Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Rain In The Middle Of The Night

It has been raining constantly since yesterday afternoon- about 15 hours now, at varying rates. An hour of light rain and then 20 minutes of torrential downfall. Rinse and Repeat. Even now, when it rains in the middle of the night, I wake up suddenly with fear and concern before remembering that all is alright and fall back to sleep. Allow me to explain.

We moved in to our new home in the spring of 2003, and prior to that created a “punch-list” of the things that needed fixing by the builder before work was complete. There were the standard things like patches of drywall that needed to be smoothed and painted, the odd closet door that didn’t close right, and many other small fixes. For the most part, the builder and his team did a good job getting these things done in a timely manner (measured in “home builder time” - one human year equals 1 day for a builder). Except for one HUGE problem.

Our back patio, with a 4 foot retaining wall on three sides, floods every time it rains. The patio was designed to have a slight slope towards the back and 3 drains were installed into the brick retaining wall that allows the water that falls from the deck above, and from the 3 gutters running from the roof, to gently drain out into the yard. Interesting plan…but it didn’t work.

The first storm we had after moving in- more than a month later- turned our patio into a lake. The drains didn’t do a darn thing. The water just rose and rose, and finally when it reached the door jam of the 3 doors that open to the patio I took action. It was in the afternoon, and I rushed to Home Depot. I bought a sump pump, plugged it in, hooked up the drain hose and plopped it right in the middle of our patio. Within an hour the lake had become a pond, and the wood floors on the basement level were saved. Thus began a 2 ½ year epoch that we called "the great flood years".

I soon graduated to two pumps, and then upgraded both pumps to the ones that automatically turn on and off. On many occasions storms arrived in the middle of the night, and I awoke with a start, threw on shorts and grabbed rain boots and umbrella, and stood in the pouring rain setting up the pumps, plugging them in, and muttering a half-awake prayer to God to keep me from getting electrocuted or badly shocked. If I fell down unconscious I would surely drown on the flooded patio. If I did, Michelle would be really bummed when she got up in the morning. The wood floors would probably be ruined.

All this time we are arguing with the builder (I will call him Mr. B from now on) to get this fixed. His solution was to dig two trenches through our backyard out to our creek (about 100 feet away), connect them to two of the drains on the backside of the retaining wall, and allow gravity to drain the water out to the creek. Great idea. He just never got around to doing it. I would call him and leave a voice mail (I stopped trying to E-mail him since his AOL account reported back that his inbox was over capacity…for two years!), and he would call me right back (about 2 weeks later…in builder's time that is 8 hours later) when I wasn’t home. On occasion when we did talk, he said he couldn’t get the work done because it recently rained and the equipment would damage the yard, or the crew he used was busy on a job on the other side of the county, or whatever. This went on for years. By the summer of 2005 I gave up. I stopped calling him, and he stopped calling me.

Leverage is a BEAUTIFUL Thing

The story is not over. There are two very important things to understand before I conclude. When we moved in to our home Mr. B left his Yamaha 9’ Grand Player Piano (worth about $40k) in one of our first floor rooms that came to be known as the Piano room. Mr. B wanted to store it here because it added a nice touch when prospective home buyers were ushered in by their real-estate agents. At closing, he asked us if it would be ok to keep the piano in our house for six months or so until he finished building his own new house. We said ok, and promptly put our two oldest girls into piano lessons and enjoyed the collection of player discs they left. It was great. The six months turned into a year…and then two. We didn’t ask Mr. B about it, we just kept praying that a miracle would happen and he and his wife would suddenly forget they ever owned a piano.

On a cold winter Saturday morning in 2005, the fateful call came. It was Mr. B calling at 9AM to inform me that he had a moving truck on the way to our house to pick up the piano- he needed it that night for a Christmas party they were having at their house. His wife is, shall we say, a very determined person, and really had Mr. B’s tighty-whitey’s in a wad about waiting so long to get the piano back. I listened to Mr. B's sad story while a broad grin formed on my face. I used the ancient mystical power of leverage. Mr. B’s $40k piano, a successful Christmas party and his marriage were hanging in the balance.

I casually, and with a kind and gentle voice, told Mr. B that I wasn’t letting anyone in my house to take the piano until my drainage problem was fixed. Mr. B was silent for a good 10 seconds (a surprisingly quick reply in "builder’s time"). He assured me he would take care of it right away- would try to have his crew out sometime before Christmas- if it didn’t rain- and get it fixed. I agreed that was a good plan and told him he could get the piano back right after that. Again silence. We went back and forth for a few minutes- him throwing out solutions, me laying out the only way it would go down.

By 11:00AM there were 6 workers in my backyard, a backhoe, 2 trucks, and a crew of grass seeders that couldn’t speak English. All the while the piano movers were sitting in their truck at the front of the house.

By 2:00PM the trenches were dug, drain pipe laid, trenches re-filled, and grass seed and hay laid down. The crew left, and Mr. B arrived in his obligitory builder's Ford F-150. He walked me through the work area, proudly showed off how it would work, and then said he would go out front to let the movers know they could get the piano. “Not yet” I said. We went through a series of tests- flooding the patio with water from the hose twice to make sure the drains took care of the problem. It worked great, but I was concerned that leaves and debris would clutter the drain openings and asked him to install wire grid traps. He left for Home Depot, returned and personally cut and installed the filters. By 3:30PM all the work was done, his movers came in and got the piano loaded by 4PM, and rushed it to Mr. B's place in time for his 6PM Christmas party.

No kidding- that night it rained like crazy. Out of habit I came downstairs at 1AM to check the patio and was thrilled to see all was ok. I went right back to sleep.


Anonymous said...

Nice! Real nice! ;-)