Category Archives: The Joys of Home Ownership

The Hulett Plumbing Disaster Part II

I dutifully followed Plumber B into the bathroom expecting Plumber A to inform me that they just broken everything and I would need to pay $20 gazillion dollars to put it all back together.  I was working to brace myself for this particular scenario which did nothing to prepare me for the reality of the situation which confronted me.  Something had very forcefully exploded in my bathroom.  Something wet, something very dirty, something very much resembling a dead, wet raccoon.  The walls, floors, door, fixtures, shower curtain and even the plumbers were all splattered in a thin muddy black stuff and layered with a fibrous material which was in varying states of chop, mince, and puree.  The dead raccoon-like monstrosity was dangling precariously from the end of the epic auger machine, dripping more thin, muddy black stuff on the floor.

It turns out that the raccoon was actually a rather amazing cluster of roots which was astounding.  In November they had pulled out a small wad of roots which had seemed reasonable and everything went back to normal.  Since that time what was left in the pipe had most likely been cut loose in November and had come together, Megazord style, to create a bigger and badder beast than before.  Even more amazingly, despite the sheer volume of material which had been brought up, my sewer line was still completely blocked.  Still.  Plumber B seemed to be convinced that we were on the final stretch, just another run of his magical machine and we would surely get it all fixed. Huzzah!

I went back to watching Netflix as the noises started back up and I took a deep breath, relieved to think that I would most likely be back in business shortly.  I could go back to normalcy and all would be well.  About 30 minutes later, I began to wonder why I hadn’t been drinking more as the noises changed and the machine stopped and Plumber A started making frantic sounds and Plumber B ran out to their truck for tools.  I ventured in to the bathroom to see them trying to put their mighty auger machine back together.  Their nearly brand-new mighty auger machine was no match for my home and I was informed that my entire sewer line was most likely completely gone.  But, if they could get their machine repaired and get the 80 feet of auger out of my sewer line they would try one more time with a different size blade.

Wait… what?  I need to replace my entire sewer line?!

What little amount of my soul which was left at this point was beginning to wither and die.  They eventually got the auger repaired and retracted after much huffing and puffing and muttered curses and started to run it one last time.  It promptly bypassed my sewer and shot straight up the vent line and come out on top of my house.  Plumber B, was starting to crack around the edges.  He was a really nice guy but I could tell this was uncharted territory for him and he was starting to get edgy.  After they managed to get the whole damn thing reeled back in I was brought into the bathroom for the results.

“Um, I hate to say this, but you are probably going to want to call the city or something tomorrow.  Or, ya know, you could call another company with a bigger auger,” Plumber A said while staring at his hands, wiping them in a nervous and exhausted manner.  ”We would run the camera down there, but ya can’t really see anything if the line is full.  From what I can tell, it looks like that whole thing is gone.  If ya can get it cleared or they can scope it, let me know what they quote ya to replace the line and I’ll beat their quote.  A lot of guys’ll try and charge too much.”

My sewer was dead and the plumbers I had called out to my house weren’t able to fix it, or even kind of jury-rig it so I could take a sponge bath.  What’s more, they were certain I needed to replace it all and I got the impression that I was screwed until that happened.  I thanked them for their time and saw them out as the desperation started to settle in.

My friend had to go home as he had work in the morning and I was then left to my own devices.  My bathroom looked like the gates of hell had opened up and sprayed the remains of the most ancient rotting souls onto every conceivable surface, I could still see water sitting in the sewer line where my toilet was usually perched and I felt dead and empty on the inside.  In the quiet, the fetid smell of wet iron and decay started to hit me and I wanted to just go far away from my home and never return.  For a week I had been taking showers with just a couple gallons of water as the drain was slow.  That morning I hadn’t been able to shower at all before work and I wasn’t sure I could do it again.  At this point, I couldn’t even relieve myself in my own house.

I didn’t even have enough energy to cry at that point, though I really wanted to, so I started on the hunt for another plumber.  I called Roto Rooter, who had been recommended by the original plumbers and they said they would dispatch someone to my home within two hours.  I curled up on the couch and just sort of sat there in numb silence, my head buzzing with the numbers and terrifying idea that I need to replace my sewer line.  I would be ruined.  I was facing a financial hurdle, which I had researched as a worst-case scenario, that I wasn’t sure I could get over.

To be continued…

The Hulett Plumbing Disaster Part I

This week I fell off the grid and was completely exhausted as a result of having the fabric of my reality rent in twain by something which always happens not happening.  In my sphere of existence, when water goes in the tub, it goes down the hole and disappears.  The same principle applies to the toilet and sink.  It also works hand in hand with the washing machine as you can see it fill up and the water is magically whisked away.  This fundamental principle of modern life mechanics came to a screeching halt in my home.

