The Homeowners

By Shamus Posted Saturday Jan 5, 2008

Filed under: Personal 51 comments

Shawn, my partner in Chainmail Bikini, has just bought his first house. Congratulations Shawn! While you were moving into your new house, I was having the following adventure…

It’s Friday night. Ahhhh. I decide to spend the evening playing computer games and eating junk food. This isn’t really any different than any other night of the week, but because it’s Friday the reward feels sweeter.

The snacks are on a little shelf at the top of the basement steps. As I open the door to the basement I hear running water. At first I think it’s the washing machine, but no – this sounds like a little too much water. I start poking around and find the old coal room has water flowing in. This is an old house, and in the middle of the driveway there used to be a coal chute that led directly into this room. Decades ago the coal furnace was (sensibly) replaced, and the chute was welded shut. There are tiny gaps where water can get in, and in really heavy rains sometimes I’ll see a trickle. A minor trickle.

But this is something else entirely. This is water, flowing freely down the chute at a tremendous rate. How could this happen? There aren’t any water sources anywhere near the top of the chute, and besides, it’s way below freezing out. The nearest source of running water would have to be…

Oh crap! The garage!

I dash upstairs and open the door to the garage. The entire place is now a wading pool filled with filthy, ice-cold water. The floor is graded towards the drain in the center, so the edges of the room are about two inches deep, and the center of the room (under the car) is a good bit deeper. There is a lot of water here. The drain is still working, it’s just a little slower than the pipe. It must have taken ages to fill the place. Once the garage was “full” – once the water level reached above the gradient of the floor – it began flowing out of the garage, down the driveway. Some of it is flowing over the coal chute and running down into the basement. I need to stop this quick, or pretty soon that place will be two inches deep as well.

I wade past the car. What would happen if the water in here froze? The car would be stuck in the garage. Oh man.

I note the extension cords submerged in the soup of dirt, gravel and frozen leaves. Good thing this didn’t happen a week ago, or those cords would have been plugged in and powering Christmas lights. What a mess.

The hose spigot is along the back wall, but all the summer stuff (bicycles, lawn furniture, etc) blocks the way. To move that stuff I’d need to move the car, first. It would take me twenty minutes to clear a path back there.

It doesn’t matter. I can see from where I’m standing that the pipe has burst, so reaching the valve up here is pointless. I need to shut it off at the source.

Back to the basement.

There are many valves spread out around the basement. I can’t recall which one controls the garage spigot. Sigh. If I’d remembered to turn it off and drain the line for the winter this wouldn’t have happened in the first dang place. Taking the garbage out to the road every Thursday is hard enough for me to remember, so these once-a-year chores don’t even enter my mind until I’m dealing with the consequences of not doing them.

As I stand in the basement I can hear the water rushing in. It’s getting worse. Water has begun to flow out of the coal room and into the rest of the basement. I don’t have time to play “guess which valve” down here, so I just start at one end of the room and turn them all off. A couple of minutes later I’ve shut off water to all of the house. Back to the garage.

The water is still flowing.

Back down. I hunt around, and find one more valve. But this one won’t turn like the others. I try bare-handed. Then with a cloth. Then with work gloves. I strain and grunt and work through my entire repertoire of profanity, to no avail.

Finally I come to my senses and shut off the water to the entire house. That stops the flow, but we can’t very well live like this.

I have another go at the stuck valve. A second later it hits me, What are you, Shamus? An animal? You have opposable thumbs and the capacity for reason. Stop being such an idiot and go get some dang tools!

Five minutes later I have the biggest, meanest, heaviest wrench in the house. I have to open it all the way, but I get it over the valve and get it turning. Rust rains down on me as I do. That’s probably bad. Oh well. I’ll worry about that later. I turn on the water back at the main and return to the garage to survey the damage.

The pipe is still spraying water all over the place.

This isn’t fair. In the summer this line can barely deliver a stream of water worthy of washing the car. It’s sad and unsatisfying to use. But now the pipe has burst and suddenly it’s got the Hoover Dam behind it.

