It was previously ignored by homebuyers, but lead levels will become a “watchword” in the housing market, according to the president of the Brandon Real Estate Board.
Sandy Donald said lead levels in tap water isn’t something the average homebuyer is aware of, but the results of a recent provincial study will change that.
Preliminarily results of a provincial study show an excess of lead in some parts of the city as a result of lead used as a primary material for water service lines installed prior to 1950. One of the 11 houses tested so far showed a lead concentration nearly five times the Canadian standard.
“When a realtor is showing a house he has probably got 103 things that he can be asked and (lead levels) is probably way down on the list,” Donald said.
“It will now be in the forefront of their thought process.”
Routine water tests don’t generally look for lead, but Donald said the recent findings by the government study could spark an increase in conditions in sales agreements to include such tests.
“Tests aren’t looking for lead — it’s usually for E. coli, chloroform and stuff like that, not for the lead level. That might be something that’s added to the (conditions),” he said.
In the short term, homebuyers might shy away from looking at houses in the downtown core entirely, Donald said.
“If somebody says to you the water is contaminated, well, that gives you pause before you even consider going into that house,” he said.
“It’s going to be one of the watchwords for realtors and everybody out there.”
The issue of old water pipes in the downtown core is also another concern for affordable housing in the city, Donald points out.
With a lot of the affordable homes concentrated in the oldest part of the city, the issue of lead pipes will either be a health concern or a cost concern, he said, adding the city should look into subsidizing filtration systems as a response to the findings.
The City of Brandon will pay for half of lead water service replacements for pre-1950 houses (from the water main to the property line), but it’s still up to the homeowner to pay for pipe replacement from the curb to the house, which could cost thousands.
The city doesn’t have records of how many of the possible 3,600 potentially affected houses still have lead pipes from the property line to the building, but it’s likely many.
While most, if not all, of the city’s old houses have up-to-date plumbing inside, many haven’t opted for modern piping underground simply because of the cost.
“If the house is refitted, it doesn’t mean they’re going to dig up the front yard,” said Blaine Turner, owner of Bayview Plumbing & Heating.
“It’s half the price to change the lines on the inside of the house as it is to dig up 30 or 40 feet on the outside,” he said.
According to Ray Fenton of C&C Construction, replacing the line could cost anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000 depending on the length of the pipe and whether they have to dig up the adjacent road to access the water main.
Fenton said it’s too early to say if many homeowners are going to opt for the pricey upgrade, and it simply depends on the amount they have to spend on their property.
“It depends on whether people will want to spend the money,” he said, and added the upgrade could increase the value of the property in light of a heightened awareness.
When the use of copper pipes became an industry standard, lead was still used to solder joints until the 1980s, and could also result in traces of lead in the water.
Most plumbers now use plastic pipes in the house, but continue to use copper pipes leading up to the house, but with non-leaded solder.