I was so busy and taxed when similar events happened in November I didn’t make time to write about them.  They were remedied (or so I thought) just a day before Thanksgiving and I gave thanks for the fact things were back to normal.  This time, I wasn’t so lucky.  The warning signs were there, the slow drains were back, and then warning signs booked a lovely holiday in Belgium and left the dark, gaping maw of death to watch the house in their stead.  The dark maw of death manifested itself, to my abject terror, by thoughtfully helping the contents of my sinks, washing machine, and even my last toilet flush come rushing back to visit me in the bathtub.

Now before I go further I just want to say something to my credit here.  Before I bought my home I did my homework.  I checked out the local socioeconomic statistics, school boundaries, commute times, utility rates, cellular coverage, fire stations, police stations, parks, had the owners replace the entire roof and had them purchase a home warranty policy for me.  I also paid for a complete home inspection which went very well and I consider it to have been an excellent and investment of my money before buying my home.  The inspector checked out every and nook and cranny from the ground up and said, “Not too shabby!”  After all of that I considered myself fairly well covered.

However, the home inspection did not entail the sewer line (below the ground) and that thought quite completely escaped me until just after I signed the papers and started moving in.  I was reminded of the The Armstrong Plumbing Disaster which Dooce followers may remember from 2006.  Blurb and Dooce had sewer troubles in an older home in my fair city and I had just bought a beautiful home that just hit the century mark.  Gulp.  Since that time the slightest neureek, retut and hununga from my pipes have left me walking on eggshells for days.

My fears had become very justified and as soon as the warning signs started to book their trip to Belgium I called my home warranty company.  The plumbers arrived just the gaping maw of death set up camp and they set up camp on Tuesday right along with it in my bathroom.  Then the noise started.  The grinding and the clanking and the vibrations signaled the beginning of a battle which would rage for the next six hours.  A friend came over with drinks and sandwiches and very carefully worked to keep me occupied for the next two to three hours, knowing that I was very likely to come unhinged otherwise.

Somewhere in between Lisa Lampanelli and Wanda Sykes on Netflix there was less-than-subtle shift in the sounds coming from my pipes followed by a clank, then a clash, and then an “Oh my God…” from one of the plumbers in the bathroom.  At that moment I realized I hadn’t had enough to drink and debated pretending I hadn’t heard what just happened on the grounds that nothing can have happened if I didn’t hear it.  At the same moment that debate was falling in favor of “ignore it”, one of the plumbers came to fetch me for a round of show and tell.

To be continued…

Wherein I Realize I Haven’t Been Punk’d

Happy anniversary, house!  And happy 101st birthday! Yay!

I have now lived in my home for a year and what a year it has been.  I can barely believe it.  Pretty much every day for the past year I have woken up every morning expecting Ashton Kutcher to show up with a film crew saying, “HA!  Just kidding!  You didn’t actually buy a house!  Now get the hell out.”  Following that moment we would all sit around the TV and see secret camera footage of all the embarrassing footage of the things I do around the house when I’m alone.  The world would sit and watch, agog, as I sing off-key and dance around the house, my limbs tilting wildly, looking as though I were trying not be eaten by a shark.

But during the last few weeks I realized that unlike my rent, which I always held off on paying till the last conceivable moment, I look forward to paying my mortgage.  I’ve learned a great deal about taking care of myself and my surroundings as well as gained a greater appreciation for a lot of things.  For instance, I recall as a child I was always incredulous as to why the garage wasn’t just clean.  Why not?  It’s sitting right there, not as if you have to pounce on it and hold it down like a muddy dog or anything.  Suddenly, it’s all quite clear that sometimes when you start to look at that “little” project, you have to consider what I call the Snowball Factor.

The Snowball Factor is best illustrated using the following:  Let’s say that someone wanted to organize the office and get things tidy.  They want to get some organizers, maybe a desk because they haven’t had one forever and they are sick of paying the bills in bed and have stubbed their toe on the printer (which lives on the floor) for the millionth time in the middle of the night.  They set out to pick up just a handful of supplies and they wake up a couple hours later, face down in the gutter outside of Ikea.  They are surrounded by (the amazingly delightful and fun omni-directional) rolling carts and eco-friendly blue bags laden with storage boxes, shelving, a desk, new living room  furniture, lighting, a cute vase they found in the “as-is” section and a bag of frozen meatballs.  Their wallet has been pillaged and is sitting a couple feet away on the ground with the cash now spent and useless credit and debit cards skittering around on the pavement in the late night breeze.

Ahem.  (Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or real events is purely coincidental.)

