Silence Doesn’t Imply Inactivity

Cor blimey, it’s been busy around these parts, to be sure. I scarcely know where to begin; it’s been that long.

The bricklayers are gone now and the scaffolding has come down. With a bit of luck, that will mean the last of the brown water stains on the conservatory ceiling.

The chimney is in true again, as are the walls of the balconies. All around the house, the brickwork has been renewed and is looking much better. I hope we won’t have to touch it again for quite a few years.

Because it’s been so heavily trodden of late, the garden’s looking a right mess now, though. It’ll need some work in the new year to get the lawn looking nice again.

Our leaking boiler in the loft caused me no end of stress over the last few weeks. The required new valve, when it came, turned out to be just one of two parts that needed to be replaced. This wasn’t discovered until the valve had been removed by the plumber. I was told that the second part, a motor, would have a three week delivery time. By this point, I was already having to go up into the loft once a day to empty the bucket that had been catching the water dripping from the leaking valve.

Unfortunately, the act of removing and refitting the bad valve significantly worsened the leak and I quickly found myself entering the loft multiple times per day to empty the bucket. At the worst of it, I went to bed at 03:45 after emptying the bucket and was woken by Sarah at 07:30 after she had found water streaming out of the bathroom ceiling from an air vent and a light fitting. One floor up, water was also coming through the ceiling of the toilet.

Sarah constructed a set of plastic run-off gutters to carry the water to a much larger bucket (that was too big to place directly under the leaking valve), which bought us the freedom to make just a single trip to the loft each day to empty the contents. I was very grateful for this small mercy, because, by this time, I felt like a complete slave to the water that had come to rule my life.

A huge quantity of water was now pouring from this leak, although the exact rate of loss depended on the ambient temperature and how much work the boiler was having to do to heat the house. In any case, the boiler was completely emptying itself within three to four days, causing us to lose all of our heating and hot water. With sub-zero night-time temperatures, this was no laughing matter.

As I said, the situation caused me no end of stress. Not least amongst my concerns was the fear that the spare part that had been ordered would be out of stock and not delivered in time for Christmas. I couldn’t imagine how we could possibly go away with the danger of severe water damage so real.

Luckily, the replacement motor arrived within mere days, not weeks, and the boiler company were prompt about fitting both it and the new valve. I refilled the boiler with water and now, nearly a week later, the heating is still working, so I can tentatively say, with fingers crossed, that the problem has finally been fixed. God, I sincerely hope so.

The issue of the leaking valve had actually been with us since we bought the house, but we didn’t know where the leak was. The boiler company, too, had been unable to trace it. A year ago, it was taking a few months to empty. By last week, it was taking just a few days.

So, it wasn’t until things took a drastic turn for the worse that the location of the leak revealed itself to us. There was no way for that quantity of water to disappear so quickly without trace.

It’s amazing how many things within one’s home one takes for granted. The last few weeks have been a humbling experience.

Rough Week

It’s been a long, tiring and stressful week. First of all, Obama won the US election for World CEO, which threw a distinct melancholy over my week. With the US in the throes of morbid, self-congratulatory ecstasy at having managed to elect a black man, the media have been something to shy away from this week.

When we returned from the US on Monday, we were one suitcase lighter (thanks, Northwest) and coming home to a house with no heating (it was just 11°C inside) and a very large, brown stain on our dining-room ceiling. It turns out that a leak in the attic was running alongside an air vent pipe down to the first floor ceiling, where the water then fell on our bathroom floor, before seeping through that, down to the ground floor. Once it all dries out, I’ll get that sorted. It looks like there will be insurance paperwork in my future.

Later in the week, the bricklayers, who have just completed their fifth week working on the outside of the house, unblocked a virtually inaccessible drainpipe on the roof and caused a torrent of water to descend into it.

This drainpipe partially runs through the house, which I find ridiculous, but there you have it. At about ceiling height in the cellar, the pipe is held in a lesser diameter sleeve and therein lies the problem. The sleeve was partially blocked, so when a huge amount of water needed to be processed, the water level in the sleeve rose until it overflowed.

A partially flooded cellar ensued, but since we managed to intervene quite quickly, thanks to the water alarm installed down there, the damage is therefore much less than it would otherwise have been.

There has been a steady stream of bricklayers, carpenters, plumbers and boiler maintenance people traipsing through the house this week.

A new leak was found in the attic, this one caused by an air vent pipe to the roof, which turned out to have no cap on it. Since the whole pipe was deemed superfluous, it was removed and its location on the roof tiled over.

