Plumbing and drainage

Common problems include deteriorating pipework if upgraded in the 1970s or 1980s.

Water supply

A reticulated water supply was universally available to houses in urban areas by the 1940s.

Where a public water supply was not available, such as in rural areas, storage tanks that collected rainwater from the roof were used to provide the household water. Rainwater tanks were often poorly protected, sometimes resulting in a poor quality of water.

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Typically, galvanised steel pipes originally supplied water from the public mains supply to the house, and copper pipes supplied water to fittings in the house. It is unlikely that properly installed copper pipework and fittings require replacement.

If a bathroom or kitchen has been upgraded, it is likely that replumbing has also been carried out. Original plumbing pipes may have been replaced by PVC or polybutylene. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, plastic pipe may have been retrofitted into existing homes during upgrading work on bathrooms and kitchens.

After a time one particular product was taken off the market because there were numerous incidents of connections bursting and causing considerable damage – many houses had the suspect piping replaced by the manufacturer. If there is plastic piping that was installed during a 1970s or 1980s renovation, it should be checked by a plumber who should be able to advise on its condition and need for replacement.

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Sanitary drainage

The original domestic sewer drains consisted of earthenware clay or cast iron pipes, generally 4” (100 mm) in diameter that connected to the public system where it existed. If there was no public sewer system, the drain would run to a septic tank system.

By the late 1940s, stormwater and sewer drains were installed as separate systems. In new housing subdivisions (state house as well as private housing subdivisions) stormwater drainage was provided by drains usually located in the grassed verges adjacent to the concrete kerbs and channels on the street. In some cases, depending on the ground contours, they could be located in strips of council-retained land at the rear of sections.

Sanitary sewers, using water to remove sewage, were generally installed and, where necessary, treatment tanks and pumping stations had also been installed.

In rural areas septic tanks were typically installed but there remained a number of properties that may have still utilised an external long drop toilet.

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Who can do what?

Relatively simple plumbing jobs such as connecting up a washing machine or replacing a tap can be done by competent householders, but there are rules around who can do other types of work. Sanitary plumbing – work that involves water supply pipes or waste pipes, traps, ventilation pipes or overflow pipes – must be done by a licensed plumber. You can find more details here.