Tag Archives: Home Repair

Almost to The End of Rot

As a follow-up as to why our house is slowly becoming one with the earth, I am now able to announce that we have dug, and drilled, and sawed, and unwedged some very scary stuff out from under the house. One huge mercy is that what we thought was a broken pipe is nothing more than an unconnected air-conditioner drain. That should be piped and draining away from the underneath by this next weekend.

Once the siding, and then the tongue-in-groove cypress wood beneath was cut and pulled away, more rot was uncovered at all the corners. The giant timbers holding up the outer shell of the house were so rotten that they turned to powder when touched. It was disconcerting.

Here, we had to take off about five feet by three feet of wood to expose the rotted boards in order to pries them away.
Here, we had to take off about five feet by three feet of wood to expose the rotted boards in order to pries them away.

I’m typing this as the saws-all is biting into my home on the ground floor just beneath my computer desk. As the grinding burr of metal ripping into hundred-year-old wood continues, I’m trying to hurry and finish this new post.

Lights are blinking. The battery backup is beeping. This may mean that a power line has been compromised. Oh no! The worker is asking my husband where the breakers are. I better exit! – to be continued.

AND . . .

Here it is a day later. The wire to the computer had been cut.

The worker was able to tape the wires together so the computer works for now. Electrician coming.
The worker was able to tape the wires together so the computer works for now. Electrician coming.

I have a battery backup surge protector. It has proved invaluable in this house.

While tearing out boards a mouse’s hoard was uncovered. Or it might have been a rat’s hoard. There was lots of fluffy bits of insulation, scraps of paper, sawdust, gnawed pieces of electric wire, and a 1966 penny.

The rotten wood extended up the corners of the house along the west side and in the front.

Here you can see that the corner is missing.
Here you can see that the corner is missing.

I called a termite inspector. According to him, our house did have a serious termite problem at one time but not anymore. There are no active termites, another mercy.

Note in the pictures the lovely new 6″ X 6″ X 12′ beams supported by lovely new piers. The shiny metal sheets are to protect against future termite invasion. Here, imagine music in the background. It is the hallelujah chorus!

The Underneath

Cover of "The Underneath (Ala Notable Chi...
Cover via Amazon

There is an excellent book called “The Underneath” by Kathi Appelt about some animals that learn to sacrifice and survive together underneath. This isn’t too much of a stretch to say that we, here at our house, have got to learn to survive despite what we have UNDERNEATH.

When we first contracted our contractor, George, to do the major renovations on our house I distinctly remember telling him that I wanted to make sure everything underneath the hundred-year-old pier and beam house was good – meaning no termites, no rot, and leveled. He hired a company to come in and replace rotted beams and level the house and they assured me there were no termites.

A year later we had suffered through a pretty severe drought. There were cracks running up and down near windows, doors weren’t shutting correctly, and the kitchen terrazzo tiles have broken into pieces. Well, we decided, houses settle. Houses settle. It must be the drought.

One day the dog managed to squeeze under the house to chase a not-belonging-to-him cat. He came out soaking wet and muddy head to toe. It hadn’t rained in months. That was the first clue. Something was terribly amiss underneath.

But times were not good. Other emergencies with family and rent houses came and went. The underneath had to wait. I withheld my worries from the family because they seemed trivial compared to the failing health of loved ones and the busted pipes at rent houses.

Then this year came and with it an amazing soar in home prices. Time to sell the extra properties. We put the gorgeous Victorian gem on the market at a moderately higher price than we expected. Within four hours we had a bidding war and a signed contract for way over the amount we had asked. Wow. We sold one of the rent houses. We did not do so well there but it was outside the city and we didn’t expect to, but it sold, and that was the amazing part.

So, I mentioned to my husband that I was worried about the underneath of our house. I have an excellent handyman who despite his severe fear of spiders said he would help me clean out the old insulation from underneath and check for rotten beams. The first thing I asked him to do was to take off the skirt boards from around the outer perimeters.

We found rot. A lot of it.SAM_0429 SAM_0432

There are piers that look like a little kick will topple them.SAM_0443

Then under the house we found missing piers.SAM_0468

Weird wires.SAM_0461

And then yesterday we found the drip.


When water is run inside the house it becomes more like a stream. As a result there is a bog under the house. It doesn’t run out from beneath and across the yard and down the road. No. If it did we would have noticed and done something about it before now. The drip is only enough to keep it a wet mud-pit. Only enough to get those middle piers to slowly sink down creating major fault lines in our walls and tiles.

