The joys of home ownership

It’s 1:30AM, and our daughter wakes us up, pounding on the door. We hear a babbling brook, the cheerful sound of a waterfall—wait a moment, we don’t live in a rain forest! We run to the basement to see water rushing over the baseboards, and a lake, already ankle deep. I turn off the main water valve to our house, but it doesn’t stop. We go outside, and there, rising from our lawn, is a huge dome rising up like a grassy pimple, and water gushing at a phenomenal rate from several points on it.


That’s one of those big waist-high garbage cans out there, for scale. My wife tossed it out there in a desperate and futile attempt to bail.

The red glow reflecting from the surface of the lake that is our front lawn isn’t from hellish, apocalyptic fires, although that would have fit our mood—it’s from the three police cars parked outside our house. We’d called the emergency fire/police dispatch when we realized that the water main to our house had broken, and in a small quiet town with nothing much to do, they all show up. We stood around for a while out there in the dark, listening to the happy burble, until a fellow from the city water works showed up to shut it down. It’s a 4 inch pipe, he said. A 4 inch pipe can throw a lot of water.

One of the officers tried to cheer me up. “At least since the break was before the meter, you won’t get charged for the water.”

So…no water for a day or two (I hope we can get it fixed before the weekend), a swimming pool in the basement, unknown major expenses to fix the damn thing, a night of thoroughly disrupted sleep, and a day full of classes tomorrow. I’m going to be cranky for a while.


  1. says

    Sometimes things break your way, sometimes things break against you. But most of the time you get caught in the splash.

    How does the lawn look? After that flooding there’s a strong chance you may have to re-seed or re-sod.

  2. Ichthyic says

    look at the bright side…

    breeding zebrafish in your basement has now become an option.

    what more could one want than a basement full of fish?

    it’s a blessing in disguise, i tells ya.

  3. says

    Apparently, our house is weird — having a 4 inch pipe direct to the home isn’t normal, and most houses around here have 3/4 or 1 inch pipes. This baby delivered about 800 gallons a minute to our lawn when it ruptured. They’re going to bring in some heavy equipment and dig up the lawn to repair it, and the plumber said the lawn is going to be a ripped up, muddy mess.

    This is Minnesota, in the fall. It’s going to freeze solid in about 2 months, so there’s going to be this big dead gouge out there for some time to come.

  4. says

    Like I tell everyone, THERE IS NO GOD. If there were, why would he be wasting his time annoying me with petty tribulations when real monsters stalk His Holy Land?

  5. says

    It’s a test of faith, PZ. Every piece of evidence against God is actually evidence that God planted it to test our faith. My pastor says so, so it must be true.

  6. SEF says

    No, it’s a sign of the coming of the deep ones. They are preparing the way and, naturally, PZ is their chosen one …

    … chosen for what is another matter of course.


  7. says

    And here I’ve been wracking my brain trying to come up with an affordable way to pull off my indoor koi pond project, and all I needed to do was go out to the front yard with a heavy pick…

  8. says

    Ahhh, the joys of home-moanership. Been there, done that – it actually could’ve been worse. Be thankful that it’s just water and not sewage from your septic tank.

  9. Grumpy Physicist says

    that “before the meter” comment is important. I think that means that the water works is responsible for all the damage. IANAL, and getting them to pony up for the damage is another matter, but had the break been on your side of the meter their response would certainly be “your side? your problem!”

  10. robd says

    “no water for two days”
    so you have to drink beer;
    and can swim in the basement.

    Try to see it as the glass half full, not half empty….

  11. mxracer652 says

    GP-Usually the utility co is responsible for the main line, anything from the main line to your dwelling is the owners responsibility no matter where the meter is located.

    Might as well replace the 4″ line with 3/4″ while it’s dug up…

  12. fusilier says

    “You sleep in the house, you live at the hardware store.”

    My Dad told me that 30 years ago when we bought our first house, and he was right.

