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Two words that should fill you with terror, unless you're a plumber.

The phrase slab leak is used to describe what happens when underground water pipes rupture within a permanent fixed structure. You might be initially led to suspect that such an occurrence would be brought on by frozen ground during winter months, but given the insulating properties of soil and the stored heat radiating from the building only one foot above, this is rarely the case.

Slab leaks are most often the result of three combined factors:

I had never in my life heard these two words spoken together, until the fateful day in January of this year when they came out of the plumber's mouth while we stood in the kitchen of my townhouse - which was buried under half an inch of rapidly flowing water.

I had stopped by my house not two hours earlier that afternoon, just to drop off something and pick up something else, and I remember when I locked and closed the kitchen door on my way out that everything in the house was perfectly normal. When I returned at about 5:30PM after work, I pulled into my driveway to meet the view of a swiftly moving stream of water flowing out of my house from under the kitchen door. A mild sense of panic struck me, and I remember leaving the truck door open as I ran to the house, fumbling with the keys, to get the kitchen door open. Sure enough, my kitchen was flooded as was the dining room beyond, and to my abject horror, I found my office next to the kitchen (which contained a trove of priceless valuables, including all my computers) was now a muddy reflecting pool.

To make a long story short, the water was cut off at the meter next to the street. I had to go to a friend's house the next morning to shower for work. Plumbers with jackhammers came, and destroyed the floor of my kitchen. They fixed the pipe, but it was Friday, and do you have any idea what plumbers charge to work on the weekend? It makes brain surgeons jealous. Carpet guys came with their truck-mounted vacuums and tore up the carpets, putting down noisy fans to dry out the sop that their giant suckers couldn't suck up. For two days my house was like a Louisiana bayou carnival, complete with inflatable floors and swamp gas odors.

Come Monday, two sacks of Quik-Crete made the gaping hole go away, and two days after that the flooring guys made the wretched disaster into a beautiful new smooth vinyl floor. Because the leak broke through underneath the kitchen counter, I had to wait another day for the property management company's handymen to come and restore the countertop, and then the plumbers had to come back and fix the damage to the sink and water lines that the handymen had done. In the end, I was without my beloved kitchen for an entire week.

Slab leak. My blood runs cold at those words. I am lucky to have just been a tenant; I pity the owner and the ordeal he must have to endure with his insurance carrier. Today I had to call out the plumbers again, as I have been grimly monitoring the muffled sound of running water in my bathroom for a week now. I feared the worst, since I was told after the January episode that this sort of thing could happen again without warning, now that it was evident that the pipes under the concrete slab were corroding. I lucked out this time, however: there was indeed a new leak, but the plumbers located it - outside of the house. Tomorrow they will be back with city employees to start the locate process, and then the line from the street to my townhouse will be torn up and replaced. Oh Joy!

I should note that in circumstances where slab leak becomes a persistent problem in a building, the most cost-effective solution is to bypass the underground pipes by installing new pipes in the walls and attic space.

I think I need to move.

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