What I'm Seeing Now

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A Slow Drip Of Water Can Be Torture

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

www.jaymarinspect.com


Comment balloon 16 commentsJay Markanich • July 11 2011 07:48AM

Comments

Makes sense.  Homeowners need to check for these things from time to time to save the big expense later.

Posted by Chuck Carstensen, Minnesota Real Estate Expert (RE/MAX Results) about 9 years ago

I am SUPER watchful for any type of moisture and water leaks....AC condensate lines are especially on my mind this time of the year!

Posted by Wallace S. Gibson, CPM, LandlordWhisperer (Gibson Management Group, Ltd.) about 9 years ago

Those little drops do ultimately take their toll and that little droplet now needs several hundreds of dollars to correct the problem

Posted by Ed Silva, Central CT Real Estate Broker Serving all equally (RE/MAX Professionals, CT 203-206-0754 ) about 9 years ago

You'd think he would have checked on this once or twice in the last decade Chuck!  It's right beside the washing machine!

AC condensate lines, and those little pump boxes, are a big deal now-a-days Wallace.

Ed - persistence, and gravity, work over time!  Without fail...

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 9 years ago

No they don't fix them selves Jay. Same thing happens with iron pipes and rust. I know an inspector who thinks this 'self sealing' feature is 'cool'. Maybe it is, but it's also going to leak again one day.

Posted by Robert Butler, Montreal Home Inspector | Aspect Inspection (Aspect Inspection) about 9 years ago

Robert - things atrophy with time and water pressure inside the pipe doesn't usually avoid that spot.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 9 years ago

Jay,

Such a good point. If it is an issue correct it. End of story.

We have a lot of galvanized plumbing here and the same thing happens. But just because it is not leaking now it will not be forever so you may want to have it fixed.

Posted by Donald Hester, NCW Home Inspections, LLC (NCW Home Inspections, LLC) about 9 years ago

Don - galvanized can't be in good shape now!  And if it isn't closed off with rust, it is still a problem!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 9 years ago

Hmmmm...that looks very familiar ;-).

Posted by Justin Dibbs, REALTOR® - Ashburn Virginia Homes for Sale (Pearson Smith Realty) about 9 years ago

My sentiments exactly Jay, fix the small problems and you will have fewer big problems

Posted by Chris Smith, South Simcoe, Caledon, King, Orangeville Real Esta (Re/Max Chay Realty Inc., Brokerage) about 9 years ago

Should it Justin?  There will be three posts about that inspection!  You will appear, perhaps sooner than later!

Chris - that's the obvious.  This is deferred maintenance, pure and simple.  The house was a study in deferred maintenance!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 9 years ago

Jay:  When a water heater goes, it's not pretty. Spend the money and replace it correctly!

Posted by Anne M. Costello (Weidel Realtors) about 9 years ago

I agree Anne, but that is something that I don't get involved in!  Just observe and report!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 9 years ago

Jay,

Real torture to me is that one mosquito that I hear in the room after the lights go out. He or she always nails me.

Posted by Steven L. Smith, Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House Home Inspection, Inc.) about 9 years ago

Mr Jay,

You was bragging to the boss about your Beetles collection. Mr Charles told me that you were so old when they came out, you was 50+, that you could not digs them. My families had clothes ties to the boys. But they was younger backs then than you.

Posted by Steven L. Smith, Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House Home Inspection, Inc.) about 9 years ago

Steve - you get plagued by that one too?  On the forehead?

Nutsy - no brag, just fact.  Mr. Charles would have no idea if I was 50+ or 50- when the Beatles showed up.  My grandmother was 70+ though!  Since the Beatles are so much younger than I, you should recognize the incredible shape I am in!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 9 years ago

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