Is it a leak…or does it just LOOK like a leak?

Plumbing leaks can be a bit scary for homeowners, and sometimes a challenge to locate and remediate.   A recent client of ours called us regarding a leak in the master bath shower.  We always take a sort of combined “detective / scientist” approach to diagnosing such problems, seeking to systematically eliminate possible root causes in order to zero in on the true root of the problem, and the fix it.

Water leaks in a shower can be caused by leaks in the supply lines, (in the copper pipes and fittings, in the shower valve assembly itself or in the drop-eared flange that the shower head gooseneck tube screws into); or from leaks in the floor drain assembly; or from a crack in the shower pan (sometimes hairline cracks that only open up when a heavy person steps into the shower and applies downward pressure on the pan); or from cracks in the tiles or grout between tiles; or in areas where caulking between tile and pan are allowing water to leak through and get below the pan.  Since a leak can come from any one (or more) of these sources, we need to zero in on the true source of the leak…otherwise we’d just be guessing and trying to fix things one piece at a time….which obviously would be a more time- and capital-intensive approach than systematically narrowing it down to the correct root cause and then remediating just that single issue.

In this case, we first used a bucket to catch water from the shower head while running the shower for several minutes (both hot and cold) and capturing all water which was then poured down the toilet.  We then checked for evidence of leaks in the unfinished basement directly below, and also pulled the escutcheon from the shower valve and used a borescope (snake camera) to look at the shower valve and also all around in the wall cavity behind the valve to verify that there were no leaks whatsoever occurring in the “wet wall” — the wall where all of the supply lines, drop-earned flange and shower valve are located.  Finding no visible evidence of water leaks (current or past) inside the wet wall, and no evidence of water in the basement as a result of this initial water-run test, we then shifted to the next test — that being of the drain assembly.  We started by testing these two areas first because our observation of the shower pan itself, as well as the tile, grout and caulking seems to indicate that none of these visible areas were compromised.  They still might have been, but our experience suggested it was more likely an issue with the supply or drain lines.

So, we then poured several buckets of cold and then hot water straight down the drain without getting the rest of the pan (or shower walls) wet, attempting to test the water tightness of the drain assembly.  We also stepped all around the shower pan during this test, trying to flex it where it attaches to the drain, in hopes that we would cause an intermittent leak to actually occur for us while we were pouring gallons of water down the drain.  This test actually did indeed prove to be what we believed to be the source of the leak.  We disassembled the drain system and found that there wasn’t a proper seal where two portions of the drain came together.  We remediated this missing seal, and also repaired a small area of tile around the entrance dam that appeared to have been stressed due to water having leaked under the pan and behind the tile, causing the substrate to expand, popping the tiles.  We then allowed everything to fully cure, and then came back and tested everything again, being rewarded with no further evidence of any leaks!  The client was thrilled.

The next chapter of this story is perhaps the most interesting, and instructional as well.  About a month later the client called and said they were having leaks again…. they were seeing a few drips (not much water, but still a few drips on the concrete floor in the basement were indeed troubling to them).  So, a few days later we went back out, looked at the pipes, and ran through the entire series of tests to determine where the leak was occurring this time.  We found no evidence of any further leaks….and could not get it to leak whatsoever, using all of the approaches we have in our arsenal.  I then called the client and he had me speak with the tenant who reported the most recent “leak”.  I wanted to probe a bit deeper with her as to when the “leak” actually occurred, and how it manifested itself.

She said that the leak had vanished, so all was now fixed.  Hmmm….I thought:  it might be intermittent, but no true leak just “self heals”.  I explained that If there was truly a leak, then the root cause would still need to be identified and remediated.

“But let’s talk about the leak a bit more…when it happened, when it stopped, etc.”

She said that the leak was visible as a drip of water on the floor, and on the bottom of an “L” fitting on one of the supply lines in the basement, where the lines turn upward and head up into the wet wall where the connect to the shower valve.  And this happened a weak earlier than when we arrived to test things, but was now not leaking any more.

“Ah ha!  I know what’s happening”, I said.   “The supply line that was dripping…it was the one on the right — the one closest to the front-side of the house….right?”

“Uuhh, Yes, how did you know?”

“I think I know what’s going on”, I said.  “When you saw the drips on the floor…what was the temperature like in the house?  Did it feel hot inside? ”

Yes, that was when we had that horribly hot period for about a week, and it was also very muggy…both inside and outside…we don’t have A/C, and it was very warm all throughout the house.”

