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January 11th, 2024

Not As Ready As I Thought

That storm I spoke of previously hit us Tuesday evening and it brought with it a driving rain the likes of which I’ve never seen around here. I have a roofed over front porch and maybe a few inches of rain around the porch floor is as much as I’ve ever seen. It’s very infrequent that it even reaches the front doorstep. This time the storm completely soaked the front door and the bricks on the front wall, all the way up to the top of the porch ceiling. I’ve never seen that in the 22 years I’ve owned this house.

I staged a step ladder on the second floor so I could poke my head up into the tiny attic space…it isn’t even a crawlspace, just maybe six inches between the roof beams and the ceiling beams…and shine a high intensity flashlight around to check for leaks. It was dry as a bone up there, even during the worst of the storm. The bay window in my living room was another story.

I’d never seen it leaking before. Ever. But those leaks may have all been laying in wait for just the right storm to come along. I got out some buckets and some construction bag liners to divert the water into the buckets, then mopped up as much as I could. It wasn’t a disaster, just something new I had to fix that I wasn’t expecting.

I figured there was some leaks on the outside top of the bay window I needed to take care of next morning. But next day was cold and very windy and I didn’t want to be up on a ladder in that weather. So I put the big ladder up today and took a look at what sort of work I have in store up there, thinking that if I fall over and break my neck at least I’ll have died doing something I love (smirk).

(I was careful to put my Apple watch on before I started climbing the ladder, because it will detect a hard fall and if I don’t respond it will alert my brother and call 911 for me, giving them my GPS coordinates.)

There was nothing there that I could see that would even possibly be a way for water to get in. I judged the area around the window frame when it meets the brick might use a touch of that rubber sealant I bought, but it seemed pretty solid. The brickwork above it was another story.

See…my little Baltimore rowhouse only has front and back outside walls, and they are brick veneer over concrete block. What I saw were several largish holes in the mortar between the bricks where water could easily get in between the brick and the concrete block, assuming the rain was being driven hard in that direction, and then run down to the inside top of the window.

Normally this would not happen since rain doesn’t hit that side of the house very hard. Yes it gets wet, but windy driving rains here tend to come from either the east or west, not the south and they don’t hit the face of the house with a lot of force. But at the right angle those holes in the mortar could easily have let in the rain water that was dripping from the inside top of my bay window. Repointing the brick is going to be expensive and I’ve nowhere near that kind of money set aside just yet. But it couldn’t be done in the winter anyway.

Here’s where city life came in handy. So I’m taking my morning walk around the neighborhood thinking about what to do about those holes in the mortar before the next storm arrives…maybe squirt some Henry’s into them…when I walk past an end of group unit with someone on a ladder up against the side of the house, and it looks like they’re dealing with the same brickwork problem I have. Bear in mind all the houses here are the same basic floorplan, the only difference with that one was it’s an end of group unit so it had three exposed walls to the weather.

So I go over and ask him if he’s a contractor or the homeowner. He says he’s a brother-in-law. We chat for a bit. Seems his bother’s side windows were leaking during that last storm just like my bay window was, and likely for the same reason. What are you using in those holes, I ask. He shows me a tube of fibrous mortar patch, and explains how that’s better to use in this weather, and doesn’t cause a problem with repointing the bricks later.

I make a mental note of the product thinking I’ll go get some. Then he says he has an extra tube he won’t need and he’ll sell it to me for what he paid for it. I love city life.

I squirted that stuff into the holes, and a few large cracks, in the mortar above my bay window. Then I ran some of that spray rubber sealant around the edges of the window frame. Now we wait.

I’ll keep the buckets handy. Thing is, if there are no more leaks but the rain doesn’t hit the house this time like it did last time, I still won’t know if I fixed the right problem or not.

Turns out there is a significant amount of debugging involved in owning a house.


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