The Leaky House

I’m slopping around in wet carpet. If you’re sharp, you already know something is up. Wet grass is one thing. After a rain. No big deal. But wet carpet is disgusting and downright disturbing.

My youngest and her husband bought their very first house last fall. They were giddy with excitement. Proud smiles up to their earlobes. Move-in day was stressful, but nobody cared because this was a new adventure.

There’s nothing quite like your very first home. No more suffering under the hand of a stingy landlord. No more rules about what you can and cannot do in the space where you live. If you want to put a nail in the wall, then by granny, put a hundred nails in the wall anywhere you want.

Home ownership is a milestone for a young couple full of dreams. In the first few weeks, you just can’t stop yourself from walking around, room to room, and saying out loud, “That’s my wall. You see this? That door belongs to me. Look at this bathroom. Mine.”

There’s a kind of drug induced euphoria that comes from sleeping in your own bed in your very first house. Every time you turn the key in the door to go inside after coming home from work, you grin all over because you have stepped across the threshold of a whole new grown-up world.

The first sign of trouble was a small puddle of water that showed up on the back patio. It’s a covered porch, really. And because it hadn’t rained recently, you wonder, “Huh? Where’d that come from?” Just a small spot about the size of a slice of bread. Right at the base of the brick wall where it meets the concrete floor in the corner outside the back door.

Three days later there is a second puddle down the wall about five feet beyond the first puddle. Two days later you get out of bed and make the sleepy barefoot walk to the water closet. Eyes still closed. No lights on yet because it’s too early. You back up the porcelain bus and before you get your PJs situated you step in something wet.

Hold the bus, Fanny. There’s something wrong here. Eyes wide open.

Just like there’s a honeymoon period for newlyweds, there’s a timeline in homeownership when the giddiness fades into reality. The house is yours and so are the problems that creep up on you like a slow leak.

I was sitting in my own kitchen years ago when I noticed a piece of drywall tape up high in the corner that had pealed loose where the wall meets the ceiling. “That’s weird,” I thought. I drank my coffee and went on to work.

Weeks went by and nothing changed. Just a little one-inch spot at the edge of the tape that had curled back on itself. One evening during supper, we were having a gully-washer of a rain and I happened to see a water droplet slowly sliding down the wall in that corner.

This is not good. I hate leaks because you have no idea where it’s coming from. Water is like that. It follows a path and it’s near impossible to determine where that path starts.

Once my daughter and son-in-law realized something bigger was going on, they contacted the home warranty folks. They turned them down. They got a plumber to come out and locate the leak. He put taped on the bedroom closet wall where he said the leak was coming from. He wrote a report that said the damage was the result of a leak that had been “going on for some time.” The homeowner’s insurance took that phrase as an opportunity to deny coverage.

Welcome to the harsh realities of the adult world of owning your first home.

I have wanted to step in and help ever since I heard they were having problems. But I hold back. “How else are they going to get life experience,” I keep telling myself. There is such a thing as too much dad. This is their home. The guy who married my daughter is the man of the house. He owns this not me. I can’t just barge in and take over.

They have called me for advice, which is what dads are for. I’ve done a lot of that through the years. Everything from tires to screw drivers. Car insurance to job interviews. Grilling burgers to leaky faucets.

The biggest issue is that the leak is still active. Every day while dealing with a thousand phone calls to try and get something done to fix the problem, they are sucking up five to six gallons of water with the wet vac in the evenings. Work all day, spend time with the two girls, one an infant. Cook supper. Clean the kitchen. Homework and baths. Then suck up water.

When their insurance agent told them that this was not an justifiable claim, I couldn’t stand it any longer.

“I’m coming down tonight to take a look and see it there’s anything I can do help.” Spoken like a dad.

They gave me a coffee mug not too long ago that defines my role. It made me swell with an embarrassing sense of pride. It says on the side, “Calm down. Grandpa can fix it.” It’s like a badge of honor.

This is why I am slopping around on wet carpet. I have no idea what I’m about to get into, but this has gone on long enough. I have my drywall saw in hand. Old school wooden handle with the narrow blade and sharp teeth.

“Where’d the guy mark the wall?” There’s a calm quiet in the house as our hero heads down the hallway.

“It’s on our closet wall behind the master bath.”

I walk into the closet. Squish. Squish. “Man this is really wet in here.”

“No kidding. That’s what I’ve been talking about.” My daughter is trying really hard to hold it together.

I cut out a small hole in the wall the size of a paperback book. Dry as a bone in there. I cut a second hole. Some water, but no visible leak. I cut a third hole, this time way out of bounds where the guy had marked the wall. Dry again. But my knees in the carpet are wet.

I can see pipe in all three holes. This new-fangled flex-pipe. No copper. No PVC. And no sign of the leak. If only I could sweat a line or glue up a new fitting. But my hope of being any immediate help to them is going up in flames.

“You got a plumber scheduled to come out tomorrow, right?”

“Yes sir, sure do.”

“Good. Don’t cancel that appointment.”

Turns out there’s major work to be done. A leak in the slab somewhere, which is just horrible for them. This is not the experience I was hoping they would have to learn. But I know they’ll be fine once it’s all over. People have suffered worse.

Wish I could say the same for me.

I may have to give back my coffee mug.