Air Testing Water Pipes On Winterized Properties

By
Home Inspector with Structure Tech Home Inspections

I recently had a friend ask me if I could do an air test on the water pipes of a bank-owned home he's buying.   Traditionally, these types of requests have been few and far between, but I've been getting more and more people asking about this with the high number of winterized bank owned properties for sale.  I've always told my customers that we don't do this, but I've decided that it's time to start offering this service.

A pressure test is a way of checking for leaks in the water piping without actually having any water in the pipes.  This consists of connecting an air compressor to the water piping, typically at the laundry faucet or exterior sillcock, and pressurizing the pipes to about 60 psi with air.  This is similar to the water pressure that most homes will have from the street.

Air Testing I use the device pictured at the right to connect an air compressor to the water piping.  I make sure all of the faucets are turned off, then I pressurize the pipes.  If they hold pressure, that's good.  I then disconnect the air hose and leave the pressure gauge in place for the rest of the inspection.  I come back at the end of my inspection and check the gauge to make sure the pressure hasn't dropped.  If it has, there's a leak.

The limitations of this test are that I cannot check the drains, vents, traps, or plumbing fixtures for leaks, but it's better than nothing.   I'll be charging a small fee to do this test with an inspection.

Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections - Email - Minneapolis Home Inspections

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Anonymous
Anonymous

Reuben, devils advocate here. What would you do if the system does not hold pressure? Besides reporting it, I'm quessing the water is going to have to be turned on to find the exact location of a leak anyway. I have been told by several plumbers that a leak can develop up to 12 hours after pressure is applied.

I am interested in how this will work for you. In the meantime I will require that the water be turned on before I inspect the home.

Mar 31, 2009 09:36 AM #7
Rainer
9,468
Mike Schulz
Affordable Home Inspections - Raleigh, NC
Raleigh NC Inspector

They pressurize the pipes in new construction but I don't think I would want to add that to my Inspection. To many "Ifs" involved and disclaimers. I think if they are serious about the home have it De-winterized.

Mar 31, 2009 05:42 PM #8
Rainer
78,961
Mike Parks
Residential Building Inspectors - Circleville, OH
Inspector

I think that your are asking for trouble. Remember a home inspection is a visual inspection.

Does your state required a plumbing lic. to perform this test???

I am a lic. plumbing contractor and would not perform this test unless I had full control of the property for 24 hours.

Mar 31, 2009 07:40 PM #9
Rainmaker
229,431
Reuben Saltzman
Structure Tech Home Inspections - Minneapolis, MN
Minneapolis Home Inspections

Charles - yeah, that would be a lot of water to bring along!  Yes, traps are always filled with anti-freeze here.

Tad and Mike - I'm just going to state the facts in my inspection report.  It doesn't need to be full of disclaimers.  I'll write something like "The water was turned off, so I couldn't test any of the plumbing fixtures, drains, traps, valves, or anything else that was plumbing related at the home.  At the request of the client, I did a pressure test on the water pipes.  I did this by pressurizing the pipes with 60 psi of air, and the pipes held this pressure over a period of two hours."  That's it, that's all.  If the pressure test fails, I'll put that in my report.  I'm not 'selling' this service, I'm just providing it to clients that ask for it.

Mike - I'm not sure if my state requires a plumbing contractor to perform this test, and I don't really care.  I've been told that my state requires electricians to remove panel covers, but almost every home inspector I know still does it.   Why would you not perform this test unless you had full control of the property for 24 hours? 

Mar 31, 2009 09:59 PM #10
Rainmaker
68,576
Vince Santos
StepByStep Home Services LC - Canton, MI
Southeast Michigan Home Inspector

I've been providing winterization service since last year and it's been a great addition to my current services. There is no danger of creating water damage during a pressure test unless the pipes have residual water in them. Performing winterization services is useful to everyone involved in the transaction however there is a right way and a wrong way to do it.

