Recently at our house, three cell phones chirped at the same time. It was a tornado warning. My wife and I and our daughter and granddaughter went to the basement to wait for the all-clear.

Outside, it was raining fiercely. Even from the basement, we could hear it pounding up on the roof.

A pipe chose that moment to begin leaking, dripping a steady beat on our furnace. I got a baking pan to set atop the furnace to catch the drips as I tried to locate the source of the leak.

My eight-year-old granddaughter was looking at a bookcase of lesser-used books (hence their banishment to the basement). She pulled one from the shelf and flipped through it.

“I think I know where the leak is coming from,” she said.

I, being engaged in drip sleuthing, ignored her. After all, she’s a child, and I’m the man of the house. There is no way she could diagnose the leak if I – did I mention I’m the man of the house? – couldn’t trace it.


She came over and said, “Look at this.”

She held open a book on home plumbing. Pointing to an illustration, she said, “I think the water is running down this pipe.”

I paused to glance at the book.

“I think that pipe,” she said, indicating the one directly above the furnace, “is this one.” She touched an index finger to an illustration that showed a white PVC pipe that ran from the basement to the roof.

I looked at our wet pipe and at the one in the drawing.

“Uh. I think you may be right.”


She was.

According to the book, the pipe in question is called a plumbing vent or a vent stack. It runs from the plumbing pipes up, up, up through the roof. It removes gas and odors from your home and allows fresh air into the plumbing system.

The next day during calmer, drier weather, I climbed up on the roof and instantly saw that my granddaughter was right. The rubber housing around the vent pipe was deteriorated from age and had gaps large enough for a squirrel to get through.

I went to the store to get a replacement gasket. The man there said that vent pipes are often called stink pipes. He suggested that while I installed the new gasket, I should also shine a flashlight down the pipe and have someone flush the toilet. If I can see water rushing past at the bottom of the pipe, all is well. If not, the stink pipe has become clogged, probably with leaves and pine needles caught on spider webs.

The solution would be a very long stick or a weight attached to twine to clear the obstruction.

I first made the repairs necessary to stop rain and rodents from having free access to our house, then determined that our vent pipe was clog-free.

I am grateful for knowledgeable store clerks. And for a granddaughter who problem solves better than the man of the house.

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