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The great house flood of ought-8
Old 02-15-2008, 09:16 PM   #1
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The great house flood of ought-8

I'm not quite sure how or when it happened, but I'm the "goto" guy in our little townhome subdivision. Need a ride to the bus depot, you come to me. Need help with moving a tv, you come to me. Need tools, I'm here. Want to know why your toilet rattles, I'm your guy (previous owner replaced the toilet, didn't caulk next to the floor).

Notice water pouring out from under the neighbor's garage? That's right, you come to me.

Our next door neighbor noticed water streaming out from under the garage of the abandoned townhouse across the street. They came and got me to figure out what to do. I called 911 to get an emergency utility crew out and my wife contact our on-call maintenance.

Rather than a utility crew, we got the fire department and a policeman. They forced entry to the house. We waited until our maintenance guy got there and took a little tour ourselves.

We walked in to a waterfall coming down from the second story through the ceiling into the garage and around the light fixtures on the first floor. Basically, the toilet in the master bathroom blew up. The master bathroom and bedroom were soaked and a river was flowing out into the hallway. It was a pretty awesome sight... water everywhere, drywall all over the garage (garage had two runs of drywall as a firewall, bottom run fell off).

And, there's nothing like getting a couple fire chiefs and a ladder truck out to get the neighborhood going. I think I've met more of my neighbors last night in sub-zero temps than at our block party this summer. One of the neighbors was nice enough to furnish beers. The kids were out playing in the street. Very, very odd.

My guess is that the house was abandoned in about August or September. They stopped paying utilities far enough back that the gas company turned off their service before the winter (they can't disconnect in the winter here). The pipes have probably frozen and thawed several times. Yesterday was sunny and above zero and the house warmed above freezing (thermometer read 42 when we toured the carnage). That probably thawed the last ice dam up enough that water could run freely again and drained through a previously burst pipe.

We (the association) called a restoration company in right away to contain the damage and try and prevent any mold growth... now we'll just try and track down who actually owns the house and take it from there.

Moral of the story: If you want to meet your neighbors, flood a house.
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Old 02-15-2008, 09:48 PM   #2
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The pipes have probably frozen and thawed several times. Yesterday was sunny and above zero and the house warmed above freezing (thermometer read 42 when we toured the carnage). That probably thawed the last ice dam up enough that water could run freely again and drained through a previously burst pipe.
Not sure I follow your cause and effect. Landlords cover your eyes. We had one similar when we lived in Indianapolis, I never fully appreciated -20F and how little insulation (as in zero) might be used within the walls of a brick apartment building where my fiance lived. We left town for xmas for a week and I made strategic decision to turn the themostat OFF instead of way down. It was already FREEZING when we left town so I blame temporary LBYM insanity (even tho it was HER gas bill, not mine). We returned to 3 solid inches of ice all over the parking lot and walkway. As we approached her apt, the ice thickness grew! Inside her apartment, they had knocked all the cabinets off the wall and knocked huge holes in the drywall. Apt manager stopped by and said " we had a problem...the pipes froze and we had to come in, but we'll put everything back in order ASAP" . Never nailed us for turning the heat off or anything. I felt terrible and stupid, but glad we did not have to pay!
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Old 02-15-2008, 10:08 PM   #3
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I was watching a friend's house in a nice neighborhood when she was overseas, and came over to find her house near freezing with below zero temperatures outside. I rounded up space heaters and kept it warm until the furnace guy got there.
I guess I shouldn't have been so hasty, I might have gotten cozy with the state legislator and local business leaders living nearby if I'd only let the place freeze!
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Frozen burst pipes are not that uncommon...
Old 02-15-2008, 10:29 PM   #4
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Frozen burst pipes are not that uncommon...

In my little Cape Cod town my dept gets around half a dozen calls a year about such events. Very expensive for the homeowners. Happens mostly to folks who go away for the winter, don't have anyone checking on their property, and when the lose heat (power outage / oil burner malfunction, whatever), the pipes freeze then thaw. Happened to a couple I knew, water burst in their second floor bathroom. Wasn't found for several weeks. +$30,000 dollars in damage not to mention the agravation.

Should I decide to leave town for more than a vacation I sure will hire someone to keep an eye on the most expensive investment I possess.

