Where did the water come from?
October 12, 2009 9:06 AM   Subscribe

Miystery Leak in apartment that we just purchased...where could it be coming from and how to proceed to ensure it doesn't occur again?

We bought this apartment in as-is condition. It is on the ground floor of a building that used to be a bank since 1900s and was converted to condos in the 1980s. We did some renovation work and for about a week and a half since then everything appeared fine.
However, late night on Thursday I noticed water seeping from under the refrigerator. We do have a unit that came with the apt, bottom freezer style, and the freezer door has a broken hinge so sometimes it doesn't close properly. I naturally assumed the water was coming from the freezer/refrigerator, and moved the unit a bit, but the water was not coming from the refrigerator, rather, it seemed to be coming from the area without tiles shown in this picture (now dry):
where water was pooling

We have a cabinet over that area, now it is in the living room, I am afraid to put it back there.

We have a dishwasher and sink in the kitchen, but we haven't used those because of a small leak under the sink. Also, the floor appears slanted in the opposite direction, so water could not have come from the direction of the kitchen sink or dishwasher.

I kept mopping the water and eventually shut off the cold water from the water heater valve, and the flood seemed to stop.


The next day I had plumbers come in and look at it, and we open all the valves and ran water in the bathroom (tub, sink, toilet) (which is adjacent to the kitchen, more on that later)...and the area stayed perfectly dry. Over the weekend, using these fixtures normally, no water appeared in the kitchen.

Now, as I said, the kitchen abuts the bathroom. The wall you saw in the picture is between the bathroom and kitchen and is empty inside. In the second picture you can see the area inside the wall where a big (drain?) pipe is coming through. The shot is taken from the bathroom and plumbers and I noticed evidence of prior water inside the wall, also what looked like recent moisture.

looking in the wall that separates the kitchen and bathroom, from behind toilet

The plumbers said to monitor that area, and that water was coming maybe from someone upstairs who had a flood or something. The said they didn't want to break into the wall yet. I asked the neighbors upstairs if they had any issues and they said nothing happened on their end, but there are six more floors above.

The water heater had been through a flood in the past as evidenced by rust on the bottom, but no recent moisture was noted, also, the water heater is on the other side of the bathroom from the kitchen.

The building management said that they cannot yet investigate unless the leak occurs again and they are called when there is actual water...which, if the leak occurs that late at night again, obviously is not an option. I sent them a report with photos of the areas, just to be on the record. Obviously it would be a lot of detective plumber work to figure out what happened and since it is not our fault someone else would have to pay for it.

I don't want the leak to occur again, because, if it does when we are not home and stays unchecked, it can do a lot of damage.

So, how should I proceed from here? If I keep on going with life and normal, we might end up with a lot of damage in the future. I can't keep a constant eye on that area and I also hate having the area bare and the cabinet in the living room. The volume of water observed is such that a simple towel placed there would not contain it.

I live in a condo and pay association fees...what can we do to ensure all the work that was put in the apartment doesn't go away. I don't think we have flood insurance but we have some form of liability insurance called HO6, I assume other owners in the building have it too and it would pay for the damages to our apt, but we have already been through one stressful period of time buying this place and getting it fixed up, and we don't have the time or energy to deal with all this.
posted by spacefire to Home & Garden (3 answers total)
Response by poster: @sperose: if they fail, that means they should be leaking constantly, right?
the flood occurred once since I moved in and stopped apparently on its own.
posted by spacefire at 10:57 AM on October 12, 2009

Disclaimer - it would be much easier to troubleshoot actually being there to see the piping configuration, and with the leak still occuring, so this is little more than a wild-ass guess.

It looks like (in photo #2, inside the wall) the larger PVC pipe has some evidence of small leakage. That would probably be a drainage pipe, and so rarely be full of water to leak out. However, if someone pours a crapton of water down the drain at once, like draining a bathtub or power-draining a washing machine, it could submerge the leaky joint for some amount of time and let a bunch of water out. Especially if the drain line is partially clogged downstream.

I had a problem like that once, and just getting the mystery leak to recur so I could find it was 90% of the battle.
posted by ctmf at 11:16 AM on October 12, 2009

If a real professional plumber has looked at it and not been able to do anything, I don't think internet detectives are going to be able to solve it. Your options are pretty much a) do what the plumber said, wait and see approach, or b) call the plumbers back and have them actively try to recreate the problem and fix it.

The HOA is not going to pay for b, I pretty much guarantee it. That would be very expensive and may involve opening up walls and/or going in other people's apartments.
posted by ctmf at 11:23 AM on October 12, 2009

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