“That’s what I thought.   And now it’s much cooler, and dry, like it usually is here in Colorado…right?”

“Yes – but how does that factor into the plumbing?” she asked.

“It doesn’t change the plumbing, but I think that’s why you saw the drips coming from the supply line.  The line that’s closest to the front of the house is the cold water line…and when you ran a lot of cold water through it, the water vapor in the air inside the house condensed on the outside of the cold water line just like condensation on the outside of a tumbler when you put an ice-cold drink in it — and eventually the condensate dripped down and off the end of the L where it turned at 90-degrees.  That’s why there was water on the floor below, and why you felt the wetness on that pipe.

“And now?”, she asked.

“Now the weather is less humid, and the house is cooler inside and you’re not keeping the windows open…right?  And there’s less humidity coming in.  So, less water vapor in the ambient air, so less to be condensing on the cold water line,” I said.  “We already tested and inspected the supply lines in the wet wall, and there’s no leaks whatsoever in those lines, so I’m confident that the water you’re seeing isn’t coming from a leak in the plumbing.  So, it must be simply a bit of condensation on the cold water supply line!”

“if you insulate the supply lines in the unfinished basement, you will not only save a little energy by keeping the hot water line from releasing some of its heat into the basement air, but you’ll also keep the cold water line from getting condensate on it, and causing false alarms, like this one, where it did seem like your plumbing was having a leak,” I explained.  Mystery solved….no more leaks!

The moral of the story is:  “What looks like a leak isn’t always a leak.”

- Jim Bartlett, Co-Founder & CEO

A Master’s Hands Receives Talk of the Town Award 2013

LITTLETON, CO  June, 2013 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Earning the highest possible customer satisfaction rating of 5 stars for a second straight year, A Master’s Hands, LLC has won the prestigious Talk of the Town Customer Satisfaction Award in the Handyman and Remodeling Contractors category.

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A Master’s Hands Receives Ethics In Business Award 2013

ethics-in-business-2013-640The Ethics In Business Award is given each year to one for-profit company, and one non-profit organization. A Master’s Hands was one of 9 finalists, and won the award for the former category.

In the picture to the right, co-founders Jim and Michele Bartlett receive the award from Golden Rotary Club President Peggy Halderman (L), and Gold Sponsor 1st Bank President, Emily Robinson.

Each nominee was judged based on maintaining an ethical standard with integrity and conviction, as demonstrated by the treatment of customers, employees, community, and the environment.

The award is a plaque with a bronze miniature statue of Thomas Jefferson, who adhered to a principle of high integrity. Jefferson declared: “I have but one system of ethics for men and nations — to be grateful, to be faithful to all engagements and under all circumstances, to be open and generous, promoting in the long run even the interest of both; and I am sure it promotes their happiness.”

This recognition was also placed into the US Congressional Record by US Representative Ed Perlmutter.

A Master’s Hands Recognized with Award by West Chamber of Commerce – Business of the Year!

On Friday January 18th 2013 at the Annual Chairman’s Inaugural Luncheon for the West Chamber, A Master’s Hands, LLC was recognized, being named Business of the Year (companies under 50 employees)!  Company co-founders Jim & Michele Bartlett received the award from West Chamber President & CEO Brian Willms and Emcee Gregg Moss from Channel 9 News.

Winter Garden Hose Use — Be sure to disconnect when you’re finished!

When we experience warm weather during the winter here in Colorado (such as 65-degree days in January like we’re having right now!), many people take the opportunity to play a little golf, or even wash the cars out on the driveway.  Keeping the car clean by removing salt and road grime is smart.  Smarter still is to be sure to disconnect the garden hose from the hose bib (outside spigot) when you’re finished.  If you don’t you could find yourself with broken pipes inside the house when things get colder.  Why?  Here’s the scoop:

Houses built in 4-season climates like we have here in Colorado are outfitted with frost-free hose bibs…ones that turn off the water well inside the house when you turn the shut-off knob on the exterior.  Woodford Frost-Free Hose BibThis is done via a long stem on the hose bib that extended through the wall back into the heated portion of the home.  So, when you turn off the water it shuts off back in side the home.  Then, the remaining water in the pipe that extends beyond that shutoff point drains down and out, leaving the portion of the hose bib that’s “exposed” to weather and cold temperatures completely empty.  And an empty pipe can’t be frozen and burst open by extremely cold temperatures because there’s nothing inside it to expand and crack the pipe.  Makes sense, right?  Here’s the rub:  if you leave a hose connected to the spigot, that can prevent the extra water from draining out of the hose bib after it’s shut off.  Result?  When temperatures drop again, that water is trapped inside the tube that should be empty, the water freezes and expands, and crack! — the pipe pops open.  Cracked "Frost-Free" Hose Bib

