Deciding to buy a house is a big decision and one you probably didn’t come to lightly. You’re making a significant commitment both with your finances and your time.
So it only makes sense you want to make sure you are getting the best house for you buck.
This is why buyers are often strongly encouraged and motivated to have a thorough inspection performed before completing the sale. Because if you don’t and a problem is found before the sale goes through, it is the seller’s problem. But if it is found after the sale, it is your problem.
And the last thing you want after making a down payment and signing a 30 year mortgage is an unexpected and costly repair on your hands.
This is why I find the Texas Real Estate Commission (TREC) Addendum for Authorizing Hydrostatic Testing particularly frustrating.
What Is the Addendum for Authorizing Hydrostatic Testing?
The Addendum for Authorizing Hydrostatic Testing is a form stating the buyer is responsible for paying for the test, and makes either the buyer or the seller responsible for any damage that might be caused by the test (most often the buyer).
So if you want to make sure the underslab sewer pipes in the house you are about to buy is free from leaks or other damage, this addendum might make you think twice before getting a hydrostatic test. I should also mention here: this test is the only way to find out if there are any leaks or damage in underslab sewer pipes.
Why This Addendum Doesn’t Make Sense
If you know nothing about underslab plumbing and the testing the industry uses to find problems, this addendum might scare you away from having the sewer system tested. It implies that the testing itself might cause damage.
However, hydrostatic testing has been used by the underslab plumbing industry since the 1970s. So how, if the tests themselves cause damage, are they still being used to test anyone’s sewer pipes?
The short answer. Because these tests do not cause damage.
Not to mention, all cities require this test on all new homes. If the test causes damage, there’s no way the city would require them.
So if any damage or leaks are found by the test, it is because the damage was already there to begin with.
So What’s Up With This Addendum?
I believe this misconception exists because of — at best — confusion about the actual test itself and — at worst — being a scare tactic used to prevent a buyer from knowing about potentially expensive sewer pipe leak repairs and/or replacements. And as this could essentially kill the sale leaving all agents unpaid, it is an added incentive for both the seller and the buyer agents to encourage the seller to not allow the test.
The potential confusion could be related to what can be referred to as “pressurized hydrostatic tests” which are performed by other industries, for instance, utility companies and gas lines. But with a hydrostatic plumbing test nothing is pressurized.
Instead we create a “blockage” with a rubber test ball and fill the sewer lines with water, what the pipes are built to withstand. (You can read about the entire process in this blog post.) If the pipes were to incur any damage or burst because they were filled with water — again, what they are designed and built to hold — the pipes were already bad.
To illustrate this point, I like to compare this to a glass of water. If you pour water to the top of a glass, imagining the bottom of the glass as our “blockage,” and the integrity of the glass is intact, nothing will happen. But if that glass were to leak or burst, there was something wrong with the glass in the first place.
The act of pouring water and the standing water itself doesn’t damage the glass. The glass had to have had something wrong with it for it to leak or break. This also holds true for a hydrostatic plumbing test and sewer pipes.
Sewer Camera Inspections Do NOT Find Leaks
Additionally, I think it is important to repeat here that a hydrostatic plumbing test is the only way to determine if there is a leak or damage in the underslab sewer pipes. I know some agents and plumbers believe a sewer camera can find leaks but that is not possible.
A sewer camera can be used to locate lines, find blockage or stoppage problems, and to determine what type of pipe is under the house, PVC or cast iron. Because a leak is water escaping out of a crack or a hole, there is no way a camera inside the pipe can see if water is leaking outside of the pipe.
It’s also worth noting, a camera cannot reach all sections of the system leaving some portions of it unseen. And how can someone use a camera to find leaks if they can’t see the whole system in the first place?
The Addendum for Authorizing Hydrostatic Testing Should Not Be Required
Based on my 22 years of experience, my primary master plumber’s 50 years of experience, and the combined 152 years of experience of In-House Plumbing Company personnel, we know the only way to determine if there is a leak is with the hydrostatic plumbing test. And we know the test itself does not cause any damage.
And scaring people away from having one performed with this addendum is potentially leaving a new homeowner, you, with thousands of dollars of unexpected repairs from the sewer line to the foundation. The purpose of the option period is to give you the chance to check for any possible problems with the home. And this addendum contradicts the purpose of the option period. It’s like telling the you to buy the house no questions asked and to just assume that everything is fine.
I recently sent the TREC a letter stating all of the information above in an effort to do away with this addendum. And I’ll be sure to keep you updated if and when I have any new information regarding the addendum.
One quick note for anyone buying a home built before 1986. If this is the case, call us before getting any tests done; the house might have cast iron plumbing. In this situation, you need to have the pipes replaced, not repaired.
So instead of a test, we can give you a free estimate to replace the pipe so you know what you’re getting into. And when you do call, make sure you speak with me, the owner, or our general manager.
If you have any questions, feel free to give us a call at 972-494-1750. You can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.