Cincinnati Plumbers: Take My Money, Please!


The sewer camera is controlled by a Wii, I think.

Warning: Not for the easily grossed out.

Two plumbers ran a camera scope from the clean-out port in my basement out toward the main; both said I had a blockage. I refused to believe it.  After all, I’ve had no backups, and the toilet keeps working.

So I called the Metropolitan Sewer District, and they ran a camera up from the other end, and crossed well beyond the point of the alleged problem. No blockage; just a little bit of what we’ll delicately call “sludge” and standing water behind it in a flat area of the line. The dye we dropped down one of my toilets came flowing out the other end in good order – and was a lot prettier than what usually comes out there, I’m guessing. (Note: Thanks MSD! Everyone there is incredibly responsive, kind and helpful.)

Allow me to show off my drawing skills. (And now you know why I use SketchUp.)

Allow me to show off my drawing skills. (And now you know why I use SketchUp.)

What we did discover, though, is that my line (which doesn’t appear on the MSD map), connects to my neighbor’s line underneath his house, then runs out the back into the alley. MSD’s best guess is that what the plumbers hit is the edge of the Y-shaped pipe that connect the two lines. And there’s also a floor drain tying in on the stem of that Y from my neighbor’s basement. Gotta love old houses, old neighborhoods … and old sewer systems.

So, my potential buyers (yes, we’re still under contract) want the line cleaned, just to make sure there are no problems hidden under the “sludge.” Sounds reasonable.

But my neighbor is out of town; I don’t want to force water at a high psi down the pipes until I can get into his basement to cover up that floor drain. While it’s unlikely that the water and “sludge” will travel upward 4′ or so through that narrow pipe, I really don’t want to chance having to clean his basement of who knows how many years of “sludge” – only 13 years of which is my “sludge” (which makes it no more easily stomached).

But it hardly matters. I can’t get a darn plumber to call me back. I’ve had five – FIVE! – calls out since last Thursday. Nothing. I fail to comprehend this non-responsiveness by a business. Why does no plumbing company want my money, and for what I understand is a fairly simple procedure?!

In the meantime, weather permitting, the roof and gutter work is supposed to commence on Friday. And I hear the appraisal is supposed to be sometime this week.

This better not all go down the drain.

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A Short Video Tour of the Finished Kitchen

If my luck improves a little bit and I’m able to get the sewer crap sorted in a timely and affordable manner, my mom won’t get to see the finished kitchen project (she lives 600 miles away and gets to Cincinnati only once or twice a year). My fervent hope is that new owners are enjoying it and the rest of the home by her next visit to town.

So I shot this iPhone video for her. The production quality is not the best, but I have some minor plumbing repairs and plaster patching to which I must attend. No time to haul out the “real” camera or for fancy editing. If you’ve been reading for a while, you’ve already seen everything here in still-image bits and pieces.  (Just trying to save 2 minutes and 4 seconds of your time.)

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Trouble Above, Trouble Below

Notice that manhole? It may be soon become of great importance to me.

Notice that manhole? It may be soon become of great importance to me.

I got and accepted a surprise offer (friends of friends) on my house in late February, just before I put the finishing touches on the kitchen. I’ve not said anything publicly because I didn’t want to jinx things. I might as well have; “jinx” doesn’t begin to approach what’s been happening since. Malediction? Curse? Execration? Yes – “execration” is the word – because it’s close to “excrescence” and “excretion”; the waste system is one of the problems.

Above my head, the ice damming problem happened just one day after I’d signed all the disclosure forms. And now there’s additional plasterwork and painting. I’d so hoped to be done with plasterwork and painting for at least a month. Oh – and during the melt, part of a soffit came crashing down due to the weight of an icicle. So I’ll be fixing that, too.

And I’m putting on a new roof, a possibility for which I’d budgeted. The current roof would, I’m told, likely last another 3-4 years, but I understand not wanting to buy a house that you know needs major work in the near future … if that’s not the kind of house you’re wanting to buy. It is the kind of house I want to buy. But I’m weird.

OK – a new roof and a brand-spanking new kitchen. All set! What else could possibly go wrong?!

My optimism was misplaced.

I live in what’s called the Lower Mill Creek area of Cincinnati (which I believe is composed of five neighborhoods). In it, much of the sewer system is old and the pipes are too small to handle the influx of sewage from heavy rainwater, so once in a very great while, my basement drain backs up a tiny bit, then drains and is dry by the next day. The Metropolitan Sewer District of Cincinnati is currently underway with “Project Groundwork,” which (among other things) is supposed to alleviate this issue.

