Cliff May Mystery Plumbing Leak

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Cliff May Mystery Plumbing Leak

Postby Stephen » Mon Jan 04, 2010 7:08 pm

So this afternoon I noticed the sound of running water. Not the sound of water sloshing or splashing, but the sound of water running through pipes. I can hear it in the guest bath, most loudly near the shower, under sink in the kitchen, and at the main valve outside (between the kitchen and guest bath) where the water goes into the house.

I have checked all fixtures, the water heater, turned off all the shutoffs under the sink in the kitchen...none of them change the sound. I think it might be the guest bath shower valve. It sounds like a lot of water but I don't think it is. When I turn off the shutoff valve it takes over a minute for the sound to die down as the pressure eases.

Any ideas before I go tearing into the wall or shower in the guest bath?
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Postby johnnyapollo » Mon Jan 04, 2010 7:40 pm

Hey Stephen,

Normally when you can hear water like that it's in a drain pipe - if you don't have any leaks coming from fixtures you should look at any drains that are used for overflow and the like. If it's not a drain it could be buried HVAC that has water coming through it - you might want to check those. Look for the overflow from your hot water heater PRV. When you have "normal" type leaks in walls it's difficult to hear the water running...

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Postby Stephen » Mon Jan 04, 2010 7:50 pm

johnnyapollo wrote:Hey Stephen,

Normally when you can hear water like that it's in a drain pipe - if you don't have any leaks coming from fixtures you should look at any drains that are used for overflow and the like. If it's not a drain it could be buried HVAC that has water coming through it - you might want to check those. Look for the overflow from your hot water heater PRV. When you have "normal" type leaks in walls it's difficult to hear the water running...

-- John


It sounds like water going through a constricted valve opening. Like you're in the room adjacent to a bathroom and someone is taking a shower...you can hear the flow of water through the pipe. It's a very constant sound....not at all like a drain pipe. Checked the PRV on the water heater and the valves on top. I don't have A/C so there are no HVAC lines. Turning off the water main stops it. I can hear a similar sound when the washing machine is filling with water or doing anything that uses water.

BTW, if I have to open up the walls in the bathroom I should probably redo the drain line on the tub/shower (embedded trap) and get a new tub. Do people still install cast iron or does everyone go with fiberglass or plastic?
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Postby jcheard » Wed Jan 06, 2010 10:39 am

You may have a "slab leak". It's when water pipes under the slab fail, or develop a pinhole in them. A pinhole leak could explain why it still makes the sound after you shut off the water (until the pressure goes down). Make sure you have no water running (ice maker, reverse osmosis system etc.) then check the meter to see if it is moving.

If you do have a leak and your pipes are under the slab, they will most likely have to jackhammer into the concrete. (can be very messy & expensive). Sometimes it can be repaired by tearing up the floor in an adjacent room or closet saving a tile floor etc. For drain lines, they can use cast iron, but I would probably still use ABS.

Your next step is to get a plumber out there to determine if you need a "leak locate" (it should cost around $300). You may have coverage under your insurance policy. E-mail me through the site if you would like to dicuss this further.

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Postby Joe » Wed Jan 06, 2010 10:55 am

any change in your water bill since you noticed it?

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Postby Stephen » Wed Jan 06, 2010 11:06 am

Joe wrote:any change in your water bill since you noticed it?


Yes, but that was due to a water main breaking (PO ineptitude on that one).

I've got folks coming by at 4PM today so we'll see. Either I'm going to end up with a simple fix or a new guest bathroom (and a much lighter wallet).
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Postby egads » Wed Jan 06, 2010 10:55 pm

The suspense is killing me, I hope it lasts.

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Postby Stephen » Thu Jan 07, 2010 8:25 am

egads wrote:The suspense is killing me, I hope it lasts.


Licensed plumber with 30 years experience came out and...




...told me I'm a hypochondriac, basically. He confirmed there is a leak, and it does sound like water is moving; however, after timing the water meter he concluded the leak is tiny, probably in the slab, and would be difficult to find.

