This Old House

A while ago the City of Toronto came to our house to install a water meter.   The guy went down into the basement, took one look at what we thought was an old but serviceable water pipe and he said nothing.  Nothing. After a minute or so, this low whistle sort of escaped him, and a little wild eyed, he looked up at us and said  "YOU HAVE TO GET THIS REPLACED."  Joe and I kind of exchanged looks, because we’re used to this reaction.   Our house was built a hundred and thirty years ago by what we feel must have been a team of drunken monkeys.  They would have to be drunk monkeys, because we’re pretty sure that sober monkeys could have done a better job. Every time we have ever gone to do anything that other people do without incident, we discover some queer new oddity.  Wanna hang a picture?  Guess what – our studs are at random intervals. Wanna put in a new electrical outlet? Good luck – our house was  wired by Escher.  Replacing the porch? We discover there’s nothing supporting our front bay.  (As an aside, when we asked the carpenter what was holding up the bay if there was nothing supporting it, he shrugged and said "Force of habit?")  There’s a strange little room upstairs not big enough for anything – not even a twin bed, but it has a great window and a fancy plaster job. The concrete  floor in the basement doesn’t run all the way to the walls. Nobody knows why – and in the dining room we discovered that the cold air return vent – it’s not a vent.  It’s a hole.  A dirt hole.  I could dig to the outside right through it if I had a spoon and enough time. 

What I’m trying to say is that most of the time now, when tradespeople come into the house to try and fix whatever we’ve found wrong now, they whistle and shake their heads and try to tell us that they’ve never seen anything like it.  (That – by the way, is a lie. The team of drunken monkeys that built this house built a lot of other ones just like it here in Toronto. They were a roving band, and Joe and I are far from alone.)  Joe and I usually laugh it off, and then the carpenter/electrician/plumber/whomever comes up with a creative (and always expensive) solution and we all have a good laugh about old houses.  This awestruck concern is only their first reaction, so when the water guy said that we had a big problem, we just sort of stood there and waited for him to get over his shock.  He didn’t.  As a matter of fact, he refused to touch our water line, and suggested we not touch it either – and that maybe we didn’t want to let the cat down there either, lest she bump into it and rupture the thing. 

"Really?" we said, sort of surprised at his cowardice, and the dude then explains that we have original water pipes.  "Lead?" I asked (thinking that a lead pipe or ten would explain some of the things my children have done over the years) and he said it wasn’t lead, that "lead would have been the upgrade" to what’s in our basement. We have the galvanized pipe that the City of Toronto ran to our house when it was decided that running water was a good idea. The pipe (and what was passing for a shut off) were old and fragile in the extreme, and the guy said we had to get a new pipe before we could do anything as fancy as getting a meter. He left, saying "I’d have trouble sleeping at night if that was in my house. It could blow anytime."

Fast forward a   chunk of time, where Joe and I did indeed have trouble sleeping at night, worried the thing would blow and fill the basement with a lot of unstoppable water, and today we had a team of guys show up and dig a very large hole (in my garden. I’m trying not to be bitter) and take out the old pipe, and run a new one in through the old strange basement wall. 

(you can’t really tell in that picture, but that hole is  7′ deep.)
They used a torpedo thing that shot the new copper pipe into the basement, and now we have a fancy new water thingie – bringing us squarely into this century. 

(You can see the scary old pipe behind the new one. It’s a miracle it lasted this long.  Just a miracle.)

The most incredible thing though, was the pipe that they took out.  This  pipe was what was bringing us clean, amazing fresh water for the last 15 years that we’ve lived here. The water that I’ve been cooking with, drinking, bathing my kids in… making a thousand million pots of coffee with…

It’s disgusting.  The inside is all rusted out – since it’s just old galvanized pipe. That middle part is where all that water flowed through, and it’s nothing but rust. Suddenly, I feel like I know why nobody in this family has ever been anemic.  Clearly there’s no iron shortage in our diets. 

Now I have new, fancy copper pipes, and the water is flowing through something very tidy indeed – or it will be.  Eventually – maybe tomorrow.  Turns out that Escher and the team of drunken monkeys might have laid the city’s chunk of pipe too.   There’s a little problem out front involving nine emergency  city workers, heavy machinery and a lot of digging. Oddly, the city guys seem surprised.

Joe and I are not.  We’re thinking about showing them the wiring.

235 thoughts on “This Old House

  1. When they show up with the water cannon laser thingy that cuts strange and wonderful channels in your front yard, take pictures. It’s neat! Also, I have my fingers crossed that they have the part required to fix whatever they are looking for. We were left with a 30’x30′ chasm in our street/yard when the city crew broke something important over a long weekend.
    We flushed glowstix down the toilet to see if the chasm would glow.
    It did.
    We were frightened.

  2. Considering how old your pipe is, the inside of that pipe isn’t that bad. I design drinking water systems for a living and have seen many pipes younger than yours pulled out with far more rust and stuff on the inside…sometimes you find yourself wondering how they ever got water into their house in the first place! Congratulations on the new pipe. Bet, you’ll find your water tastes better too.

  3. Wow – and I was thinking that a 90 year old house I used to have was challenging. Workers at that house would look, look again, say “now that’s interesting” and then go away. I finally found a guy who would look and then just figure out a way to make it work – nothing fazed him. Good luck with the rest of the pipes!

  4. Our house was built ca. 300 years ago with a considerable amount of DIY work over the years. I understand. So very, very well.

  5. I realize that Toronto soil type is not the same as San Francisco Bay Area soil type, but OMG! There’s no shoring or sloped back walls in that “trench.”
    I’m amazed your water didn’t look red with all that rust in the old pipe.

  6. Our house in Oak Park/Chicago is about that age… I am now reminded to get the catch basin people here to do their thing lest I have trees growing through the pipes….That is an amazing story.

  7. Our pipes were not early that old, yet when they replaced them last spring the pipe from the water heater had an opening smaller than a pencil. They said it was a miracle we got enough hot water to shower or wash dishes. Enjoy your new pipes-we are!

  8. I think that same band of drunken monkeys – or their equally drunken descendants – moved south to Ohio and built our house 50 years later.

  9. Ewww! I’m glad they were able to fix it. Sorry about the hole in your garden, though. The sad thing is that new houses still seem to run into bizarre problems, too. My husband and I bought our home less than 3 years ago and just had to have major mold remediation done along with a complete remodel of the shower in the master bath (along with part of the laundry room directly below it). Apparently our builder had used greenboard instead of concrete board behind the tiles in the shower so it promptly rotted and started dropping water into the wall every time we showered. We didn’t notice it for nearly a year because the insulation soaked up all the water for months on end. When that was finally saturated we noticed a little drip in the laundry room ceiling…opened it up to find a year’s worth of mold growing inside the walls. Ugh. Maybe the great-grandchildren of those drunk monkeys moved to Illinois and started up the family business again?

  10. Join the club. My house is older, pre-Confederation in fact, and apart from having no closets (hence my stash problem), it has limestone and brickwork that requires expensive maintenance, three fireplaces that may or may not work (I haven’t been brave enough to try ever since we found a squirrel’s nest in one), and a basement and a third-floor bathroom that only fit people under 5’3″ (fortunately I am). I don’t think the drunken monkeys were here in Kingston, but there might have been a lot of short people.

  11. That kind of sounds like our house, built in 1975. Maybe the same team of monkeys were still around, and decided it would be good to move south (in their old age) and continue their work. Our house had about 50 home improvement projects started when we moved in and NONE of them finished. Then, my dad went downstairs to work on the basement wiring. He said that either they didn’t know what they were doing, or they were trying to kill someone. I think they might have been thinking of letting their teenager live in the basement. 🙂

  12. Our house is only about 60 years old and we’ve been doing some rennovations. Drunken monkeys about sums up some of the stuff we’ve found. I also had the outside spigot break off in my hand spewing water all over the front lawn. The shut off valve? Controlled water to the entire house. Good times.

  13. Our house is merely 110 years or so. It’s had at least 3 kitchens. When they replaced drain pipe last yr, there was no hole in the middle of the pipe. It was like a solid length of sponge-filled pipe for ~3 meters or so.
    This house started w/ coal & an outhouse. The back yard was a burning pile, we can’t seem to dig down more than ~10cm/4″ without hitting what is probably fired-hard soil.
    On the good side, the house is adorable and we have sheets o’ violets in the side yard which can be seen a block away.
    Good luck w/ your emergency workers.

  14. I know your issues. I hope that the change to “clean” water doesn’t make you sick!! Your bodies are used to what you had.

