It all seems to have started one morning as Carol was heading out to work when she said: “By the way, could you plunge the kitchen sink for me it seems to be draining slowly” Of course I said that it was no problem. I plunged and plunged and the drain ceased to drain at all…I was left with a sink full of water, smirking at me…so I plunged again and out of spite the water leapt from the sink onto me and the floor. After cleaning it up I grabbed a plumbing ‘snake’ and ran it down the drain…nothing happened…just standing water. And, I got wetter. Time to disassemble the pipes, of course I have a sink full of water above my head, so you know how that turned out. I cleaned the cabinets and the floor again and put on some dry clothes before heading off to the big box store for plumbing bits. Confident that I had the right bits, i ran the snake further down the line after disassembly and I began reassembly. Everything seemed to go back together easily, so in my wisdom I put the stopper in the sink and filled it, knowing I had done a good job of cleaning out the pipe in the wall and replacing everything between the sink and the pipe in the wall… I pulled the stopper, the water bubbled and then just sat there. I was standing there staring in complete disbelief. I’m thinking it HAS to be clear, I ran the snake six feet down the pipe in the wall and replaced EVERYTHING! But yet the water just sat there, mocking me. When I chatted with Carol in the afternoon she said I should call a plumber… I am quite resistant to this sort of suggestion, as my infallibility has been called into question…hmmm… what to do. For the remainder of the afternoon, before Carol got home, I splashed, and swore a lot, and made absolutely no progress - so I bailed out the sink and relented and called a plumber.
The following morning the Dennis plumber arrived, a really nice guy, however he had a good laugh at my plumbing attempt and although he said it should work..it was NOT the way to do it. . . humph, professionals, what do they know. So he proceeded to chop out everything I did and replaced everything once again so it was up to code…humph, up to code, humph…and ah ha! That didn’t work either, still standing water. So he made a phone call and got another plumber with a really long snake to clear the pipe in the wall. Another charming plumber showed up and ran his snake 30 feet down the pipe in the wall and ah ha once again - standing water. But wait - you can hear water running somewhere and the sink was draining a bit. Now here is where it gets a bit wonky… My kitchen is an extension on my house, kicking out about 8 feet from the main house. Under that part is just a ‘crawl space’ except you can’t get in to crawl… it has 4 concrete walls and a dirt floor (remember the dirt floor, it shows up later). The drain pipe in the wall goes straight down through the floor, makes a 90 degree turn, runs under the floor and enters the basement in a 6 inch cap above the concrete basement wall and the floor above between the joists. At the point where the pipe makes a 90 degree turn from its’ vertical run, there is a hole in the elbow, so my kitchen sinks are draining directly into the dirt floor of the crawl space.
By the end of the afternoon we had several plumbers at the house along with a restoration company recommending that I cut through the concrete wall to gain access to the crawl space, remove two feet of dirt so the plumbers can get in and replace the pipes, and oh, they may also have to tear out all of my finished walls in the basement and replace about 50 feet of pipe…..yikes. End of day one, $2500 spent and I still do not have a kitchen sink that is operational. The restoration guy said he would contact our insurance company (we have never made a claim in 18 years of living here) and that they would be in contact with us, and in the meantime just let it drain into the crawlspace as it has apparently been draining there for a few years - WHAT THE HECK!! Days go by, and an insurance inspector came to the house, all official and such, complete with a clipboard and lots of papers and his little camera. We chat, he takes pictures and makes notes. A couple of days goes by - I get a call from the insurance company and they will not cover it because the water draining onto the crawl space is not damaging my house..it is draining onto the dirt floor, which is not a part of my house, it’s dirt! Argh! So after a few nights thinking on this situation I came up with an idea of how to take care of it, a fix was in my head and I had to try it. I called back the charming plumber and told him what I had in mind..he said it would never work, I said I will pay you for your time, I think it will work. Monday morning he showed up I explained what I wanted him to make and what I was going to do and his skepticism was very visible. I drilled a hole, he made al long L shaped pipe which I took down to the basement. It took exactly one minute and I had the pipe in place, the plumber glued a flange on it and all was right with the world - the old pipe was completely bypassed. The plumber tied everything into the system everything drained, up to a point..we needed a longer snake..the 50 feet of pipe needed to be cleaned out. Long snake man showed up and by the end of the day, and another $2000 we had fully operational sinks. Murphy was right again. . .and Carol still says, ‘I told you to call a plumber. . .’ and she was right.
The other big thing that needed to be done this spring was to have the top half of our chimney rebuilt. It has been re-pointed several times but it was finally time to have it rebuilt…the mortar was falling out and it leaks when the rains come from the wrong direction. So it was time. I interviewed several masons, some were just out of my price range and some left no confidence. I settled on a mason with 30 years experience and who had inherited the business from his father. Nice guy, and he seemed intelligent, experienced and left me with a high degree of confidence and was more affordable. I should have known it wouldn’t be this easy. . . His start was delayed because of the rainy spring we had been having. The first thing he said was “Well I didn’t plan on that bush being there.” Well, the bush had been here when he checked out the place and when he gave me the estimate, and I assured him that the bush had been there for at least 20 years when we moved in 18 years ago and it is one of Carols’ pride and joy bushes so he had better careful working around it. He said he would likely have to chop some of it away to get his staging in place. I assured him that he wasn’t going to do that. So as usual I butted in and and assisted putting the staging in place.. their method was to just keep breaking limbs and pushing harder… I had them back off and I got it into the bush as best I could but not until after they had broken several branches and made several large holes…argh…I dreaded Carol coming home and seeing this. . . The staging was up and the masons, two on the staging , one on the ground, began disassembly of my chimney, breaking off large chunks of brick and mortar and dropping it down onto my driveway. The had put a tarp down, but this section of the driveway is made of cast pavers. I asked if they weren’t afraid of cracking the pavers, and was told ‘No they will be fine’ - well in the end, a couple were cracked. The next day they continued dropping brick but brought a large truck and by the end of that day the driveway was fairly cleaned up and my chimney was down to the roofline.. Next came a load of sand dumped in the driveway and bags of mortar mix in our breezeway, and the work began. I stayed out of the way as much as I can. (it’s hard for me to stay out of the way. . .) Seems like to me the brick didn’t match too well, and I was told by every mason that finding original brick to mach would be impossible, but these new bricks didn’t look like the came from the same part of the solar system.
