The Silver Lining

The weather forecast predicts a high of 99 today. Wee doggies! I would go outside and kiss that big blue air compressor if it wasn’t so hot.

Have I got a story for you! It’s a mystery story with a happy ending, so hang on:

Remember way back in February when we started talking about conserving the Bedroom ceiling? Well, we ran into some trouble and the project limped along. In a nutshell: the leak that everyone thought was inactive (the source of the original damage) was, in fact, active. Barely.

When I say “active” I don’t mean that water was streaming from the ceiling. Far from it: Stephen’s moisture readings were extremely low. He emailed me this handy map of the problem:

As you can see, the levels were rarely over 15% — quite low for a constant leak. So really more of a drip.

Stephen wasted no time setting up his equipment and preparing to do what he could. Plaster is a wily beast: since it absorbs and expels moisture like a living organism, it was possible for Stephen to remove the flaking paint from the affected area and begin restoring the damp plaster, regardless of the active leak. The only problem is that he can never repaint the ceiling as long as the leak is active, because paint would seal in the water and, eventually, peel off and look just as bad as it did before.

We were glad that Stephen could make SOME progress on the ceiling, but the larger problem remained: what was causing the dang leak? We wasted no time dressing Frank up like the Michelin man and sent him crawling into the eaves above the ceiling on the hottest day of the year. What a champion!

Side note: do you guys know Frank? You should. He is awesome. He works with Tom and does all sorts of carpentry projects for me. Frank is blessed with the rare gift of spatial intelligence; as in, I can say “hey Frank, I want this built,” and he can conceive of it and build it without any more help from me. That is RARE, people!

Frank’s investigation was fruitless. No pipes, wet spots or odd looking puddles turned up. At this point we narrowed the suspects down to three:

1. Something was wrong with the flashing/gutter on the small roof above the Bedroom. Somehow water was finding its way to the middle (?) of the bedroom ceiling from this unknown weak spot. Sorting this out would require hiring some roofers. This option bummed everyone out because we have a new roof.  It is perhaps the newest and most useful thing we’ve got around here, so if it was failing we had bigger problems.

2. A rogue radiator pipe was embedded in the cement above the bedroom ceiling and it was dripping. Did I mention there are six inches of cement between floors of this house? As a result, there is almost no way to know where any pipes lead, and we have no systems map of any kind to give us a hint. This option seemed unlikely, since nobody in their right mind would send a radiator pipe across the middle of a ceiling, even in 1916.

3. Somehow the utility sink in the storage closet above the Bedroom was leaking… but the water was shut off to that sink long, long ago! The staff is under strict instructions not to use that sink, and furthermore, that utility closet is the scariest place on Earth and no one ever goes in there unless coerced. To illustrate just how ominous it is, here is Colin standing in the corner, Blair Witch-style (with some color modification to really set the mood):

In the midst of this guessing game, THE AIR CONDITIONING BROKE. Boom. The end. Our sleuthing was placed on hold while we emptied dehumidifiers and wiped the sweat from our collective brow.

The story picked back up yesterday when Stephen came in to re-measure the wet spots on the ceiling. At that point, the new air conditioning system had been running for at least a week. Guess what? The moisture readings were cut in half. Puzzled, he realized it had to have something to do with our air conditioning system, as that was the only variable that had changed drastically in the last few weeks. He ventured upstairs once again to check out the air handler in the scary utility closet.

As he stood there and looked up at the gigantic unit affixed to the ceiling of the closet, something caught Stephen’s eye:

Do you see that white PVC pipe threading its way down to the right? Stephen grabbed it and followed it to the wall, where it ended…. at the sink.

At that point, the sink was buried under boxes. I failed to take a picture of this stage of the investigation — shame on me — because you would understand why this little white pipe would not have occurred to us before. It was completely obscured by junk.

But guess what? A steady drip of water was coming out the end of that pipe. Condensation from the old air handler had, at some point, been redirected into this “dead” sink. And none of us knew it. As long as the air conditioning was running, water was draining into that sink and presumably leaking out of a faulty pipe and into the ceiling below. We started collecting the water in a bucket and, would you look at that! The moisture all but disappeared.

The important thing to take away from all this — according to me, the eternal optimist — is that we probably wouldn’t have figured this out had the air conditioning not broken.

The new air conditioning is much more efficient and blows a lot colder than the old system. Had this colder air not been introduced, and had our air handlers not been producing less water as a result, Stephen’s readings would have stayed the same. We would have hired roofers, spent more money, and continued to hunt and peck until maybe — let’s hope — someone had thought to check that durn PVC pipe. It would have taken a lot longer, in other words.

So that’s the story! The Bedroom ceiling is saved thanks to our air conditioning kicking the bucket. Speaking of buckets: we’re letting that pipe drain into a gallon bucket that needs emptying every 5 hours. Can you believe how much water was draining down that “dead” sink without us knowing? Crazy.

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3 thoughts on “The Silver Lining

  1. I stumbled across this interesting little blog from searching for information on Claydon House in the UK. I’m just wondering, where is the Hermitage Collection? Is this site for the Russian Hermitage collection or somewhere else or not actually based on a specific museum? Perhaps I am being dumb? I just can’t find it written anywhere. The curator’s note doesn’t mention it.

    I realise it is no doubt, a stupid question, but aren’t those the best kind?

  2. Okay, forget that. I really was being DUMB. I just didn’t’ see that little About tab *now has a red face*. Goodness, don’t approve my comment! : )

    • Stuart —

      It’s a fair question, and one we get quite a bit. We’ve even had students apply to our internship program (and go all the way through the interview phase!) thinking they are applying to the Hermitage in Russia. I wish our blog template allowed for more information. Maybe I’ll squeeze it in somewhere more obvious.

      So, to be clear (are you reading this potential interns?), we are a much, much smaller historic house museum on the coast of Virginia in the United States. Cheers! Hope you enjoy Claydon!

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