  15. Yes, I’m with Kittysweaters. Do not under any conditions, show them the wiring. They will make you rewire the house.

  16. Old houses are just a bundle of surprises — usually nasty ones. Enjoy your “new” water.

  17. Amazing! I love the stone in your basement walls! It is, indeed, a very old house. You and Joe cope well with its quirks. 🙂

  18. If anyone ever questions why things need to be built ‘to code’ they should be directed to your blog post.
    I’m glad you have a new water pipe.

  19. Our house was built in 1887, and people at the start of projects (and us, as DH is incredibly handy) do a lot of saying “hmph”, and then standing and thinking. Some tradespeople laugh out loud, too And we have one of those itty bitty rooms with a gorgeous window (stained glass, even) in it. We are thinking it was a little nursery, or a linen room. Or not–but we use it for the Christmas stuff. My stash and my Christmas collection sort of battle for space…
    Good luck with the shiny new pipes. And now you have to eat more spinach.

  20. New Washie, new pipes, before you know it you’ll have a new house. We have a show on our public stations called “History Detectives.” They once did a forensic examination on a house to determine how old the various parts were and were able to tell how it was built. That might be an option. Especially if they come up with some sort of interesting artifact in all the digs you’ve got going on.

  21. i have lived in my house for 26 years. The entire time I have lived here every repairman I have had has done the same thing. When they recover I tell them that a drunken band of roving gypsies previously worked on the house.
    Good luck!!

  22. If you suspect something wrong with your wiring, check on it now, before you have a fire!! I know it is a lot of inconvenience and expense, but it is well worth it. Since you live in an attached house, you have a vested interest in your neighbor NOT having a fire, either. Perhaps you can treat this as a joint venture.
    Protect yourself and your family!!

  23. That looks like a Thick Walled peice of pipe to me! Perhaps it had thin spots. congradulations on new pipes. I hope some of the plumbers are cute.

  24. I live in an old house too. We’re doing some renos and I’ve had lots of moments like you described. We just discoverd our basement walls are not actually attached to studs at all. The drywall is just sort of hanging there. Also our concrete floor in the basement is just a thin layer of concrete spread over the dirt. One of my kids left the hose on outside recently and the extra water ended up in a puddle in the middle (not the side) of the basement. But the best one of all was a few years ago when the city discovered quite by accident that our drains don’t connect to anything. There’s a pipe that takes water and what not from the house down a little hill but it doesn’t connect to anything. It just goes into the earth. We wondered why the street near our house was always wet, even on a hot, dry day! Luckily the city had on record that we were connected to a city drainage system of some sort, which of course we weren’t, so they had to fix it.

  25. I hate to bring up this point,but, didn’t you have this monkey house inspected before you bought it?

  26. I know where the team went after they finished in Toronto. Your pipes bear a strong resemblance to the original pipes in my first apartment. But it appears that you have a regular floor in your basement. I had sand pits.

  27. Our water comes from a spring in the middle of the sheep field behind the house.
    The pipe got bunged up with mud last spring, it took the local farmer half an hour with a pressure hose to blow the dirt back through…
    It freezes in winter as well, the modern additions to our house (double glazing, running water, septic tank, electrics, phone) were done by a Welsh version of your team of monkeys.

  28. We (I) pulled some galvanized pipe out of our old house in San Francisco to find that the pipe was solid! Not particularly rusty but full of galvanized “stuff”. I wondered how we had any water pressure at all. Luckily my brother is a plumber and was very helpful. Enjoy your lovely copper pipes. And, Sheila, at 5:18, that is NOT helpful…..

  29. We had the same thing out my MIL’s house. It was the original galvanized steel pipe from when they built the house in 1947. My son reached up to re-direct the water to the barn and ran his finger right through the pipe. He was about 12 at the time.
    We are waiting in the barn for the water to come on and all of a sudden he comes up, soaking wet and absolutely panicked. We all run down to see what’s happening and I run the pipes back to the main cut off. All I can remember is MIL standing in the basement yelling at us about what we were doing with her water. No one told her about the re-direct valve. Thinking back, I don’t know how they even put it in since the pipe was so worn.

  30. Well, at least it’s not snowing. We had a hole like that dug in front of our Victorian row house in DC in the dead of winter. There were icicles and steam and all sorts of crazy pants frozen things. I felt so badly for the city workers who had to be in the wet 7 ft pit in below freezing weather.
    Now we live in a more modern (1891) Victorian. We have actually had most of the wiring redone. But we still have craziness. Every so often when we replace a light bulb, the whole things blows. Sparks and all. A woman at my kids school who claims to be psychic told me its not the electrical system, it’s that the house doesn’t “want” all this power. Yep, I’m going with the possessed house theory.

  31. The house we rented when we were first married had very low water pressure. When the city arrived to check the pipes from the street to the house, discovered there were no pipes, they had completely rusted away. Only the channels in the clay soil were bringing water to the house pipes!

  32. My house is ten years old this year, and we had to replace the heat pump from geothermal to electric because the geothermal was done so poorly it could never sustain itself even of it ever worked again. I think the drunken monkeys must still roam the world in search of houses to build.
    On the other hand, whomever made those pipes is an artisan on the level of davinci! Amazing.

  33. P.S. In the 40 years since then, we have purchased only brand new houses. :o)

  34. I’m dealing with water pipes also that no one knows where or how they are connected to each other or the meters. Not in a house, thank heavens, but on some good-sized property. Either way – the fix is a very expensive solution, once you get the governmental entities involved, which appears to be unavoidable. Best wishes to all!

  35. LOL I love in a 130 year house in the UK. Obviously built by relatives of your drunken monkeys. We had a water leak several years ago and a gas leak 2 years ago (that was a bit scary – we were slowly gassing the neighbours). You probably wouldn’t be surprised at our wacky pipe arrangements…

  36. LOL I have a great visual of your team of drunken monkeys… Thanks for the giggle

  37. Oh, the construction training in me cringes when it sees a man in a tight hole that has the potential for collapse and engulfment.
    I think there might be a euphemism in that last sentence.
    In other news, my significant other and I have been trying to buy a house for the first time and, um, this information about old pipes is enlightening.

  38. LOL I have a great visual of your team of drunken monkeys… Thanks for the giggle!

  39. Owning an old house is always so much fun. One year my parents discovered they had an illegal septic tank on the property when it when kaput. What really made it special was when they were installing the new one they had to connect it to the city’s sewage system and that connection was discovered 14′ down in the front yard…the tank is in the back yard at the most distant point from the house. That whole summer whenever people asked what we were doing to the yard I just told them we were reenacting trench warfare.

  40. I’ll echo the others warning about a change in your coffee flavor. More importantly, do test batches the next time you dye something! Your water will be different than it has been.

  41. I commented a while back in sympathy as we have an 1880s house too (which is actually super old when you talk about houses in Australia).
    Reading this I have a giggle as we are in exactly the same situation. From storm water pipes that pump water directly into the ground; live wires in our roof that tend to short out the circuits when the house moves; the house moving a lot as it’s sitting on clay soil with no underpinning; clay soil expanding and contracting with the unpredictable flooding/drought extremes; doors in the house that will sometimes close and other times not close. I could go on and on!
    Every tradie we have had out to the house gives us the same reaction. At first it worried me, but now it’s just par for the course!

  42. Portugal has a serious short of drunk monkeys. There is, however, a generous supply of drunk burros all of whom have an “a manha” (tommorrow) attitude to life and all of whom are in various contracting businesses. In the U.S. I had a two- hundred year old house which, from the Civil War on, had been added to or improved at least eight times, including a thousand feet of commercial space we added. Here I have a four year old house we took a typical 18 months and x-zillion contractors to build. Guess which one has (had) better plumbing. (Except of course for the time the excevation for the addition left antique pipes exposed to an uncommon series of freezes). BTW dunken burros are verrry slow workers but they seem to sober up and are fast off the mark when it’s time to ask for payment!

  43. That team of drunken monkeys? Very active up until the 1980s as our house can attest. They just moved eastwards. Oh, and they now dabble in actual structure, not just essential guts. Clever devils.
    So happy to hear the water pipe was caught before the king of all gushers spewed forth. Whew!

  44. It makes me feel much better about my recent plumbing experiences, smaller scale, no digging and certainly cheaper. At the time it was horrible beyond words but I see now that I just needed the right perspective.

  45. Yes, that is rather disgusting…it could have been so much worse.
    And here I sit and complain about our kitchen faucet not working properly. Trouble is, it isn’t the faucet that’s causing the problem…we’ve replaced three faucets. We think something is stuck in the pipe and is causing wonky water pressure. We don’t have the money to fix it right now so we’re living with the unpredictable water pressure.
    I hate owning a house sometimes…

  46. If you still have any galvanized pipes left, Watch Out! Copper and Galvanized do NOT mix; the water flowing between the two causes an electric current that will put pinholes in your pipes(yes we have firsthand knowledge). Save your old inner tubes and get some hose clamps-you can use them to make a temporary patch to avoid overtime/weekend rates for plunbers.

