Friday, August 19, 2011

Water Torture: Conclusion

Michelle in the Mallow Meadow at Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve
I was lamenting online with Joe DiGilio (Green Light  and Blue Ladies author) about having to deal endlessly with leaks, and I hypothesized, "Maybe I was an evil monster in my previous life!"  And Joe quickly retorted, "Perhaps you were a water torturer!"  And that thought fertilized the egg that produced this story.

This is Part 2: The Conclusion. (Wherein I chronicle the endless relentless pursuit of a solution.)  Hope you enjoy it!

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Water Torture: Conclusion (click here for Part I)

 (Click on photos to enlarge them in another window)
Harry Houdini performing Water Torture Cell (Google Image Search)

To call this a conclusion is probably an exercise in “Wishful Thinking.” For while this story will have “-30-” at the bottom of the page, we already know that last week’s “Noah-sized” deluge tested the most recent (April) fix of the veranda leak—and—frankly and sadly, it failed the test. We’re now waiting for our very brilliant and resourceful handyman to come up with a new idea. But at least we have the water entry point isolated to a set of stone stairs in an area about four feet by four feet. That, at least, is progress!

But back to 1995: It’s hard to remember all the details, but there were clues from the beginning—the rust around the baseboards, water streaks down the insides of window panes, crumbling plaster on the bedroom wall, brown water stains on ceiling beams, white “limey” spots on the slate floor along the front wall. But for the baseboard rust, the rest of these “symptoms” appeared gradually over the first year of our residence.

Now, I must tell you—my husband is an 84-year-old stubborn retired engineer with a real Welsh stubborn streak (which is sensible because he is a Welsh colonial).

Granddaughter and "Papa"

He has long been thought of by the 17 grandchildren as the first responder to all broken toys and by his own children (with a loving chuckle) as Mr. Fixit! The chuckle is because my retired engineer (RE) almost never uses conventional fixes for ANYTHING. The fix usually starts with some bit of salvaged “building material” that he saved from OTHER broken objects – the man is incapable of discarding ANYTHING---and he will never fail to find in his collection of stuff SOMETHING that will be a perfect fix. All this, of course, MUCH to my chagrin.

Chagrin. This is not I, but it does pretty much portray "chagrin," doesn't it? (Google image search)

For example, he has done things like: cut rubber patches from old tire tubes to fix small roof leaks;  create a TV antenna from a metal vegetable colander; "repair most other household problems with epoxy or Super Glue.

You probably get the picture, and it’s making me queasy just dredging up all this stuff from the long-repressed recesses of my brain. So just imagine fifteen years of chasing the  freakin' leak around the veranda. And oddly, each fix worked—for a time. Until the next driving rain storm lasting for at least three days. And then there would be a little (or large) puddle in a totally new spot. And the pit in my stomach would begin to throb anew.

No, not I. (Google image search)

For humor's sake, imagine the gutter on the veranda—a concave indentation along the base of the concrete parapet that stretches 50 feet across the deck. There are three small drainage holes ( always getting clogged with tree debris) that lead to pipes that run down the inside of the stone wall to the ground. Well, thinking that the leak had something to do with that gutter, Jeff had a plan: Re-line the gutter! And he proceeded to take a long white PVC pipe, and cut the pipe in half lengthwise, partially flatten each half, and then super-glue them to the gutter. Are you laughing yet? It was only the beginning.

After many years and countless such episodes, "RE" allowed me to call a roofer. I chose one that had over 500 A+ rankings on "Angie’s List" (a lesson to be learned here?). The estimator was a man with thirty years’ experience hunting down leaks—and he seemed to know the business like the back of his hand. And he was a Harley guy; I’ve never met a Harley guy that I didn’t like.

The first solution involved tearing up the flooring of the veranda deck and replacing it with asphalt roofing to extend into the gutters.. Ugly, but if it worked, we could cover it with something more attractive (another story too long to tell).

But it did not work. Alas. Scratching his chin, our man then looked upward to the roof over the main house, scanning it intently for flaws. “Ah!” he exclaimed happily. “THIS is our culprit! I’m POSITIVE of it.” And probably the roof really did need to be replaced---what with Jeff’s inner tube patching and its advancing age.

But in the contest of wills, the leak once again came out winner.

Then our estimator was sure the culprit must be the center drain hole in the gutter. So he plugged that hole and THAT seemed to fix the problem. But it was a short-lived fix, to be sure. The leak eventually came back as a veritable waterfall, cascading from one of the ceiling beams downstairs.

And after a year of trying, our roofer gave up. He stopped answering my phone calls.

What next? A colleague at work suggested we engage a structural engineer. This time I went to a different referral service and soon a shining-eyed young engineer was here, doing his $600 inspection. Suffice it to say that he did NOT isolate the problem either, though he did find some other house issues that we subsequently remediated. Another interminable story with a disappointing ending.

It wasn’t until we were preparing the house to be sold—“Staging” it, that our astute handyman spotted something: the stone stairs leading from the veranda deck to the main house entrance had a concave spot where water pooled when we had heavy rain. If the water sits there long enough, he hypothesized it seeps through the porous grout and down into the room below. So we had the slate stair runners replaced, re-cemented them, pointed, sealed, and caulked.

That was last April. And everything held perfectly. After several months and LOTS of rain I was thrilled and FINALLY convinced that we’d licked the bugger!

Until last week, that is. Frustration abounds.

