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workinhard
shower leak...only during cold weather

I have a second story bath, and a laundry room on the first floor below that bathroom. Only during cold weather (under 25-30 degrees) and while running a long shower, I'm getting a water leak from the ceiling of the laundry room on the first floor which is just under the shower. When ever the outside temp rises...problem goes away. The water pipes to the shower I believe run through the outside wall. Also, my wife likes to take very long showers. I'm wondering if it can be a pipe leak or condensation...
Questions:
- can it be condensation: is it possible that during cold weather, the air in the wall is cooler as well and the pipes in the outside wall are forming condensation then dripping down on the ceiling below??
- can it be a leak: can a water pipe have a leak that is only affected by an outside temp. change? Like I mentioned...only seeing the leak when the weather outside is well below freezing.

A little background...I had this problem last year as well and I thought it might be a roof leak from melting snow on the roof. This past summer I had a new roof put on and added add'l attic ventilation (ridge vent, smart vent, etc.) so I'm ruling out the roof leak. I'm not seeing any leaks in the attic although I am seeing some droplets forming on the nails coming through the decking on the north side of the house. I'm in the process of painting the bathroom ceiling with a vapor barrier and upgrading the bath vent fans. I have all bathroom vents venting through to the roof, not the attic. I thought that seeing some moisture in the attic (on the nails) might signal that the water on the first floor was coming from there...but I don't think there is enough moisture there to cause the amount of water that I'm seeing in the laundry room which makes me suspect that it's the shower pipes themselves.

As for getting into the wall and checking it out...I have floor to ceiling tile in my bathroom and the laundry room ceiling has a pattern in the drywall...I was trying to figure out what route would provide the least post job clean up...I think either way I have some work to do.

The house is 2 story and was built in 1996.

Thanks and Happy Holidays!!

goldhiller
Re: shower leak...only during cold weather

Can't see the specifics of the construction from here, so am just surmising about possibilities.

Any chance that the water in the shower trap froze at some time....or is still freezing to this day?

If it did/does, then there is a chance that the trap has a crack in it. Even it if doesn't freeze up now, but did once upon a time......that crack may open in the cold temps due to contraction of the plastic....particularly so if the rim-joist wasn't properly sealed up and insulated... and cold air is consequently encroaching into those joist bays.

Or.......it may be related to the seal around the drain pipe of the shower where that connects to the visible part of the shower drain.

Or maybe......a joint in the drain pipe somewhere wasn't properly glued and leaks when it contracts from cold encroachment/contraction.

Any chance the exhaust fan piping isn't insulated where it passes thru the cold air space? If so, then condensation will almost certainly occur inside that pipe and come back down...or leak out of any pipe joint that isn't dead tight. Rigid pipe or cheapy plastic flex stuff? Cheap palstic flex stuff might even have a tear or crack in it.

Tough to say from here, but I fear you're in for some semi-destructive exploration.

workinhard
Re: shower leak...only during cold weather

Thanks goldhiller for the response...I didn't even think about the trap.
I'm guessing that at this point I need to bite the bullet, pull down the drywall in the laundry room to expose the plumbing and get a plumber out to check the trap. Would you agree or is there another route you would take?
Can the trap be checked from up above (in the shower)?
Sorry if this is a stupid question..I like to do things myself but when it comes to plumbing I know nothing. I usually call a plumber asap. I've had a few bad DIY plumbing experiences in the past that haven't helped my confidence in that dept.!!!

Blue RidgeParkway
Re: shower leak...only during cold weather
workinhard wrote:

I have a second story bath, and a laundry room on the first floor below that bathroom. Only during cold weather (under 25-30 degrees) and while running a long shower, I'm getting a water leak from the ceiling of the laundry room on the first floor which is just under the shower. When ever the outside temp rises...problem goes away. The water pipes to the shower I believe run through the outside wall. Also, my wife likes to take very long showers. I'm wondering if it can be a pipe leak or condensation...
Questions:
- can it be condensation: is it possible that during cold weather, the air in the wall is cooler as well and the pipes in the outside wall are forming condensation then dripping down on the ceiling below??
- can it be a leak: can a water pipe have a leak that is only affected by an outside temp. change? Like I mentioned...only seeing the leak when the weather outside is well below freezing.

