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Feb. 1st, 2008 @ 05:20 am solve the mystery (or lay some odds)
Living in this house has been a real change of pace. I went from years of warm climate condo living into a 25-year-old house built on a river where the snow comes down by the bucket. Yesterday I shoveled snow for four hours (I bought a snow blower and shorted it my second day) and there's still a three inch sheet of ice on our driveway. What do you use to break the ice? "Come here often?" Forgive me, GOD I'M SO SORE.

I could write every day for a month about some idiosyncracy of the house. I won't bore you with most of it, but I need a sanity check on the latest. A few nights ago I ran the dishwasher before going to bed like I do most days. In the morning I found a big puddle of water in front of the dishwasher. A little later that morning kathleen ran the upstairs washing machine. Somewhere into its cycle it spit a ton of water onto the floor, but the housekeepers happened to be here at the time so I don't know where it leaked from.

Given that we'd run both appliances approximately daily for the 2.5 months we lived here, neither had ever leaked, and then they both failed in the same way at the same time, it seemed likely these incidents were related. I ran the dishwasher again: runs to completion, no leaks. I ran the washing machine that afternoon with the same load: runs to completion, no leaks. So they both failed the same way during a 12 hour period - once each - and then both started working again with no adjustments. Also, keep in mind that we're in the midst of a record extended cold spell.

Yet the plumber who has done most of the plumbing work here says he'll pit his 35 years plumbing experience against my probability inference and says they're not related. I talked to our general contractor and he took the same position. They want me adjusting hoses and checking out appliance parts. I am fully confident they are not just jerking me around and actually believe what they are saying.

Have I gone totally nuts?

Their rationale, assuming I understand it, is that the washing machine is on the top floor and the dishwasher on the middle floor, so if there were some kind of drain blockage causing them to back up, it would have to manifest on the bottom floor first, causing the master shower to back up - and we didn't see anything like that. Okay, I can't argue with that, I don't know shit about plumbing. But come on, what are the odds of this being a coincidence? I pressed as hard as I could for alternative explanations and neither of them had anything. What made it most difficult to accept is that they seemed kind of oblivious to what kind of long shot it would take for these to be unrelated.

I solicit your hypotheses!
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From:badblood44
Date:February 1st, 2008 02:50 pm (UTC)
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Dishwasher hypothesis:

Something plastic (a baby item?) became dislodged from where it was placed in the dishwasher to temporarily block the dishwasher from draining into your sink. Then after emptying the dishwasher and said piece of plastic, all was well again. That actually happened to us once.
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From:extempore
Date:February 1st, 2008 02:57 pm (UTC)
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Your hypothesis has to explain the simultaneous one-time failure of both appliances. Otherwise the explanation is "it's just a coincidence" which I've already heard, and it is not to be believed until all other possibilities are ruled out. And probably not even then.
From:munga30
Date:February 1st, 2008 03:20 pm (UTC)

Washer running on hot?

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One hypo is that the warm water vapor from the dishwasher's dry cycle condensed and pooled on the floor during a particularly cold night. Any chance that the washing machine was running hot water and had something similar?
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From:extempore
Date:February 1st, 2008 03:36 pm (UTC)

Re: Washer running on hot?

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Way too much water came out of both appliances to be condensate; we've had many nights of similar coldness; by the time the washing machine was run, the sun was out; water from washing machine was soapy.
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From:crosstables
Date:February 1st, 2008 03:54 pm (UTC)
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Unrelated to hypotheses, our dishwasher repair guy said that the goopy liquid detergents are evil because they contain *clay* which eventually kills your seals.

Besides that, I'm running with the "coincidence" hypothesis. Also, our almost-new dishwasher started leaving puddles (albeit more consistently than yours) because it was just... defective.
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From:gunga_galunga
Date:February 1st, 2008 04:00 pm (UTC)
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Is the washing machine directly above the dishwasher? Could the water in front of the dishwasher actually have been from the washing machine from an earlier cycle and leaked down through the ceiling?
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From:extempore
Date:February 1st, 2008 04:32 pm (UTC)
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Interesting theory, but nope, they are far apart vertically.
From:ruchie
Date:February 1st, 2008 04:08 pm (UTC)

common elements

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I'm trying to think of all the common elements between the 2 that could be a piece of the puzzle.

I can't help but notice that of all items in your house that process large volume of water (showers, toilets, water heater, ice maker, dishwasher, washing machine) that the only 2 that leaked that day are the 2 that extract water from your plumbing system via rubber hose.