    OBTW, someone else mentioned “re-seeding or re-sodding?” I’m sure you have a tall grass prairie planted. (Ahh, big bluestem and coneflowers!)

    James 2:24

  13. David Harmon says

    “no water for two days”
    so you have to drink beer;
    and can swim in the basement.

    Try to see it as the glass half full, not half empty….

    I suspect that glass is not about to stay full, nor empty afterwards, for long. Periodic motion, anyone? ;-)

    Last week I found a similar fountain, which had emerged from the aphsalt of a local intersection. I reported it to 311. (My own home is some dozen floors above and a few blocks eastward of the breach.)

    And this is why maintainance budgets are important….

  14. says

    Umm, baseboards? As in finished basement?

    Ah, man. Crossin’ fingers that drywall and studs aren’t much messed up. That’s the part that’d be giving me the stress, I’d think.

    We got an inch or two on the floor briefly a few years ago in a heavy storm, when the sump couldn’t quite keep up, just ran a dehumidifier real hard a while, dried things out, pulled through without having to replace much. Opened one small section of wall up where it was really sodden, to speed drying, seems to have worked out. Here’s hoping; best of luck et al.

  15. Steve LaBonne says

    Ouch- sorry to here about this- good luck. The joys of home ownership indeed; I’ve experienced a few in my time, but none quite this joyful.

  16. Scott Hatfield says

    PZ: I know what you’re going through. You haven’t lived until you’ve had to haul room after room of water-logged carpet on to the street. It should be an Olympic event.


  17. N.Wells says

    My condolences.

    (University students = cheap labor. I’d say hand out a hard exam and then offer them extra credit for hauling stuff out of your basement, but that would be unethical. If you are too cheap to offer $10 / hr, just invest in a keg, and put up a sign advertising a “free beer / bail out a basement party”.)

  18. says

    Apparently, our house is weird — having a 4 inch pipe direct to the home isn’t normal, and most houses around here have 3/4 or 1 inch pipes.

    That IS weird! A 1″ main line packs quite a bit of water pressure (and is, I believe, the new standard – up from a 3/4″ main). It’s a bit surprising there’ve been no problems before now! Holy, Moly! Was the original plumbing contractor a size queen or what? ;-)

    Good luck with the repairs; hope you’re not TOO inconvenienced!

  19. says

    I’m going to be cranky for a while.

    And that’s different how?

    Sitting here in Chrleston with the eunic TS Ernesto bearing down with the ferocity of a drunk field mouse, I can somewhat feel your pain. I’ve had water damage before and I always blame it on the cosmic muffin. Although, we don’t have basements in Charleston so…

  20. says

    I can’t help but be reminded of the time I lived in the 20 story apartment buidling, and the guy on the 15th floor decided to break the sprinkler system pipe.Living directly under him, we got most of the overflow and a pretty pond in our kitchen. We never did get to move back into that apartment, but I must say, the waterfall flowing off the balconies all the way down to the street for a few hours was a very lovely sight.

  21. says

    What a frickin’ nightmare.

    I’ve been in your very shoes this past year, PZ. A one-inch line gave way in my basement. The problem? NO ONE WAS HOME FOR ALMOST SIX HOURS. I know exactly what you mean by “swimming pool in the basement.”

    A pain the in the ass, to be sure. But the city will have to assume expenses for both fixing the mess as well as the damage to your house. And any eyesores/bad furniture you may have had in the basement will now be replaced!

    I know. We’d all much rather not have the damned headache in the first place.

    Good luck. Hang in there.

  22. says

    On the bright side, you could invest in a couple inflatable rafts and stage epic pirate battles on the bounding main in your basement. Seriously, I’m pretty sure the city/water co. is responsible for all damages and repairs. Good luck.

  23. bmurray says

    Like I tell everyone, THERE IS NO GOD. If there were, why would he be wasting his time annoying me with petty tribulations when real monsters stalk His Holy Land?

    Look how he spent quality time with Job! This god lives outside of time and therefore can dally with amusing trivialities, like torturing you, while at the same time smiting the Great Evil in the middle east!

