When I was growing up, my aunt and uncle lived in the most beautiful house. It was one of the big old Victorian’s you find all around our area and I thought it the coolest house I’d ever seen. It looked like something out of a movie, with these great old awnings, balconies upstairs, and tons of little stairways that I loved to play on—even if my mom and dad weren’t always thrilled that my cousins and I would run up and down them at breakneck speeds.
My aunt and uncle are far from the only folks in Sacramento to live in an old Victorian or some other style of aging home that is common throughout our region. The local homeowners who live in these houses have done a great job keeping up with them, both inside and out. I, of course, didn’t realize this as a kid (I wasn’t born a plumbing expert, after all), but while Victorian homes might look great on the outside, keeping things on the inside, like the pipes you don’t see, up to date can be a bit of a challenge. I think that’s why, in my line of work, I tend to get so many questions about updating plumbing in old houses and the costs related to upgrading aging pipes. Folks know they need to invest in upkeep, but they can’t even begin to pinpoint a price range.
It’s a good question, but the costs vary from house to house depending on a number of factors, including how extensive the plumbing and pipe system is, how long it’s been since it last had an overhaul, and how the plumbing was built way back when. So, let’s take a look together at the average costs to update plumbing if you live in an old house.
Updating Plumbing in an Old House Costs: Where to Begin
First things first, you need to understand that there’s nothing inherently more or less costly about replacing aging pipes in an old house versus a newer home. The costs to upgrade the plumbing in a house that was built in 1920 are pretty similar to the costs for one that was built in 1980. The difference is that the need to replace aging pipes is so much more pressing for an older house—especially if you and your family haven’t lived there for generations and don’t have an accurate record of the last time the pipes were replaced.
So, my advice for where to start is to try and do your best to figure out when the last time extensive plumbing work was done. The vast majority of old houses in our area, as well as in the rest of the country for that matter, were built with galvanized steel pipes, which was the defacto choice for residential plumbing dating back to the 1930s all the way on up through the 1980s. It was only recently that it became standard for contractors to build homes with longer lasting brass and copper pipes.
Here’s how the lifespans generally break down for each of those materials, which are the three most common types of piping used in homes:
- Brass pipes: Between 40 and 70 years
- Copper pipes: Around 50 years
- Galvanized steel pipes: Between 20 and 50 years
As you can see, the galvanized steel pipes that were common for so long have a much shorter lifespan. If you have an older house but don’t know when they were last updated or replaced, you could be putting yourself at risk for an aging galvanized steel pipe to burst—and, of course, nobody wants that to happen. If you’re not sure what sort of pipes you have in your home, there are many local experts who can do a plumbing and sewer inspection to help you figure it out.
Signs It’s Time to Update Plumbing in an Old House
Homeowners don’t, however, always have to launch an investigation into what the pipes in their old house are made of (though as I described above, it is useful information). Sometimes there are signs that it’s time to replace the pipes in your old house, signs that you’re likely to notice on any given day, including:
- Low water pressure: If the water pressure when you’re taking a shower or washing the dishes has dropped significantly as of late, this could be a sign that it’s time to replace aging pipes in your old home. When pipes get old, corrosion sets in. Sometimes this also means that there will be a build-up of corroded materials in your pipes. This build-up inhibits water flow and makes it harder for you to get the pressure you’re used to. An experienced plumbing professional can do a video inspection of your pipes to tell you definitively whether this has started to occur.
- Water and sewage leaks: Leaks coming from fixtures and exposed piping might be obvious, but are less so from pipes in the walls and underground. Signs of leaks in these cases might be slow running faucets, slow draining tubs or toilets, and stains on ceilings or walls. These leaks can indicate piping damage, clogs, or corrosion, and definitely will need the expert care of a licensed plumber—especially after the doozy of a wet winter Sacramento just experienced last year.
- Water color: Galvanized steel pipes are likely to have less protective coating against rust and to experience corrosion over time. That’s why it’s important to watch the color of the water. If it becomes milky or reddish in color, it’s time to call the plumber, especially if you’re wondering what type of water filtration system to have installed.
Price Ranges to Expect When Considering Updated Plumbing in Old House Costs
Figuring out whether your pipes need to be replaced is kind of fun, in that you get to play plumbing detective. The less fun part comes next, though, when it’s time to start thinking about the impact on your wallet. Before we get into price ranges, however, I’d like to point out that all replacement work costs significantly less than the repairs associated with a burst pipe, especially in an older home where mold and damage to aging wood are likely to be brought on by water.
In general, though, homeowners should expect to spend anywhere from $1,500 on the very low end up to $15,000—or even more.
The size of your home, the number of stories, and the number of bathrooms, as well as the amount of existing piping that needs to be demolished, will play a role in the total cost. In general, though, homeowners should expect to spend anywhere from $1,500 on the very low end up to $15,000—or even more. The number of fixtures (sink, bathtub, shower, toilets, dishwasher, water heater, etc.) also plays a part, as does the type of pipes you choose to have installed. Copper, for example, has gone up a bit in recent years. An experienced plumber can help you pick the type of piping that will work for your budget and be a long-lasting choice for your classic home.
An experienced plumber can help you pick the type of piping that will work for your budget and be a long-lasting choice for your classic home.
No matter how beautiful the exterior of your house is, it’s obviously important to make sure your plumbing is functioning efficiently as well—you certainly don’t want a pipe to burst and cause damage to your walls or floors. If the water is flowing well in a home, it can be easy to forget about the pipes that you don’t see. It would all be so much easier with x-ray vision, wouldn’t it?
My advice, though, if you have any questions whatsoever about the pipes in your old house—and whether or not they might need to be replaced—is to call a plumbing professional who can do a full inspection and clear up any doubts. That way, you can relax and enjoy the classic aesthetics of your home with peace of mind about your pipes.
Stop wondering about the status of the pipes in your old house and have a professional plumber out to take a look at them today. Contact the experienced plumbing professionals at Bell Brothers.
Wondering how to finance a new plumbing in your old home? HERO is a unique financing option that helps California homeowners afford energy efficient upgrades to their home. Contact Bell Brothers, a HERO-approved contractor, to learn more. Our local HVAC, plumbing, and window specialists will walk you through the entire process, from applications to installation.
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