Drip drip drip, now what?

Everytime someone uses the upstairs bathroom, there is a drip, drip, drip that can be heard. The drip starts off very rapid, and reduces in frequency as the person in the bathroom finishes up, and stops running the water.

Should I be concerned?

Unfortunately, any drip, drip, drip noise in a home is not good. It is very easy to ignore, rationalize and convince yourself that this is not a big deal. That is not the case.

The first action for the homeowner when they here the tell tale drip, drip, drip is to try and determine where it is coming from.

  1. Turn off all appliances, furnace, water heater, etc. that will be making noise in the home. It is important that any drip, drip, drip is not overpowered by an external noise from elsewhere. It is a great idea to try and listen for this noise in the evening, when the traffic has died down, and the home is quiet.
  2. Turn on the water in the bathroom that appears to cause the noise. The sink, shower and tub faucets should be turned on and off separately, to try to determine which flow of water is causing the drip, drip, drip.
  3. If you are not successful with the obvious origins of water, by turning on and off the faucets, try to run the shower and allow the water to drain out of the shower or bathtub drain, whichever you may have.
  4. Eliminating the sources of the noise is key. If you have not identified the drip, drip, drip by this point, flush the toilet and let it fill up. Do this repeatedly.
  5. Failure to hear the noise after these steps, indicates that you are in the wrong location for the origin of the dripping noise. Move to other bathrooms on the second and any upper floors. Continue the process in each bathroom, until the noise is identified.

There are several different possibilities that could cause this dripping noise. The actual flow of water to the faucets, although this would normally not be an intermittent dripping noise. If a supply line to any of the fixtures is leaking, then the dripping noise would be constant.
If the dripping noise is only when the bathroom is being used, then the leak is in the drainage lines of the fixture. The drip will only occur as the water exits the fixture, once the water is turned off and draining is complete, the dripping noise will stop.

Once you have identified the origin of the dripping noise, the following procedures should be taken.

  1. Locate the approximate position of the dripping overhead, by listening on the floor below. Once the approximate position of the overhead leak is determined, try to observe any type of old repair that may have already been done on the ceiling. This dripping might have been an old leak, that a fix was attempted already. If this is the case, then the actual location could be identified by rippling sheetrock, a bad patch job, etc. The best method of determining if the surface of the ceiling has been patched, is to turn off the lights in the room, and shine a flashlight beam across the open ceiling. This shining of the light, in a darkened room, will immediately identify any deviations in the ceiling surface.
  2. Once the location of the drip, overhead is identified, it is necessary for you to remove the ceiling from the lower floor level. This removal should be minimized to reduce the amount of patching required. It is recommended that a utility knife is used to cut out the sheetrock from the area of the leak. If at all possible, the cut should be down the center of any ceiling joists, to make the repair easier. Although this is difficult to perform, the other method is to simply cut the sheetrock open, and then recut the sheetrock as required to properly patch the ceiling. Don’t forget that you can always screw pieces of wood to the sides of the ceiling joists, to assist in the repair.
  3. Now that the ceiling has been removed at the drip location, carefully inspect the water lines in the ceiling. Unfortunately, water will travel along a pipe, and drip at the low point. Therefore the actual dripping location may not be the actual leak location. Carefully remove the existing ceiling as required, until you determine the leaks origination.
  4. Dependent upon the type of leak, at a joint, in the middle of a span, split PVC line, open solder joint, etc. will determine the type of repair that is required.
  5. It is strongly recommended that a professional plumber be hired to fix the leak, once it is found. Unless you are very proficient at plumbing, you do not want the leak to reappear, especially after you have patched the ceiling. This is the reason that a professional is recommended.
  6. Once the repair is completed, whether it is by a professional plumber, or yourself, it is recommended that you keep the ceiling open until you are totally convinced that the repair is complete and will not reoccur. This could be as long as several weeks. Do not be anxious to complete the ceiling repair, because one of the greatest frustrations of owning a home, is repeated problems with an item you assumed was repaired.
  7. Convinced that the repair is complete and satisfactory, close the ceiling back up, repaint and hopefully the drip, drip, drip has been eliminated.

Good luck, water leaks can lead to mold build up, ceiling collapse and even structural failure of the wood ceiling joists.

Do not procrastinate if you hear that tell tale, drip, drip, drip, it will not seal itself!

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