Avoiding Pipes in Bath Cabinet Installs

Advice on how not to puncture a water line when attaching cabinets to a concrete block wall. January 20, 2010

My install team was putting a vanity in place the other day and drilled into a pipe. Obviously we had to repair the pipe and then complete installation. My question is, what's the standard policy on this? Should we be responsible for pipes hidden in a concrete wall? Would it be outlandish for us to write in the contract that we are not responsible for this if it happens? We will always operate with due care. I'm just trying to get my hand around this issue because I'm sure it won't be the last time this happens. In the Bahamas majority of homes are built with concrete blocks. Any help would be appreciated.

Forum Responses
(Cabinet and Millwork Installation Forum)
From contributor K:
In bathrooms, aside from looking at where the plumbing goes into the wall and looking vertically to avoid it, one way to avoid this is once the cab is level, anchor it in the back of the cab on the floor instead of the back wall with the appropriate length screws. If you have a wall to the left/right, sink another in, if not, you're still fine.

From contributor F:
If it's a hollow block wall you should be able to set the depth stop on the drill so that the bit just barely goes through the block. This would prevent it from going into the cavity and hitting pipes.

From the original questioner:
Thanks guys, both of these are great suggestions. I guess because we have a 3/4" scribes to the left/right against a wall the easiest thing to do is to drill the back of the cab into the wall. I'm realizing this is very risky business when you're shooting in the dark. I don't know if 1" or less bearing is enough to hold up a floating vanity, so most times we have to go a bit deeper. I think going from the sides and securing the cab to the base would be the best rough to take to ensure we avoid the same issue. Once again thanks for the assistance. This site is an incredible resource.

From contributor R:
This was always a fear of mine installing when I lived on St. Croix. Was the pipe in a poured wall or block? In a block wall, use the depth stop. You are not going to get any more holding power than the thickness of the block anyway should you drill into the void space. We preferred using plastic feet under the cabinet and securing to the wall once set. On St. Croix, mopping was typically done by dumping a bucket of water on the floor then mopping it back up! Having an easily replaceable toe kick was a big deal. The legs proved very fast and easy to set, especially since the floors were often way out of level, and they support a great deal of weight, so we were less concerned with the hanging strength of the wall anchors.

From contributor J:
If the blocks aren't covered with anything like sheetrock, you should drill and screw only at the ends or the center web of the block. This avoids the stuff in the cores, and allows a full bite for the screw. I havenít had the puncture problem before, but if this happened in frame walls, you should raise hell about the lack of proper shielding of the utilities, and look what a mess that water made of your clothes!

From contributor R:
To contributor J: unfortunately, block walls in the Caribbean are typically skim coated making it nearly impossible to determine where the ends or webs might be.

From contributor S:
Put it in your contract, but be prepared to fix any accidents, stuff happens. Try to word in something like a utility location clause and that the nature of you field exposes the possibility of unseen damages. Explain that you will take reasonable actions to avoid damages up to asking that other systems be installed in such a manner as to prevent these damages or that these systems be marked or labeled. In 25 years I have only hit one water pipe, but I got it two times in and out installing one grab bar. I can't wait until I screw into high voltage!