The Joys Of Homeownership: Part 3

No shit there I was…

For no reason whatsoever the basement was entirely flooded. Actually scratch that; the only people who think things happen for no reason whatsoever are socialists explaining economics and hippies dismissing engineering. There was a reason; the reason was because life sucks.

I also have to comment about the handyman/carpenter who was there at the time. The dude is a goddamn hero! But what really stands out is that I had brought him to my house for very small simple project and when we descended the cellar stairs I discovered Armageddon and he didn’t even crack a smile. Think about that. He took a job expecting to make a couple hundred bucks but suddenly it turned into big money and he don’t even smile. That kind of sparing my feelings is priceless. (Actually it has a price. I cut the check a few days later but I’m still thankful.)

The details are pretty boring but I reflect on the immediacy of that moment. Once there’s water in the basement it’s all about getting the job done and nothing about planning. Schedules were cancelled. All of life went on hold. It’s all practical. No theoretical. Here’s a hint, I’d vote for damn near any politician who could actually fix my basement on their own but a politician is all talk and no balls so they can’t even try. That’s what you need to know when thinking about politics. As for me, I cut the power, swore, made peace with a big expense, and got to work on what would consume every waking moment for a few days.

What surprised me most was that my basement isn’t very good at keeping water out but for some reason it was really good at keeping it in. Go figure.

As a certified survivalist nutcase, tinfoil hat wearing, redneck Curmudgeon I have plenty of tools and supplies to handle most “unexpected” events but this one got a little chaotic. For example, we needed a pump to clear my fledgling Batman style swimming pool. I happen to have a sump pump but it has its own history.

The saga of the sump pump: when I was dumb enough to buy this house I knew the septic system was shit. (See what I did there?) We muddled through as best we could for a few years but finally there came a moment when it simply couldn’t move enough water to do its job. I was broke. Unlike most Americans I still adhere to the simple value of not buying shit you can’t pay for (try it sometime… it’s interesting). Instead of putting a whole septic system on debt I built a graywater system to limp by for a while. I cut into one of the septic lines in the basement, which only took water from the kitchen, the dishwasher, and washing machine. I added a valve and an S trap such that when I opened the valve graywater would go into a large plastic container. I stuffed a cheap sump pump into the container and then ran flexible hose out into the yard. Shockingly, it worked incredibly well! I opened the valve and thereby intercepted half or more of the graywater going into our septic system, the pump did it’s job flawlessly, and the grass was greener, and the septic tank could handle the reduced load of the bad stuff. I put off the septic tank job for several uneasy months. Later, when the septic was rebuilt properly (or what passes for proper given the monkeys I hired to do it), I closed that valve and forgot all about it.

So we needed a sump pump pronto and Curmudgeon that I am I had to fish around in a gnarly recycled plastic bucket that’s had standing water since Obama’s first election. The sump pump emerged with… Ick. Yeah that’s the word; ick. And when we plugged it in the ick stuck and the pump did nothing but make a squealing sound like it was going to die. Lesson learned, when you build an auxiliary graywater system it behooves you to properly decommission it.

The handyman, who is a goddamn hero, took the pump to my garage and started hitting it with various objects. This fixed it. Meanwhile I managed the hose which I’d cleverly heaped in a big slimy pile in a crawlspace. I routed it from my Batman basement to the lawn.

With the two of us working together it didn’t take too long for him to repair the pump and me to string the hose. Since the power was down we strung an extension cord from the garage. I engaged the pump because if someone is going to get electrocuted it might as well be me. The pump sprang to life, charged the line, and three different fittings exploded. Lesson learned, cheesy hose clamps from an old redneck hack job might be loose. Twenty minutes later we had tightened all that could be tightened and tried again. The clamps held and the hose sprung a leak. Lesson learned, crappy old flexible hose that has been sitting for several years in a crawlspace might not be pristine. We duct taped a pinhole leak, then another pinhole leak, then four more pinhole leaks, until I was out of duct tape and I had to use up the real stuff (gorilla tape). Several more leaks and we had it done.

That’s when the fittings that hooked the hose to the pump failed.

This was the first of several runs to the hardware store. Setbacks like this continued most of the afternoon. In the end we pumped out most of the basement with a sump pump, and another inch with a tiny bilge pump I happen to have. I think I swore enough to make some of the water evaporate.

Did I mention of the power was still off? I could not turn it on until I found the original leak and fixed it.

But you’ve heard enough of my stupid saga for one day. More, including the jackhammer, will be in my next post.

About Adaptive Curmudgeon

I will neither confirm nor deny that I actually exist.
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9 Responses to The Joys Of Homeownership: Part 3

  1. Robert says:

    You paint a beautiful word picture, sir. I’m glad you survived long enough to paint it. Thank dog it wasn’t me. Not that I couldn’t have handled it (with a goddamn handyman/carpenter supervising), but I’m glad it wasn’t me. May we learn from your experiences (moldy, UV-damaged plastic is less than reliable; loose fittings leak; all fittings are loose; etc.).

    On a slightly-related note: a kitty litter bucket is not suitable to be repurposed for long-term storage outside when exposed to Mr. Sun. Raccoons like to poop on top of said bucket. Repeatedly.

  2. Steve says:

    ” I think I swore enough to make some of the water evaporate.” That was awesome!!! As a former sailor, I know how to cuss. I’ll try to achieve that during my next home project. That’s some inspiring stuff right there!

