Sunday, August 19, 2012

Water Issues

While trying to figure out what to do with the peeling bedroom wall, the roof and chimney, I got the brilliant idea to try a moisture meter to see if water getting behind the chimney was, in fact, the cause of the peeling.

I was like a little kid on Christmas when my new toy arrived with the mail.  It had just rained the day before--gulley washers--so the timing seemed perfect.  I couldn't get it open fast enough and get the battery installed.

I turned it on and stuck it on the wall.

0 percent moisture.

Seemed odd, actually.  Am I sticking it far enough into the wall?

Does it work at all?

So I took it outside to try it on the wet back porch railing.

21 percent.

In another place, 18 percent.

I checked the wall several times over the next few days each time getting the same result.

It's great news but now I have to figure out what happened and try to fix it.

Around the same time, I got a call from Sam (my contractor) saying he had a few weeks open and asked if I wanted to finish the downstairs bathroom.   It took me a little by surprise.  I haven't picked fixtures or tile and, even more importantly, I need to replace my water main.  I learned recently that my water main was installed in 1918.  It was lead and, given its age, the fittings can be so brittle, they can disintegrate when you try to turn off the water. 

If your house is over 50-60 years old, you may want to put this on your to-do list!

My neighbor's son is the neighborhood plumber but it's kind of a big job so he referred me to a company--a landscaping company actually--that could replace it.

Replacing the water main requires digging up the street and sidewalk and the contractor took care of    calling Dig Safe, a free service that contacts all of the utilities who come and mark where the water, electric, gas and other utilities are underground so they can be avoided.  It's not only a useful service, it eliminates any liability I might have if a contractor hits an unmarked utility.

Replacing my water line also requires coordination with City who replaces the pipes between the water main in the street and the turnoff valve outside my house.  My contractor then replaces the line from the turnoff valve into my basement.

The blue line marks the path of the water line.

It was kind of a no-brainer but it still needed to be done.

Each utility uses their own color to mark their lines.

The city posts "no parking" signs a few days before the job date.  I believe my contractor paid for the no-parking permits so they're included in the overall cost of the job.

Normally a no-parking permit costs about $25 per day per vehicle so it seems the parking permits added about $200 to the cost of the job.

I thought this job would be much more complicated than it was.  They attached the new 1-inch copper pipe to the old one and just pulled it through underground.  The contractor was great; they even washed the dust off my front porch. The whole job took about four hours.  Total cost:  $1860.

Now I can start thinking about finishes for the bathroom.


  1. Well, Steve, I'm glad your peeling paint can be assigned to goblins rather than water issues-and your new toy looks like fun in a weird way :)

    Will you be looking for authentic period type fixtures, or will you get something more modern/different ?

    Friends of ours just bought a 1910 cottage fixer-upper in Bend.
    They are doing the bath first and put a floating shelf with a trough-type sink on the shelf-it looks great, even if it's not authentic to the time period.

    I'm sure when you are done with it the bathroom will look amazing.
    Even without a window.

    Could you do a solar tube at all? I have two of those in my TX house, one in a bath-my dad used to try to turn the light off all the time when it wasn't even on, LOL b/c the natural light was so good in there.

    OK, and who doesn't laugh when they read about soundproofing the wall on the dining room side? HA! I'd do em ALL!

  2. Wow! While reading this post I kept seeing a lot of dollar signs but $1860 seems fairly reasonable! A value for peace of mind.

    Very informative post. Thanks for all of the detail- start to finish.

    Have fun planning your new bathroom and best wishes for figuring out the mystery of your peeling dry walls. Your new toy is cool.

    Karla in CA.

  3. Susan,

    I don't know about the fixtures! I've changed my mind a million times.

    I can't do a solar tube because the hallway to the master bedroom is above it. I was really unhappy about the lack of a window at first but I've since seen plenty of bathrooms with no window that are perfectly pleasant. I've gotten over it.

  4. Karla,
    I thought so to! Whenever I do a project, I get an idea in my head of what it will cost and it's usually double what I think. I thought this would cost about $2500 so I was very pleasantly surprised.
    Haven't forgot about the framing post. I've wanted to talk to an art dealer and a framer to get their opinions and I just haven't been able to do that yet.

  5. Very weird that the peeling paint seems NOT to be due to moisture.

    I'm very excited to see how the bathroom progresses. How cool to have a contractor who calls to ask if you can use his time. Here in the land of mañana it's sometimes difficult to get one to show up even after a project is scheduled!

  6. My house was built in 1918.
    4 years ago when I had the plumbing updated, they put these little wires on my main water valve in the basement. I have no idea why.
    Luckily I haven't had to turn the water off for anything yet.
    And I also pay extra each month to the city for water/sewer pipe protection from the street to the house. So I'm covered, I think.
    I prefer to just put it out of my mind and refuse to actually think about any of it.

    I can't hardly wait to see how you decide to do the bathroom. I'd recommend Pinterest but then again I get overwhelmed after looking at all the great pins.

  7. Oh dear Steve, your post is so very timely. Yes, our home is 50 years old and almost three weeks ago our water main sprung a leak next to our house. The missing meter box was finally found. Two weeks later we had water. Volumes of powerful water pressure. Now we have water flowing between a wall:( Not good at all. Tomorrow, hopefully we will find out how bad of a problem we have. I am sorry but sitting here reading you post and looking a my hardwood floor buckling before my eyes.... I can only laugh madly. I hope you've a wonderful weekend.

