Water in the living room: not plumbing, not A/C condensation, not roof
September 2, 2014 11:53 AM   Subscribe

Who you gonna call? -- What else can leak water? We called a plumber; no pipe leaks. Found more water in the room; it's on the other side of the wall from the A/C in the garage. We have *replaced* the A/C. We've been up in the "attic" and there's no water or water damage up there. The carpet puddle keeps getting bigger.

We have a one-story house built on a slab foundation in Florida. Our plumbing is fed from a deep well 200'+ away from the house. The plumbing enters the house in one pipe at the edge of the foundation slab, and goes under/through the slab to the various plumbing the house. We have no natural gas to the house, if it's relevant.

Our living room is carpet over carpet pad over concrete. A few weeks ago we noticed a wet squishy spot, about the size of a bath towel, in the middle of the living room.

We started frantically vacuuming up the water a couple of times a day, and trying to find the leak.

Naturally we called a plumber to find what we were sure was a slab leak. He was also convinced it was a slab leak, and he spent hours pressurizing the pipes and then using his acoustic equipment to try to find hissing in the pipes. He finally gave up; it looks like a slab leak, but there's no leak. The pipes weren't even losing pressure after he pressurized them.

BUT. He found some water damage on one of the walls at the very bottom, and right up against that wall, there was also some more wet in the carpet.

Directly opposite that wall is the heat pump for the air conditioner, in the garage. So, clearly, the problem must be leaking condensation from the heat pump, right? [We can't explain how the water at the wall gets through the entirely-dry carpet to the wet spot in the middle of the room, but hey, there's all kinds of things we don't know.]

Well, the drainage line from the A/C to outside is clear; the 1st visit, the A/C service guy said he found some issues and fixed them and there didn't seem to be any further leakage.

We used the wet/dry vac a few more times then stopped, and started looking into repairs.

A few days later we realized the water spot was getting larger, not smaller. We resumed frantically trying to suck up all the invading wet and called the A/C guys back. We ended up *replacing* the whole air conditioner; it was 25 years old anyway. There's a brand new heat pump on the other side of that wall now, and among other things they took the drainage line, while it was disconnected, and blew air down it again and all that came out was air.

We kept trying to vacuum up the water, because by now it was more than a 10'x15' spot, so we wanted to get it dry as quickly as we could.

Aaaaaand despite all, the wet spot *keeps* getting bigger, and we pick up just as much--or more--water every time we use the vac. Replacing the A/C hasn't changed anything. There's no visible water damage on any other walls in the house. There are no wet spots in any other rooms.

We've tried turning off the well pump overnight, and leaving the water to the house off for as long as we can during the day; it doesn't change the seeping wet. The water keeps coming back just as fast.

[We *think* this might rule out any problem with the septic lines, but we're not sure--but the septic lines shouldn't be in that area. And the water we vacuum up is pretty clear. Should the plumber have been able to find a problem with the septic lines if there was one?]

We've gone up into the "attic" and looked to see if water could be leaking in the roof then down through the wall or something, no water or water damage anywhere up there (and none on the ceiling in the living room). And at this rate, it would have to be something like a constant stream of water, whether or not it's raining. But we checked anyway.

Our insurance agent couldn't think of anyone else we could call, but he gave me a rough overview of how to pull up carpet, and said we might find *something* out if we can look directly at the slab. So we'll try pulling up the carpet today. We've got another plumber scheduled to come out and take a look at everything. We don't have high hopes, but hey, what can we do?

What else can it possibly be? What other kind of company can we call to come look at the problem? What else can leak water besides plumbing and condensation?
posted by galadriel to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I am guessing that when you pull up the carpeting, you will find a crack in the slab. If it were my basement, I would call a waterproofing company. They can fill the crack and guarantee the fix for a decent period of years.
posted by 724A at 11:59 AM on September 2, 2014 [4 favorites]

Groundwater? Badly draining irrigation? I'd be calling a foundation specialist.
posted by sageleaf at 12:04 PM on September 2, 2014

I agree you probably have a crack in the slab, and it was probably caused by bad drainage / poor grading so the slab has been wet for a long time, and now that it's breached the slab it's getting inside the house. +1 foundation specialist, stat.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 12:08 PM on September 2, 2014