In a couple of days they had the chimney up and were getting ready to cap it off when I butted in once again. Now my old chimney had a corbel (decorative layer of brick making a ring around the top) but my new one didn’t and, when I inquired about that, I was told simply, ‘Oh. I forgot, I can build it up a few more rows if you like.’ Well, I said no, as it was at the same height as the original chimney already, so they capped it off and installed a stainless steel cap, crooked. . .but I didn’t notice that at that point as they were busy scrubbing it down. So here is what they did, they brushed down the chimney with brushes, the mortar was still a bit damp and it left a film of mortar all over the bricks, and then they sealed it, THEY SEALED IT!
And then they left…since it was all wet I couldn’t tell that there was a film of mortar all over the chimney. The next day after it was dry the entire top half of my chimney (the new construction) was white, white almost like it had been painted. I fired off a picture to the mason as asked what the heck is this? and he said he would come and wash it off. Well he sent in his team who brought acid and brushes and spent an entire day on ladders scrubbing and being very industrious.. and it didn’t touch it. Still a white chimney. I sent more pictures and the more I looked at the chimney the worse things got. The edges are crooked, the cap is crooked bricks are wavy in and out and the seams between the bricks are twice the width of the originals. Also, there was concrete and mortar all over my driveway, that wouldn’t wash off. Blood pressure is really up now. Aaaargh! Well had a dinner party one evening and we all walked out into the driveway and stared at my white chimney…peals of laughter. Folks were asking if he had ever laid a brick before, was this his first job..how could he not see how bad this looks, doesn’t he own a square or a level..it’s curving! When he finally did return he seem a but contrite and blamed it on ‘bad sealer’. I really, genuinely think he though he had done a good job, apart from the white..he told me his must have gotten a bad batch of sealer..strange how it affected only the bricks he had laid even though he sealed the entire chimney. They spent the day with wire brushes and stronger acid and a power washer and got the majority of it off. They also cleaned most of the stuff off my driveway but still left a mess. So if you are driving past the house, at speed limit you may not notice, but please, come stand in the driveway and have a good laugh. . . The sad thing is we have no recourse, what am I going to do have him tear it down and rebuild, I am guessing we would get the same result. I often wonder if he is proud of his work. I know when ever i make something, and even though I am an amateur at most things, I make it with pride, I do my very best and make sure it is something I am proud of. As a professional mason, with his nicely painted trucks and a masonry crew, where is his sense of pride? It looks solid enough, so I think the risk of it falling down is gone, on the other hand, I haven’t started a fire in the fireplace yet. . .
We also needed to replace some of the stockade fence that surrounds our back yard, and make a safe place for our little doodle dog Harper. The neighbors had just replaced their fence and I know this was a starting point for our thinking of replacing the fence…hmmm. So I called a few fence places. Now I only needed to replace a few sections of an existing fence. The quotes ranged from $2500 to $4500 - YIKES! So I once again decided to do it myself. I always dread working on something that someone else has made. You just never know what their standards were. Ben, my grandson, and I set off to tear down and replace 6 sections of fence. Day 1, we took down the old sections, which were old sections when we moved in 18 years ago, and cut them up into smaller pieced, and bundled them and stacked them for the garbage folks to take away. Day two the fence sections were delivered and by the end of the day, the fence was done. This project came together perfectly, the original fence maker did a great job and it all just went back into place. Total cost $350. So this story ends well, we have a puppy secure back yard which looks great and I didn’t have to rely on expensive tradesmen who need to be told what to do.
If you are still up to it, I have one more story, I’ll try to make it brief but you already know that keeping things brief is difficult for me. I mentioned in my last post the stereo in our new camper van needed upgrading. I finally got that project finished. The folks working at Sound FX in East Providence must really be sick of me. It took three different radios and many many trips to the shop before I had a working system. My camper has two side cameras and when I turn on the directional signals (blinkers) the camera signal apparently disrupts the GPS signal and suddenly the system begins recalculating and puts us in a different location traveling a different direction. So lane changes in strange places becomes disconcerting straight away as suddenly your directions get very confusing. Ultimately we got it resolved, but just about every morning for a couple of weeks, at 8:30, I would drive down to Sound FX and and have a laugh with the latest escapades of radio repair. These guys are all professionals and they didn’t give up. Unlike those mentioned above, Dylan, Don and Nick are all customer centric and understand great customer service and worked on it until it was fixed. So a happy ending here, I can put up with just about any inconvenience if I feel that I am being treated fairly, these guys did it right which made my daily visits bearable, and they did it well.
Of course there were many other frustrations that contributed to a long spring but I think I have already overstayed my welcome so until next time, wishing you great customer service with competent people. We are certainly looking forward to getting on the road. . .