What I'm Seeing Now

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When Is A Drain Leak Not A Drain Leak? Well, When It's A Wall Leak.

So, when is a drain leak not a drain leak?  Well, when it's a wall leak.

I was called to investigate a drain leak.  In addition to other things.  But this one was a biggie to this homeowner.

The floor outside the master bathroom shower, a bamboo floor, was staining, bulging a bit, and decidedly wet after showers.

Indeed, the floor did register over 30% moisture on the moisture meter.

The colored gauge indicates wood moisture.  Wood is considered saturated at 28% moisture, so the gauge only goes to 30%.  When the needle jumps to 30%, as it did in this case, the moisture content is higher.   And we know the wood is saturated.

However, the wall registered 100% moisture too!

Starting about 18" off the floor the wall registered moisture only in a particular area.

On this meter the white gauge measures drywall moisture content.

You can see that the needle has jumped to 100%, so the wall is wet as well.

This photo shows the shower in question.  The wall and floor measured above are just outside this location.

The homeowner had removed the drain cover so I could see it.

But if the drain is leaking, why would the wall be so wet?

That didn't follow.

I was very suspicious of the shelf though.

And looking at it carefully the edges had all been grouted and the grout was full of cracking.

It was cracking everywhere.

These folks have only lived in this new house for five months.  They did not have a pre-drywall inspection or a final as the builder convinced them that with so many inspections they would be wasting their money.

The shelf is definitely suspect.

So, how do we determine if my suspicions are correct?

We break out Mighty Mo!

So I had my client run the hot water for only about 2 minutes.  She directed the hand-held shower head right at the wall above the shelf and the shelf itself.

With the thermal camera looking at the spot on the wall where the moisture meter began to register such high moisture content, we can clearly see the shelf on the wall.

And we can clearly see where water is seeping through the cracking and making its way down the wall.  From there it gets out and under the bedroom flooring just outside the shower wall.

Easy peasy.

My recommendation:  thermal cameras can reveal things otherwise undetected.  In this case we knew there was moisture getting onto the wall and flooring.  But we could not see exactly why.  A thermal image makes it abundantly clear.  That's just 2 minutes of moisture driven onto the wall.  Imagine what happens during a shower!  So, when is a drain leak not a drain leak?  Well, when it's a wall leak.

 

 

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 38 commentsJay Markanich • May 23 2015 02:51AM

Comments

Good morning Jay.  Looks like you've solved another mystery.  Another good reason why every home needs to be inspected prior to purchase.

Posted by James Dray, Exceptional Agents, Outstanding Results (Fathom Realty AR LLC) over 3 years ago

This is a real problem house James, and the builder has disappeared!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 3 years ago

It all needs to be investigated.  When it comes to plumbing, you just never know!!!

Posted by Sham Reddy, CRS (H E R Realty, Dayton, OH) over 3 years ago

What do you do if the COLD water is the culprit?

Posted by Sam Shueh, mba, cdpe, reopro, pe ( (408) 425-1601) over 3 years ago

I have to agree usually hot water valve, seal breakdown quicker. 

Last leaky valve is from the brand new bath room installed last September. The O-ring has a crack after just 8 months.

Posted by Sam Shueh, mba, cdpe, reopro, pe ( (408) 425-1601) over 3 years ago

I had an odd one like this that required thermal imaging. We found that when the house was built a nail was hammered into the pipe and it took a few years for the nail to deteriorate and the leak to start. Glad you have the ability to find the unusual.

Posted by Joe Pryor, REALTOR® - Oklahoma Investment Properties (The Virtual Real Estate Team) over 3 years ago

One thing you should not hurry is plumbing...it pays back when done wrong

Posted by Richie Alan Naggar, agent & author (people first...then business Ran Right Realty ) over 3 years ago

Very interesting sleuth work, Jay!  Thanks for the insight about wood saturation, too.

Posted by Brian Schulman, Lancaster County PA RealEstate Expert 717-951-5552 (Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, Lancaster PA) over 3 years ago

I wonder if an inspection during construction would have caught the issue and saved everyone a lot of headache and money. What a shame they did not do one.