Everything else has a direct copper-to-copper connection.

Is there any way the cold (or any other outside factor) could negatively affect rubber piping in a temporary way?

Would it shrink away from it's seal under certain conditions, only to expand back to normal later?

I can't quite build the full scenario in my head that solves the mystery, but for these 2 (and these 2 only) things to fail, there has to be a common element unique to them.
Rubber hoses is all I have off the top of my head.
From:ruchie
Date:February 1st, 2008 04:22 pm (UTC)

Re: common elements

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the more I think about it, the more I realize I made lots of assumptions.
I don't really know about the lack of rubber tubing in any of those other appliances.

There's just none to my knowledge.
My knowledge only really extends to what's broken & I've attempted to fix in my own house.

My premise only grows weaker with time...
From:salixquercusii
Date:February 1st, 2008 04:19 pm (UTC)
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Now you want to nullify the plumber?
From:howardtreesong
Date:February 1st, 2008 04:39 pm (UTC)
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I'll vote for the coincidence on these facts.
From:adbbingo
Date:February 1st, 2008 04:30 pm (UTC)

Curious Ivy ?

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Any chance Ivy was roaming around investigating noise making appliances and decided that when ONE such item made the floor wet when she opened it, that she had to test the hypothesis with another noisy large metal object ?
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From:extempore
Date:February 1st, 2008 04:36 pm (UTC)

Re: Curious Ivy ?

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Nice try, but she's not quite that capable yet.
From:vmole
Date:February 1st, 2008 05:08 pm (UTC)
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Do both the dishwasher and WM empty into the same vertical plumbing stack? Is that stack in an external wall? If so, my hypothesis that there was an iceclog in the stack, which blocked both, and then melted. Such a clog wouldn't affect the shower on the ground floor.

I've no idea at all how likely such a clog would be.
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From:extempore
Date:February 2nd, 2008 01:13 pm (UTC)
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That is precisely what I suggested to the plumber when I was floundering around trying to do his thinking for him. He responded with some plumber mumbo jumbo, but I think he said that they don't share a pipe. However, I don't trust that he was seriously considering this idea, so until I can see a pipe diagram or something it's in play.
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From:hgfalling
Date:February 1st, 2008 05:17 pm (UTC)
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Living in this house has been a real change of pace. I went from years of warm climate condo living into a 25-year-old house built on a river where the snow comes down by the bucket. Yesterday I shoveled snow for four hours (I bought a snow blower and shorted it my second day) and there's still a three inch sheet of ice on our driveway. What do you use to break the ice? "Come here often?" Forgive me, GOD I'M SO SORE.

Probably obvious advice:

We only get sheets of ice it when the temperature is hovering around freezing such that during the day snow melts and during the night it refreezes. The way to prevent this is to be superproactive about shoveling snow as it comes down. Michelle and I take turns shoveling our driveway for like 20 min out of every hour when snow is falling, even during the night. This has the nice benefit of making the entire shoveling project a lot less stressful on our backs because the snow doesn't have a chance to get stacked up deeply. An inch of snow is really easy to shovel; six inches not so much, especially if it's not very cold (which makes the snow wet).

If ice sheets do develop, I usually just use the ice melt chemicals. Spread it widely over the area, go inside for a half hour. Then come out and scrape as much slushy crap off the top as you can, rinse and repeat until clear or until you can't take it any more. This works best if you can do this during the day when it's above freezing, because as you remove ice, the remaining ice is less insulated and so melts faster.

But for this born-bred Southern California boy, this part of winter sucks.
From:adbbingo
Date:February 1st, 2008 05:52 pm (UTC)

Ice Melt Chemical

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If you do use an ice melt chemical other than salt, be sure to keep it off of concrete. At least the one I used was fine on my asphalt driveway, but basically turned my concrete sidewalk into gravel. I guess I should have read that fine print on the bag :)
From:dougie_nutz
Date:February 1st, 2008 05:18 pm (UTC)

The dishwasher spill is unlikely to be due to a blocked drain

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You most likely have a device like this on your dishwasher drain: http://www.popularmechanics.com/how_to_central/home_clinic/1275531.html

If your drain was blocked, then the water should have come out of the air gap and gotten all over your sink and counter before covering the floor in front of the dishwasher.

You could still have had a block between the dishwasher and the air gap but that would be unlikely since I am assuming that they are inside your house and not in the wall where they are likely to have frozen.
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From:im_jayistheman
Date:February 1st, 2008 05:30 pm (UTC)

Congrats

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This is the first time in my life that I've applied Occam's Razor, and arrived at "magic" or "gremlins" as an appropriate solution.

