That pesky "Oh Crap" moment

Home Inspector with Clayton Inspection Service, Inc.

Last week something happened during an inspection that had never happened to me before. At first I thought it was a slight brain fade moment. A few seconds later, it was more of "wait a sec" moment. Then it turned into a full 'OH CRAP" moment.

During the course of inspecting a house, I flush the toilets, turn on sink faucets, run the tubs and active the shower diverters. It's just part of checking out the fixtures and the drains. It's a pretty common policy not to turn water valves such as main shut off valves and fixture shut off valves. If they haven't been used for a while, they might just decided to start leaking when you turn them, or break. I don't operate valves for that reason.

However, I do operate tub and shower controls. I check to make sure the HOT water is on the correct side, there are no leaks, and they shut off without continuous dripping. I've done this for close to twenty years.

So here I was in the 40+ year old house checking the bathrooms. I got to the master shower and turned on the left faucet and waited for the hot water to flow. The I turned on the right faucet and let it run a while so I could check the drain. After flushing the toilet a few times and running the sink to check functional flow, I went to turn off the shower.

So I turned the faucets "righty tighty" and the oddest thing happened, the shower kept running. "Oh, OK" (here's the brain fade moment), maybe one of the faucets was reversed ("I don't remember that, but, well, maybe"), so I turn them the other way, then one after the other. The water was still running. The time between the "wait a sec" and the "OH CRAP" is really just a fraction of a second. The water is NOT shutting off.

I now go down to the basement and turn off the water to the house at the main valve. Good thing for me, it was a newer lever valve and shut off fine. My next stop would have been the meter in the front yard.

I have a pretty good idea what happened. Either the screw (that holds the washer) has come off the end of the valve stem, or the stem itself has broken. Either way, it's going to be a call to a plumber to get it fixed before the water get turned on again.

The good thing is the house is vacant. 

While I have had my share of shower diverters shoot out of the fixture when I push the button, or faucet handles that leak like crazy, I have never had one not shut off.

Just goes to show you - always be ready for the unexpected.


Comments (9)

Dana Bostick
True Professionals, Inc. - North Hollywood, CA

Ok Jack,

You are in trouble now.  YOU broke their perfectly good faucet that , of course, was working just fine before you touched it. Now you get to re-plumb the entire house for them. You are so incompetent you should be locked up!



Mar 29, 2009 03:12 AM
Ilyce Glink
Think Glink Media - Chicago, IL
Best-selling author, award-winning TV/radio host.

Jack- This is why we need inspectors! How upsetting would it have been if the new family in the house found this out for themselves? Glad you were able to avoid disaster.

Mar 29, 2009 03:38 AM
Kate Hart
Hart & Associates Staging and Design - Radnor, PA

Good thing you knew what you were doing ! I would have panicked and not known how to turn off the water. Glad you caught it - can you imagine the person who bought the house going to use the shower for the first time and not being able to turn it off! Yikes. KH

Mar 29, 2009 04:03 AM
Jack Gilleland
Home Inspection and Investor Services, Clayton - Clayton, OH

I truly, sincerely hate it when that happens.  Never had it in the tub, but I have had it in the lavatory with client watching.  The old "Now what are you going to do" look on the clients face gave me a serious brain glitch.

Mar 29, 2009 01:38 PM
Dan Callahan
Callahan's Home Inspections - Casper, WY

Knock on wood, I haven't had any valves fail on me yet. I have had the chain break on toilet that leads from the handle to the flapper valve.

Mar 30, 2009 01:08 AM
Tad Petersen / Home Inspector, Mpls
Safeguard Home Inspections, Inc. - Watertown, MN

Jack, I hope you don't get a water bill from the city. :)

Mar 30, 2009 05:19 AM
Jack Feldmann
Clayton Inspection Service, Inc. - Knoxville, TN


I went down in the basement and shut off the main water valve.

Mar 30, 2009 05:53 AM
Gene Allen
Fathom Realty - Cary, NC
Realty Consultant for Cary Real Estate

Never know what is going to break when and vacant houses seem to have their share of breakable items.

Apr 05, 2009 08:03 AM
Samantha Lorefice
Tierra Antigua Realty - Tucson, AZ

Your story reminds me of a story from an associate of mine. He was holding an open house at a vacant property. So in preparation he turned on the lights, rinsed out the sinks and flushed the toilets. Then to his horror the toilet in the master bathroom began over flowing! Luckily, he is a very prepared person and he ran to his car to get a toilet plunger and a roll of paper towels. After struggling to fix the toilet and clean up the mess with one roll of paper towels, he then realized he had to sit through an open house still! I'm sure the whole time he was questioning why in the world he was in the business of selling homes!

Apr 05, 2009 08:13 AM