Of course I disclosed this drainage “problem” – except I didn’t really think it was a problem; I thought it was merely a result of the old sewage system the city is in the midst of fixing.

I was wrong.

Like the smart buyers they are (and I was not), they had the sewer scoped earlier this week during the inspection. It turns out there’s a root-ball blockage, and the old clay pipes are cracked. But that’s not the worst of it. The pipes seem to connect with the neighboring house’s system…under their addition. MSD has no records of when or how this happened, but I’m hearing now that it’s not unusual in old neighborhoods with small plots.

The company that did the scoping wants to use a hydro jet to push out the blockage. No way no how am I (and four out of five experts agree) allowing anyone to force a massive amount of water at high pressure through cracked 50+ year-old clay pipes. That run under my neighbor’s house. Perhaps the blockage can be augered out (with a very long snake drill). But that still doesn’t address the likely imminent problems inherent to 50+ year-old clay pipes. I suppose that, with the blockage cleared, one could have the pipes sleeved or lined, but I would not be comfortable perpetuating the joined system – and there’s no guarantee there aren’t additional problems farther down the line. So I’m worried about paying a lot of money for wasted work, and am investigating alternate solutions.

Tomorrow, I’m having the line scoped by another company, and getting a quote from them on connecting directly from my property to a city main. I sure hope that manhole cover in front of my house denotes a place at which one could tap in; it’s only about 30′ from my main sewer drain. Expensive? No doubt. For this, I did not budget. But I’ll cover the cost of the re-scoping etc. at least, and we’ll go from there on the negotiations and decision making.

So on one hand, I feel lucky that all my hard work has paid off in the form of a good offer from a couple I like a lot, and who would (will, I hope!) love the house and fit in well with my friends here. On the other hand, the luck of the Irish? What a crock of shite.

The old sewer maps are quite lovely. And quite useless.

The vintage sewer maps are quite lovely. And quite useless for my purposes.

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432 Days & $4,000 Later…

Getting this curved-at-the bottom threshold to fit was – and I'm not kidding – the most difficult thing in the entire project.

Getting this curved-at-the bottom threshold to fit (well enough) was – and I’m not kidding – the most difficult thing in the entire project.

It’s been 432 days since I eased into rehabbing my kitchen by gingerly and carefully removing one of the paint-over-contact paper-over-MDF big-box cabinets that used to grace the space.


2013 Realtor’s photo, shot with a wide-angle lens…it is not as big as it looks. And I’m pretty sure it was retouched.

I admit, the “before” shot from when I had it on the market in 2013 doesn’t look that heinous. I’ve sure seen a heck of a lot worse. (It was worse when I moved in – I painted over the “wood” look and changed out the grotty “brass” hardware.)

What you can’t really see, however, are the crooked doors, cracked tile, dented and rust-spotted sink, sway-backed peeling laminate counters, black rubber mop board…

Plus, the squat stock cabinets were too short for the space (and didn’t align to one another – ACK!), and inside, the shelves were all bubbly with lifting paint – MDF zits, if you will. (They were like that when I bought the place, though I likely added to the problem).

After looking at hundreds of kitchen pictures online, I stole ideas and looks, then drew a SketchUp model of what I’d decided on. I took that and a materials list to a couple of kitchen rehab pros, and was quoted $28,000 and $28,700.

Um, no. I work in publishing.


After. No wide-angle lens, no retouching.

S0 432 days and about $4,000 later (I’m not counting my time, obviously, nor the cost of the many expensive tools, etc. I used in the process) I have a new kitchen. And I am tired. But I am done.

At least $150 of that $4,000? Ibuprofen and a tetanus shot. (Broken and rusty floor underlayment staples are minions of the devil.)

I now understand those professional quotes. In retrospect, they seem perfectly reasonable. Plus I’m guessing it wouldn’t have taken a professional kitchen remodeler more than a year to get done. Still, I (mostly) had fun, and I learned a great deal.

The finished kitchen is pretty close to what I envisioned. I ended up not taking cabinets all the way up to the ceiling as I’d initially planned, yet there’s about 40 percent more storage than before. And I didn’t do a full tile backsplash behind the sink; the century-old plaster walls are simply too out of flat. (Plus, because I decided to eschew cabinets over the sink, I couldn’t find a stopping point for tile.)

