Plumbing - Water Damage

Water damage is the enemy of all homeowners. It rots wood, producing mold and weakened support. It leads to foul odors and potential electrical hazards. Combating it can be time consuming and expensive. But the alternative is worse.

Tackle any sign of a leak at the first opportunity.

A leak doesn't have to be an active drip. It can be something as simple as a crack or hole in caulk around the plate that backs a shower control. Water will inevitably move into that hole, where it then gets trapped. Some will evaporate. But some will remain behind, leading to weakened drywall and mildew build up.

Eventually, the damage will spread. When that happens, what could have been a minor caulking job now requires removing the shower control and maybe part of the wall in order to repair the damage. In most cases, procrastination does lead to larger expenses.

One common place for water leaks or drips is at the joints or bottom of pipes under the bathroom and kitchen sinks. Improperly applied compound or plumber's tape leaves a small hole. Water seeps out anywhere it can. It oozes out of the joint and gravity carries it down to the bottom of the U-shaped pipe, where it drips onto the cabinet floor.

From there, the mildew starts to develop. The cabinetry, usually some form of pressboard or treated plywood, starts to rot and weaken. Over time the surface will bow. Eventually the wood fibers develop a hole, allowing the water to seep down to even more critical areas.

Feel your pipes from time to time. Make sure they're dry around the joints and at the bottom of the 'U'. That's especially important right after any small plumbing job. That's the time - when pipes have been newly installed or freshly cleaned - when the evidence of your plumber's tape application skills are tested.

Look for water leaks that start higher up, too.

Kitchen faucets are notorious for having cracks or small holes in the caulking or sealant. Water tends to sit behind the plate that attaches to the sink at the base of the faucet. When homeowners clean behind there it's common to use the hard metal surface of a steel wool pad or layered sponge. The caulking gets scraped.

A couple of years go by and little by little that caulking is scraped off, dries out and gets accidentally removed by repeated water exposure and cleaning. Temperature changes near the window speed up the process. Winter temperatures keep the surface cooler than the rest of the room. Summer sun coming through the window bakes the caulk. That causes small contractions and expansions that help weaken the seal.

Give your plumbing a good inspection, the way a home inspector would when you buy or sell the house. Find any drips, leaks or just holes where plumbing attaches. Fix them now before you have to tear out a floor or wall. A little maintenance now is a lot less costly than a huge repair later.