His advice was to watch the water usage, and keep an eye out for any signs of water on the ground. Otherwise, I should just repipe the supply line in the wall instead of the slab when I remodel the bathroom.

Somewhat unrelated, he did find a major problem with my water water :(
The previous owner yokels used galvanized and black iron pipe on the connections to the water heater and hooked up the copper flex lines directly to it. So there is obvious corrosion where the flex lines connect to the water heater and to the wall. $180 to redo correctly.

This plumber had an additional idea on the tankless water heater. Since the water main inlet to my house is right between the bathroom and kitchen and next to the gas meter, he thought it would be easier to place it outside there. He said it can vent directly and they can tie right into the hot water system in either the bathroom or kitchen. This would completely open up the closet area for future use.
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Postby jcheard » Thu Jan 07, 2010 8:58 am

Well hypochondriac or not, keep an eye/ear open for any increases in the sound or any water surfacing. It can "just happen" at any time and if you are not home, you could have water damage. Try turning off the inlet to the water heater and see if this stops it. If it does, it is a leak in the hot supply. If it doesn't it would probably be in the cold line.

As for mounting the tankless outside, there are some stainless steel exterior units that look very nice. They will cost a little more but will save money on ducting the interior unit outside & provide more space inside.

John

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Postby egads » Thu Jan 07, 2010 9:19 am

Speaking of galvanized nipples (short pieces of threaded pipe) in my house and in most all of the Long Beach Ranchos, the nipples coming out of the wall*, from the copper water lines to the shut off valves below sinks and toilets, are galvanized. I replaced all mine with brass. The old ones were so deteriorated and rusty they were almost closed up inside and in danger of leaking soon. Replacement was an easy DYI. I suggest to any of you with an old (as old as me) house that was built with copper pipes (new at the time) to check to see if this is the case in your place. My Realtor suggested that this was a possibility. He said the original installers either did not grasp the importance of not mixing copper and steel or they just has a material shortage. Also, gardeners are notorious for using steel pipe when connecting sprinkler valves to hose piping. so check these areas out folks, the leak you prevent could be your own.

By the way, there is a system to line the existing pipes in slabs with plastic.
Redneckmodern had that done. He can probably address it's costs. I do remember him saying that, once done, you cannot "sweat" the copper anymore. So you have to be done with remodeling or sweat threaded fittings on the ends before you have this done.

*later copper plumbed houses have copper pipe coming out of the wall and use compression mounted shut off valves (aka: stops)

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Postby Stephen » Thu Jan 07, 2010 9:33 am

egads wrote:Speaking of galvanized nipples (short pieces of threaded pipe) in my house and in most all of the Long Beach Ranchos, the nipples coming out of the wall*, from the copper water lines to the shut off valves below sinks and toilets, are galvanized. I replaced all mine with brass. The old ones were so deteriorated and rusty they were almost closed up inside and in danger of leaking soon. Replacement was an easy DYI. I suggest to any of you with an old (as old as me) house that was built with copper pipes (new at the time) to check to see if this is the case in your place. My Realtor suggested that this was a possibility. He said the original installers either did not grasp the importance of not mixing copper and steel or they just has a material shortage. Also, gardeners are notorious for using steel pipe when connecting sprinkler valves to hose piping. so check these areas out folks, the leak you prevent could be your own.

By the way, there is a system to line the existing pipes in slabs with plastic.
Redneckmodern had that done. He can probably address it's costs. I do remember him saying that, once done, you cannot "sweat" the copper anymore. So you have to be done with remodeling or sweat threaded fittings on the ends before you have this done.

*later copper plumbed houses have copper pipe coming out of the wall and use compression mounted shut off valves (aka: stops)


It's funny you mention that...my house is the same way. Copper in the slab -- little bit of galvanized elsewhere. I haven't had my walls open but one neighbor told me that on his house there are small brass valve at the base of the slab, in the walls, and then galvanized pipe running to the fixtures. He had heard the reason for mixing was they had different guys come back to do the plumbing install than the ones who did the slab piping. 1953/1954 is VERY early for copper plumbing in SoCal. In general, it doesn't show up in tract homes until the late 50s / early 60s.

