- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 1, 2004

It started as a little buzzing sound. My wife and I thought it might be a termite. So first, we scheduled a termite inspector to come join us atop the ladder in the foyer at my home as we placed our ears on the ceiling.

However, I soon noticed that the sound seemed loudest after the shower was used in the upstairs bathroom. That provided even worse feelings.

We called a plumber, and he came over two days later. By that time — Friday morning, before heading off to work — my lovely bride hollered from downstairs, “It’s louder.” So I took off my suit and walked down with some work clothes.

Pipe corrosion is not uncommon. According to Advanced Water Systems’ Web site (www.advancedh2o.com), there are several causes of metal-pipe corrosion:

• Low pH (acid water) or high pH (alkaline water) on private well systems

• Other water-chemistry causes, such as high levels of dissolved oxygen, high levels of dissolved salts and corrosion-causing bacteria such as sulfate or iron bacteria

• Electrochemical causes, such as improper grounding of electrical appliances to the copper piping

• High velocity of water relative to size of piping, causing hydraulic wear on the piping

• Sand, sediment or other grit, causing hydraulic wear on the piping

I eventually discovered my case involved a pin-hole leak from a copper pipe. Further research revealed that this is a common occurrence in homes the same age as mine and that it could stem from requirements for cleaner drinking water over the years.

The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission reports that as we move toward cleaner water in the region to meet stricter requirements, some natural organic materials have been removed from the water.

In some cases, organic material actually helps protect metal piping, WSSC officials have been quoted as saying.

Oops. Now I know why I have a leak.

You readers are lucky. You get to find out what to do in the case of an emergency based on what I didn’t do in the case of an emergency. You and your spouse won’t have to follow our example and exchange “words of encouragement” with each other over how you’re about to fix the ceiling.

I disagreed with my wife’s suggested use of a screwdriver to place holes in the ceiling. I figured that if it’s leaking, it’s leaking, and no small hole was going to keep me from making a larger mess during this investigation.

That’s why I pulled out my trusty, rusty drywall saw. It’s quite the instrument. One look at it in my hands, and any observer would know I possessed an instrument of great home-repairing power. So I started sawing — but not before getting out a tarp and five-gallon bucket with a rag for mopping up any impending mess.

Plumbing leaks are funny. Where you hear the leak through the drywall is not necessarily where it’s located.

So, two sawed-out panels of drywall later, I found the leak. It wasn’t very big. In fact, my first thought was that the stream of water was a strand of a cobweb hanging down from the pipe. When I tried to wipe it away, my hand got wet.

What I discovered was that the pipe had apparently developed a pin-hole leak that had been streaming into the ceiling for some time. While the stream was nearly microscopic, it had been going long enough to drench several square feet of drywall.

Keep in mind with your home repairs that a solution to the initial problem will not necessarily fix everything.

The water leak meant I would have to replace some piping first, then wait until the ceiling dried out; remove the affected materials; and get a drywall expert in to cut out, replace, tape, paste, sand and paint my ceiling.

As you continue the upkeep of your dwelling — and your largest investment — remember that regular maintenance is a must and that most fix-it jobs will turn into more than one — such as this plumbing job that has become a plumbing-drywall-painting endeavor.

M. Anthony Carr has written about real estate for more than 15 years. Reach him by e-mail ([email protected]).

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