Are you in an area prone to sinkholes? Or lots of springs? Yes, I just looked at where you are on Google Earth, could be either except I don't know if sinkholes have water. It sounds like a spring popped up under your house. You might want to call someone from the county or the city. They should at least be able to tell you if there might be old pipes from some previous house or farm. Are you affiliated with the University of Florida? Someone in their geology department might specialize in the local area. Good luck, this could be a nightmare, I hope it's not.
posted by mareli at 12:18 PM on September 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

You've certainly done a thorough job trying to figure this problem out. Unfortunately, I think the only way you're going to get to the root of the problem is to open-up the slab at the wet spot and see what the hell is going on.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:38 PM on September 2, 2014

Response by poster: Yeah, my best guess was "we sprouted an artesian spring"--except I was joking... until I thought about it. Now I am just dreading.

Yes. Sinkholes and springs. There are both sinkholes and springs as the centerpieces of various state parks locally. I think once or twice a year there's a story about a residential house falling into a new sinkhole, here in my county. I haven't read about any spontaneous springs in a house, though...

Geology department? ...I wouldn't know how to go about that. Do you have any idea how to approach the issue? There is an active county extension service at the university, covering all Florida counties, but it's more agricultural, not so much geological... [http://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/]

~ ~ ~

No basement; no basements in FL unless you want to intentionally create a serious plumbing/pump nightmare. This is in my living room. Which might well have become a plumbing/pump nightmare, but not one I selected on purpose.

~ ~ ~

I never heard of a foundation specialist. Definitely someone to try. Okay. Thanks!

If there is a crack, when we get the carpet up, is there likely to be something visible? Or would it more likely be something only detectable by specialists/specialized tools?

~ ~ ~

Anyone got more, less depressing suggestions? :) :) Please?

posted by galadriel at 12:44 PM on September 2, 2014

I'm assuming that your water table is not high enough to be causing this problem, but has it been raining lately where you are? If you go out and dig a 3 foot deep hole in your yard, do you see water in it? How are the downspouts on your house arranged?

Likewise, I'm assuming that you don't have a neighbor with a serious water leak, somewhat uphill of you (I've seen that before: a sudden "spring" popping up in someone's back yard because of a major leak in a another neighbor's plumbing).

I'm assuming that your plumber competently performed your supply line test. There are a few ways it can go wrong, but there's a 50/50 chance that your plumber dealt with that :-)

The plumber would not be able to find a sewer line problem with an acoustic test: Drain/Waste/Vent lines are not pressurized that way.

It could conceivably be coming from a waste line in the slab. Do you have any "slow" drains?
If a waste line embedded in your slab is partially blocked and draining slowly, then a cracked pipe and slab could leak up into your carpet. They would continue to leak even if you shut off the water supply to the house, until the drain pipe was empty.

It's hard to tell graywater from fresh water when it's soaking your carpet. Just because it doesn't stink doesn't mean that it's not coming from your drain system.

There are a few tests to perform:

Run water full blast down your drains, maybe all of them at the same time, for a few minutes. If any of them backs up at all, this is suspicious and you should snake your drains.

If the water test is too painful for your well system, then snake all of your drains and and drain system cleanouts, and see if the problem goes away.

Finally, you can pressure test your DWV system by shoving a big inflatable weenie (that's really what they are called) into the main drain line, through a cleanout; adding some fluorescent dye to your system, and filling up your roof vents with water until they overflow. You'll have to mix up a concentrated solution of the dye (like this stuff: http://www.toolexperts.com/trace-a-leak-septic-dye-test-tablets.html) and pour it in gradually as you add the water. Check for the fluorescent dye in the water coming up through your floor.
posted by the Real Dan at 12:45 PM on September 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: What is a "roof vent"? Quick Google search didn't turn up anything that looked like I could pour water into it.

~ ~ ~

It's Florida; it's summer. It storms every day--sometimes more, sometimes less.

The house is partway down a hill (as much of a hill as we get in FL, which is to say "barely noticeable"), but the house is broadside to the hill, and in heavy rain we get water washing up and pooling on the porch for a day or so--the porch is part of the same slab as the house foundation and under the same roof, just not walled in. But we don't get rain that heavy every storm; maybe once every couple of weeks.

