Often the simplest things can be most worrisome. When the human body's "plumbing" goes awry, for instance, it probably causes more long-term grief than any other type of physiological malfunction.
A sixty-year old house, like a primate of similar age, has various subsystems that are coming to the end of their design life. Electrical wiring corrodes. A stove, original equipment, becomes fragile; the oven door falls off its hinges. Louvers to control airflow can no longer be opened and closed. The hatch into the attic is best left undisturbed. Cracks appear in the plaster. Floorboards creek. Stairs groan. And, more terrifying to the homeowner than any other sound: drip, drip, drip ...
Thus it was that earlier this year somebody venturing barefoot into the basement suddenly got wet feet. Had recent rains seeped in through the walls or risen up through the floor? There was no obvious source. The pool dried up, and we set it aside as yet another inexplicable mystery.
Then, weeks later, a stack of books and papers downstairs was found to be soaking wet. The rafters above seemed to be leaking. How, and why? Our basement has an unfinished ceiling, and the answer was near at hand: a horizontal copper pipe that carries cold water from one side of the house to the other.
Close inspection revealed a hair-thin jet of water shooting upwards at an acute angle from the pipe. It wet the ceiling and then dripped down at a steady pace, like a highly localized rain shower. Of course, this phenomenon was discovered on a weekend evening. The universal solution, duct tape, failed to stop the high-pressure flow. A bucket placed underneath seemed likely to overflow every few hours.
Fortunately a resourceful neighbor suggested a short-term fix: take a short segment of hose, slit it longitudinally and slide it over the pipe, then apply a clamp to squeeze it against the leak. Miraculously, it worked. A frenzy of phone calls to various plumbers confirmed that this was a good thing to do until the pipe segment could be replaced. Crisis averted.
During the following days research revealed that many other houses in our county had suffered from the same phenomenon: pinhole leaks in horizontal-run copper pipes. Apparently a change in water composition within the past decade accelerated the corrosion of that type of piping. Jets of water appear and, sometimes, seal themselves off after hours or days.
When two more tiny leaks appeared in the same area of the basement I was ready and put hose plus clamps over them without major trouble. Eventually a plumber came, cut out that segment of pipe, and soldered in a new replacement. We relaxed.
All this came to mind again last weekend, when another small and shallow lake materialized in the basement. The source this time was different and thankfully evident: leakage around the main shut-off valve where all water enters the house. A small drip-pan, emptied every 8-12 hours, sufficed to channel the flow. The plumber arrived early on Monday morning, replaced the valve, and left with our grateful contribution toward his retirement fund. Until next time ...
(see also BasementWorries (15 Jun 2002), ... )