Leak Lessons: A True Story Tips to Avoid Getting Soaked

Leaks happen all the time. American Leak Detection, a nationwide company (unrelated to the Scooter Libby trial), claims to have discovered 1.4 million leaks last year alone—and that's just one company! Common as they are, leaks can cause quite a bit of damage. The drip-drip of a leaky bathtub is literally the sound of money going down the drain—and if the leak is hidden deep in a wall somewhere, the damage can worsen and spread for months before you even know there's a problem.

Recently, I had the misfortune of being dealt some leak issues of my own. I'd like to share with you lessons that I learned—the hard way—so that other apartment owners might avoid having to go through the same ordeal.

An Unwelcome Discovery

We returned home the last week in December 2006 after spending the holidays in Madison, Wisconsin. On the ceiling in our living room, a few feet from the front door, the popcorn paint was damp and sagging toward the floor—it looked like a gray, upside-down bubble on a pizza crust. Obviously, there was a situation in the upstairs bathroom.

"Oh, great," I said to my wife. "We have a leak."

I called the plumber, who was dispatched quickly, and set about shutting off the water, just in case the leak was from the water source. This involved climbing into a closet, unscrewing a piece of plywood, and shining a flashlight into the space beneath the bathtub.


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  • Did your ceiling have asbestos or was it installed post -1978? We just resolved a bathroom leak issue (into our apartement from upstairs neighbor's bathroom). We would like small bubbles fixed and rust stain, but building won't pay for asbestos contractor! Any suggestions?
  • Can cracks in tile in an upstairs shower cause leaks. I was just wondering, so far we do not have any signs of problems but I was concerned if I should use the shower upstairs. I was told it was only a cosmetic problem, but I am worried about the long term problems -. Thanks!
  • My tenant who lives on the floor below, has a leak only when we take a shower. I had a plumber replace the body shower, and a tile man caulk the bathtub. Now the leak is still happening, and I see a couple of the border pieces are loose. Do you think I should caulk them and that maybe this is the problem. One day my husband flushed the toilet and the toilet backed up and couldn't be stopped. Water all over the place. The water went downstairs into the ceiling of the tenant and traveled to the basement. This tells me that water does travel thought the walls and ceilings.
  • cracks in the tile in your shower can cause leaks downstairs. I would have a tile man regrout the tile before you do have a expensive problem it happen to me water is getting behind the craked tile and making it loose till it falls off then you have a problem call a tile and carpet installer and have him look at it it might just need some caulk or the tile might need to replaced and see if there are any wet tile's behind it water goes down Good Luck don't let them tell you the whole wall has to come down and all new tile I would have a couple different contractor's look at it and ask any friends you know if they have ever had the same problem and if they knew a honest contractor to look at it My Cousin is a tile and rug installer all his life very honest but I don't know where you live I lve in Saratoga,NY Good Luck bye Larry
  • Thank's for the tip. My neighbors upstairs have been showering and doing exactly the same thing. My grandfather taught me to look for obvious solutions so I just stopped off at the store for some caulking and now I can sleep in my bed again. The landlord said I can fix it and he will give me some money for the damaged mettress. A little exspense goes a long way. I figured I'd get a little info online before I start the project in a few minutes.
  • Not so smart boyfriend of daughters bestfriend flooded the upstairs bathroom which then went through the downstairs ceiling and then progressed into the light fittings. I now need to idiot proof bathroom with a door weatherstrip and reseal all around the floor area to hopefully keep the water in and go down the drain hole in the floor. Don't know the long term implications of the wet ceiling, also had a big water bubble that went away and now have rust coloured stains coming through. Hopefully just need to wait till it dries and then repaint.
  • Great tips - thanks for a well-written article! The only item I would rethink is #9. Even the largest insurance companies are canceling people if they make a couple of claims. In fact, I was told by a plumber and by a different person working in mold remediation that some companies are canceling after one claim. Yes, they can get away with this. For something small like this, we have to think self-insured or we run the risk of having our policy canceled. Do a search online to learn more and think long and hard before filing a claim you can pay out of pocket without too much damage to the pocketbook.
  • I have two leakage issues that three " Master" plumbers are unable to identify cause of either one. Problem 1: Master bathroom- Water appears, intermittently, arround the caulking area trim atop the sink counter. However, there isn't any indication as to where the water comes from. Problem 2: Basement floor - Waters appears, intermittently, on basement floor with no traceable signs leading to a cause. Three plumbers gave up after they charged me. Could this be paranormal? D' Ramon
