Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Nesting Dolls

Someone once said to me that old houses are like nesting dolls: you see one problem and think you have it licked, but inside that problem is another problem and  then another and another and another...  That's true. Oh, so true.

Let me take you through the last go-round of nesting dolls. First, the obvious problem of no water pressure, so I hired a plumber. Second, the plumber discovered that the gas water heater vented into the same chimney as the furnace draws from, a situation that could potentially pump carbon monoxide through my house, so he replaced my gas water heater with an electric one. Third, a new breaker and electrical work. I counted the new water lines being on the outside of the walls as being the fourth, last, and smallest of the nesting dolls, the one that's the size of a thimble.  It undoubtedly still is the smallest doll, but it turns out a few dolls were missing from the set. 

I came home from work the other morning to find the house a chilly 50°. Fourth nesting doll now accounted for. HVAC guy shows up and discovers a blown transformer in the furnace, which, all things HVAC considered, is not all that bad. (I confess I feared it would be something terrible and I cried.)

Today I was washing dishes in the sink when I decided to stick them all in the dishwasher instead. Loaded it up, turned it on, and the kitchen lights flickered on and off, the dishwasher shut off then started up again weakly, and the range shut itself off. I cursed a blue streak, turned everything off, and crept down to the basement expecting to see tripped breakers and/or some other disaster. Everything looks normal. Clearly everything is not normal, but it looks normal. 

Then I decided to see if the washer worked, because I thought it probably wouldn't and I wanted to know sooner rather than later. It filled with water super fast (awesome water pressure!) but when I turned it to Spin the washer made a series of ominous clicking noises and shut itself off. Dammit, dammit, dammit. 

Checking the breaker box again revealed no tripped or half-tripped breakers still. Also no smoke or fire, which is always a good thing. 

So I called the plumber and asked him if he thought the new wiring for the water heater could be the culprit here, and he blew out his breath in one long sigh and said "Wow, I wouldn't think so but it is the only thing that's different." Then he asked me a bunch of questions about what I had described as "weird electrical stuff" in order to get a more technical idea of the issue. He thinks it might be a problem with the lug (whatever that is), the main wire, or the meter. The outside stuff is the responsibility of the power company to fix; the inside stuff is mine. He'll be out tomorrow to take a look. 

The nesting doll count is now at, I think, five or maybe six. I don't know yet which one is the biggest doll, but I hope it was the plumbing.  Meanwhile, here I sit at home, not running any major appliances, asking Louis Cat every half-hour or so "do you smell smoke?" as if he'll answer me, and feeling sickish about the prospect of the electrical being as easy a fix as the furnace was. 

I always thought those damn nesting dolls looked evil. 

Sunday, December 25, 2016

You Can't Always Get What You Want

Put on the Rolling Stones.  Turn it up.

"You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes well you might find
You get what you need..."

What I needed was hot and cold running water in my house that did not involve a garden hose snaking up the basement steps.  What I needed was awesome water pressure, enough water pressure to do laundry in a reasonable amount of time and run the dishwasher. What I needed was PEX lines that never rust. 

What I wanted was all that, plus plumbing lines that are hidden.

Everything did not turn out exactly as I wanted.

It started out well, with these lines that run to the shower in one bathroom. 
Nicely hidden in a box.

Those lines ran over to the toilet and then to the vanity.  Visible, but not bad.

In the other bathroom, it started out like this. Immediately after this photo was taken, Louis Cat ran over to that little hole in the wall by the tub and squeezed himself down into the crawlspace underneath.  I had to fish him out by his hind legs.

They plumbed the tub and then brought the lines over 
to the toilet and the vanity, just like in the other bathroom.  
From there it got worse.
Then those lines ran up the wall...

...and across the wall near the bathroom ceiling, and then through the bathroom wall...

...where they made a turn and went across the kitchen wall and then
down behind the fridge to meet the other lines
coming up from the basement.