  47. Well, “my” house isn’t quite that old, but it was built with what they had. What they mainly had was sand. Sand turns to mud when wet. I had a leaking pipe in my bathroom wall. My laundry room is directly under my bathroom. One day the sink in the laundry room was hanging off the wall. Because the wall was now… mud.. mainly. My mothers reaction? “That’s because you don’t air out your basement properly!” erm, no mum.
    Also: outdoor access to basement only! Laundry is even more fun in winter that way 😉

  48. ‘We’re thinking about showing them the wiring.”
    OMG! Don’t! They will condemn the house, you will have to move until the wiring meets code.

  49. So were is the like button, I must say I’ve never laughed so hard, sitting alone with just the cats, they think I’m crazy. The journey you must have gone on with this house…great!

  50. Your post, as well as many of the comments, are terrifying. I’m thankful I didn’t buy an old house…I’m not the type that can laugh it off…I’d never sleep.

  51. I live in a very old house, part of which was built in 1659! When we bought it (for very little money) it was in such bad shape that we had to gut it and put in new plumbing, electricity, insulation, you name it! The most disgusting discovery we made, was a hole (as big as my fist) in the sewer pipe in the basement. The smell lingered on for weeks!!!

  52. If a drunken team of monkeys built your home then they must’ve built mine too. I think it’s held together w spit and chewing gum. I love old homes – just loathe the upgrades.

  53. Sometimes I really want to buy one of the beautiful old farmhouses or Craftsman houses in our city because they’re so lovely and have so many thoughtful built-in features. Then I read things like this about the realities of owning historic homes and think, “If I had the money, I’d get the original plans and build one from scratch with modern wiring and plumbing.” Both ideas, alas, are entirely out of my budget.

  54. I feel like a “newbie” compared to you. My house is a mere 103 years old. It has it’s quirks, but it was built by my Great-great grandfather. Actually been in the family since it was built. I was the first generation to actually clean it out before moving in and you should have seen some of the stuff that came out of the closets! We nicknamed one closet the polyester parade…

  55. And by the way, one of the drunken monkeys was the former owner of our home. Everything he “fixed” or built himself was cockeyed and didn’t really function. He even cut out a corner of the living room to make an outside sitting area, partly screened in with glass. We had to seal it up with plastic because every time the rain blew in, it leaked into the garage below. When we had the house re-roofed and re-sided, the contractors knocked the corner back out and had to do quite a bit of repair to the wall below where water had leaked in.

  56. We always refer to our house as whoville. Looks like those drunken monkeys really got around. Close to everything is held together by twisted wire and prayer.

  57. For the love of all coffee, woman, don’t show them the wiring! They’ll probably beat you with the hardcover version of the building code if they get a look at that!

  58. You have both given me a laugh for the day (about the drunken monkeys, not your pipe troubles) and made me feel better about the 43 year old house we recently purchased. Thanks! And best of luck.
    Sheila @5:18, we had a very expensive inspection, from the allegedly best inspector in our city, who failed to notice there are NO heat runs in our basement. Our only recourse? Get our inspection fee back, if we take him to mandatory arbitration and prevail. BIG waste of money. Just sayin’.

  59. You know my house was built in the 80’s & has all sorts of odd problems. Most of them appear to be caused by the previous owners “fixing” things themselves. The husband and I decide most of those conversations must have gone something like this. “Well, dear, we have about 1/2 hour before we go to the movies, what do you say we remodel the bathroom?” “Honey, do you really think it will take a whole 1/2 hour? Let’s just use Elmer’s glue instead of that caulk stuff (I mean really what’s the difference) then I’ll have time to get a manicure!”

  60. Our house is only 90, but we get that same look when things need to be fixed. House must be precocious.
    Enjoy your enhanced water pressure! And do check the wiring. We had an electrical fire; someone had just clipped off some wires and stuffed them back in the wall at some point. Oops.

  61. And all over the world we know that the bloke in the trench doesn’t have a bald spot! Yet…….

  62. Our home was built in the 1980’s, and even though we’ve been here since ’91 and remodelled most of the house, we are still finding more oddities.
    Like fuses that are too small for the power that flows through them. We reorganize the wiring to limit the load per fuse every time we remodel, but some still are problematic.
    Like walls that are so full of 2×4’s that it is nearly impossible to run a wire for an electrical switch through them. How did I first find out? The living room had no overhead lights (and very few outlets) and we decided we wanted to see at night.
    Like the outdoor water spigot attached to the house that was made of copper and attached to galvanized pipe (the good news is we were in the midst of a remodelling job that required access to the affected pipe and it blew only 3 hours before we were planning on shutting off the water and going into the wall anyway).
    Like the pipe we just discovered while relandscaping clearly marked “gas” that is not associated with any known project (we have several versions of the original plans). We don’t know if it is live or not, and even the plumber is afraid to try to find out.
    I wish you luck.

  63. My sympathies. We just had all the sewer lines, from city service to each toilet and drain and washer and dishwasher replaced last week. I was really tired of driving to the convenience store to use the facilities!

  64. Our house was built in the late 1970’s.When the CAP(Central Arizona water Project)messed up our water supply many of us developed leaks.Since we have no basements-houses built on a slab-it would have required major concrete drilling, drywall invasions and mega bucks. Our plumber suggested by-passing the whole shebang and now our wrapped and insulated pipes go up the outside wall of the house, over the roof and back down into the house. The roof maze looks like something designed by Andy Warhol, but, hey, nary a problem since.

  65. The gang of drunken monkeys are alive and well and working (I use the term loosely) in Louisiana. I’m sending them back to Canada post haste!

  66. We had the exact same scenario in our 150 yr. old house (new water meter, original pipes, drunken monkeys, replace immediately, $$$$). Fast forward a couple of years to our project last summer, replacing the original terra cotta pipes that drained gray water, etc. from the house. There was even more whistling, head shaking, digging, and $$$$$. These have really cut into my yarn budget!

  67. We have a 95 year old house that was built by experts, but was subsequently lived in and “improved” by Escher.We’re used to stunned responses from tradespeople. However, when we began the remodel on our kitchen,on a whim we opted to have the contracter open a wall so we could see where an outlet led to. When they opened it, they SCREAMED. Wires had been cut, left live and cozily enclosed in insulation where they should have caught fire immediately. Of course, all walls had in the kitchen needed to be opened then, resulting in a beautiful kitchen costing us twice the bid. Ouch. But I love this house. New houses are weird too.

  68. No, Steph. Do Not show them the wiring. ‘Cuz then you’ll have electricians to contend with, banging holes in your walls everywhere. Clutch some nice merino batt to your chest and breathe deeply. This, too, will pass.

  69. My first house was built right after the Civil War, 1860s; after 25 years of many adventures sold it and bought one built in 1929. The electrician just shakes his head and lets go with the F bombs when he comes over, but then he works his magic. He always says “how the hell did you pass the home inspection?” I have no idea!

  70. This house isn’t that old. Built in 1948, apparently by the same troupe of drunk monkeys (they’re quite long-lived) that was working in Toronto in the 19th century. All upkeep and upgrades (such as they are) were also performed by said monkeys. Every time I have someone come to deal with some weird house thing, they hunker down, start dismantling things, then come and find me, demanding, “Do you know who DID this?” The sequelae to that statement have included replacing and customizing a furnace to work with the wonky ductwork, new well, new septic system, eccentric wiring, crawl space issues, and an endless parade of plumbing fixes. I feel your pain.
    And it is my considered opinion that in terms of mess, large equipment, loss of use of one’s plumbing, and general unpleasantness, not to mention cost, replacing a septic system trumps them all. No contest.

  71. Just this weekend my visiting father thought he would do me a favour and empty the trap of a slow draining sink in my old house. He did so without asking. I would have told him that if he wanted to remodel my bathroom he could go ahead. It didn’t get that severe but it was two days without water and now mismatched hardware in the bathroom. I have only lived in this house for a year but know enough that seemingly simple problems are NEVER simple problems.

  72. Bad wiring can lead to loss of fiber.
    Use of litter boxes can transcend species if no other facilities are available.

  73. Any one who knows pipes knows–it you want clean pipes run alcohol through them. Water pipes are always filled with sediment and stuff.
    (the galvanized pipes in my 1890 house had all failed –before we moved out of it –back in 1978–so yeah, you are lucky your’s lasted longer. (we had lead pipes too, but only on the waste side, not the supply side) but it gave other plumbers pause–and the shook their heads and said..”a wiped lead joint” and wouldn’t touch it!