For the ice, break it with a crowbar, and use a steel shovel. Get it under the sheet, and push like hell. Once the shovel is under the ice, it should break large chunks off which can be picked up and thrown into the yard. If your driveway isn't paved, then you are shit out of luck-- which is actually my third hypothesis for the plumbing issue. Do beware that removing the large sheet of ice will merely cause it to be replaced with an ass-busting layer of super slick black ice. Enjoy!
From:whiskycrow
Date:February 1st, 2008 09:43 pm (UTC)

Re: Congrats

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no way on the crowbar. get yourself an "ice chopper" - a stout stick with a weighty sharpish broad (4-6" wide) triangular head. Weight counts. Beat the crap out of the ice with this implement, alternating chopping with shoveling-scraping motions.
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From:sparkyr
Date:February 1st, 2008 05:57 pm (UTC)
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Never rule out the "totally nuts" theory.

Otherwise, it's obvious - your house is built on a graveyard, and it's poltergeists. You've seen the movie, I'm guessing.
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From:nibor
Date:February 1st, 2008 06:31 pm (UTC)
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the housekeepers happened to be here at the time so I don't know where it leaked from.

both started working again with no adjustments

I'm going to suggest that the first statement means you can't really be sure about the second statement. The more people you have poking about your house performing various tasks, the more likely some sort of events occurred without your knowledge. Given that, I'd say the important thing here is that they were one time events, and without the ability to reproduce with appropriate debugging in place, you're not going to learn the answer. I would not discount at all the possibility of two unrelated causes to these issues.

I certainly have had to explain to a lot of customers that while the two problems they had may appear similar to them, my expertise in the area allows me to clearly see they are not related, even though we don't know the cause to either failure yet. I'd recommend deferring to the plumber until you know more.
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From:extempore
Date:February 2nd, 2008 01:24 pm (UTC)
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I can see how it seems that way from where you're sitting, but at least for the sake of argument assume it happened the way I presented. The only people "poking around" were the housekeepers, and all they did was clean up the water. Given that the washing machine is a tall stackable in a closet barely big enough to hold it and the connections are in the back, they couldn't have moved it even if they wanted to and had any interest, which they wouldn't and didn't.

As a software guy I know how often people imagine a related cause for unrelated events, and often my understanding allows me to discount their uninformed theories. But sometimes events that "ought not" to be related according to my understanding are related in some surprising way! I take this possibility seriously when faced with coincidences much less unlikely than the one presented here.
From:jestocost61
Date:February 1st, 2008 07:51 pm (UTC)
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As the owner of an 80+ year old house all I can tell you is that you ain't seen nothing yet. It's an imperfect world. Screws fall out all the time.
From:jestocost61
Date:February 1st, 2008 08:01 pm (UTC)
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Ok, to be more specific. The most likely causes of leakage from the two appliances are related to completely different aspects of their functions.

Dishwasher leaks are most likely related to problems with the rubber/foam gasket that seals the door. Gaskets can begin to suffer deterioration, leading to sporadic failure, or their function can be compromised by some object being inadvertantly placed between them and the door frame, or by a simple fold. The next time the machine is used, the impediment is not present or the gasket is seated properly; no failure to maintain seal integrity. If it's a front loading clothes washer, similar issues can manifest themselves. No explanation for simultaneous gasket failures can be posited.

Top-loading washing machine leaks are more likely attributable to drain backups related to lint in the discharge or even laundry detergent particles. If you are using powdered laundry detergent, that can be a problem. Liquid detergents are less likely to cause clogs. Such clogs can be temporary and the offending mass flushed away leaving no trace, or partial clogs can seemingly disappear and reappear over time.
From:reubenf
Date:February 1st, 2008 07:52 pm (UTC)
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The first time I experienced this was about 2 months after I bought my first house, ~1.25 years ago. I was not equipped at all and I used an old 6 iron to break the ice. That hurt like hell. Now I just park on the side of the road when it's going to snow.
From:howardtreesong
Date:February 1st, 2008 08:10 pm (UTC)
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I note that any real man owns a gas-powered snow blower. Those electric things are for wimps or global-warming weenies.
From:mosch2000
Date:February 1st, 2008 09:19 pm (UTC)

snow throwers

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I have to second the recommendation on a gas powered snow thrower. As for the ice, if I had 3 inch thick ice on my driveway, I'd break out the extremely heavy, 5ft dull-bladed iron rod to shatter it.