The plumber is coming tomorrow. After that we’ll need an electrician, then the termite inspector.

Fingers crossed we don’t have to deconstruct the house to get to the pipe that is the culprit in all this.

And Kathi, we have a lovely Calico cat underneath. She is happy under there. The dog is too big and bulky to squeeze under easily. But if it wasn’t for him we wouldn’t have found the problems in order to fix them. Hooray for the beasties!

When in Doubt, Hit it With a Hammer

This week, I came close to hitting something I shouldn’t have with a hammer. Let’s just say for the record, we have all survived. And for the other record, I AM NOT a violent person. Do not read the last post. This has nothing to do with killing turkeys, renovators need not apply.

So the inevitable day of the big move to another house looms. The movers are arriving on the day that I am scheduled to be at a writing conference wooing two agents and two editors.

There is no stress like home renovation stress.

Thankfully, I have the dog going for a spa weekend.

I’m taking a moment between piling things into boxes,  to create a couple of pages of “blurb” for both my completed novels. One down and one to go.

In the middle of that I decided to add a few before and after photos of some of the renovation work to the blog to keep it new. The awful yellow color before I changed it to the pale gray-blue.

The bathroom where I tore out the 1995 sink and added a pedestal sink that matches the original 1905 tub. The tub has been re-enameled so they really do match. Also added a chandelier over the tub for a little “wow” factor. You can see this in the yellow picture. This renovated bit is in the Victorian cottage. We are putting it on the market in a few days.

What about the hammer? I had to make supply runs to Home Depot so that none of the workers (at the arts & crafts renovation) could take any time away from their finish work. Yes, those knobs were in the budget! Errrrr.

In all this last minute work (staining floors and adding doorknobs), no one had called anyone to come get the old 1970’s satellite dish out of the back yard. About twenty feet off the ground and about five feet across, the eyesore was a little more than I could tear apart. So I enticed my son and one of his friends to come over and knock it down by telling them that they could probably get some money for it at the scrap yard. I gathered up what I could find that workers had left, aluminum cans, pieces of pipe, and three bags of insulated wire. By the time they had sheared the satellite dish off the pole, torn the pole from the ground, and cut it all up into manageable pieces, the scrap yard had closed. They wouldn’t accept a dinner invitation for their trouble but did take a little money for their gas. It was satisfying to see that ugly thing take a serious beating.

I am very, very thankful, Son!

So the hammer didn’t come into play, at least at my hands. Though I did knock some things from the top of the dryer when I slammed the door.

Slip-sliding Down the Plumbing Learning Curve

Clean drinking water...not self-evident for ev...
Image via Wikipedia

It was a cold and blustery morn. Over thirty states were covered in snow today (Wednesday). More snow than normal. Here in the south it was cold, though not nearly as cold as up north. Our wind-chill factor was in the single digits while the temperature hovered in the twenties all day. Unusual for us.

Britt and I went to the new old house to check the pipes. There is no heat working in the house and the project manager had turned off the water and emptied the pipes the night before the big freeze. I didn’t expect any problem.

We walked in and Britt noticed the frozen puddle in the dining room. There were mini-icicles hanging from a ceiling beam above it.

We went upstairs. Britt climbed into the attic. I turned the corner and stepped into the master bath just as a spout of water shot up from the drain pipe where the shower will be. Water spread out and ran beneath the two-by-fours of the framed closet. Britt went downstairs to look for something to mop it up. I heard him yell and ran down. Water streamed down along the ceiling beam in a cascade of water. He scooted the wheelbarrow that was sitting in the living room to catch water. It wasn’t enough. He ran outside and dragged two garbage bins inside. The swath of falling water was growing. The ceiling plaster was sagging in one corner. He took a broom handle and pushed up. Water gushed.

With nothing to wipe up the mess we drove home for some mops. We were gone about twenty minutes. By the time we made it back the water was frozen solid. We had to use a dust pan as a scraper to get it up off the wood floors.

I went upstairs to check the conditions of the second bath. It is the only surviving bathroom of the demolition work. The toilet was disgusting so I flushed it. Not a good move. Brown water shot from the wall behind the toilet, splashed across the floor barely missing me. I heard Britt yelling from downstairs, “What did you do???”