The crack usually isn’t very big…but it’s big enough to cause a huge problem the next time you use the hose.  Here’s what happens:  You open the valve again, and water begins to flow back into that tube from the shut-off point back inside the heated portion of the home.  Most of it may continue forward and flow out the spigot and into the hose…but a portion of it will spray out of the crack in that pipe….and into the walls inside your home.  And since this  is usually in the basement or crawl space, you may not immediately notice the problem — until you hear a strange noise, or walk downstairs and step into a puddle where dry carpet used to be!

As the old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!”  In this case, maybe 1,000 pounds!

If you do experience a broken hose bib, we’d be gad to be of service to you.  We can open up the associated walls or ceiling areas (as needed) to reach the broken hose bib, then replace the cracked pipes, and button everything back up again!

A Master’s Hands Receives the 2012 CMUS Talk of the Town Customer Satisfaction Award

Only the very best businesses are chosen to receive the 2012 CMUS Talk of the Town Customer Satisfaction Award. The award was created to showcase companies that excel in serving their customers and getting their high marks. Based on research gathered during the past 12 months, A Master’s Hands LLC has earned top honors and now has its very own award page at www.talkofthetownnews.com/awards2012/7204683225.

Celebration Media U.S. (CMUS) is a co-sponsor of the award and an independent professional research and marketing company that monitors positive and negative reviews, blogs, business rating services, social networks, and other industry resources to determine the highest-rated and top-reviewed businesses in all 50 states of the country and parts of Canada.

Help Stop SOPA/PIPA

You may not know it, but you are an agent of change.   If nobody has ever told you that, just take my word for it.  If you’re a voter, you are a potential agent of change….if you’re willing to act when needed.   Well, now there’s a very real need!

Normally at A Master’s Hands, we stay away from politics – in our business, and in our blog posts – and we don’t want to alienate any of our clients or those who follow our blog.  However, today, I’m breaking my own unwritten “no-politics rule”, because there’s something going on in U.S. politics right now that we need to make sure you know about and understand, because it affects all of us in many ways…some of which we might not even fully realize yet.

Using websites to blog, to publish, to communicate things online that once upon a time would have been relegated to an unread private journal (or simply remained unspoken, uncreated, unshared) makes you a part of one of the biggest changes in modern history: the democratization of publishing and the independent web.

Every time you read someone else’s blog post (like this one), or click Publish yourself to post a blog entry, you are a part of that Internet-based change…part of what is making the world “flat” (see “The World is Flat“)….equalizing things, leveling the playing field in many respects for smaller developing countries, giving them essentially free access to huge amounts of data, knowledge, etc.  So, whether you just like to read, or are posting political insights, a joke or a story about something that happened to you, this is a topic that should matter to you….a lot!  If you use free on-line services such as Craigslist, Backpage, Facebook, or other similar services, you also are experiencing the power of the world wide web…which is now suddenly at risk.

How would you feel if the web stopped being so free and independent?   We are very concerned about two bills that threaten to do exactly this, and as an active participant in one of the biggest changes in modern history, you should be, too.

You may have heard people talking/blogging/twittering about SOPA — the Stop Online Piracy Act. The recent SOPA-related boycott of GoDaddy was all over the news, with many people expressing their outrage over the possibilities of SOPA, but when I ask people about SOPA and its sister bill in the Senate, PIPA (Protect IP Act), many folks don’t really know what the bills propose, or what we stand to lose. If you aren’t shocked by the potential impact….e.g. the havoc that could be wreaked by SOPA/PIPA, please… for the next four minutes, instead of checking email or Facebook, watch this video.

Some thoughts:

  • In the U.S. our legal system maintains that the burden of proof is on the accuser, and that people are innocent until proven guilty. This tenet seems to be on the chopping block when it comes to the web if these bills pass, as companies could shut down sites based on accusation alone.
  • Laws are not like lines of computer code; they are not easily reverted/edited if someone wakes up and suddenly realizes there’s a better way to do things.  We should not be so quick to codify something this far-reaching.
  • The people writing these laws are not the people writing or overseeing the independent web, and they are certainly not out to protect it. We have to stand up for it ourselves.

