Eek!  A Leak!  And Other Alarming Plumbing Issues

Water in Pipes, Crud in Drains, and the Dreaded Leak

By Bill Primavera

The Home Guru

 It’s never a good thing when I hear that certain pitch in my wife’s voice that signals the alarm of impending disaster with a household emergency. At such times, I brace myself for the worst and try to maintain a calm demeanor for her sake.  After all, I’m the guy, right?

Early one morning last week, I was enjoying my simple but luxurious ritual of a long hot shower when I heard the alarm sound.  In a few seconds the bathroom door burst open and my wife blurted out, “Water is pouring through the ceiling downstairs!” Oh no.

I turned off the water and started kicking myself mentally for not heeding the warning signs of a plumbing problem. For a couple of weeks, when I showered, an inch or so of water would collect in the tub and would take its time draining out. I suspected that the drain was clogged by the physical evidence of my receding hairline.

But I procrastinated with trying my home remedy for unclogging drains. (Recipe: 1/2 cup baking soda, followed by ½ cup vinegar; let sit for three hours.).

Downstairs, I found that the leaking had stopped and obviously was caused only when the shower upstairs was running, but who could know the reason for that?  I called my friend Joe Pascarelli who is a house painter but seems to know everybody who is available for emergency situations in the home. He referred me to Mark Merone of Merone Plumbing, Heating & Cooling.

Within hours Mark was in my house with his partner, son Jason, to assess the problem. By testing, they found that the “el” valve to the pipe for the shower head had cracked from wear (“unless you’ve been doing chin-ups on that pipe,” Mark joked) and needed to be replaced. And yes, the other problem was that the drain in the tub was so badly clogged with hair and who knows what else, because the protective screen on the drain had fallen away years ago, that we decided to replace the pipe with PVC (polyvinyl choride).

In the past 30 years, PVC has been used for waste but not for delivering hot and cold water into the home. For the latter, the relatively new PEX (cross-linked polyethylene) serves as a substitute for copper, is very flexible, not requiring soldering, bends around just about anything “and is much cheaper than copper,” Jason said. 

While the Merone father-and-son team was with me, I learned a thing or two about leak emergencies and what plumbing issues prospective homeowners should be aware of when purchasing a home.

“The main job of the plumber is to bring potable water into the house and to make sure that it doesn’t cross connections between the waste and the domestic water,” Mark said. “People are just not aware of that as long as water is running out of the faucet and the toilet is flushing, but if that water interchanges, it can make people very sick and they can die from it. That was the cause of cholera.”  Wow

With such a dire warning, I can understand why the Department of Health requires a certain distance, 100 feet in this area, between wells and septics.  The same thing can happen indoors under the wrong conditions, I learned, such as having a defective backflow preventer on the boiler.

But the plumbing problem that causes the most panic among homeowners is a leak they can’t stop. “That would show that it involves a pipe delivering domestic water to the house which is under 50 to 70 pounds pressure per square inch,” Mark said.  “In that case, the appropriate valve that delivers water to the fixture would have to be turned off.”

“There are certain plumbing issues that some buyers and their realtors should be aware of when they consider a home for sale,” Mark said.  “You need to pay attention to the quality of materials that bring water into the house from the street or well and take it away to the septic or sewer, and whether those materials are up to code.”  He said that plumbers normally don’t have a lot of problems with the fixtures themselves, such as toilets, kitchen sinks and bathtubs, but they do have problems with the pipes that deliver and drain the water.   

“Besides the quality of the piping, a homebuyer should want to know the condition of the hot water tank and boiler that both will need attention on a continuing basis, and the kind of heating system the house has,” Mark said. “The engineer who does the inspection will know good piping practices and, if they are below code, he will suggest certain changes, such as eventually substituting galvanized piping with copper or PVC. The more up to code the piping is, the fewer plumbing problems the homebuyer will have in the future.”

Having Mark and Jason Merone visit me was like taking a crash course in plumbing with various issues that could fill several columns. I guess that kind of information exchange is something I like about a family business where the owners are actually the ones who do the work and get to know their clients personally.

The Merones’ website is: or call directly at 914-528-8534.

Bill Primavera is a licensed Realtor® (, affiliated with Coldwell Banker, and a marketing practitioner ( For questions or comments about the housing market, or selling or buying a home, he can be reached directly at 914-522-2076.