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Are you ready to jump back into my plumbing nightmare? Don’t worry, it’s got a happy ending (so far).

Check out part 1 here if you haven’t already.

I waited for the plumber to show up, and in the meantime, checked around the house again to assess the damage. The ceiling in the laundry room had one corner with a new stain, clearly from that morning’s watery escapades:

I feared the worst, but was still very pleased that I could expect a plumber in just a few hours to fix what was likely a busted, frozen pipe. Hopefully if I got him out here soon enough, I could begin drying things out and limit the damage and/or mold risk. I went back upstairs and cleared things out, now able to take a few pictures between the bathroom and the garage (all of the ones you saw yesterday in part 1 weren’t taken until this point; I was simply too panicked to even think about a camera).

Around 10 AM, the doorbell rang and my new plumber was there to greet me. He also brought along his son, and I found this comforting; this was clearly a local family business, and the plumber (Greg) could not have been more friendly. I walked him around, per his request, to help give him a layout of the house. The primary bath was directly over the laundry room, but the pipes were likely to be found behind the wall, which would position them directly above the garage ceiling just in front of the garage door (where the drywall had been hanging down). He looked around in the garage as well and gave me some helpful info.

He explained that back when it was built, this house and all of the other homes in my neighborhood once had polybutylene piping. I knew this from the homeowner’s disclosure when I first purchased the property; he knew this because he’d been one of the companies who worked bids for all of the re-plumb jobs. What this meant too is that he was really familiar with the homes in this neighborhood:  their typical layouts, the kind of pipes he knew to expect to find, and the standards that they’d been installed with.

Ready to begin his work, he thought it best to just tear down the panel of drywall in the garage that had clearly disconnected from the joists above and see what he could find. Much to my surprise, the drywall was completely dry save for one small corner (that had probably soaked through thanks to the valve fiasco that morning). Already, we were off to a good start.

He then explained that he recognized the replumb job was done by one of his competitors in the area; and thankfully, they’d done a pretty decent job at it (he mentioned that it was hit or miss with that particular company; they were typically the lowest estimate and their work sometimes reflected shoddy craftsmanship). He also pointed out some other good news; the pipes were, in fact, fully insulated above the garage (not pictured; that’s the duct for the dryer in the laundry room that you see in the pic below). They hadn’t frozen; I was in the clear!

We also discovered a separate space above my garage that had once been used for storage (I had seen the access panel in the garage ceiling but had always assumed it was unused space behind the walls for plumbing and electrical access if needed). But no, there was apparently even a stroller up there that the previous homeowner must have forgotten. But why had the drywall come apart in the first place? His guess was that it was just old & was falling already; over the winter, it must have slumped. I probably hadn’t noticed in this last month of working on things inside.

Huh. Hooray for old houses.

At any rate, we went back up to the primary bath, where they were able to drain the water and tighten the valve back down completely. No more leak, no busted pipe, no repair work actually needed. Balls yeah.  I was tremendously relieved, but also confused:  how on earth could that valve have suddenly become loose? Surely, if it were an issue of a leaky valve, this problem wouldn’t have waited for months, dry as a bone, and then all of a sudden leak, right? I’d been in this bathroom many times in the last few weeks trying to find missing tools; never saw so much as a drip. I’d been below in the laundry room for several weeks working on tiling; if there had been a leak then, I would have seen stains while cutting in with paint at the ceiling. So this was definitely no more than a few days old. He said that he’d never even heard of such a thing happening before. It could be that the fluctuating temps caused expansion and contraction much like it does with other materials in the home, and that it finally caused the once perfectly tightened valve to dislodge just a bit; considering that it was a compression valve (which is meant to hold 300 pounds of pressure), it doesn’t take a lot for loose to become completely off in no time. My twisting the valve was the final straw.

And he had even better news:  since he didn’t actually need to do any repairs, he was only going to charge me for a service call. He knew a drywall guy who could help me hang a new panel back up in the garage if I wanted, and all I’d probably need to do in the meantime to take care of the water was to let it dry out. There was no long-term damage yet, so no mold was growing, and I’d just need to take proper steps to make the area as unfriendly to mold as possible. Point a fan up into the space behind the wall to get air circulating, and do the same in the bathroom itself. He also suggested checking out my hot water heater to see about changing the pressure settings (you don’t typically need anywhere close to the amount of pressure that the water comes in from the street; if you don’t already have one on the hot water heater, you can install a water pressure regulator for around $50).

I was so so grateful for their help, I gladly handed over my card for payment. They even double-checked the work that my uncle did beneath the kitchen sink (since the garbage disposal and other pipes had to be moved to fit the new sink). I trusted my uncle’s work and nothing had been leaking in the months following the sink install, but it was still nice to hear it coming from a pro that everything looked perfectly fine.

