Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Biting the (Water) Bullet

When last we met our intrepid waterlogged homeowners (that's us), they'd played a gamble that they could tap into the old drain fields in their front yard (that's our front yard), a $950.00 gamble to be precise. The hope was by digging up the portion of the yard just outside the homes northeastern most foundation, they could replace the tiles that connected the old drain system under the slab with a newer version, connect them to an exterior gravel drain field that would allow the groundwater to seep back into the earth, button it all up, and be on the way to repair of their desolated basement.  That gamble failed and the family (us) was left with a huge hole in their front yard and no progress towards resolution. And they were poorer to boot!

Now, a month later, we rejoin our story, already in progress...

Today is day three of "il-proń°ett basmeent grand" (that's Maltese for The Grand Basement Project :) ). Much has transpired since my last blog post. As I write, our basement is a mere shadow of its former self. The walls, which had been mostly removed with the initial water damage, are now gone for the most part. The studs have been cut at about 4 feet high and removed down to the slab. The slab itself has been jack-hammered and chopped away on three sides of the house and today a crew came through and hand dug the earth under the exposed slab to below the foundation.
More of the old drain tiles were discovered and sit neatly stacked in a corner, perhaps on their way to some drain tile museum somewhere. This is surely a story for the ages.

Basement slab post jack-hammering
After learning that the drain field in our front yard was beyond repair, we began to reassess our situation. I was still convinced (and part of me still is) that the stream flowing through our basement was not an underground spring at all but instead was freed drinking water, recently escaped from a leaking pipe somewhere above our house in a Mountain Water supply line.  And so, because I was not ready to give up the ghost, I called Mountain Water yet again and told them we had a depression in our front yard that caused me to believe we had a leak...and they sent up a leak investigator.  The investigator was a great guy who freely admitted he hated coming up the hill to our mountainside neighborhood due to all the leaks in the system. Evidently the original water pipes were asbestos, not metal, and are to this day nearly impossible to locate. At some point in time the water company purchased the original Farviews Water Company that serviced our area and they've been paying the price ever since. All you have to do is drive down any street in our neighborhood to see the big square patches of replaced pavement where the water company had to dig. The City is currently trying to condemn the Utility in court so as to purchase them and one of their expert witnesses recently testified the system has had up to a 50% leak rate in a year...all this only buoyed my confidence in the leaking water theory. At any rate, the investigator was intrigued by our situation and agreed to call in another investigator with a sophisticated listening device that could locate leaks. The following Monday we had a glimmer of hope because they did find a leak a block above our house, right along what would be the fall line: Crews came in with a backhoe, dug up the street, creating yet another of the aforementioned pavement patches. The leaking pipe was replaced and I danced a jig in celebration, but it failed to slow the flow of water in our basement (still at 50 gallons an hour).  So, we finally raised the white flag and accepted defeat; this was going to be our problem to fix and our problem alone.
Busted concrete removed 
Because the bottom of our foundation is below street level, we were immediately faced with a predicament...how do we install a system that can move the water around the home and, if necessary, into the storm sewer.  The City was equally as concerned and told us we could only include the storm sewer in the plan if our new system was professionally designed by an engineer. Otherwise we'd have to find a way to "daylight" the spring to the surface, which also means that if water leaves our property and damages another downhill, we are liable for the damages. Once again the dollar signs started spinning like a slot machine in my head. In actuality, we managed to connect with a fantastic engineer at WGM Group who created a super cool design at a very reasonable price in short order. The system could allow us to potentially capture some of the water to use for irrigation on our yard! It sort of looks like a giant underground rain barrel with no bottom and slit sides. There will be 4 feet of gravel under this rain barrel-ish thingee, and a pipe flowing out of the top into the storm sewer with a pump above that. The theory being water will be caught by our interior drains, funneled around the
A River Runs Through it
outside edge of the interior and into the containment system. It should flow back into the ground but if it doesn't it will collect and rise in the system and be given the opportunity to flow into the storm sewer or be pumped above ground for our use. Very cool, albeit expensive, or at least expensive to our thinking.

