Tuesday, March 1, 2011

It Started With a Little Pinhole

One of the harsh realities of living in an old house is this ...  other people have lived here, 163 years worth of people in our case, and some of the things these people did while working on the house were stupid.

Yesterday afternoon, a pipe in the wall of our basement workshop sprang a leak.  Fortunately, The Husband heard it, as the stream of water was spewing from the pipe onto the basement floor.  Please forgive me for beginning the photos of this adventure somewhere in the middle ... we were too busy scurrying around and sopping up water to fully document the beginning of this story

Here is the offending pipe.  When this process started, the pipe was buried underneath a layer of plaster and metal lath.  We had to demo all of this to get to the pipe.  (After we shut off the water to the house to help stem the spewing.)

The arrow marks the hole in the pipe.

The hole was caused by a stupid mistake made by a plumber 40 years ago.  He must have run out of copper pipe brackets (the ones used to secure the pipe to the wall) and he used one made out of another metal in this spot.  Since that time, the dissimilar metals have been cooking some sort of chemistry experiment in this spot, wearing away the copper until a hole formed.  If this hadn't been really thick old-school copper pipe, the hole probably would have taken a lot less than 40 years to develop.  Look at how the bracket is all corroded and barely recognizable.

Anyway, we had demo work to do to expose this pipe.  There were three layers of plaster on this wall.  The first two layers, the original lime plaster over the brick walls and another layer of plaster installed when the kitchen was brought into the house and plumbing was installed in the 1930s or 40s, weren't a problem.  The topmost layer of plaster, and two layers of wire lath installed when the house was remodeled in the 1960s, embedded the pipes into the wall and made it very difficult to access the pipe.

We had already removed the plaster on the wall below the level of the pipes last year when we took out the remnants of the basement kitchen to convert the room into a workshop.  What was left at that time was the difficult part of the job, removing the plaster around the pipes, so we decided to do it another time.  (To see photos of what the room looked like at that point, click HERE.)
Hopefully, this little diagram helps you understand what I'm talking about.

 In order to expose the pipe, it took me about two hours with a hammer and a flat bar, chipping and prying plaster and wire lath off the top of the wall and the edge of the ceiling.  It took me so long, because I had to work very carefully around all of the other pipes.  After I finished, the floor looked like this.

Towels to sop up the puddle, a bucket to catch the spewing, and lots of plaster debris.

With the pipe right against the brick wall like it is, we couldn't use a regular tubing cutter to cut the pipe.  Couldn't use a reciprocating saw either, because the other pipes are too close to the one we needed to cut.  Sometimes when working on an old house, it's important to think outside the box ... so The Husband cut the pipe with our trusty Dremel tool.

I'm standing below, spot-lighting the area so he can see what he's doing.

We had to cut out a seven-foot section of the pipe, because there was one other spot on it that looked a bit questionable.

It would have been really difficult to do a traditional fix on this pipe (sweating on copper coupler fittings), because the pipe is right against the brick wall.  This is where technology came to our rescue, in the form of the most wonderful press-in-place fittings, called 'sharks'. 

We cut the new piece of pipe to fit, and used a 'shark' on each end to patch it into place.

Left side.

Right side.

And now we have  nice new run of bright, shiny, and hole-free water pipe!!

All that was left for us to do was to turn the water back on, pray our fittings didn't leak (they didn't!!), and sweep up the mess.

I checked numerous times during the day today, and The Husband did too, and everything has remained completely dry. 


  1. Isn't that the most helpless feeling? Water going every which a way and your blood pressure rising by the second. Glad you got it fixed!

  2. We had a similar situation this past summer, only our 94 year old house is a whipper snapper compared to yours. We kept having a circuit breaker trip which we would reset. One day we reset it and a loud electrical buzz and foul smell soon followed. We called a professional and they spent 4 hours crawling through the house determining that some lazy HVAC person had been at work here years ago. Rather than reroute a metal coated electical cable out of the way of new duct work, he just stretched it over the aluminum. Over the years they corroded each other until they were sparking in our attic. We were so lucky.

    (BTW, I hope you will participate in my Winter Walk Off)

  3. Oh the joys of an older home! Glad it is fixed. I know about old pipes (40 plus on our plumbing here).

  4. Not to cause you sleepless nights, but I wonder how many more of those unmatched brackets lurk under your plaster....

  5. Wow! Sounds like it was quite a job! Thankfully you caught it early and avoided an even bigger mess! And hopefully, you didn't have any other plans that day!

    Glad you were able to get it fixed and with no leaks!

  6. Lucky you that you could fix it. I live with a plumber, so no worries here.

  7. So glad you were home when the pipe decided to start leaking! What a job, but you knew just how to fix the leak. Hopefully the rest of the brackets are okay-

  8. Speaking of people who came before, the previous owner/builder put the vapor barrier on the bottom of the floor joists instead of on the top, directly under the plywood. So when rain came in under the door sill (poorly installed threshold), the water collected in the "troughs" between the joists for who knows how long. Upon arriving one weekend we noticed the floor was soft and bouncy. Removing the plywood floor was double difficult, because the super efficient builder screwed together 2 sheets of 3/4-inch plywood to make the floor. This made for a beautiful weekend at our river getaway house. So we know your pain. May I add that husbands are great to have around.

  9. Connie- you two are amazing. We would have hired a plumber after shutting the water off. Well done.

  10. Wow, very frightening. Glad you weren't also standing in a mess of wiring.

  11. Ugh, how awful for you. I'm so glad that you noticed so quickly.

    I love the thought of you shining the torch for your husband and taking photos for your blog at the same time.

    It almost makes mishaps worthwhile if they're bloggable, I find!!


  12. Ugh- What a drag! We had to replace some copper pipes when we redid the girls bathroom and wow - what a pain! And ours were fully accessible - I can't even imagine what you guys had to go through!!

  13. Connie,You were lucky,you were at home.The couple that bought my boss's home at LOW,were out of the country for several months when a pipe fitting broke in the upstairs bathroom.The water ran for nearly a month,no one home.The meter reader noticed the large water usage and was able to contact someone.the end result,the house was declared uninhabitable.Not far from me.+

  14. Just discovered your blog and love it! We live in an old (1920s) broken down beach house on Cape Cod, not as old as your house obviously, but still old enough to spring a leak here and there, so I can sympathize! I also love your greyhound commitment -- we literally just lost a greyhound to bone cancer on February 14th, so it is an issue that hits close to home for me... Thank you for what you do in that regard!

  15. MG, dear, you didn't leave your email, and I hope you see this. Please accept my sympathy at the loss of your greyhound. Bone cancer sucks, and I am very sorry that it has touched your family. Will you please email me a photo of your hound ... it would be an honor for us to include it on our memorial page?

  16. Nothing worse than springing a leak and having water damage. You were lucky that your husband heard the leak as it sprung. Looks like a great repair! Well done.


  17. Wow! I just read this. I'm so glad you guys found this before it became a big problem, but what a pain! Glad it's not leaking any more!

    Kat :)


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