Kitchen floor is seeping water. Please help me sort this out.
October 13, 2013 8:26 AM   Subscribe

My tiled kitchen floor seeps water about 2 feet from the sink when we run the faucet. Please help me think through possible questions for the plumber and keep me from freaking out that this will cost thousands of dollars to fix.

This problem has been going on for a few weeks but I didn't catch on that it was a leak right away. I thought maybe I was just being unusually sloppy while cooking or washing dishes. When I needed to stand on a towel today just to clean up after breakfast this morning, I figured it was time to take a closer look.

When I turn on the sink, water seeps up through the grout between the tiles, as well as through the cracks in a couple of damaged tiles. The area underneath the sink is bone dry, as is the area under the dishwasher. I don't know if it's a drain or supply line that's leaking, but I suppose that's a moot point.

As an aside, as far as I know, this only happens when we use the sink. I don't recall ever walking into the kitchen and finding random water on the floor.

I'll be calling the plumber tomorrow. Googling shows there could be any number of things going on and the answers I'm seeing on some of the DIY sites range from "oh, it's a quick fix" to "this will cost you your life savings."

I know next to nothing about plumbing, so please help me prepare for the plumber's visit tomorrow by arming me with questions I'm not currently informed enough to ask and what's reasonable to expect in terms of fixing this (though I know it's probably a broad spectrum). I'm sort of freaking out that this will cost me a small fortune to correct, so I'd be grateful for anything you can tell me that might lessen my anxiety -- or at least brace me for a big bill.
posted by _Mona_ to Home & Garden (18 answers total)
I'd be grateful for anything you can tell me that might lessen my anxiety

Okay, I'll share my story of plumbing catastrophe anxiety. We realized we had a damp streak about three feet long running vertically down our dining room wall. When you dug at the drywall with your fingernail, you could easily dig little pits in it. After some investigation, we realized it was the waste drain pipe from the two bathrooms upstairs. I imagined digging up the floor, the ceiling, or both, thousands of dollars.

The plumber (found through Angie's List -- so totally worth it though I feel slightly idiotic about subscribing) went in behind the dining room wall, through the closet, found the leak. He left maybe 1 X 2 foot hole of missing drywall after fixing it. He charged $165 and I learned just enough about hanging drywall to deal with that and paint over it, along with drywall on the other side. Compared to the horrors of my imaginings, the whole thing was a breeze.

It's terrifying when you don't know how bad it will be. I think Googling it is a little bit like Googling 'why have I had this cough for two weeks'? I think the best thing to do is focus on getting a good plumber, and getting a few estimates if plumber number one looks at it and says '$3000'.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 8:45 AM on October 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

It's likely a good thing that it only happens when you run the sink.
If it were a pipe under the floor, it would leak even though the taps were off.
Have you got a spray nozzle at the sink? They sometimes leak from the plastic hose or the fittings.
Could be the U-bend also--check that the joints are tight.
Put a sheet of dry paper underneath the sink and look for wet spots.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:13 AM on October 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Put a big bowl in the sink and run the water. Does the seep still happen? If so, it's not the drain, it's the supply line.
posted by KathrynT at 9:30 AM on October 13, 2013 [5 favorites]

Is there are basement, crawl space or other room under the kitchen, or is this on a concrete slab? Does the sink drain pipe go into the floor of the cabinet, or into the back wall?
posted by jon1270 at 9:37 AM on October 13, 2013

What's under your kitchen? Is it a slab, a crawlspace or a basement? In other words, can you get under it and try to see what's happening from down there?
posted by primethyme at 9:38 AM on October 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oops, what jon1270 said.
posted by primethyme at 9:39 AM on October 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Put a big bowl in the sink and run the water. Does the seep still happen? If so, it's not the drain, it's the supply line.

No, this has to be drain-related. The supply lines are pressurized all the time, whether the faucet is on or not.
posted by jon1270 at 9:45 AM on October 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Also, I'd check to be sure there isn't a little rivulet of water leaking from the (potentially loose) joint between the trap (the up-and-down curvy section of the drain) and the pipe that exits the cabinet. Water could be running along the pipe, out of the cabinet through the oversize hole that's cut in the back wall or floor, landing on the tile floor under the cabinet, and then running out under the toe kick.
posted by jon1270 at 9:49 AM on October 13, 2013

Response by poster: I'm in Florida, no basements or crawl space, just slab. I've absolutely ruled out any leaking from the faucet, spray hose, or visible pipes and joints.

