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Question DetailsAsked on 6/21/2012

Do I need to tear up my floor tiles in the bathroom to see the problem?

I noticed a leak a few days ago in my kitchen ceiling. Above is the bathroom. The spot occurs directly below the toilet. Now upon inspecting the toilet, everything looks normal upstairs, so I am suspecting a pipe is leaking below the floor. I was wondering if I should begin to tear my tile up, or is there another way?

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3 Answers

Voted Best Answer

It is usually cheaper to remove part of the ceiling below and patch it after the leak has been repaired. Remember that water can travel before settling in one area, causing the spot you've seen. Just because it is below the toilet does not mean that the toilet is the problem. The cheapest option is to pull the toilet and check the floor around the wax ring to see if it has been leaking. A new wax ring only costs a few dollars. When was the last time you caulked the shower in that bathroom? The water can leak around the corners or at the door (if you have one) and travel along the floor joists until it pools in a lower spot on the ceiling below, then seep through. It could also be a seal at the drain of the tub or shower.

I get a few calls a year for this sort of thing. It's usually something simple but can be a nightmare to diagnose, especially if the problem is intermittent. Start with the simple possibilities and use deductive reasoning to narrow the possibilities. Before you do a lot of damage it may pay off to hire a reputable contractor to help you make sure you've exhausted all of the imple and more obvious possibilities.

Todd Shell
Todd's Home Services

Answered 8 years ago by Todd's Home Services


Another good way to determine the damage is to see if someone like a home inspector has an infrared camera. This is a non- invasive method of finding water damage.

The damage could very well be from the toilet but like Todd said, water travels to the lowest area and settles there. Infrared, AKA thermal imaging can track where the water is coming from in most cases. This will give you a good idea of how minor or extensive the damage is. The cost for this service could be from $100 to $150.

Another concern would be mold. Wherever there is moisture there is the possibility of mold. Make sure you or your contractor looks for mold when the ceiling is open. If present, it should be properly treated.

To see some pictures of thermal imaging Click Here.


Answered 8 years ago by Homefront Inspection


Todd and Homefront Inspection both have excellent points. Try to isolate the source first - run toilet tissue all over the toilet and sink piping, and around the base of the walls to check for any moisture.

Under the sink you should be able to see, with a strong flashlight or trouble light, moisture and/or mold if that is what is leaking.

Check for damaged grout or caulk in the tub surround, walls, around the tub/shower valve(s), etc. Also, check for leakage under the tub door or curtain onto the floor by the tub when showering.

Look for any signs of mold or discoloration of the grout around the toilet - that could be a sign of leakage, particularly a rusty color or accumulation of powdery white lime.

Water from the toilet (the most likely source) could be leakage anywhere around or at the shutoff valve, anywhere along the flex tubing running to the toilet (where it goes into the toilet is a common spot), dripping off the bolts that mount the toilet tank to the bowl (reach up under the lip at the back of the outside of the bowl), at the rubber seal between the tank and bowl (which also would be running down the outside back of the bowl), a crack in the tank or bowl (which would appear as water on the floor under the tank or around the bowl), or a failed wax seal. The quickest way to check for any leak but the wax seal is run toilet tissue over all external toilet surfaces - even a small drip will show up as a wet spot on the TP.

The wax seal sits under the toilet, and seals the bowl discharge to the sewage pipe. If the toilet can be wiggled or rocked on its base by hand, this is the likely source, although wax seals can also go out with age. Tightening it down is unlikely to solve the problem if that caused the leak - the toilet needs to be disconnected, drained, lifted up, and a new wax seal put in place. Since you said tile floor, it needs a special wax seal for thick floors, otherwise it may be too thin to seal properly. This replacement can be done yourself if you are house mechanical handy, but if you have never done it at least watch a home improvement show video first, or call a plumber.

A last possibility is a leaking water supply or drain pipe joint or cracked pipe below the tub, sink, or toilet, dripping onto the upper surface of the ceiling below.

Now the bad news, as Homefront Inspection said - if a leak is coming out at the kitchen ceiling, regardless of whether you are able to fix the leak upstairs (without opening up the kitchen ceiling) or not, you need to inspect for rot and mold in the subfloor area. An inspector with color or thermal inspection camera or video fibre optic inspection tool can do this - possibly through a hole in the flooring under the bathroom sink, by removing a ceiling light fixture in the kitchen, or by drilling a hole (about 1/2 inch in diameter) in the "ceiling" of one or more kitchen cabinets. These are all places to gain inspection access without first punching a hole in the kitchen ceiling, which would then require a ceiling repair and probably repainting of the entire ceiling. One can also sometimes gain camera access through a couple of small holes in the outside wall of the house, if the water pipes and drains are along the outside wall, or if the contractor has a very long-reach fiber optic camera.

