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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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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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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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red paint, concrete

Learn to Repair and Paint Concrete Foundation Walls

I just purchased a new home with a solid poured concrete wall foundation. I am not looking to "finish" the basement, but I would like to paint the concrete foundation walls to brighten up and make the basement look clean.  Is there a material that I can use that would also fill in all the little holes in the concrete and paint the walls at the same time?

Our Answer

Solid concrete foundation walls are about as good as it gets for a strong base for your home.  The concrete walls themselves are not really designed to be a finished surface, as the steel forms leave ridges when they are removed, and small voids where air has settled in the concrete results in pock marks.  These ridges and pock marks, as well as even minor shrinkage cracks on the concrete foundation should be considered minor and mostly cosmetic.

Basement wall paints tend to be fairly thick and  no matter what you do, the concrete walls will not be silky smooth.  If the concrete wall has any large areas that need repair, I'd recommend the products from Quikrete.  These patches and fillers do a good job on repairing holes and voids in concrete. After the repair, you can paint the solid concrete foundation walls using paint specially formulated for concrete.

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Hanging a Flat Screen TV

Like many people this season we are buy a new flat screen TV and were planning to mount it over our fireplace. I was wondering if there were any special precautions that we need to take because of the fireplace being behind the wall that we are mounting. Is it going to affect or damage the bricks or the functionality of the fireplace if we have to drill into the wall? What would be the best way to do this?

Love your show,

Jenna Ostrowski

Buffalo, NY

Our Answer

Jenna, assuming that this is a traditional brick wall of a real fireplace (as opposed to a fake brick wall on a manufactured fireplace!) there's no reason you can not attach the flat screen TV mounting bracket directly to the brick and have it provide a solid connection. 

The best fastener to use for this is a "Tapcon" concrete screw.  Tapcon screws are designed to grab into brick and concrete and come with a drill bit preciously sized for the screw you need to install.  Just follow the instructions carefully and you should be good to go.  The other option is to use a traditional lead shield and lag bolt combo to attach the mounting bracket.  However, in my experience, the Tapcon will be strong enough.  To be sure, check with the manufacturer of the TV mounting bracket and follow their recommendations before proceeding with the project.

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Dust in House: How to Reduce or Remove

I have noticed an excessive amount of dust in my home; especially in the master bathroom.  It seems like I can't keep the furniture dusted enough.  When I rinse the tub there is a coating of lint type dust that isn't visible until I rinse the tub by pouring water on the sides of the tub before filling it.

I am wondering if there is a leak in our attic and perhaps the vent fan in the bathroom is allowing air flow from the attic to enter my home.  I haven't had the attic inspected but the house was built in 2003 so didn't think I would have a problem.  It is frustrating to try and keep up with the dusting!  Have you heard of anything like this? What can I do to solve this problem?

Our Answer

While it’s possible that you’re getting some dust from the attic, it’s unlikely. If there are gaps around your ceiling fans, air is probably moving from the house into the attic, not the other way around, due to something called the stack effect. I suggest that you look at a couple of other possible sources of dust first.

When’s the last time you had your clothes dryer vent cleaned? If that vent is obstructed, you could be getting a lot of dryer lint blowing back into the house. Turn on your dryer, then go outside to find the vent opening. You should have a nice, strong flow of warm air coming out of that opening. If you don’t, then have the vent cleaned to remove any build up of lint. It might solve your problem and make your dryer work better at the same time.

Do you have a fireplace or wood stove? If you do, and the inside of your house were to become depressurized, air could move backwards through these flues and carry ash into the house. If this is the case, you’ll need to find out why the house is becoming depressurized. Leaky ductwork in your heating system is often the culprit here.

One other thing to consider is that your heating system’s filter is missing. It’s important for you to clean or change your air filter regularly.

Editor’s Note: Jim Katen is a professional home inspector with Benchmark Inspection Service in Gaston, OR. Jim volunteers as a guest expert in The Money Pit Community. Learn more about Jim’s work through the American Society of Home Inspectors.

 

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Wet Concrete Floor

I am having a problem with the concrete floor in one of the rooms of the house we moved in to. Every time it rains the floor is wet. I don't know if there is any kind of sealant on it or not. The rest of the house has linoleum. But this room is just concrete. What can I do to fix this problem? Will the new flex seal work? or do I need to try something else?

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Wallpaper Removal

Good Morning

My son has just purchased a new home and will need to remove multiple rooms of wallpaper.  We were wondering what would be the best method to use since we want to do it ourselves.  It looks like vinyl coated paper not solid vinyl or flocked. Is it easier to use a chemical such as Piranha or would using a small steamer work better.  Maybe a combination of the two?  He had heard using hot water with fabric softener and a scrapet worked well. Please advise

thank you in advance

Jan Mancini

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Do we Need a Bathroom Fan?

We have a home that was built in 1920. We want to take an upstairs bedroom and turn it in to our master bathroom.  There is a set of windows about 45 X 58. Our contractor says we do not need a fan in the room because of the windows. I told my husband we should do it anyway and vent it out the side of the house. We live in a four season area.  So the question is, should we have the fan installed? I'm not one for opening the window in winter and the tub will be installed beneath the window.  Thank you.          