Inform your clients of the limitatins of performing only a pressure test. Air pressure will hold even if there are small leaks and you can't know where they are unless you can view ALL the plumbing. The idea of a pressure test is to determine if there are large separations or leaks. The only way to identify all leaks is to have the water turned on but even then it's limited to what you can see.

Whether or not you area selling it versus providing it to clients who ask is moot. Either way when you provide any service you are putting your neck out there. If done the right way I see nothing wrong with it.

Apr 01, 2009 12:27 PM #11
Rainer
78,961
Mike Parks
Residential Building Inspectors - Circleville, OH
Inspector

To the 24 hours --- It would be easy for someone to add 'pressure' to the system to fool my test.

I do not know if your state regulates Home Inspectors but if they do I doubt if you would want someone to perform inspections without being a Home Inspector. So why do you think that it is "OK" to perform work, by your own admission, that requires a license? Do you perfrom engineering?

I for one discovered that I needed to be certified to perform electrical inspections. So I got certified.

If you want to perform a task then take the time to achieve those qualifications.

I am not trying to be mean. Just stating facts.

Apr 03, 2009 07:15 AM #12
Rainmaker
66,816
Kevin Corsa
H.I.S. Home Inspections (Summit, Stark Counties) - Canton, OH
H.I.S. Home Inspections, Stark & Summit County, OH Home Inspector

I have done a few of these pressure tests on bank owned homes where they refuse to turn the water on even for a day.  However, the ones that I got to test ALL failed immediately, since none of them were winterized, and had major splits in the piping. Now I just do as close of a visual inspection of the supply lines and drains as I can, and expalin that the water service was not on or availiable, and the inspection of the plumbing system was limited to what can be readily seen, or observed. I would still maybe do a pressure test on a property that had been winterized, if asked. If there is a small, undetectable leak somewhere in the system, all you will be able to say is that the system did not hold pressure, which is hardly worth the effort in my opinion.

Apr 03, 2009 07:30 AM #13
Rainer
126,205
Scott Patterson
Trace Home Inspections - Spring Hill, TN
Home Inspector, Middle TN

Why not require that the water is turned on?  I have never really understood why folks are almost scared to require this to be done.  Same as having the power turned on, except that the house will need to be re winterized after the inspection. 

As we have more and more REO homes, this is going to be a never ending issue.  If everyone just took the stance of requiring the water to be on, it would make it easier for everyone. 

Apr 03, 2009 04:38 PM #14
Rainmaker
229,431
Reuben Saltzman
Structure Tech Home Inspections - Minneapolis, MN
Minneapolis Home Inspections

Mike- I have no idea how someone could 'add pressure'.   Please help me understand what you're talking about. 

My state doesn't have any type of regulation or licensing for home inspectors.  Whatever certifications you have in your state mean nothing in mine.  Electrical inspectors in MN are now required to be at least journeyman electricians.  I'm sure you don't mean to say that I should devote four years of my life getting a journeyman's license so I can open a panel cover.

I've taken dozens of college courses on building inspections over the years, and I'm a State Certified Building Official, Limited (Residential & Light Commercial).  When you say "If you want to perform a task then take the time to achieve those qualifications", you're implying that I haven't.  The rules here are different than the rules where you live. 

I don't think you're being mean - I appreciate your input.  It's tough to have a meaningful discussion about these things without opposing viewpoints.

Kevin - I agree.  That's why I'm not 'selling' this service.  It's just something I'll do if a client wants it. 

Scott - The water is usually turned on, and I strongly encourage my clients to get the water turned on, but I see no reason to 'require' this.  In some cases the banks simply refuse to do it.

Apr 04, 2009 08:24 AM #15
Rainmaker
66,816
Kevin Corsa
H.I.S. Home Inspections (Summit, Stark Counties) - Canton, OH
H.I.S. Home Inspections, Stark & Summit County, OH Home Inspector

More often than not, the banks flatly refusing to have the water turned on is what I usually experience here. Mostly, it seems like a lot of the banks have so little interest in selling these homes, that they could care less, and anyone wanting to buy one is pretty much at their mercy as far as terms and condition of the property. It's a sad truth that definitely needs to start changing.