  • We hired a young contractor to remodel the upstairs bathroom. We had family that he did work for ,went to see two of his remodeling jobs. When he started tearing out the old tub shower combination, he did not turn off the water or ask us too. Then he starts yellling I need the water off now! He cut through a pipe behind the tub. We have a cubby that I showed him where you can pretty much see the pipes. I ask him why he did not turn the water off before beginning. He said he never does, but the pipes were not where he thought they would be. Water ran down on our Liv. Rm ceiling. To say the least I am not happy with him. Any anwers. I have a registered older plubmer coming out to check everything before this guy starts installing the new tub. I have always taken care of this home and to say the least I am P. Then he tried to lie out of it.
  • In Sept. 2011, the unit owner below claimed that I had a leak coming from my bathroom that was causing damage to his bathroom. I immediately called the super and asked him to respond to my unit to inspect it (I was not home at time). Super found no leak. Everything was bone dry. This spring I received a letter that I was being sued for damages. Unit claimed I was negligent. He stated that leak was either from tub overflowing or renovation neither which was true. Court Arbritator suggested that complaintant have a certified plumber come in and open up his ceiling. The finding was leak coming from the Tub Shoe which is located under my bathtub. Am I or Condo Association responsible ? President of association said their not. I filed insurance claim upon being notified of suit and have an attorney assigned to me. I fowarded By-Laws to lawyer and have requested that insurance company have a claim adjustor come out to look at damages. What other steps should I take.
  • How's responsible for paying for leak coming from damage shoe drain under recessed bathtub ? HOA said they are not. Pipe is located between my subfloor and downstair unit ceiling.
  • how one tell if a new caukling job was done the right way? I had a person just re caulk my bathtub
  • During a move in, we piled lots of boxes in an upstairs bathroom. went up a day later and found the toilet leaking. It came through the floor to the kitchen. Did the weight cause this?
  • I discovered my water bill was high in June while we were on vacation and now it is back to the average usage. I was told by the water company that it was sporadic leakage. This has never happened in the past nor is this happening now. Can you explain this.
  • Water mark on lounge ceiling, have taken up floorboards in en-suite above - everything completely dry, have re-grouted shower several times, at this stage considering cutting hole in lounge ceiling. Any suggestions?
  • I live in a prewar condo (converted from a rental in the early 80's). The unit owners were just told they would be charged a $600.00 assessment to cover needed structural repairs (pipes and a new boiler). Less than half the residents (owners will carry these costs which involve the inspection of 34 (the buildings total # of units). Does this seem a legit way to raise this money, and to be applied for 12 months to these minority share of unit owners. Do you have any idea how we can find out what the reasonable cost would be without relying on the board member's stated assessment?
  • @D. Ramon... it sounds to me like your "Master" Plumbers are in fact real plumbers. What they are not, is psychic. Believe it or not, we plumbers don't automatically know the cause of all water mysteries in your home. If I had to guess, the water in you basement is being caused by water that leaks from overhead only at certain times. Go into your basement and look up. Do you see anything? The water is probably coming from whatever is directly overhead. The water that appears sometimes on your vanity is coming from the sink faucet obviously. Dry up the water, stopper the sink, and turn on the faucet. Do you notice water splashing around? Run your hands under the stream of water and see how it changes directions. Look closely at the stream of water. Is it uniform, or might there be an obstruction in the aerator causing the water to angle off to one side? If nothing you do is causing water to splash onto the vanity, then could it be from condensate? Try to apply a little common sense before you start insulting professionals. I'm free to be a jerk because I'm anonymous, but chances are the plumbers you called out aren't at liberty to do so, so their only option is to smile, scratch their head, and charge you a service call.
  • There is no reason to have unmatched ceiling popcorn. That would look horrible. To match it, all you have to do is get a good tape and bed guy to do your Sheetrock. Then you'll need to knock down a significant amount of the old popcorn with a popcorn rake. Then you mud the ceiling twice. Primer. Mud again and blow heavy ceiling acoustic. Primer. Blow medium ceiling acoustic. Let cure 72'hours. Then knock it all back with a popcorn rake. Mud. Blow light or medium ceiling acoustic. Primer 3 times and then paint twice.
  • Hlo..Greg, hope you are doing well!!! I read your article,the best way to protect against this potential loss is to ensure that the building components which enclose the structure, known as the building envelope, are water-resistant.Also, you will want to ensure that manufacturing processes, if present, do not allow excess water to accumulate. All buildings are different, but each is at risk for water damage...Good to see your article that you shared with us..... keep posting.....
  • We are living in first floor flat which we occupies in july 2013. Now ground floor occupants are comlpaing about our bathroom leakage which is spoiling their roof and demanding us to bear expenses fully for repsir. We are requesting for half half payment. What is correct way
  • It's a bit surprising that some leaks are never detected. I can only imagine how much money it must safe if it was easier to detect if there was a problem. For the most part, I imagine that the best prevention is to take precautions and stay on top of maintenance.