I asked this guy about pipe coating and he mentioned it's a good solution for some people but in my case he would rather repipe -- at least for the kitchen and main bath. He told me I've really lucked out on location since the water comes in right there and if the walls are open for something else the cost to just run it in the wall is minimal...the price of pipe and hour of labor. He said he would run a stub into the furnace closet so that at a later date I could continue it on to the master bathroom.
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Postby home_boy » Thu Jan 07, 2010 10:03 am

Stephen wrote:Licensed plumber with 30 years experience came out and...
...told me I'm a hypochondriac, basically.


Shouldn't that be "hydrochondriac", Stephen? But who can blame you. Nothing will get me out of bed in the middle of the night like the sound of water running. Most of the time it's just the refrigerator, but I'm always hearing things. Good luck.

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Postby ModernArch » Thu Jan 07, 2010 11:51 am

my slab house had the coating (w/in the copper pipe) done...it didn't work and the company is now out of business so that 10-yr warranty is doing me a lot of good. Problem I've since learned is that the coating is shot through a heated hose-type system, but doesn't evenly distribute, so some parts of the pipe are overly coated and some are undercoated.

If you've got a slab leak, total cost to repair is likely a couple thousand (for jack hammering et al)...very messy and costly, and doesn't guard against future leaks elsewhere. Best option is to copper repipe through the walls and ceiling, completely bypassing the underslab pipes. Will cost at least 5g's, but more cost effective in the long run.
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Postby Joe » Thu Jan 07, 2010 12:16 pm

I have not heard any success stories with coating the pipes. we've talked about here before too.

get a second opinion from a seasoned plumber and proceed. you don't have radiant heat, so repiping isn't that bid a deal.

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Postby turboblown » Thu Jan 07, 2010 10:17 pm

In my opinion, if you are going to repipe, use PEX tubing that's commonly used for hydronic heating. It is flexible and easier to route and will outlast copper. It's a dream to work with when you need to route it through walls and ceilings. It also takes to flex and temperature differences better than copper too. If you ever need to tap into it in the future, bleed the pressure, cut in half and install a Acme SharkBite tee fitting in less than five minutes and you're tapped in. I ran about 60' of 3/4" through my walls and ceilings last year and woulnd't even want to think about how hard copper would have been to use.

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Postby johnnyapollo » Fri Jan 08, 2010 5:24 am

I've also been working lately exclusively with Pex - and agree with the above assessment. The Sharkbite fittings too, make things way easier, especially when tying different pipe types together (one fitted "T" can have three different pipes, i.e. copper, cpvc and Pex inserted at different openings, greatly enhancing the install experience). I'm a convert.

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Postby Joe » Fri Jan 08, 2010 9:30 am

turboblown wrote:In my opinion, if you are going to repipe, use PEX tubing that's commonly used for hydronic heating...


he doesn't have hydronic heating, we're talking about bath and kitchen

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Postby turboblown » Fri Jan 08, 2010 11:28 pm

I know that- I stated that PEX is commonly used in hydronic heating.
I did not at any one point ever say that he had hydronic heating.

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Ugh....[Update]

Postby Stephen » Sun Jan 10, 2010 9:14 am

So despite two plumbers telling me "don't worry about it -- watch for puddles and a huge water bill" I decided to take the medicine cabinet out of the guest bathroom and look inside the wall.

The sound of water running through pipes got louder and I expected to find a damp slab or leaking fittings. Nope, everything is perfectly dry. I timed my meter and I am leaking about 1.5L of water per minute. Unfortunately, this equates to about $45/mo -- which is significant to me and sounds more than just a minor leak.

