Plumbing can present many challenges #733

#733 in a series of true experiences in real estate

A few days ago the grout people who renew tile so very well were at our new listing working in both bathroom and kitchen. The bathroom sink faucet was dripping when they arrived so they turned the water off under the sink. The owner turned it back on later and nothing happened: no water at all, not hot, not cold.

Anet went to look at the situation. She tried the turn-offs under the sink, then called the grout people to be sure they hadn’t done anything more than turn those handles. They hadn’t, plus the water everywhere else in the house, including the shower, was fine. It just seemed so odd that there was neither hot or cold coming through, not even a drop.

Anet says that houses cry when their owners leave them, which might be true. We’ve certainly found that many sinks in empty houses suddenly develop leaks. Usually it’s under sinks that we see leaks but in this case unscrewing the aerator on the faucet told the story. The teeny holes in the aerator were clogged so completely that no water could get through. And that reminded us that when the water is shut off, then back on, (especially at the main), small particles in the pipes can rush to the aerators and stop. We’ve experienced this before. Sometimes it’s enough to just rinse off the aerator and it’s fixed; other times, a new aerator is needed.

We put on a new aerator and, to stop the drip, a new washer in one faucet, and now all is well.

Meanwhile in the same house, the flow from the hot water at the kitchen sink was slower than the cold. Suspecting sediment as the cause, Anet tried cleaning the aerator but that wasn’t it. Then, using a lightweight hammer, she tapped the pipes under the sink at the valves, and this action did it! We guess the sediment was blocking the hot but tapping moved things along, and now hot and cold water flows fairly evenly.

Twice that I remember, we’ve had phone calls about plumbing emergencies at houses being prepped for market. Both involved toilets overflowing with water moving toward hardwood floors. The first time, by perfect coincidence, we were in the Berkeley hills within a short distance of the house, and even better, so were our sewer guys. All of us quickly drove to the house where a woman setting up an estate sale had been working.

The eruption had been spontaneous. Water was still spewing upstairs on the bath floor and spreading to the hall, also downstairs in the basement at the laundry sink. Diagnosis: Sewer line was plugged. The sewer people rooted the line to stem the flow and returned later to replace the pipes.

The other time, at another listing, two toilets overflowed at once, one upstairs, one down; water was all over the place. It started upstairs with a blockage (a paper towel flushed by a guest) and continued down to the first floor toilet. We got a frantic phone call, as it happened, from the same estate sale woman. She tried shutting off the water at the toilets but at least one did not have a shut-off and she did not know where to turn off water to the whole house.

Sewer guys were not available and it didn’t involve the exterior line anyway. This problem was in the inside pipe connecting both toilets. But we found a plumber who was there within an hour and he broke through the blockage. A lot of mopping of floors and sweeping of water out the back door followed.

Sometimes, although there has not been a history of difficulties, the sewer will back up, especially, it seems, when the house has been lived in by only one person for a lot of years, then a family of four moves in and there is a big increase in flushes. Or someone uses the toilet differently. Once we had to replace a toilet because repeatedly-flushed dental floss had become entangled in such a way as to render the toilet not repairable.

At my own house I got along with my old sewer line for a long time before finally having it replaced. It’s a complicated line laid in a couple of directions and I’d been told the first time I had standing water in the shower and bathtubs that it had sagged in spots. Those spots were unfortunately in the pipes under my kitchen patio. Replacement would be expensive and would involve removing thick, old concrete.

For maybe 6 years, I had the line high-pressure water blasted once a year and that pretty well prevented stop-up problems. But it became difficult to find a company to do the water blasting for a moderate price, and so the next time I found I was standing in ankle-deep water in the shower, I had the sewer line replaced. A thoughtful sewer man figured out a way to leave my patio concrete undisturbed.

But of all the things I wanted to spend money on, this was not one. It just isn’t satisfying to have to pay for something you never see. So much more fun to pay for painting or tree trimming.

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