Posted by Mike McCann - Nebraska Farm Land Broker, Farm Land For Sale 308-627-3700 or 800-241-3940 (Mike McCann - Broker, Farmland Broker-Auctioneer Serving Rural Nebraska) over 3 years ago

Jay, we are fortunate that you inspectors now have the tools such as thermal cameras to reveal hidden problems.

Posted by Olga Simoncelli, CONSULTANT, Real Estate Services & Risk Management (Veritas Prime, LLC dba Veritas Prime Real Estate) over 3 years ago

Really smart and I certainly hope you were able to let her know how much money you saved her by being so smart and having the right tools.  I am sure that there are a few guys out there who would have told her she needed to remove the entire shower.

Posted by Susan Nealey, No Pressure! Ever! (Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage) over 3 years ago

Most of the contractors are in such hurry to slap pieces together. The owner need to test them out before warranty expires.  I also feel these HD,LOWES plumbing is made of junk.  Faucet, valve develops leaks after 1 year or so. These are not cheapie price also....

Posted by Sam Shueh, mba, cdpe, reopro, pe ( (408) 425-1601) over 3 years ago

Jay Markanich Anything is possible when you have the right tools. Without them, determination of the origin of the leak could have been disastrous. Hope the new home builder makes it right for these folks. Thanks!

Posted by Sandy Padula and Norm Padula, JD, GRI, Presence, Persistence & Perseverance (Realty National) over 3 years ago

Famous last words of a new home builder's SALES person.

"You don't need a home inspection.  The county will do it for you."

Posted by Lenn Harley, Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland (Lenn Harley, Homefinders.com, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate) over 3 years ago

This isn't really plumbing Sham.  It's wall and ceramic tile installation.  Improper all around

Sam - hot or cold the water will leak.  I used hot water for the test so it would show up more easily in a thermal image.  The O-ring cracked so quickly because it was a cheap fixture.

This was a pretty clear find Joe.  Where nails can be a problem a plate or the wall stud is supposed to protect plumbing inside the wall.

Richie - in another bathroom I could see they used the wrong wall board.  That is another of the problems here I bet.  But I could not see what they used in this bathroom.

Brian - that's why moisture levels are so important when you refinish wood furniture.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 3 years ago

Mike - they used the wrong wall board in another bathroom.  That would not have been caught pre-drywall.  The county is supposed to check that.  But the finish work in the ceramic tile I would have caught on a final inspection.

Olga - not many inspectors have that tool!  I think it's the sharpest arrow in my quiver.

As a first step Susan!  How do you spell ca-ching?

Builders are in a hurry Sam.  And so many sub-contractors are not professionals.  And so much stuff is so cheap now, but you are right, the price is not!

S&N - unfortunately in this case the builder has disappeared.  They hired me to get an idea of what they are in for having to fix.

Lenn - I hear that so often it is disgusting.  Of course a builder would not want an objective set of eyes on the project!

 

 

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 3 years ago

Mighty Mo is a great tool to have, I will ask my home inspector if he has them for his crew!

Posted by Evelyn Johnston, The People You Know, Like and Trust! (Friends & Neighbors Real Estate) over 3 years ago

What do you do if it's tepid water? I'm guessing Mr. Builder will be fixing this baby before their one year is up!

Posted by Fred Hernden, CMI, Albuquerque area Master Inspector (Superior Home Inspections - Greater Albuquerque Area) over 3 years ago

Evelyn - them is really expensive!  The training for them is really expensive!  The understanding of how to use them effectively takes a long time!  But hopefully they have done all that!

Fred - I used hot water simply so the image would be more pronounced.  Cold water causes just as much of a leak though!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 3 years ago

I am always leery about putting in these alcoves in the walls Jay, they are much more likely to leak.

Missed ya, good to see you back my friend.

