Foundation for pale skin

The Ground Floor of My House Might Be Getting Ripped Up

It all started two Sundays ago.

Our plans for the day were simple ones: first, we were meeting up with some friends at The Cupcake Cafe. Afterwards, we were heading on to Ikea, on the trip we ended up making THIS Sunday instead, and which resulted in us walking in for a plastic storage box, and walking out with a new couch. (As it turns out, if we HAD gone to Ikea on the day we planned, we’d have missed out on the sofa, which had only gone into the ‘graveyard’ that day. So this whole “hall floor” thing DID have its upside, but… it mostly had downsides, as you’re about to find out.)

So, it was Sunday morning. Terry had just had a shower, and I was puttering about, making coffee and doing various “morning” type things, when Terry came to me with a puzzled expression on his face.

“Have you been pouring thick brown liquid down the bathroom sink downstairs?” he asked.

“Er, NO?” I replied. “Also: WHY?”

“Go and take a look,” said Terry, mysteriously. “Tell me what you think.”

So I headed downstairs to our little downstairs toilet (or ‘The Powder Room’, as I like to call it. It’s never really caught on…), opened the door, and sure enough, the sink was full of some weird brown stuff, which appeared to have been poured down it not long before.

This “bathroom” is the smallest one in the house – it just has a toilet and sink in it, so it’s used mostly by visitors to the house, and by us only if we’re on that floor, so the appearance of the mystery brown gunge was even MORE puzzling than you might think. Almost as puzzling as the appearance of that damn gnome, actually. (And no, we still don’t know whodunnit…)

“Do you see what I mean?” said Terry, appearing behind me, as I stood gazing at the mess. “Do you know what it is?”

“No,” I replied. “But I’m more worried about all the water on the floor, to be honest…”

I stepped back to let him see, and yup, the bathroom floor was absolutely covered in water – water which had crept under the bathroom door, and out into the hall, warping the floor there. That was the least of our worries, however, considering we now had a bathroom full of water, and a sink full of… “What even IS that?” I asked, taking a closer look.

We weren’t sure, but, upon closer inspection, we determined that the brown stuff had probably come UP from the sink, as opposed to being poured down it. This would also explain the water on the floor: basically, it seemed the sink had, at some point, exploded, sending water everywhere, and filling the sink with sludge.

“Does this mean we won’t be having cupcakes?” I asked, dejected.

We didn’t have any cupcakes. Instead, we spent the next hour-and-a-bit trying to work out what was causing the problem. Or rather, Terry did. I spent the next hour-and-a-bit using an old pickle jar (Look, it was all I could find at short notice, OK?) to frantically ferry overflowing water from the sink to the toilet, while still wearing my dressing gown. Our friends spent the next hour-and-a-bit eating cupcakes without us. SO UNFAIR.

Our house is a three-storey one. As well as the half-bath on the ground floor, there’s also a main bathroom on the middle floor, and an en-suite on the top. Through a process of elimination, we were quickly able to establish that running the showers, or flushing the toilets, in any of the other two bathrooms, would prompt the sink on the ground floor to dramatically overflow with dirty water. Houston, we had a problem.

Terry did his best to try and identify and clear the blockage, while I continued to run around mopping up water, and moving it from sink-to-toilet. It was one of the least-fun Sunday mornings I’ve had in a while. After what seemed like hours of this, Terry cracked, and called our insurance company, who agreed to send a plumber round to take a look at it.

I got dressed. The plumber arrived – as did my parents, who still thought we were going to Ikea. HA! We all gathered round and watched as the plumber opened the drain outside the house (Terry had identified the pipes under the house as being the source of the problem) and inserted a long hose inside it, to blast out whatever was blocking the pipes.

“I wonder what it’ll be?” I asked excitedly. “I’m thinking buried treasure! Or a box, with a map inside it, showing us the location of buried treasure! Or dozens and dozens of those mystery glass cupids we dug up in the garden that one time! Or GNOMES!”