Back downstairs. Water main off. More hunting around. I trace lots of pipes which all seem to go to the right area, but they’re off. Then behind a bit of drywall leftover from an earlier project I find one last valve. I shut it off. Main back on. All is good.

I turn all the other valves back on. Except now the previously stuck valve, which was fine before, has developed a leak. It turns out this is the cold water for the kitchen sink. (Which is actually just a few feet away from the hose spigot on the opposite side of the wall, which is how I made the mistake in the first place.)

So now the hose spigot in the garage is destroyed, the garage is flooded and many things are likely ruined or damaged, I have water in the basement and I’m obliged to turn off the cold water in the kitchen because a previously functioning pipe now has a bad leak.

Welcome to the wonderful work of home ownership, Shawn! It’s better than renting, but it’s still a bitch.


From The Archives:

51 thoughts on “The Homeowners

  1. BVB says:

    Ouch… that’s painful.

    Pretty much all there is to say.

  2. mookers says:


    (did you mean to say “fist” house?)

  3. ChattyDm says:

    Oh man, I feel your pain!

    Last year, 1 week before X-mas, an ice Storm hit us and a tree fell on my house, ripping a chunk of my roof and letting a lot of water in…

    ..that barely 2 months after I had spent a fortune redoing the roof…

    Good luck man.

  4. Janwynn says:

    Ah, but at least you have valves. Our first house, built in the ’20s, had a grand total of one water valve. So whenever we had problems with any of those lovely 60 year old pipes, the only solution was to turn off the water to the entire house.

    ‘Nuff said.


  5. Steve says:

    Oh Man, i feel your pain.

    For example, I ‘know’ there is a small leak under my house but the cost of gettign a plumber under there (once i’ve ripped out the laundry to give access) seems not to be worth be worrying about how big the leak could be


  6. Joe says:

    Must be a bad week for pipes. Going to the store last night I noticed that a neighbor’s hose nozzle had busted and was spewing, and then when I got back, my mother-in-law called to let us know that the pipes in her house had burst (my father-in-law’s been in the hospital for heart surgery for a week now, so I think the cold weather plus disuse of the house let the pipes freeze.)

    Amusing anecdote: When I was a kid my parents and I lived in an old house whose only source of heat was a wood stove in the kitchen (and electric blankets. Mmmmmmm…. warm bed.) Anyhow, my grandparents invited us to stay with them for a few days during a particularly cold snap. When we were ready to go home, my dad drove home to start a fire so that the house would be a little warmer when we got there, then drove back to pick us up. When we got back home it was snowing. In the kitchen. *sigh*.

  7. Andy says:

    I’m in a two-family house, and the water heater for the second floor apartment went while I was at work, dumping water all over the basement floor. My wife called, freaking out, so I talked her through finding the valve to shut off the water going into the tank, which she did, but the water just kept coming (with the sound of running water, not just draining what was left of the tank. I rushed home, and eventually found and shut off the valve that connected the two (upstairs and downstairs) water systems! so for at least a half hour, it was the first floor’s hot water that was being dumped all over the floor.

    Oh, and yeah, at least two of the valves I turned off started dripping after being turned for the first time in years. (there’s a nut-type fitting behind the valve wheel, if you tighten that, it might stop the drip, assuming it’s coming out along the valve stem.)

  8. Davesnot says:

    That’s a good glimpse into home ownership… except you just mention what happened that day.. or moment.. you didn’t mention walking by the outlet that is cracked or the patch in the drywall that you have to figure out how to texture before you paint.. or the sound of the heater going on again to remind you that your filter is waaaay too old.. or that you should just hire a plumber.. except they charge so much you could learn to be a plumber for the cost.. but your spouse never has confidence in your repairs.. even though they are waaaay more sound then necessary.. and why does that damn floorboard still squeak.. yup… a nice glimpse into home ownership..

    But it’s MINE!!! which is very nice (well.. the bank’s .. but they don’t seem to care what I do to the place)

    Welcome to the club, Shawn!! It is worth it.. no matter what you think when you’re standing calf-deep in cold, filthy water that isn’t where it should be..



