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The Fog of Complacency – How to Be Prepared

water damaged hardwood floor warped

Water dripping silently through the night caused thousands of dollars of damage including warping this hardwood floor. Copyright 2023 Tim Carter ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Disaster Preparation - 3 Easy Things to Do Now

You might think that everything is rainbows and unicorns at my house. I can see how you might think I don’t suffer from home improvement trials and tribulations. After all, what could possibly go wrong at my house? I’ll answer. All the same things that go wrong without warning at your home.

Several nights ago we had a disaster unfold in the middle of the night. It actually started hours before, but my wife didn’t alert me to a tiny clue she had felt earlier in the day.

As it turns out, a mouse gnawed at a plastic PEX water line that was running from the basement up to a second-floor bathroom. The pipe passed through an oversized hole created by the plumber 20+ years ago. Had the plumber installed caulk to fill the hole, I’d not be typing this.

pex pipe gnawed by mouse passing through top wall plate

The mouse had sharp teeth. They can chew through aluminum coil stock too. Only steel will stop a mouse. Copyright 2023 Tim Carter ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

It’s important for you to realize I didn’t build the house I currently live in. Had I done so, I can assure you no mice would be inside, and even if they did somehow sneak in through an open garage door, they’d not be able to travel through the walls and ceilings at will as they currently do. The builder of my home was a dunce. I was only supposed to live in this transitional house for two years but now I’m going on year fourteen. That’s a story for another column.

The mischievous rodent ended up nibbling through the plastic pipe just enough to create a silent leak that reacted to gravity. The water soon ponded under the hardwood floor in our bedroom causing it to swell. My lovely wife felt a new bump in the floor as she walked on the oriental rug that covers the floor but didn’t think too much about it.

pex pipe gnawed by a mouse

Look how determined the mouse was. I captured the mouse a few days later and the chubby fellow turned out to be an Olympic swimmer! Copyright 2023 Tim Carter ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Hours later in the middle of the night I had a nature call to the bathroom and felt a much larger hump in the floor that had never been there before. But in my zombie sleep-walking state, I noticed it but crawled back under the covers thinking I’d inspect later to see what toy the cats might have shoved under the edge of the carpet. Once up at dawn, I immediately saw we had a serious problem. By then, the water had traveled to a basement bedroom ruining the ceiling and laminate floor down there.

Even though I couldn’t see the leak, I engaged my critical-thinking skills and knew the water had to be leaking above the master bedroom. The only water above that room was a second-floor bathroom. I raced to the basement and immediately turned off the cold and hot water valves on the manifold in the boiler room stopping all water from going to that room. By then the damage was done. I know It could have been so much worse.

Your Fog of Complacency - Make it Dissipate

What is the teaching moment here for you? It’s a number of things. I want to dissipate the fog of complacency that has enveloped you no doubt. Let’s get started.

Where is Your Water Shutoff? Does it WORK?

First and foremost you need to know how to shut off the water in your home should you have a leak. Just knowing the location of the valve is not good enough. When was the last time it was exercised? I’ve been a master plumber since 1981 and can tell you that valves need to be exercised just like your body. You need to turn them on and off at least twice a year. You may discover that when you go to turn it off, it doesn’t turn or you break the valve.

In my case, my wife and I were lucky that one-of-a-kind irreplaceable and sentimental items were not destroyed. Will that happen to you? Do you know where the hidden water lines are in your home? Where do they run across ceilings? If a water leak happens, what will get wet below? Now is the time move things to a new location where water, heat, or sunlight will not damage some of your family treasures. Think about placing extremely valuable things in waterproof containers.

Can You Get Emergency Plumbing Repairs Done?

What happens if you can’t get a plumber to come to your rescue immediately? Based on the email I receive from homeowners like you it’s getting harder and harder to find workmen who will respond at a moment’s notice. Are you able to make emergency repairs to your water lines yourself? My guess is you would say you have no idea how to solder copper waters lines.

The good news is you don’t need to know how to solder copper. Or, if you have PEX tubing like me, you don’t need to have special tools for the most part to stop a slow or catastrophic leak.

No-Solder REPAIR Connectors

Should you have a catastrophic full-pressure leak, you can cut the copper pipe, slide on an open ball valve and use a press tool to crimp the valve onto the copper tubing. It takes seconds. Once crimped you turn the valve handle and the water stops flowing. The only issue is you have to have the valve on hand and you need the special expensive crimping tool. They can be rented, but hundreds or thousands of gallons of water could have flooded your home before you get back from the tool-rental business.

Believe it or not, there’s an even easier way to repair a leaking copper, PEX, PE-RT, and CPVC water lines. You can cut the pipe, remove any burrs and push onto the end of the pipe push-to-connect fittings. My go-to choice are TotalFit™ ones made by Uponor. I have Uponor PEX in my home.

If you can put the cap back on a Sharpie permanent marker, you can install these magic push-to-connect fittings.

uponor totalfit connectors adapters fittings

These are just a few of the Uponor push-to-connect fittings. You should have an assortment on hand at your home for EMERGENCIES.

It’s key for you to have an assortment of them on hand as well as the correct tool to cut the pipe cleanly. You might also get the special inexpensive de-burring tool. Once you see how easy it is to make an emergency repair, you’ll sleep like a baby.

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