When I was a kid, my parents nicknamed me “Radar Ears” because of my ability to pick up on a conversation anywhere in the house. Of course, it helped that my bedroom when we lived in my grandmother’s decker opened right onto the kitchen, which was the hub of our universe. When we moved to a tiny, standalone house of our own, my bedroom was next to the living room which, since the kitchen was so small, became the hub of our universe (until they built an addition, known as “The Porch” because that’s how it started out before it was winterized into our family room cum dining room). Anyway, my hearing is nowhere near as acute as it used to be in the days of yore when I could hear my name (or the name of a sib, or a relation, or a neighbor) mentioned in the living room while I was half-asleep.In fact, I would have said that my hearing is actually starting to go a bit. That is, I would have said that my hearing was actually starting to go a bit until 3:33 a.m. on Saturday, when I woke from a sound sleep to the sound of dripping water in the stairway.
I am no stranger to water damage, and sometimes I even think of my condo as my own private Water World.
A year of so after we moved in, the long-gone woman upstairs had her 9 year old son for a custodial weekend. While she was sleeping it off, sonny boy deliberatively ran the bathtub to overflowing, and it overflowed on our heads, cascading down through the light fixtures in our foyer.
Ah, my favorite combo: electricity and water!
Of course, nothing compares to the Great Flood of Ought-Five, when a burst pipe in the penthouse unit opened the floodgates. We have a beautiful, ancient, elaborate plaster medallion ceiling in our living room, which we almost lost. But 4 weeks of drying time, with the heat jacked to 85 and rent-a-blowers on blast – blasting hot air into the 17 basket-ball sized holes that had been carved out of the space in the middle of the medallions – saved the day. All together, we were out of our unit for 6 weeks while order (to the tune of $45K or so – yay, insurance!) was restored.
A couple of years ago, I was sitting in my home office, minding my own business (probably playing Tai Pei), when water started pouring from the ceiling light. (What is it with water and light fixtures?)
Turns out they were trying to figure out where a leak in the roof was by flooding it. Don’t know if they found the leak in the roof, but they sure found a way for water to wend it’s way onto my head.
Then last winter, I was sitting in the den watching Rachel Maddow when those Radar Ears clicked in. I opened the den closet door and, what to my wondering eyes did appear but water coursing through the hole in the ceiling where the Xfinity cable comes in, and sploshing all over the place.
It actually took over a month of multiple plumbers making multiple visits to diagnose the problem – a crack in an internal drainpipe that we share with the building next door – a drain pipe that no one even knew existed. In the middle of winter. In the middle of a winter with a couple of off and on blizzards with melts in between. Which made it hard to diagnose, because when there was a freeze on, I had no water coming in. For a month, whenever we had a thaw, I was bailing over 10 gallons of water, each day, out of the massive catch container my friend Joe set up for me in the closet.
In each of these water crises, I’ve done what I always do when there’s a water crisis: called Joe who owns a unit in this building but doesn’t live here. An engineer by trade, Joe grew up in a large family that owned a good deal of rental property. Joe’s father made sure all of his kids – both boys and girls – learned carpentry, plumbing, painting, and electrical work. He can, and does, fix everything and does a great job – far better than our useless management company that can fix nothing and does a terrible job.
I waiting until 8 a.m.to text him, which gave me time to set out the catch-container, lay down the old towels, and blue tape trash bags to the stairwell walls so that they didn’t get all splashy. The water was a nasty reddish color - looked like washed out blood – but that was due to the corroded copper pipe. The water, mercifully, was clean: in-flow to the toilets along the stack, not outflow.
That corroded pipe is in the ceiling between my unit and the one above. And here’s the hole that Joe cut in my stairway ceiling. There’s a companion hole in the bathroom wall of the unit above mine. While Joe was working, he took a couple of breaks to call a couple of plumbers he knows. (Why didn’t I call? We knew from experience that it was best for Joe to leave messages for these fellows. Not that we had any degree of confidence that we would get a plumber over here during the weekend – especially given that the Pats had a Sunday game. As if… But the hope was that Joe would make a temporary fix, and the plumbers will show up at some point this week to do a permanent job.)
By 8 p.m., Joe had made the temporary fix, a length of plastic piping snaked from the unit above me into mine, with connectors on either end connecting it to “real” piping.
Never live in an old building. Never live in an old building that, when it was reno’d in the 1980’s, used shoddy contractors who did shoddy work. (When I reno’d my unit two years ago, my GC found trash, including a coffee cup, in the walls of one of the bathrooms when he opened it up.)
Did I mention that, in late August, the two-family building next door had a fire? Very little fire damage, but those firefighters don’t spare the water, so my neighbors are out of hearth and home for a year while their hearth and home undergoes a gut reno.
The fire damage was minimal because the firefighters were able to get to their building through ours. They told Joe, who was here at the time doing reno work on this unit, that, if they hadn’t been able to get to the fire through us, we might have also had a fire and sustained similar water damage.
Fortunately, I missed this bit of excitement, but did learn of it from midnight texts (with photos) from Joe and my friend Nancy.
While Joe was working away, and running out for supplies, I did cleanup. Fortunately, I had some contractor bags, but boy do those suckers get heavy when even partially filled with bloated sheetrock and sodden two-by-fours. I also kept the dryer busy, trying to keep my plentiful supply of ratty towels dry. Because even though that plastic container caught most of the direct water, there was a ton of splashing onto the stairs.
All this cleaning up of debris, and hand-wringing soggy towels so that they would drive in less than 3 hours, pretty much made my hands sand-paper dry. And somewhere, in the course of rubbing hand cream (lemon verbena! my favorite) into my sand-paper hands, I managed to mislay my wedding ring.
Well, that would have been the topper of the day.
I had visions of dumping out the contractor bag and rummaging through all those pieces of bloated sheetrock and sodden two-by-fours.
Fortunately, I found the ring. The high point of one crappy (and wet) day.
But the fix was in. I slept for the first few hours Saturday night with one of my Radar Ears cocked for the sound of dripping. Fortunately – and thanks to Joe – it was water, water, nowhere. Just the way I like it.