I received a phone call from one of our very dear 90-year-old clients. He asked me to come over and look at his wife’s bathroom because there was a problem. When I got there, he explained that he had heard an odd noise come from the bathroom, and he said “when I opened the bathroom door, I noticed the floor had shifted.” He explained that his wife had died 10+ years ago, and the bathroom had not been used at all since the last time she used it.
After a little investigation, I figured out that the toilet water supply stop valve at the wall developed a very small leak that dripped in such a way that allowed the subfloor to absorb the moisture. After a few years, the subfloor and supporting floor joist became damp. Staying damp, they started rotting from mold and being devoured by wood-destroying insects, and possibly rodents. One day the fateful last bite was taken from a structural member, which caused the floor to collapse under its own weight. “Collapsed” seemed more apropos to me than “shifted.”
This story leads into one of my favorite tag lines when it comes to your homes features and fixtures: “use them or lose them.” Here are four reasons “not to not” use a bathroom for an extended period of time and some tips if you have to:
Every drain in your home has a “P” trap. As shown in the diagram, the P trap keeps the sewer gases from entering your home by blocking them with water. If you don’t use the drain, the water evaporates and allows sewer gas to enter your home.
Tip – Make sure the toilet is flushed at least once a month. Also fill the vanity up with water and then drain it. Do this more often in dry environments.
When mechanical things are not used, and are left in air that is stagnant and humid, the metal parts start to corrode. With plumbing, sooner or later, something is going to give and cause a leak. In the case of this discussion, the leak becomes an unattended long-term leak and a very expensive problem.
Tip – Lay paper towels under the sink faucet and toilet stop valves. Look at them once a month or more to see if they are wet. This is a great way to find a small, pesky and destructive drip.
Like plumbing, if the mechanics of your electrical system aren’t used, they can cause you problems, like burning down your house. I’ll admit the burning down your house threat is extremely minor, but the motors in your fresh air vent and heater could corrode and stop working properly and the GFCI outlet fuse buttons could become gummed up and non-functional.
Tip – Once a month or more run the fans and lights for a few minutes. Make sure the GFCI plug fuse buttons are staying clean
A closed-up bathroom can become surprisingly humid. As I tell my clients, humidity is the #1 thing that can cause your bathroom to deteriorate faster than anything else. Along with shortening the life of the mechanical systems of the bathroom, it can cause paint and wallpaper to peel, cause dirt to collect on all the surfaces — and there is nothing like a damp, dirty surface to cause a mold bloom.
Tip – Install a hygrometer so you can note the humidity level when you check the bathroom. You want the humidity level to be below 50% most of the time. Anything consistently above 50% will be leaving moisture on surfaces.
Use these tips to take care of your everyday-use bathroom as well; it will save you a bunch of money in the long run.