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Mystery Leak! Wet Slab and Punky Baseboard: Was it the Plumber, Drywaller, or Finish Carpenter?

October 02, 2017

Q: How many holes will Matt cut before finding the leak? A: As many as it takes!

In this episode of Risinger Goes Rouge, Matt is 'invited' to his buddy's house to 'help' figure out what is leaking in the bathroom. It shows up outside as a wet spot on the slab on grade foundation. Inside, the leak is hidden. Matt breaks out his IR camera and starts poking around the inside for evidence of moisture.

After a couple of false-positives, and a couple of holes in the drywall, Matt hits the jackpot. Is it the plumber who installed the toilet, the drywall contractor, or the finish carpenter who installed paneling to the walls?


00:00 Speaker 1: Hey guys. I'm at my buddy Rob's house. He called me and said, "I've got a leak." Kind of a random one at my house and I thought this might make an interesting Rogue episode. We'll see if we end up publishing this. But check this out, this is a mystery and I've actually looked at this with him a couple of times before.

Can you see that wet spot on the foundation? What we've got here is slab on grade foundation. This is the brick lids right here and then we've got brick going on and he's got some heavy water right here and over the last week or two, it started actually wet back this way.

Now my original thought was he's got a tankless water heater that was added on the outside of this 1970's house, but as you can see the piping's coming up from the top up there out of the attic, so I don't think there's any issues with that piping per se.

Now, at some point in this garage space right here, the prior homeowner to my buddy Rob owning it, put in a bedroom and a bathroom. So we're gonna measure off the brick, see where we are here and I think that's gonna end us up in the bathroom that's on the other side here. Let's go take the IR camera and see if we can figure out where the problem is.

01:19 Alright so we're inside, this is a converted garage space bedroom and bathroom. I've got my FLIR imaging moisture meter on right here and this tub was added 10 or 15 years ago, and the pipes on the outside that we saw where that tankless are right there. Let's see if our imaging moisture meter can show anything.

Oh, that's kinda cool, look at that. Can you see that on the film, on the video? There are some blue spots right here that seem to indicate there's moisture down in the base of that tub space. I wonder if that's our moisture from the outside.

No, it's somebody had a shower.


01:58 Okay, well that's not it, that's not helping us, but check that out. That's pretty cool, look at that. It's showing that blue water right there. That's from someone showering earlier. And if you scroll up, you can see it right there, they got a little bit of water on the shampoo bottle right there. And that dark blue is showing that.

Nothing else seems to be showing up on the outside as water per se. This is an infrared moisture meter. I've not had a ton of experience with this. This is interesting, you can see the heat loss at the top of the top plates right there showing as real white, meaning it's really hot up there.

Let's stroll around the side, see if there's anything we can see right here. Nothing. When we pulled the tape measure off the side of the house where that water is is right on the outside here. So let me get out my Festool saw and we're gonna cut a little hole behind this tub and see what we can see. Alright. Cut a little hole here. I really freaking hope this is gonna tell us something and not just make a big mess, but we shall see, maybe it'll be just a big mess.

My buddy Rob's wife Kim is gonna be really upset if I'm cutting holes for nothing.

I have a pretty good hunch this is gonna be helpful. I think we're gonna be able to see wet concrete down there if it really is wet. On the other side of the bathroom is his master bath and over there doesn't appear to be any damage. Alright, the moment of truth. Oh darn, we got insulation. Oh no, we can move it. Alright, let's see what we got here people...

Dry, crazy. Totally dry back there as far as I can tell. Darn. Well, that's something. Not what we wanted to know, but it's something. Very interesting.

Bone stinkin' dry. Yep. Yep. Let's grab the moisture meter again, Rob will you?

04:22: Interestingly enough it shows something blue at the far end of the area. What is that? Now since we couldn't find anything in the room next door, on the other side of this wall right here is that tub where we just cut. Totally bone dry under there, odd. Let's check out the moisture meter over here if we can see anything.

We've got a master toilet. This master was redone what, Rob, a year ago or so? Something like that. And this is so cool man, look you can see the water in the toilet tank as blue, but nothing else shows up. Super weird and we're right on the other side... Oh, wait a minute. Nope, nope. I thought I saw some blue showing on this slab right here. Did I? Does that look to you like it's wet?

Mm-hmm. That's wet. We got wet grout right here. Alright, our first sign of something.

Look at the separation of the baseboard too right there by your knee? 05:29 S1: This is getting wet, yeah, yeah. Good point, good call Rob. Yeah, look at the moisture meter showing this right here, look at this. You're seeing some blue in the moisture meter. This thing's cool, man. I like this FLIR. FLIR MR160 we're using today. Look it shows... We're wet underneath that cabinet.

Alright, so a couple of theories. When this went on... When this vanity got added or when this wall right here, which is clad in a one by, I don't know. One by two, or one by four T&G. I'm wondering if one of these pipes or one of these got nailed in, a trim nail went through a pipe and the nail kind of sealed the pipe, and it's leaking.

And these guys have a leak detector come out, which pressurized the system. You couldn't find the problem, but the leak outside has gotten worse since then. So, my theory is that there's a nail through a pipe somewhere in this general vicinity, either piping for the sink or for this toilet.

