Our Catastrophic Water Leak, could it have been averted?

Summer 2018 will be remembered by the amount of upheaval we experienced.

We had a leak in our wall in early May. It took us 15 weeks for us recover and get our kitchen back… In the process, we had water mitigation (demolition to remove wet flooring and cabinets, fans, heaters and de-humidifiers), mold remediation (demolition, air containment, air filters), and complete restoration of our kitchen and powder room ($$$$).

The pipes in our home were polybutylene or “Poly”. Note, that my home was built in 1992 or is 26 years old. I decided to do a repipe after learning that my neighbors had also had leaks in the past year or so, and had to re-pipe their home (~ $9,000 expense).

I checked and found that the 42.7% of the housing stock in Cary is between 21–40 years of age, according to the annual ToC Population and Housing Trends Report https://www.townofcary.org/home/showdocument?id=1809

My understanding is that much of the housing built between 1978–1995 in our area may have this faulty Poly piping, so quite a few homeowners may have this defective piping and may not know their risk. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/realestate/1994/05/28/homeowners-face-choice-on-pipe-removal/43193445-a8d6-4c3e-9ea5-8a8bdb3cd326/?utm_term=.268028b968a4

I used the opendata search to look for repipe permits, as a permit isn’t required when doing “Water or Mold Remediation”, to see the geographic distribution of homes that have a permit for Poly to PEX re-piping in Cary.

I need to create an opendata visualization that allows you to color the data by both year that the home was built and geographic location to see if there is a trend in re-piping frequency due to polybutylene failures.

It may be helpful to homeowners if the Town created a public information announcement about the presence of Polybutylene in housing stock in Cary, with recommended prevention, mitigation, and/or restoration steps that homeowners can take before or after suffering a catastrophic leak.

The other question is how high the water pressure was in our home around the time of the leak. In March the Town of Cary switches to relying only on Chlorine to disinfect the water, and also flushes the water in town fire hydrants. In addition, the town is increasing the water pressure in some areas of town, and a neighbor in a nearby Preston Pointe neighborhood suffered a water leak due to this water pressure modification work. Map of pressure modification zone shift shows one area near Morrisville had pressure change on April 10, 2018. Did an increase in water pressure contribute to our pipe leak? Is it possible for a homeowner to read the pressure measured at their pressure reducing valve? How do you know if a pressure reducing valve is working?

One recommendation I would have for all homeowners is to purchase a Digital Moisture Meter, as this tool can help homeowners pinpoint locations of leaks behind walls and to help map out the extent of the moisture damage in both flooring and walls. It is important to “see” the full extent of the water damage so that it can be remediated correctly. Water travels according to gravity, so it will go under walls, and into adjoining rooms. The digital moisture meter will help you track it’s path if you use it as soon as a leak is discovered. If you wait, you will find out 3 weeks later, that you have mold…

To prevent future catastrophic leaks, I am considering purchasing a water leak detector or automatic shutoff valve, but am wondering if a similar capability could be made available from the ToC using Aquastar. I’ve asked the Town of Cary information office to see if either more frequent readings or a different type of automatic alert could help prevent pinhole leaks from doing extensive damage.

I had been using Digipay and Aquastar alerts, but it didn’t help identify the leak in this case. It may have helped if I could have set an alarm such as “alert me when > 1 gallon of water is used for more than 4 hours in a row.” It would also be helpful to have minute and/or sub 1 gallon water usage information from Aquastar.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

So, while we are barely recovering from our leak, I cannot imagine the path to recovery for people impacted by flash flooding in Lodi, NY and other climate accelerated natural disasters.

Flash flooding in Lodi, NY, Aug. 14, 2018