Water Water Everywhere.... And no good thought to think.

When it comes to home ownership, here is my truth to tell: excess water, flooding, plumbing problems, poorly graded property lots, foundation problems (usually brought on by water.... or the lack thereof), and issues with homes being inconveniently positioned on hillside lots make for interesting stories, small savings accounts, and an overall feeling of being cursed. Water problems have followed me for decades. I'm not sure when the curse started, but it rears it's ugly head on the regular. This year is no exception. 

The 2023 flood story....

Here's a story of why I had to put my life on hold and was required to remodel the kitchen in a duplex rental unit WHILE the tenants were (and still are) living there (good times... good times...).

Our tenant's calls started at 6 am the morning of April 4. The new fridge was making a horrible loud noise. I could barely hear the tenant on the phone over the noise. Ken and I thought we diagnosed the issue over the phone - either the ice maker pump or auger. Our tenant tried to find a shut-off on the fridge waterline after we directed her, but she couldn't find one. She was late for work, & luckily (hindsight) refused to touch the water pipes. I headed over there after calling the warranty company & scheduling a service call. I needed to get the noise to stop.

When I arrived, I made a video of the noise, pinpointed the area where it was coming from, but turning off the ice maker did not stop the noise. Thinking it was a faulty pump, I tried to turn off the water supply.

I stuck my head under the sink, and realized there was no t-valve for water shut-off on the flex line itself (installer forgot?). This duplex has decades of patchwork plumbing fixes that are old & make no sense anymore (hindsight). When I look in the dark cabinet, I find only 1 T-Valve on the main water supply line for the kitchen sink. I learned the hard way how to identify a 1970's crappy T-pin valve some idiot installed UNDER the water shut-off to the kitchen sink (so there was no way to shut the water off! (hindsight)). The other shut-off valves were not turning correctly. They felt weird. Turning others didn't work so I turned that little "valve". Big mistake!

Of course, I discovered all this AFTER the flood. The janky "T-Valve" was more "T" than a working valve. It was dark under the cabinet, so I took a picture. Any fool would see in the photo that whatever it is, the thing connected low on the pipe, and it does not have a flex line hooked up to it. DON'T FUCKING TURN IT! Did I not look at photo after taking it? I don't know. I had already unsuccessfully tried to turn the water off. I assumed my attempts were unsuccessful because the noise in the fridge did not stop. WTF? 

You can guess what came next. The pin valve broke off, shot across the room with such force from the water pressure it could have shot my eye out (or worse)! Of course, I realized AFTER I turned the wrong knob that the sink water supply shut-off was useless since the hole was under it!

My drenched self is blinded by the water hitting my face & glasses. Stunned & confused, the fridge still screaming with it's problem, I try to keep turning knobs again for some inexplicable reason. When that didn't work, I wasn't sure what to do.... Stick my finger in the hole? Find a bowl to catch a rushing river's worth of high pressured water? WTF was I thinking? Why did I get out of bed this morning!? Why did I touch any pipes? I had already requested an extended warranty repair before I got there. I am not a repair person! I don't even play one on TV! And despite my short hair, I am not The-Fucking-Little-Dutch-Boy! No "finger-in-the-dyke" action is going to save this error in judgement. 

For a brief second, while trying to catch the water, I have a moment of clarity and think.... If I wasn't so traumatized and panicked, this would make a great scene in a sit-com. It had a "Lucy and Ethel" kind of vibe, for sure. But that thought left my brain as fast as it flashed in it and my anxiety kicked in.

In a hyperventilating- screaming-crying-cussing-panic-attack, I get my head out of the kitchen cabinet and try to get off my knees as the shooting water is still hitting me. I finally get to my feet and I turned to look around at the mess I created. I then cry out in my "out-of-my-f'ing-mind" despairing wail, "it's all ruined!"  As I am sobbing, cussing, hyperventilating, and trying to think of my next move to stop this flood, I then realize I'm losing my baggy saturated jeans. They are so heavy, they want to give in to gravity and fall down around my ankles. I can't walk without holding them up. So, I hold them to my waist with my right hand while grabbing my wet phone out of the drenched pocket of my jeans with my left hand. My hands are full and I need to navigate the common stairwell between the two units of the duplex that is precarious and steep on a dry day. Now resembling a waterfall, I try to concentrate on my feet and getting down to the garage below safely....Or safely-ish. I dial Ken before taking my first step down the stairs. I need help, and also he can call 911 if I fall. I didn't want to add headlines to this horrible day that were read by the local TV news-reader, "fat, gray-haired, old lady slips and breaks her neck while trying to run down badly planned and poorly executed staircase/waterfall in search of the main water shut-off.... Film at 11". I also did not want, "DIY gone wrong" added to my death certificate. 