I turned on the sink and marked all the seeping tiles with a dry erase marker (picture here) to get a sense of where the water is heading. It don't think that matters much, but it gave me something to do.
posted by _Mona_ at 9:52 AM on October 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

That's a big area, and does look like a potentially bad situation. How old is the house? Do the drains run well, or do they sometimes back up?
posted by jon1270 at 10:02 AM on October 13, 2013

Do you have homeowner's insurance? You should absolutely call them and see if damage like this is covered. We had a leak in a supply line and all repair work including replacing damaged flooring and a wall that had to be opened up was covered.
posted by muddgirl at 10:10 AM on October 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Where does your tap water come from? Are you on city or a well? Copper plumbing? High iron content eating the copper? Penny-colored dust in the toilet tanks?

When I turn on the sink, water seeps up through the grout between the tiles, as well as through the cracks in a couple of damaged tiles.

So you release pressure on the line and it leaks up through the kitchen floor? I'll bet it is usually leaking down until you turn it on.

Just thinking out loud here, but I think you are going to have to tear up that floor.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 10:15 AM on October 13, 2013

If you have a water meter, watch it when you are using no water.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 10:17 AM on October 13, 2013

Sounds to me that the drain pipe is partially clogged, and also broken. The clog backs up and seeps through the crack and thus the floor. Looks like the slab will have to be broken up and the drain pipe replaced. However before you do anything have the plumber sope the drain (with a camera) to see if he can pinpoint the break...probably at a joint.
posted by Gungho at 10:20 AM on October 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just to pinpoint the problem better, is it possible to either (a) hook up a hose to the sink and run it outside/into a different drain, and/or (b) run a hose from another faucet/outside fixture into the kitchen sink? This will allow you to determine if it's a supply problem (if it leaks when the kitchen supply is draining elsewhere), or a drain problem (if it seeps when water from elsewhere is run to the kitchen drain), though I suspect the latter.

If indeed the damage is in the drain pipe in the slab, you might consider sealing in place epoxy liner options:

It's not particularly cheap either, but it could very likely be cheaper than ripping up the slab to replace the drain. As others have said, a good plumber will scope the drain pipe to find out the extent of the damage and/or blockage, and suggest possible remedies from there.
posted by liquado at 10:55 AM on October 13, 2013

I don't think this is a supply line issue. Fill a bucket in the tub and pour it down the sink and see what happens.
posted by humboldt32 at 11:04 AM on October 13, 2013

I know this is intimidating, but the good thing about plumbing problems are that they are very understandable. If you hover over the guy (unisex guy) who is doing the work and ask questions it should be very easy to follow what needs to be done. I'm not saying that anyone can fix plumbing problems or should want to, good plumbers are worth their weight, but you should be calm about knowing whether what you are being told is the right thing. Ask questions until it makes sense to you, and that should be good enough.
That being said, i think you can help out the diagnosis problem if you're willing to do a bit of work.
First, take up the tiles in front of the sink. I suspect they will come up easily with the water issue and if they come up whole it will be simple to put them back when it's time. Just use a screwdrver or something to try to wedge them free. If you have to hammer them- so be it- that's doesnt look like expensive tile. You're trying to find the source of the seepage. With the tiles out and the cabinet kickplate lifted you might be able to find the primary failure. Make sure the points where pipes going into walls or floors are visible. Even if you have to rip stuff out, the plumber will need access and your time is cheaper. We can help you put it back together later.
Use a paper towel (since it shows "wet" fast) to blot around ever pipe you can reach, especially joints. And around the inside of the cabinet -water can travel. You would be amazed how trivial drips can create monster messes. If you're lucky you will find seepage from a pipe (probably drain like Gungho said) that is above the floor. The plumber can do the job of fixing it, but that will be the end of it. Maybe 2 hours of work? Make sure it's fixed for the long haul. If you're paying a professional you want it to last for 20 years. DIYing tile and kitchen cabinets is a better area to be frugal.
When this is all done you can look at fixing the floor. It probably needs to be totally replaced if water can get around so easily. If I'm right and the tiles pop right up - i rest my case. But laying ceramic tile is not hard or expensive, and can be very satisfying. This could be a blessing.
posted by dness2 at 11:12 AM on October 13, 2013

Is that a fridge on the left? Do you have an automatic ice maker? If so the supply line may be leaking. You may have to tear up your tile because sometimes builders will run the line from the sink to the fridge in the grout. Florida. Home of the questionable building practice.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:51 PM on October 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

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