General Thoughts

Water leaks, house fires, and broken plans

Big plans turned to broken plans

I had big plans for the second half of 2022. But, you know what they say about plans…

Our home renovations were finally finished (my bathroom and kitchen), I was making good progress on my 5th novel with plans to finish the first draft by the end of the year. That’s not going to happen because life happened and it happened big.

Change of plans: the water leak (part one)

Right after the kitchen renovation was finally finished around mid-June, I discovered a dark spot on the baseboard in my laundry room and my heart just sank.

Water-stained baseboard.
Water-stained baseboard.

The water valve behind the refrigerator had failed and flooded the wall and floor.

Open wall behind refrigerator
Open wall behind refrigerator.

Luckily, a restoration company was able to save the brand new cabinets, but we lost the flooring in the kitchen (which we had replaced after buying the house) and laundry room (the original and ugly green linoleum) and the bead board wall covering in the laundry room. It took a while, and we were on concrete slab for a few weeks, but we got everything fixed and loved the new flooring we picked out for our home since our previous flooring had been discontinued. Our insurance adjuster was wonderful and approved the claim quickly so we could get everything repaired.

Change of plans: the fire

On October 18, 2022, at 11 p.m., I had to call 911 because the attic in my house was on fire.

It all started in my bathroom ceiling because the ceiling heater/light/exhaust fan shorted out. I had used it for the first time earlier that evening, and at first, we thought the funny smell was a result of dust on the coils. A couple of hours later, the scent was so intense that my husband Jonathan got up on a step stool to pull the cover off to investigate. When he placed his hand on the ceiling to brace himself, he discovered it was extremely hot.

Heater/light/exhaust fan before and after the fire.
Heater/light/exhaust fan before and after the fire.

We got the kids and dogs out of the house while I was on the phone with the dispatcher. The best way was to put everyone in the cars and drive them across the street. The Dardanelle Fire and Police Departments were amazing and arrived within 8 minutes. The fire department was able to open the ceiling and extinguish the flames that erupted from the smoldering insulation quickly, saving our house. Due to the hose leaking at the seams and the water used to put out the fire, we had extensive water damage throughout the living room, hallway, main bedroom, and bathroom.

Bathroom ceiling after the fire.
Bathroom ceiling after the fire.

When it was all over, the fire chief told us if we’d waited another 15-20 minutes or had tried to open the ceiling ourselves that we would have lost the whole house. I am eternally grateful that my family is safe and that our house was saved. Jonathan and I, along with our children, Drew and Meredith, and our two dogs, Roscoe and Peanut, stayed the night with Jonathan’s parents.

Cleaning up

Of course, then came the mess of cleaning up.

Day 1:

Jonathan and I opened all the windows in the house to let it air out and saved what food we could from our freezers by taking the things to his parents’ house (which wasn’t much since I had planned to grocery shop soon). The insurance company sent an electrician to remove the burned wires in the bathroom and shut off the breaker to that area. Next, the city inspector had to certify that it was safe to turn on our power. Then our electricity provider had to reinstall the meter that had been pulled after the fire. Next came the restoration company authorized by our insurance adjuster (who wouldn’t be able to make it until later in the week). The restoration company removed the damaged insulation and sealed the bathroom ceiling before starting fans to dry out the wet areas in the walls and ceilings from the water.

Puddle of water under a sofa.
Standing water under our couch before the floors buckled.

Day 2:

We were able to return home to sleep, with Jonathan and me moving into our guest bedroom to get away from the smoky scent in our bedroom. The restoration company returned and tore out the wet laminate wood flooring from the living room, hallway and bedroom. It was already buckling since the material wasn’t made to be saturated. They reopened the ceiling and removed more insulation that was still wet since water had now come through our bedroom ceiling and a small corner in the living room ceiling.

Insulation piled up in a bathroom.
The mess in our bathroom.

Day 3:

The insurance adjuster came out and took the burned wires and damaged heater/light/exhaust fan with him. Our claim was officially approved pending an estimate by a contractor for repairs. A contractor came out that day and took photos and measurements to assess the damage and give us a quote.

The days and weeks after

After that, the days and weeks seemed to run together.

We got the quote and received a check for repairs (minus our deductible) from our insurance company, which we then sent to the credit union that holds our mortgage. After going back to the contractor to get a personal quote to replace the other two bedrooms’ floors for matching purposes, we started shopping for flooring. I found a vinyl plank that looked like wood that we fell in love with. Then, we found out the contractor couldn’t even start our job until the beginning of January.

