Posted in Commentary, Desert Life

Back at it: Summer break from DIY comes to an end

As you may have heard, I live in the desert. Deserts are notable for their lack of rain. This desert in particular, the Sonoran Desert, is no exception, except for during the part of the year known as monsoon season, wherein we get gross humidity and near-daily storms (in some part of town) starting as early as the end of June and going as late as the beginning of October.

It was during last year’s monsoon that we noticed the staining on the ceiling in our living room that could be none other than the calling card of a roof leak. Actually, we’d noticed it the previous year, but in the meantime, we’d had the air conditioner replaced and figured that with that change, the problem would go away. Unfortunately, it only got worse. So we called 3 roofers out, bracing ourselves for the news that we’d be blowing our entire savings on a new roof, and were pleasantly surprised when all 3 of them recommended patching and resealing of a few spots. So that’s what we did.

We could not, however, evaluate their handiwork until this year’s monsoon hit, rain being scarce as it is around here, and we were exceedingly sad, not to mention annoyed, to notice the staining doubling in size and the popcorn starting to come loose, meaning that whatever they sealed the previous year was not what was leaking.

Thus began a flurry of calls to and visits from the roofer we’d had do the repairs last year, and the people who installed the new air conditioner, each of them claiming the other was responsible for the leak. The roofer, however, was most responsive and did everything he could think of to fix it when it became clear that the A/C company wasn’t going to even momentarily entertain the idea that it might be their problem. The A/C unit was shimmed. Everything was resealed.  And still, after every storm, the ceiling was damp, and the damage worsened.

Finally, the head of the roofing company came out to look again, and this time he found an unsealed electrical conduit under the A/C unit that had not failed, but had never been sealed, so he sealed it and I hoped that this was finally it. He suggested that he could stand on the roof for 3 hours with the hose, trying to track down the leak or confirm he’d finally gotten it, or I could cut a hole in the ruined drywall so that we’d know immediately if water was coming in. So I did that, because although you probably don’t want an uninsulated hole directly into your attic space during an Arizona July, it was also going to be the quickest way to know if the leak was finally stopped, and that drywall was going to have to go anyway.

Half an hour after he left, the monsoon hit, hard. No water appeared in the plastic I’d stapled up over the hole, but I couldn’t trust it. I waited 2 more storms before I was willing to believe the leak had finally been taken care of.  (And I could not help but note that it was a failure on the part of the A/C company after all.)  Then I had to think about fixing the living room ceiling, which now had a gaping hole in it.  And there was the 1980 popcorn ceiling, which just happened to be on the cusp of when popcorn ceilings used to have asbestos in them. So while in all likelihood it was fine, I had to get a lab test, for my own peace of mind and the safety of whomever I had do the work. That took a couple weeks. Then I filed an insurance claim, and fortunately ended up with a check in hand for the internal damage. Then I had to find someone to do the work, because the guy I thought I had wasn’t available.

You can just see the edge of the plastic covering the hole in the ceiling top-right.
And I was considering a new paint color plus stencils on the far wall.

When they told me they could fix the hole, scrape off the popcorn ceiling, and retexture everything for less than half my insurance check, I asked if they painted, too, because my living room was next on the DIY agenda after a late-summer break. Why yes, they did, so I paid da men, and they fixed my ceiling and refreshed my walls with a slightly warmer brown, and all I had to do was stay out of the way and sign the checks.


I had to move out every bit of furniture and wall art from the room in order for them to do the repairs and paint. But of course, once the ceiling was fixed, and the walls were clean, in the empty room the carpet with the burn marks from the fireplace and the barf marks from the dogs that never quite came out started to look pretty tired. We had already been discussing the fact that our sectional couch was beautiful but not comfortable, and maybe we’d be happier with some theater-type recliners. And Scott and I were united in our hatred of our cracked and chipped 1980 Southwestern tile fireplace that pretty much limited all our decorating decisions to shades of rust and turquoise. Our friend Pam suggested tiling right over the old tile with something we actually liked, which sounded like a helluva lot of work to me, but the more I thought about it, the more I got behind the idea.

It’s never that easy, though, and it quickly became clear that if I ever wanted to open the fireplace doors again, I would have to demolish the top surface of the fireplace, which was bizarrely thick saltillo tiles set into something more substantial than thinset. I worked at it with a hammer and chisel for 3 days, missing the chisel and hitting my hand more times than I’d care to admit; enough times that it was deeply bruised and hurt for days after, along with the rest of my arm-related body parts.

You don’t really know what shortcuts builders took on your house until you have to replace or repair something, and in the case of my fireplace, evidently they ran out of bricks in one section and simply poured adobe mud into the form where bricks should go. Nice. So I patched it best I could, realizing that my “new” fireplace would not be perfectly plumb and level. If anyone asks me about, I’ll tell them that we were going for a more organic shape, along the lines of Gaudi. And they’ll tune me out because who cares about Catalan architects? and we’ll all forget all about it, which was my plan all along.

Pam helped me set the tile, and I did the grouting a few days later, and now we have this:

We did get a pair of reclining loveseats with cupholders that are not quite as visually stylish as our former couch (which now resides in the library), but 4 out of 4 guest butts agree with us that these are infinitely more comfy and useful.  With three dogs with boundary issues, a coffee table just isn’t in the cards for us; cupholders are the bomb.  We still need to replace the carpet, but we’re going to do all 3 carpeted rooms in our house at once, which requires massive furniture moving and Scott being in town long enough to go pick out some carpet with me, so it’s going to be awhile yet.  In the meantime, we are ignoring the floor, and loving the rest.



I've been doing some form of creative writing since 9th grade, and have been a blogger since 2003. Like most bloggers, I've quit blogging multiple times. But the words always come back, asking to be written down, and they pester me if I don't. So here we are. Thanks for reading.

6 thoughts on “Back at it: Summer break from DIY comes to an end

  1. LOVE the new fireplace. I don’t suppose you have any recourse with getting the AC guy to pay for the ceiling damage? Not that it matters, since the insurance paid for it.

    1. Why thank you! There’s only one room now that we haven’t redone, and that’s the library. It has a faux paint job on it that I can’t recreate, and am not willing to give up yet, plus we’d have to move all those books and shelves, so it’s going to stay as-is for awhile.

  2. Congratulations on surviving a round of home improvement! I’ve been dealing with a seemingly endless series of projects in my 1931-built house since my extremely handy and talented husband died in 2010 (I am neither handy nor talented when it comes to home improvement), and thank God for our friend, a contractor, who has done a huge amount of work for me for way less than the market would bear (and sometimes for free… often for free). Now he tells me my roof will need to be replaced soon. Heavy, heavy sigh.

    Love the fireplace, love the atmosphere in the photos!

    1. Thanks, Karen. I don’t know if I’d call myself handy as much as enthusiastic; that is to say, I could use more skill than I actually possess, but I get it done eventually. 🙂

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