I knew we had a leak somewhere inside the wall framing the control end of the shower/tub in our small bathroom. For the last several months, during or right after either of us took a shower, a trickle of water would sometimes appear on the floor where the tub joined the wall. Since I also knew that the steel pipe connecting the faucet to the control valve was about three-eighths of an inch shorter than it should be, I figured that was the culprit. After those months of procrastination, I finally decided to tear into a search-and-repair mission last night.
The plumbing is contained in a partition wall that separates the shower from the commode area. From the commode side, I cut out a fifteen-inch-square of drywall right behind the faucet control, certain I’d find evidence of the leak. Nope.
Dropping lower on the wall, I cut out an additional fifteen-inch section. No indication of a leak. Because of the way I’d framed the wall, I still couldn’t get a clear look at the floor area inside the wall and tub housing. So I cut out another section. More framing blocking the view. So… yeah… another section stopping just above the tile floor edging.
I could see some dark streaks of water stain on the plywood subfloor but no hint of where the water came from. About that time, Randa returned to the scene of the crime and suggested I turn on the shower and see what happened.
So, I opened up the faucet to full speed and turned on the shower. And then we both saw what happened.
There was an immediate drip of water coming down the supply line that runs up from the faucet control to the showerhead. More accurately, there was a sudden stream of water coming down the line. Figuring that was pretty solid evidence there was a bad connection at the copper ell, I cut out a fifteen-by-fifteen section of drywall right behind the shower joint.
The joint was completed housed inside the framing, inaccessible from the back.
Up to this point, I’d managed to curb my frustration. The idea that I was going to have to tear off tile from the shower side to access the joint sort of pushed me right up to the edge of External Demonstration of Internal Irritation. I stood there for a moment, one foot on the small ladder stool and the other on the toilet seat, contemplating a variety of immature and non-productive manifestations. Much to everyone’s surprise, I chose instead to calm myself and decided to turn the shower on again and see what I could see.
What I saw, and felt my reaching a finger up inside the wooden housing, made me suspicious that instead of a bad connection between the supply line and the ell, it might be that the threaded showerhead connection was the problem. I removed the showerhead and was right surprised at how easily I could remove the threaded connector. Hmmm…
I cleaned off the threads, put on several wraps of joint sealing tape and re-installed the pipe and showerhead. Turned the shower back on and let it run for ten minutes. Not one drop of water coming down inside the wall.
If I’d known from the start, I could have fixed the problem in less than five minutes instead of an hour and without making a single cut into the wall. It just didn’t seem likely at all that the small trickle of water on the floor by the tub was caused by a leak over six feet up above the floor.
Sometimes we are the cause of our own limitations. Sometimes, we gain knowledge by a process that seems terribly wasteful and aggravating. And in all of those cases, have the opportunity to increase our stamina, self-control and empathy. Oftentimes, I think, we marvel that others are so slow to find solutions and forget how often we blundered our own way into wisdom.