Challenger Logo by Alan White   A Science Fiction Fanzine   Winter 2004/5

Sheryl Birkhead

For those of you who have been following the exploits of my new home ownership- let me bring you closer to being up-to-date. At last visit, the new Honda lawnmower was successfully mowing the lawn and inflicting only minor injuries--the same is still true. The basement was having, to put it delicately, water difficulties--and I’ll let you be the judge on that status. The newest problem (put in here just to tantalize and let you know there will be a future installment!) is the gradual disappearance of the front yard...poof!

As you may recall, I moved to a new home (new to me) from the farm where I grew up. I never knew houses actually required care-since we never did anything to the farmhouse (which may have had something to do with its being demolished, but I digress)-other than periodically paint the tin roof with aluminum/asbestos paint. I thought gutters were supposed to grow herbage. So, for almost three years I went on a honeymoon with the house- figuring that unless it was actively burning or leaking, it was doing just fine. In the summer of 2003--the monsoon season---I spotted a gray pyramidal outline on the cinderblock wall in the basement and figured this was not good. Eventually I had numerous companies come through and take a look to tell me that, while the basement wasn’t actually leaking (the water that flowed in under the basement door didn’t count) there was most assuredly a problem in there somewhere. Estimates went from $54,000---to dig out the whole house (tearing up the yard etc) one wall at a time and waterproof it--to $0 (from a friend of a friend who counseled that I just sit and wait to see what would happen).

Eventually I went with a company, Mid-Atlantic Waterproofing, whose estimate started out at $18,500 to dig a trench around the whole basement floor and put in what I later called french drains- thank you Google---but would not redo the nifty Italian tiles. They finally came down to a hair under $5,000 to do the same thing along only the wall where the ominous gray shadow had been spotted. As you might expect, there was a catch. Pay attention- this becomes important later! In order to get this super low price, I would have to accept the use of a commercial crew---at whatever date they would be available. Hmm.... and wouldn’t you know--they just happened to have had a cancellation for late January 2004. Okay, that was only 5 months away...I could handle that.

I believe it was September--I have purposefully forgotten the date--that the forecast came in for a hurricane. This little lady was to be called Isabel and would be my first big storm in the new house. The farm had been located at the top of a rise, with the bankbarn even higher than the house, which meant that high winds were our primary concern there...and I figured that would hold true at the new place.

As the locals are wont to do, everyone panicked and laid in a month’s supply of bread, milk, toilet paper, and videos. Me? I just made sure the flashlights had batteries and settled in to enjoy the gray majesty of a full And enjoy the sound and fury I did. It was a wonder-full experience. The air cooled right down and the terrific rumbling was a great background for sleeping.

During the night, the electricity went out--but hey, I was prepared!

The next day dawned clear and bright. Up at 7, I took a stroll around the yard and was mighty proud of myself--only minor leaves and branches down. I did get a call from the guy who had come over to do a long list of assorted jobs (such as caulking- I was tired of decorating the walls with the stuff and wanted it done right) to check and see if I had come through the storm alright. I assured him that, proudly, everything was just fine!

And then I found out the truth.

Although I really didn’t have any reason to, I figured I ought to go down and check out the basement. I’d never actually had a basement before and maybe I should see if things were okay....

You have probably already guessed it, thngs were not okay. Just around the corner and out of sight from the top of the stairs, the water was up to the second step of the nice basement stairway. This is actually a two-story home, but the first story happens to be underground...with wide wooden stairs, fieldstone and slate landing leading into the family room with fireplace, and sauna-then into the office and finally the workroom and laundry area.

Uh oh--this did not look right.

I kicked off my shoes and went wading...all the way to the back door by the laundry room. Yup. definitely water alright.

I called Mr. Handyman back, rather panicky, and asked if he had any suggestions. Other than a generator...nope. Sigh. I called a few other friends--all of whom were extremely helpful in telling me I needed a sump pump. Ha- I was prepared for that one-I actually knew what a sump pump was and that I had two (count ‘em TWO) of those suckers neatly drowning in their hole---there was no friggin’ electricity. Okay- how about a generator? No, fresh out of those and even if I wanted one there would not be one available for another six months since everyone else had the same idea.

