Saturday, May 31, 2014

Indoor Plumbing is a Home's Worst Enemy

Don't get me wrong. I greatly appreciate indoor plumbing. When I was growing up, we used to visit a set of older relatives who lived up in the mountains, and the only bathroom was a wooden outhouse set a good distance from the house. I hated going to the bathroom there - it was dark, there were spiders everywhere, and since we usually were visiting in the summer, it was smelly. Actually, I don't remember the smell so much, because the spiders were enough to motivate me to "hold it" until we got back home to our clean porcelain toilet.

While indoor plumbing is a boon to the inhabitants of a house, however, that luxury can definitely take a toll on the house itself, as I've discovered twice this spring. We rebuilt our shower at home thanks to water damage and mold; also, while doing demolition at our renovation project in town we discovered it was a wonder the toilet hadn't simply fallen through the rotted floor. Here, in brief, is the story of each of those problems.

Case #1 - The Shower

Since I told much of this story in an earlier post, I'll only summarize here. A few years ago (maybe three, maybe four - they all run together now....) I replaced the silicone sealant between our bathtub and the tile wall. However, I apparently didn't do a very good job of it, because water had been leaking through that seal, probably since shortly after I resealed the joint. Multiply two showers per day by four years' worth of days - that was a lot of water available to leak. We had to replace part of the floor under the tub, as well as parts of several studs in the wall around the tub. The damage even extended to the floors of three closets (a project for this summer is to tear up and replace those closet floors). I know I posted this picture earlier, but since we're talking about the damage water can do to a house, here is another reminder:

This story has a happy ending (at least I hope it does). We decided to rebuild as a walk-in shower and to waterproof the heck out of the whole thing. Our biggest hold-up was when my husband reworked the plumbing to eliminate the bathtub spout. There was a tiny leak at one joint in one pipe, with just a thread of water running down the pipe.
It took several tries to get the solder to seal the joint completely. That meant what we intended to be a couple of hours of plumbing turned into a four-hour job, but at least it is right and tight. There shouldn't be any future problems from the plumbing (fingers crossed!).

We also put up Hardibacker as a base for the porcelain tiles we planned to use for the shower, and then I painted a waterproofing membrane over that. Painting on the membrane was another job that took an entire day; I had to let it dry completely between coats, and I put on four coats.

From there, I put on the porcelain tile with very small grout lines (1/8th inch) and filled those lines with a grout that is supposed to be waterproof. I stuffed the joints where two walls come together with the grout, and I hope that is enough to keep water from getting behind the walls and into the drywall on the other side. I ran a line of high-quality silicone between the tiles and the shower base. It's a wide line, and it's kind of ugly (I'm no professional when it comes to applying silicone), but I wanted to be sure it won't leak this time! I've also been very diligent about wiping down the shower walls every time I take a shower, especially in wiping away any water that collects on the lip of the shower base. Keep it as dry as possible, that's my motto. (Unfortunately, that's not my husband's motto, so if he takes a shower after I do, the water just sits there until it evaporates or I wipe it up....)

Here's the finished product. I like it a lot, and I feel reasonably certain we won't have a repeat appearance of the mold.



Case 2 - The Town House Bathroom

The little house in town had more serious problems with water damage, many of them the result (I believe) of putting a temporary patch on a problem rather than doing the work necessary to really deal with the problem and the source of the problem.

We had decided we were going to redo most of the plumbing in the house because we're reworking the floor plan. When we took up the bathtub, this is what we found beneath it:

Obviously, someone had discovered water damage under an original tub and had cut out the old subfloor and put in a new one. What my husband and I can't figure out is WHY they would replace that rotten subfloor with some kind of chipboard. The board that was under the tub has absorbed so much moisture over the years that it simply flaked away rather than coming up as a solid piece. Terrible. It was also obvious that the source of the problem hadn't been solved; water was still coming from somewhere, enough water to pretty much rot away the subfloor AGAIN. Once we had all the old junk out of the way, my husband has gone in and put new 8x10 joists to support the tub and a water heater, and he's put pieces of treated plywood as the subfloor. We have a plumber coming in early next week to redo all the existing plumbing in the house, so maybe the leak, if it was in the water lines, will go away.

The tub wasn't the only source of water damage, though. This is the drain for the toilet. Notice the little hole on the right? That's where I stuck the end of the crowbar through the subfloor. I didn't have to beat my way through; no, the floor was so rotten I just gently poked the crowbar all the way through. Clearly, there had been another leak that someone ignored for a really long time. Again, we are reinforcing the joists and rebuilding the subfloor and will make sure everything is sealed properly as we continue with the renovations.

The moral of these stories: Don't ignore problems! I know it's a pain to have to deal with them. They don't solve themselves, though, and the pain of dealing with them is only going to get worse.

Indoor plumbing for bathrooms, blessing though it is, is a big source of many of these problems, but it's certainly not the only source. Think about all the ways we bring water into our homes - kitchen sinks and dishwashers, washing machines, icemakers. And there's also the issue of rain getting around windows and doors. Problems can even develop from the condensation that forms on windows from the contrast between warm and cool air (on either side of the building). It's a battle that calls for constant vigilance, as Professor Moody in the Harry Potter series would say.

Speaking of that, I have two more battles to fight with water. Our toilet at home has taken to running when no one has flushed; clearly, there's a leak somewhere in its system. And the house at town has a fairly wet spot that has appeared on the floor in what is going to be the master bedroom. It's been raining a lot here this week, so we suspect a leak in the roof somewhere (OK, that's what I suspect - Jeff says it's not the roof). But none of our investigations so far have produced any culprits. Frustrating. But we have to keep on until we find it. Wish us luck.....

5 comments:

Jack Smith said...

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Traci Romero said...

They could be, since errors in those are the most immediately felt because they affect even the floorings and electronic equipment, should the bathrooms and sinks flood. Happy to know that you've lasered in each of those areas, and found their attributes and quirks, and are responding to them accordingly. It's what good plumbing should be. Kudos!

Traci Romero @ Harris Plumbing

Levi Eslinger said...

That’s a great reminder, Augustina! Don’t ignore problems, especially plumbing-related ones. Because even if it’s a small one, it can a bigger problem with expensive repairs if left unchecked for long. So it will really be practical to do it as soon as possible. Anyway, that was quite a battle between you and your bathroom renovations. It's a good thing it all ended well. I just hope you get a good result on your water problems as well. Good luck!

Levi Eslinger @ Capital Plumbing

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