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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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Basement with a wet floor

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.

The article says you should have 1 downspout for every 600-800 sf of roof. What determines the proper size of the gutters & downspouts? Won't a four inch carry at least 25% more water away than the three inch? Should I use a 5"?

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Wet Basement


we have had a wet corner in our basement since we built the house over 5 years ago (a simple fix).   we totally flooded twice over the past year which we think is a seperate problem.  Our house was built to low and we cannot slope the dirt away from the house on most sides because of cement.  On the one side that we can.  how do we tell if we are 6in. over 4 ft. of fall?  On the sides that we cant...what can we do?  we had a water intrusion specialist come out and do dye tests.  water pours in from our driveway side from holes that were drilled into the basement block, (part of slab in corner removed)  to relieve the water builing up in the wall.  The water specialist says we need to remove and then replace and compact the dirt around the house.  The builder wants to use hydraulic cement in the spaces between the driveway and garage  seal it all up and let it go into the sump pump.  There is question as to whether that wall is waterproofed.  You can feel air coming in through the drilled holes.  the builder is telling us that this and water coming in, or building up is normal on a garage side.  he did replace the 2 downspouts to accept more water.  I guess my question is will compacting the dirt help us.  what else could we do?

thanks for any help.


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Mold and Basement Leaks: Remove materials that harbor moisture and mold

We have a family room in our basement, and just discovered that the air conditioning unit there has been leaking into the carpet. I've been dehumidifying the space, but it still smells musty. What do you recommend?

Our Answer

First of all, if anyone in your family has allergies or asthma, we recommend that you avoid living in a house with a finished basement, which is particularly prone to mold growth. If you want to keep this finished basement family room, it is best to hire a professional to remove the carpeting (under mold containment conditions) and then having a ceramic, laminate or a resilient tile floor installed, with area rugs on top if you want to have a softer floor covering.
According to The Money Pit's indoor air quality expert, Jeff May, all carpet, as well as anything fleecy or cushioned (and that includes upholstered furniture) that has remained damp for more than 24-48 hours should, be discarded as it likely contains mold.

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Mold in Basement Storage Space: Tips to avoid damage and spread to more mold throughout household

I live in an apartment building where each tenant has a storage space in the basement, and the space next to mine smells really moldy. Is there anything I can do about this?

Our Answer

There is a strong chance that your neighbor's possessions contain mold growth if he or she has laid cardboard boxes or other biodegradable materials directly on the floor or up against the wall. To prevent mold, personal goods should be stored on plastic or metal shelving, away from the wall and up off the floor. There may also be a leak in that area of the basement that is contributing to the spread of household mold.
This isn't your storage area, but the air you breathe while in the basement is being affected by the mold; in addition, up to a third of the air in a small residential building can come from the basement, due to the stack effect (warm air rises).
In a situation like this where mold is suspected in basement storage, it's best to speak to your neighbor as well as to the building management about this problem, to see if you can get the space cleaned up by a mold remediation professional. Any leaks that are present should be repaired, and the basement should be dehumidified (with the relative humidity less than 50%) in the warmer months to prevent the return of mold.

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Condo Basement Leaks: Possible Sources of Basement Drainage Problem

 I am planning to purchase a condo and during the inspection of the home, I noticed standing water in the basement near the center of the basement floor. I was told that the water was caused by improper grading on the outside of the condo. I did not see the water entry point through the windows or down the walls--just a three- or four-foot puddle of stale-looking water in the middle of the floor. The water seemed to be coming up through the cement floor. Is that possible?

Our Answer

It is possible that the condo's basement water leak stems from improper grading and drainage, and it may not be so obvious that you see the water enter and run across the floor. More likely, the water is running down the outside of the foundation, going under the floor and being drawn up through the force of capillarity. Most wet basements can be corrected through improvement in grading and drainage. See our wet basement section  for more advice.
That being said, since this home has not been purchased yet, the basement water should be considered a major defect and should be corrected by the seller prior to closing. Because this is a condo, correction becomes a sticky situation. The seller may not be allowed to work on the exterior drainage as the land belongs to the condo association. You certainly want to avoid getting in the middle of that, too. Therefore, I'd get your attorney and real estate agent to work out the details of getting this condo's basement leak problem corrected before you buy the condo.

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Replacing Flooded Basement Flooring

We recently replaced carpeting with laminate flooring in one room of the basement. Yesterday the pipe broke on the sump pump and flooded the basement floor.  As a result, we're pulling out the rest of the carpeting in the basement floor and replacing it.

We are wondering if we have to pull out the new laminate flooring? This is the room all the water went through to get to the carpet. I'm worried about mold.

Our Answer

Replacing the carpet in your basement with laminate flooring was a great move.  Even if you hadn't had a flood, carpet is a really bad idea for a basement. Basically carpet in a basement is mold food! 
Mold needs three things to grow:  water, air and organic matter. Carpet holds dust and dirt, which can be very organic.  Plus, the backing material on carpet is also very organic. This plus the allergens carpet holds, like dust mites, make it a very bad idea for basement flooring.
Laminate, on the other hand, has no such limitations.  In fact, it can be submerged for days on end and suffer no deterioration whatsoever.  Since laminate is totally inorganic, you should have no worries about mold on your laminate floor.  Just dry the laminate floor, damp mop it with a 10-20% bleach to water solution, and the laminate floor will be good to go.
Also, you might want to talk to an insurance adjuster about your flood.  With any luck, you could claim enough damage to pay for the rest of that new laminate floor!

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Asbestos Ceiling Tile Risk: Older Building Materials May Contain Asbestos

 I found your column online while searching for information on the risk posed by asbestos ceiling tiles. My house was constructed in 1986 and I have a finished family room/play room in the basement. I don't know when this room was constructed or if it's original to the house, but I assume it was constructed close to the year the home was built.

We just had the suspended ceiling tiles changed out by a contractor, and I asked him to not break up the tiles he was removing in order to limit the dust exposure. However, I came back home to find that he had indeed broken up the tiles. 

My father is now suggesting that the tiles may have contained asbestos, and of course I'm now concerned about the contamination of asbestos in the home. Was asbestos common in ceiling tiles and other building materials of this era?

Our Answer

Asbestos was once common in all sorts of building materials including ceiling tiles, floor tiles, heating pipe insulation, roofing and even spackle. Fortunately for you, most of this stopped in the 1970s and homes built after 1981 have very little risk of containing any asbestos.
If you are still concerned about the possibility of exposure to asbestos ceiling tiles during your recent basement project, a sample of the old ceiling tile can be sent to a lab for analysis.