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November 16, 2015
BPI staff member, Meghan McCormick, tells the story of how a small pipe leak caused a large water leakage issue that took longer than expected to resolve.
After a day away from our apartment my family returned to find the wallpaper in our bathroom was bubbled out like a water balloon. Since it was late and we didn’t see any other damage we waited until morning to call maintenance. In the morning the bubble of water was gone and the wallpaper was wrinkled from having expanded. Now there were water spots on the ceiling above the bathtub, on the ceiling and wall in our closet and the carpet in the closet was wet. Over the course of an hour the water spot on the closet ceiling tripled in size as I left many messages for maintenance expressing the urgency. I frantically pulled everything out of our closet as water started to drip from the light bulb socket. I feared the ceiling might collapse.
Naturally this happened on a holiday—Labor Day—so no one was working at the complex. It took two and a half hours for maintenance to arrive. After a quick inspection the maintenance worker opened a small hatch above the bathtub. He discovered the pipe leading from the drain of the bathtub in the apartment above us was leaking. He used JB Weld to do a temporary fix and stop the leak.
While the worker was there I asked him what would be done to take care of the moisture in the ceiling and wall. He said it wasn’t a big deal and that a fan would be able to dry things up. He brought in a commercial sized fan to dry the carpet, and said the fan would also dry the wall. Prior to working for BPI I would have been skeptical, but would have lacked the knowledge to know this isn’t true and lacked the confidence to press the issue.
The next day, Tuesday, the same maintenance worker came back along with another worker. The second worker acknowledged that the ceiling and wall needed to be cut open to air out the moisture and to see if there was any other type of damage. Approximately 2 x 3 foot sections of sheetrock were cut out of the ceiling and the wall. The leaking portion of the pipe was cut and replaced with a new piece of pipe to properly fix the cause of the problem.
I was told they would cut new pieces of sheetrock and put them back up the next day. When I asked about airing out the moisture I was told again that a fan pointing at the closed wall in the closet would dry it up and a day of being open would allow the wall and ceiling in the bathroom to dry. I knew there was no way all of that moisture soaked into the wood and surrounding sheetrock would be dry in that amount of time or that a fan blowing on a closed wall could dry the moisture built up on the inside of the wall, so I pushed the issue.
I asked maintenance to leave everything open until the end of the week. That gave us three days to direct the fan at the open wall cavity and ceiling to help it dry. Consulting with another BPI employee with a wealth of technical knowledge, I was advised to leave both areas open longer and was lent a moisture reader to gauge dampness. I told maintenance to wait to repair the bathroom until the following week, which gave it an additional four days to dry. Using the moisture reader on Friday I saw that the moisture levels were well above what they should be. Maintenance clearly did not have a working knowledge of home performance and was not thinking about the mold growth and damage that would occur if the wall and ceiling were closed up that way.
It was very frustrating to know there was no regard for this issue that can seriously affect the health of my family as well as the people in the apartment above us. Within three days the moisture meter showed the moisture levels in both the ceiling and wall were acceptable. Basic building science and a little extra time were all that was needed to prevent major consequences.
Through this experience I gained a valuable perspective on how beneficial general home performance knowledge can be to a homeowner and to anyone performing work on homes. I’m thankful I was able to properly direct repairs.
BPI certified professionals are trained to recognize how moisture levels and health and safety are related. Find a BPI certified professional in your area.
Want to learn more about house-as-a-system home performance? Check out the Building Science Principles (BSP) Reference Guide and educate yourself as a homeowner so you too can avoid getting in a tight situation.