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.
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