We have all heard the stories of the slow drip of water onto someone's forehead that eventually drives the person nuts, and then to death. I don't know how true it is, but if there is a torture that works well mankind will find a way to employ it.
We also know about how over time water can smooth rocks, displace millions of tons of earth and create canyons, even a really grand, Grand Canyon. Even a drop of water over time will do damage. And a slow drip of water can be torture.
How about the teensiest of a drop that happens probably less frequent than once an hour?
I didn't stop to count how many drops happened during the half hour or so I was in this furnace/laundry room. But it stayed pretty much like this the entire time.
This is called a "pin-hole leak." It is caused by an improperly "sweated" joint. Plumbers seal joints together, called sweating, by cleaning both ends, gooping on some flux (which draws the soldering liquid into the joint), heating it dramatically to melt the soldering compound and touching the spot.
If the hole is small enough, and the water hard with mineral content, the minerals do in fact accumulate enough to eventually clog the small pin-hole opening.
When I see these on home inspections, and there is no leak, it is identified as a possible leak source.
SOME PEOPLE THINK THAT BECAUSE THE MINERALS HAVE BUILT UP AND THE LEAK STOPPED THAT IT WILL ALWAYS BE STOPPED. NOT SO!
When they do open up and begin dripping again, even really, really slowly, the party really begins.
Given the age of the house, this is probably the third water heater.
It has been here over a decade.
The joint above is right over the water heater, obviously, so it was probably created and sweated when this water heater was installed.
Perhaps it looked to the plumber like it would not leak. And maybe it didn't for a couple of years.
BUT LEAKS ALWAYS HAPPEN BECAUSE OF AN IMPROPERLY SWEATED JOINT.
A properly-sweated copper joint ideally lasts forever. There are ways it might break down, but that's not the point here.
But look at the mineral content in the water! The build up, the rust, and the damage! I expect this leak has been happening for a very long time.
Now, I could have just published this little cropped spot of the photo, and did one of those "What Is It?" posts.
Everyone would have guessed. At the end I could have said it was a Hubble photograph of the surface of Mars near a crater and new evidence of ice and flowing water. Real science! Isn't it cool what the Hubble can do!?
You might have bought it too!
But alas. It's nothing as exotic as that. It's simply a trashed water heater that has been tortured by the infamous water drop on the forehead.
My recommendations: small problems usually become bigger problems. Once something starts, it usually doesn't reverse itself and stop. Even so with a really small drop of water. Eventually damage will result. It's always best to nip the problem when it is young.
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC
Based in Bristow, serving all of Northern Virginia.
Office (703) 330-6388 Cell (703) 585-7560