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Copper Pipe Leaks: Stresses Contribute to Wear and Tear of Plumbing System

Can copper pipe leaks develop even where there's been no stress on the plumbing? My 30-year-old townhouse has copper pipes and I noticed a wet spot in the basement ceiling. I got the ladder out and peered up into the ceiling from the work room (I could see the pipes going around the area of the wet spot from there), and spotted a slow drip coming from the elbow joint of one of the pipes. The thing is, this is in a part of the house that would have not outside stresses on it, like temperature swings, movement, etc. Before I rip open the ceiling and get out the torch to start sweating one elbow joint, which is not a problem for my skills, I want to make sure it isn't something bigger that's beyond my skills and more expensive.

Our Answer

While it seems that your dripping pipe may have no stress on it, that's not completely true. Plumbing systems are constantly subjected to stresses that, while they may not be obvious, certainly can contribute to the wear and tear factor and lead to the copper pipe leaks you're experiencing. Here are examples of the stresses that can cause leaks.

  • Expansion/contraction: If this is a hot water pipe (or next to one), it is constantly expanding and contracting due to the changing water temperature. Even if it is a cold water pipe, going from room temperature to ground-temperature cold causes the pipe to move. While this is not an issue mid-span in the pipes, the elbows and other joints can find this particularly stressful as a section of the pipe joint moves at a slightly different rate.
  • Abrasion: While it's hard to think of water as an abrasive, it most certainly can cause erosive effects, including copper pipe leaks. Think of the power of a pressure washer, for example. While extreme, this shows you just how abrasive water can become. At lower flows and lower volumes, water, over time, can erode sections of pipes and joints and cause leaks. Have you ever seen a copper downspout? The next time you do, look at the elbows and you'll see how simple rainwater can erode holes in this soft metal.
  • Water hammer: Water weighs about eight pounds per gallon. When a faucet is opened, the water rushes forward in the pipe, building up a kinetic force. When the valve is closed, that mass of water screeches to a stop, sometimes shaking the pipes. This is generally referred to as water hammer and, while unusual, can on occasion break a pipe joint free.
  • Pinhole leaks: Pinhole leaks are believed to be caused by the corrosive chemical reaction between water and some copper pipes, and can also cause leaks.

So as you see, there are actually quite a number of things that can put stress on your plumbing system and lead to copper pipe leaks. If you can handle the repair, open the ceiling and make it. Just be darn careful with that blowtorch!

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air conditioning leak, condensation, insulation

Air Conditioning Ducts Leaking Water: Prevent Condensation

I have a leak from my ceiling in my hallway.  Last fall I had two plumbers come out to diagnose the problem and neither could find a leak.  The last plumber suggested that I call an air duct contractor as there was a drip from the air duct pipe leading from my dryer to the outside.  My home was built in the 50’s.  The washer/dryer sits behind bifold doors in the hallway.  The pipe from the dryer runs up the back wall of the dryer and across the ceiling to the back.  The a /c unit sits next to the dryer.  The air duct contractor removed and replaced the rusted out air duct pipe.  Then just a couple months ago the drip started again just as it did before.  I called the air duct contractor but the air duct pipe was fine.  He suggested that the air duct pipe and the a/c pipe were too close together and the heat and cold were causing condensation to build in the air duct which then dripped.  To help resolve it he wrapped insulation around the a/c pipe.   All was well until one day I heard this swish-sound.  I went into my hallway and there was a puddle of water on the floor and the insulation was sticking out of the hole that I originally cut in my ceiling when I was trying to figure out what the problem was.    Do you have any suggestions.  Thank you.

Our Answer

Thanks for all the details.  From your description, this does seem to fit the pattern of a condensation leak caused by warm, humid air striking the cold air conditioning ducts.  The fact that your dryer exhaust runs so close to this could also be related, especially if any of that very warm and humid exhaust is leaking out along the way.

The solution is simple and complicated at the same time.  If you have access to this attic space, you can insulate the ducts, which I know you tried.  However, you need to use a duct insulation that has a built-in vapor retarder, such as this Johns Manville Duct Insulation product.  Plus, you need to insulate ALL the ducts because condensation can form anywhere and run to the lowest spot to leak out.  Lastly, its important that you seal all the seams in the insulation with silver foil tape (NOT "duct" tape! It will dry out and fall off)

In addition, it may help if you improved the attic ventilation.  While the relative humidity would go unchanged, more air movement in the attic might increase evaporation a result in less accumulation of moisture on the ducts.

