Need help/advice regarding oily substance on surface of hot water in basin

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Lone ranger

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Hi all, I'm a new member of this forum. I'm not a plumber or even much of a DIY'er I just consider myself an average homeowner. I'm pretty sure the new house we bought February 2006 has some kind of petroleum based substance in the plumbing pipes that is leeching out mainly on the hot water side of the house's plumbing system. By leeching out I mean exiting mixed in with hot water when hot water is drawn. If you run a squeaky clean vanity basin full of hot water, you get an oily substance on the surface. Enough of it to completetly cover the surface of a basin full of hot water and leave oily residue on the basin upon draining the water. By squeaky clean basin I mean wiped down with household cleaner such as 409, rinsed with cold water, dried, then rubbed down with a paper towel dampened with rubbing alcohol, and wiped finally with a paper towel dampened w/ cold water. I consider that to be clean enough for a "test" fill of hot water.

House is on city water (area pop @ 150,000).

The way I got onto this problem was routine enough: I was draining out some water from the hot water heater as part of the recommended maintenance to minimize sediment build-up. Got some air in the hot water lines. The faucet I left open 9hot side) for the tank drain procedurwe was the bath tub which has no aerator on the end of the spigot. The water drained from the tank looked okay, clear w/ a little sediment but not much. But when I restored water pressure to the tank (I had closed the inlet supply valve to the tank for the drain out) and the air began purging/belcing out the tub spigot the water was nasty-- cloudy and not from air entrapment, and had an oil slick appearance on the surface, as well as a lot of little black specks about the size of coffee grounds. The black specks smudge like tar when try to wipe them off the white tub basin and the only thing that effectively cutsr the smudge is rubbing alcohol-- household cleaner like 409 doesn't work on them. I have been told that these black specks might be a deteriorating gasket somewhere in the system or manganese, but being on a municipal water supply manganese would not be expected (?).

Going to try to make long story short, didn't intend to write a book for my first post, but having some kind of petroleum based stuff (by appearance) coming out w/ our hot water and these black pieces of who-knows-what also coming out is pretty disturbing.

I went ahead and sampled hot water from each of the fixtures in the house that has a hot water side. For each, the aerator had some of the small black specks in it when removed and inspected and again they could not be poked out of the aerator like a piece of hard water sediment or lime because they are soft and they would smudge onto the aerator (aerator = red in color, Delta faucets) so I had to clean the black tarry smudges off the aerators with a q-tip soaked in rubbing alcohol. I back drained each faucet separately (via hot water tank drain) and then re-pressurized and let air purge out with aerator removed, capturing the outflow in the basin. What was weird is out of the 6 basins in the house (double vanity, two single vanitys, kitchen sink, and tub) it was not consistent, some would have more of the oily stuff on the surface than the other basin. One, the half bath vanity basin, was downright nasty looking. I dipped a sample of this water about 10 ounces and it is currently at a testing facility pending a test (they want $166 to test it). The clean glass cup used to dip was covered in an oily residue, almost waxy to the touch after the sample was poured into a clean (new) mason jar. The cup used to dip the sample was also given to the lab. And as expected each basin had to be cleaned via rubbing with alcohol dampened paper towels afterward due to a lot of the small black specks left after the basin was allowed to drain.

House was completed May 2005, stood empty (spec house) until we bought it January 2006, moved in following month (Feb). While the house was standing vacant for sale the water was on, hot water heater was full but pilot not lit until move-in. I don't know if that matters, so I covered it here just in case.

I know from a copper elbow fitting I found in the crawl space that the plumbing sub contractor likely used the paste type flux, because the fitting has what looks (to a dumb homeowner) like petroleum jelly or something inside of it, and all the solder joints on the plumbing have a drop of a dark waxy/oily substance hanging on them which I assume is flux (?) This fitting was lying near where the water lines to the master bath turn 90 degrees up and go through the subfloor.

I don't get the oily substance floating on surface in a basin filled w/ cold water.

I guess my big questions are:

1. Is it normal and "okay" for globs of flux to be in the water pipes and is the stuff non-toxic? Doesn't seem like it would be healthy to have that stuff in your water.

2. Any ideas on what the black specks are? With the house only being two yrs old it wouldn't seem a gasket should be coming apart yet, and why would gasket rubber turn into a soft tarry substance (maybe bits are falling to bottom of heater tank and being slow cooked by the burner until they percolate out with a hot water demand?)
 

cwhyu2

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Yes that is probily flux but after 2 yrs it is still there.
Rough in plumber may have over did it on the flux.




 

Lone ranger

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cwhyu2 said:
Yes that is probily flux but after 2 yrs it is still there.
Rough in plumber may have over did it on the flux.


Does it represent a health hazard? That is my main concern.

