If water begins to pipe up, the homeowner can stop the music


May 21, 1994|By Karol V. Menzie and Randy Johnson

No doubt about it, indoor plumbing is the greatest convenience in shelter since the discovery of the door. But it's also the source of a huge number of homeowner headaches. We've gotten a series of questions recently about water problems such as burbling pipes and dripping walls. A reader in Severna Park offers another water puzzle.

"Our problem is the moaning noise [not hammer noise] we hear when we turn on the water. It's difficult to determine where the noise originates since the sound travels along the water routes and finally to the water heater . . . We've had the county water utility people examine it and they felt the cause might be due to high water pressure, and after some cajoling they installed a water-pressure reduction valve in the water main. Unfortunately, this did not help. I must add that our glass-lined water heater is over 20 years old and I suspect that it may be the culprit, although I am not certain."

Water noises in pipes -- burps, burbles, hammers, hums and moans -- are notoriously difficult to track, and it sometimes seems the system must be possessed by demons. In the case of moaning, the culprit is usually a problem with excessive water pressure. It's possible that in this reader's case, the pressure reduction performed by the utility company wasn't sufficient. Or the pipes could need further pressure-relief measures, such as "air gaps," or small branch pipes that allow additional space in pipes to accommodate air.

It's also possible that the "moan" is really a hum -- the kind of sound a tuning fork makes -- that's caused by vibrating pipes. Hums can occur when a pipe is touching a joist or another pipe and vibrating when water runs through. Or pipes might be loose at connections.

Vibration noises can generally be solved by a homeowner; the trick is finding them. First check all connections to make sure they're tight. Then station someone in the basement to monitor the noise and someone upstairs to turn faucets off and on. Adding insulation to pipes that touch house parts or each other should eliminate the hums.

If the problem is not vibration, the next step is to find an exorcist with a pipe wrench -- that is, a good plumber -- to see if he or she can track down the culprit. Ask friends, family and neighbors for a recommendation. The plumber should also be able to check the water heater for problems.

Water problems of another sort are plaguing a reader in Miami, Fla., who wonders if a marble tub was installed improperly, "because after a shower, water is all over the floor and the side opposite the faucet is full of water I have to sponge out. Between the tub and tile wall is a space of 18 inches, half marble, half tile. I have a shower curtain."

The reader wonders if installing some kind of tile "border" will help. "What kind of cement [do you] use on ceramic and marble?" the reader asks.

Epoxy will stick almost anything to almost anything else, and new packaging makes two-part epoxy adhesives easier to use. Adhesive caulk also provides a reliable bond, though applying it requires some skill with a caulk gun.

However, we wonder if any kind of border will help. It sounds as if the tub is recessed into the floor, or into a platform. This type of installation is usually designed to be used only for bathing, not for showering. A shower curtain, to be at all effective in keeping water in, should completely encircle the tub. Circular rods are available; most use more than one curtain. But a small barrier, such as a row of tile, would be unlikely to keep water from escaping in a situation where it pours down from overhead.

Mr. Johnson is a Baltimore construction manager. Ms. Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.

If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, write to us c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N.

Calvert St. Baltimore, 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.

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