As the phone rang trying to connect to Ken, I stomped carefully down the stairs in my drenched panicked state. Luckily I caught him between meetings at work and he answered the phone. But by that time I was in the garage and had turned all the knobs I could find... None shut off the water.  Of course, what he heard on his end of the line was panicked, unintelligible, screaming vulgarity that was so loud his phone was canceling the noise. The noise canceled was me screaming..... "where is the fucking main water shut-off to this mother-fucking awkward-ass Duplex? The B side.... Where is it? Where is the mother-fucking water key!? The water key? Why is there no fucking water key to turn off all the water at the street?" 

Ken's phone was only picking up bits and pieces of my screaming at full volume so he kept asking...." What? Key? What's a key? What's wrong? What's happening? Water? Where is water? "

The more he couldn't hear my panicked screaming, the louder I would scream in anger, frustration, and.... Oh yeah, PANIC! 

He finally told me where he thought the turn off was inside the garage where I was, but he wasn't sure. And he agreed with my assessment that THERE WAS NO MOTHER FUCKING METER WATER KEY IN THE ENTIRE DUPLEX! Nice! 

As the water poured through the kitchen and connected living room sub-floor into the garage/basement where I was standing, (I still couldn't find the correct shut-off valve although I turned every other knob in the ceiling), I still have him on the phone. I'm sobbing, apologizing, but finally speaking at a volume that he can understand my attempt at words and coherent sentences. He knows I need help quickly, but he's 30 minutes away. Through my tears I realize I can't see through my glasses anymore. The water and tear drops made them impossible to see through. My phone is still in my left hand and not thinking I grabbed my glasses with my right hand and BAM!!!.... my saturated pants fell to the ground around my ankles..... in our tenants' garage! Luckily they didn't have cameras inside the house, or they would have had YouTube gold. The wet pants around my ankles in the tenants' garage while still in a panic call to Ken on the phone confirmed the "Lucy and Ethel" vibe. But the humor was not felt in these moments.

By this time I'm standing in my undies, crying, and still glued to my phone. I tell Ken I need the use of my hand now to pull up my pants and I head outside and find help. I told him I remembered a few construction workers across the street building a porch for a neighbor. I hang up, pull up my pants, hold them tighter with my right hand and open the garage door. I'm still sobbing and panicked, but at least my ass is covered. 

I head down the driveway and cross the street and begged the nice guys for help. They saw and felt my "panicked-old-lady" energy and moved swiftly. I was thanking them through my sobs and shortness of breath.... In the middle of the street. The lead construction guy was very calm, asked me about the situation, and tried to comfort me. He wrapped an arm around me, led me out of the street and on to the driveway. I told them what I knew and how the duplex was arranged. I showed them the unlabeled water meters but I didn't know which was the B side. The tenant in the A side was out of town (thankfully missing the scene) so they were trying to find a tool to shut off both meters. The lead guy ran to the garage and he also could not find the shut-off in the garage ceiling.

As I paced the driveway, sobbed, and panicked (still holding up my pants) I was talking to the main carpenter who was still trying to calm me (saying... It's only water. Water can be fixed. It's not fire. Calm down, it's going to be OK. You did all you could do. I don't want you to have a heart attack. Stay calm.....) I lifted my head and was distracted by a white pick-up truck driving up the street almost to our driveway. I recognized the logo on the door - Harpeth Valley Utilities. What? How did he know? What the what? 

Still sobbing (panic didn't really end for an hour and the shame is with me still) I flagged him down. He stopped the truck, and I incoherently told him the issue. The lead carpenter took over the explanation. The Harpeth Utilities worker was also concerned I was having a stroke. He too asked me to sit down, calm down, and reassured me it was going to be OK. The lead carpenter shared what he figured out, and the HVU worker got his meter key and headed to the meter. After lifting the lid, he realized the meter was buried beneath several inches of mud. He said, "Don't worry! Stay calm! But I can't shut off the water until I dig out the meter. I'm going to the truck to find a shovel. " 

Good. Gawd. Gerdy. 

He uncovered the meter quickly and thankfully shut off the water. 

The water continued to rain into the garage until the plumbing system was drained. Finally, the drips slowed down, but didn't stop until much later. 

The HVU worker came into the garage to find the missing interior shut-off. It was just at the end of the raised garage door. I couldn't believe I missed it. He said, "this valve is really old and corroded. It's been leaking. I bet it doesn't work." 

He adds, "this is a garden hose type turning valve and not meant as a water shut-off valve for many years. You need a sturdy 1/4 turn lever valve here. A label would be helpful too." 

