Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Gutter Gripes and Patio Peeves

It’s been a month since my last post and we still aren’t finished. When will this end?

The gutters have been a big part of the story this month. The guys who installed them have been called back about a dozen times – first because the gutter on the back of the house was so bowed in the middle that it didn’t drain at all, and the drain in the front dumped out exactly where they were told not to put it. Also, water was running behind the gutters in a few spots, and all of the corners were leaking. And they forgot to install the screens. Gradually the problems were rectified but after several visits, the general contractor finally gave up and sealed the corners of the gutters himself. “But what about the water running behind the gutters”, you ask? One more stop at Home Depot and we now have cute little corner guards that keep the water where it is supposed to go.

These are the same guys who inspected the roof when the project first began and claimed we didn’t need a new roof – just new boots on all of the vents. “Are you sure?” we said. “It leaks an awful lot,” we said. “Another roofer told us we had hail damage,” we said. Well of course, after replacing all the boots, we still had the same leaks, so they climbed up there again and said, “Oh. You have a couple of small holes in the roof. We can fill those with tar and it will last for another couple of years.” Right. Still leaking. Well the general contractor climbed into the attic and found the real holes in the roof in about 5 minutes. He sent a couple of his guys up on the roof with a pack of shingles and we now are leak free. We still need a new roof, but now really can get by for a couple more years.

To be fair, a good bit of work has been completed. Both the electrical and plumbing inspectors have signed off. But not before we discovered the solution to both our hot water heater vent and water leaking from “somewhere” in the basement, was a new hot water heater. We decided to bite the bullet and go tankless, so we are now the proud owners of a Rinnai tankless gas water heater. Unfortunately, it has a bit of an issue.

The whole point of a tankless water heater (aside from certain energy and financial benefits) is that you are never supposed to run out of hot water. Well we do, but not in any sort of pattern that is easy to analyze. Rinnai has suggested to the plumber that, when this happens, we should go read the codes off the system and call him with the numbers. Then he can call them and they can diagnose the problem.

Now picture this. You are on the 2nd floor taking a shower and trying to keep shampoo out of your eyes. All of a sudden, the water goes cold. You jump out of the shower, throw on a robe (hopefully), run down two flights of stairs to the basement, see what code is flashing on the water heater, and write it down on a piece of paper you forgot to grab as you screamed past the kitchen. You are supposed to do this before the thing stops malfunctioning and goes back to placidly informing you it is maintaining a temperature of 125 degrees. Right, that’s going to happen.

The most maddening part is that this doesn’t happen every time you take a shower, and you have no way of knowing how often it happens with the dishwasher or washing machine. The only good news is that the plumber is a good guy and is committed to finding a solution.

Also on the plus side, the front porch is finished and even sporting a few news plants in addition to the roof! Everyone who has seen it thinks it “looks great”.
Part of that is because of the great framing guys we had. Without them, we might still be at risk of the whole porch roof landing on someone’s head.
The other credit goes to the concrete team. That subcontractor has a group of guys that really work hard and they do an impressive job of finishing concrete.

Unfortunately, they aren’t inclined to push back when someone presents them with a dumb idea. They just did what they were asked to do resulting in our patio problem.

If you recall, the idea of the patio was to create a raised area around the basement stairs to prevent water from getting in during our periodic floods. This area was also going to replace the old deck, so needed to accommodate a table and chairs, gas grill, etc. We also asked for a patio design that would be pervious to allow rainwater to seep down through the ground, and to try and reuse any concrete that was demoed from other parts of the project.

What we ended up with was a concrete retaining wall filled with about ten inches of drainage rock covered by four inches of pea gravel into which broken pieces of the old front porch slab had been placed as flagstones. It was very pretty and completely impractical. As soon as you set a chair on pea gravel (especially that much pea gravel), it sinks.

After lots of discussion, research on the internet, teeth gnashing and debate, the stone and concrete guy may have come up with a brilliant solution. He has suggested that we add portland cement to the pea gravel and add some water. In theory, the portland will cause the whole thing to set up like concrete. It won’t be pervious, but it will be stable and it should be really pretty. He is going to do a trial on one small corner next week and if it works, his team will redo the entire patio this way making sure that everything is level and shipshape.

At long last, we may be ready to wrap this baby up. Despite the heat, we are really anxious to try out that patio with a few friends and steaks on the grill. I’ll keep you posted.


Wally Hartshorn said...

Hi, Kay! Sounds like your housing improvements have been a real adventure! (It seems like they always are.)

I've always thought the tankless water heater was a great idea. Be sure to let us know when/if a solution is found!

Alas, we're still renting a house, but one of these days....

Say "hi" to Mark for me!

Kay Stephenson said...

Hey Wally. Glad to know someone other than Mark is reading the blog. The plumber is on his way over as we speak. He is going to get Rinnai on the phone and run through the diagnostics. Rinnai's tech support sound like the support from most computer companies. Every time you call you get a different tech with a different opinion. I'll keep you posted.