Just before the duo left, the son gave me their business card with his personal number written on it; because they were local, he lived just down the street. If I ever ran into an emergency like the one that morning, he’d be more than glad to help me out, even if it was late. I thanked them again, shook their hands, and was relieved to now have a plumber I can trust if I ever need them.

I ran to the hardware store shortly thereafter to pick up some drying supplies: I large standing fan for the garage (to point up into the ceiling); a box fan for the bathroom. I also grabbed an industrial-sized bucket of DampRid (a dehumidifying product that soaks up moisture in the air)  to put upstairs and another smaller container for the laundry room (just in case). The machine-style dehumidifiers they had for rent (note: there was only one in my area) were already completely gone (I assumed for people with actual frozen pipe problems). I also grabbed a spray bottle of mold treatment + preventer to spray all of the wet surfaces with. In short, I was doing everything humanly possible to help dry that bathroom out.

I also peeled up the carpet leading into the bathroom to let it dry too (simply put:  if it gets down to the subfloor, carpet padding doesn’t really ever dry out on its own unless you let it breathe; best to just peel it up and allow it to get some air).

And in just 12 hours, the room is already looking much better:

The smell in the bathroom is no longer present (save for a faint odor that is much cleaner-smelling, so it’s just the DampRid), which tells me things are heading in the right direction. I’m thinking of grabbing a second large bucket of DampRid and placing it in the ceiling above the garage for a few days too. Once the chemicals do their thing, I’ll feel more comfortable replacing the drywall (which you should only do once everything is completely dry). I may even hold off just a smidge longer to have a big ass hole in which to hoist some plywood up to my new vacant storage area (I’ll share pics at some point; it was just too much risk to snap one on the ladder).

And the lesson?

I like this whole DIY shtick – in fact, I absolutely love every minute of it. I’m already laughing about this story (“I mean, I flew across that room!” Name that movie.). But despite my growing “expertise,” I still have a lot to learn. There are times that I will feel silly and too embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know what to do (and even fight back a few tears in the middle of it thanks to feeling overwhelmed). But as long as I’m learning, I think I’m okay with that. Plumbing is definitely not something I feel very confident about, which is what makes this story so hard to tell and expose my own complete lack of common sense. Much like electrical, I know that it’s possible to figure things out on my own, but sometimes, it’s just better to have peace of mind and call the pros (and considering this is a first in over three years, I think I’ve done okay in that regard to apply my limited know-how thus far!). And at the very least, I’ll have the pros in my damn phone so I don’t feel quite so unprepared or embarrassed next time.

(As of this post going up, it’s been a few days already since disaster struck, and everything still seems dry. I’m giving it a good two weeks of observation before I can comfortably call this a success, but so far so good!)

Alrightie, your turn. Have you ever had a complete disaster moment like I did, and you didn’t know what to do? Have you ever had one that turned out to be much better than you first feared?

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  1. Well, you got my stories yesterday. We got a completely NEW bathroom out of the lower level Amazon Rainforest flood. At the time it was just going to be a new sink top (no more seashell please) and a toilet (hubby’s Christmas gift). So that worked out. It sounds like your “why did this happen then?” was like our problem. All was shut off and the damn thing just blew!!! Old piece and it gave out. As for the pros. We have a go-to for plumbing, electrical, and heating and air. It is nice to know I have guys I know who are coming to the house and can request my faves, etc. A great piece of mind. I learn a little when they come and send them off with my homemade cookies. :) So glad it is all looking up!

  2. We JUST finished our sunroom in our old house… including replacing an entire exterior wall.. windows doors the whole deal… we were so happy it was finished and then it rained really hard one morning…. on the inside.. it ended up being a stupid little issue with our gutters and missing caulk but I was FREAKING out and basically in tears since we had just spent months finishing everything.

  3. My husband and I feel your pain, water problems are such a huge mess.

    3 weeks before our wedding last August, a supply line to our downstairs toilet toilet and flooded about an 1in of water all through our kitchen and up to our front door on laminate snap-lock flooring. It dripped down a vent, into our furnace, killing our ability to use the AC for about 4 days as well. So, on a very hot weekend our house had commercial grade fans and humidifiers everywhere; it was miserable and loud. We had no floor until the end of September, and just finally finished all of the little pieces that had to be put back together before Christmas.

    We had only owned the house for 1.5 months at the time…but in the end, our downstairs is now beautiful with tile, a completely redone bathroom, a brand new furnace and better paint colors! We also had some upgrades (chair rail and moulding on top of our cabinets) put in while we had some contractors around. Blessing in disguise?

  4. Why would you even think that we would expect you to know exactly how to handle a crisis of that magnitude on a system you aren’t fully comfortable with? And who can even think at that hour of the morning after an unexpected sideways cold shower? I’m sure that in a non-panic situation you can figure out plumbing – but you didn’t have the time to figure it out at your leisure!

    YAY for now having a great plumber you can call when needed. And it sounds like they are good about explaining and teaching you the basics – so double YAY!!

