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How to Prevent Water Damage without Losing Your Mind Part 2

Maybe my reaction when I found out our son was filling water balloons in the bathroom INSIDE OUR WATER-CURSED HOUSE was a little inflated. Maybe.

Are you CRAZY??? We had to replace that floor down to the joists because of water damage. I’m upstairs plastering the bathroom because of a leak. NO. WATER. PLAY. IN. THE. HOUSE!

His response: “But I covered the floor in towels just in case I spilled!”

Wise beyond his years. Sort of. I had just finished folding those towels…

We’ve now experienced eight—count ’em, eight—leaks in this house.

Our latest was not the fault of the previous owner. For once.

When the plumber replaced the pan under our air handler, he neglected to clean out the drain lines. The small pipes clogged. Water backed up into the air handler and poured down into the air ducts. Missed it? Read all about the horror (and how to prevent major damage) in Part 1.

Last night I finished priming the bathroom. In case you have a leak of your own, here’s what you need to do after installing the drywall.

Remove any paper tape on the edge of existing drywall. This will make it easier to make a seamless connection with the piece you install.


Use low-dust drywall compound. This stuff is magic. Instead of creating an invasive cloud of white dust which will cover every surface in your home, particles of low-dust compound fall straight to the floor as you sand. The drywall knife you see is my favorite. The stainless steel never rusts and is perfectly flexible. A big rectangular blade works best for working large areas but I love the smaller blade for most of the plastering.


I forgot to take a picture of the fiberglass tape. If you have an edge that doesn’t quite match, lay fiberglass tape along the edge to help build the plaster. Here, if I slathered on enough plaster to meet the existing edge, it would likely crack. Fiberglass tape (looks like gauze) helps prevent cracking. Use fiberglass to join all flat surfaces as well. Fiberglass tape is slightly sticky, which means you can apply it directly to the drywall, then plaster over it.


Working in from the edges and corners, smooth on thin layers of plaster. Also fill in the dents where screws are used (always use drywall screws, not nails) since this will take several thin layers. I used paper tape (not fiberglass) on the 90-degree edges (plaster directly on drywall, lay tape, smooth with plaster knife, add thin layer over tape, allow to dry). Paper tape works better because you can fold it at a 90-degree before placing on the wall. Thin layers work best. Scrape the edges flat with the blade. Smoothing it as you go means less sanding.


Cover all of the drywall with a very thin layer of compound (it’s okay if you can still see the drywall; this is for paint uniformity). Using a large, rectangular blade works well here. Sand the entire surface. Any rough edges will be magnified by the paint, so be thorough.


Bare plaster in a bathroom doesn’t work well (shower steam, etc.) so I primed and painted the ceiling and primed the walls as soon as the plaster dried. Color-change paint is best for painting white-on-white. Mine starts out pink and turns white as it dries. The wall primer looks really weird in this picture but dried to a light tan.


Air handler broke

The water leaked

I felt angry—

really piqued.

Pulled plaster out

and fiberglass

wanted to beat

our plumber’s

Door down (what did you think I was going to say?)

Plastered scraped

and painted too

and now I’m done





How to Prevent More Damage after a Leak without Losing Your Mind

I’m very thankful for our house, don’t get me wrong. But sometimes, I dream of living elsewhere. In a house with dry walls and ceilings. No bubbles of water under the paint. No soggy insulation.

We’ve had seven leaks in this house. No, eight, counting this week.

On Wednesday, I planned to do some yard work to surprise Hubby. He’s been under crazy pressure at work and I was excited about giving him a break. Pulling on work clothes, I looked up at the wall in our bathroom next to the door. A swelling bubble, the size of my hand, glared back at me.


No no no no no.



Positioning my fuzzy purple towel under the anomaly, I pierced the bottom of the bubble with tweezers. Sure enough, water soaked out into the towel. A tiny splash hit my toe from the other side of the doorway; I craned my neck to see a steady drip-drip  coursing down the wall from the ceiling on the opposite side.

The only source of water in the ceiling was the air handler, possibly dripping too much condensation into the drain pan. I ran downstairs to grab the shop vac (an item I highly recommend you keep on hand if you live in an older house).

With the kids’ help, I lugged the cleaner up the creaky attic ladder. The lightbulb had blown and I couldn’t see a thing. Fighting vertigo caused by being more than two inches off the ground, I took pictures in order to see in the dark attic. Sure enough, a small, steady stream of water poured from the handler’s corner.


Water stained the floor under the handler supports.


I checked the water level in the pan; oddly, the water level stood nowhere near the top. My initial suspicion that the pan had overflowed was incorrect.


Yet everything under the pan was soaking.


The insulation was sopping.


And then…I found the source. (See the shine? It’s a little hard to see.) Water leaked between the tape on the duct work joints onto the insulation below.


After vacuuming up the water in and around the pan (just in case there was still a pan leak), I called for a dry towel. The attic temperature was triple-digits; I didn’t trust my sweat-soaked ability to navigate back across the trusses without a slip-and-crash, feet-first entrance through the ceiling below. I clambered down the ladder and hyperventilated for a moment. Phillipe Petit I am not.