    PS.. testing… testing.. this is an edit.

  9. guy says:

    Ouch, that sounds bad. i’m very glad we have yet to get a leak like that. what kind of pipes are in your house?

  10. Allerun says:

    Sounds like you have a shiny new list of projects for the spring!

  11. food4worms says:

    After dropping $40K into our house in the year and a half we owned it, my wife and I did the only sensible thing. We bought a condo.

  12. Davesnot says:

    This was already pointed out.. but.. well, Shawn.. what is a “fist” house anyway??

  13. Shamus says:

    All right, all right. “Fist” house vs. “First” house fixed.

    Seesh. Its wass jest won litle typpo.

  14. WysiWyg says:

    Thank you for reminding me of why I love renting. Something goes bad, all I do is call a number and they’ll take care of everything. The greatest thing is, that if it takes them to long they actually give ME money, instead of the other way around.

    And yet I have all the freedom I need, I can repaint the place whenever and however I like (which is about the sum of my interest in changing this place).

  15. Davesnot says:

    uh.. did the test eat my big post on home ownership.. or did the plumber eat it?

    Edit:.. can we delete our own stuff??

  16. Davesnot says:

    Woah.. that’s neat.. everything’s back now.. I looked over and say your Just testingpost and like 7 others.. but none of mine… typed the above comment.. and it posted and all the other comments were back.. interesting..

  17. Telas says:

    Steve@5: Remember, the Grand Canyon is basically the result of water damage.

    (Apologies to Dave Barry for that.)

    Home Ownership is more than a pain in the arse, it’s also the average American’s greatest source of value, and is frankly one of the secrets to getting wealthy. Every dollar you have in equity is a dollar you don’t have to pay in rent.

    (OK, it’s a bit more complicated, but y’all are smart enough to sort it out.)

    PS: Frickin’ sweet edit plugin, Shamus!

  18. Gothmog says:

    That’s horrible news, Shamus- best of luck getting it sorted out.

    Poor guy.

  19. Joe says:

    Here’s to still being in college, under the roof of someone else’s domicile!

  20. Morabbin says:

    We just bought our first house in March. When we moved in, a friend said “Welcome to the world of homemoanership!”. We thought it was a cute little joke. Ha bloody ha.

  21. Nazgul says:

    I was just dreading having to climb up on my roof to fix the ham radio antenna that the big storm blew over. But that’s nothing compared to broken pipes and flooding and such, so now I feel a little better. :)

    I have plenty of other fixes and chores to look forward to though, sigh… Still, it beats dealing with some goose-stepping homeowners association any day!

  22. Devin says:

    Here’s to us Gamer-types: home on a Friday night. Had you not been, you might not have a basement at all anymore! You might have a swimming pool though…

    Good luck cleaning up the mess though. We had a fish tank inexplicably crack open upstairs a few months ago… and even a mere twenty gallons seems like a disaster when it’s coming out of first floor ceiling-light fixtures like a bad horror movie.

  23. maehara says:

    Floods I’ve managed to avoid so far, but for some reason our central heating boiler has a tendency to break down the week before Christmas. In 2004, 2005 and 2006. That tends to leave us shivering in the cold right into the new year.

    This year, for some reason, it’s made it through intact. Maybe that’s a good omen for 2008, or maybe karma’s saving up a bitch of a surprise for us…

  24. Ian says:

    Oh jeez, that reminds me of a fun little episode that occurred minutes after I left for work.

    My dad works early in the morning (bakers’ shifts suck), usually around 2am-11am, sometimes a little later. He ended up going in early that particular day (either 11pm or midnight) and was back home before I left. I guess a mere five minutes after I walked out the door the hot water line for our upstairs bathroom sink burst. Had he not been home we would have been in some serious trouble.

