Our reclusive, vexatious leak has finally been tracked down.
A professional leak detection company, called in by our insurance company, came in with infra-red equipment and a very impressive-looking endoscope and proceeded to go poking around the house.
Eventually, the leak was tracked down with the endoscope to the most obvious area, directly above the brown stains on the dining-room ceiling. The workman showed me the image picked up by the endoscope and I could see translucent beads reflecting light. According to the workman, these were unmistakably droplets of water on a copper pipe. I had to take his word for it, because, to me, they looked like lens flare.
A few days later, the workmen I’d brought on board to fix the leak came in and started removing a big chunk of the dining-room ceiling. I quickly left the room when the work got under way, because, quite apart from the dust and other debris flying around the room from the plaster and insulation, I find the spectacle of a part of our house being destroyed vaguely stressful.
After a while, the contractor came and found me to show me the work they had done. A gaping rectangular hole now loomed above the dining-room table. Pipes and conduits led from holes in the upper layer of plywood and crossed the space to some unseen destination. Water stains were clearly visible on this plywood layer, as well as on the beams.
Unfortunately, though, the source of the actual leak remained a mystery. The water had clearly come from above the plywood layer, which meant that it was actually located somewhere in the bathroom on the first floor, not in the ceiling. The ceiling was simply where the water was ending up, because there was nowhere else to go until the ceiling tore.
Interestingly. there was also no sign of the alleged copper pipe that had supposedly shown drops of water on the endoscope’s screen.
This was quite a downer. Not only had the leak not been found, but its origin lay somewhere in the bathroom, where there are no visible pipes. That spelt more destruction upstairs.
Since the leak had previously reared its head three times, but only while we were on holiday, we were now forced, as a last resort, to emulate the circumstances of such an absence. This meant putting the thermostat in holiday mode, which effectively meant shutting off the heating and the hot water supply. It was warm outside, so maintaining a comfortable temperature in the house wasn’t a problem. It did, however, entail embarking on a period of cold showers.
Sure enough, after a couple of days, drops of water finally started to fall from the hole in the ceiling. This time, I was glad, because the leak was revealing itself; somewhat.
The water was emanating from a hole in the the plywood board, around the area of the worst staining. This confirmed what we already strongly suspected, namely that the leak was somewhere in the bathroom on the first floor.
I went upstairs to the only area of accessible pipes, behind the shower cabinet. I unscrewed the wooden panel that provides access to the shower’s steam generator unit and dangled a builder’s lamp down the inside of the wall.
After threading my fingers through and around various obstacles that I could barely negotiate, I felt a sudden drip of water.. and then another… and then another.
It was a minor miracle. The leak had been found in the one tiny area of the bathroom that could just about be examined without hammering holes in the wall.
A couple of days later, the workmen returned and I showed them where I had found the leak. They then sawed a hole in the bathroom wall to reveal the pipes and, sure enough, there was a dripping valve at the back. Quite why someone had felt it necessary to install a valve in a place where it’s physically impossible to bleed the system is a puzzle that none of us has been able to solve.
In fact, there were actually three of these valves and two of them were leaking. The plumber removed all three of them and plugged the connectors to which they had been attached.
Downstairs, the workmen stuffed the dining-room ceiling with new insulation and covered it with plasterboard. That was a week ago.
Today, they came back and plastered over the boards, sealing the hole and creating a smooth and seamlessly even surface with the old ceiling. They also placed a wooden hatch over the hole in the bathroom wall upstairs, which is conveniently located between two shelves in a storage niche, so it won’t require further repair work.
Next week, the painter comes to paint over the plasterboard, at which point the ceiling should theoretically be as good as new again. I’ll be amazed if no visible trace remains of the demolition they performed in that spot.
It’s a great relief to have finally found this stubborn leak. First we thought our leaking boiler had caused the damage, so we had the boiler repaired and the ceiling painted, but then it happened again. This time, we thought it was a leaking towel radiator, so we had that repaired, too. Then it happened again, only worse then ever, with the ceiling actually bursting on this occasion.
Assuming there isn’t a fourth leak somewhere, we’ve finally got the bastard. Now we can go on holiday without fearing what kind of carnage will greet us on our return, although I suspect we won’t truly believe the problem is fixed until we get back from our next holiday and find the house in the same state we left it.