Well that's not good
November 1, 2015 9:15 PM   Subscribe

My washer on the second floor overflowed and water dripped through the ceiling to the first floor below. Now what? I'm concerned that the water went through the ceiling instead of staying on the second floor but what is even to be done about it? I'm vaguely concerned my house is falling apart.

To explain my washer set up: my second floor is carpeted except for a rectangle of linoleum where there's my dryer, a sink and piping where my washer water goes, and the washer. The washer and sink are on a plastic basin piece that is on top of the linoleum. (The dryer is on the linoleum not on the basin.) The carpeting and linoleum are separated by a metal strip.

The sink drain was clogged so the sink overflowed when the washer drained. The water went into the basin and then over the basin and underneath. I was downstairs and heard dripping. I looked up and saw a line (crack) in the ceiling with drips. I went upstairs and fixed the sink situation right away. I estimate there were maybe a few gallons of water on the floor. Nothing went over into the carpeted part.

The sink is plastic but is secured into the basin or maybe the actual floor somehow (?) with screws. I had somewhere to be, so I just did not have the time to try and remove the washer and sink and basin to get at the water underneath the basin. I mopped around it the best I could. The dripping on the first floor ceiling stopped not long after.

I'm disturbed that this is the direction the water took, but what does it even mean? Like what is wrong with the floor that is fixable? And is there damage from this incident that I need to repair? The house is old (1900 or so). It was remodeled about 10 years ago (not by me) and from what I've seen since buying it, the remodeling was done on the cheap. Some of it is falling apart already, and things were covered up rather than being fixed. In particular, the flooring, which is why I'm worried. The whole house was carpeted with some cheap tan carpet. I've pulled it up in spots to see what's underneath, and in some spots there's some painted planks and in other spots what looks like plywood (!) and on the first floor gaps where you can see straight down to the basement below (!!). So what do I do? Yikes! I don't even really know who to call or what to ask. Hello there, I think my house is falling apart?
posted by unannihilated to Home & Garden (9 answers total)
I would totally not expect the upstairs floor in a 100 year old house to be waterproof.

Most of the damage is probably going to be to the ceiling plaster that the water dripped through. It might mould. On the other hand, based on the amount of water that dripped through the ceiling plaster at my parents' old house from roof leaks over the years, you might end up with nothing worse than a bit of a water mark.
posted by flabdablet at 10:11 PM on November 1, 2015

You seem to be under the impression that floors are waterproof. They aren't. The water will seep into every nook and cranny you can find, and gravity being what it is, will drip down to the first floor.

As far as what to do about it, it sounds like you have other concerns about the house, so finding a reliable contractor is probably a good first step. Asking friends and neighbors for recommendations is often productive. While some painters may be able to repair the plaster without you needing a contractor, I'm paranoid about mold and would want someone to check it out. And if you bring in contractors to look at the water damage, you can also ask them about other things that are "falling apart" and decide what other repairs you want to address.
posted by zachlipton at 10:32 PM on November 1, 2015

Response by poster: Just want to quickly jump in and clarify my question: There really is not much water damage. The only thing I can see is a thin line (crack) in the ceiling about eight inches long. The area around the line is raised, as though it may have been patched before, but I'm not sure. Maybe it's from the water. I don't recall if it looked like that before or not.

Is it okay to just...do nothing? It feels strange to have had that happen and do no follow up, but other than patching that up (and do I have to get that patched up?) what would they really do? When you say that someone will "check it out," how do you check out a floor?
posted by unannihilated at 10:43 PM on November 1, 2015

Like what is wrong with the floor that is fixable?

There is absolutely nothing wrong with your floor. It behaved exactly as expected under gallons of water.

Other than patching that up (and do I have to get that patched up?) what would they really do?

You don't have to do anything. You can have the ceiling smoothed, patched and repainted if you'd like, but I'd leave it for a few weeks so it can dry before plastering. Otherwise, you can live with the crack. Having someone "look at it" means ripping out more of the ceiling to check the joists and tell you they're fine. This may make you feel better but will otherwise be a total waste of time and money.

You are weirded out because water fell from your ceiling but weird does not equal a crisis. Everything is fine.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:19 PM on November 1, 2015 [4 favorites]

It seems that most of the water you saw is most of the water that actually ran over. Floors of that time and age are made up of beams and planks; even if water has in fact the silly manner of running sideways along things in unpredictable ways and show up where you didn't expect it, it should (will) not get permanently trapped in a 1900-or-so floor, but run straight through.

The other good news is, the dry season (freezing outside, central heating inside) is almost upon you, and since the area between floor and ceiling isn't anything that usually gets damp, it will dry out and likely not get moldy.

In terms of what you should do, perhaps disassemble the basin setup as far as goes and wipe whatever dampness is left, and also get more religious about that drain. Otherwise you're very likely absolutely fine.

[...based on experience: we had a major leak in our 1900-or-so flat in Amsterdam (last paragraph here), and while it created a downpour and left brown stains, no mold formed and no permanent structural damage was done]
posted by Namlit at 1:16 AM on November 2, 2015

Also just to be perfectly clear: there's a big, big difference between a one-off flood like this, and an ongoing leak. If you've got a persistent roof leak or a pipe somewhere inside your walls with a pinhole in it, so that some part of your house is kept perpetually damp, then that part of your house will eventually rot; wood is, after all, only a vegetable. A one-time flood will generally dry up well before any real structural damage is done, though it will probably cause a bit of swelling and cracking in any plaster that got soaked.

The plaster in old houses is usually not the cardboard/plaster/cardboard sandwich of modern drywall, but will be a plaster/horsehair composite applied wet over wooden laths. That old-style plaster will still swell and crack if soaked, but usually retains enough structural integrity that once it's dry again all you generally need to do with it is apply a little surface filler, sand it back and repaint.
posted by flabdablet at 2:42 AM on November 2, 2015

This happened to a co-worker who had a washing machine overflow on the third floor of her house. Water ran down through the ceiling and the separate floors for three levels and unfortunately warped the wooden floors. She had to get them sanded and refinished.
posted by longdaysjourney at 6:46 AM on November 2, 2015

I guarantee this is not the first time your house has had a little leakage since it was built, whether from overflowing sinks, bathtubs, washtubs or a leak in the roof. The construction methods used in 1900 expected this and are pretty resilient to a bit of water. Let it dry out for a while, patch things up, and remember to keep your sink drain clean going forward.

Also, make sure the hoses you have connecting the washer to the water supply are not the cheap kind that come with the washer, but something more like these. Because unless you shut the water off every single time you finish washing, that hose can burst when you're not around, and that would mean some actual damage.
posted by beagle at 6:51 AM on November 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Looking more closely at the Amazon link I just put up, above ("something more like these"), there seems to be some controversy in the comments there as to whether it's a two-pack or a one-pack and whether the picture is the actual product. Anyway, the best bet is to go to an old fashioned hardware store where there are actual knowledgeable people to advise you, and to buy a good set of hoses there.
posted by beagle at 6:55 AM on November 2, 2015

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