    But anyway, sorry to hear about your home troubles. I can’t even imagine how un-fun that must have been. Also, congrats to Shawn on the new investment! Hopefully you won’t have any Shamus-esque experiences. ;)

    Edit: I love the new plug-in. :D

  25. Avaz says:

    All I can say is, (for the time being) thank goodness for renting. :)

  26. Darin says:

    I’d laugh hard, but that would just call the karma gods down and kill my water heater. It’s already killed the energy management system in our house (don’t ask).

  27. AngiePen says:

    Either renting a place or owning your own home is better than being in a condo. :P When the Homeowner’s Association is supposed to keep up with such things, it’s nobody’s job, unless the Association hires someone. And there are people who assume the Association is some disembodied entity with a magical ever-full pot of money which it’ll use to do maintenance and repairs. Trying to explain to these people that no, you are the Association, and if we desperately need a new roof (or plumbing repairs or tenting for termites or whatever) and the Association account can’t cover it, you are responsible for coughing up your share of the cash… OMG, the screaming and cussing! [eyeroll] Trying to explain to these folks that what they’d pay to do the same job if they owned their own house would be considerably more than their share of a larger building doesn’t help. If they’re being asked for money then something is wrong and it’s someone’s fault and they’re going to get to the bottom of it.


    At least when you’re renting, you know it’s the landlord’s job, whether or not he does it promptly or as well as you’d like. And if you own a stand-alone house, you know it’s your own responsibility, whether or not you like it. People assume they have the best of both worlds with a condo, when actually they have the worst.


  28. Brendan says:

    Did you ever think, after you had shut water off to the house, to get someone… (I shudder at the thought) qualified? Although true, plumbers can be expensive but they tend to leave certain, critical parts of the house intact when done. (Like the roof).

  29. tussock says:

    But did this challenge provide enough XP to level up?

    Also, #5 Steve, get it fixed. Now. Water under the house can shift or even break your foundations over time, which can quickly result in severe damage.

    Water long term anywhere is a bad idea. Damp rot sets in and that is crazy expensive to fix, and very unhealthy to live with.

  30. Mark says:


    In the immortal words of Bill Clinton:

    “I feel your pain.”

    After the cleanup, one of the first things I recommend you do is get a plumber to install on/off shutoff valves at key points. Like the following:

    Much easier to deal with in an emergency. And much less likely to rust or stick. Trust me, I know.

    Good luck!

  31. Dwaggi says:

    Ow. Hope you get that fixed soon, Shamus – best of luck.

    We had to get our hot water heater replaced just before Christmas. The plumber pulled out a rather rusty pipe from the wall, and the rest of the pipes running through the house are probably in the same condition. *wince*

  32. Andy says:

    Re: Mark, comment 31, get a valve like the linked one, but if you’re paying a plumber to do it, don’t let them use compression fittings! (if you’re going to do it yourself, that’s fine, and much easier, but there’s a reason compression fittings aren’t certified for inaccessible locations.) If you’re willing to do it yourself, consider checking out “SharkBite” fittings, available at Home Depot, and pretty easy and fool proof to install (assuming you have standard, semi-modern plumbing).

  33. THOR says:

    I, too, feel your pain.

    I had family visiting last February/March when I wound up enjoying the ignoble prospects of learning just exactly how my sump pump works. While wading through 1-2″ of water in my basement.

  34. Phlux says:

    I just bought my first house in September. So far so good. The house isn’t very old (1993) but it seems that the owners before us weren’t big on regular maintenance. The heater and air conditioner haven’t been cleaned or inspected in years, the yard was horribly overgrown, etc…

    This post serves as my reminder to get someone over to service the furnace BEFORE it becomes a problem. It’s already kind of finnicky.

    edit: OooOOOOooo…fancy edit plugin. Me likey.

  35. SubHuman says:

    I bought my first house in August. Eight days after movinging in my wife woke up to deal with a restless child. After getting our daughter settled back down she heard a noise from the downstairs bathroom (the down stairs is a finished basement). She turned on the light and the floored shiny, as in light sparkling of water shiny. A flex hose for the sink burst and dumped 300+ gallons of water into the down stairs, under the walls rugs and laminate floor. Thank Crom for home owners insurance. A $500 deductable is alot better than $10K in repairs.