Then, I started pulling away the saturated drywall. Steady drips fell from seams in the duct (that silver thing in the picture below). No drips, steady or otherwise, should be falling from the duct—it’s for air flow only. I stuffed my towel in to stem the flow, then pulled down more drywall (wet wall?) and then removed the batts of fluffy yellow fiberglass insulation. Like yellow cotton candy, but way more itchy.


Three industrial garbage bags later, I had most of the wet insulation out. Hubby arrived home about that time, so together we pulled down more drywall and removed insulation until we felt sure all the standing water was removed. We cut away about a foot around the top of the wall anywhere it was damp and I peeled the paint away like sunburned skin.


With two high-powered fans (and the really hot attic) on our side, the walls steamed. We finally made it to bed around 1 am. The next morning, things were dry enough to consider replacing the ceiling.

We called the plumber (who also does HVAC work). In short order, he fixed the air handler (an internal pipe clogged, causing water to fill the unit on the INSIDE and spill down into the ducts).

That afternoon, less than 24 hours from leak discovery, we replaced the insulation and drywall. We’re leaving the wall open for a week to make sure everything is completely dry.


And that, my friends, is how to mitigate a ceiling leak. All you need is a shop vac, broom and dustpan, trash bags, a drill, drywall screws, two fans, a slab of drywall and a trusty purple towel.


P.S. I’ve used Wikipedia in my links this time (rather freely), which is normally taboo for this blog, since I like to be right. And I like to be right all the time, according to my mother… Anyway, I’m so tired right now, I checked to make sure the first sentence was accurate and moved on. Before making any decisions based on information found in Wikipedia, please double check facts elsewhere. 

Ten Things I Hate About Mom, Part 2

Continued from Part 1 

Hubby’s working late, so I sit here enjoying two of my favorite not-so-guilty pleasures…writing and watching black and white TV. Tonight’s fare: The Twilight Zone. I love this show because there’s always a twist or an ending that leaves your emotions a little weird, off-kilter, skewed.

Sometimes my relationship with our daughter feels somewhat Twilightish. As in the TV series, not the pallid, sullen, angsty kind of Twilight. On second thought, we’re hitting adolescence, so we do have a bit of that going on as well. Some days, I think she hates me. (And, let’s be honest, I will always, always love her, but some days she makes it difficult for me to enjoy her company.)

The counselor agrees with us; our girl knows every detail of what she should do. For many reasons, she chooses to do the opposite.  In spite of what we thought might be a breakthrough a few counseling appointments ago, the counselor feels that it’s not the key. “She’s angry. She radiates fury. And, I’m sure thinking about her birth parents and what they did isn’t helping her. But the problem isn’t that she’s angry. The problem is, she’s decided to win.”

Which means we may have some very long years ahead of us.

All last week, I reminded her to clean her room. I suggested she get up early and clean it up before school. Encouraged her to take ten minutes each evening to do a bit. Friday arrived. Pizza-n-Movie night, as long as they’ve had overall success with behavior and chores. And rooms must be clean (so at least one day a week, we can kiss them good night without tripping over a Barbie or Lego creation).

For over four years, the rules for P-n-M night have not changed. They know the drill. Both have missed a few nights. Our first two years, the boy missed a LOT of nights. This year, though, they almost always earn the treat.

She was still cleaning her room (it shouldn’t take two hours, but she plays) when the pizza finished cooking, so I decided she could eat with us and then go finish her room. I didn’t happen to mention it to Hubby. I thought she’d be thrilled with the bit of grace and it would encourage her to complete the clean up in less time.

Then, I fell asleep on the couch.

Girlfriend didn’t head back downstairs when she finished her pizza. She stayed and watched the entire movie.

I woke up as the credits rolled, to see her looking over at me. Assuming she’d followed the plan, I said, “so, I see you made it back up here before the end of the movie. Great!”

Hubby glanced over at me. “She never left. Was she supposed to do something?”

I sat up. “What were you supposed to do when you finished eating?”

“Clean my room,” she said.

“So…you watched the movie, but you didn’t clean your room?”

Smug little smile. “Yes.”

These are the moments when I wish certain things were not illegal. Duct taping a child to the ceiling, for instance. Actually, I don’t think it’s illegal, but since it could lead to trouble, I skipped it. (Oh, come ON. You’ve never considered this? Sure you haven’t.) Hubby, who has become a child-psych genius, said, “Okay. You didn’t do it when you were supposed to. Is there anything else you didn’t do?”

She nodded. “I didn’t really clean up in our bathroom. And I never put away the dishes.”

I was so tired, I hadn’t checked behind her.

Lest you think she is Cinderella: both kids have a couple chores to do each day (she puts away dishes and fills the dog’s water. He takes out the trash and tidies their bathroom). They clean up their rooms (ideally) a bit each day. On Fridays, they each have an extra chore since there’s no homework. Cleaning their bathroom was her Friday chore.

Hubby stared her down. “We’re going to give you a certain amount of time to finish those chores. What is your consequence if you don’t do it?”

