As I was sitting at my desk this morning going through the usual early Saturday routine of paying bills and administering the other minutia that goes along with running the household, the power cut out briefly. Looking out the window towards the woods, annoyed, I counted the seconds – fifteen of them before the genny cranked over and sent it’s homemade electricity surging down the wire and taking life from the 19th century to the 21st in a matter of no more than 30 seconds. From time to time I regret purchasing a big ticket item that isn’t strictly a need, but I can tell you true that I’ll always consider the cash sunk into that generator money well spent.
It’s probably a good day when the most annoying part of a power failure is having to turn the coffee maker back on and wait for the cable modem to reset. Momentary inconveniences though they are, I suspect I’ll be spending some time this weekend looking at battery backup options for some of those “key systems.” Because once you’ve eliminated the big inconveniences, the small ones somehow become even more obnoxious.
Usually when I post about hot water it’s because I have found myself boiling in it… almost always through no fault of my own, of course. Today, of course, my post is a little more focused on actual, literal hot water… or more specifically the lack of it.
All the appliances here on the homestead are originals and put in place back in 2000. I know I can’t reasonably expect the average appliance to last much longer than that, though I’m eternally hopeful that they’ll actually last forever and spare me the expense and aggravation of replacing them. That hope, today, proved to be in vain. I’d seen the warning signs a few weeks ago in unexplained damp around the base of the water heater and again last week when it had gone from damp to wet in a few spots. I’d hoped I’d be able to nurse it along for at least a few more months – deferring the expense of the fix or repair as long as possible.
The steady stream flowing from the heater towards the sump pit this morning told me that my optimistic plan of deferred maintenance wasn’t going to be a thing we actually got to do. Now as a man who knows his own limitations, my next call was to the service outfit I use pretty exclusively for all the moving parts and plumbing around the house. There’s a premium to be paid, but they’ve never failed to show up as scheduled and fix the problem. It’s the kind of service I’m willing to pay the premium to get.
So now we’re part way there. By this time tomorrow all should be resolved even if my wallet will be significantly lighter for my troubles. The joy of home ownership is probably a real thing… but maybe more a real thing felt by those unburdened with the mechanics of paying the bills and keeping all the bits and pieces up and running.
This won’t mean much to you, but since I’ve been working on it almost since I bought the house it’s one of those things that means a hell of a lot to me. You see, I’ve been trying to claw back about 500 square feet of back yard the pervious owner let go to the woods. Although 400 square feet is hardly worth a mention in man’s great efforts at deforestation, I’m taking it as a great achievement and point of personal pride.
I’ve spent a fair amount of time clearing brush and then deciding which trees and saplings to take to make that corner feel like part of the yard without clear cutting it. Although the heavy lifting was finished early this spring there were a few stray stumps that deviled my ability to bring in the heavy lawn care equipment.
Yesterday morning’s temperate conditions proved beautiful weather to hammer down the stumps with a maul and an ax – and marked the first time I could get the riding mower into that section to keep things cut down to a more yard-like style. It’s still filled with weeds and some of the native mountain laurel looks like it could develop into promising pieces. Considering where it started, I’m well pleased with where we stand now. After beating nature into submission with both blunt and sharpened steel, yesterday was the first time a cut and trim started to fall inside the realm of regular weekly lawn care instead of being a “special project.” Give it another two years of carefully tended growth and it should be a fine little plot of land.
Because virtually none of what takes place outside of my fence line ever feels like it’s ever completed work, I feel good about this small win.
I spent some time this morning, like I do on most pre-dawn Sunday mornings sitting at my desk, reading over the wires, paying a few bills, and drinking coffee before getting the day started in earnest. Somewhere, about 14 feet above my head one of the skylights is dripping. I know this because the mortgage statement I happened to have sitting in front of me suddenly had three distinct water marks appear on it. It was precisely three and now I’ve been sitting here for 30 minutes waiting on the next one to fall. But it hasn’t. Which means I’m going to end up doing exactly the kind of thing I didn’t want to do this weekend… break out the ladder and go searching for of a one-off leak in the damned skylight. This is how it suddenly turns into Sunday night and I’m left wondering where the weekend went. All because of three damned little drops of water and wanting to stop them from turning into a flood.
After the first couple of torrential rainstorms last spring showed some of the design and execution flaws that went into making Fortress Jeff something less than watertight I went on a bit of a spree. Almost the entire back yard got subtly regraded to direct water away from the foundation. We buried a five inch line and routed a hidden drain and two downspouts into it in an effort to manage water flowing off the roof and sidewalk. I bricked up and waterproofed a basement window to eliminate a window well that did double duty as a retaining pond. With those changes, water management in the back yard has improved significantly… or it had up until this spring.