“Yeah,” said the plumber, scratching his head in frustration. “I think it’s probably concrete. That’s REALLY bad.”

I must admit, I was a tiny bit relieved by this news. The thing is, the whole time this was going on, I’d had a creeping sense of unease, caused by the conviction that it would somehow turn out to be MY fault. Let’s face it: it normally is. As as I stood there watching the man attempt to clear the pipes, I was quietly convinced that what would ACTUALLY be down there would be a bunch of 50s-inspired skirts, or something else that would cause the finger of blame to be squarely pointed at ME.

But no, the plumber thought it was probably concrete, and no one would suspect me of pouring concrete down a drain, so the likelihood is that it probably happened while the house was being built, and the pipe has been gradually backing up all this time.

“So, what will happen now?” I asked. “Can we still go to Ikea? Because I really want that plastic storage box…”

My dad and Terry looked at each other, the way doctors do in medical dramas, when they know the patient has an incurable brain tumour, and they’re working out how to break the news.

“Well,” said Terry eventually, “The best case scenario is that they’ll send someone else, with a fire-breathing dragon [Note: it might have actually been some other kind of equipment he mentioned here. I don’t know, though, because I was thinking about Ikea at the time…], and it will clear the blockage: job done.”

“And the worst-case-scenario?” I asked.

My dad bravely stepped in to be the Bearer of Bad Tidings.

“The worst-case-scenario is that they’ll have to dig up part of the ground floor of the house to replace the pipe,” he said. “So that would mean ripping up the hall floor…”

“And possibly part of the kitchen and bathroom!” interjected Voice-of-Doom Terry.

“… and maybe also knocking down this wall.” My dad gestured to the wall between the hall and the kitchen. We all silently looked at it, in its creamy, “absolutely nothing wrong with ME!” perfection, then turned to look at the beautiful floors in the hall, the perfectly-acceptable tile in the powder room, and the (admittedly horrible) tile in the kitchen, which we hate, but which we’ve been told will be “a helluva job” to take up, because it’s been stuck directly onto concrete.

“So… basically they’ll be knocking down my house?” I asked bluntly.

“No, no!” my dad reassured me. “I mean, not the WHOLE house, obviously! Just this floor!”

So that was GREAT. Seriously.

Before we could decide what had to be done, however, we had to first of all make totally sure that it WAS, in fact, concrete in the pipe, and also to find out the extent of the problem. That’s how Terry and I came to find ourselves paying £200 last week, in order to obtain CCTV footage of the inside of the drainage pipe under our house. I don’t know about you, but I can think of a LOT of things I could spend £200 on, and CCTV footage of a drainage pipe isn’t even CLOSE to the top of that list. It’s like, there’s the list of things I would like to spend £200 on, there’s a hundred million light years, and THEN there’s CCTV footage of the drainage pipe under my house. Actually, scratch that: the CCTV would come nowhere near that close to the top of the list…

But we got the footage. And yes: it’s concrete. The good news is that we have pretty comprehensive insurance, and between that and the NHBC Warranty which new homes in the UK are covered by, we’re hopeful we should be covered (We had to pay the £200 upfront for the video footage, but that should be refunded, too…). The bad news, of course, is that you never really know with insurance companies, whose job it is to NOT pay for your essential repairs, so there’s still a chance we could be out of pocket, and if we DO have to go with the Worst-Case Scenario, we’re looking at a whole ton of disruption, plus having to replace floors and walls which had absolutely nothing wrong with them.

Oh, and the other bad news is that although the plumber did manage to unblock the pipe enough to let us use the showers, we’re not allowed to use the toilets on the second or third floor, so when I wake up in the night and need to use the bathroom, I have to go down two flights of stairs, and then back up them again, by which point I’m wiiiiddde awake. Gah.