  74. The huge advantage our 100 year old house has is that we actually have the blueprints that were used for the house. Yes there have been modifications (not good ones IMHO) but it is a solid house that needs some TLC. We’ll be joining you in the water pipe problem soon enough and the wiring is a nightmare that will take a certified electrician and a new service line to fix. The joys of home ownership no matter what it’s age.

  75. Last year a very large plumber had to replace my hot water tank. I commented that it sucked he had to carry it up from the basement. He told me this story: he’d gone to replace a little old lady’s hot water tank and asked where the door to the basement was. She showed him a trap door in the kitchen floor. Great he thinks, crawl space. He opens the hatch and lowers himself in. Under her kitchen was a space dug out of the sand which held a hot water tank and three dead hot water tanks and him. The lady said, O they just move the old one out of the way and put the new one in. Well, they’d reached critical mass and had to cram four guys into the kitchen and two in the hole to lift out the old tanks before they could get the new one in. My basement with proper stairs and a door were a treat.

  76. As long as we’re all sharing stories… My parents had a few issues with the water pipe leading to/from the septic tank at their place. Turns out tree roots were growing through the pipe, causing “blockages.” With much effort, my father had to dislodge what he describes as a “four foot frozen poo log” from the pipe under the house. I’d take the rusty pipe any day.

  77. I don’t feel so bad about my pipes now! My house is 62 years old and we have a tree in our backyard that was just a teenager back then. Now it’s a great massive thing and although the roots haven’t penetrated the pipes, they *have* grown underneath it, causing an uphill climb for our outgoing sewage. You can imagine how productive that is. Temporary fix is snaking the drain every 3 months. Permanent fix is a mere $2500. But I can’t tell you how many plumbers came and went before I could get someone to actually tell me what it would take to fix. I’ve spent at least a grand on trade call fees over the past 4 years.

  78. Oh gosh, where to start….
    My 17-year-old son and I have been laughing through this post and comments. Reminds us of a remodel we did a couple years ago, just before moving and renting a house we couldn’t sell. In the master bath, we dismantled a weird shower stall that was made of glass on two sides. We must have removed the only screw holding the glass door, because it suddenly came loose and pitched across the room, hitting the wall where we had already removed the vanity and sink. The corner of the glass door sheared off the copper water pipe for the sink, creating a geyser. There was no water shut-off in the house, but my son knew where to shut the water off out in the lawn where it hooked up to the city pipes. While he was tearing outside to do that, the water flowed under the shower basin and through a hole in the ceiling (don’t ask) and into the room below. Repairing the copper pipe turned into a major project, due to those drunken monkeys again.
    Now we live in a 7-year-old rental with the worst construction we’ve seen to date. I can verify that those drunken monkeys are still at it—in Colorado this time.

  79. Sorry for all your upheaval, but I enjoyed this post and the comments immensely. And here I thought my house was the only one where the contractors would look at whatever the current problem was and just double over laughing.

  80. Yeah- I think our home inspector was as drunk a monkey as the builder/previous owners.We,too, have Escher water pipes and spaghetti electric wires. We’ve had water where we didn’t want it(coming through the roof to the ceilings)and no water coming into the house(for things like,you know, showers). Good times,good times…

  81. I always get such a kick out of your posts. No ‘drunken monkey’ stories here but a kit kat going apeshit over his new foam ball. Thanks for my laugh of the day.

  82. MY GOD! Your drunken monkeys did the wiring in my house! Now it all makes sense!
    Do you know any trustworthy electricians in Toronto?

  83. This might be my favourite, ever, of your posts. Suddenly my house, built in 1908, seems modern… Just cast on something dreamy to take the edge off.

  84. This is exactly why I have moved to a new modern apartment. Someone else can have the sleepless nights, not me. I’ll just call the super when things go wonkey.

  85. Oh! Oh!
    Do I get a cookie for knowing why there’s a gap between the concrete floor and concrete foundation in the basement?
    My house has it too… Apparently, the theory was you could never keep all the water out, and that was a channel to safely divert all that moisture to a sump or a drain or a hole in the ground.
    Since, you know, my house was built by squatters with a broken level.

  86. You, Joe, Millie, the attic squirrels, and whichever of the darling daughters are officially still at home have my deepest condolences.
    Whatever you do, do not celebrate the end of the work by turning on all the taps at the same time. I’ve got a funny feeling your electric can opener may explode or your roof may shed its shingles if you do.
    Good luck, Yarn Harlot. May your house not self-destruct until after you move out of it.

  87. The wee room in your house might be either a nursery or a dressing room, especially if it’s near to the main room. A friend has a Victorian house that has a similar wee room, and they’ve been told by the locals it was one of those two.
    My house was built in the 1950’s, but similar drunk monkeys, including the owner before me. When it was built, they used the newest thing in pipes – orangeburg pipe. This is bitumenized wood pulp moulded into the shape of a pipe. Paper!! For water!! And then the drunken monkey owner before me planted trees directly above these pipes. Cue a major plumbing repair for us when the tree roots finally ate through the essentially made of paper pipes.
    The drunken monkey owner also reverse wired the dryer installation, causing our dryer repairman to sustain a nasty shock when he came to see why every fuse kept blowing on a too regular a schedule.

  88. Ah… And with regards to the galvanized piping (which I, in fact, have as well)… It could be worse! Not only did it never break, but you never got roots growing up it!
    Because they are so brittle, cracking is inevitable. If a tree is too close to the line (not even the house, just the line), it will chase back that delicious water (in my case, the main sewer stack) as far as it can go. Until the plumber comes to fix the clog you just can’t shake, and starts pulling tree roots out of your toilet!
    We jack hammered up the entire basement, figured out which tree, cut down the bastard (Google Kentucky coffee tree, and you’ll understand), and decided to wait on digging up the yard. So far so good… Every year we replace a bit more of the galvanized, and every year, I curse the moron who built this place for some newly discovered “feature.”

  89. A relative’s house finally got a kitchen remodel, whereupon they discovered the “pipe” from the kitchen to the septic tank was rolled tarpaper, and there was NO septic tank – the pipe just wandered into the yard. Granted, the house had originally been a summer cottage, but still…
    Glad for you that this one was simple, didn’t require ripping cupboards out, and the appliances didn’t drown. (I’m still re-reading your new book and giggling all the time!)

  90. Oh, boy, your old pipe looks a heck of a lot like my pipe. Not great, but it’s an old house, and like yours, if I change something, it all goes downhill. (Or uphill if we’re talking about the bill.) I grew up in a house where the concrete did not meet the walls. It was purportedly for drainage. It was really a place for the creepy centipede things to plot their attack. Eew.

  91. We’re slowing, of necessity, replacing bit by bit the wiring in our 1940’s house, so for your next fix-it project I can totally recommend our very patient, nothing fazes her, electrician, but she’d have to drive there from Ann Arbor, so it would be kind of expensive…
    Good luck! So glad you at least get to appreciate the material and give us very interesting stories, WITH pictures. (-:

  92. I too have an old house. Not quite as old as your’s, but old just the same. It takes a special breed of person to have the guts to buy an old house like we have done…
    We too have had people who have refused to touch our pipes. I have had city workers who have refused to shut off the water at the street, and when it hits the street it is in their territory…
    I like to say it adds to the “charm”….certainly adds to the stress, and the budget…but also adds to the stories being told years later.
    Hang in there…and I mean to hang literally….
    Chris

  93. Had a lead pipe, installed in 1914, replaced in about 1990 that looked a WHOLE lot worse than that — we could only run one thing at a time we had such poor water pressure — new pipes are a wonderful thing — if they ever get them hooked up!

  94. I think this can all be traced back to yesterday’s comment about the handspun being the most exciting thing to happen in a long time…the house got offended!

  95. When we had water issues, we learned that some of our pipes (1926 house) were terra-cotta, and a tree had grown roots that punctured one. Who thought it was a good idea to make watee pipes out of flowerpot material???

  96. Every year when we have termite inspection, we have to call the company and ask for the skinny guy to come inspect under the house. We are not sizeists. We are realists. The entrance to the crawl space is 18 inches high, and about 3 feet wide. Every year they send out the big guy and when I show him where to get in the crawl space, he has to re-schedule the appointment.

  97. If I’d been blogging 10 years ago I could have written the exact story. I even have pictures just like yours to prove it. My story didn’t end well though. That torpedo thingimajig, it left a hole in my foundation where there shouldn’t have been one and during the first big rainfall my basement was flooded. Fun and games, enjoy your clean water…ciao

  98. Sorta bad news about the pipe. Galvanized doesn’t rust. That stuff lining the old pipe? That’s coming from the city water lines. You should really consider installing a water filter. You’ll probably be (un)pleasantly surprised at how much gets filtered out.