I think it looks ugly. I knew ahead of time that they were going to have to do it that way, and I knew why.  PEX can be fished through existing walls, but it's a whole lot easier to do that vertically than horizontally.  Horizontal lines mean cutting a channel in the wall and drilling holes through the studs, which is a big pain in the hiney no matter what kind of walls you have, but it's really difficult with plaster walls. The plumbers originally thought they might be able to run the plumbing up from the basement, through the laundry room floor, and then through the shared wall between the laundry room and the bathroom, but that plan was thrown out when we realized that part of the laundry room floor is concrete. They couldn't run the plumbing through the crawlspace (where the galvanized was) because it's an unheated space--not to mention that the crawlspace is only about 14 inches high.  (All the plumbing in the two bathrooms is in the "box" that was built onto the original house sometime after 1910, so the plumber's theory is that the galvanized lines were laid out on the ground before the addition was built.)  So, yeah, it's the only way they could have done it without the plumbing bill growing exponentially, and they did do it rather neatly.'s ugly. I can paint the lines the same color as the walls and the trim and after I do that they won't show up so much, and eventually I'll get used to those lines being there and I won't even really see them. 

Enough of that whining, though.  My water pressure is, by my best estimate, at least 250% better than it was before.  That means I can run the dishwasher and the dishes actually get clean.  I can do laundry and the tub doesn't take four hours to fill. Showers are so much nicer with good water pressure.  I'll be able to water my flowers with a garden hose this spring and summer. Best of all, PEX lines don't rust so I'll never have to deal with low water pressure like I had again. 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Fingers Crossed

Well, here I am again, a week later, still with no water but with the beginnings of a major improvement.

To catch y'all up, last week after the first plumber and I parted ways when he said he doesn't take payments I got a second bid from another plumber who does take payments.

Public Service Announcement: don't open a sealed bid whilst driving, talking on the phone (Bluetooth), eating chocolate biscuits and drinking tea because once you see that the first digit of the bid is a 5 and there are three more digits after that before the decimal point, you will swallow half a biscuit, say very bad words your nearly 90-year-old mother shouldn't hear, spill your tea, and almost drive off the road. 

Nothing says "I think I can come up with a pile of cash after all" like getting a second bid that's more than double the first one. After I pay for this plumbing, I'll be broker than the Ten Commandments but at least I won't be deeper in debt.

The first plumber came back on Tuesday to look again at the situation and map out a plan. There are the usual difficulties you'd expect with an old house, but the biggest problem is that most of the plumbing runs under a concrete floor in a crawlspace about 14 inches high. There's no practical way to access that crawlspace--"you could lift up the whole house and have a new foundation poured with a full basement", he said, and then we laughed and laughed--so he's going to abandon that labyrinth of galvanized pipes and figure out a different route for the new plumbing.

Wednesday morning the plumber showed up bright and early and by the end of the day he had the new water heater mostly in and one bathroom plumbed. Thursday he'll be back, with another plumber to help him, and if all goes well I should have water by nightfall. Fingers crossed. 

Monday, December 12, 2016

The House Has Ideas

Last week I mentioned that the house and I celebrated our ten-year anniversary and that I thought skipping through the house randomly declaring my love was a fine gift indeed.

Apparently the house had other ideas.

She's been cranky for six months or so, during which she's given me increasingly low water pressure, but I've put up with it because I love her so much don't have any money.  Last week, probably in a fit of pique over my failure to get her a nice anniversary present, the old girl just gave up entirely.  Only a trickle of water came out of any faucet in the house, and most of the water flow was due more to simple gravity than anything else. 

This was a standoff I was not going to win.  I called a plumber.

He made several educated guesses as to how to fix the problem, with those guesses having varying degrees of expense and inconvenience.

Plumber: "Maybe it's a faulty water meter and the city will have to replace that."

Me: "So that would be free? I'll hope it's that. Oh, I hope it's that. Wait. Maybe I shouldn't get my hopes up too much."

Plumber: "Don't you dare get your hopes up." 

It wasn't that. Of course it wasn't that. Dammit. 

We traveled down to the basement via the trap door in the laundry room floor, a situation he was hilariously horrified by. 

