Plumbing Issues in Older Homes

Older homes in Ottawa, Ontario have a lot of appeal.  They are a cultural icon.  They have a charisma you won’t find in a modern subdivision.  However, they also come with their own set of problems.  There are certainly some plumbing issues to be aware of if you are thinking about making an older home your next residence.


Some of the materials that were used in the construction or even repair of an older house may not meet today’s standards or codes.  There are three basic, outdated types of pipes.

  • Lead – This is one of the oldest metals that was used in plumbing.  It is durable and malleable.  Even if you have copper plumbing, lead may have been used in the solder during repairs.  We now know that lead is highly toxic especially to children.  Symptoms include gastrointestinal pain and achy joints, irritability, fatigue and memory loss.  In children it can cause serious mental and physical development issues.
  • Galvanized – This is pipe made of iron and coated with zinc.  As the zinc erodes, the iron is left.  That iron rusts easily or become internally clogged with rust.  They will then be so brittle that they will need to be removed.  Frequently plumbers will remove the damaged portion and leave the solid pipes in place.
  • Polybutylene – This was initially thought to be an economic replacement for copper pipes.  While the manufacturer never acknowledged a problem, this substance was found to develop a chemical reaction with the antioxidants in public water.  This made the pipes flake, become brittle and crack.  Although they are no longer in production, there could be some of these pipes remaining in homes built between the 1970s and 1990s.


Pipes installed under the structure can shift downward, creating a “belly”.  This is caused by the gradual movement over time of the house, concrete, and soil structure.  When this downward slope occurs, water flow is hampered causing pools.  This is a perfect spot for waste or other sediment to accumulate.  That means you will be facing a stoppage or backup and probably leaks.

Sewer Lines

In older neighbourhoods, sewer lines were laid long before appliances like garbage disposals and dishwashers were invented.  If the older home was remodeled to include additional bathrooms, you will have even more water and waste moving through the sewer system.  The older pipes can also shift.  Older neighbourhoods also have mature trees with an extensive root system that can invade the sewer system.  All of this will result in a sewer backup forcing waste water and other materials into your basement or home.

Incomplete Repairs

Probably some of these items were already addressed.  However, if the repairs were inadequate or poorly executed, you will continue to have issues.  That includes improperly installed sink traps, showers, toilets, water heaters, or pipes.


If you are the owner of an older home or if you are considering a purchase, it is probably a good idea to have a reputable, professional plumber take a look at all the plumbing.  Using modern techniques like remote cameras and computers, problems can be discovered before they be come crises and addressed properly.