This is Not a Story About A Dishwasher

That’s right. The new dishwasher is still in a box in the garage, taking up space and not being used. The old one continues to grind away when we run it, which is frustrating, but that’s life.

Oh, hi there. And welcome to this week’s post!

I had hoped to share photos of the dishwasher install this week, since getting the old, semi-broken, very noisy one out of the house would be a good thing. But that has proven difficult for reasons that mostly have nothing to do with the dishwasher itself.

I opened the box in an attempt to get out the installation guide, mostly to figure out what they want done for the discharge connection and see if I need any parts to make that happen. But it turns out the manual is inside the dishwasher, not sitting on top, and the entire thing needs to remain in the box to let me hand truck it into the house when I am ready to do the installation, so I closed it back up hoping to get to it soon. Then other things happened.

What other things? Well, this:

Clearly an explanation is needed.

Regular readers will recall a couple of things from past posts. First, I’ve mentioned an odd odour in the guest bedroom that I have been unable to locate. Second, I found (and had fixed) a leak in the water supply to the sink in the tiny bathroom just off the guest bedroom. I’d hoped that would resolve the smell, but it did not.

Then, recently I was watching a home improvement video about a similar problem. In that case a kitchen sink was slow to drain and there was an odour in the kitchen. A plumber had snaked out the drain itself and found no problem, but mentioned that the local squirrels (in Louisiana) liked to drop pecans down the vent pipes on roofs. That could block a vent which would cause all kinds of issues. The presenters used a borescope (a tiny camera on the end of a long wire) to look down the roof vents and found one clogged with pecans, as predicted.

I didn’t think the local squirrels would do the same thing here, but that part of the house is 60 years old and who knows what might have fallen down the vents during that time. I bought a cheap borescope and last weekend we had two non-rainy (not to be confused with “sunny”) days in a row, so I got up on the roof with it and took a look.

I did not find a clogged vent pipe, but I did find a vent that was clearly broken or disconnected in the wall directly behind the vanity in the bathroom I just finished painting and putting back together. Thankfully my fixes behind the vanity were simply screwed into place, so I disassembled it again and opened up the wall. From there I noted the location where the camera was sticking out and realized I could not fix it from the bathroom side since I’d have to completely remove the vanity.

But the other side is just an interior wall in the back room of the house, with plenty of space to work in. I drilled a hole through the sheetrock out into that room — so I’d know where to open it up — and cut the opening you see above.

My picture taking wasn’t great —which will surprise none of my regular readers — but here’s the the issue I found:

The copper pipe going up is the vent in question. In that photo it is resting on a slip coupling. I’ve put it there to keep the vapours going out through the roof instead of into the room. When I first opened the wall, the vent pipe had clearly pulled out of the slip connection and shifted about halfway off the slip coupling itself. Sewer gasses were escaping into the wall and (at least in theory) rain coming down through the vent was able to get into the wall cavity. Note the blue corrosion on the copper, a sure indicator that there was some amount of water vapour in there. But note it is on the left side of the copper pipe as you look at it. That portion of the pipe was over the opening in the plastic coupling which leads into the sewer, so it was probably caused by water vapour coming out of there, rather than by rain. Also note the complete absence of mould, mildew, or rot. I’ll come back to that.

So what happened here? As best I can tell:

  • The original plumbing here did not include any of that ABS plastic you see. The copper vent was a simple, straight pipe soldered into a fitting farther down and it went up through the roof, as it should. This was in the back, exterior wall of the house. A drain clean out is barely visible at the bottom of the photo above as well.
  • At some point what had been a porch (I think) was enclosed and turned into a family room and laundry room. The laundry room required water supplies and a drain, and the closest place to get them was by tapping into the connections in this tiny bathroom. The exterior wall was cut open to do that, and all the plastic (as well as copper water supply lines) were added. A curtain wall was added over the old exterior wall to hide the mess and make space for the new drain and supply pipes.
  • But whoever did the remodel didn’t want to mess with sweat soldering 1.25" copper pipe. Instead they cut the vent pipe and inserted a tee using plastic slip couplings to put it back together.

Everything above is pretty clearly what happened. At this point things get less certain.