Since the day we moved in, we’ve suffered from another leak, somewhere in our heating system. I regularly have to refill the system, particularly when we’ve been away and the pipes have been cold. This was why we came back to a freezing cold house on Monday.

Well, that leak now seems to have been found and it turns out to be the same leak that caused the stain on our dining-room ceiling. It must have been rapidly worsening. A new valve has to be ordered, which will take six working days. A deep tray is catching the drops in the meantime.

The windows in our new media room (a pretentious name, I know, but it’s inaccurate to just call it a TV room) were realigned this week, too. They had been allowing a draught through and, when the bricklayers had used a high-pressure water jet on the side of the house, water as well.

So, it hasn’t all been doom and gloom this week; and we got to see K3 on Friday, of course, which was lots of fun.

I’ll be a lot happier once the new valve has been fitted in the attic and the dining-room ceiling repainted, but we’ll probably have to leave that a few weeks before doing that, to allow everything to thoroughly dry out.

Rebuilding The House

My feet never touch the ground around here. There’s always something going on, someone coming to the house to do something, someone who needs their mouth fed or their bottom wiped, an errand to do outside the house; that kind of thing.

The house is currently surrounded by scaffolding and bricklayers are in the process of repairing our hundred year old bricks and mortar, some of which is in quite bad condition; as you might expect after a century of Dutch winters. They’re two weeks in and are going to be here for about eight weeks in total, a period I’ll be happy to put behind us, because they make a lot of noise with their drills.

Our electrician continues to deliver sterling work and this week reconnected four M & S Systems in-ceiling speakers in the kitchen and dining-room, plus a further four in the walk-in wardrobe and bathroom on the first floor. I had originally thought we wouldn’t be able to reuse any of these speakers, so I’m very pleased.

Our two remaining Sonos ZP100 units have been seconded to create two new listening zones, bringing our total back to six, the number we had in the old house. Whilst it’s nice to now be able to use the Sonos whilst lounging in the bath, it’s especially pleasing to have music directly overhead whilst eating dinner and washing up. It’s also very satisfying to be able to reuse more of the equipment previously built into the house, because, let’s face it, we paid handsomely for it.

The new couch for what I’ll pretentiously call the media room on the first floor arrived on Monday. It looks lovely and is very comfortable. The room is immediately considerably more inviting, thanks to this addition.

November will see us add a plasma screen television and surround sound system to the room, which will make it a rather more practical place to hang out. I’ll also install one of Sonos’s new ZP120 controllers and turn the room into a new listening zone.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Old houses have infinitely more charm than their modern counterparts, but you certainly pay the price, both literally and figuratively, in upkeep. It’s enough to make you long for the bad old days of renting; well, not quite.

Posterior Patio Pleasure

The gardeners were here again yesterday to give our garden its last major push towards completion.

The chief task yesterday was to install the lighting. We’ve had small lights placed in the wooden steps that lead from the kitchen door to the patio, plus larger lights around the patio and along the path towards the gate.

We had to wait for it to go dark yesterday in order to appreciate the effect, but it was nice and conferred the atmosphere we were looking for.

The lighting in question is 12V LED lighting, so it doesn’t use a lot of power. We have it connected to a twilight sensor, so that it turns on automatically after sunset. You can control how long it stays on after that.

We’re still waiting for a couple of spotlights to be placed at the base of two of our trees, which will further add to the atmosphere. Those are 220V, so I’ll need a qualified electrician to place those.

Eloïse now has some tree bark at the foot of her climbing frame’s ladder, so she can now climb the ladder without having to tread in soil. She could already go up using the rope slope, but now she has the option of the ladder, too. A sprinkler head near the foot of the ladder was moved out of the way today and should be more effective now.

The remainder of the plants have been placed, too. There may still be one more plant to place; I’m not sure; but things are starting to look finished now.

In the evening, our Unopiù garden furniture arrived on the back of a very large lorry from Germany. The delivery men didn’t speak a word of English, so I had to haul my notoriously bad bisschen Deutsch out of the mothballs.

The lorry had spent some seven hours on the road en route from Bad Kissingen and didn’t arrive until 19:30. I had begun to doubt whether I had properly understood the German phone conversation the day before when we were arranging the drop-off.

Anyway, the old garden furniture has now made way for the new stuff, consisting of a large teak table, eight chairs and a very large rectangular parasol. The spokes of the parasol are so long that it can’t be fully closed, so we may end up exchanging it for the circular model, but it looks lovely when open.

