Understanding Drainage or Why I Need to Listen to “Delta Dawn”

February 2, 2008

Here’s a scene: Pierre and I return from seeing Atonement last night and are in the kitchen talking about the lush cinematography and how they turned McEwan’s novel into a visual experience when I hear the sound of running water. Inside. And, because I now know my house intimately, I recognize this sound as the source of past basement sogginess.

Sure enough, with the weirdly warm temperature, the sleet had turned to rain and was now pouring in around the edges of the west-facing basement window. We stood there for a moment in silence watching leak after leak spring through the flaking plaster. We moved the carpets and the drying rack out of the water’s way as it flowed towards the crusty floor drain. But really there was nothing else we could do, so we went to bed and I dreampt about Kate Winslet swimming through the corridors of the Titanic.

This morning I’m pondering the problems created by cement that slopes in to the basement all around the house. What’s the definition of a “sink-hole”? Who thought that cement was a good idea? Who were these people?

What’s a girl to do?

Which takes me to Delta Dawn and the escapism of my headphones. What water? What drainage?

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The Land of Nog and Fiberglass Insulation

December 24, 2007

I’m up in the northern woods once again. This is no country for simple shovels. Up here, it’s Kubota tractors and Toro riding snowblowers. It’s x-country skiing in deep silent woods with a Border Collie on your heels. It’s eggnog and Irish Whiskey, homemade chili sauce smeared on a cracker, and Elvis singing about Blue Christmas.

But before we came north, Pierre and I spent a few days in his house installing insulation and reclaiming his kitchen after all the plumbing work he’s been doing. He’s basically rebuilding his little 1863 Cape house from the inside out. I’ve learned about how Pex works and helped Pierre strap in bathroom drain pipes (okay, all I did was hand him the screws he needed, but still…) He’s now doing this one-handed, since his left arm is in a sling post-surgery. Nothing slows the man down! Here are a few pics of our “other” house:

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Basement Walls

November 26, 2007

Every once in a while I hear a strange sound in my basement. It’s not a scary or mysterious sound.  The sound is soft and feathery. It’s the sound plaster pieces make as they shiver off the old painted walls.  I take comfort in the fact that it’s the sound of gradual decline rather than of imminent decay, but nonetheless, it’s not a sound I relish. Shhhvvvrr. Plop. Silence. Shiivvvr. Plop. Silence.
Part of me thinks that I may need to paint the basement walls.

Part of me thinks that’s a big NO. Which in my book means Next Owner.

Plus, I’m hardly ever down there except for doing laundry, gathering TP supplies, or wringing out the carpets.   Where does a homeowner draw the line between routine house maintenance and Big Expensive Projects? How do you know when you need to tackle a project and what you can safely ignore? These are the things I’m pondering this cold rainy night at the end of November.


Notes on a Boiler

November 10, 2007

As it turns out, there are some differences between a furnace and a boiler.  I’d thought all metal basement-dwelling heating units were called furnaces.  Not so! Mark, the very nice plumbing & heating man from MPB , visited me yesterday and brought me up to speed. I learned that I have a boiler that heats the water to 212 degrees and then sends steam up to the radiators.  I learned that I have to “key” my radiators twice a year to allow air to escape. ( So good thing I didn’t toss that random key I found under the radiator in the hallway because I think that’s THE KEY.)  I learned that I can’t just replace the prehistoric thermostat (where all the numbers are eroded and you have to guesstimate somewhere between 85–55) with a digital one from Home Depot.  I learned that my water heater isn’t up to code because it has a recalled part and is missing a dripline.  But after an hour, Mark gave my Republic Gyroscopic Balance a clean bill of health.  I felt like a proud parent. Let the happy boiler dance begin!

The best moment, though, was when Mark looked at me with that serious serviceman face and says “Do you know how to light the pilot light?” And I’m like, um, what?  So he says, “Just take off the faceplate and follow steps 1-4. It’s easy.” I’m nodding my head the whole time and trying to look really intentional and responsible.  But in my head I’m thinking it might be easy for you because you’re a heating specialist with know-how, a big truck, and that cool flashlight.  For people like me, dealing with a “faceplate” on an ancient boiler in a dark basement in the dead of winter can be a deal-breaker.  As if I’m ever going to mess with matches in the belly of the beast.


Soggy basements

September 12, 2007

Here in the Northeast, we’ve been getting mucho rain. Pouring, dripping, sluicing. It’s made me aware of many rain-related things such as poor gutters, damp windowsills, and basement puddling. I got home late yesterday and visited the basement for something (who knows, who remembers?) when I saw the water-stained carpet runners. In an effort to make the basement prettier, I bought those cheap rubber backed runners at Home Depot to throw down over the crumbly cement. And now they were wet. Really wet.

Sometimes I feel like I’m on Candid Camera for Homeowners. Seriously, someone should have video taped my efforts to drape the soggy carpets over my skinny rickety clothes rack from Ames. Hilarious. Except it wasn’t. I’m not sure where the water was coming from–possibly the windows, more likely the floor? What’s underneath the basement? I peered into the crusty drain hole (which could be a likely reason for pooling water, now that I think about it) and saw that it dropped a few…inches or feet into darkness. What lies beneath? What creatures slither and slide while we sleep? To be honest, I don’t want to know. I just want things dry.

I cranked the dehumidifer and jerry-rigged some old planking as a kind of prop to put the wet carpeting on. It ain’t pretty, but it’ll do.


the blank canvas

July 12, 2007

so, i’m the dad following the mom from vermont by a week to help megan painting rooms inside her house. hot, humid, thunderstorms, and megan dying of heat under pierre’s kleig lights as she applies a third coat of some behr color to her upstairs bedroom. my first visit, so i’m witnessing the blank canvas stage of make-over as all the old stuff has, in fact, been stripped, sanded, torn up, taped over, primed, brushed, vacuumed and swept to the curb and disposed of by those magnificent albany trash men. out with the old….

the blank canvas: newly varnished hardwood and softwood floors. wonderfully off-white walls and woodwork. bare closets and bookshelves and kitchen cabinets. rewired first-floor outlets. newly painted celing fans. no furniture. no clutter. the clean spare house canvas every homeowner dreams of, but that only happens just this once, after which all megan’s photos will simply be “after” photos complete with furniture, utensils, books, style, taste, and personality–the personal clutter that we call home.


On Inspections

May 1, 2007

It feels like I’m undergoing some kind of secret rite of passage in preparing to buy this house.  And, with any ritual, there’s some fear and maybe even some blood. Let’s begin with fear. The fear has now gone far beyond the merely financial. What I’m beginning to confront is my life-long fear of basements and all things having to fuses, wiring, electrical, and circuits.  It’s the skanky underbelly of every house and the one area that I have spent my life avoiding. It’s becoming clear to me that I will need to embrace and know this part of my house.  And that scares me.

But the greater fear hidden below the basement fear is my fear of the truth: That I would clearly prefer to live in blissful ignorance of things that are dank and dark and covered in cobwebs. If the laundry were not in the basement, there’s a good chance that it could be years before I willingly ventured down there. Let’s face it–I’m more of an attic kind of girl than a basement dweller.

And now I will try to show you some pictures of my future abode!