I’ve also grown to appreciate the security of living in a home, though it took some getting used to.  You see, living in an apartment it felt as though someone had my back.  I knew that if a psycho killer were to pop out from behind the shower curtain, someone would hear me scream like a schoolgirl and at least complain to the management, if not call the cops.  I was also on the third floor so I knew I wouldn’t have to worry quite so much about the zombie uprising.  It is so much easier to defend just the stairs without worrying about the windows too.  When I moved into my home I was completely paranoid.  I felt exposed and almost in danger with all four sides of my dwelling being exposed to the outside world.  Zombies could attack at any moment and just come right on in through the windows.  Then I realized that the threat of zombies is a small price to pay for the quiet of not hearing muffled TVs, music, or Luka walking into doors every night.  After a while I realized that ten inches of brick are pretty dang solid and I started to feel really grounded.

One of the most exciting things about owning my home has been the creative freedom.  Though I haven’t painted yet (I’m hoping to do so before the end of the month) the understanding that I can TOTALLY do that if I want to is intoxicating.  It’s a good thing I don’t have cable anymore simply because I can’t have the temptation of HGTV, TLC and the DIY networks fill my head with all sorts of dangerous ideas.  I’ve been able to really expand my creativity in ways I hadn’t thought of before and opened me up to new design aesthetics I hadn’t previously explored.  I’ve had to stretch myself to think about how to work with the character of a 101 year old building which was actually one of the only things I hadn’t contemplated and obsessed over before I purchased the house.  I’m sure I will continually change and that my creative process in all areas will evolve in response to the incredible character and life my house of its own.

The most deeply satisfying thing has been the opportunity to invite friends and family to spend time in my home.  It’s so much more personal and comfortable having people over and sharing a very personal space with them instead of the current rented stall.  Not to look down on renter’s situations whatsoever, they work really well and were perfectly suited to my needs for several years.  But, for whatever reason, the three years I spent in apartments were three slightly awkward years which gave me the feeling I was staying in glorified La Quintas, though these ones weren’t great with cleaning the room or changing the bedding for me.  The lack of room-service hasn’t changed, but the environment is significantly different and the level of attachment and comfort is well beyond that of any other place I’ve lived.

The 12 months I spent working up the courage, crunching the numbers, searching and sifting and finally closing on the largest purchase of my life were some of the most stressful and aggravating months of my life.  They payoff has been amazing though.  The last year has been one of the greatest and most relaxed years I’ve ever enjoyed.  The sense of accomplishment may have waned somewhat, but the rewarding independence and freedom have only grown with each passing day.

TJHO: Dead Creatures Edition, Vol. 3

And now, for the conclusion… (or is it?)

The latest thrilling contact with household pests/freeloaders/invaders came just a about a month ago while prepping the furnace for cold weather.  In the most appropriate OCD fashion, I meticulously vacuumed every possible square inch of duct I could reach in the vents and returns.  I spent a good hour or more doing this before proceeding down into the crawl space below the house.  This same crawl space which had previously housed BLACK WIDOWS and other pests.

The gas was shut off and the area properly vented for several days so I could vacuum out all the dust and copious spiderwebs from the lower reaches of the ductwork.  As soon as I removed the filter from the furnace, I noticed what looked like a piece of yarn or pipe cleaner which was bent around far retainer bracket for the filter.   A brief moment of dread flitted across my mind and I dismissed it, seeing the large collection of crap which had collected literally everywhere.  It was mindboggling just how much crap there was to clean out.

I slowly worked my way from from back to front, working toward that pipe cleaner only to find that it was attached to something more.  Feeling rather like Howard Carter after the long work meticulous excavation, I discovered the mummified remains of a mouse.  In contrast to the last two experiences, I was not the responsible, directly or indirectly, for this creature’s death.  This did not bring me much relief, however, as the discovery was accompanied by a fit hand wringing and dancing around on tip-toe while willing the problem to resolve itself.

(Did I mention that this was done in both previous cases?  No?  Well it happened and I’m not ashamed to admit it!!!  We all cope in different ways!)

I used an old grocery bag to retrieve the tiny little carcass and dispose of the evidence and began disinfecting EVERYTHING IN SIGHT.  I followed this up with the installation of the most megalithic überfilter I could find at my local home improvement store and buttoned everything up and began to enjoy the fruits of my labor.

As of the time I am writing this, I’ve been very lucky and thankful to enjoy a critter-free home.  I’m very sure that this will not be my last escapade in dealing with dead creatures.  Home ownership is and always will be full of moments like this: sometimes dead animals, other times exciting plumbing, the list goes on.  It’s all about the spin I put on instances like this which determine just how frustrating or humorous they turn out to be.  I tend to aim for humor, it seems to be much easier to handle in the long run and makes me less crazy when I stumble into the next exciting disaster.