  8. You've probably thought of this, but could it be that you have painted latex over oil, or some other substance that repels water? I don't recall what you said in the original post about it. I don't envy you the job of getting it all off. Nice winter project!

  9. So glad you got a potential problem taken care of! Peace of mind is nice, so now that your contractor is available, you can start the fun part of designing your new bathroom! I hope you can figure out why the paint is peeling. It's frustrating when these unknown problems occur.


  10. jesus, what a lot of stuff one has to go through to salvage an old home. you are a serious trooper steve and will be rewarded one day in the deep future when it is all done. then you will be bored and want to move on to the next one. i can't see you without a project for long. now what is up with that wall?

  11. Maybe the wall was wet once, but corrected? could you paint a worn, powdery fresco on the under layer?

    You found a great contractor for your water supply, I've heard horror stories!

  12. Congrats on getting something so complicated and expensive-sounding crossed off your list. Those expensive jobs that have no visual pay-off aren't much fun. We replaced our water main in our old house and our roof and foundation in our current house and the money just flies out the door and everything looks the same afterward. But it is good to get it done and feel like you have a clean slate. Now onto the fun stuff! Can't wait to see your bathroom transformation.


  13. That was expensive but not as bad as I thought it would be. So glad you got that fixed and are on your way to finishing the bathroom. I know you'll come up with something great!

  14. Old houses are so complex! And water issues are always super tricky since it just creeps and drips from the leak to another spot entirely. At least it isn't that, just some as-yet-unidentified issue.

    Hope your weekend was productive, and maybe even included some bathroom finish-choosing!


  15. Oy, water issues are so stressful (and often expen$ive) to deal with. As the owner of a 200+ yr. old house, I sympathize. Sounds like you're happy with the results, though (except for the lingering mystery of the peeling bedroom wall) so that's great. Thanks for another superbly-written and informative post... I think I'm speaking for many when I say we learn a lot from you!

  16. Glad you are getting everything in great shape.

  17. It's so nice when a job goes so smoothly. I'm looking forward to the bathroom redo!

  18. I'm glad you're starting your bathroom! That moisture thing is weird though, isn't it??

  19. Holy guacamole.

    I admire your fortitude. I would have to be sedated to go through that much stress.

  20. Ugh! What a bummer to have to update that -- I hate spending big money, or any money, really, on stuff I can't see. A necessary evil, this one, so I'm glad it all went smoothly. Now we can all wait with anticipation for the redo story :)

  21. This reminds me when I got curious about breathalizers and got one for our golf cart. It never showed I was intoxicated which was a good thing, but I still wondered how accurate because I might have had a beer or two. Just that one time.

  22. Pura Vida,
    What the heck?! They make breathalizers for golf carts? Is drunken gold cart driving a problem?

  23. Glad it wasn't too painful. Have fun with the bathroom--hope you'll post your process.

  24. I love your blog. Up since 3:00 am with rare insomnia. Fascinated with what you wrote. I need a break from my life right now. Too many stresses. Now, time to get ready for work. Thanks Steve.

  25. The beginning of this post started out as if it was going to be a horror story, so I had to rush quickly to the end for that sigh of relief!! So happy this turned out to be easy and quick - now on to the fun part! Inspiration photos and choices - can't wait to see those!

  26. Life is good when work comes in under what you expected, isn't it? Can. Not. Wait. to see the bathroom once you make your decisions.

  27. Good to know about the water main. We're in Melrose and need to replace ours. I'd heard it would be ~$1200. Would you recommend the company who did yours? Do you feel comfortable mentioning their name? thanks! Danelle

  28. Dani,
    It was Dana Gallup, Gallup Landscaping out of Arlington. I think you'll find him if you google him but if not, e-mail me and I get you the number.

  29. I NEED one of these...but must say it frightens me at the thought of what I'll find.

  30. Steve,

    Thank you for wanting to answer my art/frame question but please do not trouble yourself with it considering all you have going on right now. Take your time or don't worry about it one bit- you decide.

    I sure appreciate your thoughtfulness, however, and can't thank you enough.

    Karla in CA.

  31. You need an etsy shop for household products. I have bought the Acme Spiralliser now I'm having metre envy!

  32. we so have to do this. but it's a really complicated matter here requiring permits from the city that run well over $10k. it's a nightmare that one day we will have to face.

  33. What an ordeal. Always something. I cannot wait to see the finished powder room. :)

  34. I was surprised that replacing your main was only 1860. When people have had it done on my street (in Philadelphia, houses all 87 years old), it's usually because it started leaking, and it appears to cost between 3,000 some years ago and 6,000 now, based on what I have heard. I'm not sure if that includes more work than you had done. But it's certainly good you got it done.

  35. Ouch! I hate spending money on things like that. The joys and challenges of owning an old house. Look forward to your bathroom selections.

  36. All in all not a bad price considering what had to be done. Things like that make me really anxious - glad it worked out ok and did not take days. I'm looking forward to the new bathroom plans.

  37. So glad the meter read zero! When we first bought our house we found a water damaged area on the wall flanking the fireplace. Turns out there were a few cracks in the chimney and water was getting in that way. We resealed the chimney, then replaced the sheetrock on that wall and everything is good! Maybe it was just past damage that was fixed?

    Can't wait to see the bathroom!