The water into my house is run in a (very) convoluted manner. The water beelines through a main from the street to the side of my house. However, instead of going into the house there is a valve and it heads to the detached garage (where there was once a water softener). Somewhere after this it splits off for various landscape lines. Then it comes back and heads into the house between the kitchen and bathroom. In the kitchen near the sink small diameter hot and cold lines are tapped that run back outside to the garage to the washing machine (yes, I checked to make sure the washer wasn't leaking).

I then went around to various spots and, using a flat blade screwdriver, listened to the pipes. Here are the results of testing in various spots:

1. Water softener hookups in garage (now looped): Water flow sound
2. Main line (heading to garage) after shutoff valve: No sound
3. Main going into house (after garage loop): Water flow sound
4. Washing machine supply, cold: Water flow sound
5. Washing machine supply, hot: No sound

So, basically, every single thing the two licensed plumbers have told me is wrong. They've both said it was a pinhole slab leak of immaterial size on the hot water line (because "it's *always* the hot side"). It's not a pinhole, it will double my water bill, it's on the cold side, and I'm doubting it's in the slab.

At this point I think I'm done dealing with "professionals." I'll reroute the main directly in the house (with a valve) then split off to the garage / landscaping branch separately. Then, at least, I can isolate whether the leak is even in the house plumbing or somewhere in the ground outside on that other branch. This will also significantly shorten the distance from the street to my house plumbing so hopefully I'll get more flow, too. It's noisiest in the guest bath and kitchen but now I'm thinking that's just because I have a bunch of pipes (toilet, sink, shower, ice maker) in that space and the sound level is a result of constructive interference.
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Postby egads » Sun Jan 10, 2010 11:10 am

Didn't you just have some landscape plumbing done? I ask because I saw the photo on your blog of the hose bib attached to pvc sticking out of the ground, without any thing to hold it in place (like a steel stake or clamped to the house/fence). One pull on the hose and the pvc will break. So start by checking the most recent work. Although anything you can do to clean up the insanity is always a good idea.

Remember this: Building codes require that your electrical equipment ground be "bonded" to the water supply. So if your main (running from the meter) has been replaced with anything but copper, this has compromised that connection. Also. landscape pvc is not rated for potable water.

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Postby Stephen » Sun Jan 10, 2010 2:24 pm

egads wrote:Didn't you just have some landscape plumbing done? I ask because I saw the photo on your blog of the hose bib attached to pvc sticking out of the ground, without any thing to hold it in place (like a steel stake or clamped to the house/fence). One pull on the hose and the pvc will break. So start by checking the most recent work. Although anything you can do to clean up the insanity is always a good idea.

Remember this: Building codes require that your electrical equipment ground be "bonded" to the water supply. So if your main (running from the meter) has been replaced with anything but copper, this has compromised that connection. Also. landscape pvc is not rated for potable water.


I did and I've checked those connection as best I can. There are no tell-tale wet spots on the ground. The big area of concern was where we tapped into the old galvanized system. However, that connection is dry. Using my screwdriver listening technique I've pinpointed the area to be somewhere in the exterior wall around the kitchen and bathroom. The sound is the clearest and loudest on those pipes.

This morning I removed the siding under the kitchen window (behind the sink). From the sound underneath the tar paper I was expecting to find my leak. Unfortunately, everything is dry but the cold water supply pipe is very "loud." It sound like water is rushing through it. However, that's not possible since it only goes to the sink and it was turned off. I can now say I have visually inspected *EVERY* connection in the guest bathroom and kitchen except for one. And that's where the main goes into the house. I think it's not original as it is above ground and pokes through the siding. Unfortunately, it does not enter the gap area between the kitchen and bathroom. Instead, it goes into the wall right behind a kitchen corner base cabinet. I have no idea how it hooks into the rest of the plumbing.

The thing tha truly mystifies me is the lack of water anywhere. 1/3gallon per minute is a sizable leak...there should be water somewhere. I'm thining of cutting a hole in the bottom of the lazy susan cabinet to see if the ground is wet underneath it.