[Yes, this was terrible planning on the part of the builder. Yes, we know the various options available to fix it: french drains, crickets, etc. We're hoping we won't have to.]

No gutters. No downspouts. More of the roof--and thus the runoff--slants toward the downhill/long side than the uphill side, but maybe 1/3 of the total roof drips fairly evenly across the uphill/long side of the house, the same side with the porch that sometimes has standing water. No real drippage at the narrow ends.

The living room puddle is approximately in the middle of the slab, no direct connection to the area that gets standing water.

~ ~ ~

No houses within 400 feet. The only uphill house, 750+ feet away, is currently untenanted after foreclosure; don't know if their water is shut off, but I think the barn would have problems before we would, being further uphill than we are.

~ ~ ~

I'm not able to dig a 3' hole right now. Especially not if I'm going to be helping to pull up wet carpet this week. But FWIW: in previous summers, similar rain conditions, we've planted trees with something like 3' holes, and never reached water seeping in on its own. Things might be different this year, sure. But that's the best I can do on the topic for right now :)

~ ~ ~

I wasn't so much thinking the drain water would be dark, as that it would be soapy: foamy after being agitated by going through a vacuum hose, maybe cloudy. No?

~ ~ ~

We have one slow drain, but we think the problem is pretty close to the surface. We can go ahead and try to clear it and see what happens--we just haven't gotten around to getting the right tool. Sounds like now's a good time.

If there is a blockage further down, could a stopped up drain line really put out something like 3-4 gallons [up to the surface], even if no more water is going down it, in half a day-ish? Are single drain lines under the house that large? I'm asking; I don't know.

We're getting up that much from the puddle in the living room *after* we 1) dry it as much as possible, then 2) turn off the water at the pump, then 3) wait overnight and wetvac it again, then 4) wait as long as we can and wetvac it again, then 5) turn the water back on. [No flushing, hand sanitizer instead of soap, etc etc. No water going into the drains the whole time. We only did that for a couple of days, since it didn't seem to make a difference.]

~ ~ ~

We can definitely try the "running water full blast from every faucet at once" thing once we clear the one drain. I can report back if you guys are interested :)

I have, incidentally, seen a house that had a tree root growing through its outgoing sewer line, in a house with city sewer service. I remember the slow drains in the whole house, the frustration and annoyance until they got it diagnosed.

I don't know much about how a septic system would differ in layout from a house with city sewer service, but we definitely don't have anything like that. [No, we just have one slow shower drain that we're pretty sure is partly plugged by my epic-length hair, somewhat close to the drain opening. It's...ah...happened before.]

~ ~ ~

I'm still reasonably certain there aren't any household drain lines going under the living room puddle.

Not that I won't check :) We're grasping at straws, so we may as well evaluate the straws while they're in our hands anyway. I will gladly explore any and all options, and I absolutely appreciate advice!
posted by galadriel at 1:57 PM on September 2, 2014

You don't say how old the house is, but many slabs were built with in-floor hydronic heating. These systems were built using copper pipes that after years of being in direct contact with concrete begin to corrode. My guess is an old hydronic system.
posted by Gungho at 2:03 PM on September 2, 2014

Yeah, basement/slab/foundation guy -- basically high-water-pressure areas like THE DIRT want the water to flow into low-water-pressure areas like YOUR HOUSE. Basement leaks are more common (pictures) but it can happen with slab foundations too. There's an entire industry dedicated to fixing cracks caused by tree roots/settling/everything tending towards chaos.

If that is the case, you probably will need some french drains or whatever, as the goal is to make other low-water-pressure places for the water to flow to that are not YOUR HOUSE.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:04 PM on September 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

What is a "roof vent"? Quick Google search didn't turn up anything that looked like I could pour water into it.

Go outside and look at your roof. You should see a few open pipes sticking up out of the roof. Those are "roof vents". They are open pipes that connect to your sewage drain system. It provides a column of air that maintains a neutral air density in the lines, and assures proper gravity flow out from the house. They are also called "stacks."
posted by Thorzdad at 2:25 PM on September 2, 2014

Response by poster: "They are open pipes that connect to your sewage drain system."

Whoa. Really? I thought they were for hot air relief in the attic, or something. Knowledge!

