Buying property? Inspecting the plumbing and electrical could save you $$$!

(Our Manly Article – January 2010)

When buying property it is generally assumed that you will have a Building and Pest Inspection Report conducted. You don’t, after all, want to move into your first home or purchase an investment property only to discover it is termite infested or in poor condition structurally.

But what about an inspection of the plumbing and electrical within the property? What many first home buyers and potential property investors don’t realise is that the condition of the plumbing and electrical is just as important as the structure of the dwelling.

The standard Building Inspection covers a visual inspection of the plumbing and electrical i.e. what they can see without removing walls or digging up the ground to inspect the electrical cables and plumbing pipework. With plumbing and electrical being two of the highest expenses when renovating or maintaining a property, it is unfortunate that some repairs such as sewer or stormwater renewal will not necessarily add value to your property. For further peace of mind, it is worthwhile obtaining the services of a licenced plumber and/or electrician to conduct further investigation and provide you with a more thorough report including a cost analysis of potential repairs. They have access to technology such as CCTV and pipe locating equipment, plus they will be able to confirm that the plumbing and electrical complies with Australian Standards.

In the meantime, here is a list of items you can inspect yourself.

PLUMBING SEWER

  • Review the sewer diagram
    Review a copy of the property’s sewer diagram to ensure it matches the actual location of the building i.e. the diagram will show the layout of the building and where the pipes enter the building. If it does not match then it is possible that the sewer has not been inspected by Sydney Water.
  • Locate inspection openings for the sewer
    Inspection openings (IO’s) are required by Australian Standards to be installed at certain points on the sewer system. IO’s are plastic caps which are sometimes raised to ground level for access to the sewer system. However, where the sewer is earthenware pipework, plastic IO’s installed at ground level may indicate the sewer system has been renewed in PVC or IO’s have been installed for access to clear blockages.

WATER, SEWER, STORMWATER AND GAS PIPEWORK

  • Locate the main stop cock for the water meter / gas meter
    Check if the pipework is galvanised or copper. If it is galvanised it generally means the pipework may require replacement at some stage due to age and deterioration.
  • Investigate pipework beneath the house
    Look at the pipework under the house to again determine if it is galvanised or copper pipework. Also, if access permits, check the sewer and stormwater pipework to see if it is earthenware (old terracotta pipework) or PVC (modern plastic pipework). If any pipework is found to be galvanised or earthenware there may be a history of problems with the sewer/main water/gas service due to age e.g. gas pipes could contain water, the main water service could contain rust as galvanised pipes rust both internally and externally, tree roots can enter earthenware pipework more easily than PVC. Keep in mind though, just because it is PVC pipework above the ground does not guarantee it will be PVC below the ground too.
  • Stormwater
    As stormwater generally flows to the street from each property, check the roadside kerb for stormwater entries to determine if they are free flowing and clear of blockages (Please note: This is a general assumption and some stormwater systems are connected directly into stormwater pipes. Positions of the main stormwater lines can be confirmed with the local Council). You can also test the flow of the stormwater by connecting a hose into the stormwater line e.g. hosing the roof so water runs through the downpipes.

HOT WATER HEATERS

  • Locate hot water heater
    The hot water system can be located internally or externally, bolted directly to a wall or standing on the ground. The best advice for gas hot water systems is to contact your plumber to ensure the system complies with Australian Standards, however, you can remove the front cover (from a gas storage tank) to locate the age of the heater. On an electric tank the age is generally located on the side of the tank (up the top). For more recent installations, two valves are required to be installed on a storage tank (i.e. a pressure limiting valve and a non-return stop cock) to be covered under the manufacturer’s warranty (check the warranty for specific details and terms and conditions).

GENERAL INTERNAL CHECKS

  • Taps
    Check the general condition of the taps throughout the property i.e. kitchen, laundry, bathroom and ensuites. Look for signs of water staining around the vanity, bath or kitchen sink, if the taps are difficult to turn on and off or if they continue leaking once turned off completely. These are all indications that the taps may require new washers or replacement.
  • Toilets
    If the water continues to run even though the toilet hasn’t been flushed indicates parts within the cistern may require repair or replacement. Also, if the toilet pan / cistern is not firmly secured and is cracked, it could require replacement too.

ELECTRICAL

  • Cable type
    Visually check the type of wiring that has been used throughout the property (this can be checked within the switchboard but do not remove powerpoints or light switches to expose wiring). Determine if the wiring is cotton covered, rubber or plastic cable? If it is cotton covered it will require replacement due to age. The condition of rubber cable varies with installations. Plastic cable is the best and most recent product available, and generally indicates a relatively new installation. If you are unsure, a licenced electrician should be consulted.
  • Power supply capacity
    Older houses often consisted of very little in the way of electrical requirements. You should therefore check the capacity of the cable coming from the street to ensure it meets your needs. The easiest indicator would be to look for an AMPS rating on your main switch – 40, 63, 80A are common with 80A being ideal.
  • Single or 3 phase power
    Many houses only have single phase which is sufficient for large motors like air conditioning units. However, if you require 3 phase power the best visual indication to confirm if the property has single or 3 phase is whether 4 cables (3 phase) or 2 cables (single phase) are coming onto the property from the street pole.
  • Fuses, circuit breakers or safety switches
    Fuses are now illegal and must be replaced rather than repaired if problems occur. Circuit breakers allow larger capacities of the same size cable compared with fuses but both are designed only to protect the cable not you. This is where safety switches come into the equation and are now a legal requirement if any new powerpoints are to be installed. The purpose of a safety switch is to cut power in the event that any power strays from the circuit i.e. into you or metal structure/objects.

Even though some of the items discussed appear relatively minor, they do add up when there are a few areas requiring repair. Add that to your recent outlay to actually purchase the property and it can be stressful and unpleasant rather than an exciting time in your life.

So, the best advice when you are making your next property purchase is to consider engaging a licenced plumber and electrician to conduct a thorough inspection of the property. The information you gain for the cost of an inspection may far outweigh any repair or rectification costs in the long run – not to mention the headaches you may avoid!

General Advice Disclaimer: Every home is different and this general advice may not be suitable to your specific circumstances. Please consider whether this general advice is suitable for you. In the case of any reasonable doubt we recommend that you seek our expert advice about your specific circumstances before acting on the general advice set out above.