There, he cut through the main water line just to the side of the water heater, on the theory that there's a blockage somewhere in the line. Pressurized water spewed out. "The blockage is someplace in this galvanized shit then," he said, pointing to the labyrinth of pipes branching off the water heater. For a number of years around World War II, the Kelly House was divided into at least two, maybe three, apartments and plumbed haphazardly. If you recall the old Pipes screensaver, that's pretty much what it looks like in my basement. 

He took apart the valve connected to the water heater, said "Oh shit" and handed me this piece of pipe.

Oh shit, indeed. That's rust and corrosion. 

Here's my arty shot of another piece of pipe to show y'all how restricted the water flow is. 

He called in his boss to marvel at the awfulness of it and the three of us had a terrifying conversation about how to fix it that involves a sum of money roughly equal to two of my paychecks. 

Then, this: "We can't come back to fix it until Monday at least because we have a big job already scheduled." (This was said on Wednesday afternoon.)

Me: "What the fu--hell?! You can't just leave me with no water at all for four days!" Even the very tiny trickle of water I started out with is better than no water at all. 

Boss Plumber: "Oh, we'll rig up something for you." 

Behold the rig. 

A Sharkbite with an On/Off lever screwed into the water line, with a white plastic tube sticking out of the other end of the Sharkbite, and....

...the white tube attached to a garden hose which snakes up the steps, across the laundry room floor, and into the bathroom shower. Note that this contraption bypasses the water heater, so I have no hot water.

Ask me how I flush the toilet. You know you want to know. I round up the animals, lock them in the bedroom, crank open the basement trap door, turn on the water downstairs, run back upstairs, turn on the nozzle on the end of the garden hose and fill up the toilet tank and a bucket, turn the hose off, run back downstairs and shut the water off, crank down the trap door, release the furbabies from imprisonment, then flush the toilet. So. Much. Fun. I go to the bathroom at the gas station more often than not, to avoid all that. I'm taking showers at my mom's house.

But wait--there's more!

Somehow in my distress over this whole thing, I failed at the outset to ask the plumber if I could make payments. He says I cannot, so he's not coming back. Whoops.

Also, I am an idiot. Just catty-cornered from my house lives a perfectly nice man who owns a hardware store and home improvement company. I've done business with this man for years. I know him to be trustworthy and capable. And yet, I failed to think of him at the beginning of this plumbing crisis. In fact, it wasn't until he commented "We offer financing options for these unexpected expenses" on my Facebook post that I thought of him at all. Dumb. I am dumb sometimes.

We're meeting this afternoon to talk about all this and hopefully come to an agreement on how he'll fix it and how I'll pay him.

At this point, I can almost hear the house cackling. She's going to get some nice new plumbing as a fabulous (albeit belated) anniversary gift.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Happy Anniversary

Just in case anyone's still out there, occasionally checking in on this neglected little blog, wondering how I am and how the house is: 

we are fine; and

nothing much is new; but

we recently celebrated our ten-year anniversary.

Ten years ago in mid-November (I don't remember the exact date and my mortgage papers are locked up elsewhere) I moved into this house.  It was the week before Thanksgiving.  It was cold, but my son and I sat on the front porch until the wee hours of the morning talking and, every so often, I said in wonder, "My house.  My.  House."  It was (and is) the first and only house I have ever owned.  I still feel a sense of wonderment and gratitude and joy about owning my house.

Back then the house looked like this...

By the summer of 2009 the house was rid of her "too-big brown coat", as one of my friends called the cedar shingles, and we'd opened up the porch just a little...

And by the summer of 2016, she looked pretty darn close to what she looked like when she was built about 1887. (If you bigify this photo, you can just barely see the sweet little face of Louis Cat as he pushes the curtain aside to look out the window.)

I celebrated our anniversary by skipping through the house shouting, "I LOVE YOU!!" randomly at the original trim and the high ceilings and the stained glass windows and other things.  I thought those declarations, together with all the nice things I've done for the house in the past ten years, would be a nice anniversary present.

Ah, but the house...she had other ideas....