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How to Solve a Mysterious Water Leak

Watching water damage a home and being unable to find the problem can be frustrating for homeowners. Even more familiar may be the many capable trade’s people who failed to identify or correct the real problem and the ailment continues. This story shares the plight and success of one St. Louis homeowner and how they discovered a different way to think, which led them to find a real solution.

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The historic home in St. Louis City with a mysterious water leak problem.

The owners of a historic home built in 1908 in the city of St. Louis lived for over a year with a puzzling water leak. They watched as their original plaster, molding and wallpaper deteriorated from water damage every time it rained. They could hear the water dripping behind the walls of their three story home, and waited for the tell tale signs and smells of wet plaster.

Adding to the frustration was the chain of plumbers, guttering people and roofers who could not find the problem and reported that the plumbing pipes were fine, the gutters were in good working order and the roof was reliable. Imagine seeing your walls fall apart amid the reports that the plumbing, gutters and roof were just dandy. Each specific trade focused on their area of interest, yet the house continued to leak, smell and fall apart. Each trades person viewed the problem through their area of knowledge.

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In the 3rd floor ballroom we see one of two spots of persistent water damage on the plaster walls.

The gutter person identified the integral gutter system and referred the homeowners to a roofer. The roofer believed that the gutter system connected to the main plumbing waste stack and referred the homeowners to a plumber. The plumber found the waste pipe for the home was located in a different part of the house and reported that the plumbing pipes were not a problem. A lot of time and money was being spent while the house continued to leak, smell and deteriorate.

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The persistent water leak shows itself in the 2nd floor master bedroom.

The homeowners occasionally listened to The KMOX Home Improvement Show with Scott Mosby, a radio program for homeowners to call in for answers to their home remodeling and repair questions. Scott uses his many years of experience to help homeowners think through their problems, think about the process a little differently, and discover the solution. Listening to KMOX Radio on Saturday morning was becoming more of a regular habit during this water leak time period, and some friends had even suggested calling in with questions. Realizing that they had heard Scott answer many complex questions covering a broad spectrum of topics, the homeowners decided that Scott might be just the person to figure out their water leak mystery.

They called Scott’s company – Mosby Building Arts – to talk about their frustrating situation and have Scott come take a look at it. They learned that Scott’s company had several experienced consultants who specialized in investigating and diagnosing difficult problems about buildings, structures and water problems. They homeowners were convinced that this was just the company to help them through their problem.

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The interior wall leaks were coming from drain water on the clay shingle roof.

They discovered that this level of expertise came with a consulting fee, which was very different than the free estimates and bids from the trades people and salesmen who had visited their house already. Because they had already spent substantial time, money and effort to no avail, they asked during the phone call, “Why do you charge for a house call when no one else does?”

The couple had already spent a considerable amount of time and money on specialists who initially came out for a free estimate, and they were no closer to a solution. They were accustomed to the free estimate, and free advice which seemed only to result in an opportunity for that company to sell their product. What’s a homeowner to do? The homeowners decided to give the Mosby Consultant a try despite the fee. Besides, the fee was refundable toward the repairs that Mosby would perform. After many months of problems, attempts at repair, and failing plaster, the homeowners understood the value of this professional service and realized that something different was about to begin.

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The water runs to the sewer drain in the basement, and this old system was rotted and clogged.

Mosby Building Arts sent out Rich, a Home Consultant with decades of hands-on experience working on older homes, to look around and search for the problem. After investigating the roof, the attic, 3 floors and the basement, Rich confidently reported what was causing the problem.

Their home has integral gutters, which are an internal drainage system on older houses that drain through pipes inside the house rather than downspouts on the exterior of the house. These internal drain pipes run completely separate from the main plumbing stack. There are dedicated gutter drain pipes that run from the roof all the way down to the sewer drain in the basement, and if we open up the walls at the spots where you see damage, you will see old pipes gone bad.

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Walls were opened at damage points, exposing the rotted cast iron pipes of the internal gutter system.

The homeowners were both stunned and relieved with this new information. They were stunned by how many specialists had completely overlooked or failed to understand the systems in their house. Was this really the problem? Could this opinion be that reliable?

They followed Rich through the house as he explained the signs, symptoms and relationships of each bit of information. They came to understand how their gutter system worked and why it had become such a problem. They were relieved to finally have the mystery solved, and could finally see an end to the persistent water leak problem. They asked to have Mosby Building Arts, Ltd. perform the repair work. After all, they had the knowledge and experience, why not have the best?

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Another section of the internal drian pipe is exposed on the third floor. All of the pipes from roof to basement had to be removed.