Terror: can _those_ clog? Then what happens?

~ ~ ~

"You don't say how old the house is, but many slabs were built with in-floor hydronic heating. "

Thankfully, I know enough to eliminate on of the horrors you folks are projecting my way. This one's a definite no. Phew.

~ ~ ~

All the others are still possible nightmares, though. Doesn't anyone have ideas that _aren't_ severely depressing?
posted by galadriel at 2:41 PM on September 2, 2014

The wall that has water damage at the very bottom, is it the uphill wall?
Do you have any white, powdery deposits on your concrete slab, in utility areas or under carpets?

"..and in heavy rain we get water washing up and pooling on the porch..."

If the water is overwhelming the soil drainage enough that you have water flowing over the edge of the slab onto the porch in heavy rain, you can be sure that it is also flowing under the slab.

I agree with Eyebrows McGee's assessment, and think that it is rainwater. Get that hole dug on the uphill side of your house, approximately 3 feet deep, and no closer than 3 feet to your slab, as close to the leaking place in the slab as you can. If water rises into the hole, you might have your culprit. Might only take a hole 2 feet deep :-(

Remediation is another hurdle, after proper diagnosis, and I'm not qualified to offer any advice. I've seen and implemented both sumps and french drains for basement water problems, relatively inexpensively.

You might also consider putting a gutter on that uphill side of your roof, and conveying the water "away". A half-inch-per-hour rainstorm on a thousand square feet of roof is 5 gallons a minute, and it's better if you don't dump it in a problem area.
posted by the Real Dan at 3:25 PM on September 2, 2014

Response by poster: "The wall that has water damage at the very bottom, is it the uphill wall?"

No, it's one of the narrow ends. And again, the puddle is sort of in the middle of the slab.

"Do you have any white, powdery deposits on your concrete slab, in utility areas or under carpets?"

Noooooo... never seen anything like that, actually. What would it be, if there was any? Would it make a difference that FL is insanely humid? What we usually get on slab outside is algae, and outside the house are the only areas where the slab can be seen. Inside is fully carpeted or tiled, no utility areas.

~ ~ ~

I'm a bit disturbed, you know; I've been assuming that the sugar sand/limerock, tendency toward sinkholes, and so on is why we never have standing water for more than a few hours--why we never have water on the ground, except in excessively heavy rainfall.

That the sand quickly leaching the water away and down is why I *don't* run into water when I have had reason to dig a hole, unlike the part of FL where I grew up (water about a foot down, that was interesting).

The barn [uphill from the house, if it matters, with the suggestion to "Get that hole dug on the uphill side of your house"] has a few areas where water can accumulate--the large sandpit the horses dug for napping, for example--and aside from the aforementioned times of very heavy rain, water goes into the ground, not along it; it may pool in places but it vanishes quickly; it doesn't leave puddles of standing water.

And it *is* humid, so it's not all evaporating away.

Not to mention that there has been drought for years, and S FL is taking a lot of N FL's water, so the water table in our region is known to be unusually low. We're even losing some of the springs.

I remember rain and puddles, from living elsewhere. Puddles that didn't vanish shortly after rainfall; puddles that accumulated and got worse; standing water that overflowed containment; all kinds of water that stuck around even after light rain. I'd never experienced rain where the ground got wet, but didn't leave the surface of the ground squishy or puddle-y, until we moved here.

So I rather thought that the ground here is happily sponging up water at the ground, sucking it down, and eventually feeding it to the water table. I wouldn't have thought that the ground here is a high-water-pressure area.

~ ~ ~

You guys are telling me that my leak suggests that water is coming up and not getting absorbed/dispersed the way I assumed, and if that's the case it means there are a lot more things I might need to change, in addition to the house repairs.

Like doing something about the places where water does accumulate near the barn, even if it's not there for long. I'm not sure what I *could* do. But if water might be a problem, instead of something that goes where it's supposed to go on its own, I should probably work on it.

