Lessons from Our Flood
- 2004 2 Feb
"I hear water running," my wife exclaimed as we entered the house from the garage one Sunday afternoon following worship service. As my mind cleared from the panic in her voice, I heard it too. There was a continuous "shssshhh" sound, like a kitchen faucet running full blast into a metal sink. My breathing and pulse quickened as I entered the house. My initial thought, as we rushed toward the source of the dreaded sound, was that a water line to the dishwasher had ruptured or someone had left the kitchen faucet running. As we stepped from the hardwood foyer onto the dining room carpet, our worst fears became a reality. Water oozed from the carpet underfoot like water squeezed from a sponge. Dear God, no! Not our home.
We were welcomed to the kitchen by a quarter inch of water standing on the vinyl. Water was seeping out from underneath the kitchen cabinets. Within a few seconds we were able to pinpoint the source of the leak. A pipe had ruptured in the wall between the dining room and the kitchen.
Remembering a hand valve located under the house, I made a beeline for the crawl space door. Crawling on my hands and knees, and at times sliding along on my belly in my Sunday best, I made my way through the dark toward the valve that I knew was located in the far corner. The water seeping through the floor above rained down on me as I groped through the dark toward my destination.
My hand found the valve. I attempted to rotate the valve handle in a clockwise direction to shut it. To my horror, I discovered that the valve was already closed. I was stricken with panic. The valve in which I had placed my hope was not a water shutoff valve at all!
I reversed my path and once again wallowed through the damp dirt back to the outside light. I ran in desperation down to the street where the water utility box was located. My wife's hysterical tears, and the vision of water raining down in the crawl space, flashed through my mind. The terrible spraying sound from the broken pipe in the wall haunted my thoughts as I yanked off the water box cover.
The water valve, which had not been operated in over seven years, was nowhere to be seen. A fire ant mound completely covered the valve and only a portion of the meter face was visible. With my bare hands I scooped out the ant mound. Fortunately, due to the recent cold weather, the ants had migrated deeper into the earth. I was spared their fearless attack and blistering bites.
The clock was ticking. The water was flowing. The damage to our home was growing more severe with each passing moment. Got to get the water off! I located the valve, and lacking the special tool required to turn the valve, I tried to turn it with my bare hands. It would not budge. Dear God, help me! I leapt to my feet, ran back up the driveway, and grabbed a hammer and a large screwdriver from the garage. My heart, which pounded in my chest, echoed in my ears with each beat. I could not believe this was happening to me. I knew the house was supposed to be equipped with a water shutoff valve; yet, I had failed to locate it. To make matters worse, I did not have the proper tool to shut off the water valve at the street. I raced back down the driveway to the water box. I stuck the end of the screwdriver in a slot in the valve and frantically pounded the handle of the screwdriver with the hammer. Am I turning this thing in the right direction? It is bound to be a right-hand valve. I pounded harder. Finally, the valve began to rotate toward the closed position. The spinning counter began to rotate slower and slower and then stopped completely.
Exhausted from the moment and relieved at having stopped the deluge, I rested on my hands and knees by the water box. Having kicked off her high heels during the time of crisis, my wife now stood in bare feet at the end of the driveway with tears streaming down her face. As we embraced, seeking comfort from one another, I realized that though the flood had stopped, we were just beginning the long road to recovery from this disaster.
We did not discover the full extent of the damage until the next day when the general contractor pronounced the verdict. The kitchen cabinets would have to be removed, and all of the downstairs carpet, vinyl floor, and hardwood floor would have to be pulled up to allow the floor to dry out. The floor insulation in the crawl space would have to be removed. The HVAC ducts and air handler located beneath the house would have to be torn out as water had drained into the floor vents and migrated down the ducts to the air handler.
We soon learned that the polybutylene water pipe that had failed was defective, and that this type of water pipe had been outlawed due to its potential to burst. To our horror, we discovered that this defective pipe was used throughout our house. The water pipes in our seven-year-old home were a time bomb waiting to explode, a disaster lurking in the shadows. Due to a class action lawsuit against the company that manufactured the pipe, a trust fund had been created to finance the re-plumb of houses that had experienced an interior pipe burst. We submitted a claim, and it was approved. The subsequent re-plumb and associated wall and ceiling repairs extended the duration of our ordeal to over three months.
Now, you may ask, "Where is the bright side in all of this? What did you learn from this disaster?" Looking back on this catastrophe, I would have to say that it is not what we learned, but rather, what Mark, my middle child, learned from this experience. In spite of the interruption to our routine way of living and the disruption to our home schooling, we realized that this disaster would provide some "teachable moments," some "lessons from the flood."
Let me take a brief intermission from my story to tell you a little about Mark, who at the time of the deluge was twelve years old. He is a hands-on kind of guy. Schoolwork and written lessons are not his passion. Mark learns best by seeing, hearing, and doing. He is an inventor by nature. Some of his past creations have included: a huge trebuchet that boasted a 20-foot catapult arm, a spud cannon that shoots potato plugs over 200 feet, and a 150-foot pulley line from his upstairs bedroom window to a tree house platform in the backyard. Mark thinks that reruns of "This Old House" and "The Yankee Millwright" deserve Emmy Awards.