My electrical panel has a huge grounding strap with rod tied to a portion of the galvanized outside plumbing in the water softener loop. Is that acceptable? As for the main...it's PVC form the meter to halfway in the yard, then copper to the main house valve, then galvanized out to the water softener and back, then copper in the house. As soon as I'm tearing up the RV parking slab on the side I will be replaciing the main with a straight shot of copper.
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Postby moderns-r-us » Sun Jan 10, 2010 3:43 pm

Seems too obvious to ask, but do you have a dishwasher near the kitchen sink?

You are leaking enough water that you could be undermining slabs or foundation too!
Last edited by moderns-r-us on Tue Jan 12, 2010 11:54 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Postby egads » Tue Jan 12, 2010 10:11 am

As I said before, you must get all the galvanized pipe out of your system. That old pipe is destroying the copper.

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Postby turboblown » Tue Jan 12, 2010 2:01 pm

Do you know anyone that's a local firefighter? If so, have them bring the thermal imaging camera out and look all over your slab (and other places) with it. If you have a slab leak, the localized cold water leaking should change the temmperature of the slab in the area of the leak and it will show up as a blue spot (or black) on the T.I.C. Adjust the picture for ambient air temperature if given the option.

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Postby moderns-r-us » Tue Jan 12, 2010 2:50 pm

Also many energy raters will have a thermal imaging camera. I have heard a friend in that business telling stories of using the camera to find hidden water leaks in walls.
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Postby Stephen » Tue Jan 12, 2010 11:04 pm

I've got the plumbers coming back on Thursday morning. They will be bringing the wall came with them and special sound equipment. They're also redoing from the wall valves to the water heater since the previous owners decided to use whatever they had around to install the water heater....black iron nipple on the inlet, galvanized on the output, galvanized wall valves, brass input valve, flexible copper lines. They're all very corroded.

Anyhow, the sound has changed and it sounds more "spray-ish." The pipe going into the house through the wall is very noisy. Due to this I've decided to keep the water turned off unless I need it as a precaution.
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I Feel Your Pain

Postby streinen » Thu Jan 14, 2010 8:18 am

Going through the exact same nightmare right now. Followed all the same steps you have...and it's a confirmed slab leak in my kitchen floor.

Hired a restoration company who came in to dry out the floor...they have to pull it up to do that. If you have a slab leak and wood floors on top, you are going to lose part of the flooring and will either have to attempt to match it, or, re-do the entire floor if it can't be matched well. I was lucky that no kitchen cabinets were damaged.

When the restoration company pulled up the floor, it was clear where the leak was coming from...a rectangular cutout in the concrete that is likely covering a pipe that had previously been prepared. I need to decide whether to repair the leak in the slab and risk having the same problem a few years down the line, or spend the extra $ to do a complete re-route. My understanding is that it is almost impossible to get insurance to cover the re-route. That will be out of pocket if I indeed choose that option.

Also--if they find old linoleum or if your drywall is, um, not dry and may need replacement, they will need to perform asbestos testing.

The best advice I can give is to not only understand the best option for solving the plumbing problem for the long-term, but also find someone you trust who really understands insurance. Trying to get this problem fixed on your own is officially a full time job, and it is not likely that you will save yourself money by trying to manage the project yourself (which is what I do on improvement projects). Strongly consider finding a trustworthy/referred contractor who has a strong working record with your insurance company and let them coordinate these subcontractors. If the contractor comes to you through a friend or family member, you will at least have the peace of mind knowing that someone knowledgeable and experienced with this entire process is in you corner.

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Re: I Feel Your Pain

Postby Stephen » Thu Jan 14, 2010 9:03 am

Wow, I really feel your pain.

To be honest, I haven't even called insurance. At this point, the only evidence of a leak is the sound of running water through pipes* and a turning water meter. I can't find any water, any evidence of water damage, or anything. My father seems to think filing a claim without there being major leak damage will only get me on the homeowner's insurance "black list" and that I'm best dealing with it myself if it's just a leak without the ancillary restoration work.