 

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leaking basement

Basement Waterproofing Rip-offs: Beware of Waterproofing Contractors and Their Expensive Solutions

My question is about basement waterproofers. I have a problem with my basement flooding, and a waterproofing company charged me $14,219 to correct it. Two of that firm's inspectors insisted that underground water was being forced up into the cellar via hydrostatic pressure and only a French drain would correct it. So the basement waterproofers installed a long, deep ditch running alongside the interior of the home's foundation walls. In turn, that graded ditch was supposed to gravity-feed rising water into two underground electric pumps (at opposite ends of the basement) and eventually pump incoming water into the city sewer system.

On the other hand, I felt the water was coming from the surrounding earth through a rather thin foundation wall, and slowly running down into the cellar doorway. Now it seems that I was correct. The basement waterproofing company is stalling, wanting to take photos and "brainstorm" their next move. Do you have any suggestions about how to deal with these basement waterproofers?

Our Answer

This scam is common to so-called basement waterproofers, and unfortunately, it sounds like you've been taken in. These snake-oil salesmen use high-pressure sales tactics and scary words like hydrostatic pressure to push consumers into hiring them for expensive and almost always unnecessary repairs.

Let's examine the claim that forms the basis for the frightening prospect these basement waterproofers pose, which is that your home will collapse from the pressure of the water against its basement walls. In order for any water on the outside of your foundation to get to the drains they carve into your basement floor, the water has to run against the foundation walls and then leak either through the walls or under the footing below the walls. Hence, your foundation walls are subjected to the very same hydrostatic pressure either with or without the basement waterproofers' fourteen-thousand-dollar solution.

Had these basement waterproofers been more honest and impartial with the diagnosis of your basement leakage problem, they would have examined your exterior drainage conditions. As you correctly point out, basement waterproofing has more to do with the condition of the surrounding soil and, more importantly, the functionality of the gutter system on your roof  than any subsurface drainage system does. The type of system they installed is needed only when the problem can be traced to a rising underground water table. This is rarely the case and is easy to spot. If your basement leaks are consistent with rainfall or snow melt, the problem is not a water table but a drainage issue that can easily be corrected without spending a pile of cash.

My advice is to speak to an attorney.  You may be able to sue the waterproofing contractor for not correcting the problem and for fraud, which makes you eligible for treble damages. Only through actions like these will mostly disreputable basement waterproofers stop taking advantage of countless victims like yourself.

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Pin Hole Leaks in Copper Pipes

Hi.  I have already fixed two pinhole leaks in my copper pipe, a year ago.  I now have another one.  Before I dig up the slab and my wooden floors again, is there another option?  I was reading about epoxy lining but have yet to see anything on cost.  Last year my plumber said we should sell the house after getting it fixed because it would happen again.

What are the causes of these pinhole leaks?  I've read about chlorine being the culprit.  I am suspicioius about what the current the gas company is putting out there to keep their pipes from rusting.  I wonder if the copper in my slab is working as their cathode?

Are there any suggestions other than digging up my slab to fix the problem, and is there anything I can do to prevent more pin hole leaks?  Thank you!

Our Answer

Check out our step-by-step guide to repairing pinhole leaks in copper pipes.  It presents you with fixes to individual leaks as well as suggestions for more comprehensive solutions.

The cause of these leaks is indeed up for debate, but is widely believed to be the result of a chemical reaction between water and copper - and probably not anything on behalf of your water company.  Good luck!

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pinhole leaks

Pinhole Leaks in Copper Pipes: Repair or Replace?

I recently bought a home and am experiencing a problem with the copper waterlines/pipes corroding from the inside out.  So far the corrosion appears to be limited to just the hot water lines, but I'm afraid to take a look inside the cold water lines.

What's happening is we keep getting pinhole leaks springing up throughout the hot water lines, and when I recently repaired two holes/leaks I looked at the inside of the lines and saw a lot of corrosion which I have never seen or experienced before.

I had a home inspection completed by a professional before I bought and closed on the house, and the inspector identified a leak that the previous owner had to fix prior to the closing.  Is there anything else I can do other than replace the entire waterline system?  Also, is there anything I can do because I feel this was an existing problem that the previous owner knew about?

 

Our Answer

Copper has been used for domestic water piping for over 50 years.  Copper pinhole leaks are a condition that is somewhat newer.  Pinhole leaks in copper pipes form on the inside of copper piping and erode the wall of copper resulting in holes that leak.  Opinions vary on the cause, but many experts believe the corrosion is due to a chemical reaction between the water and the copper.