Of course, if there is dampness in the subfloor then it needs to be dried out with forced air flow, and if there is rot or significant mold then that has to be remediated. While it can occasionally be donw by removing a 4' long flourescent fixture inthe kitchen deiling to gain access, usually it would involve opening up about a 3-4 foot hole in the kitchen ceiling (and maybe going down through the bathroom floor as well, depending on amount of damage) and drying it out, killing the fungus, repairing the source of the leak, then doing any structural repair needed to the floor system and replacing any damaged electrical boxes, light fixtures, etc.

Answered 7 years ago by LCD


This answer from a more recent related question, but applies in your case too, but in your case because it is directly below the toilet, the wax seal is clearly the most likely culprit.

Clearly water stains, UNLESS they are honey - I saw this twice, where a bees nest leaked down (although in an upstairs ceiling, not downstairs). If it is honey, you should be able to hear the bees humming through the ceiling in the daytime, and also see them coming and going through some outside hole on sunny days.

If you are all home handy, I would suggest using a fiber optic scope or camera, or carefully taking a utility knife and cutting out a bit of the drywall (be careful not to cut so deep you could nick electric wires) - enough so you can see up into the area above with a bright flashlight (or preferably, a 6V hand lantern). You should be able to see wetness, or at least water staining in the subfloor, and track it back to near its source area. Track carefully, because it might be coming direct down from its source, or it might be running along a pipe or wall or joist, then maybe dropping on the top of the ceiling drywall, running a few feet on top of the drywall, then pooling in a low spot along the side of the sheet or along a joist, and finally weeping through the drywall ceiling. I recently tracked a heating pipe leak over 7 feet from the source of the leak to where is was finally pooling in a low spot on the drywall and making a mold stain.

Unless the stains are right next to a wall, it is unlikely to be from a roof leak - when they show up in a downstairs area it is usually either right at the top corner of wall and ceiling after it has run down inside a wall, or at the very bottom of a wall after it has run all the wall down inside the wall. In either case, you will almost always see staining on upstairs ceiling and/or wall also, unless it is running down a pipe from a leaking roof seal.

Leakage through not obviously deteriorated tile grout, either in a shower-tub or the floor, is VERY unlikely to show up downstairs, unless you are dripping a LOT of water on the floor when washing it or getting out of a bath or shower and not wiping it up. Grout openings would have to be pretty wide open or porous to let that much water through. Grout joint leakage is usually confined to the immediate wall or floor area, and can cause rot in those area but is rarely enough to drip down through a downstairs ceiling.

However, having a shower curtain outside rather than inside a tub (common with kids), or seriously leaking sliding shower door track caulk can dump enough water on the floor to cause such leakage staining. Also - be sure you are using the shower doors correctly - the one closest to the shower head should be on the inside track, because if you have the outside one closest to the shower head then you have an open gap between the doors that the water can go straight through, rather than the protective ovelap you should have.

If not one of those, I would say 95%+ chance it is a leaking toilet or pipe. Run toilet paper (shows water best) all around the drain and water pipes under your sink (also looking for any signs of wetness or mold), and all around the outside of the tank and bowl of the toilet, and the floor around the base of the bowl. Also around the toilet shutoff valve and the flex or copper tubing leading to toilet.

Also, after making sure there is no water running anywhere in the house or outside, listen (easiest with a stethoscope, but not necessary) with your ear tight to the wall near the sink, above the toilet, and near the tub/shower valve. If you have a water leak in the pipes in the wall there you will hear a faint hiss or sound of water running in the pipes. (Do not mistake the sound of a steam or baseboard heating unit circulating pump - if in doubt, shut off power to the furnace while doing this). Also, you can hear the gas flowing into heaters or appliances, and the hot water heater and boiler heating, so if you hear a sound check to be sure they are not heating at the time you are checking. If you turn a faucet on so it just barely slowly drips then listen to the wall above that, you will learn what sound you are listening for.

If all those are ruled out, then almost sure to be leakage from bad toilet bowl wax seal - like the plumber said, typically minimum service call fee of about $100-150.

In any event, I would recommend opening up the drywall (or borrow or rent a fiber optic scanner or camera from someone - tool rental shops and some auto supply stores rent them out) to track the leak because this is going to have to be done eventually anyway, soo why pay someone else to do it. This will also show you how much mold or dry rot you have to deal with, which will tell you whether you just need a plumber, or if you are going to have to repair damaged flooring and/or joists too.

Answered 7 years ago by LCD

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