A relative’s recent experience with the twenty year old home she just moved into taught us a few facts worth sharing. Water started appearing in her home along one side of her home. Her floors are large marble tiles as she lives in Florida where they are common. When water started seeping up in between the tiles when stepped on, she went on high alert and got a plumber in pronto. After probing for a good long while, he found water standing under the house. This eliminated the sprinkler system surrounding the exterior or a completely broken pipe that would have gushed. A slow leaking hot water pipe was discovered behind the drywall in the office. Once capped off, it stopped the leak but further work will have to find the other end of the pipe to finalize the repair and make sure there are no other contributing spots.
What we learned: Hot water pipes are usually the first to go. When a house is built the perimeter plumbing is put in around the foundation. The trench it is laid into gets filled with construction trash. This can set up an accident for the future. Chunks of concrete, rocks, pipes and any trash with weight can easily bury a part of a hot water pipe. Later with the expansion/contraction of heat from the water in the pipes and the extra weight resting on them, a perfect set up for a leak takes place.
Another interesting factor the plumber told us: Trees can taste, smell and hear water. Crazy right? But even my houseplants have given me hints. They can be like toddlers or puppies if not happy. A tree will send out a root from a large one as fine as a human hair to sniff out water. A tiny porous spot in a pipe is all the entry they need. On the other side of the pipe wall they once again develop into a large root and continue to grow and drink and eventually clog the whole system. Old terra cotta pipes are the worst material for having this happen.
A byproduct of water leakage in homes is mold. There are many forms of common molds not as toxic as the feared black mold and most homes have some of them lurking somewhere. We all go running for the spray bleach when we see it but a curious thing about mold and bleach… it will kill the surface mold on contact but if some of the mold has not been touched as in concrete block and drywall AND the bleach killed mold has not been thoroughly cleaned up and wiped down, live mold spores ( like trees roots) will reach out to the dead mold and feed on it and the cycle continues.
Know your sewer line placement (or septic system design) and avoid planting trees that have water seeking roots worse than others. Some of the worst offenders are silver maples, poplars, willows, American elm, white hawthorne, and bamboo. Keep these at least 100′ away. There are barriers that can be placed alongside water lines from chemical ones to strong wood and plastics, but they typically are not put there by builders.
A great book that goes along with this theme is one I am reading currently. It’s A Garden of Marvels: How We Discovered Plants Have Sex, Leaves Eat Air, and Other Secrets of Plants by Ruth Kassinger; 2014. Lesson learned: Beware where you plant your new trees, how they will interact with others and play nice with your home.