  24. RP says

    I live in a townhouse. I haven’t BTDT, but we’ve had 4 breaks in the main for the 72 unit complex in the last year. In one, 3 of the units in my section gained indoor pools, and I learned of a new business – they have a big truck to vacuum the water out, and a bunch of 20-year-olds with strong backs to haul everything out to the lawn.
    I’ll warn you – the next disaster was a windstorm that pulled the flat roof off the long side of an 8-unit building, and left it draped down the other side. So once you get over this one, check your roof!

  25. Carlie says

    Oh, sure, now I’m worried. I spent last weekend carefully covering over a drainage pipe in my basement – it was the equivalent of a big hole in the ground, and rather than deal with putting in a nice floor drain I just covered it over with plywood and silicone caulk for now (we recently discovered that the mice like to use it as an entry point). I plan to eventually put in an actual drain there, but thought this was a good stopgap, especially since we’ve never had water problems. Now I’m rethinking.

  26. Dr John Pexton says

    PZ sorry to hear about that mate. Sound bad, hopefully things should be back to normal asap for you and your family!

  27. says

    Can’t you get a sliver lining out of this by adding some sea salt and making a home for some cephalopods that might need it?

  28. Ulyanov says

    So the genius scientist, who didn’t even have adequate drainage in his basement (there ARE contingenices for this, you know,) wants to tell us all how to live with pronouncements on politics and religion and every other subject that science is not even capable of saying anything about.


  29. says

    I thought y’all called them “indoor pools”.

    Well yeah. Duh. I’m hoping not to have a pool when I get home.

    I think I smell a troll right near me…..yeah real close by.

  30. says

    You apartment dwellers shouldn’t be so smug. A couple of years ago, a water main broke during a good, hard freeze, uphill from the apartment I was living in. So, in short order, we had no water, no heat, no electricity, and a basement full of water. My sympathies.

    Not that that’s going to keep me from some wisecrackin’ while I’m here….

    Fox1: That wouldn’t happen to be a lost connection just after you started digging for the pipe, would it? ;)

    fusilier: I’m with you. My Grandpa was a UM horticulturalist, and now lies scattered across the prairie in the UM Arboretum. Go prairie!

    OB: I think you’re misunderstanding the pressure/volume relationship? A 3/4″ line will pass just as much pressure as a 4″, but a lesser volume. (OK, there’s a minor pressure drop from the interaction with pipe walls at high flow rates, but you should never be getting that much flow where it matters, or you need a bigger pipe anyway.)

    You know, we are flying a pirate flag — maybe the house had aspirations.

    I’m very much thinking of Monty Python’s Meaning of Life “short feature” now. :D

  31. George Cauldron says

    So the genius scientist, who didn’t even have adequate drainage in his basement (there ARE contingenices for this, you know,) wants to tell us all how to live with pronouncements on politics and religion and every other subject that science is not even capable of saying anything about.

    Feel better now? Medication working?


  32. says

    I think I smell a troll right near me…..yeah real close by.

    Is that what that is? I thought that was the sodden-basement smell. Ewww….

  33. says

    I’m astounded. Ulyanov must have a drain or sump pump installed in his basement that can cope with an influx of 800 gallons per minute — anything less would make him an idiot.

    After I’ve fixed that, I’m planning to install mortars on the roof, so I can fight off the moon man invasion. Gotta be prepared.

  34. RCP says

    Moon men, PZ? Now thats just silly. Everyone knows the real threat comes from the mole people.

  35. George says

    This just happened where I live, but on a much smaller scale. Just a puddle, really. God regards PZ is a huge pain in the ass, I’m small potatoes.

  36. FishyFred says

    Wow. Major suckage. I also had my sleepd disrupted this morning. Somebody pulled the fire alarm in my dorm at 6:30 AM. It is ALWAYS a false alarm. It’s a major problem on this side of campus. Last year, there were 20 false alarms in the first semester alone. It’s usually stupid kids on a dare or fraternity hazing/initiation. It’s gotten so bad that the university put a zero-tolerance policy on it. If you get caught, you get kicked out.