ToolBase Services, the housing industry's resource for technical information on building products, materials, and new technologies, has found that pitting corrosion can be classified into three types:

  • Type I -Pitting is associated with hard or moderately hard waters with a pH between 7 and 7.8, and it is most likely to occur in cold   water. The pitting is deep and narrow, and results in pipe failure.
  • Type II -Pitting occurs only in certain soft waters, with a pH below 7.2 and occurs rarely in temperatures below 140° F. The pitting that occurs is narrower than in Type I, but still results in pipe failure.
  • Type III -Pitting occurs in cold soft waters having a pH above 8.0. It is a more generalized form of pitting, which tends to be wide and shallow and results in blue water, byproduct releases, or pipe blockage.

For more information, read the complete Toolbase Case Study on pinhole leaks.

Repairing pinhole leaks in copper pipes is done by applying external solder to the holes, by replacing small sections of pipe, or in the worst case scenario, by re-plumbing the entire home. If your problem is severe, I'd recommend you approach this in much the same way as you would if you were suffering from rusted steel plumbing common in homes built from the 1920's on. Repair leaks as they develop. Plan and budget for a major upgrade of the accessible parts of the plumbing system in the near future.  By accessible, I mean those that are visible and accessible from a crawlspace or basement. Replace all the inaccessible pipes only if leaks develop.

That being said, if you ever need to open a wall or ceiling and find copper pipes, never replace the drywall without first replacing the pipes. As for what you should replace the plumbing with, I'd recommend PEX.  PEX is cross-linked Polyethylene and a relatively new type of plumbing pipe that is showing great promise due to it's ease of installation, lower cost and energy saving benefits.  To learn more about repairing pinhole leaks in copper pipes with PEX, visit the Plastic Pipe and Fittings Association (PPFA) website for Pex information.

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washer, washing machine, garage

Can I Move My Washer and Dryer to My Garage?

I'd like to move my washer and dryer from my basement to my unheated garage.  Other than plumbing for the washer, do I need to do anything special beforehand, like add insulation to the space or heat it? My partner thinks it's a bad idea, but I have a hard time with the stairs to the basement, and there is no other room in the house that will fit them.  Also, I believe this will help dry up the basement and our poor little humidifier will finally get some relief!

Our Answer

There are a few very real deterrents to moving your washer and dryer to your garage:  First, I don't know what climate you live in, but yes - without additional heating - you risk water lines freezing in an unheated space.

Since heating a garage quickly becomes expensive, even once it's insulated, you might find yourself spending far more money than you ever anticipated on clean clothes and convenience! But there's something else in your question that concerns me: Your mention of dehumidifying your basement by removing the washer and dryer.  This is an unwise motive.  If your dryer is properly vented, it shouldn't be contributing to basement moisture.

If I were in your shoes, I'd concentrate on dehumidifying the basement by taking steps independent of the washer and dryer.  And if you really need to make the washer and dryer more accessible,  consider a stacked unit  - a dryer on top of a washer - that is more likely to fit in your closet or your kitchen.  There's a quality one from Santa Fe, and if that's too big, there are smaller appliances and models designed for apartments and compact homes.  Good luck!

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Can I Add Modern Locks to Antique Door Knobs?

We're in the process of remodeling our 1940s house.  All the existing doors have mortise-style locks, antiques knobs and back plates that are original to the house. However, all of the keys are missing.  I would like to replace the locking mechanism but keep the antique back plates and knobs - they look great.  Is there a way to keep using these old knobs and back plates but add new locks? Thanks for your help!

Our Answer

Many companies and websites, like House of Antique Hardware, have been created to address this very issue - though most use reproductions of antiques, rather than original locks, due to the challenges of merging new mechanisms with older hardware.
To that end, it might serve you better to replace the lock in its entirety by purchasing one antique in design from a site like this one.  Adding new parts to an old lock might not work, or might not work well.  An experienced locksmith can assess the parts you want to keep and provide expert advice on whether this project is feasible.  Good luck!

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Basement Odor

My mother's house has had an odor in the basement for the last 2 summers.  It is NOT sewer gas - which is everyone's first suggestion.  It smells like cat urine, but there is no cat.  The odor is not there in the winter - whether the smell is gone or the furnace removes it, I can't say.  The smell is worse during/after a rain.  We have had the plumber, who cleaned out the sewer pipes, etc, and found nothing else wrong.  I had the borough engineer out, who was unable to offer any ideas.  It seems to come from one corner of the basement floor, and sometimes the bare concrete is dark, as if water is leeching up from the ground.  There is never a puddle.  We have already tried the enzyme odor removers - to no avail. We are having the tile floor removed and will have the concrete painted with an epoxy paint, but don't want to do the work if the smell will still be able to get through the paint.  Anyone have any ideas?  Thanks!

Our Answer

It is rare but sometimes fiberglass insulation develops a urine-like odor from amines that are used in the adhesive manufacture. Moisture exacerbates the emission.