  5. Glad to hear that everything turned out ok. That sagging drywall looked crazy!

    Two years ago our hot water heater rusted through the bottom and needed to be replaced 4 days before Xmas. Luckily my dad was on his way home for Xmas and drove an hour in a blizzard to come replace it for me two days later.

  6. Um, am I the only one that thinks anything of the young plumber giving you his personal phone number????

    1. Haha he was young (like obviously not a come-on), so I think he was just being nice. You’re not the only commenter who noted it though!

  7. Oh my word. I just read both pt 1 and this one, and holy cow. I would have flipped. And for what it is worth – I have no idea where our main water shut off is. I should figure that out pronto.

    Thank goodness for Greg.

  8. I don’t know how I would’ve stayed sane without my plumber. My pipes are hidden behind a mysterious wall that runs down the middle of my crawl space, so they’re impossible to insulate. I’m guaranteed frozen pipes every winter, but at least they’re made of some plastic-y material (that’s no longer recommended for use…) that has been able to handle the expansions and contractions without bursting. I knocked on wood SO HARD when I wrote that last part. If you find a plumber who’ll patiently and calmly deal with your freakouts, and is happy to teach you about your house, hang onto him for dear life. I’m speaking from experience.

  9. The first thing I’d be doing is replacing all of those pressure fittings with soldered shut off valves.

    Sometime ago we had a vacation home in the mountain region of northern New Hampshire. A renter had used a door that is normally not used and never checked to make sure it was closed upon leaving. Between that renter and the next one there were temps in the single digits along with a snow storm. The wind blew the door open and the next renter was welcomed with a three foot high snowdrift in the Living Room. And of course the open door caused the heater to run non-stop until it ran out of fuel. No heat equals frozen pipes. Every drop of water froze. Even the toilet bowls were frozen solid. Solid. It took about three days of running portable propane heaters non-stop to thaw it all out. And that’s when all the leaks and split pipes were found. What a mess. We wound up installing a system that would call us if the temperatures went below a certain point. And never renting to that person again. Talk about an expensive lesson learned.

    I’m happy that you made it through this mini disaster relatively unscathed. And now you know where the main valve is. Bonus.

  10. I am sooo glad to see that your seemingly awful problem has not been a major setback. I expected a lot more damage when I saw that sagging drywall.

  11. “Just before the duo left, the son gave me their business card with his personal number written on it; because they were local, he lived just down the street. If I ever ran into an emergency like the one that morning, he’d be more than glad to help me out, even if it was late. I thanked them again, shook their hands, and was relieved to now have a plumber I can trust if I ever need them.”

    Even if it was late :-) I suspect you are being hit on

    1. Ha, I can see how it would be interpreted that way! But no, I don’t think so. He seemed a bit younger than me so I doubt that was the case!

          1. Haha, I was going to say the same thing about being hit on ;) My (*ahem, younger – I’m 29, he’s 28 lol) boyfriend of 4 years picked me up this same way haha. I was working and he gave me his card with his personal number, but I insisted for a few months that it was purely professional. After some chatting, then hanging out, it turned to dating and turned out to be the best thing ever. So anyway, from experience, I also think you’re being hit on ;) haha

  12. This story is great example of how things happen the way they’re supposed to. Yes a geyser in your bathroom really isn’t supposed to happen, but on a day when no plumbers are available, you obviously found the exact right plumber. So sometimes, through all of the shit, the universe is actually looking out for you.

    After we had our whole water system redone, I labelled all of the shutoffs. I probably wouldn’t have done it if my Dad hadn’t requested it. He does a lot of work for us, and he didn’t want to turn the wrong tap one day when we weren’t around to ask. I just used slips of paper that I laminated with clear packing tape (in case they ever get wet y’know), hole punched one end so that I could loop an elastic band through them and then the elastic band slips right over the tap. It’s actually turned out to be very helpful, and I’m sure in an emergency situation where I’m blind from panic I’ll really appreciate my forethought.

  13. Thank you for sharing this story! I am so often disheartened or question myself when we have housey meltdowns as I consider myself & husband diy and home experts. Glad it was a happy ending xx

  14. Without getting into the details –
    Cleaning out water softener bucket lead to non operational sump pump lead to basement flooding led to panicking led to cleaning out entire sump pit and removing all the sludge from previous owners and the pump working better than we’ve ever seen it work. So, double victory! Wet, nasty, messy, dirty, gross victory, but victory nonetheless. So many issues caused by laziness and neglect in this house. It’s really terrible of me, but at times like these I just think about how the previous owners moved into a house with mold problems.

    Also, there is a serious lack of caring about water softener and sump pump victories in every day life. Very sad state of affairs.

    1. Wow. And yuck! But if there’s a lack of enthusiasm about sump pumps from friends, here’s an internet high-five and a nod from my beer to you to getting through all of it! To your victory!