Question: Last month, we bought a 35-year-old home. The property was very well maintained, so we decided not to waste money on a home inspection. Now it seems that we made a big mistake.
After escrow closed, the gas company discontinued service because the gas pipes are made of copper. They say that copper is unsafe and steel pipes should be installed. How can the old pipes be a problem if they've worked properly for all these years?
Answer: Copper gas piping is very rare and is usually found only in homes constructed during the mid-1950s. Copper was disallowed many years ago because natural gas contains traces of sulfur, and sulfur has a corrosive effect on copper. Corrosion in a gas line can cause leakage, a decidedly unfavorable occurrence.
Fortunately, deterioration to that extent is very rare. More commonly, sulfur-induced corrosion produces loose particles of debris that can clog gas orifices, reducing the safe and efficient operation of burners and regulators.
In your home, the gas system has apparently been operating for decades without noticeable problems. But this does not mean an incident cannot occur in the future. The interior pipe surfaces have been exposed to sulfur for many years, and the cumulative effect of this exposure could be significant.
However, old copper gas pipes are often coated with an interior lining of tin, to protect the copper surfaces from sulfur exposure. If that is the case with your piping, then there should be no need to repair or replace the lines. To determine whether your pipes are tin-lined, the system should be evaluated by a licensed plumber.
Fogged-Up Windows Needn't Worry Buyer
Q: We recently purchased a newly built home, and the home inspection disclosed very little in the way of property defects. During the recent rains here in Los Angeles, several of our windows fogged up from what appears to be leaky dual-pane seals. Our contractor says that leaking dual-pane windows are common and can be replaced at no charge to us. Is this a reasonable explanation, or should we be concerned?
A: Dual-pane window leakage is a common cause of homeowner complaints, but leaking seals do not indicate faulty building construction. Dual-pane window units are factory-sealed and are often prone to leakage, because of either defective manufacture or faulty handling during transportation or installation.
Fortunately, most window manufacturers warrant dual-pane windows for five or more years and typically will replace them at no charge.
The problem with such guarantees, however, is that shipping and installation costs are often not included. But with a brand-new home, a reputable contractor can be expected to assume the additional expenses.
As long as the contractor who built your home is willing to remedy the problem, my advice is to let him replace the faulty windows and not to worry needlessly about the general quality of construction.
Water Softener Pipe Puts Owners at Risk
Q: Three years ago, a water softener was installed in our home, and the plumber who did the work connected the overflow pipe to one of the drains beneath the building. The system has given us no problems in all this time, but a home inspector has just listed the drain connection as illegal and has recommended the installation of a standpipe. Is this work really necessary?
A: Connecting a water softener overflow pipe to a sewer drain is a definite code violation and, unfortunately, one that occurs in many homes.
A primary purpose of the plumbing code is the protection of water supply systems from sources of contamination. Essential to this objective is a general prohibition of direct hook-ups between water supply lines and sewer piping. Wherever such connections exist, there is the possibility of back-siphonage, with the potential for infecting the domestic drinking water.
In the event of a sewage backup, raw effluent could be forced through the overflow pipe into the water softener. From there, bacteria and protozoa could thoroughly contaminate your water supply. With a standpipe, instead of a direct pipe connection, a sewage backup would cause spillage only, without affecting your drinking water.
The addition of a standpipe is usually not an expensive repair, and it will eliminate a definite health hazard.
Got a question about any aspect of the home inspection? Send it to Barry Stone, Los Angeles Times, 540 Atascadero Road, Morro Bay, CA 93442. Queries can also be sent via e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org. All questions will be considered for use in "Ask the Inspector" but cannot be answered individually.