Have You Ever Had a Plumbing Disaster?

For at least the last 5 years, probably longer, the shower in my second bathroom hasn’t worked. It’s such a small thing–the cartridge behind the handle came loose, making it impossible to make the water hot. So, technically the shower functioned, but most people don’t want to take cold showers.

Why, you might ask, haven’t I fixed it? Well, like all other condos in my building, my unit doesn’t have a shutoff valve. So if you want to fix a plumbing issue, you need to shut off water to the entire 8-story building, which my condo association really does not like to do.

But recently I learned about another option: A plumber can temporarily freeze a pipe, fix the problem, and it’ll work like a charm when the pipe thaws.

At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work.

It took me a while to find a plumber who would do it, and even they were hesitant. But Chad from Hoffmann showed up early this morning to give it a try.

For the first hour, everything went perfectly. He set up a bunch of equipment, cut a hole in my drywall in the exact right place, and spent 20 minutes freezing the pipe (more than enough time). I was in a nearby room working.

Even for the first minute after he cut into the pipe, it was fine. Then I heard it: A squirt, a hiss, and a terrified, “Help!”

I darted into the hallway to see WATER SHOOTING EVERYWHERE. Chad is hanging on for dear life, trying to keep his thumb on the pipe. I’m watching in slow motion as water soaks the wall, then the ceiling, then the living room.

And you know what my courageous, heroic instinct was in that split second as the water seemed to rotate towards me? I thought, “I’d better close the office door so I don’t get wet too.”

Fortunately I saw the panicked look on Chad face as I made a move towards the door, and instead I shouted, “Do I need to make the call?” “The call” was a pre-arranged backup plan to call the condo association, tell them everything had gone to hell, and finally get permission to turn off the water.

It was then that Chad–yes, I tipped him well after this ordeal–somehow managed against all odds to tighten the shutoff valve in place. Instantly the flooding stopped.

This ended up being really great, because the backup plan was poorly conceived from the start. As it turned out, we still did need to shut off the water to the building, and it took about 45 minutes to flush out all of the water currently in the pipes. By then my entire condo would have flooded and my cats would have deserted me for higher ground.

So that’s how close I came to a plumbing catastrophe today. Crisis averted, but just barely.

Have you ever had any close calls like this, plumbing or otherwise?


14 Responses to “Have You Ever Had a Plumbing Disaster?”

  1. Derian Reuss says:

    Note: You may not be out of the woods yet. Get a dehumidifier (if you can borrow one get a second). You need to aggressively dry everything else to reduce the risk of mold building up.

    For my part, in the winter of 2017-2018 I woke up with a pipe frozen in our main floor bathroom. We got a space heater and cranked it to try and get it to thaw out. I spent the day worried that when it thawed out we’d have a leak that we’d have to deal with. Finally around 8 PM I heard the toilet tank start to fill up as the pipe thawed enough to let water through. I was able to finally rest not worrying about having a water leak start at any time. (It being winter, I was terrified that we’d end with water flooding out into the garage, freezing and our driveway turning into an ice skating rink).

    Fortunately that didn’t happen

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Thanks Derian! Fortunately what I described happened in less than 2 seconds–it was a very brief spray. I think it’s fine, but I’ll double check!

  2. Yes, my finished basement flooded last week due to clogged filter in air system. My feeble efforts using fan and hairdryer were ineffective, so when I realized that mold could quickly take hold, I called a local company who handles wet floors and carpets. They supplied powerful fans, which have been running for 4 days. Today they tested with a neat testing rod that lights up when it detects water. It found wet walls they hadn’t seen before, so fans will stay 3 more days. They also sprayed the wet walle to fend off mold,

  3. Yes, my finished basement flooded last week due to clogged filter in air system. My feeble efforts using fan and hairdryer were ineffective, so when I realized that mold could quickly take hold, I called a local company who handles wet floors and carpets. They supplied powerful fans, which have been running for 4 days. Today they tested with a neat testing rod that lights up when it detects water. It found wet walls they hadn’t seen before, so fans will stay 3 more days. They also sprayed the wet walls to fend off mold,

  4. Mary Crabtree says:

    That sounds like a complete nightmare that I hope I never have to deal with! And, I live in a condo, but it’s only two stories and I have my own water meter so I believe i could just shut off the water!

    Despite the almost catastrophe, did you get your shower fixed?

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Mary: I’m glad you’re able to shut off your water if necessary! And yes, the shower is finally fixed. 🙂

  5. TMac says:

    Hmmm…I’m not sure how I feel about tipping this guy. I trust plumbers and electricians implicitly. If they say to stand on one foot and howl at the moon, I’m going to do it. If this guy said he could freeze the pipe without issue and the problem still occurred, I’d be frustrated with Chad that the problem happened at all, rather than thankful that he fixed it. Maybe I misunderstood, but I see this situation a little differently!

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      He really didn’t want to do the pipe freezing in the first place, but I said I would take the risk, as I had heard that other people in the building had done it.

  6. Stephen Werness says:

    Had a sprinkler head in the kitchen burst due to a faulty set screw that finally gave. Luckily I was able to act fast and shut the water off to the fire system and drained it to the street before it entered my neighbors homes through the walls. The home was still only 2 years old so the general contractor replaced everything along with reimbursing all our meals for 2 months. Water is the worst!

  7. Adam Buckingham says:

    I’m not even sure where I should start. I’ve had a basement floor drain back up and flood part of my basement. I had to suck it all up with a shop vac because my basement floor is graded wrong, which is a whole different issue. I’ve had a number of plumbing issues where I’ve found myself running to the basement to shut the house off entirely. I had a leaky roof that I was powerless to fix as I watched water running down the wall in our bathroom during a storm. And so many blown circuit breakers in our house that was built before personal computers existed (Including at least one that I tripped by accidentally touching a live switch with my finger.)

    Am I the only one who things it’s very strange that your building doesn’t have individual shutoffs for each unit?

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      You’re not the only one to think that’s strange. 🙂

      I’m sorry you’ve had so many plumbing/house issues!

  8. Kas Ismail says:

    So I honestly thought this was going to end up a lot worse than it did. Thankfully Chad was able to shut it down quickly.

    I have a friend of mine who’s family lives in Wisconsin have a really awful plumbing issue happen several years back. Their upstairs toilet line was having problems. Well unbeknownst to them, the waste was collecting in the ceiling for about a week. I’m not sure how they didn’t know this, but I digress.

    They’d noticed a rancid smell by the end of the week, they called a plumber. Sadly before anything was completely fixed, part of the ceiling caved in. I obviously am not going into the nasty details but the downstairs was covered in it. I still can’t believe it happened the way it did but I’m just glad you didn’t have that kind of issue.

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