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Question DetailsAsked on 11/28/2015

Downstairs neighbor complains of dripping sound on ceiling underneath my bathroom. No signs of stain/water damage.

Problem has has been going on for a while. Though no damage is visible, neighbor is annoyed at dripping sound that gets annoying particularly at night when everything is quiet. A plumber from Angie's list already came and made a few minor adjustments but couldn't find anything wrong with my apartment's plumbing system to cause such drip/noise. Don't know where to go from here.

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2 Answers


Presuming of course this does not occur only during and shortly after a rain or snow melt event.

You don't say if this is "your" problem - or that of the landlord ? Generally if a rental, or some leases depending on terms, the landlord is responsible for the diagnosis and fix.

Here are links to a couple of similar prior questions with answers which might help -

Could be a leak that has not broken through below yet, could be some hair or fiber or such caught in the drain pipe causing an internal drip in the pipe - water free-falling and hitting inside the pipe further down. A good plumber with a stethoscope can make a pretty good guess which it is by the sound - but generally the only proof is waiting to see if it shows up as a leak, or taking a fiber optic scope and looking in the ceiling for signs of water staining and wetness.

Two other things that can be done by a plumber - a smoke test of the sewer pipes to see if there is a leak - but that might or might not work because if at a location where water is standing, the smoke will not escape there. Another is an air pressure test of the piping - draining the pipes and pressurizing the pipes at normal operating pressure, then listening around with a stethoscope for the hiss of the air - is generally more distinct than water coming out.

Four things YOU can do -

1) ask neighbor if he/she has noticed any consistent pattern - happens after toilet flushing or shower/tub being used for instance, starts fast and tapers off (almost always drain) or stays consistent interval between drips continuously (water supply drip), does it continue day and night or only certain time of day (possibly expanding and contracting pipes or heating ducts), etc. Any clue can nhelp.

2) look for any sign of motion in the water in the bottom of the toilet - could be you have a slow toilet drip into the sewer pipe. Put in a few drops of food coloring away from the edge o the warter in the bowl but NOT in middle and watch to see if it spreads out randomly and evenly, or starts streaming toward AND eventually out the outlet of the toilet - which would be an indication you have a toilet flapper or refill valve leaking a bit of water into the bowl. If so, trail a bit of food coloring around the outlet flapper in the tank to see if the color preferentially goes to a point at the flapper (a leak). Also, (if necessary to see clearly and can't tell by holding finger or bit of tissue under its outlet in the overflow tube) carefully pull the small diameter refill tube clip off the top of the vertical (about 1 inch) overflow tube and see if any water is dripping out of it - whjich would then be going into the bowl. This would be from a leaking fill valve.

3) making sure everything is turned off in house and catching a time when neighbors are not running water, listen at the wall in the bathroom and at each faucet, with ear in direct contact or using a stethoscope, to hear if there is any noticeable drip or hiss. At faucet you can hear a VERY small leak in the building - open the faucet enough to cause just a slow drip to hear what it sounds like first, then turn off and listen if similar sound in pipes. Of course, in most houses other sounds might interfere and have to be suppressed to be sure - circulating pumps and boilers, appliances or fans/HVAC running, water heater heating, stereo or TV, etc - so it can take a bit to weed them out or wait till they shut off, then walking around listening to pipes. But usually a half hour or so (more if a building with several units) will tie down where the sound is coming from, and by listening at floor, walls, ceiling, near drains, at pipes and fixtures etc can usually track the approximate location and tie down to which system it is in (drain or water supply) and get pretty close to where it is occurring. Then time for the fiber optic scope/camera - which takes about a 1/2 hole to run it into the wall/ceiling. Rentable at tool rental, Home Depot, some auto parts stores for abourt $15-70/day depending on whether getting eye-held scope or camera (color camera shows things MUCH clearer and easier to manipulate to see) and whether getting for 1/2 or full day. Color camera probe also available at Amazon and HarborFreight and such for about $70-100 purchase cost if you figure it will be useful in the future.

4) Listen at furnace/boiler and water heater for sound - in colder weather the flue gas can condense water vapor in the flue (and in appliance itself at startup), causing water drips to fall into the flue, creating drip sounds at bends in the flue, or when they hit the bottom of the firebox or burners - with or without a hiss from boiling away depending on where hitting.

My first step after those and before any smoke or air test by a plumber would be to snake the drains and pipes in that area to get out any hair or such that could be causing a partial blockage or drip point that is gradually dripping dry as it drains out a trap or drain.

Also - don't forget to check if drip is from air conditioner coil drain pan tube, or an overflowing evaporator drain pan with a plugged drain tube.

Ditto to possible dripping water from an icemaker/cold water dispenser - stand-alone or reefer type.

Of course, if this dripping goes on for more than about 15-30 minutes or so at a time - certainly if continues all night and day and particularly if quite (but not necessarily exactly) consistent in interval between the sounds - then you have a leak somewhere - possibly a trap, possibly a water supply line or valve.

If landlord's problem, you could show him this and suggest starting with inspection and tracking it down and go from there. If your problem, I certainly would not let it go unfixed because you may get substantial structural damage in the subfloor from continual wetting, even if it is evaporating fast enough (or running down into a wall on top of the underlying drywall/vapor barrier) that it does not pop up as a visible wet spot. I have seen floors totally rotted out to the point of the owner or plumber (or tub/shower) falling through the rotten/collapsing flooring, without any sign of wetting or staining on the underlying room ceiling or walls. Ditto to walls - I have seen walls totally missing sections of their plates and missing several adjacent entire studs from dryrot, with zero surface indication on the drywall - especially if there is vapor barrier behind the drywall.

Answered 4 years ago by LCD



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Answered 4 years ago by Member Services

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