  99. Ah yes, old houses. My 130 yr old house has the same stone walls in the cellar, walls that let rats come in(working on that for the last 25 yrs) and water(all the way to the ceiling in the big flood of 2008). But my father was one of those crazy monkeys, who found a way to do anything. So when we were ready to start remodeling the small living room with 5 doorways,but not seeing our way clear, my dad showed up with 2 steel I-beams and a piece of railroad track, those load bearing walls opened right up. I love to think of someone getting a rude surprise when they wonder why there are large wood boxes running the length of the ceilings in our living room:)

  100. I’m just wondering that if that pipe really was that old and “he’d never seen anything like it”, just how did he know right off the bat just what it was? Obviously if he can stand there and tell you that this is what was there before lead, he’d seen it before.
    And yes, I live in a 100 year old house that still has fabric wrapped around the wiring, so I know the feeling. We don’t show people the wiring because it makes them want to leave the house instantly. Those who are brave enough to stay ask about things like exit plans and fire extinguishers.

  101. I have no stories, only sympathy. (I’m trying to keep a straight face when I type this, but believe me, I’m laughing at the drunken monkeys, NOT at your pain and frustration…) Please, as a fellow knitter, let me prescribe exotic fibers (yak, cashmere, angora) and a large glass of wine.

  102. You mention this brings your water supply into the new century…leaving out you house skipped a century from installation to update? lol It was a good move.

  103. If you ever decide to try dyeing with Eucalypts, that pipe will be Magic! 🙂 I lived fifteen years in a house built during the great depression, probably by the drunk owner, with many recycled and oddly shaped parts. I recognise this response from tradies!

  104. I live in Bath, in the UK, so I always find it odd when you talk about the age of your house – most houses here are hundreds of years old, without that causing any problems. I think it’s probably mostly because our weather is so mild, we don’t have furnaces or vents (except round gas ovens etc) or any of that. But not being built by drunken monkeys probably helps as well!
    (The house I live in is about 80 years old, and is generally considered to be incredibly new and modern for the area. We get fancy things like double glazing, which you’re not allowed to put in the older houses because they’re all listed)

  105. Anything to do with having work done in the house always puts me in mind of the classic song by Flanders and Swann “the Gasman Cometh” – check it out on YouTube.

  106. Mom just had her kitchen and powder room off her mudroom/laundry remodeled, and we discovered that the air vent in the floor – not the cold air return, but the one supposed to bring in the heat – went straight down about 15 inches and stopped, dead ended into the concrete slab. No wonder the room was so freaking cold!!
    Good luck!!!

  107. I know exactly what you’re going through! Last spring, the City of Knoxville ripped out my newly planted front flower bed, tore up the slope and endangered my 100 year old red maple to put in a new sewer intake. Next, they sent me a letter saying I had to replace the sewer pipe from said intake to my house. That tore out the hedge along that side of the house. Now, the century-old galvanized water line has to be replaced. That’ll take out the sidewalk, and the other side’s hedge. Ah, old houses! And old city-installed junk you’re responsible for by buying one!

  108. Think of the hole as “extra aeration” in starting your garden for the spring. (Or the potential new home of a fruit tree!).
    I spent most of my week teaching children about “Colonial Homes”. Apparently the majority of nine-year-olds in my area believe houses don’t last more than 20 years. (When teaching this lesson inside a 250 year old (and gorgeous!) barn, it feels particularly ridiculous. You can SEE the ax marks from the original builders in the wood on the walls and ceiling).
    That was a long-winded way of saying, I understand the thing with the drunken monkeys. They designed things in this town, too.

  109. Those drunken monkey had to have practiced on our place in Kansas for at least 5yrs before moving to Canada…

  110. They were over here on the East side of Toronto, My house is at least 100 years old, no level used building this house or it’s cousin next door. So old no indoor bathroom originally. My main bathroom is still in the basement with what for sure is the original Cast-iron Clawfoot tub (hands down winner as the best tub to have a leisurely soak in) and a toilet with a metal tank- both in surprisingly good shape considering what age they are
    As an aside the cousin next door still featured “Le Shack Out Back” in 1954, (that’s when my family bought this place)
    PS-We got torpedoed too good bye old lead pipes, thanks Mom for updating the inside to copper when the house was hers

  111. I’m sorry! Having water pipes replaced makes me want to drink. We had it done 3 years ago and my garden (grass) has never quite recovered. One morning we woke up to a broken water pipe that had sprung a nice little hole in our driveway and water was coming up in geyser-like fashion. Our reaction that morning…”oh shit.” So, have a beer and knit on. 🙂

  112. Our old house here in Maine (1830) just had to have the septic pipes to the street replaced because the terracotta ones were collapsing (how old these were I really don’t want to know). There was a lot of head-scratching going on and pretty much the whole yard had to be dug up to find its path down to the tie-in with the town pipes. I think that group of drunken monkeys had branch offices…

  113. in the 1950s, our babysitter — who had grown up in the house we then owned — told us the house was 100 years old, and that it had started out as a log cabin.
    fast forward to the ’70s. my bro and sil then lived in the house and decided to update/upgrade it. in the demolition phase, they FOUND the log cabin! also, inside wall cavities, they found old bottles and a wooden peg doll — sorta like one of the fisher-price “little people,” only larger, and painted (with lead paint, no doubt) to resemble a revolutionary-era british soldier.
    the “basement” was (and remains) a dirt cellar that, in my earliest childhood, had a coal furnace. soon my parents upgraded to oil, but kept the old boiler as part of the system . . . until the night in my high school years when the insulation on it caught fire. (huh? burning insulation that probably was part asbestos?) for many years afterward, the first time the heat came on in the fall, you could smell the odor of that blaze.
    (we were all fine — not even smoke inhalation problems — because our part-chihuahua “tap-danced” on me until i awoke, woke everyone else up and we got out and called the brave fire laddies.
    yeah, good times. and now the house belongs to my oldest niece, though bro and sil rent part of it from her.

  114. This is one reason I’m happy the house we just bought dates from 1964. New enough that it was built to an almost modern code, old enough that most of what was wrong with it in the past has already been fixed.

  115. Ugh: I feel your pain in a big way. Our house was built in 1870, and we too had to replace a water pipe (a 40″ tall one that ran from the top floor of the house to the basement), as it was made of ancient cast iron and cracked along the entire length of it, causing major flooding RIGHT AFTER WE HAD PLASTER GUYS COME IN THE REPAIR ALL THE WALLS). Last week, our electric and gas company had to access our basement to replace a gas line and install a gauge of some sort. They noticed that our aging furnace had developed a crack that couldn’t be repaired, so we had to replace it to the tune of $8000.00. I’m still in shock about it. The only good news is that we can pay it off over time. Sigh. Old houses are great, but boy, can they be a drain on one’s limited resources.

  116. Well, I have to say that you’re luckier than we were. OUR house in Elmira (yep, big ol’ Maple Syrup festival bringing in 70,000 extra new Elmiran’s will be making it impossible for me to get out of town tomorrow) was built around the same time your’s was, but by Mennonites not Monkies, so thankfully, our basement floor meets our 24″ thick stone walls. OUR galvanized piping went while my husband was replacing the knob & tube in the basement. He walked up to the site of the ‘drip, drip’ dripping’ sound and saw a pipe with a J-CLOTH tied around it and he STILL couldn’t resist the urge to REMOVE THE J-CLOTH! Lots of very French cursing later, we managed to shut OFF the water and for two days, he worked diligently at replacing ALL the water runs with Pex. At least you don’t have to look at your giant hole hovering over your newly renovated and wallpapered livingroom.

  117. Wow. That is some rust. Did you ever notice anything about the taste of the water, or were you just so used to it that it didn’t register.

  118. I feel your pain! I live in a 103 year old house and it’s always fun having things done – had a new kitchen and bath put in 2 years ago and found out my house was sinking. It’s like an archeological dig every time there’s a worker here. But the charm and the history of my house outweigh the inconvenience (altho not always the expense…)

  119. Oh my! I live in a house built in a rush just after WWII and it is full of nasty surprises. Two weeks after we bought the house (15 years ago) we had water back up into our bathtub when we ran the clothes washer. It turned out that the sewer line was the original pipe from the 1940s, which was made out of tar paper. What a surprise that it had collapsed! We got the fun of digging out 20 feet of sewer line and replacing it with new pipe. Ah, the joys of home ownership.

  120. Same drunken monkeys up here in Eastern Ontario. One outlet per room, no overhead lights, basement only I can stand in, etc. When the bathroom was added to the house the guy (drunken monkey relative) that lived in our house actually used old road signs in the walls. Luckily I have a handy husband (farmer) who is unphased by most of this and can find ways to fix it.
    I agree with the others DO NOT show anyone the wiring!!

  121. We have the same galvanized pipe to our house from the street here in Baltimore and our house is circa 1862. We’re still using it and hopeing it holds out quite a bit longer.
    Our neighbors just replaced theirs last month but our plumbers didn’t give us any scary warning so we figured it was fine for now. But now you’ve got me worried….

