July 1, 2006: The Flood
It’s a problem.
What is? You might be wondering.
Well, it’s the basement that’s a problem. I live in the Washington, DC area. You might have heard of the place. Recently, we’ve had a little rain. 13 inches in the last week, to be precise. You might have heard, too, about the National Archives. Here’s a bit of an article from the Washington Post about it.
The chief archivist of the United States of America immediately seized on a single, all-important question when an aide woke him at 1:40 a.m. Monday to report massive flooding at the National Archives. Tens of thousands of gallons of water had gushed in from Constitution Avenue, knocking out transformers that power the building’s lights and air conditioning.
Are the Charters of Freedom safe? Allen Weinstein asked groggily, referring to that venerable trio of documents: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
When he arrived at the building at 6 a.m. Monday, Weinstein said, the first place he checked was the rotunda, to see for himself that it was dry. Then he called the White House to pass along word that the country’s most storied documents were safe and sound.
He got its voice mail and left a message.
I seriously hope George got the message, you know?
But that’s not my problem. My problem is smaller. Appropriate; my house is much smaller than the National Archives. I suspect there are many people in DC right now with these little problems that keep us awake at night.
There are no thousands of gallons of water here. No four or twenty feet of water everywhere, destroying everything. No giant pumps and fans to try to get rid of it before the mildew destroys everything. No hauling away truckloads of waterlogged junk that was once important to someone.
No, I simply had water. There was a lake in my tiny back yard. All of the grass was underwater, the first time I’ve ever seen that. There was a creek in the side yard. I walked through it to get to the shed and a shovel. It was above my ankles and flowing fast. There was water pouring over the overburdened gutters and sheeting down the sides of the house. Water streaming down the dining room window and building up between the panes, eventually coming through. (Note to self: Do not open windows that have this problem, no matter how much you think you want to close the storm window.)
Water streaming further down to the basement window well, building up to a level of about three inches above the bottom of the glass – and, of course, leaking through and running into the basement. That’s the visible stream and the least worrisome. With changes to the gutters (wider downspouts, mostly) and perhaps a small sump pump or other drainage mechanism in the window well, I should be okay.
The worry, though, comes from other areas. The small stream of water coming from the opposite side of the foundation. The pool of water on the basement bathroom floor. And most worrisome of all, the isolated wet spot in the middle of the floor, under the carpet.
The entire basement is finished. Two months ago, I would have said it was finished quite nicely. Berber carpet; light, bright colors on the walls; recessed lighting; cool tile in the bathroom. My brother has lived down there for three years and likes it a lot. Now there’s mud all over the carpets from me running in and outside. There’s an ugly brown stain on some of the berber carpet, stinky mildew smell coming from another area. There’s bits of gunk on the bathroom floor.
And then there was this morning. My brother knocked on my bedroom door and woke me with these words. “There’s a lake in the kitchen.” A… what? “A lake in the kitchen. There’s water all over the place and it’s leaking from the light fixture down into my bedroom.” Oh god.
So from 3:30am to about 5:30am, we were up cleaning. My brother finally found the shut-off valve for the icemaker, which was the problem. A couple weeks ago it started producing endless amounts of ice. Last night, apparently, it decided that wasn’t enough attention and took things one step further. I had looked for the shutoff valve when things first went wrong and couldn’t find it. It was behind a panel. In the basement bathroom shower. Upon which my brother had hung his shaving mirror and razor. I don’t think I ever would have found it. We soaked up all the water on the floors and did our best to help the water drain from the basement ceiling more quickly. It leaked from the light fixture and from the seam between sheets of drywall. It seeped through a hole in the doorframe. It soaked down the wall and created a huge bubble in the paint. It soaked the carpet.
It was daylight and there were birds chirping when I finally went to sleep. My brother slept on the family room couch last night and I slept until almost noon today. The wet in the other room in the basement has not dried yet. It still smells down there.
We’ve had water in the basement before. There was a huge hurricane that came through in 2003, the first in 20 years. Then there was a second one. There have been other torrential rains, each of them “One in a [insert long period of time here].” The rain we had this last week was the worst, the weather people said, since the 1870s. Unusual. Not gonna happen again anytime soon.
Just like the hurricanes and the 21 inch snowfalls and all that other stuff.
It’s time for me to do something about the basement. My mom says I need to have the deck removed from the back of the house (it’s about 8 inches off the ground and constructed so that you can’t see the foundation) and have the drainage in the whole yard redone. My brother says I need to have the window well fixed so that it’ll drain. I think I need to have the entire basement redone. Carpet, walls, and god-only-knows about the foundation.
So I’m thinking, and doing a little worrying. If you’ve read things I’ve written here before, you know that I’m only just starting to come out of the financial nightmare of my divorce. I’m paying the debts I incurred to protect my family, but it’s not a quick-fix thing. I have years of work to do before I’m out of debt again.
So here I am again, facing a tough decision. I’ve built up something of an emergency fund. I was hoping to build it up yet further and then pay off my 401(k) loan in a lump sum. I was also planning to have some other work done on my house, that being having the upstairs carpets pulled up and the floors refinished. (A Christmas gift from my parents, not money of my own that I would be spending.)
Now I’m staring this mess in the face and I’m thinking I need to reprioritize. Forget about paying off the debt any faster and forget about having the floors refinished. Ask Dad to shift the funds to the basement repairs. Have the fridge repaired. Have the downspouts replaced (which will allegedly help with the overflow problem). Get someone in to look at the basement and tell me what it’s going to take to fix it. And then start getting it fixed.
I’ve already done the basic cleanup. I’ve called the guy who repaired my roof (I have a slate roof and the repairs will help my roof last for another 15 years). He’s been out to look at the gutters and I’m expecting a call with an estimate and advice on what to do about that.
Next I’m going to the Sears repair site online and I’m going to have them come out and repair the fridge. In fact, I’ve got that window open now and have scheduled the appointment for Thursday. I also scheduled an appointment for a dryer repair, too, as long as I was there.
And I left a message for the realtor who lives in my neighborhood. He gave me good references for the roofer and the floor refinisher, so I’m hoping he’s got someone good to look at the foundation and the basement and the drainage outside. I’m a little worried that I’m not up to managing a big construction project, though. I was absolutely terrible at managing the small construction project of getting my main floor bathroom redone, and the basement is a whole lot bigger than that.
I’ve felt a bit stalled and overwhelmed today. I didn’t know where to start on the next layer of repair/cleanup/rebuild. But just writing this has helped me make some progress.
I’m worried that the answer about the basement and the drainage is going to be “That’ll be $50,000, ma’am….” I don’t quite know what I’ll do if that’s the answer. My brother said, “You should just move out and not fix this stuff.” Easy for him to say. All he has to do is rent a truck and get his stuff out if he wants to move. For me, even if I did want to move, I’m guessing I’d have to fix this stuff or take the price off of the sale price of the house.
Even so, if I need to have the basement redone, it’s going to mean that my brother has to move out of it. More upheaval and chaos. I’m trying to look at all this as an opportunity. It’s a bit of a challenge at the moment, though I am not completely off-center and panicked about it either. In the back of my mind, a quiet voice keeps saying, “Everything is perfect in every moment.” Which was a tremendously amusing thing to hear while there was water pouring into my basement last Sunday evening, I must admit. It was, indeed, the perfect flood.
Out of all this stress, I’ve gotten some mighty sore muscles from hauling buckets of water, some really exhausted nights of sleep (and not sleep!), and a cold sore. I’m okay, I think, and yet I can feel the layers of okay wearing thin.
This grownup stuff takes a whole lot more energy than being a kid ever did. I think I need a nap.