Monday, July 12, 2010

Riding in a flash flood

I was so busy making preserved lemons Saturday that I didn't start my errands until early afternoon, and the clear hot morning was starting to turn into ominous clouds.  I figured, hey, I won't melt, and blithely headed off to Home Depot.
It started to rain about 4 blocks from Home Depot, and started to POUR about 2 blocks away.  I took advantage of the pedestrian free sidewalks instead of riding in the giant puddle on the right side of a busy road that makes up those last two blocks.
Amazingly, I found covered parking  for Gilbert in the garage of the building next door to Home Depot, and just got wetter on the way across the adjoining parking lot.  I bought the liquid nails, couple of paint brushes and canvas drop cloth I came for, although not the hostas I was looking for,  and it looked like the rain had mostly subsided when I checked out.

On the way home though it started to really really come down.  There were giant puddles on the pathway from the earlier rain, and between the splashing up from those and the raining down from the sky, I was completely drenched pretty quickly.  Which wasn't such a big deal,  I was headed home, figured I'd just change at home.  Once you're wet, it  doesn't matter if you get wetter,  and most of the few people on the path looked like they had surrendered to it, and were in pretty good spirits.  There were lots of smiles and shrugs- a camaraderie of slight misfortune.  Although the drops were coming down so hard it was almost painful, they were warm, and it wasn't until about 1/2 mile from home when it started to lightning that I got a bit nervous.

Unfortunately, there was a disaster awaiting me at home.
Back when Cambridge was built, the storm water and the sewage were all carried away in one set of pipes (back in the day, those pipes led directly to the Charles, but that's a different story).  Unfortunately they haven't updated them all to the modern system of separate sewage and storm water drains.  
When I got home, I heard a rushing water noise from the basement, and descending, discovered 2 inches of water standing in the basement, and more rushing up though the toilet.
Yes,  that 2" of water in the basement was raw sewage.

So instead of spending a lazy Sunday afternoon adjusting Gilbert's rack to perfectly level, and using the new saddle treatment that arrived in the mail Friday,  the Scientist and I spent the rest of the weekend vacuuming up sewage from the carpet and the floors, ripping out said carpeting and pad and sewage soaked subfloor,  bleaching the bejeazus out of the main room's floor, and sorting everything that was in the basement into "toss",  "disinfect", and "uncontaminated", piles, and then bagging it, disinfecting it, or moving it up into our (now very full) living room.
We still have to bleach the floor in the boiler room, but hopefully that will be finished tonight and we can start to figure out what's next.

Folks,  if you finish out a basement, or if you build a new house,  especially if you live in an older city or suburb where they have combined lines,  put a sewage backflow preventer valve on any basement fixtures, or the whole house if you're allowed.   They need to be cleaned out every couple of years, but they can prevent a world of nastiness.
Retrofitting one is tough, although we're going to see what can be done, so it's good to be aware of the issue before you build.


  1. oh, jeesh, cycler, sorry to hear about that!!!

    the downpour was indeed freakish, and the storm and sewer drains simply couldn't handle the deluge. the somerville police and fire departments suffered millions of dollars of damage due to flooded vehicles and equipment, and the erosion of our mostly dirt back yard caused a huge muddy river that fed into our street. it was incredible. luckily i was indoors for all of it.

    i guess for anyone looking to buy a home, this would be the week to look closely at the basements of prospective houses! if they're dry, it's a good sign!

  2. Ouch! Been there and done that exact same thing in a house we owned in St. Louis. Comically, I had just brought the dog in out of the monsoon and put him in the basement where I presumed he would be better off. When we discovered it, the poor dog was standing chest deep in crap and giving me a look that said, "What are you trying to do to me?".

    I feel your pain....

  3. oh my god, how horrible. Good advice about the backflow thing. We hope to finish our basement someday.

    hope it's better now?

  4. Eww, sucky! :-( Riding in a flood is bad enough, but to come home to one is horrible! Hopefully you guys will get that fixed so it doesn't happen again...

  5. Tracy
    We've actually been talking about putting the dog down in the basement because he's had some problems with the heat, and he's old and "forgets" to go down where it's cooler. I had a dream that he was down there, dog paddling in sewage...If it had gotten that deep we would have really had a disaster on our hands...

  6. Oh man, what a horrible discovery! I can't even imagine tearing that carpet up. Ugh!

    You need a cocktail for sure!

  7. There was disaster at a few of the Harvard libraries as well. I work at the Fine Arts Library, and when I got in today, every table was covered with books standing open to dry out. A lot of the library storage across Harvard is in basement levels, and while there are water alarms, there wasn't enough personnel to respond to all of them. Instead of, I don't know, calling in any of the library employees, the responders just ignored whatever they couldn't get to, which meant that from Saturday afternoon to Monday morning, there were books sitting in water. In one room at FAL, apparently there was no water on the floor because all of it had been absorbed by the books. Some are air-drying; some are freeze-drying; but some are just gone. It's very sad.

    Though coming home to a basement full of sewage would make me pretty sad too!!

  8. We also had water rush into the shop thru the back door at the base of the stairwell. There is a drain there and I never gave a thought to the sewage part. I guess we'll know today when we return to basement...Good luck with your clean up. Also, you might want to check out a product, Nature's Miracle. I used this once on a rental property I had where the basement had been used as indoor kennel. It killed the order like nothing else. So, if it worked on animal smells it might help if needed(?)

  9. Uh...

    Hope you get your basement sparkling clean and forget about the whole thing.


    It's terrible to hear about the Harvard libraries. Leaving books over the weekend in standing water?! Now I am definitely not paying that fine. :)

  10. I'm not sure how I missed this! I'm sooo sorry! There's really nothing worse than having some sort of household disaster!!