I gazed at him in wonder. What a great idea. The counselor keeps telling her that her bad choices are making her miserable, but the resulting consequences have been coming from us. Now she’ll make her own consequences. Perhaps it will affect her choices. (Spoiler alert: nope.)

Since she loves to sleep in, he told her that she needed to get up early to complete her chores. He gave her a time by which to finish. It was less time than she usually takes, but at least half an hour longer than she actually needed. “What is your consequence if you don’t finish? You get to pick. Think about it for a minute, and then let us know.” We both expected her to say something like, “I have to do an extra chore.”

“No movies for a month,” she said.

Wait. What?

I started to speak, but he held up a hand. “She made the choice. Now she only has to do one thing to avoid it. Do the work, on time.”

About 15 minutes after the deadline, I checked in with her. She was still putting away the dishes, but she’d really done a stellar job in the bathroom and her room. We thought maybe some grace was in order. I asked if she’d also filled the dog’s water bowl and bucket. She said she had, with a bit more enthusiasm than warranted, but I just thought she was excited about finishing close to the deadline.

I asked her about her morning. “First, I got up, and then I cleaned my room, and then the bathroom, and now the dishes.” Noticing she hadn’t mentioned the water, I asked about that. “Oh, I did the dog water first, I forgot. I did the water, then my room, then the bathroom, then the dishes.”

While I was speaking to her, Hubby noticed one of the dogs was missing, but she said she’d locked the dog in the pen to eat so the others wouldn’t take the food. He went to let the dog out and came back fast. “Come here, please,” he said. I went outside to find the water dish half empty and full of dirt. He said the water bucket, which holds about four gallons, had a half inch of dirty water in the bucket.

He called our daughter outside. “Did you fill the water?”

Smiling, she said, “Yes, right before I cleaned my room.”

He led her over to the water dish, asking again, and again she said she’d filled it. “Look at the water dish and tell me what you see,” he instructed. She looked at the dish and shrugged.

“We can tell you didn’t fill it this morning. Do you know how we know?” She shook her head at him. “Because,” he pointed, “half the water’s gone and it’s dirty. Why did you lie to us?”

She looked him in the eye. “I wanted to see if I could get away with it.”

Arms folded, he looked down at her. “There’s almost no water in the dog pen bucket. When was the last time you filled that?”

I’d been asking her all week to confirm she’d filled it, and she always said she did it before getting dressed. We had a crazy week, so I never went behind her to check.

“I think I filled it a week ago,” she said. He asked her why she told me she’d filled it, and the answer was the same. Just to see if she could get away with the lie. (And for the short term, she had.)

We’ve had many conversations with both children about how animals need a water source, especially when it’s hot, or they might die. “So…you’d risk one of the dogs dying just to see if you can get away with a lie?” He was incredulous. She nodded.

We’d already discussed taking the dog-watering chore from her, but were concerned she’d see it as a won battle. She’s admitted in the past that she does things poorly or slowly (or not at all) in hopes that I’ll give up and do it myself. This time, we agreed. It’s not worth the life of one of the pups.

“Fine,” he said. “From now on, your brother is going to fill the water.” Smug smile. “But we’re going to pay him.” Less of a smile. “And you’re going to get two new chores to replace this one.” No smile.

Here’s hoping this phase ends soon. Very soon.

On a brighter note, they rarely have a rough patch at the same time, which means our son is doing great. He’s working hard in school. The worst things he’s done recently? Forget his homework and toss a paper airplane. Problems of the 1950’s. No fighting, no violence, no principal’s office visits. He’s been positive and optimistic and funny. I’m truly having a great time being his Mama.

I’m heading to a conference tomorrow. Tonight, when I tucked him in, he asked me to snuggle for a few minutes. I was tired and said I planned to just go upstairs, but then he said in a strangled tone, “but you’re going to leave and you won’t come back to me.”  So I lay back next to him and we chatted. I told him about the conference and my conviction that I’d return the following day. He settled, snuggling up next to me. He fell asleep with his fingers twined in my hair (I think he was trying to keep me there).

If you’re in a similar situation, adoptive or not, remember to take one day at a time. It’s harder than it sounds, I know. Keep your expectations reasonable. If there’s been no light at the end of the tunnel for six weeks, don’t expect it to appear. That way, if it does, you’ll be thrilled (and if it’s another day of darkness, well, it’s just another day).

And always keep in mind that if the light does suddenly appear, you probably shouldn’t get too excited. Sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel is a train.

Deep, right? (Just kidding.)

How would you have handled the situation? I’m interested in your thoughts. Unless they involve duct tape.

I’ve already thought of that. No go. It would ruin the ceiling.


Day 15: Write a post based on your poll.  (If you haven’t voted yet, it’s not too late!)

Many of you voted for more stories from our crazy life, so the above is in your honor.

I’m not sure how to tell who voted, so here are the people I know did. THANK YOU!

(Everyone else: You should check these out. Lovely blogs, all of them.)

Homemade Naturally


Nuggets of Gold

Defrosting Cold Cases

Word Shamble

Doted On

Little Learner

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