Tuesday, December 13, 2011

When Renovation Goes Rotten: Plumbing and Panic

June 2011

When we last left our unsuspecting homeowner (that would be me), we were discussing mystery odors and malfunctioning plumbing. One does not have to be a general contractor to know this combination never bodes well for one's sanity or checkbook.

The downstairs bathroom was becoming the source of much pulling of hair, gnashing of teeth, and drinking when no one was looking (again, that would be me). The floor had adhesive carpet tiles. Translation: The floor had (approximately) four years of dog hair, mildew, other people's bathroom yuck. All together now: eeeeeeeewwwwwwwww. Shudder. My mom saw mauve tile under there, which while not beautiful, was at least tile and not <shudder, gag, squeam> carpet in the bathroom. She started ripping up the carpet squares........and the tile came ripping up beautifully with it. The tile grout was dust. Under that lay plywood sub-floor, so we aimed for that instead. One clean up project had become demolition.....

At the back you can see a row of the mauve tiles that came breaking up everywhere, and the humble monument to Dave's friendship-- my new toilet. In the foreground is my swanky new bathroom floor: plywood sub-floor with glue.

Meanwhile back at the upstairs bathroom, there was a creeping odor and that mauve-brown-pink-tan toilet that flushed one square of toilet paper per 168 gallons of water.

I decided that I needed a new toilet. The new one would go in the main floor bathroom (the full bath) and the existing toilet there, (less than five years old) would go upstairs. The upstairs mauve-brown-pink-tan thing would exit my existence.

If there's a bright side to all of this, it was my friends. I bought a new toilet but couldn't lift it out of my van, so it rode around town with me for a week or two. On Facebook my friends provided the jibes:
"Laura keeps her van packed and ready, in case she needs to evacuate."
"Get in the van, we gotta go!"
Har, har.
Leave it to my friend Dave to drive across half the state to remove an old toilet and install a new one, with a short emergency side trip for more supply line, all while wearing a Hawaiian shirt and chatting one up like he's having a far better time at a far better party. That's Dave.

I cannot understate the jubilation. We had one functioning toilet in the house (the distant roar of mass cheering)!

It was short lived; I regret to say I bought what was to be the first of numerous bottles of Southern Comfort. So far it's been cheaper than therapy.

It was about this time my son Grant noticed while he pried carpet tack strip and nails from the downstairs hallway that his behind was wet. Having given up wetting his pants a solid dozen years ago, he was mystified. Then he looked up, and a drop of water struck him right between the eyes. Man-like, he went investigating and found that the upstairs faucet had been dripping in a slow leak for....weeks? months? Who knew? And was now steadily raining into the downstairs hallway.

What we did know is that it had spread under the bedroom carpet on the other side of the bathroom wall. Grant peeled back the carpet on a room we hadn't even thought about starting yet. And he took off the fake vinyl paneling in that room too, to find a wall of black mildewed drywall, which resulted in the second clean-up project to become demolition:

That would be the backside of the medicine cabinet, as seen from front side of the demolished bedroom wall, and the backside of my sanity as well.

A week later a professional plumber (have you thought about wearing Hawaiian shirts on the job? You should think about it) showed up, looked around, and asked me if the house had been unoccupied for awhile. I said it had been on the market for 18 months, most of that time empty. He said the house plumbing systems had been improperly winterized, which was why I had not just one but two leaks upstairs (sink, shower) a malfunctioning toilet on the main floor, and had I had any other problems? The words "not yet" suddenly seemed awfully ominous.

It's not a plumber's job to dole out psychiatric care, and in any case I already had the Southern Comfort on standby. He removed the old mauve-brown-pink-tan toilet and installed the newer one, refitted the upstairs sink and shower:

Is this not the most beautiful thing you've ever seen? <sob>
His words were darkly prophetic, however. It seemed he was just leaving as my sister Dyan was arriving (sounds of trumpets and angel choirs) to help out with moving/cleaning/painting/and general house fixing kick-assery, and then the drains in the basement started backing up. Spectacularly. Every time we showered or ran the washer, lending a lovely eau de raw sewage smell to the whole ensemble.

I think it was about this time I sobbed. And cursed. And possibly both at the same time as I implored as nicely as any sobbing cursing woman can over the phone to a drain technician to please, please, please come out on a holiday weekend (Fourth of July) to fix my drains. In a mere few weeks, my dream of moving the boys in to our nice house was a shambles, a shambles built quite literally on two toilets and a bunch of busted and backed up pipes. I was beside myself.

The drain guy came out, was really nice about the sobbing and cursing (I think he was used to it, and I did mention that it none of it was aimed at him, just at plumbing in general), and fixed my drains too. It turns out the house had been standing empty so long that COBWEBS had stopped the drains. Cobwebs.

My sister, mom, and I got things wrung out, dried out, mopped up, and clean, just in time to take on the next challenge: getting the twins bedroom liveable. The fun part is next, right?

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