So now that I’ve created almost exactly what I wanted and am – not gonna lie – proud of it, it’s time to sell and buy a new old house. (I should seek mental help.)

My plan is to buy another inexpensive house with good bones (but poor stewardship and curious design decisions) and fix it up. Again. (I sure wish I’d taken before and after pictures of the other five rooms, two baths and concrete back yard I’ve torn out and rehabbed over the last 13 years here. The kelly-green carpet in three rooms and the manila and brown-tiled 70s bath were quite a sight.)

At 46, I think I have one more old house fix-up in me. And because I now have more skill (and tools) than I did 13 years ago, perhaps the next one will take only five years to get done.

But at the moment, as long as it has space for a woodshop, “move-in ready” is looking mighty fine.

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My Back Hurts

guestroomHaving now slept in my guest room for two nights (I pulled the mattress and box springs off my bed to avoid the possibility of damage from the deluge), I tender my sincere apologies to anyone who’s stayed therein.

The guest room mattress is absolute crap.

One less thing to eventually move, I suppose.

The twin bed in the “starving student garret” is much more comfortable. But that room is (on purpose) close to freezing right now; I’m trying to keep that roof nice and cold to mitigate the weeping.

The roofer comes later today; fingers crossed I can still afford a new guest room mattress after that check (and after I move).

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Revenge of the House


I think I’ve hurt my house’s feelings; it’s acting out.

This morning, I opened my eyes to a disconcerting bulge in the plaster almost directly above, on the wall behind my bed. So I got dressed, laid down some plastic and towels, then poked at it. It began weeping.

Clearly, the house is sad that I’m threatening to sell it. Clearly.

Outside, at about the same location on the house as the interior problem, there’s a killer icicle. (Seriously – that thing could kill someone were it to fall on them…but, it’s inside my fenced backyard, so if it does fall, well, I think I would win that lawsuit.)

I thought it was a box gutter problem, but Dyami Plotke (of The Penultimate Woodshop renown), tells me it’s likely a result of ice damming – melting water from the house’s escaping heat being forced back under the shingles by the gutters, which are probably full up with ice.

And, he kindly gave me several options for fixing the problem…none of which are in my skillset even if I had a 40′ ladder. (Dyami, by the way, is a division manager for a New York roofing company, and is an expert in diagnosing and fixing these kinds of things. Too bad he’s a 10-hour drive away.)

But there’s nothing to be done in the short term…other than be vigilant about changing that towel tucked into the plastic behind my bed (there’s more plastic taped atop the baseboard and onto the carpet, to create an “overflow” trough with more towels, in case I manage to sleep through my every-two hours alarm tonight to change the towels).

I have a roofer who specializes in old houses coming tomorrow at lunch time; I’m just hoping he can do something to mitigate the immediate problem (so I can get some sleep), and that a permanent fix can be effected quickly.

Then, it looks like I’m breaking out the hawk and knives again. Then the paint.

I don’t like it when my house cries. It’s making me want to cry, too.


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Boring, but Necessary


I planned to go to the shop today to build my kitchen corner table/counter. I was looking forward to playing with the Festool Domino and a brand-spanking-new band saw blade (what can I say…I’m easily excited).

The shop is 12 miles from my house. The picture above is from 10 a.m. It’s 5:30 p.m. now, and the snow just stopped falling.

Instead, I stayed home and did some stultifying but necessary jobs – things I’ve been putting off for weeks.

The 2-3° back bevel Orion Henderson writes MUST be employed when using non-mortise hinges? Yeah…I forgot to do that when I hung the cabinet doors; they weren’t closing quite all the way, but I’ve been living with the shame. Today, they all came down, got hit with my No. 7, then received a swipe of fresh paint down the edge.

All the toe kick pieces for the cabinet bases are mitered and fit, and the first coat of paint is drying (and I turned up the heat in hopes it will dry in time for a second coat before bed).

The beech backsplash is mitered (87° – what fun) and the Formby’s is drying. Another coat of that before bed, too.

Tomorrow, I hope to find time to get the doors back up and the toe kick and backsplash installed. And as soon as I get that table built, the kitchen will be 100-percent done.

I took down the first old termite-barf cabinet on Dec. 29, 2013, and I’ve been working on the kitchen (albeit sometimes in dribs and drabs) ever since. I won’t know what to do with myself! Although the basement is a tip, my closet needs culling and I’ve never liked the tile in the 1/2 bath on the first floor…and I suppose I should shovel the walk again.


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