Why Is There A Hole In My Ceiling?

For nearly a year now, we have had a large hole in our living room ceiling, right over the front door. Before the large hole, it was a large hole covered roughly with a piece of bare ceiling board. And before that is was a smaller hole clumsily patched with mesh and spackle. And before that, it was just a hole, that occasionally dripped or poured water on us, our guests, or the floor.

So why is there a hole in my ceiling? Well, in our home, the main bathroom, upstairs, is right above the front door in the living room, downstairs. More to the point, the plumbing for the main bathroom is what you see through the hole in our living room ceiling.

Now since our house is nearly 100 years old, we know there are going to be some idiosyncrasies. We have had problems with water dripping through the ceiling since we moved into the house twelve years ago. Something in the bathroom was leaking but without opening up the ceiling, we couldn’t tell what it was. It was intermittent, and sometimes would just be a few drips. But other times, water would come pouring through the ceiling!

We kept thinking we would call in a plumber, but of course we could never afford it. So we just put a bucket in the living room under the hole for the times when it did leak. Finally, one evening about three years ago, a one-foot-square area of the ceiling gave way. That was when we knew we had to do something.

For a little background, we live in Old Hickory Village, which was a planned community when it was built in 1917, right at the start of World War I. There were six different styles of homes that were built to house the employees of the nearby smokeless gunpowder factory. Here is a photo from that time (circa 1918).

Old Hickory Village, 1918

The man in the picture is walking up 14th Street towards our street. The pointy house on the right in the picture is the house four doors down from us. That style of house is called a Haskell. It has three bedrooms, one bath, a living room, a dining room, and a kitchen. Our house is also a Haskell, though we have a half-bath / laundry room added off the kitchen.

As it turns out, several of our neighbors living in Haskells reported the same issue of the having the bathroom plumbing intermittently leak over the front door. It appears to be some kind of quirk with the house. (I am not complaining though, because whoever built these houses built them to last – they are wonderful houses!)

So we decided to open up the ceiling and see what the heck was going on. Well, there was a lot going on. Since we are living in a 100 year old house, it has been renovated and upgraded multiple times over the years. And not all those upgrades and renovations were done in the most responsible manner.

corroded copper pipes

As you can see, there is quite a bit of corrosion on those copper pipes. By running some water and watching, we were able to identify that this was a least one source of the leak.

Now, as luck would have it, I follow a blog called House of Hepworths. Allison is an incredible DIYer. I mean, she can DIY the heck out of anything! Plumbing, carpentry, painting, decorating – she can do it all. She happened to post about some plumbing work that she was doing in her kitchen, and she mentioned a product called SharkBite.

Shark Bites

These couplings are used to connect copper pipes without sweating and all that other jazz.

So I snapped a few photos of the mess in the ceiling with my cell phone, and we headed to Home Depot to get SharkBites, copper pipes, a pipe cutter, and of course, the SharkBite Disconnect Clip. As we perused the plumbing department, we began to chat with the nice woman who worked there, who was extremely knowledgeable about all things plumbing-related. When we showed her pictures of the pipes, she told us that we needed to remove the old iron pipes that were still in the ceiling as well. She said that an iron pipe will actually eat through a copper pipe over time, which is probably how we got our leak. So we headed over to tools to get a Ryobi P514 18V Cordless One+ Reciprocating Saw, which I had been pining after for a long time and now finally had a use for, and a diamond tip saw blade. (Sidenote: after using this saw, we love it, and it takes the same battery as my awesome Ryobi right-angle drill.)

Armed with tools and knowledge, we headed home to tackle the plumbing mess. First, we shut off the water (of course). Next, we determined which sections of pipe that we needed to remove. I marked all the cutting spots with red nail polish so that my husband, who would be manning the reciprocal saw, would be able to easily see where to cut.

marked pipe

We used the reciprocal saw to cut the old iron pipes, which still had water in them – ew! ew! ew! We used a regular pipe cutter for the copper pipes. As it turns out, we only had to replace the hot water line.

cut copper pipes

While we were working in the ceiling, we came across the old knob-and-tube wiring, still connected to wires. It’s defunct now of course, but I thought it was cool. We had to cut the wiring from the knob, as it was in the way where we were working, but I snapped a picture to remember it by.

knob and tube

Next, we measured and cut new copper pipes to replace those we had removed. We fitted the new pipes to the old pipes with a SharkBite coupling. The hardest part (after cutting the iron pipes) was working in the small spaces between the joists. Here is a picture of the new hot water line with Shark Bite connections (right).

new pipes

The pipe on the right, the hot water line, has the Shark Bite connection. The center is the cold water line. Notice part of the old iron pipe on the left still in the wall! It was far enough from the copper cold water pipe that we were able to leave it.

The pieces of pipe that were removed were mangled and corroded beyond belief. I can’t believe that we didn’t have water pouring through the ceiling every time we washed our hands.

old mangled pipes

The piece on the left is the copper we replaced, the one that was leaking. The other pieces are old iron that we had to remove to get in there to do the work.

Did I mention that SharkBite couplings come in all kinds of awesome and useful shapes? Here, we used the 90-degree and “T” couplings to replace the damaged section of plumbing.

awesome new pipes

We turned the water back on and everything worked. It worked! No drips, leaks, nothing! Hurray! We put some pipe insulation around the hot water pipes, to both insulate them and to keep them from contacting any remaining iron left in the ceiling, or anything else for that matter.

We decided to leave the hole open “for a while” to make sure all the drips and leaks had been fixed. And now, a year later, I can report that there are no leaks or drips, and that SharkBite is an awesome product. Our plan is to patch the area of ceiling and install a hatch panel, so that we can access the area in the future in case there are ever any more issues. I am hoping we will be able to get this done by the end of the year.

But for now, we just have a hole in our ceiling.

front door ceiling hole

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