That's both a blessing and a curse. While I'm glad to not be experiencing the nightmare of soaked drywall, damaged flooring, and insurance adjusters -- the uncertainty of where the water is going is driving me crazy.

One of the nice things about owning a Cliff May prefab is that while everything is somewhat non-standard, it's all very logical. Unlike some homes which probably have pipes running every which way in the slab, I'm fairly certain I know where all the lines run -- everything lines up just a little too well. Almost that entire zone has exposed flooring.

*I've been keeping the water main off until I needed water -- just in case. Yesterday I turned it on to take a shower -- pipes are now silent. I went out to the meter -- she's still turning. So the mystery gets even more mysterious.

Plumbers come back today to replace my (improperly done and now corroded) water heater hookups. I'm going to have them add another valve in the system where it comes into the house so I can separate the house plumbing from the landscape plumbing. That way I can isolate the leaks(s) and measure each system independently. If I find just the landscape / spigot branch is leaking -- I'm a lot less worried. If it's the house -- we need to find it. If it's both, I can measure the size of each leak separately.

At this point I'M DETERMINED to attack this with some sense of logic.



streinen wrote:Going through the exact same nightmare right now. Followed all the same steps you have...and it's a confirmed slab leak in my kitchen floor.

Hired a restoration company who came in to dry out the floor...they have to pull it up to do that. If you have a slab leak and wood floors on top, you are going to lose part of the flooring and will either have to attempt to match it, or, re-do the entire floor if it can't be matched well. I was lucky that no kitchen cabinets were damaged.

When the restoration company pulled up the floor, it was clear where the leak was coming from...a rectangular cutout in the concrete that is likely covering a pipe that had previously been prepared. I need to decide whether to repair the leak in the slab and risk having the same problem a few years down the line, or spend the extra $ to do a complete re-route. My understanding is that it is almost impossible to get insurance to cover the re-route. That will be out of pocket if I indeed choose that option.

Also--if they find old linoleum or if your drywall is, um, not dry and may need replacement, they will need to perform asbestos testing.

The best advice I can give is to not only understand the best option for solving the plumbing problem for the long-term, but also find someone you trust who really understands insurance. Trying to get this problem fixed on your own is officially a full time job, and it is not likely that you will save yourself money by trying to manage the project yourself (which is what I do on improvement projects). Strongly consider finding a trustworthy/referred contractor who has a strong working record with your insurance company and let them coordinate these subcontractors. If the contractor comes to you through a friend or family member, you will at least have the peace of mind knowing that someone knowledgeable and experienced with this entire process is in you corner.
Stephen Meade

SoCal Realtor - DRE 01378749

Pacific West Assoc. of Realtors President-Elect

http://www.OCModHomes.com

http://www.CliffMaySocal.com

and

Cliff May Homeowner

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jesgord
Modern Master
Posts: 487
Joined: Fri Jun 16, 2006 8:04 am
Location: New York
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Postby jesgord » Thu Jan 14, 2010 12:34 pm

The suspense is killing me. Not to make light of your situation, but this is more intriguing than any movie or tv show I have seen recently. I hope the plumber finds the problem today.

I had a pipe freeze a few years ago and the damage caused was substantial. I filed a claim with my insurer and they covered everything...... That said, I wouldn't want to ever go through it again. Water is scary, destructive stuff!

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rockland
Mondo Lounge Lizard
Posts: 1504
Joined: Sun Dec 24, 2006 8:45 am
Location: wesley hills,NY

Postby rockland » Thu Jan 14, 2010 1:23 pm

I can't believe you just posted that.

'the suspense is killing me'

:D

I said the exact thing last night in a reply but somehow lost it while i was doing
a dozen other things + setting up a new computer...

Like HDTV in slow motion.

We had a leak on monday. Water off for only 6hrs. But my first day home in months!
Found a great plumber that talked me through it and the stem for the original crane/moen
fixture was only 30 bucks. (beautiful piece of hardware)

Being without water sucks. Finding a good plumber...priceless.


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