~ ~ ~

The Spouse is home, and shortly we're going to pull up that carpet. Won't that be fun...
posted by galadriel at 4:28 PM on September 2, 2014

Please let us know what happens! Seriously, you should just call Cooperative Extension and/or the Geology Dept. and ask for help. How do you determine whether it is a new spring or a possible sinkhole. Somebody at one of those places should know, or they be able to point you to maps that might tell you something. Or try the US Geological Survey, they have a program/website for Florida called Water Resources of Florida. I did an internship at the USGS office in St. Pete years ago and the people were great.
posted by mareli at 5:47 AM on September 3, 2014

Response by poster: We pulled up the carpet around the original wet spot last night--thick, soggy carpet is really, really heavy, and cutting it was irrationally difficult. Fortunately the carpet pad just came up in chunks, so it wasn't nearly so bad.

There was nothing under there we could see but water.

(And really, really, REALLY vile carpet/carpet pad. Oooog.)

We're going to pull up the carpet all the way to the wall tonight, I guess. It's not as wet there, but it IS wet there, so we might find something. We're going to have to work out whether it's worse to cut it into smaller pieces or to try to move one bigger piece. Both were horrendous for two amateurs, one disabled.
posted by galadriel at 6:42 AM on September 3, 2014

From experience: smaller pieces make the job manageable. Large pieces of carpet, even if they're not waterlogged, are hell to move and I'm young and able-bodied. Just use a sharp knife and be careful, a gash down a thigh or arm is the last thing you need.

Please do keep us informed. I'm wondering if there has been some sort of failure of a vapor barrier underneath your slab. I recently had a slab leak (plumbing, not soil) that I repaired. It entailed me busting into, and actually through, the slab. I did hit some plastic material just above the sandy fill underneath the slab that made me think it was a vapor/moisture barrier. I was in Florida as well if that matters, but panhandle area.
posted by RolandOfEld at 6:57 AM on September 3, 2014

Response by poster: We've had a slab leak before; the jackhammering through the slab didn't go through any plastic layer. In two places, because the contractor recommended by my insurance company decided they could find the leak without doing any detection, even though the insurance company allocated money for the detection.

Could be a[nother] failure on the part of the builder, but it might be a newer development than this house (like wrapping a house) or might be something needed in a different part of FL...

I don't know right now, but will be seeing what we can find out tonight, then making calls tomorrow, probably. Has been added to my list of questions :)

Smaller pieces would certainly be easier to handle, but getting the carpet cut at all is just as hard--or harder--on my back than carrying a big piece. Last night I tried my oscillating multi-tool on the carpet and got nowhere trying to cut it, after my utility knife blade wasn't making much of a dent. We went back to the utility knife, but not happily. Tonight I may try the reciprocating saw...
posted by galadriel at 7:13 AM on September 3, 2014

Hook blades in your utility knife are your friend -- they'll go through the carpet like butter.
posted by liquado at 8:01 AM on September 3, 2014

Response by poster: Well.

We *found* it. We're pretty sure. There was a pinhole leak in the tubing where the water line connects to the fridge for the ice maker, so small that we couldn't see it looking straight at it (because hey, we did look all around the living room to see if there was anything else). There was also no water pooling on that side of the wall.

With the carpet up, we could see that there was a slight depression in the foundation along the area where the water was accumulating, so we think water coming in settled there. We're still not sure why it was surrounded by dry, but (shrug).

Also with the carpet up, we could see where water was entering the room. From the middle of the wrong wall. Not the wall with water damage in it. This wall is between the living room an the kitchen, the leak specifically opposite the refrigerator.

So we took a much closer look at the back of the refrigerator, and finally found the leak in the rubberish/plastic hosing. It was apparently so tiny and so powerful that it was shooting out from the hose, into/through/under the wall, and coming out on the other side of the wall without leaving ANY water traces at the refrigerator itself.

This, too, is old; it's probably the original 25-yr-old hose, and we'll replace it this evening. And, we hope, put an end to the Water Saga.

We turned it off last night and there was almost no water in the living room this morning. The on/off switch is very small and old as well, hard to operate, so we think we didn't get it turned all the way off, explaining the small amount of water today.

We speculate that:
1) we did have a coincidental leak in the A/C, and it is now fixed, and that explains some of the water and the water damage along that wall, and
2) perhaps pressurizing the pipes to search for a slab leak either caused or worsened this hose leak, because the amount of water has been increasing steadily since we first spotted the carpet puddle.
posted by galadriel at 8:55 AM on September 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

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