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Ask the Remodeler: Tub issue may signal more than a clogged drain

A reader finds a water stain on the ceiling and a lot of gunk in his tub drain. Get more home improvement advice at

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Q. I’ve been a regular reader of the column for many years and gleaned some very good advice. I’ve had a leak problem with my Lasco bathtub/shower unit (circa 1992). After I scoured the tub recently, I drew no more than 2 gallons of water into the tub for the final rinse and then let it drain. The following morning I noticed a 3-square-inch water stain on the ceiling of the half bath below; it was wet and my finger went through the sheetrock. The stain is directly beneath the tub drain. On a hunch, I removed the plunger assembly from the drain valve and found the hollow core of the plunger completely filled with a foul, greasy material. I cleaned the plunger, reassembled it, then tested the drain with about 2 gallons of standing water. I have showered often since with no obvious signs of leaking. My water drainage has improved. I have no reason to believe the hot and cold input water lines are leaking or that the flange seal on the tub is bad. A family member told me that several years ago he experienced this same problem (including the sheetrock damage), cleaned the drain valve plunger, and has not had a leak since. It doesn’t seem reasonable that a simple routine cleaning of the plunger could prevent very costly plumbing repairs. If this is the case, tubs should come with these warning labels. Do you think I’ve resolved my problem, or am I still at risk for leaks?


F.P., Dracut

A. Kudos to you for tearing into the drainage assembly and clearly solving what I think is part of the problem. I’m glad that it worked, but I hate to say there is still another problem lurking in there somewhere. If you think about it, a tub and the entire drain assembly should be completely watertight. If the drain is plugged or sluggish, it should just back up into the tub, not come down into the ceiling below. I think you need to call in a plumber and have that section of ceiling opened up below the tub so they can look at the drain, P trap, and any other connections in that area.

A reader found this mystery tank in the attic. – Handout

Q. Please tell us what this green tank is? I live in my great-grandparents’ home, and this must be very old. Someone wrote “Do not remove’’ in chalk on it.


A. That green tank is an old hot water heating system expansion tank. They were often put in attics or top floors. I’m assuming that the house has a newer heating system, and if so, it should be safe to remove it. However, I would try to get a peek under the attic boards first to check for old piping tied into the strapping or wallboard so you don’t have a plaster repair job to do after pulling it out.


Mark Philben is the project development manager at Charlie Allen Renovations in Cambridge. Send your questions to [email protected]. Questions are subject to editing. Subscribe to our free real estate newsletter at Follow us on FacebookLinkedInInstagram, and Twitter @globehomes.


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