Feliz Navidad! I'm off to visit San Miguel de Allende for the holidays. This trip couldn't come too soon what with all the rain we've been experiencing in Northern California. Not that I'm complaining mind you (my garden is sopping it up) but as of early Monday, my phone hasn't stopped ringing.
"I've got water in my basement." (Yes you do. The ground is saturated and that room is below grade.)
"My sump pump is running. What's up with that?" (It's supposed to; it's a PUMP and it's doing its job.)
"My roof is leaking and I'm sure the Sellers must have known." (I wouldn't necessarily jump to that conclusion.)
Given that we're coming off of 10 years of severe drought and we're now experiencing a second "atmospheric river," none of this is should be surprising, although admittedly, it's wet and problematic. We want the rain. We need the rain. We're THRILLED to see the rain. We just don't want it in our homes! When it comes to houses, water is enemy number one. Whether it's fast and furious as its been this last week, or slow and steady throughout the years, it's important to understand, that water, unabated, will leave its mark. (Let's remember the Grand Canyon was created by water flow.) More to the point, ALL homes will experience some system failures over time. Such is the nature of the beast.
In case you think I'm being unsympathetic, I speak from experience. I'm dealing with my own leaking ceiling, even though we spent thousands of dollars just last year correcting this very problem (or so we thought). Unhappily, Mother Nature doesn't seem to care. The rain found another way in during the last heavy downpour and we've spent the better part of December ripping off the porch and reroofing that same section of the house . . . ONCE MORE! (And no, insurance doesn't cover it. This is "act-of-God" stuff.)
Water is tricky that way. If it collects anywhere, it's going to seek a way down and out, in areas where it doesn't belong. Unfortunately for us, and for my elderly mother-in-law, Zee, the leak made its way through her dining room ceiling, and at 96, she's none too happy about the bubbling drywall and inconvenience. I'm not either as I'm the one who most often gets to hear about it. (We're working on it, Zee. Grab a bucket and hang tight.)
Meanwhile, my elder son is having to mop his way through the garden apartment he lives in - which we also own. (Sigh.) The solution there may be even tougher and FAR more expensive as we're not sure where the water is coming from or how to mitigate it, Either way, I don't think it's an easy fix. The "garden apartment" is 50% below grade and this isn't the first time it's sprung a leak. As of now, I've got commercial fans running 'round the clock to dry out the carpeting, but that's a short-term solution at best. Long-term, I suspect we're going to require the recommendations of an engineer, French drains and some heavy jackhammering. (That's tomorrow's problem. Today, I'm trying to salvage the floor, and then pack for our trip.)
In short, I'm in Noah's Ark right beside you; someone hand me an oar.
Mind you, I'm not an engineer, or a biblical prophet, but having been at enough drainage/foundation inspections, the solution is always to redirect the water away from the structure. (Duh.)
Fortunately or unfortunately, as homeowners, this is part of the deal. Homes aren't static, circumstances change, and life is unpredictable (think of those poor folks in Kentucky). For those of us with a roof over our heads this Christmas (wet or otherwise), we're among the fortunate. When unexpected and unwelcome challenges emerge (and they undoubtedly do), I try to remind myself that if my family's problems can be fixed with a good contractor, a break in the storms, and a healthy checkbook, I've got it pretty good.
That's not everybody's reality this holiday season - or any season for that matter. Millions of homeless refugees live in tents, in tin shanties, in cars, and in cardboard shacks across the globe yearning for these types of "first-world" problems. So taking a cue from mothers everywhere the world over who remind their picky kids "to eat their vegetables because not everyone has enough to eat," let's try and retain some real-time, and real-life perspective. If your problems are solvable, if your children are safe, if you're planning on celebrating the holidays with loved ones, you're well ahead ahead of the game. In fact, you are blessed. Give thanks and while you are at it, please find time to make a donation to the Red Cross. (They need our help now more than ever.)
On that somber note and feeling completely grateful - in spite of this week's winter storms and my own personal rain-induced problems - I'm escaping to fairer skies, historic cobblestone streets, lovely Mexican hospitality, and Christmas trees decorated with poinsettias, leaving Sarah and Jill behind to man the phones and refer licensed drainage experts and water restoration crews to help mitigate the floods. I'll be back Christmas Eve (la Noche Buena). Adios muchachos y muchachas.
In the meantime, know that there are reasonable solutions to be had, experienced professionals who know how to help, good intentions the world over, and sunny days ahead. In other words, there's a dove with an olive branch in our future.
(P.S. The Perspective will take a break until the New Year. See you then.)
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 15 years and has published more than 600 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.