If I routinely had 3 inches of ice on my driveway, I'd re-do the driveway with a snowmelt system.

And I say all this as what howard would disparagingly refer to as a "global warming weenie". I still use the right tool for the job, I just buy some offsets afterwards.

(But hey howard, thanks for the predictable ultra-right-wing cheap shot insinuating that people who understand the science behind global warming are impractical, effeminate and inferior to your manly gas-powered box. That's not sarcasm either, I love it when right-wingers are cartoons.)
From:acn131
Date:February 1st, 2008 09:05 pm (UTC)

Possibility

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I don't know if you'd have a septic tank, living on the river and all, but this assumes you do.

When its cold for an extended period of time, the septic tank may not be able to empty very quickly, as there is ice blocking the outlet(s). It may be the case that it was emptying quickly enough to prevent a backup when flushing or showering, but when large volumes of water were used, such as the washing machine and dishwasher, it backed up somewhat.
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From:extempore
Date:February 2nd, 2008 01:26 pm (UTC)

Re: Possibility

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Now we're talking! I do have a septic tank, you're right. And there's a "sump pump" somewhere as well. I do not have a complete understanding of how all this stuff interoperates.

But how does this explanation address the plumber theory that any such backup should manifest on the lowest level (master bathroom shower) rather than at the appliances?
From:ske_kc
Date:February 1st, 2008 09:28 pm (UTC)

Drain-Waste-Vent (DWV) blockage?

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Seems very unlikely to be pure coincidence. I hypothesize a temporary blockage (maybe snow or ice) in the vent system which is part of your plumbing. The drain network of pipes in your house is connected to a venting network of pipes which exit through the roof, possibly in multiple locations. The purpose of the vent system is to allow air to enter the waste pipes from above as wastewater flows down - thereby eliminating any vacuum effect. If the vent were blocked, water would not be able to freely flow down through the drain system. You might check to see that the vent outlets on your roof are covered with caps which allow air in, but keep debris out.
From:ske_kc
Date:February 1st, 2008 10:23 pm (UTC)

Re: Drain-Waste-Vent (DWV) blockage?

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After further review...the vent outlets on the roof aren't usually covered by the caps I described, but the vents themselves are prone to freezing shut and causing problems similar to those you're experiencing. Note the last 5 paragraphs of the following.

http://www.ag.ndsu.nodak.edu/abeng/news%20releases/lowtemperature.htm

From:samholden
Date:February 1st, 2008 09:36 pm (UTC)

Clearly Jesus did it

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This is irrefutable proof that God exists and wants you to go to church on Sunday.
From:directcodeword
Date:February 1st, 2008 09:37 pm (UTC)

why not

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...i know zero about plumbing or appliances, but i have watched my share of movies, and i know that the butler always does it...therefore my educated guess is that the water didn't come from the appliances at all, but from the housekeepers...
From:arlo_payne
Date:February 2nd, 2008 09:48 am (UTC)

One word

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ICE
From:tbgoldman
Date:February 2nd, 2008 03:35 pm (UTC)
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From:speedrissr
Date:February 2nd, 2008 05:37 pm (UTC)
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You left out one piece of information. You have children, generally the cause of the destruction of many household appliances.

RLR
From:drtjeckleburg
Date:February 2nd, 2008 05:38 pm (UTC)

breaking the ice...

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"What do you use to break the ice? "Come here often?" Forgive me, GOD I'M SO SORE."

My favorite pick-up line... first find the dumbest-looking HOT girl at the bar.

"Excuse me, do you know how much a polar bear weighs?"

"Me neither... but it's enough to break the ice."

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From:jacknino
Date:February 2nd, 2008 08:30 pm (UTC)

Is coincidence that unlikely?

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I'm nothing resembling an expert on probability and all of the numbers I'm going to use are totally made up but I'm wondering if coincidence is really that unlikely. If the odds of the duel leakage happening are 1 in 100 million and there are 100 million houses in the U.S. then the problem would occur once every day in the U.S. So it's really unlikely that it would happen in your house but it is going to happen to someone, just like winning the lottery. So congratulations, you won the temporarily broken appliance lottery!

Nitpickers corner:
* The odds of the duel leakage could be much greater but I really have no idea how to even estimate the real odds.
* Everyone in the U.S. isn't going to run their dishwasher and/or washing machine every day so even if the odds were correct it probably wouldn't happen every day to someone.

I admit that it is troubling that the problem went away by itself. Like someone else said make sure you have full debugging on for the next occurrence.