house

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Can You Smell The Snow?

Today I plucked my winter coat out of the closet, I already dug up the old scarf on Monday. We've had a couple of very nice and warm days lately - in conmpensation for the most dreadful summer in Belgian history - but now autumn is definitely here.

I made good use of those warm and dry days to fix the roof of the annexe, or rather, I built a new timber roof over the old one and covered it with EPDM foil - despite advice from a couple of friends not to, but I didn't like the other options and with the winter coming I had to move fast.

So now we can enter the cold season with a roof that doesn't leak. I also added another layer of insulation for good measure, so it'll be warm and cosy inside.

I Don't Like Mondays

Monday mornings are a creation of the devil, everyone knows that. But last Monday really made the grade. It started with me having to organise a tow truck, because the car stubbornly refused to start. Not because I'd left on the lights, mind you. At first it played dead, then the warning lights did light up when I turned the contact key a notch, but when the engine was supposed to start it slammed everything shut. However, it insisted on making the windscreen wipers go, although they were not on.

So it took me all morning to call the garage, wait for the tow truck, drive to the place where I'd left the car and then get back home. Luckily, my boss was flexible and granted me half a day of leave, and by noon I was back behind my desk. The friendly people from the garage called in the afternoon to say it was repaired. They'd made an effort because I had explained to them I really, really needed that car in working order because my wife is disabled and ready to give birth at any moment (in the next five weeks or so). So after work I took a train and a bus and to get the car and drove it home.

You'd guess that would be enough misery for one Monday, but there was more in store. After dinner, when I'd rinsed all the plates, I went outside and discovered a small lake on our lawn and a small tributary river coming from the sewer pit in the middle of the terrace. The smell that greeted me when I lifted the lid was indescribable!

The problem was very obvious, the whole pit was clogged with a single mass of putrid muck. To be honest, I'd noticed that the water wasn't running away like it should lately, but things were so busy these last couple of weeks that I'd never got around to check out what was wrong. But now there was no other way around it: I had to get on my knees and scoop that goo out.

The rubber gloves I was wearing helped a bit, until I had to reach deep into the sewer and sludge from the sides of the pit seeped in. When I got all of the vomit inducing muck out, I tried whether the drain was still blocked with the garden hose, but alas, the water did not recede. So now I had to scoop all that water, that had turned into foul smelling sewerage immediately, out again. Then, with my face perilously close to the entry, I had to reach inside to reach far into the sewer and feel where it was still blocked, and then pluck out the chunks of ewchchyechblarf. In total, I removed two whole buckets of it, together with four buckets of raw sewerage.

Despite the gloves and washing my hands several times and taking a long shower afterwards, the smell still lingered in my nose until I fell asleep.

And that is how I spend my Mondays.

House over canal in Bruges

House over canal in Bruges

Going Through The Roof (Water)

I didn’t post during the last couple of days, because the number of leaks in the ceiling of the computer room quickly increased. The problem is that this room has (or in the mean time had) a false ceiling, so there was no way to know how serious the problem was, how it was evolving, how many leaks we had and where the water was coming from exactly. So I spent the weekend on the roof.

It is a flat roof, covered with tarmac with a number of ventilation shafts and chimneys in different sizes. On top of the tarmac there’s a layer of pebbles to prevent it from heating up too much so it won’t start to bulge or tear apart. But that layer also held a load of mud and moss, and we suspected that was what causes the water to remain on the roof. The moss might also be responsible for making cracks in the tarmac.

On Saturday, we shovelled and sifted approximately five tonnes of pebbles and mud and separated it into two tonnes of pebbles and three tonnes of mud and moss. It was by far the heaviest and dirtiest chore I did so far on the house (geddit: on the house?) It was cold and wet up there too, with the occasional shower, but by the end of the day the sun came out. Despite a reduction in man-power (or rather woman-power) in the afternoon – my wife really had to go see a friend for an hour and didn’t make it back to the roof until four hours later – the roof was cleared and cleaned by the early evening.

The next morning, the neighbours nearly choked on their cornflakes because of the ruckus we were making in bed (reading comics and building pillow forts). Then we went off to the polling station to cast our democratic vote and smite the evil fascists in the deep fiery furnaces of hell. That’s right: we win! They loose! Democracy and tolerance have prevailed! We haven’t been standing in the pouring rain and hail for nothing on that concert! But anyway, back to the roof…

Things were a lot easier and much less back-breaking on Sunday. I moved the pebbles to the side of the roof, gave it another good scrubbing, and another one. I also removed the tiles of the false ceiling in the computer room, because they were bloated with water anyway and the chances of them returning to their original state were nil. I’d also grown worried that at some stage they might simply drop off and onto my head as I write my posts. Imagine, the first blogger killed in the line of duty. By a water-soggy bloated ceiling tile.

