Plumbing in the Home/leaking shower

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QUESTION: Hi Dana,

Yesterday, shortly after taking a shower (2nd floor bathroom) I noticed the ceilings on the first floor were wet/stained and big chunks of plaster fell from the ceiling. I then found a rather large puddle of water in the basement, one floor lower.

My tub/shower is very old and does not meet current code (there is no overflow opening in the tub) and Iíve had considerable drainage problems for many years. Every 6-8 weeks I need to plunge the tub drain in order to relieve the backup of water.

Itís an old fashion claw tub with lead piping and a drum trap (Iíve become very aware how undesirable drum traps are). Water was backing up considerably at the time. Several years ago, a plumber cut out a busted piece of pipe and inserted a ďrubber bootĒ(??) to stop a leak.  

Itís been suggested that the problem is caused by the backup of water that canít drain quickly. Another is that the Symmons Temptrol, Model B is the culprit. Yesterday, I accessed the door behind the shower wall and noticed a few drops of water on the pipe leading to the Symmons handle but I canít see any wet spots (anywhere) behind that panel door today (itís been 12+ hours after the fact) that suggests either possibility. That panel opening sits directly above the crumbling ceiling.

In addition, the shower arm can be turned awkwardly because itís not secured properly, it happened yesterday. The spigot has been capped off and no water runs out of it. So, I pretty baffled so far.

What do you think about either possibility? And, if the likely starting point is that Symmons handle, what exactly should I do and/or be looking for during inspection if I wanted to try and fix it myself before calling a plumber?

Thanks and Happy New Year!

ANSWER: Hi Nick,
Obviously, the very old drain system that still contains lead piping and fittings in places is a serious problem.  The old lead fittings are very fragile.

Plunging the drains is a short term fix but is pretty ineffective long term. The lines need to be snaked on a regular basis as normal maintenance but the lead fittings are an issue here.
A powered snake can penetrate them pretty easily in their aged and likely deteriorated condition.

The water behind the Simmons valve is likely due to poor sealing of the trim plate. The trim should be caulked to the tile to prevent water entering when showering.  The sloppy work when it was installed is evident by the fact that the shower arm moves. It should not move ever if properly installed.  There is a fitting called a "drop-ear" 90 that has "wings" that can be securely mounted with screws to a backing board at the shower arm level.

There are so many issues in this system it is hard to pinpoint just one as the source.  Opening the already damaged ceiling below would be a good place to start.  Have someone observe from below for leaks while the tub/shower is in use.
Good Luck,
Dana

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thanks Dana for that great info.

I just unscrewed the stem that connects the shower head to the incoming water pipe. The thread was completely corroded and parts of the thread were broken and had fallen off. Obviously, and hopefully, that was the only primary cause of the leak.

My follow-up question is what is the proper way to prep those two pieces before the new stem is screwed in?  Itís difficult to see the end of that water pipe behind the tile and Iím concerned it might be damaged also.

Thanks.

Answer
Hi Nick,
Difficult place to work.  The best thing would be to get hold of a pipe tap and try to clean up the threads inside the 90 fitting in the wall if you can. They do make IPS taps in various sizes. The one you need is 1/2 inch IPS. This is something you probably don't have and not many plumbers even have them. They can be found at a professional plumbing supply house.

Failing that, I would get a copper fitting brush which is a round wire brush used to clean inside copper fitting before sweating.  I would try to clean the inside of the 90 in the wall as best I could. I've even cut the handle off and chucked it up in a drill to do this.

When you put the new shower arm (what you are calling a "stem") back on, use some good teflon pipe dope, not just the tape stuff. You can insert a screwdriver in one end of the shower arm and use it as a crank to tighten it up and avoid damaging the finish with a wrench. It does not need to be all that tight since it is not really under much pressure when in use.

Good Luck,
Dana

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Dana Bostick

Expertise

Pretty much any residential plumbing questions. For "item specific" details such as a specific model of fixture, I will need to research and there may not be any useful information available. Note: I live and work in Southern California. We do not, as a rule, use hot water or steam heating systems, oil fired boilers or private water wells so my knowledge in those areas is pretty limited. There are others here on AllExerts that can probably answer those questions better.

Experience

Retired, Licensed General Contractor with Plumbing license. Active Home Inspector, Litigation Consultant and Infrared Thermographer, Online Marketing specialist.

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ActiveRain.com "Rain Maker" as "Inspector Dana", www.TheGoodMoneyLife.blogspot.com about making money online.

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30+ years in the building trades, Licensed General Contractor (Retired), Certified Infrared Thermographer Internet Entrepreneur, Amazon & eBay Merchant (deals-by-dana)

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Listed FHA Fee Inspector, FHA 203(k)Consultant, HUD Mobile Home Inspector

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Home buyers, sellers and owners, Investors, Commercial roofing companies (infrared roof scans for moisture intrusion, Litigation Consulting for "Slumlord" laws in SoCal

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