My Contractor Put a Nail in a Water Pipe

Wes_in_VAJanuary 5, 2014

I recently had about $45K of remodeling done to the main floor of my 23 year old house. I was very happy with the contractor throughout the process until a recent event. The remodeling work was completed approximately 2 months ago. Last Friday I found water leaking from the ceiling of my basement. It turns out that the contractor's finishing carpenter nailed a piece of baseboard trim into a copper water pipe. The room behind the wall is the powder room with the sink directly on the other side of the wall. The hole in the pipe sealed, but eventually the seal broke and the water leaked onto the basement ceiling and got part of the basement carpet soaked. I had a plumber in to fix the pipe and contacted my contractor.

On contacting my contractor (including a photo of the nail that penetrated the pipe) she denied that the damage to the pipe and basement was her responsibility. Her reasoning was:

"The original builder should have left more room to the edge of the studs for pipes placement. As well a metal cover plate in front of the copper pipe for protection was missing. There is no way for the finish carpenters to know where pipes are.
I am willing to help with some of the drywall repair work but cannot be faulted for the damage. The original installation wasn't done properly. Had it been there would have not been a problem."

I contacted the plumber who did the repair work and he told me that everything associated with the powder room plumbing was according to code and that the metal cover plate is only required when a pipe is running through a stud, not running parallel to the stud. What the plumber told me was consistent with the research I did. (See International Plumbing Code section 305.6 regarding pipe protection.)

When I followed up with the contractor on these items, she said she could find plumbers that would disagree and insisted that she was not at fault. She further said that when nailing the baseboard trim into the wall, the finishing carpenter wasn't trying to nail into a stud and that it wasn't necessary to nail into the stud. I then asked her why the carpenter used such long nails (the nail was at least 2 inches long). She said something to the effect that it's supposed to be done that way. She insisted that there's no way her carpenter could have know where the pipes are in an inclosed space that her crews hadn't opened up. She said she was willing to help repair the damage but would not cover all associated costs.

I again followed up on her rationale for not being at fault. My research showed that baseboard trim SHOULD be nailed into studs and that is why such long nails are used.

I've attached a photo of the inside of the wall where the nail penetrated the pipe. The yellow circle shows the nail that did the damage. I also have a picture of the damaged pipe after the plumber removed it, but I can't figure out how to attach 2 photos.

I'm looking for help out there. Is there any way that the contractor should not be fully responsible for the water leak and the associated damage?

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snoonyb

Thus far, if you are only communicating with the contractor by phone, you need to stop, communicate in writing and contact an attorney.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2014 at 1:45PM
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homebound

Wow, bad luck more than anything. How deep in the wall was the pipe? Was it near the center of the stud, or near the stud face? It's reasonable for a trim carpenter to assume they can safely nail with 1 3/4" or 2" nails (especially at an angle), without hitting a stud every time.

This post was edited by homebound on Sun, Jan 5, 14 at 16:35

    Bookmark   January 5, 2014 at 4:28PM
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annzgw

homebound, the photo shows the pipe ran along the side of the stud and right behind the drywall. To me, it looks like the carpenter did try to hit the stud....he was just slightly off.
Ideally, the pipe should have been run closer to center but one doesn't know what else is in the wall along with the copper pipe. At the time, the original plumber may not have had any other choice.

It's just one of those flukes that happen during construction. Your contractor has offered to repair the damage and I'd try to work out a deal where she does the repairs and I'd pay the plumber. I may be in the minority on this but I don't see this as being worth the cost of legal fees and maybe losing a contractor you've been otherwise happy to work with.
You may need her in the future so I suggest trying to work out something that makes you both happy.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2014 at 7:18PM
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worthy

It's hard enough to ensure trim carpenters don't hit plumbing when you're building from scratch. Working on a finished home where you never really know what's hidden is harder. Maybe a 1.5" nail would have missed the pipe. But that's a bit of micro-managing second-guessing that can't be expected.

Usually you know immediately when a supply pipe has been compromised.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2014 at 8:11PM
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Wes_in_VA

It seemed to me that if the trim carpenter used a stud finder to place the nail (as I saw described on at least 3 different DIY web sites) that this wouldn't have been an issue at all.

The contractor has agreed to repair all the damage done (drywall, painting, re-install the carpet) and pay the plumber bill, without acknowledging responsibility for the damage.