Posted by Tom Arstingstall, General Contractor, Dry Rot, Water Damage Sacramento, El Dorado County - (916) 765-5366, General Contractor, Dry Rot and Water Damage (Dry Rot and Water Damage www.tromlerconstruction.com Mobile - 916-765-5366) over 3 years ago

They have to be right Tom.  I am recovering slowly.  The second surgery (unexpected) really knocked me for a loop.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 3 years ago

What a fantastic piece of equipment and great job in locating the problem. Just because it's a new build doesn't mean it was built well. Always get an inspection no matter what!

Posted by Nicole Doty - Gilbert Real Estate Expert, Broker/Owner of Zion Realty ZionRealtyAZ.com (Zion Realty) over 3 years ago

Thanks Nicole.  The thermal camera really makes the wall come alive.  New builds so often have really serious problems.  This one surely did.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 3 years ago

Jay- three little words.... get an inspection!  Your smiling face has been missed. 

Posted by Kathy Streib, Home Stager - Palm Beach County,FL -561-914-6224 (Room Service Home Staging) over 3 years ago

Thanks Kathy.  I'm recovering.  It's a long row to hoe.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 3 years ago

New home says builder warranty to me. Shoddy construction happens everywhere. Always inspect property whether new or old.

Posted by Bill Reddington, Destin Florida Real Estate (Re/max Southern Realty) over 3 years ago

Jay - This is exactly why homeowners need good home inspectors like you. Finding exactly where a water leak is coming from can sometimes be very difficult.

Posted by Troy Erickson, Your Chandler, Ahwatukee, and East Valley Realtor (Diverse Solutions Realty www.ChandlerRealEstate.weebly.com) over 3 years ago

Usually Bill.  In this case, the builder has disappeared!  I was hired to give them an idea of what they are in for in terms of what needs repairs.

Water is difficult Troy.  Fortunately, sometimes, the thermal camera can identify exactly what is up.  Like in this post.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 3 years ago

So glad to see you back, Jay, and glad to hear you are recovering, no matter how long it takes...it sure beats the alternative.

Posted by Susan Haughton, Susan & Mindy Team...Honesty. Integrity. Results. (Long and Foster REALTORS (703) 470-4545) over 3 years ago

Thank you Susan.  Like a fine roast, some things can't be rushed...

Bad analogy?  Rump roast, butt shank?  At least I'm well seasoned.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 3 years ago

Jays back---hard to keep a good man down as they say.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 3 years ago

Everyone has been very helpful to me Charlie.  My clients carry my ladder, and this client held the moisture meter in various locations so I could photograph it!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 3 years ago

Glad you're back Jay. I missed your posts. 

On a side note, I just ordered a thermal camera. Lost a job a few weeks ago to a competitor, and thermal was the reason. After I get it, I need to call you about how to monetize this great tool. Would that be OK? Haven't done any training yet, but will be very soon. Stay healthy. 

Posted by Scott Seaton Jr. Bourbonnais Kankakee IL Home Inspector, The Home Inspector With a Heart! (SLS Home Inspections-Bradley Bourbonnais Kankakee Manteno) over 3 years ago

I'm getting better Scott, but it is slow.  I have to be gentle.

As to the camera, when I bought mine in 2002 (it was $15K then) my wife asked me if I would be able to make any money with the thing!  I was honest and said I didn't know, but thought so because nobody else did it.  Still, few do.

Call anytime.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 3 years ago

Jay - This is certainly not something that a homeowner would watn to find.

Posted by Christine Donovan, Broker/Attorney 714-319-9751 DRE01267479 - Costa M (Donovan Blatt Realty) over 3 years ago

They already knew they had it Christine.  They thought it was something else.  Actually, as a wall problem it may be an easier fix than if it was a drain problem!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 3 years ago

Jay,

Welcome back, I've missed your informative posts.

Nice catch with the thermal camera.  So the water worked it's way under the shower and was soaked up by the bamboo flooring causing the expansion.  Interesting, without Mighty Mo to prove it, I wouldn't have believed it.

 

Posted by Stephen Weakley (Nationwide Mortgage Services) over 3 years ago

Thanks Stephen.  I'm recovering.  The thermal camera gives definitive information.  It's a great tool.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 3 years ago

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