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Water Works

“If anything can go wrong it will—at the worst possible moment.”
    Finagle's Corollary to Murphy's Law

We've a room in our house I call my Print Studio, about which I wrote in March, 2012, while work was underway to make the formerly unfinished space was being converted via carpentry, electrical work, and sheetrock. (My apologies for never writing the promised “Part 2”; the room has been finished for some time.) In the years since the studio was built it's proven to be a very nice workspace with good lighting and plenty of room for the printer, my work table, and all the supplies needed for printing, framing, packaging, and the viewing booth. We've even dressed things up a bit by hanging some art on the walls.

Lest you think Print Studio is too grand a term for the space, I should note that my wife (Pat) calls it the “hobby room.” Keeps me humble, or something.

I spent much of June (2018) and the first week of July preparing for the two outdoor art shows we'd do later in the month. As usual this required making a number of prints of various sizes, framing some, and matting some for display and sale in our bins of so-called “standard” sizes of 11x14 and 16x20 inches. I deployed several folding tables in the room and had prints, mats, and framing parts scattered all over. I had only four days before the first of the two shows (Hockaday Museum's 'Arts in the Park' in Kalispell, MT), but things were coming together nicely; I expected to finish in plenty of time.

Chicken Little Was Right

Print studio before the leak

An older photo of a corner of the print studio, before the water damage. The Epson 7900 is at left, next to shelves of printing supplies. The closed door is a closet filled with boxes of slides, framing tools and materials, etc.

After a full morning's work I took a break for lunch and for a couple of small tasks unrelated to the show prep. Later in the day I returned to the studio for another couple of hours work that would wrap up the afternoon. I entered the room and was stunned to see part of the ceiling sheetrock bulging down, with obvious water stains where I assumed ceiling joists to be. The soggy, bulging sheetrock looked ready to fall at any moment. Oh, boy. At the time of this writing our house is fourteen years old. The building of the studio, including the sheetrock work that enclosed the walls and ceiling, happened six years ago (2012). There'd been no hint of water problems until today. The cause seemed obvious enough: the master bath shower is located above the affected area.

I called the plumbing contractor who'd done the original work back in 2004 when the house was built, explained the problem, and when the plumber asked, “When would you like us to come out?” I said, “How about NOW??” Half an hour later a crew of two stood at my front door. Sometimes small town service is just what you'd hope it to be.

During that half hour I removed all paper from the studio. I also had 50+ framed pieces there, so I moved those, along with anything else close enough to get wet if the sky fell.

Water Fallies

Office area and ceiling cutout

Pat's office area in the print studio, and the ceiling cutout exposing the shower drain.

The shower got a quick inspection. It's ceramic tile, floor and walls, with a glass door. It's all been properly maintained and looks new. The plumbers found no obvious problem. Back downstairs we deployed a nylon tarp and a ladder, and then a section of the ceiling sheetrock, which would have to come down anyway, was cut out. As you'd expect this spread a layer of plaster dust everywhere. Fortunately I keep the printer covered. I had insulated the entire ceiling prior to the sheetrock installation, and the fiberglass bats, saturated and heavy with water, had caused the sheetrock to bow and partially pull loose from the ceiling joists. After removing those bats it became clear that the leak had only just happened. We found no evidence of long-term water leakage.

The cutout exposed the drain trap from the shower. Some testing showed no leaks. A hot-water recirculating system's pipes are in that same area; that too appeared to be fine. After some head scratching the idea hatched to plug the shower's floor drain and run water so it would accumulate in the basin; doing that caused a cascade of water to flow out of the ceiling down into the studio. Turns out that tarp was a very good idea, as it saved the room's composite flooring.

The diagnosis: the flexible membrane under the shower floor's ceramic tile had failed. It's not clear how or why. Demolition of the shower's floor will be required to to allow inspection. With nothing more to be done, the plumbers left. I spent the rest of the day cleaning up the big mess.

Adding Insurance to Injury

The man who'd done the original tile work is no longer available, so I called someone recommended by people I trust. He came, with a partner, a few days later. After looking things over he provided a quote for demolishing the tile floor, making necessary repairs to the basin, and then retiling the floor. I'm satisfied with that quote and we will have him do the job. Real Soon, I hope.

Water damage in the print studio

The Epson 7900 printer, some of my paper stock, and a hole in the ceiling.

A week after I discovered the problem an insurance adjuster came to the house. Given the rural nature of our area, and the travel distances involved, this young guy is a contractor hired by Safeco/Liberty Mutual, the company to which we pay premiums for homeowners' insurance. He listened to my story, and then made notes, took measurements and photos, and explained how the claim process works. Back in his office he plugged his collected data into a program that assigns values to the work and materials needed to restore the house. A couple of days later we received via email his assessment, which on the surface appeared ridiculous. We shelved that and waited for the official details and settlement check from the company.

Meanwhile, a bill from the plumber arrived. We also visited the local business that provided all our tile during the home building in 2004. We selected a replacement that's similar to the original flooring.

We now have the plumber's bill, the tiler's quote, the known cost of replacement tile; what's yet to be received is a quote for repairing/replacing the ceiling sheetrock and insulation, along with texturing and painting. I'd roughly estimate the total to return the house to pre-damage condition will be around $1500.00. We have a $500.00 deductible insurance policy. Of the remaining $1000.00 (again, this is just my estimate based on what we know so far), Safeco/Liberty Mutual has generously offered $23.69. No, really. I laughed out loud when the check arrived. Pat was not amused.

What do hospital gowns and insurance policies have in common? You're never covered as much as you think you are.

Perhaps more amazing, or if you're a cynic, predictable: a couple of days after that check arrived we received a letter from Liberty Mutual informing us our premium will increase.

Naturally I'm not happy, but Pat is seriously pissed off. She's collected everything we have so far, dates and times, all the quotes, the adjuster's report, other written communications with Safeco/Liberty Mutual, and the check, which she refuses to cash. She's drafting a letter to The Office of the Montana State Auditor, Commissioner of Securities and Insurance (which, unfortunately, is currently headed by a lunatic with US Senate aspirations). We'll see where this goes, but as with so much in life these days, I think it's best to maintain low expectations. Regardless, we'll have the work done and pay the bills. I suspect I'll be looking at the hole in my studio's ceiling for a while. We are also done with Safeco/Liberty Mutual. They did us no favors, didn't even do the bare minimum of what one expects insurance to do. They've made it clear they don't need us as customers.

My photographic life is largely based on paper; paper and water are a bad combination. Until all of this is resolved and repairs are completed (I'll be happy if that's sometime before Christmas, this year), we'll use our second bathroom and shower so everything above the studio remains completely dry.

Things could be worse.

July, 2018

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