I’ve been living at the Liberty House for almost a month now, and like newlyweds just back from a honeymoon all of the rainbows and roses have started fading from our relationship and shit is getting real. Like when I wake up in the morning and instead of bringing be breakfast in bed my house is all, “Morning Sunshine! Hope you didn’t want to take a shower today cause there’s no hot water, and when you get out of bed– Surprise!– it’s only 55 degrees in here! Have a great day!” And then flounces out the door to rack up thousands of dollars worth of charges for designer handbags on my credit card. Except instead of designer handbags we’re talking about miscellaneous boiler parts.
I don’t know if this has to do with the fact that the Liberty House is 150 years old, or if we’re still working out all of the kinks from being improperly winterized, or if it has wicked sense of humor and is just screwing with me. Probably all three. What I do know is that this house has given me more fits in the last month than my other two houses did in the combined seven years I owned them.
Before I moved in there were a few things that I knew had to be taken care of:
- Fixing the broken radiator pipes throughout the house
- Replacing the leaking faucet and shower trim in the kitchen and downstairs bath
- Replacing the element in the hot water heater
- Having the softener and iron filter checked out and installed
That was a fairly manageable list and I was all over those items almost immediately after closing, but instead of giving me a chance to catch my breath, the house has been throwing me a curve ball every few days, just to keep me on my toes. Here’s a little bit of the fun I’ve been having.
#1 Drainage (Or Lack Thereof)
Shortly after I moved into the house I noticed an odd gurgling noise coming from the kitchen sink whenever I would take a shower, which, on those rare occasions when I’m doing laundry and the dishes at the same time, has escalated into a fully backed up sink. It does drain eventually but it’s clearly not happy about it. I am by no means a plumbing expert, but I know enough about the water flow in houses to have guessed that the problem is either caused by:
- A full or backed up septic tank
- A clog in the waste line somewhere beyond the juncture of the sink, laundry, and shower lines
- A blockage in or improperly installed vent stacks
Crossing the first one off the list was easy since I had to pay to have both 1000 gallon septic tanks pumped before I even owned the house (to have the system checked and certified by the county before the title could be transferred.)
Then I spent a little more time under the sink (my favorite place) with a 20 foot drain snake to see if I could address any clogs that might be in the interior lines.
I snaked the drain as far as it would go but still noticed the slow drain, which means I didn’t hit the problem area, if there is one.
Then I considered that something could be clogging the vent (aka “stink stack”) so I headed up to the roof for a little look-see.
Vents are clear as far as I can tell, and yep, that’s still a bigass barn in my back yard. I also found a couple of other disturbing things (see item #4) up there, but nothing to solve the drainage mystery.
So, I feel like I’ve exhausted all reasonable DIY efforts and have called in the big guns to clear out the pipe that runs from the house to the septic tank about 250 feet away. I’m hoping it’s just a couple of tree roots or something blocking the pipe and not anything more serious.
#2 Hot Water
About two weeks after I moved in I got up one morning, turned the water in the shower on, waited a reasonable amount of time for it to heat up, jumped in without testing it, and then basically got in a fist fight with the shower curtain trying to get back out again posthaste. Apparently my capacity for rational thought and/or wrestling with inanimate objects is severely limited when doused with ice-cold water.
I started my investigation to this problem by doing can best be described as “ignorantly poking around in things I don’t understand.” The water was on and running through the tank, but not being heated. It’s an electric tank, so the pilot couldn’t be out. I checked the main electrical panel (nothing was tripped) and then happened to see two separate breakers that looked to be about 80 years old next to the main panel labeled “water heater” that were off. Not tripped, but straight-up in the off position. So I turned them on and voila! Hot water.
The perplexing thing was how they got switched off in the first place… the best I can figure is that when the guys came to install the water softener a week earlier they switched them off for some reason and never switched them back on. The tank must have just held the heat so well (or I shower so infrequently) that it took me a really long time to notice. That, or between the house and the cat, someone is just plain screwing with me… and I wouldn’t put it past either of them.
#3 Electrical Mysteries
For the first week or so that I lived here (and before when I would come by to visit) I would plug my laptop into a certain outlet by the peninsula in the kitchen. One day that outlet stopped working and no breakers were tripped, so I moved my laptop to the kitchen table and continued about my business.
After that I noticed the roofers using one of the exterior outlets on the outside of the laundry-room wall (no word on whether or not it worked for them, but I’m assuming it did) but recently I tried to use that outlet and it didn’t work for me. I’ve now identified 4 outlets between the kitchen and laundry room that either have no power or intermittently have power.