A little background...I had this problem last year as well and I thought it might be a roof leak from melting snow on the roof. This past summer I had a new roof put on and added add'l attic ventilation (ridge vent, smart vent, etc.) so I'm ruling out the roof leak. I'm not seeing any leaks in the attic although I am seeing some droplets forming on the nails coming through the decking on the north side of the house. I'm in the process of painting the bathroom ceiling with a vapor barrier and upgrading the bath vent fans. I have all bathroom vents venting through to the roof, not the attic. I thought that seeing some moisture in the attic (on the nails) might signal that the water on the first floor was coming from there...but I don't think there is enough moisture there to cause the amount of water that I'm seeing in the laundry room which makes me suspect that it's the shower pipes themselves.

As for getting into the wall and checking it out...I have floor to ceiling tile in my bathroom and the laundry room ceiling has a pattern in the drywall...I was trying to figure out what route would provide the least post job clean up...I think either way I have some work to do.

The house is 2 story and was built in 1996.

Thanks and Happy Holidays!!

A few things occur to me reading and thinking about this.

You mention this only happens on cooler/colder days; only when longer showers are being taken; and point out that it is your wife who takes long showers. I assume these long showers involve the use of hot or comfortably warm water and not icy cold water.

Whenever I go to take a shower in the winter after my husband has last used it I end up adjusting the shower head and redirecting it downwards as I'm significantly shorter and smaller than he is and in the winter I want to keep myself within the warm spray especially on cold winter mornings if I'm the first one using the COLD bathroom and the tile and tub against the outside wall are COLD, otherwise get chilled off by convection drafts until the shower enclosure and room warm up; this might be the case when your wife is showering. Where I stand in the tub to take a shower or where I stand on the pan area when I take a shower compared to where my much taller and bigger husband stands when he showers are significantly different locations both in relationship to the shower enclosure walls, water wall, shower curtain/shower door; the shower head, shower controls; and drain.

Shower wall and water wall from how you describe it is on an outside wall - and this only happens when the temperatures are cooler/colder outside.

Don't know if this is a tub/shower area or strictly a shower stall you mention tile, but either are usually depending on some wall support tiled in tubs usually resting on a ledger on the wall framing and a pan usually also attached to the wall studs.

Changes in temperature especially fast changes can cause materials to move and flex walls and floors. If the tub or pan is shifting because of weight being in a different place, floor or wall flexing could be a gap somewhere that either isn't washed when someone else is taking a shower, or that is just in shorter shower periods doesn't leak enough water for you to see the evidence YET in the laundry, the floor, wall, and drywall ceiling (bathroom floor side) below might not yet be so saturated as to leak again and may dry somewhat in between uses then next "load" of water comes through.

Before I assumed anything worst case about YOUR drain pipes or water lines I'd investigate the first and most likely places for shower leaks - tile field changes in direction should be caulked not grouted, tile to tub or pan caulked, plates where the shower controls are should have gaskets and/or caulk under/behind them to seal from water. Caulk around the tub spout to tile. Most tile grout needs to be resealed from time to time, and grout can develop cracks some nearly invisible right next to tiles, things to check.

We had a mysterious leak that only showed up when I used the shower in the tub/shower and it turned out that because I focused the shower head DOWN since I'm so short (we have a short shower arm in that bathroom and it is very high up), some water was washing down the tub behind the overflow plate, turned out that the GASKET that was between the OUTSIDE (in the wall) of the TUB and the OVERFLOW PIPE had broken and slipped out partially which also allowed the overflow/drain piece to MOVE especially if there was any weight on the tub near the drain.

It drove us crazy trying to figure out where the intermittant leak was because it wouldn't show up by just filling the tub ONLY when one stood IN the tub NEAR the drain, and focused the shower head downwards and water could bounce off and run down the inner overflow wall of the tub from the lip (since the tub spout usually protected this area like an umbrella)!

I share that experience to highlight that the source of the water leak or vapor could be anywhere from what you describe. If water is getting to the subfloor beneath the shower pan or tub, or directly into a wall cavity it could easily find its way to the attic especially if you have a cold attic and the wall cavity along with the water vapor is WARMER than the attic.

