Looking for a project? Upgrade your heat and plumbing and fuss over your septic system and drainage. Then you can casually mention to friends and neighbors the tens of thousands of dollars you have spent on the hidden mechanicals in your home. They will admire your attention to detail and potential problems, envy your ability to spend grand sums on the highest quality of unseen pipes and tubing, or they will think you have lost your mind – maybe they will do all three.
I replaced the furnace in 2008. Four feet of water flooded the basement during a freak rainstorm. A frantic neighbor called me up in New Hampshire to report that water was pouring through the retaining walls on my land, gushing down the sloping lawn, and funneling through the 1870 stone foundation under the front porch. I listened but refused to react because she had called me once before to tell me that the electricity had been out for three days and the days were 20 degrees or less. That time I panicked, asked the neighborhood handy guy to install a generator and lost my refrigerator, cd changer, microwave, phone, modem, and television to mishaps in connecting it up.
It was still raining when I arrived at my house two days later. The cascading fountains on the front lawn rivaled those of Las Vegas and the roar heard from the basement stairs brought to mind Niagara Falls. I could see nothing. The electricity was out and the flashlights were dead. I sheepishly closed the door and went to a friend’s house to wait out the storm.
That little event cost me well over $6000 and a lot of tears. The plumber drained the boiler and disassembled the exhaust and intake. He cut the heat lines, removed and replaced the circulators. He replaced the Peerless Pinnacle LP gas stainless steel efficiency sealed combustion boiler with a new one, and then reassembled the exhaust and intake, reinstalled the heat lines, rewired and started the boiler and did an efficiency test, at least that’s what the invoice says. My neighbors installed a sump pump for me.
The town and neighbors were great during the crisis. The fire department pumped the water. They did it for a lot of people. Some neighbors thought the water pumped from one of the homes higher on the hill found its way to my basement. The highway department regraded the road. Friends helped throw out a lot of the unsalvageables.
That didn’t solve all the water problems in the basement. Rebuilding the French drains helped a bit as did redirecting downspouts, but the basement still is not reliable storage space.
During construction we discovered that the pipe leading from the septic tank to the dry well had shifted and now flowed in the wrong direction. Just a few more thousand on my bill.
We were pleased that the new tower and the regrading of the front yard diverted the water that used to flow straight towards the house, and the basement stayed relatively dry during heavy rain.
This summer however we had a house full of happy young folk and noticed that the toilets were all gurgling. When everybody left we called in the plumber. He had us try this and that and dig up this and that and we discovered that our dry well was filling up with ground water from a day or two of soaking rains and was back filling our septic tank. So we had our favorite excavator come in and dig up the yard one more time to install a French drain to draw off water. He told us after he did the work that he didn’t understand where the water came from because the ground was bone dry.
Whoa. I just did a search to see how that Pinnacle boiler ranked in price and customer satisfaction and was shocked to see how many people have had very unhappy experiences with it. The positive comments come from plumbers who say you have to know what your are doing or forget it.
The oil company service man said the same thing about the Buderus oil burner in my b&b in New Hampshire. He had no clue. It was much more impressive than my little Pinnacle. I would stand in front of this blue machine with six circulators blinking at me as they went on and off and recall a field trip through the Deer Island Waste Water Treatment Plant in Boston. What if even just one of those couplings came loose. The thought was horrifying. Obviously the engineers in the plant knew what they were doing. I could find no images of the inside of Deer Island online. It looked like a cross between what lay behind the Wizard of Oz’s curtain but 1000 times as large, and what one would imagine a nuclear power plant looked like. It’s probably top secret.
But I digress. Heat and plumbing are essential, and Sean did a great job making our home cozy and comfortable, but I resented spending the money. Lee and his man Derrick installed all the bath fixtures so I was able to save there.
Electricians also are unbelievably expensive and the bulk of that work is also hidden in the walls. Our town does not require a licensed electrician so Lee did the electrical work. It was frustrating for him at times and he had to call in Scott as reinforcement towards the end. But at least he didn’t have to hear me complain about paying the bill!
Let me just sum up. We’ve now got five circulators coming off the burner, two for the cottage, two for the tower and one to the hot water heater. The previous owners put in Burnham cast iron baseboard heating which is sort of classy, but just like inexpensive baseboard the end pieces fall off and furniture can’t be placed against the wall. Papers are constantly falling off the back of my desk getting lost in the dust bunnies.
We’ve installed radiant in the first floor of the tower – it’s WONDERFUL. We’ve got cool (I don’t mean temperature) Biasi panels on the second floor – not as classy as Runtals, but much more economical if you can call any of this economical, and a perfect fit out-of- production Hearthstone Tudor gas stove on the top floor. We installed bare baseboard on the bridge and Lee built a bench around it for plants.
The fun purchase was a concrete sink we found in the horse-traders barn at Williams Hardware. It came complete with a fancy-shmancy never-would-I-pay-full price-for Kohler faucet that lists for over $1000. It wouldn’t be my first choice, but why complain since it came as a bonus with the sink all for $200? Of course since it was the floor model it didn’t have any of the hidden parts. Our shower is an earthy earthly paradise. Lee created sea and sky murals with hand made tiles from his pottery period.
Last week when the temperatures were down to minus 9 and the gusts were recorded at 28 miles per hour (much higher along the river) I was delighted with the heat generated by my Pinnacle and cute Tudor. And I’m walking on air having just watched my loyal sump pump keep the basement free of water during the downpour the past day and a half.
We’ve got that generator as back up when the power goes out, six ceiling fans to keep us cool in the summer, and a gas fireplace in the living room.
Please no more surprises.