Leak Lessons: Volume 2

Lemme tell you, our master bathroom’s wallpaper wasn’t its only problem-to-be-remedied recently. So brace yourself while we weave a little plumbing tale that spanned over the last few weeks (in fact it just wrapped up a few days ago). You know how we solemnly swear to share the good, the bad, and the ugly? Well, this one can be filed under “the bad” and “the ugly” with a side of “the gross.” So for everyone’s sake, we’ll leave out the graphic pictures.

During the process of buying this house we noticed a very small, dried out water stain on the ceiling in the living room, right below where the master bathroom was. We and the inspector concluded it was likely from a toilet overflow from long ago, since the stain was only about 3″ wide and long dried up. So we weren’t too alarmed and just figured it was solved decades ago, so a little primer and ceiling paint were all that it needed. We never even photographed it, but here’s a hint as to where it was.

Then this fall, the toilet started to act up. Namely in that it would occasionally clog (this is your first hint to put down your breakfast) and when we attempted to plunge it, well, it would back-up into the shower. If that first hint didn’t work, something tells me you’re putting your breakfast down right about now.

Yeah, it was gross. And since a certain half of this relationship was already queasy from growing a tiny human, I was the only one on duty (a little pun to lighten the mood). Usually a bit more plunging and maybe a bit of snaking would fix the issue. I say “usually” because this happened more than once. And before you start judging our gastrointestinal prowess, I should note that this sort of back-up sometimes happened when the toilet wasn’t even involved  – maybe after a shower or after I shaved in the sink. We googled for answers and contemplated calling in a pro, but the “incidents” were few and far enough between that we figured we could hold out ’til we remodeled the room.

But last month came the back-up that plunging could not conquer.


And in all of my furious plunging, I managed to create a new water stain in the ceiling below. I’d later learn that all the pressure of such vigorous plunging had compromised the wax ring and water started leaking again. That was our cue to call in a pro. He removed the toilet, ran an 150 foot snake and dislodged what he concluded was “years worth of paper build-up” way down in our pipes somewhere. Phew! Problem solved.

Except it wasn’t. Fast forward another week and the shower starts to back-up again. In fact, it happens as I’m using the tub to fill up the steamer during may latest wallpaper removal spree. So not only was that process miserable on its own, I was doing it with a less than fresh-looking (and smelling) shower nearby. Not to mention that we’re both beyond frustrated that our first call to the plumber didn’t solve the problem. So yeah, clearly the picture below was taken before the back-up happened. Just look at me all footloose and fancy free.

Remember when I called this post-wallpapered look: “gas station bathroom.” I was really thinking it was more reminiscent of that scene in Trainspotting. Yeah, you know the one. And if you don’t, well, I highly suggest that you NOT google it right now. Okay, maybe our bathroom wasn’t that bad. But it was bad enough that I was embarrassed that this was the state the plumbers would see it in.

Then again, things didn’t get much prettier once they arrived. Now that I think about it, I guess they’ve pretty much seen it all.

The plumbing company sent a different guy this time and, after explaining the series of events, he had a pretty solid theory. But it meant cutting into our ceiling to confirm it. Welcome to our crash course in two-story home issues. Kinda made us miss the days where virtually everything was visible from a crawl space or attic.

His hunch was correct. All of the master bathroom plumbing was configured wrong. And it had been for 30+ years since they built this house. A key element – the slope of the main drain pipe – was incorrect. So rather than having gravity to help water leave the vicinity, it was actually sloped uphill – so water and sewage that should have been flushed down and out of the house would collect and pool and eventually back-up into the lowest opening in that bathroom (i.e. the shower). In the words of Clara: yuckaroo.

The only solution was to cut a bigger hole in the ceiling and have the experts replace all the plumbing. It even meant cutting out one of the load-bearing joists and reinforcing it with a new one so the new pipes could be configured at the right angle, so it was nothing that we dared to attempt ourselves.

Did we like having our house torn apart? No. But we were pretty relieved that the root of the problem was finally getting fixed. And I’ll admit that we were pretty entertained by the view through the floor.

It only took them a day to complete the task (they came back a few days after their initial diagnosis to get it done) along with a somewhat painful $650 check, but we were relieved that this hidden-behind-the-walls issue that had plagued this house for over three decades was finally solved. Which meant we could finally get back to our little bathroom update. And hey, while the toilet was removed, we were able to strip that small swatch of wallpaper that had been hiding behind the bowl, so that was kind of funny (very marginally at the time, but more so now).

But we were still left with that gaping hole in the living room ceiling well after the bathroom was trimmed out and painted.

We went back and forth about drywalling it ourselves – which basically involves mudding, taping, sanding, re-mudding, and re-sanding. Smooth ceilings are especially tricky (imperfections are a lot more visible up there) and we knew any remaining dents or seams would have bugged us forever, so we finally just pulled the trigger and called a highly recommended local drywall guy.

He fixed it flawlessly in a few hours for around $100, and was also very nice (he said Sherry looked like Topanga from Boy Meets World, which pretty much made our day). So now all we’ve got to do is prime and paint it.

Update: A few folks have asked if our home warranty would have covered this issue (that actually ran out before this fiasco) but it most likely would not, since this was an “existing condition” (the plumbing didn’t break after we moved in, it was configured this way for 30 years, so that’s not something typically covered by a home warranty).

These unplanned homeowner curveballs never feel good (especially when we’d rather be spending that money on fun updates that we can actually see and enjoy) but it’s nice to have things all put back together again. The irony is that we have another “oh the joys of home ownership” story unfolding (it’s still halfway-solved, so we’ll wait for the full resolution before crying on your shoulder). Please tell us we’re not the only ones. Regale us with some of your tales of woe in the plumbing/heating/other house systems arenas. We’re all in this together. Right?

Psst- The “Volume Two” part of this post’s title is thanks to this original leak lesson that we dealt with a few years ago at our last house. Best thing about that one is that it was something we could solve ourselves (read: zero benjamins).






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