So, I think the first thing we're gonna do, and the first thing we should do is let's cut a hole in this vanity right here, in the bottom with the Festool plumb saw, and see if we can see a problem in the bottom there, and maybe we can track the source back here. And if not, we're gonna take that first board off behind the toilet and see if we can find the problem.

06:58 S1: Alright, the hole's cut. Let's see what we got, people. Oh, interesting. Is that wet slab? I can't tell immediately. Yeah. It's all wet under here. We've found the source of the problem. We know what the problem is, look, it's wet sawdust right there. The problem is here somewhere. Where? It's a well-built cabinet, look at that nice three-quarter thick plywood, that's the Baltic birch ply. That's good cabinets, buddy.

Fancy. I'm super fancy.

See that? See that water under there? And your wife will be glad to know there's a little bit of mold growth in there too.

Sorry, Kim. We're gonna fix it, don't worry. Now we know what the problem is. The harder part now is figuring out which pipe is leaking and where, 'cause the plumber can't fix it until we know where the problem is. But we know it's... I would say it's probably coming from these two pipes, 'cause it's further from the toilet area. So, I have a feeling it's one of these two pipes here.

08:07: Alright, so, here's the game plan. We've got a hole cut in the bottom of the vanity.

Let's throw my iPhone back in there, use the flash, take a picture, and check this out, this is really interesting. I looked all around in the back of the cabinet there with my phone, beautiful to be able to use this, a little camera and a flash, nothing to the left-hand side of the vanity, but as we get to the right, ooh, what's that? Little zoom in, there are three copper pipes coming out of the slab in the back right-hand corner here, and it appears to be wet around that area. I wonder if when this remodel happened, we got a small leak back there.

So, we're gonna use the plunge cut saw again, cut a corner out of this vanity. Be real careful, though, we don't wanna plunge too deep and hit a pipe. Let's see if we can track this leak down.

08:54 A little progress update. Unfortunately, we weren't filming, but a second ago, there was a geyser here.


09:01 S1: I used the plunge cut saw to pull this back out and look what was directly behind the backer. No matter what, I would have hit it. Those copper pipes, they're into the space, all the way up against the vanity. There's no insulation back here. There's some black mold. Not black mold, there is some fungal growth back here, but we still don't know where the leak was. And, unfortunately, I ran out in a huff to shut off the house's water, 'cause I nicked that pipe. That's a real bummer. But we're gonna cut some more and figure out where the leak is coming from because at this point, it's still not obvious what the problem is.

Alright, so, next day, we got that pipe fixed. We pulled the toilet and we started to pull a few of the boards behind the toilet. [chuckle] Look at these boards. [chuckle] The carpenter used a three and a half inch finish nail. This is boding poorly. My original theory about a nail in the pipe may come true. So, here's what I wanna do.

The beauty of a little iPhone camera is that it's nice and thin. We can get back in there. I can hear something coming from inside. Let's use the iPhone and videotape this and see what we can find in there.

Alright, so, we've got this pipe fixed now, and there are the pipes we fixed. I can hear water spraying from somewhere. Let's see if we can see what's going on back here. Oh, we've got some water spewing. And what do we have here? Looks like we've got a nail right there. Where is that? Where is that leak? Oh, there it is. I can see it, on that trim. There's a trim nail right here, right in the center there, and it's spewing right through that nail.

Oh yeah, I see it.

You see that on there?

Yeah, I see that little hole.

Oh, boy. Well, we've found the source of the problem, Rob. Alright, pull it off, Rob. What do we got here? Oh yeah, it's definitely that nail. It's that nail right there. There you go.

That's our plug.

That nail, that's our plug. And we just lost the plug...

Wow. We gotta go turn the water off again. But there's another nail right on top of that, that got hit too. They hit with two nails. Alright, I'm gonna go turn the water off the street.

This is awesome.

Alright, so, now we know what the problem is. We've got a trim nail stuck into a pipe back there. A couple of lessons learned here.

Number one, we wanna be using just the size trim nail we need. If you're doing shiplap on your walls, the carpenter did use some glue. These trim nails are way too long, and we we wanna know what we're nailing into. You gotta be really careful, especially in a bathroom when you're using shiplap on these walls.

Couple of things here too. We've had this thing leaking for a long, long time, probably a small amount of water at first. We got some remediation we need to do here, we need to make sure there's no mold happening here, we need to dry this all out. Once it's all dry, we'll know that we've stopped any additional mold growth but we need to clean up what we found, make sure we get rid of any wet or soggy materials.

I'm sure the sheathing and the studs are gonna be okay. The plywood on these cabinets are gonna be fine. Sheetrock we probably wanna remove and throw away. We're gonna run a fan and a dehumidifier in here for at least a week to dry this all out. I think a few lessons learned on this, we want to be really careful about piping on outside walls and we want to be cautious about our nails and our nailing patterns.

And when you do come across something like this, you wanna make sure it's really dry, the problem is fixed correctly before we put it all back together and that's gonna make sure that we don't have any mold growth or any future indoor air quality issues here.

Thanks for joining me guys, we'll see you next time.

—Matt Risinger is a Builder and YouTuber in Austin, Texas

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