Pull some of the fiberglass out and put it in vegetable steamer and see if it smells after you heat it up in a humid, hot environment.

Don't spend any more money on "remediation" until you are sure of the problem.

And let us know if it's the fiberglass.

Jeffrey May

May Indoor Air Investigations

http://www.mayindoorair.com

Author: Jeff May's Healthy Home Tips

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solar panel cost, solar energy

Does Adding Solar Increase Home Value?

I'm seeing a lot of advertisements for solar energy claiming that it adds value to your home.  Is this true?

Our Answer

Mark, that is a really good question. I love the idea of using the sun to help power my home but I'm frustrated that it is so very hard to do this given the barrage of misleading information being put out by those selling solar energy, and your question is only one of the very many claims being made.

In short, the answer is "maybe."  Certainly some buyers will be interested to know that the home generates some/all of its own electricity.  But others, frankly, won't care and see all those panels as another thing they have to maintain.  Worse yet, if the solar panels have been "leased" instead of purchased, buyers may not be willing to take on the added lease payment on top of what they pay you for your home, or may want to negotiate a reimbursement for the total amount left on the lease before they buy.

Aside from the value question, I'm finding solar energy companies pitch a wide variety of proposal and payment schemes from purchase to lease to somewhere in between, softener with overly enthusiastic estimates of how much energy you'll generate.  Plus, its not exactly clear what rebates are available, tax credits, and SREC, or solar energy renewal credits - where you earn credits based on how much energy you generate and then sell those credits which are market priced and hard ot predict.

Lastly, it's also important to consider how quickly technology is changing in the solar industry before making a big investment.  For example, ss battery technology improves and prices go down, the shift will be not so much on how much you collect but how much power you can store to use when you need it. This would enable you to have a solar array sized perfectly for year round collection, and the storage capacity to save energy in the summer to use in the winter.

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Solar Energy

I live in a southwest facing manufactured home w/ little(no) shade in the front yard. The sun bakes the paint off my front door even in the winter. Does anyone have any low cost, doable ideas for how to harness this solar energy ? I feel like I could heat all 2000 sq. ft. of my home with it if I could.

Our Answer

Amy, there are lots ands lots of ways to harness the sun.  Here are a few articles we've done to get you started:

Be sure you check with your utility company as well as state or local renewable energy office to find out what rebates may be available as well. There are many programs that can help reduce the costs of the installation.

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foam crown molding

How to Install Crown Molding the Easy Way

I would love to install crown molding in my home to add value.  All the people that I try to hire want a fortune to install it and I can not cut all of the fancy corners!

Our Answer

Installing crown molding is task that requires significant carpentry experience, as well as a set of specialized tools, capable of make compound miter cuts and more.  For those who want crown molding without that hassle, foam crown moldings are an excellent alternative.

Foam moldings are attractive, lightweight and easy to handle.  Corners, the most difficult part of any crown molding installation, are precut - making installation very, very easy.The foam crown molding installs with painters caulk to most surfaces like drywall, concrete, brick or wood. There are now specialized and expensive tools needed as the molding cuts with a simple hand saw and is attached with a caulk gun. .

To install, just apply a bead of painters caulk on the top and bottom of the molding, press into the wall and ceiling and then wipe off the excess caulk. The molding does not contract or expand like wood moldings, and needs only a single coat of paint, which you can apply even before its installed.

Foam crown molding is also available in a wide variety of styles as shown here.

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How-to Insulate Garage Walls Behind Sheetrock

What is the best way to insulate my garage walls that are already sheetrocked? Is is it possible to cut a hole in the top and drop loose material down the cavity? Thanking you in advance. George

Our Answer

In a garage, the walls that are typically drywalled (sheetrocked) are those between the garage and the interior of your house.  The reason is that the drywall plays an important role in creating fire resistance between those spaces.  If those are the walls you are referring to, they may very well already be insulated.  An easy way to check to to pull off an outlet or light switch cover and try and look into the wall cavity around the electrical box.

If the wall does in fact have drywall and is not insulated, then adding blown-in insulation would be the best option.  Typically a hole that is about 1 1/2" is drilled near the top of the wall cavity.  Insulation is blown in and then the hole is sealed and spackled.

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painting cabinets

How to Avoid VOC’s when Painting Cabinets

I'm concerned about VOCs, when painting cabinets.  Is it okay to use an oil based primer with a latex paint in order to cut down on the VOCs?  Also, if the cabinets I'm painting have laminate sides, do I need to prime those as well?

