Home Ownership Is Draining

As I age, I concern myself with subtle imperfections that I’ve ignored for the majority of my thirtysomething years. Blithely, throughout much of my youth, I skipped through life without taking care of things, without worrying how that indifference would lead to consequences later. Now that I am older, sadder perhaps, but wiser, I have learned the importance of proper drainage and water control around a domicile.

Some years ago, when I was an impertinent youth of but eight and twenty, my wife and I bought our dream house of the moment. It looked spectacular in the early spring, with the last traces of the winter’s snow decorating the lawn in the picture. When our realtor walked us through the building, we appreciated the vinyl hardwood-looking floors in the kitchen and foyer, the gas fireplace in the basement den, and the affordable lower Bobo price. Of course, our youthful zeal for home ownership and our overappreciation of the possibilities for the fourth bedroom, we didn’t fully appreciate the impact of a below-grade walkout basement at the bottom of a hill whose sliding glass doors were guarded by a single drain beneath two blossoming crab apple trees.

Fast forward and flashflood two years to a dark and stormy night, where a torrent of water tumbling down the concrete steps outside the basement doors made the exterior look like a leaking fish tank from inside that den with the fireplace. I kneeled in ankle-deep water to bail the blossoms and crabapples from the drain almost as fast as they collected at the base of the vortex. I sniffled in the torrenting chill, man against nature, while my wife frantically sopped the inside seepage with towels and blankets.

We weathered that particular storm with only an extremely damp carpet, and I have learned a lesson. I now spend a portion of each afternoon sweeping the deck above and the concrete steps and drain below free of leaves, cut grass, crab apples, and other assorted detritus. My efforts only ensure my comfort in the hour immediately following my sweeping. I’ll fidget and fuss during any heavy rainfall, looking through the doors frequently to scry how much might accumulate around the drain. Often, I will obsessively or compulsively venture into the rain to clear the drain, removing a crab apple or a palmful of leaves to ensure my own unease of mind.
Perhaps I would enjoy the romance of a good thunderstorm more if I only worried about the drain at the bottom of the basement steps. I also worry about the gutters.

One morning, circa 2:30 CDT, I awakened from a light slumber to hear the soothing—or so I thought then—prattle of rain through the downspout. As I listened to the gentle cascade of water, I realized that I heard a soothing cascade undimmed by exterior walls. I slapped glasses onto my nose and hastened to the dining room, where I encountered a stream of water pouring from the dining room window onto the vinyl, but hardwood-looking, dining room floor. For some reason, water rolling from the roof ignored the best-designed systems of man which proffered a downspout at the house’s corner. Instead, the water fell directly against the side of the house. The charming but energy-efficient sliding window track offered a handy cup to collect this water, and when the cup overflowed, it runneth over into the dining room. Once again arming my beautiful and sleepy wife with towels, I ventured into the maelstrom.

Climbing onto a stepladder, I discerned through trial and error, using the flashes of lightning for illumination and the crashes of nearby thunder as motivation for quick action, that the gutter had pulled from the house so that the water from the roof was streaming between the roof and the gutter. When I held the gutter up with my hands, the stream against the window abated. When I let go, the stream resumed. I pondered the prospect of holding the gutter against the house all night, but I remembered that I had a single stalk of wood in my personal lumberyard that I could prop against the window sill to hold the gutter in place and…. Success!

Of course, success in this case meant that I could dry off, but that I would spend the rest of a mostly sleepless night checking both the drain and the kludged gutter brace to ensure that most of my house remained dry. I took a personal day from work the next day to clean my gutters, to bolt the loose section to the house with the largest bolts I could muster, and to place gutter screens on the gutters beneath the two crab apple trees just to be thorough or just because I was in that aisle in the hardware store.

So as I age, and as I own a home, I pay greater attention to the weather and the water falling outside of my house. As Mr. Fix-It might have said in his book, water is a friend, but it’s also an enemy. Perhaps he didn’t say that, or perhaps he was talking about the copper piping through which we invite the beast into our home. Still, you can be sure that when my wife and I move to our next dream house, I will inspect the topography to ensure that the entire neighborhood does not funnel its watershed to my basement door. I’ll also resist the temptation to use the basement (if we don’t buy a home on a sweet, sweet slab of concrete) to store our extensive library or electronic equipment.

Until then, though, I will arm myself with brooms, buckets, and two-by-fours to prepare for the inevitable unexpected, which undoubtedly will require something other than brooms, buckets, or two-by-fours. Ultimately, though, I know I can do little but study the skies like a native, looking for signs that I have personally angered the rain gods.

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