After calling a plumbing company for an emergency repair of the kitchen sink water supply pipe and valve, the plumber looked at the suspicious main shut-off valve in the garage after repairing upstairs sink supply line (the main water supply at the street was still shut-off allowing the plumbers to fix the broken pipe). After spotting the garage shut-off valve, he turned the knob attempting to shut the water off again by using this valve. He turned it multiple times and his partner was able to turn on the sink faucet and water flowed at full pressure. So, the HVU guy (wish I got his name!) was correct! The old valve DID NOT WORK! Even if I found the damn valve, it would never have shut off the water! And I still didn't have a meter key to turn it off at the street! 

Ken arrived on the scene after running out of work and driving like a bat out of hell. Just prior to his arrival, our long time handy man rushed from another job to help. I was still a mess and everyone was trying to console me. All agreed that the janky valve could have blown at any time. And Ken tried to reassure me. It is true the situation was bad, but it could have been much worse. True words, but I wasn't feeling any solace. 

The water saturated the sub-floor and rained into the garage. Ken quickly called the insurance company and the clean up crew arrived in 4 hours.

We offered the our tenants a hotel stay, but they wanted to remain home. It was precarious, loud, hot, and they have a child! But they didn't want to leave. The worry about their safety continued until we were able to stabilize and dry the place. 

The cleaning crew had dehumidifiers and floor fans everywhere. The sound was deafening. They blow 95 degree air so the wet surfaces dry out quickly. That lasted a week or more.

All the lower cabinets had to come out. Counter, gone... Kitchen sink, gone (luckily they got the tenants a temp sink). They had to cut into the living room and hall particle board(the 1970's was a horrible time for home building). And then, under the Pergo they found 5 layers of rolled vinyl. A few containing asbestos.... Because, of course it does. So there was an asbestos abatement required. Luckily that was pretty painless. However, the sub-floor left behind was so thin, it cracked in places & patch-worked. I thought it was 1/4" but the cleaners said, it's 3/8". OK. Apparently that too was a favorite of the 1970's. The asbestos removal company warned me there would be exposed and loose nails. They were not kidding. I got there before the tenants arrived home, thankfully. My shoes were sticking to the exposed nails. No way could they live here! It's dangerous! Luckily the cleaning crew came in and got it taken care of... Sort of. But the flimsy sub-floor worried me every damn night until we could get it fortified. We didn't need anyone hurt on top of this.

Sean, my contractor friend, said he could help, but got too busy and kept putting me off. We needed additional subfloor quickly. I needed direction on cabinets. His wife, a designer, came quickly to measure, then just never helped after that. So.... I was concerned. The tenants can't live like this! The final nail was Sean was supposed to get the sub-floor fixed on a determined date, but texted me late on the afternoon before he was set to arrive that he wouldn't be there until Monday.

So, I remembered on Friday morning that I got a card from the sweet contractor who helped me in the flood. I called him, met him over there on Friday, and the sub-floor was installed in 2 hours on Saturday for $600. He did a great job, so I asked him to quote the rest of the job.

The flooring we ordered at Lowe's was delayed a week, then several days after that, because of course it was.

We hired the best plumber I have ever met. Given my water history and collection of plumbing contacts, that is saying something. D fix the plumbing infrastructure of the whole place. It was quite an undertaking. 

The nice contractor who helped me on the day of the flood worked hard and I joined the effort doing what I could. I'm happy to say, we finished the final punch list on May 31. 8 weeks of me working 7 days a week, 12 hours a day on most days. I am still trying to recover. But now, the fight continues with the insurance company. Fun, fun.

Needless to say I spent many days beating myself up for my stupidity and losing sleep under the weight of the crushing guilt. These tenants are long-term and they take care of the place.  They spent 8 weeks carefully living with no kitchen, but they did have appliances that were almost mobile since they moved so frequently. They quickly were walking on a better sub-floor, but as with all construction projects, there were several delays. But I worked hard to push the project along. 

What a mess I made! Ken and the tenants reminded me daily that we are all lucky that I was the one it happened to, because that flimsy valve could have blown at anytime and the tenants would not have known what to do. The whole place could have been destroyed if I wasn't there. This is true, but..... 

I'm just relieved it's done. We've blown through a crap-load of money. We still have outstanding bills to pay. Thankfully insurance is helping, but not enough. But it's something. 

By the way, there are now 2 different types of water shut-off keys hanging in each side of the duplex. And all new shut-offs, and the water keys, are labeled for all to see. Oh, and I replaced all smoke/CO alarms in both sides, and installed 4 5 lb fire extinguishers - 2 upstairs and 2 downstairs.  With the exception of the B side that will need to be updated this fall (after our tenant moves back to Texas), this place is now much better than it was before the flood. I'm tired, but I did find a silver lining.

That is all. 
Carry on. 


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