  37. FishyFred says

    P.S. I would hate to be living in this dorm when there is a real fire emergency and dozens of students die because they are sick of getting out of bed for the fire alarms. It’s inevitable.

  38. quork says

    Clearly, this is a miracle! I was reading about water spouting from a tree just a couple weeks ago…

    You could charge people admission to see this, and sell vials of Holy Water from the miraculous spring.

    and water gushing at a phenomenal rate from several points on it.

    Say, was the water coming out at three points? I don’t know how you can experience clear signs of God like this and still not see the light…

  39. snarkitron3k says

    Don’t know how your state handles liability for these things. In general flood insurance would cover damages, your homeowner’s insurance won’t, since the water came from an outside source (as opposed to a pipe in the house breaking). It will be a long and arduous journey trying to get the utility to cover more than a pittance.

  40. Chris says

    RCP: Not any more. If you think PZ had a bad day, imagine what that 800 gallons per minute looked like from the mole people tunnels.

    Now how do you clean up tunnels full of drowned mole people?

  41. says

    FishyFred: Kinda like terror alerts that way, huh? Except they’re probably more timed to the school and holiday cycles, rather than the election cycles.

  42. Ichthyic says

    You know, we are flying a pirate flag — maybe the house had aspirations.

    long live the Crimson Permanent Assurance Company!

    do you have your file cabinets and ceiling fan blades prepared yet, PZ?

  43. SEF says

    It’s fun to charter an accountant …

    But what’s the biologist-atheist-pirate house version? Hmm… There are music styles called “house” and “garage”. So perhaps a remix is in order.

  44. Jim in Chicago says

    Man oh Man…

    I can commiserate with you PZ. Been there done that more times than I can remember.

    When I was a kid we lived in a “tract house”/development/sub-division. I was the eldest. I got my own room when the basement was finished. I was about 8. Woke up to the sound of running water and stepped into 4 inches of water. It scared the hell out of me.

    We lived in a 100 year old farm house after the tract house debacle for years and it was always dry as a bone. I could never figure that one out. Hydrology, go figure.

    I got married. We bought a house. Somewhere along the line someone forgot to tell us that these “winterized” bungalows were built on a “reclaimed” pond. The dolt who owned the place had started to put a basement where previously a slab had been. Come spring we wound up with one wicked flood, up to my waist it was. Wetlands don’t like being “reclaimed”. They get even.

    We moved to Massachusetts and lived in a house with a fieldstone foundation. It was more field than stone. The cats loved the mice. Whenever it rained in the spring we had a stream running through the basement.

    We settled out here in the wild western suburbs of Chicago to a house with a basement about 5 or so inches too deep. It took 3 small sump pump failures to realize why battery backups are a good thing and why I was correct to assume that the funny line on the concrete meant something ominous.

    A couple of years after that we had a water main break. Luckily it was a neighbor’s water main 3 doors down. It looked like river. Luckily for us we were uphill and the river ran the other way.

    I hates me a wet basement. I can empathize with you completely. I’ve got plastic bins for “stuff’ to prove it. Folks joke about my “curse”. If a house is going to be “damp” I’ll find it.

  45. Paula Helm Murray says

    It helps to have perspective.

    At least it was clean water from the incoming service. In 2004 we had the house-to-main on our 1912 house collapse completely (we’d had problems andit turned out to be the original Orangeburg tile drains…) and we had Lake Poohbegone in our basement for over a week–it would have been sooner but it snowed really heavily the day they had intended to bring in the backhoe on the trailer, too much to feel safe driving the thing. We begged showers at various friends’ houses and Margene’s mom’s apartment, and made a concerted effort to do other things elsewhere (great way to find out where public, 24-hour restrooms are, like QuikTrip and our local City Market….).

