So you just got married, you’re excited to start your new life with your spouse, and you’re looking for a place to live in the GTA. Congratulations; Toronto’s a fantastic city. Of course, you’re probably thinking of things like mortgage rates, neighborhoods, floor space, kitchen features, and interior decoration. The furthest thing from your mind is probably plumbing. Because I’ve never met newlyweds who had plumbing on their minds. Unless maybe they were newlywed plumbers.
Nevertheless, if you’re looking for a place in Toronto, you should be thinking about plumbing. Pipes and drains and water heaters may not be sexy or romantic, but there are few home problems more disastrous than when something goes wrong with the plumbing. Ever had your water heater explode? Trust me, it’s not pretty.
So here is a short list of the most common plumbing issues you should look out for, as well as some easy steps you can take to head them off at the pass. These problems can happen anywhere, but are especially common in Toronto.
Toronto is kind of like that jolly fat uncle that everyone loves: great personality, wouldn’t hurt a fly, a fantastic cook, but those arteries are a mess. The city’s infrastructure is old and out of date; indeed, some elements still in operation date from the early 20th century.
If you’re thinking of moving into a classic home in an older suburban neighborhood, be aware that water runoff will be a major issue, as the drainage systems in these areas were built to handle a tenth of the homes that currently reside there. Basement flooding is a big problem in Toronto, to the point that the city offers protection subsidies to help homeowners install backwater valves, sump pumps, and other preventative measures. Take advantage of these subsidies to protect your home from costly damage.
Another problem with old pipes is that the sealant around their joints begins to crack, which can lead to water seeping into walls and fixtures. This is an inexpensive problem to fix, which is good, because it can lead to expensive damage if not addressed. All you have to do is turn off the water supply, scrape all the old sealant out of the grooves of the joint, then clean it thoroughly with a high-powered household cleaner (including bleaching out any mildew). Use a fan or a heater to dry it off, then apply fresh sealant around the joint. Make sure you let it dry completely before you turn the water back on.
Old fixtures also tend to leak. Leaky faucets aren’t just annoying, they can also get expensive: a single leak can cost up to 100 litres of water per month. Often the problem is as simple as a worn-out washer; sometimes, it will require replacing the entire tap.
Elderly water heaters can lead to a variety of issues throughout the home, from weak dishwashers and all-too-brief showers, to bad washing machine performance. Replacing a water heater can be an expensive proposition. Be sure to inspect the water heater in every property you visit. Check its age and its condition.
Toronto’s winters are pleasant compared to other Canadian cities, but the cold can still get intense enough to freeze water in unprotected pipes. Guess which pipes tend to lack insulation? That’s right: those in older homes and apartments. As you can probably guess, when water in these pipes freezes, it swells and puts pressure on those old pipes, putting them at risk of cracking – or, worse, bursting apart entirely. I don’t have to tell you how bad this can be. Ideally, you want to insulate these pipes, but if that beyond your budget, make sure you leave your taps slightly open during freezing weather. This will keep water flowing in the pipes, so that won’t stick in one place long enough to freeze there. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s better than nothing.
Clogged toilets are also a major issue. In fact, they are the single most common plumbing headache in Toronto. This has little to do with old pipes and a lot to do with new initiatives. The city put a priority on water-efficient low-flush toilets a few years back, offering generous rebates for a time to encourage people to install them. These use up to 80% less water per flush, making them great at cutting down utility costs. Unfortunately, many of the earlier models are designed to save water first and dispose of waste last; they just don’t have the power to get rid of heavy loads. If you’re checking out a new home, find out the make and model of every toilet in the place and find out if it can take care of your dirty work. It may be a little gross, but remember this rule of thumb: wipe twice, flush once.
Finally, check under the sink. That’s the most common area in any home for plumbing issues, which are usually caused by a pipe being knocked out of place. This can often be fixed by simply tightening the pipe in question. A simple solution for a frequent problem.
Don’t let any of these issues dissuade you from living in Toronto. Just keep a plumber on speed-dial, stay aware, informed, and alert, and you’ll find yourself loving life in Toronto the Good.