  3. Max says:

    You got off easy. Allow me to tell you about my grandmother…
    So I’m at the branch office in Minnesota when I get a call, the Missouri river broke through and my grandmother’s house 250 miles away in Iowa was flooded. The Red Cross shelter was going to close at 5pm (ever heard of a shelter for flood victims closing?) and would I come get her? I did.
    A quick stop by the house, water about an inch from the main floor floorboards. Power company had cut power to the block. I made plans on the way home with a 94 year-old lady who’s not been out of that house since Nixon was President. And her cat. I hated that cat.
    Next day I head down with two sump pumps, 100′ of hose, a generator, and my toolbox to assess the damage. Fuse box was under water, so was the furnace and water heater. Ground was saturated, and the house was built in 1934 so the floor let water in quite nicely and the basement walls would collapse if I pumped too quickly. I pumped, slept in the F250, and started hauling out gunk, pumping the water down a couple of feet at a time, removing what I could reach, and letting it fill again while I drove to the dump. This would continue twice a week for three weeks until the water table subsided (and the neighbors pumping furiously collapsed their own basement walls and lowered the water levels in mine).
    Enter the City Inspector. Woman walked in the back door like she owned the place, told me I needed to pump water into the street so they could look for sand because others had pumped the sand from beneath their foundations and collapsed their house. I can do that. Informs me of what all needs to be replaced, and since my name isn’t on the title says I can’t do any of it. Needs to be done by a contractor, licensed and bonded, then inspected. Can do I says… That you know, anyway. Declares the home uninhabitable, nails a big sign saying same on the front door, I need her assent to let grandma return home. Thank you all to hell lady.
    During the next three weeks I drive down twice a week, pump, clean, and repair. During that time I was also visited by the inspector (who continues to walk on in, never knocking) and told to pump water into the back yard, apparently storm drains are now more important than collapsing houses. Fine. Whatever. I’m beginning to dislike her.
    Three weeks later the basement is dry and empty, I tear out the fuse box (grandpa had cleverly wired around the 10a fuses at some point), install a breaker box and plumb in the wiring. Call my cousin the electrician in Omaha, would he come over and inspect for a few bucks and a few beers? Cannot be done, he’s working a union job and if he does a residential gig he could lose the job. Cuss unions. Cuss relatives. Find a guy willing to do it for $200. Call power company to re-connect, they want the riser conduit on the roof raised to 16′ in case anybody wants to park a Kenworth in the driveway. Tear out inspected panel, raise the riser, blend it into the roof, add flashing, re-connect everything, power company is happy and I’ve electricity and don’t pay any attention to that inspection date on the form there. Pack up the generator one last time.
    Now we need a furnace and water heater. The original furnace hung suspended from the floor above, and they don’t make those any longer. A standard updraft unit was ordered, I weld up a stand, they plumb it in blowing through the single grate on the main floor. Water heater uses the same chimney. PEX is joined to antique 1/2″ galvanized and water flows. Inspector comes by, everything is good but we need to put steel tape on that single duct joint and replace the chimney liner. You know, the one that wasn’t under water and has been working fine since FDR was President. Fine. Do that, she signs off, I hand out cash and thank the workmen profusely. A case of beer appears in every vehicle, probably by gnomes.
    With that done it’s time to call the inspector yet again and have her remove that uninhabitable sign from the front door. Because she can’t do two things the same day. Or week.
    She shows up, inspects by glancing around, and won’t remove it because one basement wall has a bulge and is braced to a floor jack. Which was there the first time she showed up, due to the fact a cottonwood tree used to be next to the house and the roots pushed that wall a bit back in the early 1970’s. I know, I helped cut it down and install the brace.
    I’m an industrial engineer, though no longer a Professional Engineer since I’ve changed career paths and haven’t done the PE thing since the early 90’s. But she doesn’t know that. Take pictures, fake up letterhead, write up an assessment, stamp it with my PE stamp, and mail it to her using a forged email address. I guess those last 20 years doing IT work paid off, she never noticed the same guy who can’t do any of the work just gave a professional opinion on the state of the structure. The sign comes down, and I high-tail it home to return Grandma to her home of nearly 60 years, nearly two months after the river broke through.

    Three years later I found grandma dead in her living room, television on, reclined in her chair as if she’d dozed off watching whatever it was on TV, content and happy in that house with her things around her.
    My grandmother left the house to my aunt, who lives in Florida and was so uninterested in the saga above she was unable to garner the effort to make a single phone call. That’s OK, if there is an afterlife I’ve built up a lot of points and will surely be rewarded. And if there’s not, well, that’s OK too — I did the Right Thing, and I sleep well knowing that.

    Lessons learned: 1) never, ever live where some incompetent, power-hungry, functional moron can dictate whether you can live in your home or not by rule of law. This most specifically includes homeowner associations but also includes city governments. 2) it is morally proper and correct to lie whenever dealing with such people so long as it is absolutely convenient. 3) if being your own boss also means letting somebody else tell you what you have to do, you aren’t your own boss. Any organization that can punish you for what you do on your own time isn’t concerned about your well-being and needs to be avoided.

    Oh, and 4) Exodus 20:1–21: Thou shalt honor thy father and they mother. That includes grandma. Whatever it takes.

    — Max

    • First of all you did a good deed there. Three years of peace to a deserving elder is important. Well done.

      Also the fact that the inspector has no interest in reality and every interest in a letterhead is all anyone needs to know about bureaucracies.

  4. Steffen says:

    Well written, sir. I probably even learned something that I will have forgotten when my turn at home ownership comes to pass.

  5. Chocs says:

    Ahhh Mr C. I feel for ya; Murphy just likes to gut-punch us all once in a while.
    The fact that everything is still standing and you didn’t need bail money…. well, I’m having a double whiskey tonight in solidarity.

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