Just how many times can you hit your hand with a hammer before you break your hand? I don’t think that this is a question that people ask often and I know it is not a question I ever thought I would have. But somehow this is a question that came to mind during a recent stint of home repairs.
If you had of asked me what I would be doing in my spare time last week, I never would have said anything about working on the house. As a matter of fact, I probably would have said something about blogging at least one post sometime before the last of my faithful readers gave up on me. I might have said something about reading a good book or calling my mother before she really believes that I ran off and joined the circus (no mom, I’m not really going to do that). I definitely would not have said anything about home repairs.
My house, overall, hasn’t needed much in the way of work in the many years we’ve owned it. It isn’t the greatest house in the world, but it had a great price (really cheap) and was mostly move-in ready at the time when we needed a new place to live. It has severed us well and we don’t have too many complaints. Last month we saw that we had a little increase on our water bill – it was about $5-$10 higher than normal. We decided that since there wasn’t much of a reason for this (no leaky faucets and no time to do laundry) that we would call out a plumber to take a look under the creepy, crawl space under the house. We made the call and set an appointment day and time. When the plumber arrived early one morning, we pointed him in the direction of the 1 foot tall by 2 feet wide hole in the wall that served as the entrance to at least 900 square feet of house covered dirt (house is part slab and part raised – its an old house so there has been lots of strangeness done to it over the years prior to our owning it). He opened the little door that keeps the spiders under the house (where they belong) and started to crawl inside (or would that be under-I never could decide). He made it in to his armpits and said the words that you NEVER want to hear a plumber say, “I think you might have a little problem.” in case you have never heard a plumber say anything like that-let me translate. That means you have a giant problem that is going to cost you loads of money to fix and if you survive the estimate that he is going to give you, you will still wish you had let the “little problem” all alone until it caused a problem big enough to actually be covered by insurance!
So, back to the story, he crawls back out from underneath the house and says there is about 2-3 inches of water in the crawl space (translated as about 900 square foot of house). He says there is probably a leak somewhere so he is going to crawl back under there while we turn on and off some faucets (which we do). He determines, from what he can see from one end of a dark hole, that we have a leak in the shower. While it doesn’t make much sense to have that much water from just one shower, we take him at his word and move on to next steps. After all that, he says he’ll be back in a couple of days to pump out the water in the crawl space at $75 per hour. I am not kidding about the $75 per hour charge either.
Now if you think a couple of card carry members of the Home Depot are going to wait around for some guy to come back in his own sweet time to move a submersible pump around under the house for hours on end, then you might want to think again. I immediately pulled up submersible pumps online and found a place in town that rents them for, get this, $25 a day. My sweety got on the phone and started calling every person we knew who was small enough to fit in the hole and would be willing to go swimming in the dark. She found a willing family member and we went and picked up the pump. Her nephew arrived within a couple of hours and set the pump.
In the meantime, we head to work on the shower (because that’s where the plumber says the leak is). We open the access panel and check the pipes and determine that they are almost as old as the house (which is almost older than both our ages put together) and could stand a replacement, but they aren’t leaking. We check the faucet, shower head, drain, etc and see that none are leaking. After more of this checking and re-checking and process of elimination we find out that the leak is between the shower wall and the tub. Oh good, we just need to go about re-caulking the tub. We start ripping out the old caulking and see that there is, of course, a little more to it than that. There was a large gaping hole in the tile that was being covered up by various layers of caulking that you could stick your whole hand and arm in if you had of wanted to feel for the drowned spiders underneath the house, I didn’t.
After much cussing of the previous homeowner and discussion about whether to cover it back up for the next poor slob to discover, if we ever sell the house, or fix it right. We decided to fix it right (next time I’m taking my chances with karma and cover it back up). Since the hole was too large to patch and the original tile no longer being available, we decided it would all have to be torn out. Just so you don’t get the wrong idea, tearing out tile in a 60+ year old house is not so much tearing as it is hammering, chiseling, cutting, and scraping. We started this process out with a regular hammer and chisel which only removed two tiles after two hours of heavy hitting. We then graduated to a sledgehammer, the kind you normally see splashing watermelon guts all over audiences (if you don’t get that reference, then you may not be old enough to read my blog). This was much more effective, but did manage to make the dogs run for cover while making us wonder how solid was the house really built. Solid enough apparently to withstand hours of pounding with only a few nail pops appearing in adjoining walls.
Two days later, the tile has been removed, the water has been pumped out from under the house (you thought I wasn’t going to mention that again-didn’t you), a giant fan has now been placed at the entry hole, and the plumber is back. He crawls back under the house to verify the leak and says those magic words again, “I think you might have a small problem under here.” this time we were better prepared, we had already had the nephew take a look at the pipes while he was under there. Basically, we had a cast iron pipe running almost the full length of the house that is used for draining water (not sewer-thank goodness). The pipe had rusted out in several places and would need to be replaced. The pipe was not connected to the bathroom at all – figures. The plumber didn’t have everything he needed to be able to fix the pipe while he was down there, so he sets another appointment to come back the next day.
Early morning the next day he comes back with a helper. One guy crawls back into the hole in the wall and the other guy starts feeding what looks like miles of pipe into the hole. The pipe is PVC and they measure and cut and glue and make a huge mess, but eventually they get it all finished. He still charged $75 an hour plus parts, but at least it was for something more than pumping the water out of a hole in the ground.
Meanwhile, we are still having hours of fun in the bathroom putting the shower all back together. We decided to go with a 3 piece shower wall insert instead of re-tiling. It seemed like it would be much simpler than getting all those tiles back onto the wall. Boy were we sadly mistaken. While shower inserts are a good idea in theory, they are a terrible choice for an old house. A shower insert works well if you have square walls – our house is 60+ year old (in case you forgot) and has nothing resembling anything square (or straight if you are keeping track). Somehow we did finally manage to get those walls to square and level. It took several weeks (we have full-time jobs that really don’t understand when you don’t show up because you have to fix your bathroom), but it is once again functional.
So to answer my original question of how many times can you hit your hand with a hammer before you break your hand? I’m not exactly sure. Both of us managed to keep all our bones in one piece through this whole mess. So I have to say, I can hit my hand at least 20 times with a hammer before I get irritated enough to send the hammer on its merry way sailing high into the sunset. But hitting your hand at least 20 times with a hammer will cause extensive bruising to your hand that will last for at least a week causing others to ask silly questions about your bathroom activities.