That’s when I noticed the in ground drain was starting to back up under the heaviest of downpours. Hundreds of gallons of rainwater dumping directly against the foundation is not my idea of a good time. Until today, most of the heaviest rains took place when I was away from the house or asleep. A few hours ago, a torrential downpour caught me at home and I got to see first hand the water shooting out the side of one of the standpipes.
Being on the sick list today, some people might have opted to look into the situation later. My particular brand of “fix it right the hell now” obsession doesn’t lend itself well to that kind of deferred curiosity. It was pouring down rain. My fancy drain system wasn’t working. I wanted to fix it or at least satisfy myself why it was off the rails.
I was soaked to the bone before I’d even made it halfway across the yard. Did I mention it was absolutely pouring at this point? Armed with a couple of sections of extendable probe and a shovel, I sloshed through the yard and down through the woods to where the drain reaches daylight. I could have saved myself the time and effort of carrying tools, because as soon as I tapped the edge of the plastic drain cover, the pressure of water behind it sent the cover skidding between by feet… to be followed immediately by a 5-inch diameter tube of rancid muck that was serving to plug the drain. How exactly it expanded from that 5-inch diameter to cover me from mid-chest to toes over a span of two feet, I will never understand. Just one of the many wonders of water pressure.
My best guess is this conglomeration of mud and muck was obstructing just enough of the pipe that it let a light rain or the sump discharge drain more or less unimpeded. Once under pressure, say from a 100-foot long column of water behind it, the foul-smelling stuff expanded to block off the drain completely and sent the overflow looking for the next easiest outlet. At least that’s what I think it was doing before it blew up all over my face.
The good news is that the drains are all flowing just fine now. The bad news is that I may have contracted ebola, zika, cholera, typhoid, or ghonoherpasyphilaids from whatever foul substance came flying out of that drain. If this is my last post, at least now you’ll know how it ended.
Before ensconcing myself here at Fortress Jeff, I rented a house that “included” air conditioning in the form of two geriatric window units. One was so filled with mold when I moved in that I relegated it to the shed for the duration of my stay and replaced it with my own unit. The other was probably filled with mold too, but it was too heavy to move and was somehow “permanently” mounted into one of the living room windows. That one got blitzed with as much lysol as I could spray into the vents at least twice a week in the hopes that would be enough to hold any organisms growing in there at bay.
Given the apparent belief of early 1980s home builders that insulation was more of an optional thing, living with these two window units mostly translated into having two rooms that were slightly cooler than the outside air temperature and the rest of the house that was just short of reaching blast furnace range. It wasn’t ideal.
With temperatures reaching towards 90 over the last couple of days, I just wanted to give a small nod of acknowledgment to the glory that is central air conditioning. I try to be responsible in its use, but I can chill this place right down to icebox levels with the flick of a switch. It’s the kind of thing you don’t really appreciate until you no longer have it.
So there you have it – one more thing to add to the short list of things that don’t suck. See? Not everything around here is a bad news story, something that annoys me, or just a general bitch session. There are, from time to time, things that make me smile.
It’s springtime here at the homestead and that means the year’s big improvement projects are about to kick off. Fortunately this year’s points of main effort don’t involve the evisceration of the back yard as I’ve opted for two smaller and slightly less invasive projects this year.
Phase 1, getting underway at or around 8AM calls for removing and disposing of three relatively large white pines that are encroaching a bit too far towards the house and front yard. Bringing these guys down should improve some soggy yard issues on that corner of the house, but mostly getting rid of them was an esthetic decision. Opening up that side of the yard will dramatically improve the house’s “presence” as seen from the street. More importantly, perhaps, it will give the front two bedrooms an unobstructed view out to the stand of oaks currently hidden behind the pines. It’s nice to see that not every project on my list has to involve major feats of engineering.
In Phase 2, we move inside to brick over the basement window that has been the source of constant consternation and aggravation since I moved in. A little excavation, a little block cutting, half a dozen new cinder blocks, and a whole lot of exterior waterproofing and backfill should at least get me to the point where there isn’t a readymade pit for the water to build up in. In theory, removing the pooling water should go a long way towards remedying the problem. There are a lot of other ways we could have gone after it, but doing away with a below grade window that served absolutely no purpose felt like a no brainer. Once the basement is closed off and the window well filled in, whatever water falls should follow the new path of least resistance which is out towards the back yard instead of down towards the place where a window use to be. Not being a hydraulic engineer, that’s my operating theory anyway. Once we get the first good rain, we’ll see how well that theory pans out under real world conditions.
So that’s it. I’ll have contractors crawling all over the place tomorrow and then have two of the three big projects for the year finished. After almost a year in residence, it’s starting to feel like I’m putting my own stamp on the place.