I rushed downstairs and water was pouring from another spot in the kitchen. At about this time frantic calls to the project manager produced the project manager. He came in calm as the morning breeze and told us that the water backed up because the plumbers had had their “pressure” test earlier.

They had left the pressure cuffs (that look much like blood-pressure cuffs) in the pipes. As the water froze and expanded around the cuffs the water pressure pushed them up and out along with the water. And the toilet? It is so old, they knew they needed to replace it and a few pipes around it. That was scheduled for this week.

The freeze just heightened the troubles a little.

So this week the house may get painted on the outside before it freezes again at the end of the week. And the toilet may get replaced.  And because the plumbers passed their inspection we may get some drywall and tile in so that we don’t have flooding from upstairs to down. I’m only hoping we don’t have to deal with any poop-cycles ever again!


Note on the diet: Salads at fast food places have as many calories as the burgers. Go for the chicken sandwiches – for over two hundred fewer calories – as long as the words “extreme” or “deluxe” isn’t part of the sandwich’s description.

Second note: Onion rings have fewer calories than fries.

On Days Like This

Popeyes Chicken & Biscuits biscuits
Image via Wikipedia

On days like today I am the most likely to cheat on my diet. Today I had some near misses several times but managed to only flub once.

Weight: 139 (actually lost one pound, can’t believe it)

fasting sugar: 120

Breakfast: Oatmeal-On-The-Go (220 C.) Tea w/canned milk (40 C.). Lunch: here’s where I flubbed, and I even searched Sam’s Club while I was there to see if they had any samples being handed out! They DIDN’T! AARGH! Popeye’s 3 piece nuggets (who knows how many calories – it was deep-fried, spicy and delicious) red beans and rice, and three slow bites of fried apple pie. Okay, I was good here, I didn’t eat the entire thing. Supper: Half (because of lunch) a chicken enchilada, another cup of red beans and ham (Toot! Toot!), and later when I arrived home, a glass of red Merlot (120 C). Oh! and I had a handful of pistachios. Mmmm.

I was at the Hyundai dealership across town at 8:30 with my car because my sun-visor had broken, so I was out of there by 9:30. Went to Home Depot in the middle of town to order a pedestal sink in BISQUE. They don’t have pedestal sinks in bisque. So I have to order it from the website. (I wish I’d known that ages ago, to save a trip). The sink is for the house I presently live in. I’m redoing the guest bathroom to update it to more of a period piece, more 1905, without the plumbing problems and cold, I’m sure. Then to work to pick up a grocery list.

Then back across town to my mother’s. She wanted me to go to Sam’s Club for her. I did. Then back to her place. She was dressed and ready to go to the library. On the way dropped off a manuscript for a special reader since I was in the area. After the library, out to eat (Popeye’s). What a beautiful day it was in Sugar Land. My mother and I sat in my car with the windows down and ate our chicken. I usually go to see my mother on Wednesday, but yesterday I had to wait on an inspector for one of the other homes.

After seeing my mother safely back into her sweet, senior apartment, I went home to let the dog out because it was about 2:30 and he’d been inside all day (awww). After that went to the grocery store for my job (my peeps) then to work about 4:30, though I usually try to make it a lot earlier than that, the day wouldn’t let me. Everything much smoother after that.

This was just the physical part of the day. I didn’t mention the worries, the concerns, (will I make it in time? [yes] will the dog have an accident? [no] is my car still under warranty?[yes]) I try to keep up, let it “flow” so to speak. While with the same breath attempt  to watch what I eat. I know that if I can keep this up it will become a part of me and it won’t take so much effort.

Thank you for your prayers.

The Bog Blog

Most will recognize that the word bog might mean many things. Here, especially in south Texas the word calls to mind a swamp that is “swampier”, perhaps with a little quicksand lurking beneath the green duck weed, and the faint odor of rotting vegetation.

In England the bog means different things also, not only a type of swampy marsh, but it could mean a toilet. It isn’t a nice word for toilet, more a derogatory term. The English have many words for toilet. If you visit, you could ask for the toilet, or the loo, or the “ladies” or the “gents”, only don’t call it a bog in polite company.

This week I had a bog experience of the worst kind.