I spent the better part of this afternoon letting each faucet run hot water for awhile, after letting water heater (temporarily for this afternoon) get the water up to 160 degrees. Figured the hotter I can get the water the better the chance of thinning out any flux paste hung in the lines, at least on the hot water side of the system.

We drink purified bottled water and tap water is ran through a Brita two stage faucet filter before use in food prep or drinking. Ice from the refrigerator is unfiltered water, though.
 

cwhyu2

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Flux

It is nontoxic or else it would not be allowed for potible water systems.
Are you on well or city water?
 

toolaholic

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Not many plumbers know about this

I do all My own plumbing as a G.C. Took Me a while to catch Your problem ,My house ! Check the top of Your Hot Water heater. Does it have a stainless braided hose on the HOT OUTLET? If so it may be the problem. On some, the rubber lining becomes a black ozz. I cut My old one in have lenghwise. ran My finger along the inside and took out BLACK OZZ. please let us know the result of Your problem. This is how we all learn. Most folks don't bother to to write back!!
 

Lone ranger

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Nah, the heater has all standard copper as piping on inlet and outlet. Main from street is PVC, it junctions to a copper line after coming up off the crawl space floor. The black specks are fewer but the flux or whatever you can still see riding the surface of the water if you run a basin full. Looks like tiny little individual droplets of petroleum based product milling around riding the surface. Keeping in mind I thoroughly clean the basin beforehand so as not to pickup residue stuck to the basin.

If my digital camera wasn't broken I'd try to get a photo. My wife dropped it on vacation and it hasn't worked since. She's blonde and does stuff like that a lot. I may pickup a cheap one (camera...) tomorrow and if so may try to post a photo.
 

Lone ranger

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Hey you know what though? All the vanity basins as well as the kitchen sink faucet all have the braided stainless steel flex lines going from the fixture to the copper hot and cold lines that are under the basin/sink. The garden tub I can't see if it has flex lines or not since it has tile around the tub.

The only fixtures I'm sure are copper to the end are the garden hose spigots, and no hot side to them. Maybe the clothes washer hot and cold, too.
 

toolaholic

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Ranger ,My wife was ready to leave Me on this! We had company coming and it was in one bathroom We don't use. I got lucky on the net. I displayed the filaead hose at the plumb. supply. Most seasoned plumbers couldn't believe the black oily scum in the rubber insert. Cheap enough to cut one down the middle.$4.00
Hey you'll be Your wifes' hero again if this is it! Good luck
 

Lone ranger

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Did you have the oily stuff riding the surface of your water, too, or just the black specks?
 

toolaholic

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Morning Ranger. Just talked with My wife to confirm this.
Yes black specks and oily residue floating on the water. That's a good heads up on the lave braided hoses. Mine was the hot 3/4" at the heater only. Makes sense it would be elsewhere with same product. The rubber compound must have been wrong for whatever reason. Yours is one of ,maybe 3 posts. with the same problem.Please keep us informed. Start with one, and cut it open
 

molo

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I hope you get this resolved, sound like you may be gettin closer.
I wanted to ask some experienced plumbers about a new faucet that I put in. It's been 6 months now and the water still has an odor that is different than any where else in the house. Are there oils in the faucet?
 

Lone ranger

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Not yet. I need to get some copper first. I'm going to have to replace ten of the braided flex lines (double master vanity, two single vanities, and kitchen sink). I'm not looking forward to it. I hate working with compression fittings.

Also, I drew samples from the garden tub spigot and the shower stall shower head fixture. I know the shower is copper to the end (no braided) becuase I had the face plate off and saw. The garden tub better not be braided-- I have no way to check though as it is enclosed by tile (which is why braided flex should not have been used there). Crazy as it seems, I got the same results out of those fixtures. So it is occuring even on fixture(s) that do not have a braided flex line in the circuit.
 
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statjunk

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Worst case scenario you can cut a hole on the other side of the shower to access the valve area. Hopefully it won't come to that.

Tom
 

markts30

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Just a thought but...
What are the copper water heater flexes lines with?
I know they are lined as they are usually referred to as dielectric flexes in the paperwork...
I know Watts has a plastic sleeve in theirs and a nitrile rubber gasket at the heater end...
If the liner on the flex went bad, that could be the source of the black stuff...
 

Lone ranger

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The supply going in and the hot outlet coming off are not flex type if that is what you meant, they're regular copper-- 90 elbows were used and soldered , etc. The whole rig (and house) is only two yrs old, which makes it all the more annoying.
 

ffcataustin

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Were you ever able to figure out what is going on? I'm having the same problem in my house. When the hot water is opened all the way, we get this black greasy stuff left in the tub. It looks like little tiny specks at first and then smears around when you try to wipe it off. I give my 1 year old a bath every night and it doesn't show up then because I don't open the hot water all the way. I know there is no flexible supply lines going to the tub or coming out of the water heater. Everything is soldered copper lines.
 
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