  36. McNutcase says:

    Ouch. Been in a similar place myself. My parents’ immersion heater (think a giant kettle element in a tank of water, which can be replaced if needed) seems to eat thermostats for breakfast, leading to it causing the water to boil, damaging the element (since it’s not designed to boil water) and causing a need for a replacement.

    The trouble is, there is pretty much no way to shut off the water so the tank can be drained before replacing the element… so you’re always working on a full tank, with the water surface right at the lip of the element hole.

    And my dad is a lazy so-and-so. He never gets around to installing a cut-off valve.

    In many ways, I’m hugely glad I’m now living a VERY long way from my parents… my dad is great at finding workarounds, less good at actually debugging. I use the workaround to give me time to debug properly…

  37. Seracka says:

    Oh, Angie –

    It really depends on the HomeOwners Association. I am in a wonderful one where all the neighbors really care about what is going on in the neighborhood and the association is really good.

    My Mother’s association on the other hand is aweful. I do like the condo thing because, I don’t have to worry about clearing snow from my driveway or mowing the lawns…that is a part of the association.

  38. Chris Arndt says:

    Once the basement flooded simply because three feet of snow on the lawn warmed to water and seeped through the ground.

    Destroy the non-automatic non-electric pump and deactivated the heater….

    and I had just got home at 5 AM on a Friday morning from an all-night Thursday night post-ministry Halo game night. Exhausted. To find mom bailing waters. so there was I with very little energy, no sleep in over 24 hours, bailing water in temperature just above freezing I suppose.

  39. Chris Arndt says:

    Sweet new comment function!
    Still: the gravatar doesn’t work.

  40. Melfina the Blue says:

    Ouch. Hope not too much was damaged. Puts our list of stuff that needs to be fixed in perspective…
    Roof, ductwork, ceiling (big crack), everything needs painting, the floor needs to be replaced, and the wiring should be replaced… But hey, no flooding anywhere (except for a few weeks ago. I need to unstop that sink)

    May this week be a better one for you!

  41. roxysteve says:

    Well, that’s a pretty good tale of domestic flooding, tool deployance and plumbing incompetence in a World Gone Mad, but I think I can top it.


    Hope you have an easier post-flood time of it than I did.

    Roxysteve AKA The King of Mildewland.

  42. Lena says:

    We found out a few years AFTER we bought our house that the PVC/grey/1.5″ pipes the previous owner installed are illegal – for the whole house. Apparently, after they are 7 years old, they start to fall apart. Joy. Nothing has happened yet, but it’s a waiting game. When they blow, I’ll think of you.

    Good luck!

  43. Lena says:

    Another quickie plumbing story. My grandfather was a master plumber and owned his own shop. My dad was helping him once on an emergency call. The local candy factory got a leak in their giant syrup vat. Overnight the entire store was flooded in 4-6″ of sticky syrup.

  44. roxysteve says:

    Hmm. Not sure what I did there.

    This is the link I meant to leave. I guess the incompetence never ends.


  45. lplimac says:

    I’ll take an old house over an apartment any day. Our house ended up needing a new roof after 5 years (the mother of all leaks), the central air system is inefficient and we need a new water heater. However, the amount the house has appreciated over the 10 years… well over 400%… is well worth it. Even with the market down turn it’s still valued way more than we payed. Yes it still needs some work, but any 50 year old home does. Much better than an apartment. Bigger too :) Congratulations Shawn, and good luck!

  46. Emily says:

    Oh no! But I love the way you wrote it out.

  47. Davesnot says:

    Hey Shawn!! welcome back.. and welcome.

  48. Nyxia says:

    I have no way of sympathizing with you, but I offer my condolences

  49. Zanfib says:

    Was rereading this post when I saw this:

    Taking the garbage out to the road every Thursday is hard enough for me to remember, so these once-a-year chores don't even enter my mind until I'm dealing with the consequences of not doing them.

    If you still have problems with this, I would suggest:

    It is a website that can send preprogramed reminders to your email address. I use it to remember apointments.

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