This does not bode well for the house not randomly burning down due to electrical fire, probably. I’m assuming they’re all on one GFI protected circuit that’s on the fritz, but that’s as much thought as I’ve put into it. I’m lamenting the fact that I lost my Chief Electrician back when I lost the Memorial House and have the feeling there will be a lot of Googling of electrical issues in my near future. Or I’m just going to restrict my dating to guys who are best friends with an electrician.
Yes, those are missing shingles on my recently re-shingled roof. I sent this picture to my roofer (who’s about used to smartass texts from me by now) with the note “Something ain’t right…” He agreed and came back to fix the problem, but I’ll be doing periodic spot-checks on the roof now since I’m losing faith in the quality of workmanship.
That’s actually the inside of one of my bathroom walls, where there is clearly no insulation. I’m assuming there used to be some kind of vent here, and now it’s just easy access for birds and bugs to make their way into the house. So I’ll be patching that with spray foam and some kind of metal cover, uh, immediately.
#5 Water Pressure
While I’ve been having a ton of fun “touching” my kitchen faucet on and off ever since I installed this baby I also have been noticing the water pressure to that sink slowly decreasing each day until this weekend when I was left with a poor trickle of water dripping into the basin and decided to do something about it.
I had a sneaking suspicion this could be due to the black residue I keep seeing in the sinks and shower getting caught up in a filter on this fancy faucet. So it was back under the sink for me, to pull apart the solenoid and see what I could find.
Good news is I’ve got way more than seven drips per minute of water coming out of the faucet now. Bad news is that either the softener (which is supposed to act as a filter) isn’t doing its job or the black plague is coming from somewhere in the pipes. Either way I’m going to have to deal with it eventually, or continue to clean the faucet filters every couple of weeks and hope that residue isn’t something toxic.
Having a boiler and baseboard radiators is new for me, and I admit to being less than savvy about how it all works. For the first few days after the pipes were fixed I couldn’t figure out why the kitchen was getting up to temp but the rest of the house was freezing… turns out there are five zones and five thermostats in this house and– ha ha– you have to set all of them to a higher temp if you want it warmer in the whole house.
That bit of brilliance aside, I haven’t had to worry much about heat because it’s been unseasonably warm. Until two days ago when I woke up and the temp in the house was hovering around 55 degrees. Then I knew we had a problem.
I went with the “ignorantly poking around in things I don’t understand” method again, which started by poking a long stick down into the fuel tank to make sure I hadn’t run dry. Everything checked out there so I started poking at things on the boiler, like the big red button on the front of it that wasn’t labeled “self destruct” or anything similarly worrisome.
Turns out that’s a reset button for when a boiler “locks out”. What I’ve learned is that fuel gets injected into the boiler to keep feeding the flame so-to-speak, but if for some reason the flame goes out the unit will automatically lock out to prevent fuel from going everywhere. (Indicated by a little red light on the panel.) This seemed like something I could literally blow up the house poking at, so I called in the professionals, but as it turns out my boiler’s erratic behavior is pretty unheard of– sometimes it will run for 15 minutes, sometimes it will run the whole day– but eventually it will lock out again, with no clear reason why. Other than it’s just messing with me, of course.
So the best thing we can do is to just start replacing parts on the pump and see if one of them fixes the problem, which I have a feeling is going to be just fantastic on my wallet.
I’m not sure if I ever shared this, but if you saw this video with the plague of flies in the garage? Yeah, when I first moved into the house that scene was pretty much repeated in every single window in the house.
It was all very Amityville and I handled it by speaking in my do-not-panic voice at all times, sealing off rooms wherever possible and chasing hundreds of flies around with the shopvac each night. Either that insanity worked or the natural end to their life-cycle came about a week after I moved in, because the flies eventually disappeared. Only to be replaced by hundreds of Japanese beetles. Oh, and ants.
So I still run around like a crazy woman shopvacing things out of the air every night. The cat finds it entertaining. (A beetle literally just divebombed my head as I was writing that sentence. So awesome.) I’m hoping to seal up any exterior cracks when I repaint the wood siding, but the truth is a 150 year old farm house is never going to be air-tight, so I’m going to manage where I can and try to keep a sense of humor about the rest.
People often ask how things are going with the new house, and my standard response is “it’s going”, except it’s more like “just barely keeping up” than really going anywhere. I’ve made a little progress here and there but most of the hours I have to dedicate to working on the house are divided between dealing with the Crisis of the Day and continuing to move sporadic loads of stuff out of the rental house (and, yes, Memorial.) I’ve got my fingers crossed that as the Liberty House and I get to know each other a little better there will be fewer surprises and more time for fun stuff like tearing out walls. If not, we may need to consider couples counseling. (I hear the first year is the hardest.)