Just over a year ago, a carpenter screwed down some floorboards that were part of a new bathroom in our old house.
He used “modern” floor boards made from large interlocking sheets of waterproof MDF, and he affixed them to the floor joists prior to laying the flooring.
Unfortunately, among the many dozens of screws needed to hold down the flooring, one went astray and penetrated a hot water pipe just below the MDF sheet, the screw’s thread effectively sealing the screw in to the pipe.
Click the thumbnail to enlarge.
You can see some tell-tale corrosion in the cut off remains of the copper pipe. The errant screw was such a good fit that it held itself in place in the pipe for over a year without leaking. When the screw did start to corrode, it did so slowly. Eventually, the tiny drip became a trickle, and the trickle one day decided to become a flood.
It flooded into the ceiling of the dining room below. That ceiling had been there since 1896, and it had been built from a lot of sand and a lot of mortar, pushed up into a matrix of thin wooden laths nailed to the underside of the joists. The ceiling was at least 1 inch thick, and there was more material squeezed above the lath.
This mass of sand and mortar was bonded with copious amounts of horsehair, which gave the ceiling great integrity.
Here’s a picture of a clump of hundred year-old horsehair, its beautiful russet colour perfectly preserved.
When the plaster in the ceiling was fully saturated, the water started to leak down the electrical connection to the overhead light in the centre of the dining room below, and drip onto the floor with that persistent sort of sound that meant lots of buckets would be needed. Fortunately this happened in daylight. I was alone in the house. Lucky me. At least I had lots of buckets.
Long story short: It took eight days to demolish the one and a half tons of soggy sand and mortar, shovel it, bag it, re-cover the ceiling with plasterboard and a skim, then repair the walls, re-line and redecorate them, and haul the many rubble sacks down to the re-cycling centre. Fortunately, the weather allowed us to dine outside during this time.
The carpenter’s name was Toby. I never knew his surname. He’s a New Zealander. If you ever meet a Kiwi chippy called Toby, point him to this blog post and ask him whether I had adequately marked the sections of flooring with warnings in thick black marker pen about the pipes beneath.
Whatever you do, do not fill him up with beer the night before he starts work on your house.
It could cost you more than a couple of pints. It’s cost us (and our insurance company who have been wonderful considering that half the country has been under several inches of floodwater for a fortnight) 1,400 quid so far, and we’re still waiting for the ceiling light to be wired in.