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Diary of a Fixer-Upper: The First Disaster

Finally, it was time to move into the house. The first two major projects—installing a heating system and floors—were completed in the month-and-a-half window during which I could afford to pay both my mortgage and rent. The house still required a lot of

Instead of paying a contractor hundreds to install new toilets, Heather did the project herself.

I asked around for moving help, hoping to recruit at least two friends, but somehow won the lottery and ended up with five volunteers, a truck, and an SUV. This was going to be a snap. We met early on a Saturday morning at my apartment, loaded up both cars, and headed the 15 blocks to my house.  

We arrived on the first trip, and I unlocked the back door. As I walked inside to drop off the first bag, something didn’t seem right. The lights were off, and the windows covered, but somehow, the floor was . . . wait, was it glistening?  

The entire first floor—my brand-new hardwood floor—was covered with water. Flooded. Water was dripping down the stairs, through the drywall, and pooling everywhere. Bulging paint bubbles covered the ceiling, and the bathroom door under the stairs was completely water-stained.

It took me less than a minute to realize what had happened. I had taken it upon myself to replace the toilets in the house, which the squatters had used. Rather than pay hundreds of dollars for what was a relatively simple home-improvement task, I bought a toilet set and did it myself.  And yeah, you’re probably thinking what I was: Totally boffing my first task as a renovator did not bode well.

A small trickle of water leaked from the toilet, out the hallway, and down the stairs for three days before Heather realized it. Friends helped her mop up the flood with a shop-vac.

The water company came by three days before my move-in day. This involved another half-day off work, and by the time they finally got there and turned the main valve on, I had to leave immediately. If I had only stayed 20 minutes to check the plumbing like I should have . . . well, lesson learned.

It turns out I had installed the toilet correctly, I just hadn’t tightened everything, and a small trickle of water had been leaking from the tank to the floor, then out to the hallway and down the stairs—for 72 hours.  

My moving volunteers seemed to be waiting for me to burst into tears. But you know what?  This is the kind of stuff that’s going to happen when you’re fixing up a house. And it was my fault. There was nothing to do at this point but fix it and salvage what I could.  

My main concern, of course, was my new floors. My instinct was to mop up, open the windows, and rent a fan. I made an emergency call to my flooring contractors, and I’m so glad I did. Exposing the wood to the cold winter air would be the worst thing I could do; the contractors instructed me to keep the house above 60 degrees for the next two to three months. Then we could assess the damage and make repairs. More likely than not, the warm air would dry out the wood, and anything that had bulged or curled up would eventually lay flat again.

So I cranked up my new heater, my friends and I hustled back to the condo to unload my furniture, and we went to the hardware store to buy a shop-vac. I made a call to my landlords, who, thank goodness, agreed to let me stay in my apartment for another week.

In the end, I only lost a few books and a bunch of office supplies. After the vacuuming, we noticed some water damage on a few floorboards, but it disappeared in a few weeks. The floors don’t seem quite as bright and shiny as they were before, but that was going to happen with wear anyway.

A flood wasn’t exactly on my to-do list, but it did give me my first experience in dealing with the unexpected surprises that come with renovation projects—and it’s certainly not going to be the last.  In the meantime, I’ve invested in a good set of pliers for the downstairs toilet . . . .

To read Heather's home adventures from the beginning, click here.