Pipes Behind Plaster:
Recipe For Disaster
By Bruce W. Maki
When I worked in hotel maintenance I ran
into dozens of repairs where a pipe had leaked or burst, and it was behind
a plaster or drywall surface. The result was always the same... a big
I formed the opinion that putting pipes behind plaster was asking for a
disaster, mainly in the hassle of tearing out and replacing wallboard and
cleaning up the area. Seeing a fine hotel room put out of service for a
week or two made me wonder why people ever conceal pipes with anything
other than a simple removable cover panel.
You can almost bank on a pipe leaking at some point in it's life.
Everybody has the idea that copper pipes are superior to everything, but I
have seen copper pipes rot away in 6 months from constant use of
slightly acidic water. Plastics are very resistant to corrosion and acids,
yet people think of plastic as cheap. I'm intrigued by this PEX
(cross-linked polyethylene) plastic tubing that can be snaked through a
house from a central manifold all the way to each fixture.
But the real scary thing comes not from water damage but atmospheric
pollution and potential health threat of a common air-borne mold: Stachybotrys
This mold requires a constantly wet cellulose-based surface on which to
grow. But a leaking pipe behind wallboard will provide exactly what this
Stachybotrys gives off a toxic chemical when mold spores get into the
lungs. Several babies have died after getting infected with this mold and
being exposed to cigarette smoke. The tiny sacs in the lungs bleed
excessively. A typical symptom is coughing up blood. Infants lungs are
rapidly developing and are very sensitive to external assaults from
Like most molds, Stachybotrys can be killed off with a diluted chlorine
bleach solution. Since Stachybotrys is everywhere, there is no way to keep
it out of your house. But since it requires a constantly wet cellulose
surface, all anybody needs to do is deprive it of it's moisture.
The bottom line is: take any leak seriously. Fix a dripping pipe,
don't put it off. And fix any basement leaks. The old farm house I live in
has a leaky basement so I keep an oscillating fan going all the time in
the summer months to stir up the air and dry out any small wet spots. I
can tell it makes a difference because the musty smell is reduced when the
fan has been running.