By Trish Holder
Alliumphobia: n. The irrational fear of LEEKS (or anything in the garlic family).
Okay, maybe my fear of household water damage isn’t quite a phobia, but I’m pretty paranoid about leaks. (That’s leaks not l-e-e-k-s, which are kinda yummy.) So the distinct sound of water dropping each time the kids took a shower upstairs was starting to make me a crazy.
It was a slow, steady “splat” sound that occurred every time the water was turned on in the upstairs bathroom. I imagined little drops of water collecting, unseen behind the walls of my new (green) home. I visualized the whole thing every morning while I listened from my office below. Splat…splat….splat. A fat drop of water, clinging to a run of pipe until it could cling no more. I envisioned the mold that was surely growing in the wall cavity below the upstairs bath.
I called Cliff, my plumber (of course). Cliff said if I didn’t see any evidence of water damage then there wasn’t a leak. Plus, I had a central manifold distribution system, which means there is virtually nothing to leak between the fixture and the water heater. That’s one of the reasons I chose a central manifold system – my irrational fear of leaks.
Still, there was no denying the “splat” sound that lasted the full duration of every shower taken in the upstairs bath. I called Cliff again, who, by the way, is a straight up guy (and if you read this blog you know I’m not one to give contractors random accolades, so you know he must be good). While he still didn’t suspect a leak, he said something about “pipe expansion” and promised to stop by.
Now, by the time I was five years old I could identify the sound of liquid dropping onto a hard surface, so ole’ Cliff was going to have a tough time convincing me that I didn’t have a leak. I know and you know water always finds a way, and when it does there’s always a price to pay. Well, where this story is concerned, I’m happy to report that I’m the one who is all wet.
As promised, Cliff stopped by to troubleshoot the phantom noise. He immediately sent his assistant upstairs to turn the hot water on and asked me to take him to the place where the noise was the loudest. I made a beeline for back corner of the master bedroom closet. We heard the water turn on and sure enough: splat….splat….splat.
“Hear that? Hear that?” I said.
“That’s your PVC drain pipe,” he said.
He called up to his helper again, this time, asking him to turn the hot water off and the cold water on. We listened.
Nothing. No splat, splat–just the sound of water going down the drainpipe. If it had been a leak, why would it only occur when the hot water was on?
The answer is PVC expansion, and as Cliff assured me, it is an annoyance, but not a real problem. The noise occurs when hot water causes PVC pipe to expand and subsequently rub against the wood behind the wall – probably a hole that was drilled for the pipe, but not quite large enough to allow for full expansion.
For good measure, Cliff did a quick inspection of the crawl space to see if there was any sign of water damage from below. It was all dry as a bone, music to the ears of any homeowner.
I have to say it all seemed a little like voodoo to me until he had his helper turn the cold water on and I heard no sound. And then a peaceful feeling settled over me like a warm (dry) blanket. I’d been worried for nothing.
I had to wonder how common this problem was, so immediately after Cliff left (walking over a path of rose petals I’d spread in his honor), I did some Googling. Turns out that distraught homeowners everywhere are posting questions about a mysterious “tapping” sound that occurs whenever the hot water is turned on. It sounds like a leak but there is no evidence of water damage. Occasionally, an experienced plumber tips them off to PVC expansion.
I felt like I’d won the lottery. Not having to worry about an unseen leak was like finding out I didn’t have to have ACL surgery. The noise (like the sound my knees make when going down the stairs) is annoying, but not cause for concern.