Well, I had quite the Sisyphean ordeal yesterday. The Ottawa area had a heavy rain warning, and with the ground completely frozen, the 40 mm or so of rain that fell during the day began to make its way into my basement.
I called the foundation guys. Steve came over and pointed out that the water was coming in through the windows because the grade outside was higher than the sill. Once I saw the pool of water and where it was coming from, I realized I could either spend all day mopping up inside the house, and probably see my drywall and flooring ruined, or try to tackle the problem from the outside. I started bailing water from the exterior of the window at 10 a.m.
Steve’s dad, Chris, came by to help. He disconnected some eavestroughing and did his best to dig a trench. But eventually he had to leave, too.
The window well filled every five minutes roughly, meaning I had five minute intervals to bail the water into a bucket, carry the bucket to another part of the yard, and start over. Meanwhile, the water that had entered the basement was still leaking out onto the tile floor.
After several hours, I had it down to a routine. Remove wet towels from floor, remove dry towels from the dryer, toss wet towels in the dryer, run outside, bail another pail of water, run back inside the house, change towels and restart the process.
By 2 p.m., I had been at it for four hours and I was exhausted. Chris called me at 4 to say the forecast was for heavy rain until midnight and that he’d try to get by with a chipper first thing Sunday morning to break through the frozen ground and build a proper trench.
In the spring, we agreed, the entire foundation would be dug up and properly graded, weeping tiles would be installed, etc. But meanwhile, there was only one way to keep the water out, and that’s what I was doing.
“Good luck,” he said. “Do you think you can keep going until midnight?”
“Thanks,” I said. “I have to admit; it’s wearing a little thin.”
By then, I was exhausted. Did I have the endurance to continue? I carried on, willing myself to last another five minutes each time, and then another.
Around 5 p.m., I rigged up a lean to out of my Royal LePage signs so that I could at least sit on the ground beside the house and be relatively dry while I continued bailing. (I support the Royal LePage Shelter Foundation but I never expected to be sheltered in quite this way by Royal LePage.)
By 7 p.m., I was getting frantic. I hadn’t eaten all day and of course, I was soaked and getting cold. I added a new step to the ritual: throw wet coat and gloves in the dryer along with wet towels. Grab dry coat; repeat.
My fleece gloves never did dry properly and my Sorel boots sprung a leak. I squished around in about an inch of ice-cold water. But I couldn’t stop, because the rain wasn’t stopping. In fact, it was coming down harder.
Every half hour or so I’d manage to grab a minute on the computer. Well-meaning friends on Facebook kept offering suggestions for contractors without realizing I’d already contacted one; that nothing could be done because the water was outside the house. It was frustrating but a good lesson: when people are in trouble, offer help, not advice. Each time I’d make it back outside just in time to stop the water from rising over the sill.
By 9 p.m., I was sore. My arms and knees hurt. It was icy; I fell several times trying to carry the buckets of water, and sometimes I had to get two out at a time.
There was no sign of the rain letting up. How long could I stay outside, in the cold, bailing water? My hands and feet were frozen. I was as tired as I had ever been.
And then at 10 p.m., the doorbell rang. My friend Paula. In her hands, two ham sandwiches, warm dry fleeces, a hot chocolate and a coffee. She cracked up when she saw my shelter, helped me carry a bucket of water, gave me a hug and apologized for not coming sooner. She had to leave; the rain was starting to turn into freezing rain. But that short visit was enough to keep me going.
The rain finally turned to snow at 11:15 p.m. By 11:30, the water outside the window had frozen hard and I could stop. Basement saved. Believe it or not, there’s no apparent damage inside.
I carried 252 buckets of water. I used 38 towels, soaked three coats, a pair of jeans and snowpants. Blew dry my hair about a dozen times. One pair of supposedly waterproof boots turned out not to be quite as water resistant as their advertising. And a good friend became an even better one.
I realized last night what a big impact even a small act of kindness can have on someone who is stretched to the limit. Believe me, I’ll pay it forward somehow. And I have a whole new appreciation for those people who are homeless, who have to spend every day in the winter under pieces of cardboard not all that different from my little shelter, trying to keep warm.