Our Answer

Great question.  While it is correct that a bathroom with a window that allows for ventilation does not require fan, it's also correct that you probably won't want that window open in the winter.  So yes, we would recommend a fan.  However, it is absolutely crucial that the fan exhausts to the outside of the house.  You can run a duct through the attic and then outside.  You can also run the duct up through the roof or down through the soffit.  Any duct must end outside  Never allow the duct to exhaust into the attic, crawlspace or other enclosed area. This will only lead to moisture build up which will mak for perfect conditions for mold growth.  Good luck with your project!

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Major Complete Home Remodel

We own a 1920's era tract home with floor structure issues in both the bath and kitchen.  House is in need of a complete, and major, remodel with new kitchen and bath.  What are best steps to take to ensure we plan for the right work to be done the right way?  Thanks.

Our Answer

Sounds like a great project!  You are correct to be concerned about this starting and ending the right way.  My best advice to you, would be to enlist the help of an architect.  Residential architects are a terrific resouce to help with laying out the specs of a project.  This way, when it comes to hiring a contractor, you already know exactly what the project will entail and are in a better position to negotiate labor costs, scope of project, time frame, budget and other details.

An architect can also help with planning for tricky spaces as well as specific rooms like kitchens and baths.  And have good advice on proceeding with any work that requires structural consideration, including a check by an engineer.  A good place to start would be with professional organizations like the American Institute of Architects, which offers specific certifications in many areas to its members.

Best of luck with this project and please be sure to share the finished product.

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How to Insulate an Attic That Has No Soffit?

What is the best way to insulate the floor of an attic if the house does not have soffit vents - or any soffits at all?  There is a ridge vent and two gable vents for ventilation.  Do I need to install special soffit-less vents, or can I insulate right into the corners of the attic, right up to the roofing boards?    I live in New England and am concerned with ice dams.

Our Answer

There's a type of vent called an edge vent, specifically designed for this purpose.  Edge vents basically extend the roof edge by a few inches so you can pick up space for soffit insulation.  A ridge vent is good, but is only half the equation. 
Unfortunately for your situation, edge vents are best installed as part of a larger roofing project.  The roof basically starts at the edge of an edge vent, so it's difficult to add them after the fact. 

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Best Paint for Paneling

I own a few older rental homes with wall paneling in their interiors. My tenants constantly ask if they can paint the paneling to brighten up the rooms. I would love to to say yes - or even paint it myself - but is that a bad idea?  If I can paint it, what kind of paint should I use?

Our Answer

Paneling's not too hard or expensive to paint - and, to your tenants' point, can make a world of difference in a space.  Just make sure to prep the paneling beforehand using a quality oil-based primer. 

Sheen is personal preference,but the sheen you choose can also make a huge difference in the final product. Resullts will probably turn out best using a flat paint or semigloss - but definitely not gloss.  Gloss will reflect every ridge and imperfection.

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Laminate Flooring Is Loose and Won’t Stay Locked

I have high quality 8mm laminate floor throughout my living room and kitchen.  I've installed it twice, yet it won't stay locked.  I had it inspected by the manufacturer and was told the problem's due to the room being to cold (I keep the temperature in the high 60's) and too humid (I live on the coast, so yes, it is humid here - 50 to 60 percent).  They told me there's nothing they can do.  What's my next step?

Our Answer

I find the response you got from the manufacturer troubling.  A room in 60s is hardly "cold."  It seems more likely that this product isn't performing as intended.  If you did put it down twice in efforts to fix it, you may have worn out or loosened up the locking seams.  Try reinstalling it one more time, but this time instead of simply locking it, put some glue into the seams.  When laminate is being installed in damp areas, glue is often recommended.  Use a yellow carpenters glue, insert it into the locking groove, lock the flooring together and let it dry.  You want to apply enough glue that a little bit squeezes out when you lock the plank.  Wipe it away with damp cloth when it's still wet.  If you have trouble getting the boards together - if there's a gap between them - use a strap clamp.  Strap clamps are similar to what you see on backpacks, with a racheting mechanism.  Put it around the flooring and pull those pieces together as needed.  

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Humidistat Fan or Dehumidifier for Damp Crawlspace?

I live in Nashville, where it's quite humid.  I moved into my first house last August and we have a stand-up crawlspace.  Around the exterior of the crawlspace, the builder put in four vents.  About a month after moving in, we started to see what looked like mildew and/or mold growing on the walls of the crawlspace.  I had a "mold guy"  come in and he recommended a dehumidifier.  I had a friend of mine who knows quite a bit about DIY stuff come to my house and he recommended getting a humidistat fan instead.  Before I rush out and buy one and put one in, what do I need to know about using humidistat fans?  Are there certain factors that make them uneffective that I need to be aware of?

Our Answer

Either approach - a dehumidifier or a humidistat fan - is a good approach. 
If you go with a humidistat, first make sure you have a vapor barrier across your entire crawlspace floor.  You also need to ensure that the vents on the opposite sides of the crawlspace open, so that once the fan kicks on, it pulls air from the crawlspace outward. 
If you opt for a dehumidifier, I personally just installed one from the Santa Fe Compact line and am very happy with it.  The version I selected is designed specifically for crawlspaces.  It's small - only 12 x 12 x 22 inches, yet hangs from the floor joists and takes out an impressive 70 pints of water each day.