Archive for August, 2007

There’s a Hole in the Bucket

Friday, August 24th, 2007

So, we bought a house a while back. It’s a 1950s ranch — a good solid house that was well-designed. There’s no wasted space, unlike a lot of ranches we looked at, it has a good half-finished basement, and we like the location on the curve of a tree-lined residential street. The only thing it really needed before move-in was some cosmetic updating. We signed on the line and started making plans: mainly paint some rooms, and remodel the upstairs bathroom.

That was five months ago. We still haven’t moved.

Things have been slow to one extent because we’ve never done this type of work before. Every time we get geared up to get something done, we discover (generally at the last minute) that there is some other thing that we have to arrange/learn/do first. Before I can tile I have to get the walls skimcoated. Before I can skimcoat the walls I have to have the electrician in. Before I can get the electrician in I have to have in my possession all of the fixtures that will be installed (sink, medicine cabinet, etc.) so we can know exactly where the light is going on the wall. Before we can get that stuff we have to fully decide exactly what’s going into the bathroom. Same thing for painting the bedroom. First I have to prime and tape. First I have to patch the crack. First I have to get the wallpaper off. There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza.

Also, I’ve had to “find out” everything for the first time, from how to patch a cracked ceiling to how to level a floor, to the important distinction between latex and oil-based primers1. We’ve been bleeding money like it’s going out of style, but the new furnace is all paid off (well.. as of a couple days from now…), the supplies for the tiling are bought, the handyman is come and gone, and I’m finally all set to tile the bathroom this weekend and finish this thing.

Well, I was until yesterday. There was a tiling seminar scheduled for last evening (Thursday) — I was planning on going to it as a refresher before getting down to business this weekend. By chance I was at the house yesterday during the day. I had to be there in the morning for a delivery, and afterwards was doing some “do anywhere” computer work for my Mom. That’s when the storm hit my house. Literally.

You could see the sky darkening to the west, and soon a good head of thunder and lightning got going. The sirens started going off in town warning that this was going to be a big one. As it came closer it just kept getting louder, and suddenly the wind slammed into the house with a ferocity I haven’t seen ever before. I looked out the window and saw the rain coming in sideways in solid white sheets. The trees were waving wildly in the torrent. I find it funny that talking to the neighbor later, I discovered that about the time I was opening the blinds to get a better look, she and her husband were fleeing to the basement!

As best I can tell what we experienced was a microburst. What I saw was extremely high winds and extremely hard rain, with thunder crashing down like a physical blow to the house. It came and went roughly within the span of a minute. The storm continued, but the powerful gusts died down to a more normal strength, and fairly quickly it all but stopped raining.

I looked out the side window and saw some good-sized branches down in from of my garage. I had fortunately put my car inside earlier, but would have to do some lifting and dragging before I could leave. The power was out in the house, and I moved through the twilight of an unlit house on a dark day. I moved through the house, looking out windows to see what else might have come down. Out the other side of the house I saw some long branches propped up against the trunk of a different tree against which they had fallen. But… wait a moment…. What the heck tree did those come from?

Then I got the the bedroom at the corner of the front of the house. I opened up the shades and at the right edge of the window saw clusters of leaves that didn’t belong. There was something… large… in front of the house. I went quickly to the front room and its large plate-glass window. There at the left edge, similar clusters of branch and leaf. The worrisome part was that the branches in front of my house looked a whole lot like the large tree that’s behind my house. Uh-ohhh…. shit. I went to the back of the house, and went outside. The rain had subsided more or less, and I looked up at the tree right behind the house. Actually, I looked at the roof first, and the first thing I noticed was that the large TV antenna at the end of the house was no longer present. Then I looked up at the tree, more or less directly over my head, and decided that maybe that wasn’t the best place for me to be standing just then. I quickly got to the front of the house to take a look from a bit more of a distance.

Okay, I want you to imagine a big old oak tree. That large, roughly round, roughly symmetrical mass of green atop a strong brown trunk. In your mind, divide that into thirds — the bottom third, upper right, and upper left. Got it? Okay, now remove the upper right part. That’s what was still standing in my back yard. The missing third was leaning up against the front of my house, along with branches of other trees it took out along the way, and the wreckage of the old TV antenna.

I actually started laughing. In fact, when I called my wife minutes later to break the news to her, that’s how I began the conversation: “Just so you know: when I realized the extent of what’s happened, I literally started laughing.”

From left to right, this is what makes up the from of my house. !) The front door. 2) a large plate-glass window. 3) a stretch of flat brick wall. 4) two bedroom windows in the far corner. The large mass of tree had made a perfect three-point landing against the bare brick wall, just barely reaching, but not quite hitting, the windows on either side. As far as I can tell, the branches would have landed hard on the peak of my roof, but instead hit the outstretched vanes of the antenna, which served to “pole vault” them up and over to the house from back to front.

On sudden inspiration, I ran back into the house and pulled the attic hatch, and went up for a look. Not totally unscathed — the tree had punched a single hole in the roof, about the size of two doughnut holes. A quick mopup and a strategically-placed bucket took care of that for the time being. (Later I patched it with duct tape, which has held until this morning when I went back to check it.) It’s a good thing I caught it, as it was directly above the bedroom ceiling I spent so long patching, priming, and painting.

So… the short version is that It Could Have Been Worse. The tree is looking a bit forlorn following its major branchectomy. There’s still a large broken-off branch suspended in space over my house, which the tree service will have to repair when they get to me at the end of a long list of people all over the area with similar issues. I’m going to try to track down the company that originally put in the roof so they will know how to match the shingles. And, if I’m not too bogged down with cleanup this weekend, and assuming that the power comes back on, I might just get some tiling done.

1: My wife discovered this the hard way when she attempted to clean the brushes in the sink.