I have a plumbing leak (??), help!!
March 16, 2012 5:25 AM   Subscribe

Hi I think I might have a plumbing problem, can you confirm what the next step is...?

Hi folks

I noticed that the paint on a section of the main floor ceiling started to peel back. Didn't think too much of it, until today when I noticed that water is dripping from that spot. Above that spot is the bathroom on the 2nd floor.

n00b time... I guess there's a leak in the bathroom plumbing? I guess I call the plumber? But won't this be an open-ended, potentially larger issue? Will he start tearing apart the ceiling to find the leak, or the tiling in the bathroom? It's not obvious what is leaking (but I haven't done an exhaustive search, I just have not noticed a leak upstairs before this).

DO I just tell the plumber, "water's dripping, fix it?" What would he do next?

Please give me whatever advice you have before I start draining my bank account on an open-ended repair.
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey to Home & Garden (11 answers total)
Oh yeah, call the plumber ASAP. They will know just what to do. Don't wait or it will just get worse.
posted by dawkins_7 at 5:31 AM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

But won't this be an open-ended, potentially larger issue?

I don't understand the logic here. You have a water leak somewhere but are worried calling the plumber might lead to discovering more problems? It's not like they work on retainer; they'll tell you the problem, the best way to fix it and what that would cost. If it's too much, they'll try to patch it within your budget, if possible. At least, that's what a good plumber does. If the first one you call does not, get a second one.

Pulling the blankets over your head won't make it better.
posted by yerfatma at 5:38 AM on March 16, 2012 [4 favorites]

Check the shut-offs under the sink! Those things are notorius for springing leaks. If they're leaking, shut 'em off.

And, call a plumber.
posted by bricksNmortar at 5:42 AM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

The leak is probably in the drain pipe under the tub/shower, though there are other possibilities. The plumber is very likely to put a sizable hole in the ceiling to expose the leaking pipe. The pipe will have to be repaired, and then the ceiling will have to be patched and repainted.
posted by jon1270 at 5:45 AM on March 16, 2012

Depends on if you have the funds and are not worried about paying for a plumber or not.

If you're open to being a DIYer, then you can do some things yourself. The first thing is checking the toilet shutoff value area and any other 'open' fixtures connections you can see.

Just checking if there is a pin leak on any of the exposed areas is a start.

Next, you want to check around the tub/shower and see if your caulk and grout are compromised, especially around where the floor meets the tub edge.

Since the ceiling is already toast, and you're going to have to replace that bit of ceiling drywall, you can cut a square hole in the ceiling to get a better look and if you can trace the water trail.

there isn't any real magic to finding the source of the leak, which you can do on your own. The next question is if you are willing to fix it on your own. Plumbing is actually not all that hard, but some are nervous about pipes. Me, I'm more nervous about electrical. I've been fixing pipe problems on my own for years, though.
posted by rich at 5:47 AM on March 16, 2012

Oh, and this: Please give me whatever advice you have before I start draining my bank account on an open-ended repair.

The required work is the required work. You don't have a lot of options as to what work gets done, and you can't really delay much without letting the problem get worse and even more expensive. What you can do is choose who does the work. Start with the cheapest repairman: yourself. Put on your investigative hat and try to figure out what's leaking. If you can find it and it's accessible, maybe you can fix it yourself. If it's a little more complicated then maybe a good general-purpose handyman can help. The advantage to going the handyman route is that his hourly rate is probably cheaper, and he can do the whole job. If the plumbing is a big ole' mess that needs a lot of work (ancient, rusted-out drain pipes, for example) then a plumber may be necessary. The plumber's hourly rate will be the highest, and he'll leave you with a hole in the ceiling that will still have to be fixed by someone else.
posted by jon1270 at 5:58 AM on March 16, 2012

Seconding rich that you should go ahead and cut a hole in the ceiling — once it's wet, it has to be replaced. And if you cut a hole out to where the sheetrock or plaster is dry, you can prevent it from spreading further (right now, water could be running around many square yards already in that ceiling space, so be prepared to make a big hole). Once it's opened up and you determine the source you can catch the drips with a bucket.

If you are lucky, the problem is just that the drain trap under your tub or shower is clogged up. That causes standing water to be higher than normal in the drain and to overflow at the connection between drain and tub. You can test this easily: just run water and see if it drains properly or not. And you can fix this without taking anything apart by doing some roto rooting with a coat hanger or snake. However, best way, once the ceiling is opened, is to unscrew the trap (that U-shaped piece of pipe) and clean it out thoroughly.
posted by beagle at 6:02 AM on March 16, 2012

Just because you have a leak does not mean it is a big problem. It might be something simple.

A dishonest plumber, however, can say whatever he wants - and you might not have the knowledge to dispute him. A honest plumber will deal with the problem that is there - and you need to deal with this problem sooner rather than later.

You question should be:
Recommend me an honest plumber in my area?
posted by Flood at 6:02 AM on March 16, 2012

Also, I very much disagree with the cut the ceiling as the first step.

The problem might be the wax ring on the toilet - or p-ring under the sink.
Let the plumber take a look first before you start cutting stuff up.
posted by Flood at 6:04 AM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the comments.

I'll have a look around the bathroom to see if there is any obvious leak, then call the plumber.
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 6:45 AM on March 16, 2012

Be aware that water can travel a good way through walls and floors before it finds its way to the wall or ceiling; the bathroom is most likely the source of your leak but if you go hunting it down yourself be open to other possibilities. I had a roof leak that I messed with for a while before finally getting it properly fixed that totally unbeknownst to me had damaged some subflooring by dripping through the wall; it was discovered when I had the floors in the house replaced. It was a pretty minor repair in that context, but I was surprised at how far the water traveled to get there.
posted by TedW at 7:44 AM on March 16, 2012

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