree cover, you’ll likely need to clean your them twice a year and possibly as often as once every three or four months. Like any job, it’s better to plan it out and keep up with it rather than saving it for the last minute – or, worse, when it’s already too late.

Whether you live in a historic townhouse in Alexandria or a cool condo in Gaithersburg, it’s important to make sure your home has healthy, functioning plumbing. Be proactive, not reactive, and you’ll save yourself money, trouble and plumbing problems.