  • It is probable the people who did this work had no clue what they were doing, and the copper vent pipe might have been barely seated in the slip coupling. The house has settled a lot in some places over time, and that movement could explain why the pipe came loose.
  • It is also possible the slip coupling was not properly tightened against the copper pipe, making it easier for it to come loose. The plastic nut had flanges on it that kept it from being easily tightened, as they bumped into the stud right next to it.
  • The above items mean the pipe could have been loose in the wall for decades (literally) and no one did anything about it. And if the slope of the copper pipe happened to be right, rain coming down it might drip into the sewer rather than get out into the wall. That would explain why it’s dry and mould free in there.
  • Another option, however, is that when we re-roofed the house a year ago, this pipe was dislodged. There was a lot of old roof material to strip off, and it would have been simple for the pipe to get bumped and dislodged from the slip coupling. The roofers would never know it happened, and in that case the odour would only have started after we bought the house.
  • In fact there were at least two layers of old roofing that we stripped off, so it is also possible the pipe was dislodged during an earlier re-roofing.
  • Nothing I found is conclusive. I have no sense of how long it would take for that much corrosion to appear on the copper pipe, for example. If that’s a year’s worth of corrosion, then it happened when we did the roof. If it would take longer, then it opened up before then. The absence of mould and mildew might also argue for a shorter opening time, I suppose.

Once I had this diagnosed, I seated the pipe back into the slip coupling, cut the flanges off the nut, and tightened it back down. That solved the escaping gas problem. I considered trying to do a more permanent (and up to code) fix, but in the space I had to work it felt like a bad idea. Instead I strapped the pipe down in two places (with two different kinds of pipe strapping) and applied some silicone over the slip joint and the strapping. The silicone is not intended to seal anything, but is acting more like glue, to make it harder for the pipe to be dislodged in the future if it gets yanked on during the next re-roofing. And since it is silicone it can be scraped off if needed. The result looks like this:

That should hold against future — similar — problems.

Back on the roof I had to tweak the vent flashing that seals the vent in question. When I seated the copper as far down into the slip coupling as it would go, it turned out the vent flashing was now so tall that the cap would no longer extend into the copper vent pipe. I shortened the flashing a bit and things worked again. I should have taken pictures of this, but I didn’t so you will just have to trust me that I solved that problem too.

At this point I started to reassemble the drywall. I’d cut it out carefully so I could reuse what was there, and I am still in the process of smoothing out the joint tape work. This is not something I am very good at, so I do it slowly and gradually work up to a finished surface. A pro would do this in a single day with three coats of quick set drywall mud. It will take me more than a week.

One interesting note is that the original sheet rock in this room is so bad it bows in over half an inch in the centre of the repair. I have no idea how or why it is that far from flat, but it is. And I am not about to float the wall out that far, so I will simply do my best and move on.

In the photo above, you can see the drain clean out I discovered. I’ve left an opening and have a removable plastic cover that will hide it in the end. Should we ever need to get the drain snaked out, this is the best access point to do it. Given the age of the house, it might be needed one day.

While I am doing all this drywall work I am also fixing the sheetrock around the skylight where condensation caused a problem last winter. You might recall I replaced a skylight that had an aluminum frame with one that has a fibreglass frame for that reason. Now I am cleaning up the mess there as well. That is happening in the ceiling directly above me as I took that last photo. It’s not all that exciting, though, so I have no photos to share.

That’s where the last week went. A major problem was identified and resolved, and I am still cleaning up the mess. I have not yet installed the dishwasher or cut open the ceiling in the upstairs bathroom where the leak reappeared last week. My to-do list never seems to get shorter but — happily — the leak has not recurred. At least not yet.

Immediately after the non-rainy days that let me discover the vent problem, it started raining again, and it pretty much hasn’t stopped. With the rain came occasional wind, and it is fall. The huge maple tree out front has dropped most of its leaves already, but in the back we have a more sheltered Japanese maple that is only now making the traditional mess:

That’s the pond at the base of the water feature, and the general area of the back yard. You can see Cruzer and Tinkerbelle (well hidden) in there, so that photo is for you dog lovers in addition to documenting the other outdoor work that we face.

Those leaves get tracked into the house by both humans and dogs, so the inside is a bit sylvan at this point. Even if we vacuum (inside) and rake (outside) the leaves fall in droves immediately, and the next time someone goes outside we have vegetation back in the house on their return. It’s pointless to worry about it too much until the tree is bare.

Anyway, that was my week. I hope yours was more fun and less exciting!

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store