Once the containment system was designed and approved, we then had to decide if we were going to go for the exterior curtain drain option, which would involve completely ripping up our back yard and digging a trench the entire length of our house (216 cubic yards of dirt would have to be removed) OR go for installing an interior foundation drain system. As the photos indicate, we went with the latter. Unfortunately, none of this is covered by insurance because we cannot show the water is anything but an underground spring, which is excluded in our policy.  So, off to the bank we went and because we have the most amazing banker in the world on our side, we were able to secure a loan tp cover the cost. Did I mention we will be having a bake sale to help pay for our kids college, because this project is costing us more than a college education (cue very small violins).
Once again, Ryan and the good folks at Dayspring Restoration jumped in and laid out a detailed plan for us of how they are going to restore our house and our sanity.  So far, so good. Stay tuned for the next chapter.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Tweedy, The Top Hat, Missoula 03/11/2015

I wasn't quite sure what to expect from Jeff Tweedy and his son Spencer last Wednesday night at the Top Hat.  I wanted to go but missed the boat on tickets as the show sold out super fast (Missoula loves anything related to Wilco and Wilco seems to love Missoula as well). I'd resigned myself to just hear about the show, which unfortunately seems to be the trend in my life rather than the exception these days. But happenstance and luck reared their heads again and two tickets fell into my lap thanks to Alex & Nick Simmons making the state high school basketball tournament.  Jen pooped out and various friends couldn't go for one reason or another (the best excuse coming in the form of a text from Mexico apologizing he had to miss the show due to lounging on the beach....BAH), so I headed to the show with my friends Karl & Lolo sans listening partner.  As for the problem of the extra ticket, after standing out front for 15 minutes with no taker, I popped a message onto Facebook and sold the ticket within 5 minutes. The buyer was a friend of a friend and we did the age old, "I'm wearing a blue flannel-ish shirt with glasses - I'm wearing a denim jacket with a brown shoulder bag" exchange. Easy peasy and rather fun..

Minus 5 opened the show early. Most folks (including myself) were blown away by what has been called, "the side project to end all side projects" that Minus 5 represents. The band has had a who's who of rock n' roll float in and out, collaborate, tour, and just have fun with the leader of the pack, Scott McCaughey This time around was no exception with none other than Peter Buck of R.E.M. fame on guitar. Buck has played with the band on and off since its inception and was effortless in keeping up with the pace. They played a lot of music I'd never heard before and a great rendition of not ready to die, die, die. There was a cameo from Liam Cunningham, who is on the Tweedy tour. I came to find out he is Jeff Tweedy's son's best friend and he is a killer musician, Thoroughly enjoyable and a great way to start off the night.

Tweedy took the stage shortly after 9:00PM, a refreshing change of pace for an old fart like me who dreads it more each time when bands don't take the stage until 10 or 11.  The first thing I noticed was how much he was smiling. The crowd went crazy of course (did I mention Missoula loves Wilco?  Did I mention they've played here three times in the past 6 years and two of their films had their debuts here?).  Then I noticed his son Spencer on stage and man is he young but man can he play the drums. Tweedy engaged the crowd from the get go with plenty of jokes and references to Waltz's and the age of the audience. The band took there time and they appeared like they were actually having fun. Great mix of solo, covers, and Wilco tunes. In addition to his solo music, the band played covers of Mavis Staples, Uncle Tupelo, and Love Like A Wire, a lovely song written by Chicago songwriter Diane Izzo. Tweedy, rather on purpose or not, went from the melodic flannel rock Uncle Tupelo cover to a hard rockin' tune with a big smile on his face, perhaps his ode to want to be a punk rocker. About half way into the show the band left the stage and Jeff Tweedy did an acoustic set of Wilco tunes including plenty of music from A.M. and Sky Blue Sky.  At about 11 the band left but came back for a great encore set which included a fantastic rendition of California Stars. The show was incredible and made my week.  Thoroughly tired the next day but my head was swimming in the memory of good, live music!

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Jets To Brazil- Sea Anemone





I am blown away, even to this day, every time I hear this song. 1998...if I had heard this while in college, I just might have remained frozen in time. JTB were just down right awesome.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Beast Outside the Footings