Apr 05, 2009 06:50 PM #16
Ambassador
1,111,888
Charles Buell
Charles Buell Inspections Inc. - Seattle, WA
Seattle Home Inspector

Banks are "regulated" (insert any number of jokes here), and I see no reason why they could not also be required to keep these houses "forsale-ready" or made ready at the time of inspection-----in a timely manner.  I think that if these things were put in place we would see the banks start to care about these houses over night-----and actually become more interested in selling them.

Apr 05, 2009 07:50 PM #17
Rainer
78,961
Mike Parks
Residential Building Inspectors - Circleville, OH
Inspector

Reuben

"I have no idea how someone could 'add pressure'.   Please help me understand what you're talking about." The same way that I, or you, applied the pressure in the first place. There are ways to fool an inspector (I mean the one viewing the test gauge). This easy to do but I will not help others by showing (telling) them how to cheat.

"My state doesn't have any type of regulation or licensing for home inspectors.  Whatever certifications you have in your state mean nothing in mine.  Electrical inspectors in MN are now required to be at least journeyman electricians."  That is a low standard.

 " I'm sure you don't mean to say that I should devote four years of my life getting a journeyman's license so I can open a panel cover."  If that is what the law requires then YES.

I guess that standards are higher in Ohio.

Apr 07, 2009 07:27 PM #18
Anonymous
Anonymous

I see Mike's comment above what I'm dictating here. California also has low standards for home inspectors in that there is no licensing here.

We're rather lucky here in that many of the cities are now requiring owners to maintain their properties, regardless of where the owners actually live. That includes banks located in New York, London, or anyplace else. Failure to maintain the property, even if vacant, can result in significant fines which are then placed as government liens on the property. Banks learned very quickly to leave necessary utilities on in order to take care of the property, and if there's a home inspection coming up, 95% of the time during the past few months, the utilities are on at vacant and foreclosed properties. Sometimes government does work for the benefits of all -- LOL.

Apr 08, 2009 12:53 AM #19
Anonymous
Gazelle

FYI

more regulation DOES NOT neccessarily mean a higher standard and just becaue someone puts in the time and has a peice of paper does NOT mean they are more qualified to do a job.

In my area the bank will not do anything other than contract someone (in my experience a realtor) to manage the property and they do as little as possible because they are more interested in pocketing the cash than anything else so if it cost anything or requires any of their time do not expect it to happen.

