Water Damage Woes & A Pro Tip On How to Avoid Them


I got a call this week from a man whose home was flooded by a pipe that burst while he was away on a family trip. The water totally destroyed the first-floor finished flooring, as well as the walls in the kitchen, paneling in the halls, and all of the partition walls and ceilings in the basement. I have a feeling we may also have to add HVAC and electrical damage to the list. Once water gets into electrical fixtures, they need to be replaced.

The culprit in this case was the water line to a first-floor powder room toilet. That’s only a 3/8-inch pipe, but it caused hundreds of gallons of water to pump through the first floor into the basement and probably out the basement walls as the system continually kept flowing to refill itself.

This is the second call like this I have taken recently. In the other case, the homeowner was out of town at her winter home in Florida, and the cat sitter came in to a flooded house. The culprit there was a fairly new 1/2-inch line from the sink to the faucet in a second-floor bathroom. While the upper floor suffered some minor damage, the water completely gutted the lower levels, including the basement, the mechanicals, and the personal belongings they had stored there.

In both cases, the homeowners had to go through the misery of dealing with their insurance company to get the damages paid for.

As we head into prime vacation season, here is a simple tip from my plumber: shut off the water main before you leave the house if you’ll be away for an extended period of time. Even if a pipe bursts, you will minimize the impact and only suffer damage from the water that is in the line until it drains out. I do this now every time I leave home for a trip.

While I’ll get fewer calls for restoration projects sharing this advice, I’ll feel good knowing I was able to help prevent the problem in the first place.


Image: prana@neoprana.net

DIY? Better Think Twice

As a professional design build remodeler, I have seen a lot of do-it-yourselfers (DIY) over the years. In fact, when I was a little girl, I helped my dad, who was a handy home repair guy. He couldn’t keep fresh oil in or useful tires on his cars, but he could tile, paint, renovate a bathroom, and do plumbing work. I remember when he and my grandfather had me on the peak of the roof when I was 8 years old. I was literally scared stiff when my grandfather, a member in the German carpenters’ guild, saw my pale face and suggested my dad get me off the roof “aber schnell” (but fast)!

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What an Expert Looks Like: 10,000 hours

This past Friday, I spent time with our plumber in a small mechanical room on one of our projects. We were trying to figure out why we were not getting water pressure into the house from the main water line out on the street.

I sat on a small step ladder and chatted with him while he replaced the main valve on the water line. That’s the valve right before the water meter. It’s where you go to turn off all of the water going into the house when you have a leak. This valve was more than 50 years old. Though the valve looked OK, he figured it was the first and cheapest section to look at as the source of the water pressure problem.

Once we’d agreed to an approach to the problem, we started talking about business, and life, in general.

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Unforeseen Conditions

Many a customer will ask us what “unforeseen conditions” means. They ask because “unforeseen conditions” are explained in our contracts as something that can cause a “change order extra” to take place — and no one wants to spend money on something they don’t understand.

On this project, our plumbers encountered a cracked bend in the soil line. Here are some snaps of the problem:

You can see the old rusted pipes are in the basement ready to go to the scrapper. The new pipe is on site waiting for the change order extra to be approved. One snap shows the cracked bend where the toilet sits. The bend is in the bathroom floor under your toilet. You can see the large ugly hole in the living room wall the plumbers had to make to get at the pipe. The last image is from the bathroom looking down into the living room. This kind of destruction can be very upsetting to a homeowner, so it’s best to get the problem fixed and closed up soon as possible.

The bend is what is under your toilet and it’s connected to the soil line, which carries the waste from your toilet all the way to the street. If the soil line is cracked inside the house, what is in the pipe gets into your house. That’s sewage: solid and liquid waste, plus sewer gasses. It’s not a nice thing. If you smell something funny, this kind of leak is something to check for.

These cast iron pipes last a long time, and they are much quieter than PVC. When they fail, they corrode from the inside. Sheets of iron can flake off inside the house causing a clogged soil line, which forces sewage to back up into your house.

If the pipes in the house have not been used for a long time, they dry out and can crack when use begins again. Tree roots can also get into them. Ever wonder how those huge trees can grow on tiny front lawns? Yum! Soil line!

A cracked soil line is just one example of “unforeseen conditions.”

What is an Air Switch?

Here is a photo of an air switch kit.

We use these all the time in our kitchens. These “air powered” switches use a puff of air to turn on your garbage disposal.

The black box and hoses are mounted and plugged in, under your sink in the cabinet. All you see from the sink side is the chrome button of the switch. A hole is cut in the stone to allow this to be mounted next to the kitchen faucet.

With this air switch, you never have to touch your electrical appliance (disposal) and water at the same time. Neither do you have to put your hand into a sink full of greasy dirty water, using the batch feed handle some disposals come with.

These list for about $140.00 plus installation. We’ve used cheaper in the past, but this brand is the best we’ve used.