A domestic disaster

This is a story of two faulty valves in a big old house in the dead of winter, and the damage done when they both failed. It happened in my parents’ house, my childhood home, last week.

My parents are not currently living in the house (they have a second home in another city), and everything is covered by insurance, so that’s the upside to keep in mind.

From what we can tell, a valve failed on the plumbing of their geothermal well, which heats the house by sending cold city water through pipes down into the well where it is heated, then circulating it back through a heat exchanger in the house. When the valve failed, the well stopped circulating and so did the heat. As the temperature in the house dropped below freezing, a valve in the upstairs bathroom froze and broke (we’re not exactly sure of the sequence, but this seems likely), causing a flood of water through the house from top to bottom (that part, at least, is certain).

After soaking through the ceilings and walls of the living room, the dining room and both bedrooms on the first floor, the water continued on into the basement and pooled there. The water company noticed excessive use on their account immediately and posted a sticker on their front door notifying them that the water had been shut off. Their next-door neighbor noticed the sticker and mailed it to my parents. The first they heard of the disaster was almost a week after it happened. When their caretaker, who had been on vacation, finally came to check on the house, everything inside was frozen solid. He told them he sat down and cried for 45 minutes before he was able to call them to tell them about it.

This is a photo record for my family.

upstairs-bath

BEFORE: The upstairs bathroom, where the flood started.

IMG_3357

AFTER: The frozen, flooded hallway just outside the bathroom.

living-room1

BEFORE: The living room (west side).

AFTER: The living room, torn down to the studs.

AFTER: The living room (west side). That old house is all lathe-and-plaster walls.

living-room2

BEFORE: The living room (east side). The entire wall on the right, as well as the wall coming toward the camera on the far right edge, had to be torn down. Most of the rest of the room was taken down to the studs.

AFTER: The living room (east side): everywhere the water came through the ceiling looked like this.

AFTER: The living room (east side): everywhere the water came through the ceiling looked like this.

Fallen plaster and paint by the still-frozen front door.

AFTER: Fallen plaster by the still-frozen front door.

AFTER: The living room, east wall. This is the photo that made me cry. Both walls had to be torn down.

AFTER: The living room, east wall, following demolition. This is the photo that made me cry.

dining-room

BEFORE: Looking into the dining room from the living room.

AFTER: Looking toward the dining room from the living room.

AFTER: Looking into the dining room from the living room.

AFTER: My parents' bedroom, with a mural of Mount Shasta that my mother painted on the wall that, on the other side, is the east wall of the living room, which had to be torn down.

AFTER: My parents’ bedroom, with a mural of Mount Shasta that my mother painted on the wall that, on the other side, is the east wall of the living room, which had to be torn down. This room will also have to be stripped out, along with the hallway and possibly the second bedroom.

My brother has gone there to help the caretaker get the reconstruction process underway. The neighbors are stepping up to help. My parents will be going tomorrow to see it for themselves.

We’ve all cried over this; the loss is enormous. But both my parents are also energized by the opportunity this presents to clear out some things they no longer need and make a fresh start in a familiar place. New furniture, a new color scheme, far less “stuff” than before. As difficult as the rebuilding will be, their house will be better for it since they plan to take the opportunity to do some major plumbing and electrical upgrades as well. The freezing kept any mold from forming, which is a blessing. And, they don’t have to live there while it’s all being fixed. So there’s a bright silver lining even on this awful mess, and I’m proud of them for keeping their eyes on that.

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7 thoughts on “A domestic disaster

  1. These pictures are stunning. At least your parents have a structure to work with, and can retrieve personal items, unlike some people whose foundations are wiped clean. I’m reminded that the Chinese characters for the word crisis are “challenge” and “opportunity”.

    • We’ve reminded ourselves of that, indeed. Sometimes the biggest losses present the biggest opportunities for positive change, although the upside is not always visible right away.

  2. Wow. As awful as that is, what a blessing that everything is covered by insurance! And remodeling is fun (well, the results are). Your parents are really awesome and optimistic people to focus on the bright side of everything. 🙂

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