Ask any seasoned home inspector about stuff that has gone wrong on an inspection, and they'll surely have a good horror story or two for you. I happened to be at an inspection last week when the unthinkable happened to one of my inspectors. She put a screw through a water line. Ouch, right? You've gotta be thinking "what the heck was your inspector doing putting a screw into a wall?" I can explain.

The setup

As I mentioned in a blog post from about six years ago, we always test bathtub overflows for leaks, provided the back sides of the overflows are accessible. Most bathtubs have an access panel behind the drain, and they're usually screwed into place. This home had too, with just a single screw holding the access panel cover in place. What was funny about this one was that the screw hadn't been driven all the way into the wall; it stuck out from the wall about an inch. You can probably guess why.

Access panel with screw protruding

After Tessa had dutifully filled the bathtub with water and checked the overflow for leaks, she used her Milwaukee M12 impact driver to screw the access panel back into place, and did the same thing that any other unsuspecting home inspector would have done; she drove the screw right through the water line.

Screw hole in water line

Our client was nearby when this happened and he immediately jumped into action, running downstairs and shutting the water off to the house. Not too much got wet, but it was still enough to stain the corner of the living room ceiling below.

Stains at ceiling

I happened to be at the home when this happened, so I ran over to the nearest home improvement store to pick up the needed tools to get the water line repaired. God bless whoever invented push-fit fittings. I love those things. Everyone calls them SharkBite® fittings, but that's just one brand.

I had to enlarge the access hole in the wall to gain access to the damaged water line, but the access panel cover was still large enough to completely cover the hole. We lucked out there.

What now?

We put a fan on the closet opening to help dry out the remaining wet stuff. We also hired a plumber to go out and bless my repairs, as well as a painter to take care of the ceiling. Whenever we make some kind of mistake like this, we try to learn from it and not make the same mistake again. I guess the take away is that if there is a screw that isn't fully embedded, don't fully embed it. Also, never make a new screw hole. You don't know what might be inside the wall.

For any home inspectors reading this, do you have a good horror story to share?

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

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