That wasn’t acceptable because 1.) They hadn’t told us that in the beginning, and 2.) We had a gaping hole in our bathroom ceiling with no insulation when cold weather was coming. After having no luck (or a response at all) from the first contractor about trying to get them to just perform the emergency repairs first, we had to talk to our insurance agent. Luckily, we were not obligated to use the contractor and could hire out or do repairs as we saw fit as long as they didn’t exceed the payout plus our deductible. At that point, we started making plans. A lot of them.

First, we hired an electrician to come out and replace all the exhaust fans in our house since the remaining three bathrooms had old vents, two of which were the same type that had caught fire.

We ordered flooring for all of the bedrooms in the house upstairs and downstairs, plus the hallways and living room. Then we planned for hiring an installer who quoted a cheaper rate than the original contractor. I arranged to rent a dumpster from a friend’s husband, and then Jonathan and I pulled out all the old flooring and trim (minus the wet flooring that the restoration company had already pulled). It was hard work, but doing the labor ourselves enabled us to afford the new flooring and install.

Jonathan found a different construction company that could get to the ceiling repair and insulation right away, so we hired them. It meant I would have to do all the painting since the painters were already booked up for the foreseeable future, but I’d painted before, and I knew I could do it again.

Change of plans: the water leak part two

During all the mess from the fire, Drew’s tub (located upstairs) leaked into our kitchen ceiling. Luckily, we still had a couple of industrial fans drying out a closet, so we redirected those to dry the ceiling and fixed the faulty drain.

Water-stained ceiling.
Water-stained kitchen ceiling.

I still had leftover ceiling paint from our kitchen renovation, so I was able to take care of that. I’m just glad that I didn’t have to repaint the entire ceiling, which would have also included the dining room. (Our kitchen renovation had been a pain already with the shape of our countertop changing, which meant the vent hood had to be moved and the ceiling patched.)

Replacing things and ongoing finishing touches

We were lucky to get the major repairs finished before Thanksgiving, and then I started replacing personal items we’d lost: several books, two area rugs, and things from the bathroom.

Bookshelf with water-damaged books.
Several water-damaged books.

During the clean up, we saved what we could. I put wet books from a bookshelf in my entryway outside in the sun for drying and managed to save about half of them. I provided a list to insurance of everything that couldn’t be saved so we could get reimbursed for replacement.

One of my favorite books, Ordinary Grace, by William Kent Krueger, was damaged. I mentioned being thankful that my home was saved and how anxious I was to replace my books on Twitter, and Mr. Krueger contacted me wanting to replace his novel. So I didn’t submit that title to my insurance company, and sure enough, I received a new copy in the mail a couple of weeks later. He signed it and told me, “Always look on the bright side!” It made my day brighter, for sure.

William Kent Krueger autograph.
William Kent Krueger autograph.

We worked lunch breaks (just me), evenings, and weekends to get our house back in order. With the holidays and cold weather, the painting and caulking is on hold for now, but I will get finished eventually. I feel like owning a house means there will always be ongoing maintenance projects. We’ve lived here for almost 10 years now, and I still haven’t painted all the ceilings or the closets or the trim. I just need to make a big list and focus on one room at a time.

Change of plans: the lump in my breast

As if I didn’t have enough going on, my mammogram came back abnormal. I went back for a second one, plus an ultrasound, hoping that the mass was a cyst. It wasn’t It was solid. So on December 22, 2022, I underwent surgery to remove the lump due to its size. I tried not to worry about it, but I’ll admit I was worried. I’ve known several people who were diagnosed with breast cancer around my age, so that was always in the back of my mind.

So, during the holidays, I was in recovery mode, healing from the surgical incision and also waiting on pathology results. On December 27, my prayers were answered when I had the stitches removed and found out the tumor was benign. Now I can focus on healing, which might take several weeks due to the tender location of the scar.

New plans

Well, I didn’t finish my house or my novel in 2022, but I still feel like I accomplished a few things. I met my reading goal, and things are going well at work. I’m excited about the possibilities of 2023. I look forward to sharing Lydia’s story with everyone when I finally finish that fifth novel.

Thanks for reading,
-Brandi Easterling Collins

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