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One plumbing leak inside home - now do I need to replace ALL the pipes?

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  • One plumbing leak inside home - now do I need to replace ALL the pipes?

    For reference, here in South Florida, water plumbing is not laid under the house in the ground: instead, the pipes go up into the attic and are distributed on the rafters to different bathrooms/kitchen where they drop down the walls. (that’s for single-story homes; not sure about multiple floors). Then the insulation is laid over the pipes, burying the pipes.

    Our home is 15 years old. Two weeks ago water started leaking heavily in our small bedroom from the ceiling, enough to fill a small trash can in an hour.

    Plumber comes in immediately, cuts openings in the ceiling and adjoining wall and repairs the leak (cuts out and replaces a 2-feet piece of the copper pipe). He claims bad pipes were used – shows me green color patches on the pipe as sign of ‘rust’. He says I should replace all the pipes, over the entire home, at least the part in the attic (not in the walls), and gives me an estimate for that job : $4k. (which will not be covered by insurance).

    He also calls in a partnering ‘water damage clean’ firm for me, who come in same evening, take a look, and say they need to dry the room with fans and heat, and advise me that the drywall of room walls and ceiling should be replaced to avoid mold. The drying operation takes 3 days. Insurance assessor comes in to check, seems to think it was not as major a damage as claimed, but still approves around $3k for the entire reconstruction of replacing a wall, ceiling and the insulation.

    But yesterday, a drywall contractor comes in, and pooh-poohs all that doom-and-gloom. He tells me that I don’t really need to replace the entire wall/ceiling. He says there’s no sign of mold (which is what I have been feeling), and he can just repair the area that has the holes cut open. He feels the plumber and the water-damage guys overstated their case just to inflate their bills.

    So now I have two questions –
    1. Can I do limited repair of the drywalls instead of whole-sale replacement? I intend to spray the insides with a mold-killer like Concrobium Fungicide from HD, just for peace of mind. Even if some of the drywall was soaked that day, it did dry for 3 days, and I do intend to remove/replace the entire panel surrounding that hole, but just not the whole wall.
    2. Is replacing all the copper pipes (with ‘better quality pipes’) at all warranted? Since I don’t know why it suddenly leaked now, I dunno if any more leaks could happen, so there’s a bit of nervousness. Is there a way to check? I examined the pipe that was cut out - the hole was at a joint, causing a very tiny but steady stream of water.
      (A neighbor had a much bigger problem couple of years ago – a leak took out her bedroom, followed by another leak in another room. Cost her insurance $40k, so they dropped her policy and she just sold the house in frustration. And since it’s the same constructor for my home, it adds to my nervousness)
    It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.
    - Aristotle

  • #2
    Quick answer from a homeowner with some experience... and, my Dad was a plumber and I worked with him for a few years. YES on the partial replacement of drywall, and NO, replacement of all the copper piping is totally unnecessary!

    First off, mold grows and exists only when dampness is present. That of course can be high humidity as well as moisture from leaking pipes, poor rain protection, and/or flooding. Being in Florida would probably be worse than living here in NY, but I've got to tell you we have terrifically humid summers.

    If you house is airconditioned and/or you use a dehumidifier you probably keep the humidity as low as possible already; and, that being the case, my main concern would be to remove the damaged area and continue as you planned with the fungicide IF you really think that is necessary... Did that leak spread everywhere throughout the ceiling and walls? If not I wouldn't worry about it, and you say it dried within three days.

    Regarding the pipe itself, sounds to me like the original installer did a lousy solder job at the one joint and that is all. Did you look at the pipe they removed? If so, did you see any perforations or other signs of leaking, corrosion, lack of integrity to the pipe wall?

    Finding 'green' doesn't tell me much except that you may have some oxidation caused my humidity. Copper doesn't rust, but green oxidation does happen. Main thing to see is if the "green" looks new or is it thick and moist and flaky looking? Can you easily rub off the flakes? I've got a couple green spots on my copper, but they are think and old looking, no thickness to them at all and they are bone dry.

    Personally, it sounds like the original repair guy was trying to rip you off. $4K???? Wow, I can't imagine!. Copper doesn't cost that much and is fairly easy to install. In many place they use plastic or the newer PEX stuff which is even easier to install. Much depends on you local building codes however.

    I'd ask for some other opinions, and hopefully you find someone who is more realistic and doesn't need to make a career out of your needs.

