Homefix: Drains, catch pans for appliances

Dwight Barnett

Q: I recently converted the attic space in my home to a bedroom, bathroom and laundry. I hired a contractor with years of experience to design and complete the work, and I am well-pleased with his work.

I'm now relocating and the home is for sale. The buyers requested an inspection, and everything seemed to be OK except the laundry. The inspection report said I had to install a drain in the floor for the laundry room. I asked the contractor and he said he thought the inspector was just being picky, but the buyers are insisting on having me make the repairs.

Have you ever heard of anything like this?

A: Anytime you have appliances that could leak and those appliances are located above a finished area of the home, you have to provide a drain or a drained catch pan to prevent damage to the rooms below. There is always the possibility that the bathtub, toilet or sink could leak and do damage to the rooms below, but it's only the laundry and the AC/furnace that require drains.

In most cases, a pan is placed under the washing machine to catch spills, overflows, leaks or a runoff from a broken supply hose. The pan must have a drainpipe, which extends to the exterior of the home to a viewable location. Connecting the drain to a sewer pipe will not alert you if there is a problem; however, a pipe that drains to the outside above the garage doors or above a main entry door will let you know you have a major problem that needs immediate attention.

Likewise, an AC/furnace located on the second floor or in an attic above a finished area of the home requires a catch pan with a drain that drains to a viewable location.

Another solution is to have a float switch installed inside the pan to shut the AC off if the pan fills with water. Either way, you are alerted to a problem needing immediate attention.

I also find furnaces with catch pans, but the overflow drainpipe from the pan is connected to the same sewer pipe or drain opening as the condensate pipe from the furnace. The two pipes cannot drain to the same opening. If the main opening fails, then both the condensate and the drain pan will fail and the rooms below the furnace will be damaged.

The drain pan's pipe should drain independently of the condensate drain and to the exterior of the home.

The alternative (not a solution) would be to install stainless-steel hot and cold supply hoses for the washing machine and a water alarm for both the laundry and the furnace pan. You can find several water alarms and even an alarm that will shut off the main water supply to the laundry at http://www.thewateralarm.com/.

I have seen the damage caused by a tiny leak on the second floor of a residence that occurred while the owners were on vacation. I would guess the damage to be in excess of $25,000, not to mention the loss of personal valuables and mementos.

Dwight Barnett is a certified master inspector. Contact him at C. Dwight Barnett, Evansville Courier & Press, P.O. Box 268, Evansville, Ind. 47702 or barnett@barnettassociatesinc.com.