    We did also learn that the middle room of our basement is rather deeper than the rest of the basement, because the ucky water did not hit: 1) anywhere else in the basement, 2) furnace and water heaters are up on stubs that kept their feet dry and 3) everything we had stored down there was up around the edges and kept dry too.

    The plumber’s guys also conscientiously turned off a light switch that went to a 50-year-old freezer that held the bulk of our meat supply, a problem we did not realize until a couple of days later. The compressor did not restart, we all helped pack the trash bags of carrion and Jim gets the “he’s the man” prize for dragging it all to the curb, about a month before they started charging for more than two bags of trash at a time. (Recycled materials are picked up free…)

    We still need to repair the drive but it’s usable, just packed gravel in the middle (attempts to contract repair got bids 10% to 50% higher than the sewer repairs cost, dammit).

    Best of luck on the repairs/getting stuff out o”the basement. It’s a hard row to hoe.

  46. Paula Helm Murray says

    And the master plumber/manger gave us A $400-500 discount for the freezer (on an $8000+job), he’d made the same mistake when he first started his career and always felt bad about it.

  47. jaimito says

    (1) The problem was in the municipal water supply system, so they are responsible for the damage. I happen to know a person who, in a similar case, claimed compensation for his invaluable antique books collection, including a set of Humboldt’s original works, that were transformed into unrecognizable used toilet paper. You may not be fully compensated because you had no foundation drainage nor automatic pump.

  48. jaimito says

    (2) Dont sign any release document, because your mold problems are just beginning. There is not enough time for the basement and the foundations to dry out. On the other hand, next spring you may be able to cook fresh calamari alla fungi.

  49. Jim in Chicago says

    We do have a drain and a pump. That volume of water, though, is not going to be handled by any reasonable house design.

    Sadly I missed the part about the 4″ main which my plumber never heard of. My water problems were chicken feed compared to what you have.

    To keep up with the volume of water that you’re dealing with you’d have to have a military surplus bilge pump off of an old destroyer.

    Good Luck.

  50. SEF says

    They had a basement flood in a Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode. Inevitably it ended up being used for demon disposal. Associating wildly, could Skatje have slayer potential?! :-D

  51. says

    What a drag about the water. I’ve had it happen a couple of times in different houses – not mains but natural streams from poor drainage and rain or from being too close to a submerged and diverted stream. I always think “Add goldfish!”

    When it comes to cleanup time, you can rent industrial-strength wet/dry vacuums — a God-send.

    You could add alligators and put up signs that say, “We feed every third creationist to the ‘gators. The second one just left.”

    Talk to someone about preserving/recovering. Books can be frozen and vacuum-dried. (I wish I’d known that when a plumber managed to jar loose a kitchen pipe so it sprinkled on my favourite books, which were stored in the driest part of the basement.) I now pack the books in plastic bags inside boxes so I’ll only lose the boxes.

    And can spritzing the drywall with bleach solution or fungicide prevent mold from taking over? Is there a way to blow hot air around behind the walls? Do some consulting, quick! Your local Disaster Recovery Cleanup firms would be a good place to start. They’re the ones that clean up for the insurance companies, generally. If you called the insurance company and told them you want to minimize the damage, they might be helpful as well in sending you some help before the mold sets in.

    Good luck! All I had to do on the 31st was drive 100 miles to install a new microwave oven for my dad, then drive back again and go to a job interview this morning.

  52. says

    From PZ:

    Like I tell everyone, THERE IS NO GOD. If there were, why would he be wasting his time annoying me with petty tribulations when real monsters stalk His Holy Land?

    Your reactions are more amusing.

    (Anyone who thinks that God is always kind and gentle and loving has never had a cat.)

  53. Seal Frank says

    Ddn’t hv cl bt tht tht ntl I’v rd ths pst. Vry ntrstng ndd. Cn I cntct y fr mr dtls? ——– Y mght thnk I’m crzy bt I lv < hrf="">ktchn clng fns.