Upon waking and getting busy around the house, I found the vacuum had broken, then as I was taking some paperwork to a certain government office to drop off, I discovered their offices closed due to flood. (No it didn’t rain. It was either a toilet overflow or a pipe burst type of flood.) So I had to drive back across town to await their office re-opening. I discovered in an email communique that the offices were open so I drove back. AND I’ve never seen such a line. I think it was the day to turn in papers, or something. At other times I have parked, walked in, handed in the papers, received a signed receipt, and walked out. That day I stood in line. After hour one I was well acquainted with a nice family who were in front of me. By hour two we had exchanged email addresses, by hour three we were discussing the politics of the world and specifically France’s responsibility in the Vietnam war.

It was during this time that my renter called. She had just moved in and the next morning when her son was showering she discovered water coming from beneath the toilet. Later when she was washing up the dishes, her sink wouldn’t drain, later she was bathing and noticed black stuff coming up from the drain.

Gross! Ack! Ack!

Then the tub wouldn’t drain, and yes more black stuff. I don’t want to write anymore about that.

I have a handyman who works on most everything to some extent. I asked him if he would go “snake” the trap line. The ‘snake’ is a long wire with a type of bent pipe at one end so that if you drop the wire into the line and wind it, it should squeegee out the blockage. The ‘trap’ is a pipe sticking above ground that leads to the intersection of all the main drain lines underground. He went after work and did that and said he could find nothing.

During all my adventures in house renewal and fixing up, which we’ve been doing for almost two years, my main disappointment is in finding a good plumber who was half-way affordable. And this was an emergency. My renter has young children.

I remembered in one of my trips to a local big-box home makeover store that I had discovered one of the employees in the plumbing department did plumbing as a side job. So I went back to that store and couldn’t find him. I asked another employee, “do you know one of the employees who does plumbing on the side?”


Now, hummmm, how frustrating is that? Here in Texas it isn’t customary for a customer to be brushed off in such a manner, I would have questioned his attitude, but I was tired. It had been a long day. “Okay”, I said. “Do you know where the wax ring seals are for the toilet?”

“Yep, over there.” He pointed, and didn’t move from his spot.

I nodded and dragged myself over to wax ring seals which go under the toilet where the sewer pipe meets the porcelain. It completes a leak-proof seal in the assembly. As I’m looking at the variety (who knew?) I heard a voice whisper, “You’re lookin’ for Milton. He works tomorrow from eight to one. But you didn’t hear it from me.”

It was the abrupt guy. “Okay.” I whisper back. “And thank you but I’m not speaking to you.”

“Right. I haven’t helped you in the least.”


This is top-secret stuff that we’re talking about. I figured Milton must be on some supervisor’s “watch” list or something. I have a name now and I determine to come back the next day.

So I let the renter know that her plumbing was not up to par(umm, she called me about it, oh yeah) and could she go back to our other rental property to give the children baths? Like camping, I say. I don’t think she thought much of that prospect. She said, “I’ll take the kids to my grandmother’s.”

Whew! So I went to the big store the next day about ten o’clock thinking Milton would probably be on break. I recognized him. He was in the plumbing department talking to some customers. I sauntered over, looked at valves, noted the impressive line-up of pvc fittings. Milton asked if he could help me. There were customers there and this was top-top-secret-agent-stuff so I said I had a bath that wasn’t draining. He finished with his customers and took me to the display of drain mechanisms. I said, “It isn’t really going to work. Something has plugged up the line and we can’t get it unstuck. I need a plumber.”

He pulled a couple of boxes off the nearby shelf and opened one of them, emptied out the various parts to lay them out on top of another box, and spoke into the open end of the now empty box, “I’ll need your number so I can call.” I gave him my number and the address of the house. He said he knew just where that was. He said he would call me after work and meet me over there. He would start work immediately.

I went home to await his call. He called. He set a time that he would come with his crew. They showed up and flushed the lines from the bath (Ack! Ack!) and the toilet and discovered that the trap was clogged with cement. Apparently when the previous owner poured his porch slab, some of the cement went into the trap. Whoops. It dried in little hills forcing the exiting waste to have to squeeze through. Or not.

The next few days he was able to come with his crew and dig. Thirty-eight feet of pipe was replaced. He discovered on uncovering the pipe nearest the house that the palmetto bugs were rushing out of the hole by the hundreds. The palmetto bug is a relative of the common roach, only they are about three inches longer. Almost the size of those Madagascar Hissing Roaches. Yuck! I hate palmetto bugs! He said that the reason there were so many is because the pipe was actually broken. They like the broken sewer lines. Double Yuck.

So tonight I report that the bog is finished! done with! FINIS! Except I can’t because the renter just called and her sinks won’t drain.