Jul 07, 2011 10:55 AM #20
Anonymous
Will

Hi Reuben...I enjoyed this article.  I purchased a bank owned property about 2 1/2 months ago.  It was owned by Bank of America.  When first walking through the house, I noticed an international orange 8 1/2" by 11" piece of paper taped to the toilet that read, "Do Not Use  --  This Home Has Been Winterized".  Which led me to think:  cool!  The plumbing has been protected just like an RV!  I bought the house and...you guessed it...when I had the water turned on, water started raining down from the ceiling in the basement.  All totaled, I had 3 leaks in a house with only 1050 sq. ft. main level.  Luckily I am fairly handy and had the drywall down, leaks fixed, and the drywall back up within a few days.  After finding the second leak by turning on the water, it dawned on me that I could use my little air compressor to check for leaks.  I cut a washing machine water hose in half, slipped the male end of the air chuck into the hose, hose clamped it, connected it to one of the wash machine water supply faucets and fired up the compressor.  It would not rise above 30 lbs. per square inch of pressure, so I knew I had at least one more leak.  I shut off the compressor and walked quietly through the house listening for leaks with a stethoscope on the drywall, no less.  Worked like a champ on the third and last leak!  It was in the master bath, right behind the single handle diverter.  So I cut a hole in the drywall and fixed that last leak.  Pressurized the water system at 100 lbs. and waited 2 days:  it held like a champ.  My real estate agent was shocked to learn of these water leaks.  When she checked with other agents who had dealt with repos, they all said, "don't tell me...water leaks, right?".  So deal with an agent with repo experience and have the house inspected by someone with repo experience.  Anyway, here in the Omaha NE area, I'm trying to let as many people know about this as I can.  I remember in 1981 when people, disgusted with the stock market spinning its wheels, turned to rental real estate when the Wall Street Journal and Kiplinger's started running articles about people who owned rental real estate through the years of stock market doldrums.  Some of these landlords made pretty good money the whole time the stock market did nothing.  I believe history will repeat itself if the stock market continues to rock back and forth, going nowhere.  Thirty years is a long time and a whole new generation of ignorant people will turn to rental real estate.  The new factor is bank owned properties.  I have talked to a quite a few plumbers and they smile when you mention "bank owned property" or "repo" because they make a ton of money hunting down these split water pipes for the shell-shocked buyers.  The larger the house, the more leaks to look for and at $60 - $100 per hour, repos are real money makers for them.  My advice is unless you are absolutely sure that repo you are looking at is a big margin below the non-repo comparable houses in that neighborhood, steer clear.  I talked to one investor who asked the bank to turn on all the utilities...the bank refused.  He bought it anyway.  It was a 2000 sq. ft. ranch.  The furnace and A/C were both bad and there were 9 split water lines!  He is not at all handy, either.  He ended up spending almost $7000 just to get the place to square one!  How can we get this message out to people?  Gonna be a lot of folks shocked and sorry.

Jul 12, 2011 04:10 PM #21
Rainmaker
229,431
Reuben Saltzman
Structure Tech Home Inspections - Minneapolis, MN
Minneapolis Home Inspections

Will - I've never heard of someone using a stethoscope.  I'll definitely remember that.  Here in MN, bank almost always de-winterize the home as part of the purchase, but as in your case, not always.

Jul 13, 2011 06:41 AM #22
Anonymous
Mike

we are looking at a slab home which HUD has-they have done a pressure check and suspect leaks.  They will not let us turn the water on for an inspection but said we could air test.  The comment of using a steoscope worked on walls but with it being a slab house would this be a house to steer clear of??

Nov 04, 2011 09:39 PM #23
Rainmaker
229,431
Reuben Saltzman
Structure Tech Home Inspections - Minneapolis, MN
Minneapolis Home Inspections

Mike - worst case scenario is that you have to replace all of the water piping in the house.  If I wanted a house, that wouldn't be a deal killer for me.  In other words, no need to steer clear of the house - just go in to the deal prepared to spend some money.

Nov 05, 2011 07:15 AM #24
Anonymous
Andrea

I am under contract with a HUD home now. HUD stated that Via compressor, plumbing system failed pressure test; and states that there is damaged plumbing.

Well we are supposed to have the home inspected on Wednesday and on Monday my realtor said that HUD will not let us turn on the water. My husband is extremely upset and doesn't see the point in paying a home inspector when the inspector can't even check what HUD is saying is damaged.

My husband said it's like buying a car that has something wrong with the engine but the seller won't let you check out the engine before you buy the car. We had to give earnest money and the only way we can get it back is if a home inspector states something is wrong with the home; so no matter what we are losing $300 to $500.

This is our first time to try and purchase a home and it has been a horrible experience. How can we go through with this purchase without having any idea of how much damage there is or around about how much it will cost to be fixed.

Apr 24, 2012 06:59 AM #25
Rainmaker
229,431
Reuben Saltzman
Structure Tech Home Inspections - Minneapolis, MN
Minneapolis Home Inspections

Andrea - that sounds very frustrating.  I wouldn't be happy either.  Are you sure that you can only get out of the deal if the inspector says something is wrong with the home?  I recommend you read the language of your purchase agreement very carefully.  It might be much easier than that.  Here in Minnesota it certainly would be.  

Apr 24, 2012 11:26 AM #26
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