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Confessions of a stupid homeowner

Hello, my name is Ilya and for a pretty smart guy I must be the stupidest homeowner in the Western Hemisphere.

April Fools’ Day came early this year, and, boy, did it make me feel like a fool!

Remember my note about not having any water damage in the mid-March big storm? It was not due to luck, as it turned out, but simply due to French drains not being overflowed yet…

The constant rain at the start of this week did not feel all that threatening. It was unending for over 48 hours, true, but it was not exceptionally heavy. The glass doorway referenced in the same aforementioned post did not show any sign of leaking (and I am yet to get around to figuring out how to seal that). You can imagine my dismay when I stepped into a wet patch of carpet in my basement on Tuesday night.

Quick examination found two areas of wetness in different parts of basement, both of them, thankfully, not the primary-usage areas. Natasha and I spent a couple of hours mopping up the puddle in a non-carpeted area, but recognized that we weren’t getting anywhere with that. With the damage seemingly localized, we decided to wait until the morning before proceeding with any other actions.

Now, the house supposedly has a sump pump, only I never heard it working. In fact, I’ve never opened before the door behind which it was supposed to be located. My delayed first instinct after seeing the water in the basement was to go check the sump pump. There’s limited lighting in that corner of the basement. I open the door, turn on the flash light, and discover a unit that could only be the central vacuum device seating on the wall. There is a pile of hoses underneath it on the floor. My first thought is: Ah, those must be the vacuum hoses that we could not find when we at first wanted to try using the central vacuum. My second thought is: Damn, I don’t think the house has a sump pump; they must have lied to us on the disclosure (and I expressly remember the inspector unable to get to that door during the house inspection, on account of a lot of rubbish filling up that area of the basement utility space).

In the morning next day, I see the wet spots spreading. The TV space and, most importantly, my home office are not yet affected, but carpet being carpet, the moisture will get there eventually.

I start calling water extraction/restoration services and get two of them to schedule emergency visits to the house. One guy inquires about the size of the basement, rattles off a dozen things that they would do to fix the water problem, and quotes me $1800 for the work. Little idea that I have whether all of that is necessary, I nonetheless agree 4pm appointment.

The other company sends an inspector over around 2pm. He takes some measurements of wetness, takes a look around, and produces an estimate for $3900 to extract water, dry everything, find and fix the problem, etc. He takes me on my word that there is no sump pump in the house. I’m pretty sure I heard the other guy mention exactly the same activities as he does, so I politely thank him for his time and promise him that I’ll call him back later in the day if I decide to go for it. He might still be waiting.

In the meantime, before noon, Natasha goes to Home Depot and buys a nearly-industrial-strength 9-gallon wet/dry vacuum, and we start homegrown attempt at drying the floors. After 20 or so buckets, we can see the results somewhat, but in at least one non-carpeted area the water seems to be continuously arriving almost as fast as we remove it.

Around 3:40pm I get the phone call from the other water extraction service. The crew van got into a fender-bender or something, and they would only be able to come to the house by 6:30pm or so. I am annoyed but I see little choice but to say yes, they should still come.

In the next half an hour, I make a bit more progress with the vacuum, plus the handyman neighbor tells me over the phone that houses in this area are required by code to have sump pumps. While I assure him that I looked, he insists on coming over and checking himself, in an hour or so. I am happy with any help I can get. I do, however, decide to cancel the service call, given that no one but me thinks it is a good idea.

The good neighbor comes in, goes to the putative sump pump enclosure and exclaims: “You better believe it’s there!” He picks up the pile of hoses on the bottom and it turns out that they are covering the sump pump hole. The hole is overflowing with water. The hoses are actually sump pump hoses that need to be extended through the window to the side lawn. The sump pump is disconnected and does not work even when plugged in.

Oh man! The pump was always there, but it must have been disconnected since before we moved in. I never properly checked, and now we have backed up French drains all around the perimeter that cause the partial flooding. Believe me, I have never felt stupider in my entire life.

The neighbor then brings over the pump from his pool, spends good half an hour setting it up, and voilà, the hole starts emptying, the water starts flowing in, and almost immediately the one most troublesome area no longer appears to get fresh amounts of water.

I am buying a new sump pump, and the neighbor even volunteered to install it for me, so the monetary damage will be fairly small. (Maybe, luck is involved; if not for that crew van fender-bender, I might have already shelled out $1800 and had my basement all torn apart by 5pm last night.) We’ll dry all of the affected carpets and will likely have to replace carpeting in the entire basement, but I don’t think we’ll ever run into this problem again.

Still, how stupid was that!


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