This post is the next in a series of posts I have dubbed “The Firehouse Chronicles.” See all episodes.


While we have the cement saw, Jim figures we may as well cut the cement in the back room so it can have radiant heat along with the bathroom. This leads to including the hall and storeroom in the radiant floorplan. I happily agree, imagining the nice warm feet, the muddy boots drying by the back door, the ability to remove some of the uglier radiators that presently provide heat. If I’d known what was in store, I might have reconsidered. Sometimes, ignorance is bliss.

The reality is every inch of the house covered in a caustic layer of cement dust, the constant, deafening squeal of the cement cutter, which cuts at a rate of an inch a minute and has to be handled while holding a garden hose that snakes its way outside, our lifeline to fresh air, clamped between teeth, all without breathing through the nose. Jim’s McGyver scuba system. Since I apparently don’t possess adept nose-clamping-while-manhandling-a-giant-slicing-tool skills, I push the machine with my foot, holding the hose to my mouth with one hand while pinching my nose with the other. More often than not, I forget and take big gulps of carbon-monoxide-laden air through my nose. Jim insists I take many breaks to dash outside and breathe fresh air, lest my blood vessels burst and I have a heart attack on the spot, as Jim so calmly points out.

One night, after a day of carbon monoxide poisoning, we drop our tools at 7pm and head back to my house for quick showers and an hour later are celebrating the 5th anniversary of our first date at the restaurant we first met.

celebrating the 5th anniversary of our first date.
Attempting to master the garden-hose-while-pushing-machine-with-foot breathing technique

The next day, we are back to it. By the time all the cutting is done, I calculate we cut 5000 linear feet of cement, radiant heat now encompassing over 2/3rds of the entire footprint of the house. As I (or a Home Depot guy) cut in one room, Jim jackhammers in another to dig out the cement between the two cuts creating the trenches that will eventually house the water piping for the radiant heat floors. Next, it’s my job to clear out the resulting rubble from the trenches with a shop vac, hauling heavy shop vac-fulls of rubble to the dumpster and hefting them over the side.

A week later, on Valentine’s Day, we again break at 5 pm and go night skiing, which as we are driving up, seems like the most exhausting activity we could have chosen, and after a couple of runs, we are in the bar having a beer. Oddly, the beer seems to rejuvenate us, and we wind up skiing until the 9 pm close, shushing down the almost skier-less slopes under the watery floodlights.

Valentine’s Day ski lift selfie
The radiant heat trenches post-jackhammering in the process of being vacuumed.

One evening, as we are leaving for the night, I ask Jim if he hears running water, but we dismiss the sound as just an echo of water pooled inside a small hole near the basement. The next morning, Jim arrives and investigates the noise further, discovering the water meter spinning at an alarming rate.

I arrive a while later to discover our front yard looking like a grave site. We call a plumber who arrives and agrees to only charge $1500 if we do all the digging. Jackhammering is put on hold as we (meaning Rob, our latest Home Depot guy and Jim), dig an ever-enlarging trench trying to find the hole in the 100-year-old pipe. It becomes clear that the pipe has been vibrated by our jackhammering creating an M&M sized hole in the old metal.

The plumber spends a good portion of the next day fixing the main, while we try to do what we can with the cement cutting and jack hammering despite having no water.

Chloe helps with the digging.

Jim looks online at the water bill to see if he can determine how long the line might have been leaking and while there discovers the water bill at one of his rental houses is over $1500, indicating a water leak there as well. Jim spends the next two days digging another trench at that house, cutting through the ceiling of the basement apartment to thread a new water main in order to bypass the old water main that unfortunately disappeared under the slab of the entire house.

Adding insult to injury, I get a call from the renters at the island house who tell me there has been a slide that has wiped out the septic system for the guest house and feel lucky that the entire guest house didn’t wind up in the sound.

Guest house slide

We have clearly angered Poseidon.


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