Our Answer

Certainly understand and appreciate your concerns about painting cabinets while avoiding VOC's (volatile organic compounds) which can be an ingredient in paint.  However, I don't recommend using a latex top coat.  While latex paint has come a long way, the one area where solvent-based finishes are far superior is durability.  Kitchen cabinets take a lot of wear and tear and latex paint simply doesn't offer the kind of abrasion resistance that an oil-based finish would.

The good news is that most name brand paints has very little VOC's these days compared to years ago.  I suggest you use both an oil based top coat and primer (including on those laminate sides) and take steps to ventilate the room while you are working on it.  Choose a nice day for your project and set up a window fan to exhaust room air to the exterior, and then open a couple of windows inside the house to facilitate the air flow.  When working well, fresh air will flow in the open windows, through the kitchen and out the window with the fan.

Be sure to properly prep the cabinets before painting to make sure the paint sticks!

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basement walls bowing in

Fix for Basement Leak Near Chimney

I have an old chimney that use to vent the furnace.  It has now developed a leak at the lower junction of the chimney and the basement floor.  Do I seal i from the inside or to I have to dig down from the outside to seal the leak area?

Our Answer

Whenever we find a leak in a home, be it from a basement or roof, its natural to suspect the cause to be directly related to the area in which the leak is found. This however, is not always the case.

In your case, the basement leak could be caused by rain water saturating the chimney structure, falling to the bottom of the chimney and then dispersing across the basement floor. Any masonry structure like a wall or chimney is hydroscopic -- meaning it soaks up a LOT of water, somethings masking the true source of the leak.

My suggestions would be to approach this by looking for the most obvious and common causes first, and those are defects in the gutter system or in the grading of soil outside the area of the leak.  Failures of roof and surface drainage are responsible for over 90% of all basement leaks and need to be eliminated first.  The details are covered in this post about the causes and cures for a wet basement.  Be sure to apply this advice to your entire home perimeter as I have frequently seen an issue like a leaking downspout cause a basement leak 20 or 30 feet away!

If that doesn't stop the leak, I'd look at the chimney. Check for cracks in the chimney crown which is the mortar between the edge of the brick and the chimney clue.  If found, they need to be caulked (use silicone for that).  Also check the chimney flashing for leaks.  As a last resort, you can also apply a masonry sealer to the exterior of the brick chimney but make SURE is is "vapor permeable" meaning it will allow moisture in the brick to evaporate out.  If not, the moisture trapped in the brick can freeze, expand and deteriorate the chimney eventually leaking to a significant repair cost.

Hope this helps fix the basement leak. For more info, call your question in to our national radio show at 888-MONEY-PIT.  We take calls 24/7 and will call you back the next time we're in the studio.

 

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How Durable is Deck Paint?

What do these deck painting companies use to redo wood decks, that they claim it will stain and protect the wood deck to the apocalypse?  Can't I get this product and just do it myself?

Our Answer

Paint that will last until the apocalypse?  Now THAT we have to see!

It sounds like you are referring to a category of products known as "high build" elastomeric coatings.  High-build is tech talk for thick paint, and elastomeric is a type of product that will expand and contract with the substrate, which is this  case is your wood deck.

Some history here - about 20 years ago we began hearing about companies who would make similar durability claims for a product called "liquid vinyl siding."  Similarly, hard-selling contractors would claim that they could apply this paint to your wood-sided home and it would last and perform like vinyl siding.  It did just that, except for months, not decades as promised.  After that it began to peel of in sheets and/or allowed water to get behind and rot to set it.  Those claims also extended to the products claimed ability to insulate as well -- which is about when the Federal Trade Commission stepped in and put the kibosh on a lot of that.

Today we don't hear much about liquid vinyl, but there are finishes designed to protect and restore decks and docks that sound a lot like that original product. The difference is, these are made by major manufacturers who thoroughly test and warranty their products.

Products such as Sherwin Williams' SuperDeck Exterior Deck & Dock Coating or RUST-OLEUM'S Deck & Concrete Restore® 10X tout that they can fill gaps as large as a quarter-inch, adhere to deteriorate surfaces and can take the foot traffic.  I'm more tempted to believe claims with a major manufacturer behind them but unfortunately, I've not seen enough independent reviews from purchasers to run out and buy any high-build products.  The other deterrent we should mention is cost.  The average good-quality gallon of paint covers about 400 square feet of surface area and costs around $25 a gallon.  These products run around $50 a gallon, and offer coverage of just 75 square feet, so they are not inexpensive.

My best advice, pickup a gallon and do a small section of a deck, like maybe the stairs.  Follow the prep instructions to the letter as this will ensure maximum adhesion, and see what happens. If it works as performed, then go all in the following season.