TLC for a Broken House

I spent the majority of the day yesterday undertaking what I expected to be a one or two hour job to repair to the wood floor in the master bath. The job is not complete, nor will it be complete until I do what I should have done from the outset; hire a competent contractor to deal with the issue.

The problem began several months ago when, one day, we moved the bath mat next to the walk-in shower and noticed a discoloration in a plank of the engineered wood floor next to the shower. (I will not get into the inadvisability of putting engineered wood floors in a bathroom or kitchen. We knew what we were getting when we bought the house.) I could not figure out what the problem was, so I vowed to “keep an eye on it.” And I did. Periodically. On rare occasion. Twice, maybe three times.

A few days ago, as I was showering, I noticed in a corner of the shower that tiny brown bits seemed to be flowing into the shower from a corner. After the shower, I examined the area more closely.  Caulking was missing from a tiny spot in the corner and that’s where the brown bits were dribbling out, along with water. And, moving the bath mat, I noticed the top layer of the engineered plank in the discolored area had separated from the layer beneath it. And the plank behind it felt wet and spongy. “Okay. No more using the master bath shower until I fix it,” I said to my wife.  I think I saw sadness in her eyes when I spoke the words “I fix it.”

Looking at the problem, I thought, “all I need to do is to clean out and caulk the spot where the leak was, remove the quarter-round next to the shower, remove a couple of planks of flooring, and replace them with the extras in the garage.” (The woman from whom we bought the house had the flooring installed and had kept a box of planks). Two hours, tops. It took me an hour to get the quarter round out. I vowed not to break it (and I didn’t), but getting it out in one piece was a painstaking effort. I spent most of the remainder of the day removing two little pieces of flooring. I had assumed the tongue and groove planks were simply laid on top of the subfloor. I thought I had a floating floor. I thought wrong. The installers affixed the planks to the subfloor with white adhesive that could have successfully attached pieces of the space shuttle to one another and survived re-entry. I have never encountered an adhesive so determined to keep two objects bound together. I used pry bars, putty knives, chisels, and screw drivers to tear those pieces of flooring out. Though I was beat after ripping out the planks, I decided to tackle the inside of the shower, caulking every possible point at which water could escape into the walls or floorboards. But first, I had to buy a new tube of caulk. The unopened tube I had bought who knows how many years ago had dried.  Off to the hardware store for a  new tube that worked just fine.

It was during the caulking that I discovered that the grab bar inside the shower had to be removed temporarily so I could caulk around the soap dish. Removing the grab bar was a little like removing the flooring. One of the six tiny set screws holding the grab bar to its two base connection was almost impossible to turn, but I finally got it done. As I was doing it, though, I noticed black and red drips of water running down the shower wall from the lower grab bar connection. Though the grab bar looked fine on the outside, the corrosion inside stunned me. Water had gotten into the cavity between the exterior shower wall and the grab bar connection, causing it to rust. Cleaning up the grab bar took me an hour. And then I finished caulking.

Finally, I was ready to cut the replacement planks. I do not have the tools best suited for the task, so I decided to use a hand saw. After much effort, I finally got a piece cut and tried to fit it into the appropriate spot (I only wanted to dry fit it; I intend to let the base floor dry completely and use the shower for a few days before finishing the job). It was then I realized that, because the piece I’m trying to replace is shorter than a full plank, there will be no tongue on one end to fit into the groove on the adjacent plank. The piece will have to have a tongue created on the end. Only someone with better tools and more knowledge than I can do that. So, I admit defeat. At least the work shouldn’t cost as much as it otherwise would have cost, thanks to my removal of the ruined pieces. Of course, a competent flooring pro probably could have accomplished in half an hour what it took me all day to do.

I’m questioning myself now as to whether I really want to undertake replacing the cartridges in the several dripping faucets. And do I really think I can replace the shut-off valve for every faucet and toilet without causing even more leaks? Speaking of toilets, should I attempt replacing it on my own? And the deck. Is it realistic for me to repair the broken and cracked boards?

My broken house needs some TLC. I’m sure I’m not the one to give it the love it needs. It’s not you, House, it’s me.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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