So, that’s the story of how the ground floor of my house might have to be dug up. It would sure be handy if we actually knew for sure whether that would happen, but we had the CCTV footage done a week ago today, and since then the company who filmed it have made absolutely no move towards sending it to the insurance company or writing up their report. As far as I can tell, they’ve just been sitting around the office watching it on an endless loop, while we bounce between insurance company, NHBC and CCTV, and I run up and down three flights of stairs multiple times per day. Note to self: drink less coffee.

And I never did get that cupcake.

[Disclaimer: Yes, I know, it could be worse, some people don’t even HAVE a house, call me a WAHmbulance because I only have access to one toilet, etc etc. But in terms of “things that aren’t the end of the world, but which you’d rather not have to deal with anyway,” it’s still pretty annoying.]

[I hate that I always have to add these disclaimers, but I know if I don’t, someone will get all upset that I’m complaining about my house being dug up, while there are children starving in the world or something…]

P.S. I write a weekly diary which goes out every Friday to my subscribers. Sign up below to get on the list...

I also write books
  • Stacy


    I think that you can ligitimately complain here. Yes, some people have it worse. That does not make this any better – otherwise there could only be one person in the whole world who could complain about anything!

    I really hope that you manage to do with just the fire breathing dragon, and without the destruction of the walls and floors!

    As for Ikea, should you every find the secret of going into Ikea for a single article and leaving with that article and only that article can you please blog about it? I can drop in on my way home from work for a light bulb and leave with half a house 🙂

    September 30, 2014
  • Myra


    Your beautiful floors. Sounds like a builder’s responsibility, good luck with that xx

    September 30, 2014
  • We can’t always think over who is in worse situations than us. It woul mean accept whatever bad happens to us in our lives because there is someone in worse situations. This is not right.
    I’m sorry for your floor anyway…

    September 30, 2014
  • My hope is that you get a new kitchen floor for your trouble! What a dreadful happening. Your floors are, indeed, absolutely lovely! 🙁

    September 30, 2014
  • Oh no, this sounds dreadful. I hope you manage to get the dragon to sort it!

    September 30, 2014
  • After all that you still didn’t get a cupcake? I think that’s the saddest part of the whole story. At the least you should have got a cupcake for the woe… Seriously, though, it’s times like this I realise renting a house, while with its considerable downsides (e.g. rent), means I don’t have to pay £200 to film the inside of a drainpipe. So for that, I’m thankful…

    September 30, 2014
  • TinaD


    I’m sorry. Drains suck, especially when they don’t. The worst bit is how all the bathrooms are connected, so you can’t brush your teeth in one without Krakatoa happening in the other.

    Still, you have a very nice couch now, and–worst case –you get to tile shop. Meantime, go light a fire under the drain cam people. Best of luck!

    September 30, 2014
  • We also live in a three-storey house and our only bathroom is on the ground floor, so I totally understand your pain of having to walk down and back up two flights of stairs!

    September 30, 2014
  • Amber


    It is likely that the owners of the house before were aware of this problem.

    September 30, 2014
  • Ugh, nightmare! We’ve been having a *bit* of trouble with our drains (because, you know, the guy who owned the flat for the previous 37 years was a plumber so obviously: whole flat poorly plumbed) and it’s frustrating enough deciding whether to plunge the shower AGAIN or call in a professional. But you totally win/lose this time.

    Oh, and I understand the relief at it not being your fault. When we had to get the drain guys in to clear about two lorryloads of hair out of the pipes, I was SO relieved that all but the tiniest little top layer was the wrong colour to be either Steve’s or mine. Though in some ways that did make it even more disgusting…

    September 30, 2014
  • Oh no- your lovely floors! I feel your pain with the seemingly endless pickle-jar scooping.

    In a previous (rented) house, the bath spontaneously flooded EVERYWHERE. My housemate and I mopped it up at a frantic pace, emptying it down the sink. After 45 minutes of mopping the water levels hadn’t reduced, and we realised the sink and the bath were connected TO THE SAME PIPE. Thank God we finally twigged, or we’d have died from starvation, mopping up the same bath-full of water over and over and over… xxx

    October 1, 2014