Home maintenance

I knew it had been a while since my last post, but it was a shock to open WordPress and see that I haven’t written in six weeks! Wow!

All I can say to account for the time is that I’ve been taking care of myself in the spare time outside of work. That self care did not include writing, obviously, but it was filled with many household chores such as meal prep, cleaning, gardening, and scheduling home repair projects. And it’s paid off. As I sit on my back porch sipping coffee this morning, I love seeing my perennial beds full, lush, and looking marvelous with all that costly mulch, and the general tidiness of the property is heartening.

The entire tax refund will be completely consumed by home maintenance, but that’s OK with me. The peeling paint on the garage was addressed, the rotten fence post replaced, and the flashing on the front of the house touched up. Landscaping took the biggest chunk of it: weed clean up and applying seven cubic yards of mulch is not cheap, even if it the mulch is not the high-end shredded bark. (The landscaping guy couldn’t believe I wanted the lower cost “playground mulch” applied to all perennial beds, but I insisted. It’s not just that I’m trying to save money; I actually like how it looks.) We’ve had so much rain this spring that the weeds were a bit crazy despite my careful hand pulling a few weeks ago.

Speaking of rain, I’m happy that the spot tuck-pointing and extra downspouts I sprang for last year seem to have done the trick: I found no small puddles in the basement after the heavy rains, and the dining room wall has remained dry. Within the next week or two I’ll use up the last of the tax refund repairing that plaster wall in the dining room. (Thank goodness the integrity of the plaster seems good and it is not loose; it will only require lots of scraping, skimming, and then re-painting.) I’ll just have to wait a few months to replace the ruined window treatments. (Let’s I hope I get a bonus this year, OK?)

At least the rain has not caused me huge problems as it did my neighbor next door. Poor Mila has been having a very hard time with all the rain this spring. Her basement (which she repeatedly said has been dry for the past 30 years she’s lived in the house) kept getting water in it after each rain. Every time the amount of water increased, and after a few weeks of this she said she was getting “black mud” coming in, too. I saw her one evening as I was dashing off to meet a friend after work and she looked tired and miserable. She was talking with two men about the basement problem.

I did not care for the way these guys talked to me in general and said that my own downspouts were part of the problem. “Who told you to put your downspouts like this?,” they said. “The city,” I responded. “Who?” “Um…the mayor?” What jerks. As a friend pointed out, a licensed contractor had done the actual work, following city guidelines to disconnect the downspouts from the sewer. For the past five years, those downspouts had been directing water into the four-foot wide perennial bed between my house and her sidewalk and this was the first time I’d heard of there being problems. (It’s common for older houses here in Chicago to have their downspouts directed into pipes that connect to the sewers. Several years ago the city asked that people correct this wherever possible and instead let the rain dissipate into the ground instead of sending it to the treatment facility.)

But what was going on here really was more an issue of perception: my elderly neighbor was exhausted and distressed and I would do whatever I could to help her. So, $200 of my tax refund went to the handyman to come out and reconnect the downspouts to the sewer. Of course, she still had water problems with her basement.

A week after my downspouts were changed, she found the source of the problem in a most dramatic way. After a rainy night, she went down to check her basement and found a significant portion of the floor covered with water. She also saw water bubbling up from the floor. And so the main problem was diagnosed: a broken sewer line. When her sewer pipe was replaced the next day, I saw a section of the pipe they had pulled out. It had a tree root the size of my wrist in it. I asked one of the workers about it, and he said it was the roots that had broken the pipe. “When was the last time you had your sewer rodded?” he asked me. Never. In the nearly 10 years I’ve lived in this house, I’d never had it done.

Another $800 from the tax refund went to pay the company to clean my catch basin, rod the sewer line, and clear the tree roots out of the drain near the basement door. I may have been able to shop around and drop that price a bit more, but I just wanted it done fast. The drain near the basement door definitely needed cleaning. After a very heavy rain a few days after her sewer work, some water came in under that door because the drain was running so slow. I didn’t want to wait another week or two as I made time to collect bids and schedule the work. I just wanted it done, so I found the card the worker had given me and called the company the very next day.

As I stood on the (covered) back porch one evening last week and watched another heavy downpour, I was glad to observe that all that water was being managed well. The drain near the basement door was working fine, all the gutters B and I had cleaned recently were draining, and all the downspouts were directing water properly. And the repairs I’d had done were a damn sight less than the money my poor neighbor had to scrape up to replace her sewer pipe.

As much as a I love my house and my garden, it’s discouraging to keep hearing about property values continuing to decline. Within the past week I heard one comment on the radio that home prices in Chicago are at 2001 levels. Damn. Mark and I bought this house in July 2001, and if it’s value is now about the same, I’ve lost a lot of home equity. I’m not underwater, but considering that I had to pay out half the value of the equity earned from 2001 to 2009 to Mark in our divorce settlement, the value of my part of the settlement (which was tied up in the house) has decreased substantially.

When I hear depressing reports like that I sometimes wonder why I continue to pay for things like exterior painting, landscaping, and fixing peeling plaster walls. But this is my home. One thing that that can’t have a value assigned to it is the pleasure I get living in comfortable house; a house where I can sit on the back porch on a cool, grey morning, dog at my side, sipping coffee as I admire the beauty and aroma of the Zepherine Drouhin roses on the side of the garage.

5 thoughts on “Home maintenance

  1. Wow. 7 yards of mulch. I thought I had a lot of gardens. I always feel guilty buying mulch as I feel like I’m betraying my frugal nature, but it looks oh so good.

    Well, I’m glad you’re back. We had the tree root thing happen too, just after we moved in. We eventually replaced the pipe 7 years later. It hurt spending that $5500 but at least now I know that my sewer won’t back up in my basement. When My neighborhood was built in the 50’s, the contractor decided to save a buck by laying this tar paper sewer line that is only meant for arid, sandy climates…of which new england is not. I feel bad for everyone in my neighborhood who eventually has to fork over some dough to fix someone else’s money saving shortcut.


    • Thanks for the welcome! I need to find a way to keep writing despite all the hubbub of daily life. I have an extra (but odd-shaped) lot that is completely mulched with raised beds on it. That parcel needs *a lot* of mulch. Also, my front yard — while it is a standard-sized city front yard — has no grass and is just a big perennial bed. I love the look of my landscaping, but I can understand why so many people have large swathes of boring grass now. Mulch is expensive!


  2. Seven yards of mulch is mucho impressive. We just bought a yard of the brown dyed mulch for the farm, and just about filled the back of the pickup. I don’t particularly care for the idea that it’s dyed, but the Mrs. likes the way it looks around the flowers. And I have to agree, it does in fact look nice around the hydrangeas and lilac beds.

    Our house hasn’t done much either in the way of appreciating in the last 10 years. But it is indeed comfortable.

    @ First Gen American – I know exactly how you feel, my post count for June is up to a whopping six.


  3. Pingback: A new flock! « a windycitygal's Weblog

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