Get the picture? Understand the dilemma we were faced with? We knew that to hold Mark captive upstairs to books and written lessons, while a huge construction project progressed downstairs, would be more than he could bear. So, we decided very early in the game that we would let Mark's formal education slide for awhile—call it a home school "perk"—so that he could observe, participate, and learn from the on-going construction work.
Besides, Dad could not be there all the time due to his full-time job outside of the home. And . . . Dad needed a good informant . . . uh . . . I mean a good . . . uh . . . quality control inspector. Let us face it. Mark sees and hears everything. A few minutes of casual conversation with Mark in the evenings would give Dad a thorough summary of the work that had transpired during the day, the problems encountered, and the solutions employed.
Over the next several weeks, Mark helped with the demolition. He helped pull up the carpet, padding, tack strips, and pad staples. Mark assisted in ripping up the vinyl floor and underlayment. He watched the removal of the hardwood floor. In the crawl space under the house, Mark helped rip out the wet insulation between the floor joists, assisted in removing the HVAC ducts, and watched the removal of the air handler. He witnessed the removal of the commode and cabinets from the bathroom and the removal of the kitchen cabinets.
Mark carefully observed the equipment used in the dry-out process, the large fans and dehumidifiers. Of course, typical of a home-educated student, he not only watched the dry-out process, he monitored it as well. Mark collected the water from the dehumidifier discharge tube in a one-gallon plastic milk jug, recorded the time required for the jug to fill, and then calculated the number of gallons per hour of water removed from the air.
Mark was also actively involved in the reconstruction process. He assisted the workers from the heating and air company as they installed a new heat pump and new HVAC ducts. He played gopher as he catered to their every need, fetched tools, ran errands, and manipulated the heat pump thermostat at their request. Mark observed the installation of new padding, carpet, underlayment, and vinyl floor covering. He witnessed the installment of the commode, a new hardwood floor, and wood trim molding. Mark watched the plumber repair the broken water pipe. He helped Dad dig a huge hole in the front yard to locate the water line entering the house, watched the plumber install a new shutoff valve, and then helped Dad fill in the hole.
Mark became buddies with the cabinet man and helped him reinstall the kitchen cabinets and countertops. This older gentlemen, who was a former high school shop teacher, remarked, "Mark will pick up on this real easily. He has a real knack for this kind of work."
During our ordeal we were blessed with several Christian construction workers. Mark seemed to bond with these individuals best of all. Two husky individuals, who performed the floor rip out, come to mind. The name of their business partnership is "Two Brothers in Christ." These two godly men were very supportive of home education and provided Mark with some strong words of encouragement and advice. They stressed the need for Mark to get a good education so that he would one day be the boss and not a laborer.
Several months later Mark watched the re-plumb crew rip out the defective polybutylene piping, install PVC pipe all through the house, and pressure test the piping. He watched the wall people come in and repair the holes in the walls and ceiling.
Regardless of the crews involved, Mark was constantly observing and challenging the men as to why they were doing things the way they were doing them. Each night he would report back to me and ask, "Daddy, do you know why . . . ," or he would say, "Daddy, I bet they could do it quicker and better if . . ." Indeed, he proved to be an invaluable informant . . . uh . . . quality control inspector.
The only reconstruction phase that Mark missed was the installation of the ceramic tile floor in our kitchen. We thought it was best to send him to his grandparents for a few days. You see, Mark is the most inquisitive person I know. When he was 3-1/2 years old we replaced the carpet in our house. The little tike followed the carpet installer from room to room, asking one question after another. For a while the busy installer gracefully responded to his questions. After several hours, though, the installer began to hyperventilate, overwhelmed with the endless questions. Standing a mere 34 inches, this relentless bundle of energy had pushed the man to his limit. "Is that your hammer?" Mark innocently inquired—no answer—"Is that your hammer?" Mark asked a little louder—silence—"Is that your hammer?" Mark shouted. The carpet installer, red in the face and perspiring heavily, suddenly blurted a loud response, "Yes, that's my hammer!" Needless to say, it was time to put Mark down for a nap. Aware of his inquisitive nature and the meticulous and unforgiving nature of laying tile, we believed it would be wise to keep Mark away from the tile man.
Mark learned a tremendous amount as the result of "the flood," as did we all. He learned how to lay carpet, install and level cabinets, cement PVC pipe together, install a commode, pressure test plumbing, install HVAC ducts, patch sheet rock, install underlayment and vinyl floor covering, remove moisture from wet walls and floors, and install hardwood floor and wood trim molding. Mark gained a practical knowledge of the planning and coordination required to carry out a major project by watching the general contractor. He understands the logical sequence and timing necessary for demolition and construction. As he watched and helped the various construction crews, he gained valuable and practical handyman skills. Regardless of his future career, he gained beneficial knowledge from this disaster that will help him as a future homeowner.
As I reflect back on this painful period of our lives, I can always find a bright spot. I am reminded of the unique learning opportunities it provided Mark—an educational experience he would have missed if he were attending public school. Nearly two years later after the flood, he still speaks of one day becoming a general contractor. I believe that he will likely fulfill that dream because he learned well the "lessons from the flood."
Terry Bowman is a part-time freelance writer. He and Karen, his wife of twenty years, make their home near Wilmington, North Carolina with their three children: Neal (16), Mark (14), and Lori (11). They have been homeschooling for over seven years.
This article was originally published in the Jan/Feb '04 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. For more information, visit www.HomeSchoolEnrichment.com