Our house - it just keeps getting better
We were having so much fun digging trenches inside our house that we decided just to go ahead and start digging outside the house. Actually, we weren't quite so nonchalant about digging outside, but it was a roll of the dice we felt we had to take.
After our attempts at using a camera to follow the drain tiles in our basement out under the foundation were met with a black sludge that resembled the old Beverly Hillbillies oil strike (but a whole lot more fragrant in a bad way), we were told we needed to expose more of the basement floor. Once again, the pros at A-Core brought their diamond-tipped blade in and sawed up more concrete and the burly men of Dayspring came in with their jackhammers and buckets to rip up and hand carry out the floor. More of our basement was removed and what used to be Coles bedroom was turned into an ode to WWI foxholes...stinky, muddy, nasty, rocky foxholes.  I'm beginning to think we could charge admission, add some fish to the stream, and recoup what can only be astronomical bills silently growing.
After a day of sucking out the black goo with "The Extractor", in came the cameras again to investigate where the drain tile traveled. With baited breath we waited to see if the camera could travel under the foundation, through the pipe, and hopefully to some path that would take the water and move it on down the mountain. But once again our hopes at finding a solution were dashed when the camera and snake ran into a wall; this time the wall was in the form of rock and crushed tile about three feet on the outside of the home.  It left us with a conundrum...should we dig out front to clear away the rock and crushed tile in hopes that the tile would pick back up, clear and clean as a whistle and travel down to the storm sewer or perhaps a drain field in the yard, or, should we raise the white flag and dig up the back yard to install the more expensive solution of a curtain/French drain along the back and sides of our home. It was a $1000.00 gamble we had to take and in came the Excavator.
The hole - after the black mess was removed
Last Friday was D-Day - Dig Day - at 610 West Crestline Drive. How fitting it should fall on Friday the 13th. I almost took the day off but I cursed the trench as I left for work and crossed my fingers. At 0900 I was notified the excavator arrived. At 1000 I was notified they were digging (and had already cut through our year-old irrigation system), to be followed by the 1100 notification that they were about a foot from their destination, but the excavator was broken. I could almost hear the trench laughing at me from my desk chair. FInally I was told they'd reached their destination but the dirt was too unstable to climb down.
By late afternoon the verdict was in...they reached the broken drain tile only to discover an even more gross and nasty mess. The "drain field" that was installed when the house was built was completely ruined. It was compacted with the same dreaded black tarry organic mess that caused the interior drain system to fail. And it smelled to high heaven. I believe "beyond repair" was the phrase used. We'd hoped to find the silver bullet but instead found a titanium turd - our hopes once again dashed.
Everyone seems interested, except for the homeowners insurance and the water company...the water company has had enough messes up here and are doing everything in their power to stay wide and clear of even looking to see if they have a broken pipe in the system and the insurance company, well we won't go there in this post. So now we are back to square one, except we have hired WGM Engineering to help us design a solution. We are hoping to have some sketches and rough estimates of our options this week...but I've been saying this week so long now that even I don't believe it myself. For those old enough to recall, we are now officially living in an unfunny version of Green Acres.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The (Water) Monster Under the Stairs

My curious silence since last posting about the disaster in our basement has not gone unnoticed. The truth is, I almost couldn't bear to put on virtual paper what has been happening in reality. It has now been 31 days since we discovered water on the floor of our basement bathroom. What we thought was a leak, was in reality a seep, and the journey to today has been mind-blowing to say the least.

We left our story on the eve of the "battle of the scope" as I lovingly call it, the night before Pioneer Drain & Sewer arrived to put a scope down our drains to try and discover the source of our problem. Dave Rawley from Pioneer is a local legend and wizard at sleuthing out leak sources. However, it didn't take long until Dave echoed the chorus that has become all too familiar this past month when he uttered, "I've just never seen anything like this before". On the first day of his efforts, he snaked, jetted, pushed, and cajoled his scope through what I'll refer to as the poopie end of the house...all the pipes that flow out of our toilets, bathroom sinks and shower/bath drains. Dave agreed with us the odor we were smelling was definitely not ground water, but all he found were partial blockages here and a suspect fitting there, but no cracks in the pipes.  After over 4 hours of trying he resigned himself to say we had to find a catch or drain to get in to the other end of the house....the pipes that drain out our kitchen and laundry room. The following day he found it equally difficult to snake the pipes and ended up bringing in the big gun, the hydro-jet, to clear out all the lines.  It was with some sense of mystery he discovered water still flowing through the pipes after he'd cleared them of all debris out to the main sewer drain. All this was on videotape. As he began to draw back the scope it suddenly dipped into a pool of water and there it was, a large portion of the cast iron pipe was just gone.  Dave's camera dipped into what seemed to me like a deep sea cravass and he said, "bingo".  Boy was I relieved...a crack in the pipe meant our hypothesis that the leak was not ground water was true and insurance would cover the damage...or so it seemed at the time. Dave and his crew carefully measured and identified the spot in the pipe where it was cracked. He also noted two additional places where the pipe was failing.  Unfortunately the crack was located directly under the stairwell in a place requiring us to remove the stairwell and walls to get to it properly.

