It’s funny: the most common plumbing problems and electrical issues are sometimes the ones that slide under the radar.
When you’re buying a home, you’re probably looking at the big picture. Is this house right for my family? Is it in good shape? You rely on a licensed home inspector to find major disasters, like a rotting roof or foundation damage. But you can take an active role in spotting common plumbing problems and electrical issues for yourself.
There are some home repairs you don’t want to tackle. Here are several red flags to look for when you’re buying a home.
Water: Public Enemy #1
Loose water -- from a leaky pipe, an old roof, poorly sealed shower or tub or a basement prone to flooding -- is the root of several common plumbing problems. Water damage is the homeowner’s mortal enemy. Water causes foundation problems, rot and mold. Want to move into that mess? Probably not.
To see if your potential purchase has suffered the consequences of water damage, start outside and look for indicators like:
- Visibly worn composition shingles
- Rotting shake shingles
- Broken tiles
- Worn-out roof
- Water pooling under or near the foundation
Make sure working gutters carry rainfall to downspouts. Can you see light between the gutter and the house? You shouldn’t.
Once you’re inside, look for:
- Brown stains on the ceiling or walls, particularly around fireplaces, light fixtures and windows — including skylights
- Stains, mildew, efflorescence or a damp odor in the basement
- Rust or other signs of water damage on the hot water heater
Be a Water Damage Detective
Check into all under-sink cabinets. Water damage will show up as white stains on wood and brown on drywall. Pipes that have been leaking will show discoloration. And if you see a new cabinet bottom, that’s another red flag — it may have been installed to hide damage.
Don’t forget the bathroom! Walk as close as possible to toilets, tubs, and showers to see if the floor feels firm under your feet. If it feels mushy or spongy, or if you see discolored grout, you know there have been water issues that may not have been fixed properly.
And, of course, flush the toilets and run the sinks to watch for existing leaks.
Don’t Be Shocked: Identifying electrical issues
When you see water damage near an electrical outlet or a light fixture, you may have stumbled onto a fire risk. But outlets aren’t the only place to look for potential electrical problems.
Turn On the Lights!
Look for flickering and blinking, which signals a poor connection somewhere along the circuit. Check to see if both halves of electrical outlets are functioning. Make sure bathrooms, kitchens, garages and outdoors have GFCI outlets —if not, the current homeowner has not kept them up to code.
How Old is the House?
New or newer home builds have ample power and electrical outlets — older homes may not. Worn or outdated systems, or a homeowner’s amateur fixes, are the most common defects.
Be on the lookout for:
- Extension cords running from room to room, which place a burden on the electrical system and could lead to a fire.
- Exposed wires, especially in attics, garages, and crawlspaces, where current or previous homeowners may have tried some DIY electrical work.
- Scorch marks near outlets or visible wiring.
- An overloaded junction box.
A professional electrician should determine whether the home’s circuits or fuses provide adequate power and service. The electrician can look for burned wiring, improper connections, dead-end wiring or ungrounded switches and outlets.
Asking about common plumbing problems, electrical issues
Your home inspector is a font of knowledge! Have the inspector check the air quality of the home to see if any mold spores are present — if water leakage or other common plumbing problems have been an issue, mold may be, too.
The inspector can ensure that the heating and cooling systems are properly installed. The inspector can also determine how old the HVAC system is and ensure that its been maintained
Your inspector will also determine the type of pipe that supplies water to the house—old lead and galvanized steel pipes are going to need replacing.
Be prepared to walk away from a problem home
If the house you’re considering fails these tests, it may be best to move onto the next. If you still think it’s the right house for you, despite the presence of common plumbing problems or the need for an electrical overhaul, negotiate a lower price or ask the seller to pay for needed fixes.