Bryan Baeumler - If hot water pipe is banging, you may have ‘water hammer’

Global Administrator December 20, 2016

It was a pretty rough winter for ice dams and general ice build-up. Now that the temperature’s warming up, you’ll want to poke your head in the attic and make sure there’s no water coming in. Also check that you don’t have any mould or uninvited guests up there and be sure that your vents are open.

Hi Bryan: Our hot water pipe makes a banging noise; it runs from the top washroom down a wall dividing the kitchen and dining room, and down into the laundry room. Every time we run the hot water, the pipe starts to bang in the dining room wall. We didn’t seem to have this problem until our neighbours (we are in a semi) did a major renovation on their home with lots of house shaking.
Could the pipe have come loose from their clips and is causing this problem? Could this eventually cause a leak? How can we fix this problem without opening up the wall or is that a must?
Melva S., Mississauga

Well, Melva, what it sounds like you’re experiencing is a water hammer. A lot of times, if you’ve got long supply lines that are copper and are running up through walls and aren’t fastened properly, when you open the valve that releases water you’ll hear some banging.

There are a couple things you can try down below that wall. If you can get access to that pipe in the basement, the first thing you can try is to install a water hammer arrester. It’s basically a small unit that goes into the water line that’s making the noise, so when that tap is turned on, it absorbs the initial shock in the change of pressure inside that line, and it will reduce the amount that the pipe jumps around.

It is possible the neighbours doing the reno, especially if you’re in a semi, opened up the parting wall and moved around the pipes. But also, over time, with the movement of that pipe, it may have just come loose, maybe rubbing up against a piece of framing in the home. But the water hammer arrester should lessen the shaking of the pipe.
Worst case scenario, if that doesn’t work, you’ll have to locate the area where it’s banging — do this by turning the water on and off and having one other person listen to the wall. You may have to open up a small area of the wall and secure the pipe. Then close that section up.

Dear Bryan: The bricks on the side of my garage door are shifting and the bricks on the top of the garage have a stair-step crack. I started to notice this a few years ago, after we had a ramp and stairs built in 1994 to accommodate my disabled son. It’s much more noticeable in winter. No other house in our neighbourhood — built in 1987 — has this problem.

I have had numerous contractors in over the years and each one has a different opinion on how to correct this. I don’t feel comfortable spending money fixing it unless we fix the root cause. Can you give me your opinion and the name of a trustworthy company that could diagnose and fix this? Thank you.
Vanina S., Mississauga

Vanina, with the stair-step crack, it sounds like you either have some movement in the footings or some movement in an area that’s supporting that brick over the garage opening. On either side of the door, there’ll be bricks. And across the top of that door opening, there’ll be a steel lintel that supports the weight of the bricks above the door. It sounds to me like there’s possibly a bit of shifting or movement in the foundation, on one side or the other.
But it could also be movement in the house itself. I don’t know where you had the ramp and stairs built, or whether you dug down and exposed some of the footing or not. It definitely sounds like there’s some movement in one of the footings or possibly the structure of the door or the lintel.

What you’ll want to do is get a mason in to have a look at it and determine what the issue is. If there’s movement in the footing, you may want to have a structural engineer take a look at it. And if there is indeed movement in there, you could resupport it properly and tuck point, which means chipping out the mortar that’s in between the blocks and putting new mortar in there, so it holds it all together.

As far as finding someone to fix it, you could look for a masonry specialist or general contractor on our BaeumlerApproved.com website.

Bryan: Does all vermiculite contain asbestos? Our home was built in 1970 and we’ve been having problems with ice dams. A new roof and extra venting has not solved the problem. We have a thin layer of vermiculite in two attics (side-split) and a thin layer of insulation over top, which was blown in. Do I have to remove the vermiculite or can I have additional insulation blown in? Thank you.
Wendy T., Brampton

Hi, Wendy. To answer your question: no, all vermiculite does not contain asbestos. But it’s a good idea, before you disturb it or do anything to it, to have an environmental remediation company to come in take a sample and test it. If it does contain asbestos, you don’t want to disturb it at all because it will release fibres into the air.

As for the ice dams, it sounds like there’s a lack of insulation up there. With the thin layer of vermiculite and the thin layer of insulation over top, it definitely sounds like an insulation issue. So if you have vermiculite that doesn’t contain asbestos and it’s already covered with insulation, then yes, you can blow in more on top.

But definitely have an environmental company come and test it first. There are companies that will come and actually vacuum out and remove that safely, and then reinsulate your attic. And it doesn’t cost much! Have it checked out and then decide where to go from there.

Hi, Bryan: This one has been an annual mystery for several years since our home was built: We have a laminate countertop about 12 feet long on the east wall of our kitchen. It houses the sink and dishwasher. Every winter the caulking bead fails between the roller counter back and the tile backsplash, for about half the length of the counter. It is always from the southeast corner to the sink. I clean and replace it and the failure repeats itself the following winter. Oddly enough, the northeast corner to the sink has never failed. Can you suggest a permanent fix?
Wayne B., Wasaga Beach, Ont.

Well, Wayne, you didn’t tell me how old your house is, so it’s hard to tell. But your cabinets and sink are inside, in the warm part of the house and the framing of the house is obviously exposed to cold during the winter. So what happens is, with the cold, the air holds less moisture and it pulls moisture out of the wood and framing of the home, so your house actually shrinks. One wall may be insulated better than the other wall or it might have a better vapour barrier. For whatever reason, you’ve got that southeast corner that’s moving a little more.
Unfortunately, there isn’t really a permanent fix. Houses, especially older ones, are going to move a little bit in the summer and winter. When the caulking fails, it’s just time to put in a new bead of it.

I’m guessing the caulking you’re putting in is a latex caulk, which is a water-based caulking. You may want to go for something a little heavier duty, like a silicone, that will absorb that movement a little better. But a little bit of movement is unavoidable. Apart from ripping the entire house apart, reinsulating, taking care of the vapour barrier and building things differently, there’s not much you can do besides using a more resilient caulking.

Bryan, we have a wood-burning fireplace that we wish to convert to gas. It is L-shaped, in a corner, with two sides facing out. One side is 35 inches long and 24 inches high. The other is 19 inches deep. We have yet to find anyone who will do anything other than one side. Any ideas?
Fred H., Scarborough

Well, Fred, without you spending a mountain of money, there are very few companies that will manufacture custom gas fireplaces that will fit existing masonry fireplaces. There’s a little more latitude to build masonry fireplaces custom, but only as long as you remain within the rules of the building code and certification for fireplaces. So I’m a little stumped.

Your only option may be to spend a ton of money and find someone to custom-build a wood insert to exactly fit your masonry fireplace. But chances are you may have to give up that L-shape to get a gas fireplace to fit in there. Good luck!

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