Diagnosing Unique Plumbing Problems—and Solutions—in Your Woodland Historic Home

Diagnosing unique plumbing problems in historic homesYou turn on the bathroom faucet—and brownish water comes flowing out. Your upstairs shower trickles water. And, your kitchen sink is always clogged. If you own a historic home in Woodland, like the beautifully restored Victorians on College Street, these plumbing problems might sound all too familiar.

While everyone has trouble with their plumbing from time to time, historic houses have some unique issues thanks to antiquated piping and outdated plumbing practices. So when your faucet’s low water pressure gets you down, it’s time to take a look at your house’s plumbing system—and the common reasons why old pipes have a hard time keeping up with your modern household.

Three Reasons Why Your Historic Home Plumbing Isn’t Working

Indoor plumbing dates back to the early 1900s—the Shellhammer-Eakle-Mitchell home on College Street, for instance, added a bathroom to the second floor during a renovation in the 1920s. And, surprisingly, some homes with historic designations still maintain some of their original plumbing. But, while some original design features of your home get more valuable as they age, historic plumbing probably isn’t one of them.

Old plumbing can cause major problems in your home, and even become a health hazard. If your older home is starting to have plumbing issues, it’s probably because of one of these problems:

  • Outdated Pipe Materials: The earliest piping used in the US was made of lead, a well-known health hazard, and should be replaced immediately. Lead was eventually replaced by galvanized steel, but it can corrode over time and cause clogs in your piping.
  • Pipes and Fixtures at the End of Their Lifespan: Piping and fixtures more than 20 years old can show signs of corrosion and deterioration. They can also be poorly-sized to handle the water needs of modern appliances and households.
  • Repairs by Unlicensed Repairmen or Homeowners: With little-to-no code requirements for early home builders, plumbing installations may not have been done correctly, often causing issues with backups, poor water pressure, or leaks.

Problems Repairing the Plumbing in Your Historic Home

Even once you’ve figured out the problems with your old piping or outdated fixtures, getting them fixed can be another challenge altogether. To keep your beautifully restored Victorian house as close to its original condition as possible, you might find that repairing seemingly straightforward plumbing issues requires some extra steps. Some of the things homeowners of historic houses often run into are:

  • Code Violations: Many historic homes pre-date building codes and regulations. As times changed, codes were put into place to ensure the safety of homeowners. If you’re doing a major renovation, you’ll need permitting, and that will require every part of your project to meet local code requirements, from paint to light fixtures, right down to your pipes and plumbing.  
  • Uncovering Unknown Issues: When repairing plumbing, other problems with a historic home are usually uncovered because repairing piping means opening and exploring cavities of a house that haven’t been tampered with since it was built. This can be a blessing—and a curse. Finding hidden problems can save you from disaster down the road, but the unexpected expense can easily derail a renovation budget.
  • Historic Home Regulations: Houses with historic designations may have to abide by strict regulations on what can be changed in your home. This can be a headache for your plumber, and often means added expense, as they might have a hard time maneuvering around, and not damaging, an old home’s craftsmanship.
  • Uncooperative Building Materials: Finally, the thick wood or plaster that’s common in many historic houses is much more difficult to penetrate when a plumber is installing new pipes or fixtures.

Modern Answers to Your Historic Home Plumbing Problems

So, just what are the answers to your plumbing woes? Thankfully, a plumbing professional will have a modern take on your historic home’s pipe problems. These are the questions to ask when consulting a local professional:

  • Are they familiar with the various types of modern piping and fixtures that are available, from traditional copper to PVC—and which will be the best solution to update your older home?
  • Are they willing to take the time to explore the layout of your historic plumbing, and recommend solutions to correct design flaws?
  • Are they well-versed in current code requirements to make sure your plumbing system will meet modern standards?
  • Can they also recommend energy-efficient fixtures to save you money on your water bill?

Owning a historic home means owning a piece of history—you want to maintain as much of the original structure as possible, from the original wood floors, to an antique claw foot tub, or the delicate floral wallpaper in the hallway. Plumbing problems can sometimes make saving those features difficult if the original structure of the home won’t allow for modern plumbing systems. But, with the right help, you can not only repair, but improve, the plumbing system in your house and maintain the beautiful details that make your historic home a treasure, not only for you and your family, but for the Woodland community.

While plumbing problems may seem daunting, a plumbing expert can offer solutions. Trust the professionals at Bell Brothers to diagnose the plumbing problems of your historic home—and find the right fix for your old pipes.