On Wednesday, January 7th, we finally got the adjuster on site. A former contractor himself, he identified with our plight but made sure we knew he was only able to pay for damage inside the home caused by the water and access to the pipe.  Repair of the pipe itself would be our responsibility. We had both Dayspring Restoration and Sentinel Mechanical up at the house at the same time to help bolster our case. It didn't take long for the adjuster to tell us we were going to need to rip out parts of the walls in a majority of the basement and agree to allow for a 27' by 2.5' x 18" trench to be dug through our basement to expose the pipe. It meant we were going to have to get everything out of the basement pronto and prepare ourselves for a long journey to repair. In came the storage container and Daysrping's crews spent the next two days helping us get everything out of the basement and into the pod or garage. We told the kids we'd sleep dormitory style and it would be a fun and short-lived adventure.

Did I mention they found both Asbestos and mold in our drywall? Queue the two week wait for the Asbestos mitigation crew to come in, remove the walls and test the air before more work could commence.


 The next Monday brought a crew from A-Core concrete cutting up to the house and the following day crews began jack hammering out the concrete.  What they discovered was a reservoir of nasty water under our home, indicating the pipe had been cracked or compromised for some time. They also discovered a hidden floor drain, meaning the problem had been there before (a story for another post).  Sump pumps were installed and we thought it would be cut and dry from that point on. Boy were we wrong.  Running parallel to the damaged drain pipe were a series of hexagonal hollow clay tiles, similar to the old fashioned drain tiles called Orangeburg tile. The lower our smelly lake got the more we could see water running, not leaking, running out of the tiles. More consultations with plumbers and the decision was made to try and expose on of the tiles to see where and what it was draining. A nasty black goo oozed out of the exposed tile, indicating both our cracked tile had been a problem for some time and that the drain tiles were also compromised.

Every expert we've talked to says they've never seen a drainage system like this running underneath a home; certainly around a home, but not underneath. No one knows what to do.  In addition, it was discovered the drainage pipe ran under the load bearing footer in the middle of the floor and then rose back up to meet the meet the main drain, a major no-no and probably a contributor to the eventual failure of the cast iron pipe. So a structural engineer was called in from Beaudette (thanks Mike Nielson) and measurements taken to make sure we could chip away at the foundation and run the new replacement drain pipe at the correct angle. Beaudette is also the firm where Jen's ex-husband, Matt Schmidt is a partner and he has been a great source of information for us through this ordeal.I really can't say enough nice things about the crew of professionals trying to help us sort all this out from Dayspring, Sentinel Mechanical, Pioneer Drain & Sewer, Beaudette Consulting Engineers, and Travelers Insurance.

Unfortunately, when Dave came back to try and scope the drainage tile, he found it was clogged all the way through with black sludge. Meaning the leak in our cast iron pipe also led to the downfall of the drainage system that purportedly keeps groundwater (aka a Spring) moving under and away from our home. We had the water tested for chlorine, thinking perhaps the water company has a leak somewhere above our house (we live in the side of the lower portion of a mountain). No chlorine. Dave's magic scope ran into three dead ends, meaning we now have to expose more pipe by having more floor cut up form the basement, Worse still, the insurance company says they will only cover the cost of exposing the pipe and are not responsible for replacing the broken drainage system...they say that will be our cost. The restoration folks have told us we need to prepare ourselves for all possibilities, including tearing up the entire basement floor!

As you might imagine, stress and despair have been winning out over hope and satisfaction in the moment here at the O'Connor household. As I write this missive I am being serenaded by the continuous sound of water being sucked up by the sump pump, We've had sump pumps, negative air machines, and fans running 24/7 since December 28th...can't wait for the electric bill.  Where do we go from here? We can only wait until more concrete is removed and the path of the drain pipes are discovered. Send good mojo, prayers, thoughts, and invisible rays of positivity our way please!