  122. Don’t worry, we’ve lived in two houses in 30 years, neither as old as yours. However, we’ve had the same experience; “I’ve never seen anything like this!” Come on – how long have you been plumbing, electricing, etc.?

  123. You must love your house a lot. I bet it has some charming features. Now that the pipes are working better, you’ll have one less thing to worry about. When are you having the wiring replaced? Maybe in summertime when you don’t have to worry about losing power.

  124. OH my that is crazy. You must have a really neat old house. I’m sure everything you touch is a big deal to fix but in the long run…maybe you enjoy your monkey made home LOL..I sure would!!

  125. There must be a lot of old, old houses in the upper latitudes because the same thing happened to our 100 year old house in Minneapolis. Fortunately the city replaced the line and didn’t charge us ( only the tax payers). The machine the workers used to get their pipe from the 7′ hole in the street to the house is called a “Mole” here in the US.

  126. Our previous house wasn’t nearly that old…but we always got the same reaction from guys who came to work on the house. And we could count on any estimate being only half of the actual cost because workmen estimate based on what a normal house would cost…and there was always some weird, really time-consuming need to jerry rig eveything that was ever done.
    Fortunately, we were blessed to be able to move last summer to a nicer place in a nicer area, for not much more money.

  127. I forgot to mention, the funny room upstairs with the great window was likely for sewing. I’ve seen a number of pictures showing women with their sewing in a little room/top of the stairs. Before modern lights sewing was best done in day light. Fine sewing needs bright light. Our house is 107 and I find sewing outside is the best solution depending on what I’m working on.

  128. This reminds me of my late parent’s home that is over 120 years old. We still have it in the family as a seasonal home. We take the pipes apart every fall wondering if we will ever get them back together in the spring. They are ever bit as rusty as yours but the water tastes the best. Anyway, my Dad always referred to the plumbing as done by “Joe McGee” meaning it made no sense. I really don’t know if Joe McGee was a cartoon character or whatever but we always laughed…any insight on that one? (If you know a Joe McGee..I apologize as it’s not him!!)

  129. Wow ! Never know what the heck you`ll find ( or not ) in old houses ! I feel bad for your garden . How`s the mystery scarf coming along ???

  130. Aren’t old houses a “love” , our house circa 1860, has had four additions added on , the basement has walls 2 to 3 feet thick of limestone you have to use a jack hammer to get into the additions space.
    When we remodeled the upstairs we were shocked to see the wiring, hubby’s a electrician, so it’s okay now just not looking forwarded to the downstairs.

  131. This sounds like a great excuse to invite Mike Holmes over.
    Seeing you and him together would be one fantastic hour of television. Incidentally, do you have a ‘floating’ basement? My house in New Jersey (1970s) had that so that lack of soil stability wouldn’t crack the foundation. But that seems too smart for drunk monkeys. Must have been another reason…

  132. I grew up in a late 18th-early 19th C dog-run style house in Virginia. We moved before I was in on any of the heating, plumbing, and repairing issues, but now every time you talk about your house I am filled with simultaneous nostalgia and terror.

  133. This is what is euphemistically known as having “a house with character”.
    What’s going to happen now is that that sparkley new pipe is going to make the REST of your house jealous. And you know what that means. Stand by….
    Personally I stand by the old principle of not looking too closely at ANYTHING. Ignorance is bliss. >:-)

  134. About a month ago, we got a bill for the office building saying we used 23,000 gallons one month. The meter was read wrong; the meter glass was scratched and mottled; couldn’t read it. Asked for the city to re-read, re-bill and replace the meter. They came out, re-read and re-billed and didn’t replace. Husband called irate, replace that meter. They came out, went to remove and replace meter and gusher. Original water line, looks like yours, crumbling and falling apart. Could have blown at anytime, the traumatized city worker said. Maybe this was for the best. Building has cinder block walls, so water line is going to be external now, as you can’t put new in the concrete foundation. Permit obtained to close down the sidewalk, cut it, cut the floor and foundation and run the new pipes into the building in front, and then all the way back to the bathroom/kitchen areas, and then over to the other two spaces in the building. One of which is a hairdresser that is anxiously waiting for water to make his living and no, he did not want a few days to pass so that we could get estimates. Fix it now or yesterday. Husband looked at me and said well, don’t I feel like an ass for insisting on a new meter, which I was totally thinking but not going to say. All fixed now. And his office looks even more industrial and needs new flooring where the foundation was jack-hammered. Good times. I can relate too well.

  135. I can commiserate! Having lived in Toronto in a house built in the 40’s/50’s, our bedroom was always freezing (great in the summer, sucked in the winter). Desperate for any ideas we looked into blowing insulation into the walls. To our surprise/non surprise – about an inch gap of airspace between the plaster and brick (that would be the exterior brick of our house). We just ended up buying an oil heater for the room.

  136. We used to own a home built in 1902. The basement had one inch of cement over dirt. Someone undercut one of the joists when they installed the furnace, and propped it up with a beam resting on that thin concert, which was a highway for termites to the rest of the house. I don’t think termites get as far north as Toronto.. be thankful!
    On the other hand the 30 year old apartment where we live now, has had three major water leaks, and we just discovered that the leak last fall also flooded our outside storage room.. everything in it was covered with mold!

  137. Couldn’t we petition Mike Holmes to come and fix everything for you? You could pay him in sweaters… or socks?

  138. One summer I interned for a state conservation department and part of my job was to go looking for old outflow pipes (because before the clean water act it was common to flush your household waste into the nearest stream)
    I found one where the pipe was made of wood. It had to be from the 1700 or 1800’s. I do not understand why it hadn’t rotted away to nothing…

  139. I hope the new water doesn’t taste yucky after what you have been used to! lol

  140. The joy of old houses!
    I have a guess for why the concrete doesn’t run to the walls of the house. This may be a way for water to drain out of the house. My mom’s old house had little ditches running along the walls of the basement with a drain in one corner. When it rained a lot, the water would follow the ditches and run out of the basement.
    Just a thought.
    PS. I live in a house that the front half has logs for the floor joists and the back half of the house has floor joists that are 27 inches on center. We even have some knob and tube wiring that is still active. Someday…

  141. My townhouse was built in 1985. When I had air conditioning put in a few years ago the guys didn’t know what to make of the wiring. They called in an “old-timer” who was able to figure it out. So, the band of drunken monkeys were still at work in the 1980s.

  142. We, too, live in a lovely, very old house with a lot of character. I love this house but nothing is easy here. I will soon be shopping for a new refrigerator and will not be getting one with an ice maker in the door. Why not? Because I’m sure something as simple as hooking a refrigerator up to the water supply will involve renovations that may well encompass changing all the doorknobs and re-bricking the chimney. You think I exagerate? I’m pretty sure those drunken monkeys traveled south to Maine at least once.

  143. Just want to thank you … I’ve had a rough morning and your blog always makes me smile … but today I laughed out loud twice. Again, thanks!

  144. My grandparents house in New England built probably in the 1880s had a small room like that. It was the sewing room. Not surprising it would have nice finishing since the women of the house probably spent a lot of time in it.

  145. Who thought terra cotta was good water pipe material? The Romans. Yes, they used stone for the big bits, like aqueducts; but the small runnels and cisterns were terra cotta. Only they had the good sense to elevate theirs, not bury them. Of course, they were also open to the sky, topics like bird poop and windborne dust evidently having escaped the builders.
    Probably still a whole lot better than dipping a jug into the Tiber or the Rhone, anyway, depending where in the Roman world one lived. Be grateful your house isn’t THAT old! Or maybe if it was you could get a subsidy for the restoration of antiquities?

  146. Our house was built sometime in the late 1800’s. I can relate to each of your “house maintenance” tales. It’s the reason I don’t like to let outside worker types into my home. I just can’t afford to bring our house through the 20th century and on into the 21st century! The house is crooked – the really crooked looking shelves in the dining area? They’re level, really – it’s the rest of the room that is off kilter! The floor of the basement is dirt – but on the upside, the studs may be randomly placed, but the 2 x 4’s are really 2 x 4!

  147. That scary old pipe behind the new one in the photo? It looks just like every single pipe in my basement…
    …written by the tenant of a former charitable trust built anno 1851

  148. DO NOT show them the wiring or you may be living in a hotel for a month or two. Go drunken monkeys!

  149. My house was 20 years younger – know exactly where you’re coming from. The best working ‘system’ in the house was the gas lighting, which paralleled the ‘new’ electricity (knob and tube). It’s an adventure.
    Your little room might have been either a nanny’s room (or other help) or the ‘sewing’ room (read woman of the house’s escape from the world).