This allowed me to see that the leaks were not situated right above my computer and measure up the probable location of the hole(s) in the tarmac. The culprit proved to be a ventilation pipe – you know, those black plastic mushrooms you find on flat roofs. I peeled away the old sealing stuff and gave it a good scrub. Then I waited until my wife went horse-riding and borrowed her hair-dryer to dry the tarmac. First I treated the area with a primer, then after 90 minutes of drying I applied the reparation mastic which I reinforced with a layer of reinforcement mesh. It still needs a second layer, but it was raining yesterday evening and anyway I was home too late from work and shopping. But so far, so good: it seems to hold.

So now I can put my computer back, in a room with half a false ceiling and strange, smelly vegetal life forms on the wet spots. If only our bedroom would be finished already!

Leaking

They say dog’s owners resemble their dogs (or vice versa), but I never knew house owners also resemble their houses. At the moment, we do: both my house and I are leaking.

It all started on Sunday, during the biblical storms that nearly drowned us at the Concert for Tolerance. The hail and rain chilled me to the bone. Yesterday I got up not feeling well and returned to bed in the evening feeling worse. I did go to work, but my productivity was not even close to optimal. Today it’s the same scenario, although I got to sleep a bit longer. But I had a meeting just after lunch that I didn’t want to postpone yet again. So this working men’s hero dragged himself to Brussels, with a clogged up nose with built-in waterfall, a pounding headache that started as soon as I set foot on the bus and a somewhat reduced hearing ability. I also got a very annoying pimple right on the rim of my right nostril, so it hurts as hell every time I wipe my nose.

The house’s symptoms are a dripping ceiling in my wife’s office. When I checked my e-mail on Sunday I heard this alarming ‘drip-drip-drip’ noise close behind me. It took me a while to find the leaks because the light isn’t working. Luckily I put my socked foot right into the puddle so then I knew where it was for sure.

The water is seeping in at three places. The problem is that there’s a false ceiling, so I can’t actually see where it enters. I changed into some shorts and a T-shirt and climbed onto the flat roof to check for damage. Getting up there in typical summer outfit (the weather was nice earlier that day) in chilling wind and pouring rain didn’t do wonders for my health either. I didn’t find any obvious holes, which means that next weekend I can spend all of my time removing two tonnes of pebbles, cleaning up the roof, scanning for damage and repairing it. Hopefully I’ll just have to pour some of that liquid repair stuff on it. If not, I’ll have to lay a new layer of tarmac roll on it.

Anyway, I’ll have to get better first if I want to play super-roof-repair-man on Saturday.

Proprietor

Yesterday was the big day. I cunningly slipped out of the office early – not so difficult as I’m to only one there, the rest is on annual or maternity leave – and headed to the village where she-who-make-white-T-shirts-turn-yellow-when-she-washes-them works. Unfortunately I jumped off the train two stations too early. Fortunately, this proved to be very close to where the notary’s office was. Unfortunately, my wife felt insecure about taking a short-cut, and she insisted on driving back to near her office (15 minutes in the opposite direction) to take the route she knows (20 minutes back). So we made a 35 minutes detour to get at a place 5 minutes from the train station. But as it was my fault that I got off the train at the wrong station, I didn’t want to make a fuss. She was already stressed enough and who can blame her?

It’s not every day you buy a house.

Finally, the day had arrived when we could sign the last papers and receive the keys from the previous owners. So, now we’re officially the owners of a 5-bedroom, 2-storey house with a front and a back garden and room for two cars.

This also means we can start the DIY-work. My hands have been itching for months (note to self: take bath one of these days). At the moment, we’re in the optimist pre-work phase. This means that we still have delusions about what lays ahead of us, believing that it will take only a couple of weeks to remove the old carpets, clean the wooden floor in the bedroom, replaster the old chimney there, remove the wall paper in the living room, the dining room and the bedroom, clean the ceilings and repaint them, clean the carpet in the living room and redecorate the three previously mentioned rooms.

In a next phase, we will be up to our ears in work and face an endless number of problems, pitfalls and so on. We will shout at each other and feed ourselves with an endless stream of junk food.

In the third phase, I will find myself three months past the foreseen deadline, loosing every free moment to DIY-ing, while my wife and the neighbours will tremble in fear from my frequent yet totally unpredictable and violent outburst of frustration.

In the final phase, friendly but strong young men in nice white coats will gently lead me away to a waiting ambulance, to the friendly place with the nice big gardens where my nerves can heal while I learn embroidery. Meanwhile, the wife will hire a team of professional builders to try and rectify the damage that I’ve done to the house.

I’m so looking forward to this!

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