Eloïse was very excited by the new furniture when she came down this morning and has been keen to eat all of her meals out there today.

Now we just need a few guests to come over and enjoy the patio with us. The weather is set to continue getting warmer and I just hope it’s still good when Tony and Bernie get here next month.

Affluent Effluent

Soon after Sarah’s folks arrived for their most recent visit, our downstairs toilet started to behave rather strangely. It was behaving as if it was blocked: when flushed, the water would rise towards the top of the bowl and it would take a long time to sink again.

By the late evening, however, the problem appeared to have remedied itself. The toilet would flush almost normally again. The next morning, too, the toilet was still behaving well, but in the course of the day, it would slowly start to show signs of being blocked again.

As the days went by, the problems continued. I hoped they would disappear as suddenly and mysteriously as they had appeared, but it wasn’t to be. The symptoms started to become more severe. I’d hear the pump in the cupboard under the stairs grinding away, trying to move water around, but unable to. The same cupboard, which also happens to house much of my computer equipment, started to emit the perspicuous odour of foetid shit. My imagination started to run riot.

Meanwhile, the upstairs toilets continued to flush apparently normally. Even the one in the cellar continued to work normally, but I believe that one follows a separate pipe to the street.

By the end of the bank holiday weekend, it was evident that the problem wasn’t going to fix itself, so I brought a plumber in. After tracing a few pipes and listening to my description of the symptoms, he advised me that there was a strong likelihood the source of the problem was located outside the house.

Once he’d left, I called the local water board and asked for a technician to come and investigate the problem. They agreed to send someone as soon as possible and, sure enough, a couple of hours later, a couple of blokes dressed in orange overalls turned up at the front door. I was impressed with the quick response.

Within minutes, they’d opened up the manhole in the street and were studying their drawings to see which pipe led to which neighbouring house. I went outside to talk to them. They quickly made an interesting discovery: none of the pipes in the manhole appeared to be coming from our house.

A few weeks ago, the pavement right outside our neighbour’s house had been dug up by the water board, apparently to lay new pipes. The suspicion of the men investigating our problem was that one of our pipes had then been mistaken for the neighbour’s, and that it had been erroneously curtailed.

The net result of this was that we were apparently no longer connected to the sewage system! A full camera investigation of the sewer failed to locate a pipe leading from our house.

The theory certainly concurred with the symptoms. If our cut-off pipe now led straight into the subterranean sand and we were truly flushing our toilets, baths and showers straight into that, the liquid would take a long while to seep into the ground. That would explain why, late at night and first thing in the morning, the toilet would appear to flush normally again, as the path along our pipe would have had a chance to clear. Over time, though, it was clearing less and less well, as toilet paper and other, er, crap, collected at the pipe’s base.

In the course of a day, the higher water usage during daylight hours would fill the pipe more quickly than the water could disperse and the symptoms would reappear. Sinks and toilets would glug, flushing the toilet would fill the bowl, the sound of the cellar pump grinding away at seemingly arbitrary moments could be heard, etc.

The fact that it had taken several weeks since the work on the neighbour’s pipes before we had encountered any problems also made sense to the men in orange. They said that it would take a few weeks for the blockage to build up to the point that we would start to suffer its ill effects.

The men with strong accents made some phone calls and informed me that a team of workers would be back in the morning to dig up the street, find the cause of the problem and fix it.

I arranged with them that I would park my car across the relevant area of the street that evening to reserve it for their use the next day. That way, we could avoid having to have the council place signs announcing the work several days in advance, which is the way things usually work here.

True to their word, a team of men turned up with heavy equipment the very next day, just after eight o’clock. Within no time, a large amount of street and pavement had been dug up and the source of the problem located.

Since the street was now wide open anyway, the water board made use of the opportunity to remove the old, porous clay pipes and replace them with shiny new PVC pipes. We were now better off than before the emergence of our problem.

Just over three hours after they had first shown up and started digging, the hard-working fluorescent men were finished and shovelling the last of the sand back into the trenches. A van from the council was standing by to replace the cobblestones once the water board left.

I took photos of the whole event, because I couldn’t believe how quickly so much manpower and material had been mobilised to fix a problem — albeit a serious one — for a single household. Of course, they were only fixing their own mistake, but I was still very impressed with the response. It must have cost several thousand euros to do the work, which had also been given priority over whatever else the team in question had been scheduled to do that day.

Petje af, Waternet!