  150. My house is “only” 92 years old but I can definitely relate. I have felt that same pain (and reluctance to do repairs) in both my heart and my wallet when I could no longer procrastinate. So much easier to ignore/work around.

  151. I just LOVE stories about your house! It makes my 100 year old house, pipes, and electricity feel modern. You so can tell a story!

  152. Thank you. It’s like a little preview… because this will be happening soon at my house and I know that’s exactly what it’ll look like!

  153. Direct quote from the guy working on our bathroom “Regarding your bathroom, we have encountered some serious rotting of the structures, previous fire damage and movement of the floor frame. We also have to remove and
    reframe the left wall where the sink, toilet and tub are, the wall was just floating and must be reframed” OK the rotting we suspected since we aren’t sure how long the upstairs leak was going before it became noticable downstairs but previous fire damage!!???, floating wall???? the last really freaks me out as the room directly above is also a bathroom with a toilet, sink and tub resting on that same wall. I always blamed Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse for the bathroom but maybe it was your monkeys on vacation.

  154. I think the descendants of your drunken monkeys have migrated south over the years, as they obviously built the addition on our house. The addition was build OVER the septic tank, the floor is not (and as far as I know has never been) level, and their is not a true 90 degree angle on any of the walls in our bathroom, bedroom, or livingroom.

  155. Don’t feel too bad. Not that many new houses are built as well as yours is. In fact, a lot of houses being built today won’t be around in 130 years for people to find amazing things when they go to make repairs. Ours in only 18 years old and we are already getting some of those reactions – as in there are 4 rooms in the upstairs of our house and only 3 vents to heat or cool it. Which means not every room has a vent and the largest room has one vent – the same as the bathroom at a sixth of the size. Drunken monkeys? Yours may have been drunk on a better grade of booze than ours were. 🙂

  156. Ugg….I feel your pain. My house is 87 years old and while solidly built with good materials I have yet to have a repair without some type of drama.
    Am very familiar with the slow whistle and looks of amazement! lol

  157. Been there, done that. our almost 90 year old house had a galvanized water line. Eventually only a trickle of water was getting into the house. Since our town had a building boom about the time our house was built, our plumber had a pretty good idea what was going on and wasn’t bothered. Of course why should he be? It’s a costly fix!

  158. We lived in an old house once. There was no plumbing to the kitchen when we moved in. The kitchen sink was in the bathroom that used to be the pantry off the kitchen. When they turned it into the bathroom, they just left the sink there. Needless to say, we put water to the kitchen. Part of that involved removing the old iron pipe in the pantry. You could barely see a speck of light at the end of a 2 foot length of pipe when holding it up to the sun.

  159. Those darn monkeys! They built a friend’s house in South Carolina! Moved in, unpacked, jumped in the shower and turned on the water. Wait for it…those d___ monkeys never hooked the water to the shower head, so it all went into the walls and promptly flooded the downstairs. They did a better job on your house….you got 130 years out of it before disaster struck.

  160. Maybe the drunken monkeys knew a few tricks – the house is 130 years old, but it’s survived at least two earthquakes and Hurricane Hazel.

  161. when I was 11 we moved into an old house in the country in Oregon. the water came from a spring acorss the highway, so it was our (kids) job to climb up the hill to the spring, and clean out the big wooden barrel that the water ran into before running into the pipes to our house. We learned to live with all sorts of things in the water, mosquito wigglers etc., until my brother fished a drowned rat out of there. My mother pitched a fit, we hooked up to city water, and when my father turned on the city water the pressure from real city water blew the faucet off the kitchen sink. It wasn’t funny at the time, but it’s pretty funny now.

  162. Most entertaining, everyone. Is it coincidence, or do knitters and old houses with character/problems just naturally attract each other?
    Beverly, your tale of the accumulating water tanks sounds eerily like that Michael Caine movie from a few years back, The Prestige.

  163. I laughed, I cried, I ran downstairs to make sure my pipes were still there (because that looks horribly familiar).

  164. So your water pipe was essentially a sort of geode? Cool.
    My parents’ house (now my niece and her husband’s) is a log cabin at its core. There are no straight walls, floors or square corners. It was “fun” being in the house when Dad was doing renovations. Our childhood may explain the fact that 40% of my youngest brother’s vocabulary starts with the letter “f”.

  165. After Esher and his drunken monkeys left Toronto, they headed west to Calgary. I live in an original Calgary house and have that same Force of Habit front bow. A couple of months ago City of Calgary decreed: Thou shalt have water meters. We laughed and ignored them. A few weeks ago they decreed: Thou shalt have water meters NOW else thou shalt pay for installation thyself. I took the hint, booked the install. Monkey wrencher does the work, but he didn’t release the air from the lines when water was turned back on. 10 year old son immediately used toilet, flushed, told me the toilet was making a strange sound. I assured him it was just a bit of air in the lines. 15 minutes later he says the toilet still making funny sound, I check, find water spraying out the back of tank. Turns out the air in the lines caused the refill tube on the ballcock (serously, gals, that’s what it’s called) to fly off and into the tank, causing water to spray out between the top of the tank and the tank lid into the drywall, down the wall into my kichen (one story below bathroom), down my newly installed and not yet grouted tiles, under my stove, and tried to make a break for freedom across the badly sloping floor towards the back door.
    A nightmare. That’s all I can say.
    I wish you much better luck when the water is turned back on.

  166. Apparently the drunken monkeys that built your house emigrated to Ohio in the late 1940s and built our postwar bungalow. My husband has gutted the house to the studs (and in some cases replaced even those) and it’s amazing what passed as acceptable craftsmanship back then.
    And our house is nowhere near as old as yours!

  167. We live in an old house, not as old as yours, but still pretty old. We do have a bomb shelter, and all our electrical outlets are upside down. There’s lots of other little things like that as well, because we bought our house from my parents, and they never had the money when I was growing up to replace everything that was wrong, so it was just replaced on a “as needed” basis. The only thing that has really ticked me off so far is when we ripped up the linoleum in the kitchen, and found more tile underneath that, and then upon pulling that up, found a cork-board sub-floor. When we pulled that up, there was yet another layer of tile. At that point we gave up, figuring if we kept going we were going to end up in the basement.

  168. I can’t believe you don’t have a water meter! Welcome to wonderful world of 4 minute showers and recycled grey water 🙂

  169. I wonder if your mystery room was designed as a ‘smoking room’. I heard about the idea on a tour of Annandale house in Tillsonburg ont.

  170. At least your house is over 100 years old. Mine is only five, and its construction is scary.
    Previous house, replaced the 2 inch sewer pipe that was 45 years old. The center had an opening only 1/2 inch.
    Good luck.

  171. Our house is a mere toddler at only 40 years of age. However, when we launched a major remodel, we found some most interesting things. One of two floor joists spanning the length of the house had been cut in two by a mechanical subcontractor too lazy to run a duct between the two joists as specified. a bearing wall was sitting on a naked plywood board. My theory…the drunken monkies were clearly working the Denver area…or they had relatives here. Enjoy your new water pipe!

  172. I know a few of those drunken monkeys.
    The fellow who helpfully re-wired my house for the previous owners for instance.
    The man left bare wire 3 feet long from the fusebox to the house. He had uncapped joints under the house…in puddles of water (from previous drunken monkeys), wrapped joints around a gas line, installed a light switch in a shower, nestled an outlet box between two water lines, and didn’t screw many of the boxes into place. We know who it was, and mr’s step dad is a fire marshal. The monkey no longer has a license.
    The monkey who owned the place didn’t want to replace the rotted out bathroom floor (which was rotten because, as we discovered, they never bothered to bolt the toilet to the floor, it was just resting on a wax ring directly onto the sewer pipe.) so he tacked sheet metal down and put linoleum over it.

  173. The drunken monkeys must have been itinerant,because they built at least one house in Lowell, MA. It would explain the magnificent ice dams, funky floors and upside-down door hardware that a near retirement locksmith has never seen anywhere else. The monkeys then must relax a bit in Nevis, for they have been up to creative plumbing at my friend’s home as well.

  174. Your drunken monkeys must have emigrated to Canada from the English Midlands! I would love to meet the monkey who originally wired this house – so that I could choke him with his own wiring. I don’t want to think about the plumbing, its going to be expensive….best of luck, Stephanie!

  175. I always speculated that there was a creepy lab in some isolated place that cloned Curly Larry and Moe and sold them in box lots to the building trades. They did a lot of our plumbing. Over the years that we’ve lived in our 1980’s house DH and I reworked and replaced a whole lot of it, especially the uphill outfall lines.
    Replacing the outdated wiring is a matter of getting up in the attic and pulling the wires up with the new wiring attached to the old, (something explained to me by a Curly before I told him to get lost) and Heaven help you if a wire breaks in the process I suppose. Leave it to the electricians. You don’t want to end up french fried with a permanent wave.
    At least the wiring in my place is copper. I lived in a few really weird places including one with aluminum wiring (shudder).