Blogging is a form of activism.  You can be an agent of change. Some people will tell you that taking action is useless, that online petitions, phone calls to representatives, and other actions won’t change a single mind, especially one that’s been convinced of something by lobbyist dollars. To those people, we repeat the words of Margaret Mead:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

We are not a small group. Millions of people use blog engines to post and to read news.  Millions also use sites such as Craigslist to help market their services.  If such sites were shut down simply based on one accusation, many small businesses would see revenues dry up overnight.  As an example, the blog engine we use to power our entire website for A Master’s Hands is called WordPress, an open-source (free) application.  WordPress is said to power about 15% of the web.  Each of us who are using and benefiting from this application can make an impact, and you can be an agent of change.  Go to Stop American Censorship for more information and learn about a number of ways you can take action quickly, easily, and painlessly.  The Senate votes in less than two weeks, and we need to help at least 41 more senators see reason to change their current positions on this proposed legislation before then.  PleaseMake your voice heard.

Thanks in advance! — Jim Bartlett, Founder

Remodeling and Handyman Services

The web is continually evolving, and there are more and more ways to get the word out about services a company provides.  The latest we discovered is called Thumbtack.  This on-line service is definitely worthwhile checking out.  See our information about Remodeling and Handyman Services at Thumbtack!

For Handyman Services Firms, it’s Black Friday Too

The day after the food-heavy Thanksgiving holiday is typically the busiest of the year for handymen and residential plumbers, sort of like a “Black Friday” for drains and pipes.

“People try to grind up turkey skin,” says Jerry Feiman, owner of Jerry’s Plumbing in Ventura, Calif. “They put too many veggies down the disposal all at once.”

The intensity of cooking and associated use of the kitchen sink, combined with visiting relatives using showers, toilets and washing machines can take a toll on plumbing and sewer lines this time of year.

“The week after Thanksgiving is often one of the busiest weeks of the year for us,” says Jim Bartlett of A Master’s Hands, LLC.   He anticipates many calls from clients with clogs in their kitchen sinks and toilets.

“We try to work around people’s schedules,” says Bartlett.  “Some people need to have us respond to their issues in the evening.”

The Thanksgiving-triggered business usually starts the evening before Turkey Day.  Calls tend to slow down on Thanksgiving itself, because many people are worried about extra charges associated with calling for assistance on a holiday.  Others may just want to get through the “big meal” without interruption, if possible.

Bartlett says the most common Thanksgiving problem his company gets calls about is a clogged kitchen sink, resulting from improper use of the garbage disposal.

It’s important to run lots of water when using a disposal, says Bartlett.  He recommends not feeding stringy vegetables, or starchy material like potato peelings into the disposal.  If you must pour grease down the drain, make sure you run a lot of hot water as you do so.  That will ensure it makes its way completely through your home’s plumbing.

To avoid disposal/sink problems altogether, Bartlett recommends putting all the above mentioned “throwaways” in a separate container and tossing them in the trash, rather than putting them through the disposal.   “Many people just put too much garbage down the drain,” says Bartlett.  “If you limit it to just the small table scraps as you rinse off plates before putting them in the dishwasher, that will ensure you get through the holiday period without needing to call us.”  Food prep waste (peels, cuttings, fat, grease, etc., should be put into the trash he says.

Bartlett also says homeowners should realize that just because a disposal turns on doesn’t mean it’s necessarily working properly.  Homeowners sometimes don’t know a disposal isn’t really working properly until they overload it on the big day and everything backs up.

Toilets also can also stop up from heavy use. Some homeowners with low-flow toilets make the mistake of putting bricks in the tanks with the intent of saving water.  But without sufficient water per flush to create the necessary “siphon” action, the toilet won’t fully flush.  Repeated usage in this manner can lead to stopped up plumbing, and a call for professional assistance.  Sometimes the culprit behind a clog is too much toilet paper being used – something that’s difficult to control (much less monitor) with visiting friends and family members with children.  Of course, tampons and other feminine products always are a no-no for flushing.

If it works its way down into the main line, a bad sink or toilet clog can stop up the entire plumbing system in the home, creating indoor floods.

“While we’re happy to assist clients who have emergencies around Thanksgiving, we’d much prefer to see everyone adopt these common-sense approaches that can help avoid common problems,” says Bartlett.