By Mike Denker
A thousand years of building technology, designed to take advantage of the effects of gravity comprise our basic bulwark against water inserting itself unpleasantly into our lives. Added tools include sealants, pipes and pumps. Gravity will inevitably keep rain, snow, and sleet falling upon our roofs which then should prevent its entering our homes, and modern plumbing should keep water in the pipes, but there are lots of hurdles along the way. Here are a few oddball areas to keep an eye on.
Roof Pipe Collars
Up on the roof in the blazing sun are some ticking time bombs when it comes to roofs. These are the pipe collars or vent collars made up of a metal plate that replaces a shingle or two plus the rubber gasket that grips the pipes that emerge from the roof for the purpose of venting our plumbing systems. When a roof is new, the rubber gasket is soft and elastic, and the collar grips the pipe to keep water from penetrating into the home below.
However, as the roof ages, the rubber naturally degrades and becomes brittle and hard. Ideally, when a roof is replaced, these collars are also replaced. It used to be that roofs were routinely replaced every 15 or 20 years. New roofing materials have extended the life of roofs to 50 years and beyond. Pipe collars will most likely not last that long, and, more over, if they had not been swapped out when the roof was replaced (I can almost hear the roofer say, "They looked practically new."), then you can be sure they will begin to fail, to crack and eventually open up holes around the pipe. Fixing this is usually not a DIY project, although it is not difficult. The definitive impediment for most of us is that it is high up on a roof with its attendant dangerous footing.
I would recommend a professional. [Photo]
I was recently reminded that a 79-cent overflow gasket in a bathtub is the source of a large number of "leaky" bathtubs. The overflow is that perforated disc on the vertical wall of the bath tub below the tub inlet and above the drain. In fact, it is connected to the drain. It will only leak if, 1) the gasket has failed, and 2) the bather has drawn enough water to raise the level above the overflow. Note that the water level may be below the overflow outlet before the bather enters the tub and above it once the bather is in the tub. Shower Pans Below the tile in your shower and below the mortar that bonds the tile together is a impermeable membrane.
The old system utilized sheet lead. Lead has been superseded by vinyl, and these days, although some builders swear by vinyl, it has been replaced by a variety of proprietary membranes, many of them developed in Europe. All of these membranes keep that small amount of water that seeps through the tile grout from penetrating to the floor below. If the membrane becomes torn, broken, or worn out, replacing the whole bottom of your shower, at a minimum, is required. It's a good idea to first check that neither the tile floor in your bathroom nor the supply plumbing is leaking.
Many homes have sump pumps which pump subsurface water out and away from your basement before it rises to the level of the floor. These are electric water pumps that sit below the level of the floor in what is called a crock—really a large plastic bucket. Every sump pump system should incorporate a check valve on its outlet pipe, so that once the pump has removed the water that has collected in the crock, the contents of the pipe can not flow back into the crock.
If you hear the sump pump going on and off all the time, one of two things is going on. Either you have a spring under your basement, or you have a sump pump without a check valve that is trying to pump the same water up the pipe when it runs back down. Many sump pumps have worn themselves out prematurely for lack of a check valve. Should we have a power outage, your sump pump will also shut down unless you have a back up of some sort.
These days many folks are buying generators to keep the systems in their homes going during power outages. For much less money one can buy a 12 volt back-up sump pump and battery which will function for hours to keep your sump pump working in the event you lose power. This solution is not failsafe, for it will not function for days of heavy sump pump water pumping, but, for the outage of a day or less, this inexpensive backup will keep water from flooding your basement.
Condensation From Attic HVAC Units
For those of us who have air conditioners, heat pumps, or high efficiency furnaces housed in our attics, there is another potential leak lying just above our heads. These units produce water either by condensing water from moist air as it cools or by condensing exhaust from gas fired heating. Either way, there is water that collects in a pan that runs by gravity through a pipe outside, or to a tiny sump pump that sends it somewhere outside. No matter which route it follows, there are potential problems. The pump may wear out. Lint, dirt, or a dead mouse may collect and clog the pan outlet. Then the water level may rise above the edge of the pan. Unless you keep an eye on and maintain these pans and small pumps, one of these days you are going to experience this variety of leak from your attic. It's far wiser to get to know your attic heat pump, furnace, a/c unit, and make sure that, when it is serviced, the pan and pump is checked and cleaned.
Next month we will leave the topic of moisture and focus on Generators for the home.