I had a similar incident several years ago when the contractor that installed my deck put a screw into a waste water pipe that ran along the outside of the house. In that case, the leak didn't manifest itself until over a year after the deck was complete. The contractor didn't think it was possible that he could have caused the damage, but he came out and found the source of the leak. When he saw that the deck screw had indeed caused the leak, he took full responsibility and fixed the problem with no hassles. I expected the same treatment on the nail in the water pipe.

Thanks for all the feedback. If anyone else has thoughts I'd appreciate hearing them. We had planned to have the same contractor do a remodel of our master bathroom (~ $25K), although my trust in her has been shaken badly by this episode.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2014 at 8:35PM
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homebound

Stud finders are not entirely reliable. Ask any contractor you know and trust, please. Or buy the best one out there and see for yourself. It maybe not be against code, but that pipe was obviously too close to the wall surface.

I can think of hundreds of justifiable reasons to lose trust in a contractor, but a trim nail that missed a stud most certainly isn't one of them. That's silly. This appears to be an unfortunate mishap that was not due to any neglect or poor workmanship. And your contractor, albeit a bit flustered, seems upstanding in that they will cover the repairs. (They just wish they could have a few private words with the guy that ran that pipe against the wall.)

This post was edited by homebound on Sun, Jan 5, 14 at 22:36

    Bookmark   January 5, 2014 at 10:35PM
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renovator8

Both the original plumber and the later carpenter could have avoided the accident if they had taken more care in their work.

The current contractor is responsible for the carpenter and the owner is responsible for the earlier work.

Since the accident could not have happened without both parties failing to take reasonable care it seems that the offer from the current contractor is fair and reasonable.

I don't know how opinions from DIYers on the internet or the rules of plumbing codes would be sufficient reason to refuse to negotiate a fair solution.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2014 at 7:39AM
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sombreuil_mongrel

Missing a stud with one nail is a mere peccadillo compared with the original sin of failing to center the pipe in the wall cavity. If the plumber couldn't come up through the center of the wall (hole at least 1 1/4" from the face), he could have offset it immediately and protected the transitional zone with extra-large nail plates. You must protect pipes both at the plates and the studs. The contractor should have corrected this before the drywall went up.
Drywall is cheap, and this is a perfect example of why when remodeling, you should gut the old drywall and reveal all the bad lurking surprises.

Casey (not speaking as a DIY-er)

    Bookmark   January 6, 2014 at 10:27AM
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rockybird

I think no one is completely at fault for this accident. I feel that the contractor is being fair, if not even more than fair. Personally, I would not hesitate to use this contractor again. Reading the various posts above, it seems that many feel she is arguably not fully responsible for this. Despite this, she is still willing to repair the damage and pay the plumbing bill.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2014 at 11:47PM
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aidan_m

The original builder is at fault. The original building inspector failed to catch this. The supply line should be running through the center of the bottom plate. The metal protectors are required at all penetrations through studs, top plates and bottom plates, as well as joists, when there is less than 1.25" of wood surrounding the pipe.

The fact that this occurred one time before, when the deck contractor screwed into the waste pipe, leads one to believe that the original builder ddidn't simply miss one or two protector plates. He neglected to protect ANY of the pipes with metal plates. The inspector was also lame or absent, because he did not catch this during the original build. Pipe protectors were still required way back in 1991.

Now that you know the original builder did very careless plumbing work, make sure that every contractor in the future knows of this problem. Only then can you blame them for penetrating the pipes, and still it won't be their fault unless you have them remove the drywall as part of the job.

The deck contractor was not at fault, he just did the repair out of good faith in order to keep you as a happy client. Unfortunately that experience led you to believe that this sort of thing is the new contractor's responsibility, when it's really the original builder's.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2014 at 12:47PM
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Wes_in_VA

I want to thank everyone for their inputs. The contractor had recently offered to cover all costs associated with the water damage, but after hearing all your responses, I offered to pay $500 of the costs (which is what my homeowners deductible is) which the contractor accepted. I've certainly gained an education via this forum and have allowed me to realize that the contractor was dealing with me in good faith. I'll be doing my bathroom remodel with the contractor in the near future.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2014 at 8:33PM
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worthy

You are a mensch.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2014 at 7:03PM
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sjhockeyfan325

Which is a good thing.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2014 at 10:55PM
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energy_rater_la

glad it is resolved.

back when I was using nail guns daily
it was easy to tell when you missed a stud
just by the sound the nail gun made.
I never hit a pipe...but I'm sure it would
make a noticable sound.
just saying.

best of luck on second reno!

    Bookmark   January 9, 2014 at 11:22AM
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