When the Mosby construction team opened up the plaster walls only in the spots of visible damage, they found exactly what Rich had suspected. The repair specialists found 2 sets of old, cast iron pipes running from the roof to the basement three stories below. Both pipes, which drained the roof gutters, were rusted, leaking and needed complete replacement in order to drain effectively for another century.

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It was a delicate process to install the new pipe so as to preserve and protect the historic character of the home.

The Mosby repair team carefully removed the heavy old pipes without removing or disturbing the antique wood paneling on the first floor. Next, they installed new 4″ diameter pipes, pushing past the wood paneling, historic wall paper and up to the ball room. Great care was taken to install the pipes with minimal wall openings so that the historic character of the home was preserved and protected.

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In the basement, drainage to the sewer required a whole new, modern system.

The basement was another chapter of the story. Just as Rich had suspected and reported in his consulting visit, the pipes below the old concrete basement floor were completely rusted away. The Mosby repair team dug deep into the basement floor to pull up the ancient sewer lines that had failed some time back, and replaced it with new ones.

With all new systems in place, and the gutter drain water confined inside the drain pipes, the skilled Mosby painters carefully patched, re-plastered and painted the walls affected by the leaking water. Most important of all, there is no longer the sound of dripping water behind the walls when it rains, and the walls will remain dry for perhaps another century.

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With all the repairs done, the parts fo the home affected were returned to their original state so it looks as if there was never a water leak problem.

So there is another way of thinking about problems and solutions, and another option to choose to receive service and expert guidance. Discover the real truth in your home, and choose the experienced staff of Mosby building Arts, Ltd. Find out the real solution in your home today, and stop treating only the apparent symptoms. Call the home enhancement professionals at Mosby.

The Mosby Consulting Team is created for homeowners seeking the confidence and benefits of working with experienced home professionals. Call Mosby Building Arts at 314.909.1800 or contact us here.

  • Denise Woodruff

    Hey great story, and what a great way to get the word out for the other home owners that might have similar issues. Being from the roofing industry we both know the investigations of unique situations and sharing it can help educate others. Unfortunately, the tile roof can last 100 years so the “paid” expert didn’t seek out all the possiblities. Great Job Rich!!!

    Thanks Denise

  • tinagleisner

    Great story & I know from first hand experience that old lead pipes do last about 100 years. We were fortunate in our 1890’s built Victoria, that when the pipes rusted out, it was surprisingly the horizontal pipes in the basement … on the top, so we only had to search above the pipe to find the source of the leak.

    What I enjoyed more in this story is the need for people who look at the big picture, versus most contractors who focus on their specialty whether plumbing, roofing or plaster. Having run a handyman business for almost 10 years, I’ve developed this skill through 100s of hours of research and writing many articles ( … and agree that your consultants are an invaluable resource for your business and clients.

  • Peggy Buchholz

    I am in serious trouble with my patio cover that runs the length of my patio. I live in a condo that is in an association. When roofers were called into roof the condos in my area, they covered over our internal guttering system and when they told the man in charge of the association’s roofs that the internal guttering was rusted, he ordered the internal guttering system sealed over. Now, when it rains we are flooded on the outside in front of our doors. The home owners were never told about this, until they ordered a new gutter system on the outside of the houses. I am the only one with a patio cover and now they say I have to tear down my patio… they can run the gutter. This patio cover I could never afford to replace and the expense is mine. The patio cover was one of the reasons I bought the place. What could be done to avoid this problem. Now after the huge rain with rusted internal guttering that the roofers saw we are in trouble. They did not even check back to see about us after they sealed the gutters and never offered to help until my neighbor complained. Is the considered a modification of the building by the association? They never even notified us, but just let us drown out. Could they have looked down in the gutters to see how bad,

  • Peggy Buchholz

    Your article and comments have helped me. Is a replacement of internal guttering with regular guttering considered a modification of a building when living in an association? Our internal guttering was sealed over under orders of the association’s roofers. The internal guttering worked perfectly, and now that they sealed it over we are drowning. Could a rusty internal guttering still be good if they were working perfectly. Why would they seal over guttering that was working perfectly. Now, they say I have to throw away my patio cover so they can install the outside guttering. Is sealing over internal guttering and putting up regular guttering along the house considered a modification? Please help me and publish this if you like.

  • Peggy Buchholz

    Is sealing over internal guttering on a flat roof of a condo, and replacing it with regular outside guttering considered a MODIFICATION OF A BUILDING. I am not saying moderation, but MODIFICATION of the building.
    Thank you,
    Peggy Buchholz

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