There is a quickly degrading dye powder that can be mixed up and used to trace leaking and contamination that might help you figure it out. Septic and well guys use it as do many plumbers, you could put the powder in a small sack of cheesecloth and suspend it in the drain at the end of your wife's shower as the leaking shows up, then run the shower again (have wife stand back in the shower exactly where she was), if the wet in the laundry shows the color then you'd know pretty quick if the problem was really the DWV from the shower. the color goes away naturally in hours or days or you use bleach to neturalize it.

workinhard
Re: shower leak...only during cold weather

Thanks for the post Blue RidgeParkway.
I've been thinking through this the same way as you...the tile was the first thing that I suspected. It seemed to be in good shape (no visible cracks, etc.) however as a precaution, I went ahead and grouted over it a few months back (especially in places where the grout didn't seem to meet up to the face of the tile) and I also resealed the entire shower. The shower has tile on the two outside walls which come down to the floor which is also tiled (the other two walls of the shower are glass). Unfortunately...problem still exists.

I mentioned my wife taking showers because she takes much longer showers than I do and only during those long showers do we see the leak. During short showers the problem doesn't appear. I agree with you that it seems that water must be building up, etc. to the point where we actually see it during the long showers. Neither of us move the shower head at all.

Also, good point on the moisture issue in the attic. I was thinking that was just from a need for more insulation in the attic but maybe it is coming up the wall and entering the attic.

I figure that I'm going to have to pull down some of the drywall ceiling in the laundry room to get up there and really see what's going on. I'm not looking forward to trying to fix the drywall once the leak is taken care of (drywall ceiling has a pattern to it) but I don't see any other way to go at this point. I went ahead and called out a plumber to check that it's not the plumbing itself. Hopefully the trap (as goldhiller suggested) is the problem and it can be easily replaced from underneath. I'm just hoping that it's not the water pipes that go up the outside wall to the shower head itself. If that's the case, some of the tile shower is going to have to come down to access. But enough guessing...plumber is due out later this week...I'll post what I find out. Until then...I'll have to keep showering in my kids bathroom with Elmo!!!
Thanks Again.

Blue RidgeParkway
Re: shower leak...only during cold weather

You're welcome.

You do know the intersection of those two outside tiled walls (change in plane/direction) shouldn't be grouted they should be caulked, right?

Good luck in your investigations. You might try the fluorescing dye powder in the drain before you open up the ceiling to swap out a drain or shower trap. Bleach neutralizes it so if you have chlorinated water you'd have to flush the trap first and use natural water for the test.

workinhard
Re: shower leak...only during cold weather

I did not know that the outside tiled walls should be caulked. I'm pretty sure that corner is currently caulked but I'll have to double check.

I didn't know that a dye powder existed. If I understand correctly, by doing that I will know whether or not it's a leak caused by the drain / pipes or if it's something different such as the tile or condensation on the pipes. Thanks for the suggestion...I'm going to try to track down the powder today.

Blue RidgeParkway
Re: shower leak...only during cold weather

Yes it does. If you have city sanitary and storm sewers sometimes the city department will give you some. They often put it in storm drains to check to see if there is any infiltration to their sanitary sewers. You'd only need a few tablespoons of it. It might come in different colors but what I've seen starts out orange and looks like TANG and turns fluorescent GREEN when it is mixed with water and activates. If you have septic, your septic service person might give you some. Plumbing supply should have it.

About the changes in plane on tiled fields, those transitions should be caulked not grouted, not just on outside wall intersections.

MSSP
Re: shower leak...only during cold weather

Might seem rude but I had this same problem a few years ago. I dont know how to ask with out seeming rude is your wife a large person? I am sorry for asking that question.
Let me explain You say this only happens when your wife is in the shower. We know that it is a drain leak or it would leak all the time. I didnt see if you mentioned what type of shower you have. I put a shower pan in a new home and these type of push rubber drains work off of a wedge. The husband was a very large person. While he was in shower the base would flex and leak around the rubber seal. I would start by inspecting the drain seal from inside the shower. No need to cut rock or tile until all possibilies have been checked. Good luck

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