Rich
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Old 02-15-2008, 10:37 PM   #5
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Just a follow-up. I was relating the story at work and a co-worker mentioned that his alarm system had a low temp alarm option. If you don't have someone lined up to check in on the house, then this might be a good option for snow-birders...
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Old 02-15-2008, 11:12 PM   #6
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There is an old trick using the phone line to check on your house while your away in the winter and it's free.

You need an old mechanical thermostat, some phone wire and a 470 ohm resistor. Connect the resistor in series with the thermostat and connect the thermostat to the phone lines. Set the thermostat to some low setting like 50 degrees.

If the temperature drops below the set point, the resistor will connect across the phone lines. A 470 ohm resistor mimics a phone off the hook. So if you dial home and get a busy signal you have one of two problems.

You can call the furnace man or the cops.
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Old 02-16-2008, 07:00 AM   #7
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I've seen that happen a bunch of times with snowbirders. The guy two doors away had that last winter, this year he made sure to turn the water off at the street. Cost him $20 but that's cheaper than the $20K in damage last year. One can also go farther, drain the water heater and lines, put anti-freeze in the toilets and drain traps.
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Old 02-16-2008, 09:51 AM   #8
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Just a follow-up. I was relating the story at work and a co-worker mentioned that his alarm system had a low temp alarm option. If you don't have someone lined up to check in on the house, then this might be a good option for snow-birders...
At former place of employment we had not only temp sensors, but also water sensors hooked into our alarm system. The water sensor was installed 1/2" above the floor (usually the lowest floor of the structure), and if it activated you knew the sump pump had failed or was unable to keep up. We had a couple of them hooked up to auto-dialers we bought at Radio Shack.....they were quite inexpensive, but also quite reliable. If the water came up, the dialer would call our preset list of phone numbers.

When we go away for more than a day, our neighbor keeps a close eye on our house, and does a 'walk-through' a couple times a day. (He also takes in our mail and waters our house plants.) He's currently in charge, since we're in Florida for a few weeks.

He's shoveling our snow, while we bask in the warm sunshine on the Gulf!
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Old 02-16-2008, 09:53 AM   #9
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He's shoveling our snow, while we bask in the warm sunshine on the Gulf!

You'd better come back with a darn nice gift for him! Preferably drinkable and strong.
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Old 02-16-2008, 10:26 AM   #10
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You'd better come back with a darn nice gift for him! Preferably drinkable and strong.
We stop in GA on the way home and buy a passel of pecans for his DW for baking. We've found that pecans are the only payment he'll accept for his services! If we try to give him ANYTHING else he gets p*ssed.

We also pick up a few odds and ends....and candy....for his 2 grandkids.
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Old 02-16-2008, 10:40 AM   #11
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We came home after Thanksgiving break one year to find water trickling through our dining room light fixture, onto the table, and over the floor. The bathroom pipe under the sink upstairs had developed a pinhole leak while were away (copper pipe, acidic water for 25+ years without acid neutralizer = multiple pinhole leaks over the years we held that property). Oh well, it could have been much worse.

Last summer our townhouse was empty while looking for new renters. Noticed the water bill increased significantly...immediately drove to check out the place (2 hours away). No leaks anywhere. However, interestingly enough, the neighbor was having new sod placed in the backyard.... Couldn't prove anything, but asked the neighbor to keep an eye on the place and make sure nobody was tapping water from our outside spigot. Apparently the guilt trip worked as water bill was back to normal the next month.
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Old 02-16-2008, 10:40 AM   #12
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My MIL had a freeze-up in VT when the oil furnace failed. 3 months later the doors where swollen shut and the basement was a swimming pool. 90k later the place is mold free and completely renovated (probably the best thing). Her insurance co. dropped her and the rate doubled once she found someone else.

Freeze alarms can be had for $129 (add a water sensor for $199) ... it's a good thing!
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Old 02-17-2008, 10:17 AM   #13
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You guys are sure making me miss the heck outta winter...

I had to explain the concept of "antifreeze" to our high-schooler. She was shocked to learn that it's in our car radiators, too.
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Old 02-17-2008, 11:10 AM   #14
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I'm missing it a little. I have to go out and cut the grass in a few minutes.
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