    Think it Through Before You Do!


    • #3
      Wow, that's a lot of good info, thanks!

      I did take a look at the ceiling on that day, and found it wet only within a certain radius, and all that drywall will get replaced - its not a large area. And yes, the drying was complete - because afterwards, they showed me their moisture-meter and the reading from their heat-tracing gun. The guy yesterday pointed out that the metal studs/joists visible to us are all shiny and have no sign of rust on them which would have happened with even a little bit of long-standing moisture.

      I still have the removed pipe; I carefully filled it with water while holding in my hand, and it had just that one leak. The worse I could say of it is that maybe the soldering was not all that neat, but seems integrally sound otherwise.

      Yeah, I am going to ask a couple of other plumbers for estimates and opinions. That day it was an emergency so I was relieved to get the repair in, but I want the long-term plan to be deliberate and well-planned.

      It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.
      - Aristotle


      • #4
        Good luck with your repair job and any inspections you have done. It's a sad thing when we have house problems and somebody tries to take advantage of you.

        Right after we purchased this old house (built in 1887) we notice the flat roof on the back was in only fair shape and we had a new 'membrane' roof put on. That area is right off the third floor walk-up attic and I had had a large window put there at the top of the attic stair case, mostly to provide some additional light to the attic's main room. So, the guys put the rubber membrane down and it looked great from that window so I thought everything was okay. BUT a few weeks later we got a very heavy rain and to my great shock and concern we had water heavily dripping into the second floor library. I mean it was really coming in!

        We had just put in new hardwood floors in the library and had the whole room repainted, including the ceiling of course. I called the roofer immediately, but it was late evening and he couldn't get there until the next afternoon, as it was still raining heavily the next morning. I was NOT a happy camper, to put it politely.

        So, that night on discovering the leakage, I first grabbed a bucket, a mop, a tarp and my cordless drill... first drilling a half-inch hole in the area where the leak was.... that at least gave it a single drain point rather than spreading across the ceiling. With the 5-gal bucket directly below, that contained the pour (I had to change it at least three times). So, I mopped up the spatter, and was fortunate in that I had not yet built and populated the bookcases in that particular area yet.

        I also went up to the attic and searched for the exact point of the leak; it was where the main roof sloped down and joined with the flat roof that ran across the back of the house (that flat roof area was added sometime around the 1930's when an addition was added across the back of the original structure. Next day, I discovered that the roofer, when laying down the membrane, did not properly tuck it under the shingles and flash of the slope and because he did not, it acted more like a funnel to bring the rainwater into the attic floor area and of course through the library ceiling.

        He fixed the roof but gave me a hard time about the ceiling and refused to do that, saying that my drilled hole was the only damage! I kissed him off and filed a complaint against him, but of course that didn't do anything except settle my own conscience.

        So, about the ceiling I simply dried it all out. With the summer day, it dried quickly and the plaster and lath behind the drywall looked okay from the attic floor and from the library ceiling I had no blistering of the paper sheath. I left it alone for a few days and then 'mudded' the area and repainted. We caught the leak well before the floor could be damaged and between the wet vac and some old rags that cleaned up spotlessly.

        On the plumbing issue, a number of years ago (like back in the 70's, we had purchased a home in Painted Post where I worked at the time. I had all of the plumbing redone in that home. The old plumbing was galvanized iron and there we have a terrible problem with iron oxide in the water system. It literally plugs up the pipes and almost looks like black tar. It collects in the pipes, in the toilet tank and everywhere it sits for any period. You certainly don't drink the water there! So, I had everything replaced with pvc at the time, dug up the yard (by hand... six feet deep) as the guy with the back-hoe wanted $3K to do it. I had the village replace the service to the house with copper and hired a plumber to put in a new valve after the water meter. Well, about a year later, I went down stairs and notice the floor was all wet.... poor solder job had finally given way and, much like you, I had a pretty decent leak. Water was squirting about four foot out onto the floor. I shut off the water (fortunately the leak was on the outlet side of the valve) and I had the guy come back and re-solder the connection.

        The point is that such joints can look perfectly fine and stay so for awhile... but if not done properly they can eventually leak. I do think that is pretty rare though. I've owned three homes in my 75 years, and the leak in Painted Post has been my only solder "leak" experience!


        Think it Through Before You Do!


        • #5
          That is some experiences you have collected! But it clarifies so many things for me, thanks!
          It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.
          - Aristotle