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Leaky Basement Part II

It's been over a week now and our basement has gotten worse. We've had drain people out, plumbers out, and restoration experts out here trying to determine the source of the water, which has gone from ruining one room to 4 and from possibly being ground water seeping in to sewer water backing up into the house. Everyone has a different theory, from a water utility line break above our home seeping in, to a pipe break and partial blockage outside the home. We had a master plumber up who is certain it is a break...I'm throwing my chips behind his theory. The water increases when the washer runs, which to him means the water can't drain correctly from our home and he has wondered aloud if we don't have an old floor drain somewhere that was covered when the house was renovated back in 1980. We had to remove all personal items form that end of the basement, which happens to be the part of the house we remodeled to make bedrooms for Cole and Macy!  The restoration crew was able to remove the soaked pad and carpet from one room, but the other rooms remain intact but desolate. Our downstairs recreation room has been turned into a shared bedroom for now.
Nice moldy wall post carpet removal
Tomorrow is a big day, when a plumber with a specialized camera on the end of a snake hose will explore all the drains to locate the leak. It's also going to be the first time our insurance adjuster will be in the home and he will be determining our fate. We've had three different people tell us that if anyone can find a leak, it's this particular crew from Pioneer Plumbing. And Chuck from Sentinel Mechanical was fantastic, just as Andy Lennox said he would be...he is like a super sleuth plumbing detective, exactly what we needed. In the meantime, we've had some good news and some bad news.
A few days ago the test sample of drywall they took out came back positive for asbestos. All work had to stop and we'll need a specialized asbestos mitigation crew to come in and do demolition on both bedrooms, the bathroom and the kids craft area. Unfortunately in my quest to move things along, I ripped out a wall in Macy's bedroom myself prior to the results coming back with no mask or even gloves (yeah, I know, stupid)...so I've potentially been exposed to asbestos inhalation. Considering I grew up in the '60s in an old battleship of an elementary school with asbestos everywhere...I am not too worried. The mold and e-choli tests are not back yet so we'll see what other dangers lurk. The flu bug that started with Liam and Quinn, hit Jen hard. Nonetheless she drove all the kids to Idaho Falls for Cole's hockey tournament on Friday. And Cole woke up Saturday puking...so Macy and myself are presumably next. I've been downing extra Vitamin C, and Kombucha with Chia seeds...anything I can think of to stave off the virus.
smelly water
The good news is, if it is confirmed to be a break in a line and the water is backing up, the damage it caused will be covered by homeowners. In yet another odd twist of homeowners insurance jargon, the  repair of the broken pipe will only be covered if the pipe is in the house, or under the concrete foundation of the house. If the pipe is exterior, insurance will not pay to repair the pipe and we'll have to pay to have that done before interior repairs can begin, And since we are in the midst of another sever winter storm warning, repairing a broken pipe somewhere in our front yard will not be an easy task.  Hearing this news awakened memories of my childhood, when the flu bug was running through our house (just as it is now) and a water pipe broke during a major winter storm...the ground was so frozen the backhoe struggled to get through and a plume of water froze right in front of our house. It was pitiful, as neighbors trekked buckets of water over to our quarantined home so we could survive. It was pretty gross as I recall. Let's hope we don't have the same result here.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Our Journey With A Leaky Basement Part I

Houses are funny things, containing so much of our lives and yet so temporary and odd in their own way. We buy them and work hard to make them reflect who we are...but they, or we, can be gone or partially destroyed in the wink of an eye. They are also curious in how they can look so different when empty or when things are moved around and "out of place". And the longer someone resides in a home the more settled in things are, and the more shocking it looks when a room is emptied, or the house is changed in some way.

I write all this as a crew is turning part of our home into what looks like a scene from Breaking Bad. They are creating a "negative air" environment in our basement, to prevent mold spores and foul air from escaping and entering the rest of our home. Heavy plastic is going up, effectively sealing 1/3 of our basement off from the rest of the house. Zipper doors are included with this plastic blanket and they make this odd sound that really does feel eerie. Of course, it happens to be an important 1/3 of our basement, housing two bedrooms and a bathroom. We've been scurrying to get clothes and furniture and knick knacks moved out of the rooms and it seems to multiply like rabbits as we are moving it! What was once tidy belongings in a 12 year-old girls room are now piles upon piles of things I'm not sure I've ever even seen!

On Christmas morning we discovered standing water in the downstairs bathroom. We thought it was possibly a line backup or a leaking toilet.  We'd been smelling musty air off and on but couldn't find the source and it seemed like it was just perhaps another benefit of living in an old home.  But after cleaning up the water and watching more water seep in from under the wall, we knew something else must be happening, something much worse than a clogged sewer line. I immediately called our Homeowners insurance company and the young lady on the other end was surprisingly pleasant and helpful for someone having to work on Christmas, but issued a warning that almost slipped my consciousness, "just know that we cannot accept any liability until it is determined where the water is coming from". It took until Monday to get the restoration crew in and permission from our adjuster for them to pop some access holes into the walls to try and determine the source of the leak.  Much to all of our consternation, we can't figure out where the water is coming from.  Although highly unlikely for this time of year, it could be groundwater seeping into the foundation (it is about 5 degrees F outside and the ground is frozen like a brick).  It could be a slow leak form a pipe somewhere with water gathering at a low point in the foundation. It could be  aleak around a window, again unlikely.  Adding to the mess is the fact our basement was finished around 1980 originally and so everything has to be tested for asbestos before any removal or other work can begin.

So begins our dinner of eating an elephant...one bite at a time.