  176. Oh my, how I laughed at this one! You are right about the no anemia thing! Your story proves again: The only thing that works in an old house is its owner! And, of course, the people they have to hire!

  177. Hi Stephanie,
    I admit that this has nothing to do with this particular blog post, but thought you should be aware of what I’m about to share.
    I am the manager of a yarn store in Nova Scotia and I had a couple come in this morning with their young daughter. While the mother and daughter were browsing, the husband was entertaining himself and all of a sudden let out a chuckle. His wife went over to investigate and he started to read the first chapter of your new book out loud to us. He said that in the first two pages of your book, he had more laughs then he had in the last three books he’s read. He then continued to read it for the rest of their visit, stopping from time to time to read out bits that he thought were particularly funny. I think every fibre person should equip their partners with your books as this has been the first time I’ve seen a non knitter be so content with waiting while their knitter shops.
    I think this is one of the best reviews you could possibly have for your book. Great job.

  178. Just read your twitter post. I laughed. Because my life was ruined in the exact same way last week. Boy, do we miss clean laundry! (What is taking them so long to draw something back?!!?)

  179. Apparently the roving monkies passed through Riverdale, MD on their way to Toronto. Me and several of my neighbors feel and know your situation well. I called a piumber to fix a bathtub faucet. My yard,my basement, my adjacent neighbors yards and basements and THE STREET had to be dug up. Still I love my litle, expensive drunken monkey money pit home. LURVES IT it is “perfect”

  180. That small room in your house, might be where the bath use to be before there was running water. My father-in-law found a small space in a wall that was covered with wood panelling in his old home. He made it into a half closet on the bottom for storage and a shelf unit on top with pretty glass doors.

  181. I know that I shouldn’t laugh, but I find this incredibly humorous. I live in an apartment right now that had the wiring designed by Escher but installed by the drunken monkeys. We don’t touch anything, and we ignore the area that we think is supposed to function like a fuse box/switch board (It has itty bitty vials, yes vials, of what look like mercury, it’s scary). I never before had the words to explain why it is so nerve wracking, but now I do. Thank you!

  182. I think the concrete does not run all the way to the sides of the foundation so there is a place for the water to drain…could that be?

  183. someone right before me has made this suggestion, but down here in NYstate when there is a trench around the perimeter of the cellar floor, it is for drainage, preventing flooding. there may even be drainage tiles down in there if you cared to look around. people are spending a tidy sum to have this done since we have had two major floods in 5 years.

  184. I now own a 55-year-old home and I know better than to look behind the walls. Every time an electrician or plumber comes into the house, and starts shaking his head… By the way, thanks for the calm, cool, collected and clear-cut way to handle moth-affected yarn. A whole pile of it just went into the trash here, with no vacillating about possibilities. I now know that in south Texas wool has to be fanatically protected from moths.

  185. I lived in a studless wonder too. Drunken monkeys are all over the planet! It was amazing that the darn house was still standing after the hurricanes went by! Best Wishes 😉 to you and yours.
    oh! btw, our former studless wonder was built in 1982. FPS!!! In a much better built house now. It is still standing after tornadoes!!!!

  186. Very entertaining. I’m now worried about the leaky tub faucet in my 80 year old house rental.

  187. I love this blog, I am just finishing up Stephanie’s last book. How do I sign up for the blog to get it in an email….or did I just do that? Thanks

  188. Those drunken monkeys sure got around because you are describing my parent’s house outside of Boston, MA

  189. I’m really sorry for all your problems, but I am sitting here laughing myself silly! What a description! My philosophy of life is that the only truly terrible things are those for which you can’t get an anecdote. Speaking of old houses – in lower Manhattan in New York City, there is a “Tenement Museum” where folks can come and see how folks (especially immigrants) used to live. Um, it is exactly like the apartment I grew up in. My childhood home is a museum! LOL!

  190. i haven’t laughed this hard for a long time, partly because what your saying is so real and amazingly universal and partly because your just so damn funny. oddly enough i think the cousins of those drunken monkeys built houses in Puerto Rico, only the house out here are all cement and coconut shells…

  191. We should have an interactive blog for those of us with old, weird houses. My house is about 106 years and was actually very well built. The owners before us did a lot of cosmetic work on it and rewired and replumbed. Our problem is that nothing is “standard.” So, if we replace anything, it has to be custom made. Windows, doors, etc. We can’t have an exhaust fan in the kitchen because there is nowhere to vent it. We have to carefully measure every piece of furniture we buy to make sure it can fit through the doors. Yikes. And I can really relate to the no closet thing for stash control. I have yarn tucked everywhere.

  192. Great story, Stephanie! Reminds me of when we noticed the giant (15″ long) nightcrawlers that were next to the house foundation. Turns out that the guys replacing the previous septic tank were too lazy to actually fit the old pipe and the new one together. Instead they just “lined up” the two pipes, and poured a pile of concrete over both pipes, hoping that the concrete would fill in the gap. It didn’t. Hence, the giant worms which were enjoying every bit of every type of sewage flowing out of the house. We could have caught some doozies of fish with those worms….

  193. I can totally relate to “this old house”. We just gutted and renovated our house in Bloor West Village which was built in the 20’s. There were a lot of nasty and expensive surprises. The project was neither on time nor on budget. When we tried to winterize the front porch we discovered that it had no foundation and no acceptable support as well as a rotten roof. Contrary to what we had told our insurance company, they found Knobb and Tube wiring in the walls.
    Before the renovation we dreaded any kind of maitenance issue. I remember the kitchen ceiling leaking from a broken plumbing pipe in the bathroom above, as well as a leaky roof. Although everything is fixed now, as a self-employed person I am on the Freedom 95 track for retirement. Just remember, these houses have character.

  194. My FIL hired some ‘drunken monkeys’ to build his house about 20 years ago… well, actually, they were his sons. Who were all of 9, 11, 13 at the time. I lived there for a short time a few years ago. The hot water had two settings (burning and freezing), the pipes leak and someone forgot to attach the bathtub upstairs to a drain… The rooms are really quite crooked. Worst of all, plugging in appliances can be extremely dangerous. I once plugged in a fan, which caused the wall socket to send out sparks and there was a huge black scorch mark on the wall… Very scary place to stay in.

  195. when we were forced to upgrade the electric, the electrician brought in maybe twenty apprentices- two van loads- to see a house with all knob and tube. they likely worked on those low whistles at the same time they watched the little sparks dance down the wire…

  196. I feel your pain. Next time we have to shut off our water to do any repairs we’re going to have to re-plumb the entire house otherwise a piece of limescale buildup is going to flake off giving us another leak and lead to the shower pressure being weird again. Gotta love home ownership its the gift that keeps on giving!

  197. I have a drunken monkey house. My theory is that they were drunk AND there was a shortage of squares and measuring tapes that year (I have a 4′ long hallway that is 4″ wider on one end). But this puts my drunken monkey-built house into perspective: at least mine was built in 1981.

  198. Read this shortly after it posted… I laughed to myself all weekend as I stared and and worked on my house that, at the very least, follows the basics in work ethic from the late 1800s when it was built and the early 1900s when it was moved to its present location. Happened a lot in those days…

  199. My house is 188 years old, and was originally a supply depot, then possibly a house, an addition was put on at some point to make it a restaurant, then it was back to a house and now its mine. At every step of the way, hordes of drunken monkeys invaded and left “upgrades”. I have heat ducts in only half the house, uneven floors so wonky the bottoms of doors were cut to accomodate, funky plumbing which causes geysers in toilets (not quite the bidet you were expecting!) and way too many light switches that don’t turn anything on….I feel your pain.

  200. My house was not built by drunken monkeys just upgraded by people with no commen sense who thought they knew how to do it. We have a lovely dining room extention with a crawl space underneath rather than a basement. The trick is there was no insulation in the crawl space. Do you know how cold floors get when they are the only thing between you and the fourty below Canadain prairie winter?
    Knitting wool socks then becomes a survival skill.

  201. I think those monkeys got drunk in New Orleans, followed the Mississippi up to Baton Rouge and continued their migration upriver to Canada.
    The house I was raised in, my mother’s home in New Orleans, is a hundred years old as well, and amazing in its eccentricities, including some original electrical wiring which was replaced after Hurricane Katrina when the original wiring was revealed during repairs — exposed-spool wiring, STILL CONNECTED to the “newer” 1950s wiring.
    Our geriatric house in Baton Rouge is completely randomized as well, containing no fewer than three types of water pipes and tangles of random-vintage electrical and phone wiring in the walls.

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