7 Signs It's Time to Replace Old Plumbing

A pile of old rusty pipes.

When it comes to plumbing issues, your home has a way of letting you know something may be wrong. A good rule of thumb? Use your senses! Listening, observing, and smelling are good ways to prevent major disasters by discovering problems early on. Here are a few warning signs that it's time to replace old plumbing.

1. Leaky Faucet

Just as a running toilet can cost you, a leaky or dripping faucet will do the same. This problem usually doesn’t fix itself and will only get worse the longer you ignore it. While some faucets can be saved with DIY skills and replacement parts, it might be more economical to buy a brand new faucet, especially if the current model is dated and needs repair. Plus, a replacement can give a kitchen or bathroom a fairly inexpensive facelift, in the end adding to the value of your home.

2. Clogged Drain

Someone putting baking soda into a stainless steel sink.

Clogged drains are easy to notice when the sink water doesn’t empty properly. A household mix of baking soda and vinegar can work miracles on clogs, as can commercial chemical products you pour down the sink. A “snake” is a handy tool made of plastic or metal that reaches into the pipe to claw out or push through the gunk or hair—or whatever it might be down there! A badly clogged or corroded drain may have to be completely replaced if these tactics don’t work.

3. Slow Drains

Sometimes a backed-up sink is not the cause of a clog, but a lack of venting. Think about the way a straw will hold fluid at the bottom if you place your finger over the top: this is exactly how your plumbing works, too! Venting allows for pipes to drain effortlessly and are usually installed at the same time as drainage pipes however, some skip this step to save money. If you see slow draining water or experience lowered water pressure, vent pipes may work wonders on advancing the flow of your home.

4. Old Pipes

A rusty pipe.

Many older homes have galvanized pipes and they must be removed according to the building code in your area, especially when selling the home. Galvanized piping corrodes and rusts easily from the inside, causing low or uneven water pressure, discolored water, and potentially severe leaks. They are silver in color which distinguishes them from copper or plastic pipes which are up to code. If you are unsure, this trick may help you: a strong magnet will not stick to plastic or copper pipes, but it will stick to galvanized steel.

Less common, but still found in older homes, are lead pipes, especially where the main water line comes in. A good place to check is in the basement. These can be mistaken for galvanized pipes because they are gray, however, they will be less shiny and more matte. Furthermore, lead pipes will be softer (hence why lead can leach into the water supply) so if you scrape a small area with a screwdriver, the metal will move away easily. Also, a magnet will not stick to lead. Remember, a house can have different systems of pipes added over the years so if you are unsure, call a professional to assess if you have safe piping throughout the whole home.

5. Gurgling or Bubbling Sounds

A percolating or bubbling sound at any drain means a system could be backed up. Again, proper venting can take care of this as it’s often the sound of air bubbling in the drains. Dishwashers, sump pumps, laundry machines, and anything in your home that drains a lot of water at once may produce some noise, but if you notice loud gurgling at other drain points, then flow is constricted. Also, basement floor drains backing up with an unusual amount of excess water could be a cause for concern, again indicating that there is an issue with proper flow in one of your main lines.

6. Bad Smells

A rusted hole in the floor where a toilet should be.

Let’s not forget about that other sense—smell! Bad smells are clear indicators that something isn’t right and covering it up with scented candles won’t help you in the end. The smell of stagnant water or mold will tell you that water is pooling somewhere it shouldn’t. A leaky toilet will give off a particular smell that is unpleasant enough to either replace or repair: a bad wax seal or a “rocky” toilet from loose bolts can cause water to seep out. Check behind dishwashers, laundry machines, and other appliances from time to time to make sure there are no leaks.

Smells of raw sewage are serious, but remedies could be as simple as a dried-out water seal in a floor drain or as complicated as a blocked or broken sewer line. A cracked or leaky stack (which is the large pipe that carries waste from toilets to the sewer line) could also be a culprit. Some older homes have cast iron or galvanized stacks that will eventually need to be replaced. If you notice any raw sewage backing up or if there is a “rotten” smell, then call a professional immediately.

Proper maintenance and repair of your home’s plumbing system is something every homeowner should take seriously. Fixing and replacing plumbing is simply part of owning a home. Learn to trust your senses when it comes to plumbing issues and never let something go if you notice changes; it could save you money in the end and prevent something minor from turning into something major.

7. Running Toilet

The sound of a toilet constantly refilling can be easy to neglect, but don’t! Not only will it bother light sleepers, but a running toilet can waste up to 200 gallons per day (which you’ll see on your next water bill). You may be able to fix it by adjusting the flapper or by changing the flush system.