Frustration (Google image search)

But I’m now seeing a great counselor who helps me cope. For example, I did not, this time, throw myself on the floor and scream 4-letter words at the top of my lungs for fifteen minutes! I’m SERIOUS!

And the pond? My advice to you: For a residential water feature: Build one, or have one built, fill it using a garden hose, provide aeration, make it look pretty, and enjoy it. If you thought about damming up a creek…well, as pretty as it is, probably a good idea to forget it.

Let me just list the serial “improvements” with perhaps a few anecdotal remarks” below. It began with a seminar I attended at the local Audubon Society chapter, entitled: “Pond Ecology.” It was very interesting, and I engaged the speaker afterward and asked for advice:

One:  Dredge the pond. Surrounded for the last fifty years or so with magnificent (but VERY messy London Plane Sycamores, tons of organic material had fallen into the pond, creating a deep pool of black, stinking (when disturbed) muck. Once, when it was drained, my husband decided to don rubber waders and walk out to retrieve dead branches.

 He immediately sank in up to his thighs and the more he tried to wiggle out, the more deeply he became wedged (This video isn’t Jeff, quite obviously, but you’ll get an idea of how it was-- ( YouTube video).

I had to throw him a rope, and yank him out. Unfortunately the waders are still embedded in the muck, to be excavated one far-off day by a puzzled future archeologist. Dredging is smelly and expensive, but necessary. We had it done.

Not our pond, but it looked just like this! (Google image search)

Two:   Repair dam. Repair dam. Repair dam. It’s never really permanently repaired. The first fix entailed building a form around the dam and pouring concrete into it, thus filling the gaps.

Jeff fell in love with Hydrofoam, and when new leaks sprang, it was Hydrofoam to the rescue. Sometimes it even works! I cannot find a picture, but it’s a liquid that turns to something like Styrofoam when it makes contact with water. The liquid oozes into a crack, meets with water, and expands to plug the leak, theoretically.

Three:  Try using bentonite clay to plug the holes. Never really worked. I’ve read stories of people sneaking out in the dead of night to collect bentonite to EAT. ( ) Some sort of iron deficiency that makes people do this. It also has the property to expand when wet. But bags and bags of it only had minimal efficacy on the pond leaks.

(Google image search)

Eating Clay  (Google image search)

Four:  Cover the bottom surface with black plastic liner. Not only didn’t it work, but because there was still organic material underneath even after dredging, gases built up under the liner and soon we were seeing big bubbles like gigantic tortoise backs at the surface of the water. The liner was inflating from underneath. We had to drain the pond and pull up all the liner material. Imagine! This is a fairly sizeable pond!

Can't believe I found an image of this! (Google image search)

Five:  Reline the dam with stone. Okay…have the Hydrofoam at the ready.

Six:  OH NO…Water then began GUSHING out via a sink hole between the pond and the road. Had to fill the large sink hole with concrete.

Seven:  Install waterfall for aeration. Beautiful! Landscaper used a crane to lower and place a giant pile of river moss boulders into the middle of the pond, and then worked hoses through them, and attached to a big pump hidden in the rhododendrons. A huge success!

Waterfall  (photo by Michelle Alton)

The above steps in the Relentless Pursuit of a leak repair, have iterated and morphed many times over, and the problem is never permanently solved, not even now. But everyone in the neighborhood LOVES the pond, and it has become a neighborhood landmark. Some have even had their wedding pictures shot here. Others just come to sit on the bench and read a book.

Neighbor and "Solo" greet me as I arrive home from work. (Photo by Michelle Alton)

We even occasionally find people enjoying picnics on the grassy areas beside the pond.

And yet still, we are often tempted to have the pond drained and filled in. Might make a great garden, if it wasn’t for the deer herd! The Deer! Another tale of endless woe…but you are spared for now—unless, that is, if no one shares a story for next week!

By the way, did I tell you that the house is for sale?

- 30 -

 Michelle Alton


Please Note:

*** This Blog Needs Your Story! *** { I'm Serious!} If you have a story to post on this theme, contact me, please! We haven't a single story on tap. Unfortunately, Part III of "Dark Places for Shining Stars" isn't going to happen, most likely.  Maurice now has a full time job doing P.R. for a radio station, and between that and his hip-hop performances, he hasn't been able fo find time to fact-check or approve content. Sorry.

Give your imagination a stretch--your story can be about any sort of Relentless Pursuit, fact, fiction, poignant, or humorous.  I'd love to hear from you and work with you on your story! And we need to keep this theme going!

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Dave Phalen said...

I know it's not right to laugh at other people's problems but you relate your problems in such a funny way that I can'help it.

Joe DiGilio said...

Oh my god! I feel your pain Michelle. Selling the house is the only possible happy ending. This is much worse than any relentless leak I've ever had to pursue,thank goodness. I like your choice of images used to illustrate this story but the one that I like best is the picture in my mind of you on the floor, red faced, kicking, screaming and cursing a blue streak. This is a good story....too bad its true....too bad its you.

Anonymous said...

Great ending to a delightful story, Michelle, although with the leak issue essentially unresolved...maybe a sequel in the future?

I can relate to late night chocolate runs. I'm glad 7-11 doesn't stock clay or I'd probably have to try that too.

Here is another product I'll bet your husband would like to try-- AquaMend. I get it at Home Depot and it is great for repairing surfboard/boat dings-- it can even be applied underwater. It only comes in a small 2 oz. (about the size of a Rolo candy roll) and it sounds like you would need buckets of the stuff.

Robert B