What can I Expect From A Plumber
March 6, 2010 10:26 AM   Subscribe

What should I expect when I calling a plumber in to fix a (possible) leak?

I just purchased my first home a few months ago, (yay me), and I have a potential water leak problem (boo!)

It's a 100+ year old two story house, and there's a spot on the second floor where the carpet gets damp whenever I take a shower downstairs. The wet spot isn't **directly** above the downstairs bathroom, but it's close. I suspect a spray leak of some kind.

I've never dealt with these kind of issues, and would like to know **how** a plumber might approach

1. Diagnosing the Problem

2. Fixing the Problem

For example, will they be able to determine the source of the leak without ripping up the floor? Will they rip of the floor, or rip up the ceiling below? If things need to be ripped up, do THEY do that or do plumbers only deal with pipes?

I'm mainly want to know what to expect so I can feel a little more prepared when I call someone in.

posted by alan to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
In my experience, the plumbers will have a pretty good guess as to where the leak is likely originating, and then try to get to it in the least destructive way possible - sawing open a little of the drywall in the ceiling or wall, for example. This is fairly routine for them since a good bit of the time, the problem is going to be someplace un-get-at-able any other way. In fairness, though, neither of my houses have been as old as yours.

Last time I had an oddball leak, they cut a small hole in the ceiling where we were seeing water spots (downstairs), then diagnosed a problem in an prior-owner half-assed repair job in a shower upstairs. The hole in the ceiling was just enough to accommodate a small mirror and a flashlight, just a few inches square. To repair the shower, another hole was cut in a closet/adjoining wall for access to the plumbing for the shower and bathtub. We opted to simply cover that up with a piece of painted plywood screwed into the studs rather than repair the sheetrock. It's in the closet, so no one can see it anyway, but more importantly, it might be necessary to access that spot again in the future.

As your house (and maybe your plumbing) is old, it's possible that they may spot something that needs to be fixed for code compliance reasons. In many areas, they have to do it by law. In one case for me, this meant the quick (and relatively inexpensive) installation of a safety feature on the water heater.

The name and number of a good, trustworthy plumber is a seriously good thing to have. The same guy has done a series of repairs at our place and he's the only one I'll call. If you haven't shopped around yet, ask your neighbors or the guys at the local mom-and-pop hardware store for a recommendation.
posted by jquinby at 10:39 AM on March 6, 2010

The water pipes are pressurized all the way to the valve in the shower/tub. If the water only appears when you are taking a shower, the leak must be at the valve, or between the valve and the shower head, or at the shower head. The plumber will have to expose that pipe to fix it.
posted by found missing at 10:42 AM on March 6, 2010

Also, you might have a lot of dampness in the wall, ceiling, and flooring, especially if this has been going on for a while. This almost certainly will result in mold problems if it isn't opened up, dried, and replaced where needed. The plumber won't do that, but it probably will need to be done.
posted by found missing at 10:47 AM on March 6, 2010

could be a leaking drain pipe, too. it's usually easier to expose something like that from below than above.
posted by rmd1023 at 10:58 AM on March 6, 2010

could be, but it is overhead
posted by found missing at 11:02 AM on March 6, 2010

One thing to consider is that plumbers typically charge by the hour (plus parts) with an hour minimum, so if you have any other plumbing issues -- installing new garbage disposal, for instance -- you may be able to have it all done at once and save money.

Also, if the plumber does have to rip up a wall or ceiling, he may not be able to repair the hole itself, and you probably don't want him to to anyway. Plumbers are notorious for shabby drywall. You should have a drywall guy come instead once the plumbing work is done.
posted by gabrielsamoza at 11:05 AM on March 6, 2010

Angieslist and a personal referral from someone. Go through the old reviews. Contact other members. Speak to the people at your locally owned hardware store. A good plumber is worth their time in gold dubloons. Also, if part of the repair work involves something non-plumbing, a good plumber will have references and people ready to fix.
posted by asockpuppet at 5:25 PM on March 6, 2010

found missing is exactly right; the only section of pipe that is pressurized only while showering is the bit of pipe between the showerhead and the valve. I'm assuming that the wet spot is very close to directly over the shower head. If the wet spot is nowhere near the showerhead then my guess would be that you've drawn a connection where there is none, and the leak has nothing to do with whether you or not you shower in the room below.

Assuming the leak is very near the shower head then it will almost certainly be in the wall, right where the shower arm emerges. The plumber will have to get into that wall somehow, either through the wall of the shower, or from the backside. If you're lucky, there'll be an access panel on the back of the shower.

If the plumber has to break through the wall surface to access the leak then he will do that, but he probably won't fix the plaster. At his hourly rate, you don't want him to fix the plaster.
posted by jon1270 at 3:05 AM on March 7, 2010

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