mysterious massive ceiling leak

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Old 01-13-14, 06:48 PM
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mysterious massive ceiling leak

I woke up last Wednesday and went downstairs after showering to find several wet spots on my first floor ceiling below the second floor bathrooms, with water dripping all the way through in a couple spots. There was no visible indication of moisture above the ceiling previously. That night was unusually cold (around 15 degrees) but dry, and the heat was running most of the night at a moderate temperature (68 degrees; the heat pump is on the roof). I called the contractor who renovated the house before I purchased it four months ago. When he cut into the first floor ceiling, he was unable to find any leaks in the pipes above, even when the upstairs bath, shower, and sinks were left running for an hour. We resumed using the water again later that day and have not experienced any water coming down since.

In addition to water pipes, the HVAC ducts also run through the house in that space between the first and second floors. I suspected condensation on the ducts and/or the pipes might have been the problem, but the contractor is skeptical. It certainly would have to have been a massive amount of condensation for one night. Anyone out there have any ideas? We haven't patched up the ceiling yet and are understandably wary of doing so before we've found the source of all that moisture.
 
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Old 01-13-14, 10:23 PM
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One of the tell-tale signs of a frost related condensation problem will be the timing. Often the leak will appear later during a warm spell, but it was the slow accumulation of condensation forming ice sometimes inches thick. That is just an fyi as I didn't hear you say "warm spell".

Another strange condensation issue is water accumulation in flex ducts. Since they are not rigid and secured like metal ducts they can sag and suddenly avalanche or disconnect and dump a bunch of water.

While that ceiling is open, inspect for air leaks from the outside or to the outside. Air leaking out would provide moisture for condensation where air leaking in could freeze a pipe.

Overhangs or plumbing paths are also trouble spots.

Just shooting in the dark to see if anything rings a bell

Bud
 
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Old 01-14-14, 06:03 AM
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Thanks for your response, Bud. Some responses to your points:

The problem did not occur during a real warm spell. It was colder during the previous 24 hours, but when we discovered the leak on Wednesday morning, it was still around 20 degrees outside or less.

There is a flex duct in the area (dryer vent) but it appears to be intact.

As for air leaks, will need to check on that. However, the area where the moisture came through the ceiling is about 20 feet from the exteriors walls at the front and back of the house and about 10 feet from the side walls which abut adjacent rowhouses. I haven't felt any cold drafts up there that feel like they're coming from outside; the only draft I have felt is when the heat turns on.
 
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Old 01-14-14, 09:32 AM
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A heating system that is leaking to the outside will create a negative pressure that will pull cold air in. If the draft you felt is from the area where the ceiling has been opened up, I would be looking for the source.

As you said, your problem doesn't seen to match the "warm spell" sudden melting symptom, but that leaves the cold as a possibility. That dryer vent carried a lot of moisture and if it is allowed to get cold it can fill with water. I have dumped gallons of water out of flex ducts.

Be careful leaving that ceiling open as warm air will have easy access to cold surfaces it normally can't reach. Current temps are much better than past.

One other point is that the water that came from the ceiling may have originated some distance away. Check the ceiling in all directions for sheetrock screws that are now visible because they were soaked in a bit of water.

A tool that is very good at locating any moisture is an infrared camera. Most energy auditors have one and some rental places are now offering them. When my dachshunds walk across the kitchen floor it can see their tracks. Moisture evaporating cools the surfaces and shows up like a flood light. I have found many water leaks while searching for cold spots.

Bud
 
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Old 01-14-14, 04:29 PM
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Hi Just guessing but you said you have a dryer vent in the area. Those pipes carry a lot of hot moist air.Ever see steam from a dryer vent? When the hot air hits the cold air you will get a lot of condesation. Run the dryer and check the line out. Make sure you have a damp load of wash in the dryer. You need a source for the water.
Woodbutcher
 
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Old 01-15-14, 07:08 AM
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Doesn't seem to be the dryer vent. We didn't use it in the period before/during when this occurred. We have used it since without any problems, and it seems to be venting normally (i.e. no tear). My theory-of-the-day is as follows. In the middle of the night (a few hours before discovering the problem), I woke up and noticed what seemed to be a dripping sound eminating from the HVAC vent close to the bed. That vent is adjacent to an exterior wall. So I'm wondering if condensation was occurring inside of the ductwork when warm air was blowing against the cold walls of the duct; water pooled somewhere else (likely at the lowest point in the ductwork; water came through the ceiling 20 feet away the vent where I heard the drip); and then eventually seeped out of the duct and onto the ceiling. However, the HVAC installer claims the ducts are insulated on the inside, which complicates my theory. Anybody know of a way to test this? Perhaps I need to post in the HVAC forum...
 
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Old 01-15-14, 07:42 AM
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Couple of thoughts - Ice Dam issues from the cold and snow.

At 15 degrees the heat pump is really only on emergency heat. Possible that the coils iced up and then thawed with a clogged condensate drain line. That would be from the air handler inside. Also, how is the outside unit draining? Is it controlled or does it just drain onto the roof.
 
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Old 01-15-14, 07:58 AM
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No snow on the roof that day. My thermostat generally indicates when the unit is on emergency heat, and I don't recall that being the case that day. Unit drainage is controlled...as I recall, the HVAC guys said the condensate is recycled back through the unit. I have no idea what that means exactly, but I do know that when they looked at the unit the next day (when it was still below freezing, though not quite as cold), they said everything appeared as it should. Also, the ceiling on the second floor of the house (i.e. below the roof) was unaffected. It was the ceiling on the first floor where the water came through.
 
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Old 01-15-14, 08:24 AM
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How about some pictures of the shower/bathroom and the hole in the ceiling for our reference. http://www.doityourself.com/forum/el...-pictures.html

Does your shower have a door or a curtain? Body jets? Rain head? Possible toilet overflow? Last time I had water dripping from my ceiling is when my daughter plugged the toilet and her sister when in after and used it. Not understanding, she tried to flush again....
 
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Old 01-15-14, 08:51 AM
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Tub/shower has a curtain, and just a standard showerhead. I was the only one to use it that morning. My wife took a shower in a different upstairs bathroom, but all the water damage seems to be below the one that I used (though we've tested both, and neither seems to leak). Since I was the only one to use it, I can safely say that there was not water all over the floor after I was done. Ditto for the toilet...I was the only one to use it, and there was no overflow.

I could take some pictures tonight, but I don't know how much you could glean. Basically all the wet sheetrock has been cut out by my contractor; you can see some water stains running down the joists from above (though some of those joists predate the renovation, so hard to say at this point which water stains are new).
 
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Old 01-15-14, 04:09 PM
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If water was to get outside the curtain, it is possible that it flowed down the side of the shower unit and through a crack in the floor that lead directly to the ceiling below. Pictures would help us look for breaches in the continuity of the tile, laminate, tub, shower base, etc. that would contribute to the leak. While we all are careful, an aggressive shower with a bad seal at the curtain could explain your situation.
 
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