Uh, if Isabel had had the courtesy to wait until after the end of January to drop in- my handy dandy basement construction came with a battery back up system-I would have been spared all this anguish. What to do...what to do....?

Okay- no time to keep thinking about this--grab two of those big buckets (5-6 gallons?) and start filling them up...and climb up the stairs from the basement and dump it down the side hill. Oh yeah, this is going to be a LOT of fun. You must also remember that the house has wall electric outlets about a foot off the floor and at this point the water was just about licking at them. Since I know enough about electricity to know I did not want water flowing into the outlets, especially while I was traipsing around more than ankle-deep in that same water. I simply pulled the breaker for the whole house--just in case the current came on while I was bailing.

I was not a happy camper...and those water filled buckets were heavy.

After a dozen trips up and down the stairs, it was painfully (literally) obvious to me that I would not win the race to keep the water level below the electric outlet. Think...think!

If you ask me what is the one thing that has been the most useful to me since moving into this house, it would be, no hesitation, knowing how to create a siphon. I ran splashed out to the tool shed and dragged up a garden hose. Question: how far will water run uphill?

I actually stopped long enough to give that some serious thought--did I know the height of my water column...its diameter...what high would... No- forget this and just try something-anything! Remember, as I said- this house is downhill-so while the rain had stopped, I was actively getting the runoff from a dozen other houses above me and it was not going to get better until I got the water out, the electricity came back on, or I drowned .

Okay--I know water will not magically (at least not in this world) flow out of this bucket in the basement... then exactly how far up the steps can I move the filled bucket and get the siphon going...? There must be a formula out there somewhere. The water is rising and the clock is ticking. Forget trying to calculate you idiot--just do something.

Twenty minutes later, I had the answer--if a full bucket of water was placed on the second step from the top and a primed garden hose, draped over the railing, shoved into it, the water would actually flow down the hill at the rate of one bucket a minute. That meant that if I tired and slowed down, I would lose the siphon and have to start all over again. Man, I almost knocked myself out at least a handful of times trying to get the suction back. I learned it would be best to keep that suction going at any cost!

Right- plan in place- now start hauling. And haul I did- from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.--with no planned stops at the rate of two buckets, dump one into the reservoir bucket - rest 30 seconds and dump two, then back to re-fill. It began to rain again. I tried to carry an umbrella along with the buckets and gave up--after all, I was already soaked, what did it matter?

At 7 p.m. I had to accept the fact that I simply could not keep this assembly line going any longer. By looking at the soak marks on the wall, I could tell that, while staying ahead of any rise, I was definitely not actually lowering the level much. It as getting dark. I gave up. What else was there for me to do? As it was, I figured I would not be able to move the next day-- let things just fall apart- I was too tired (and wet and cold and...) to care.

But, hope springs eternal. I went back to the breaker panel and made an executive decision. The individual circuits were labeled--okay, how about making a compromise and activating the ones that were labeled sump pump and leave the others off? That way, so my logic went, when the current came back on, the pumps would kick in. I was devoutly hoping that the lower outlets (the ones for the sump pumps are three feet off the floor) would truly be dead (if not, then, potentially, I would be)---please, if I was wrong, I don’t want to know.

I, very slowly, hobbled upstairs and collapsed. An hour later I looked out the window and saw lights back on in the neighboring houses. Uh oh, this does not sound good--there was no deep purr telling me the the sump pumps were doing their thing. Well, I thought, maybe I just can’t hear them. Unfortunately, when I got back down the steps, the water level was the same. Sigh- what to do? In all honesty, I did think about potentially being electrocuted if I stepped into the water, but at that point I was simply too tired to care. I did....and nothing happened.

As soon as I hit the main circuit breaker, the sumps roared to life--what a glorious sound-hallelujah. The previous owner had mislabeled the circuits. I felt so very insignificant when, ten minutes later, all the water was gone. All that work....


Postscript- the company came in January and put in the drain and their system. Petrified that the same problem might somehow develop in the future, I paid to have another back-up system installed for the existing system. The mess they made and the ensuing “discussion” with the Better Business Bureau will wait for another day. For a month, the basement was dry. Then the day came when the basement flooded again- but from an entirely unexpected source--read about it in future episodes!


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