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One Night the Refrigerator Started to Leak….

Featured Image
A man looking confused at a water leak.

Last year, my wife Maggie and I decided to buy a new house. After a lengthy search, we finally settled on one that met all of our needs. It was a bit outside of our ideal price range, but it was a great house, and I just knew that we could make it work if we stuck to our budget.

The house was about 20 years old, but was in terrific shape. It passed the home inspection with flying colors.

However, there were two small issues sticking in the back of my mind. The first had to do with the fact that the water line for the refrigerator’s ice maker was not connected to the refrigerator. When questioned about the water line, the seller only said that he had never paid to have it connected. Ok, NBD.

The second had to do with some very minor warping in the hardwood floors in the living room, against the wall it shared with the kitchen. I asked the home inspector about both items, but he didn’t seem unduly concerned. Besides, I had good homeowners insurance and I even bought a home warranty. If the home inspector wasn’t concerned, I wasn’t concerned.

Here’s a fun fact: I’m a night owl. I’m also a morning person. Maggie says I’m a vampire. Point is, I don’t require much sleep. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but it does mean that I was the one awake to hear the water.

It was about 1:45 AM when I heard it. I tried to convince myself that it was just the washing machine, or a toilet running, or the ice mak…er?….wait, we don’t have one of those.


Upon closer inspection, it was clear that the water sound was loudest in the wall that separated the kitchen from the living room, just behind the refrigerator. So I pulled the fridge out and stuck my hand in the small alcove that houses the valve for the water feeder line. What I discovered was a steady stream – a torrent really – of water spraying into the inside of the wall.

And this is when the panic really sets in.

Ok, be calm. Think. What’s first? Got to get the water turned off.

Where’s the shutoff valve? No idea. Maybe in the crawlspace under the house? Need a plumber.

Wake Maggie and ask her to call an emergency plumber. “Dear, we have a problem…”

Did I say crawlspace? Ok, let’s check there. Where’s that flashlight?

Water and mud and water and insulation and yep, those beams and subfloors are soaked. But no shutoff valve. Just head-to-toe water and mud.

Maybe in the garage? Sure, I’m game.

Found it! Why didn’t I check here first?

Ok, water is off.

Oh good, the plumber’s here.

Did you know plumbers charge you whether they actually do anything or not? I didn’t, but I do now. But since he was there, and since I thought a shower might not be a bad idea, I had him cap the line with the busted valve so I could turn the water back on and wash some of that Chesterfield County mud off of me. #HygieneGoals

Thus began a 2 1/2 month odyssey of dealing with some pretty significant water damage. Hardwood flooring was pulled up, kitchen cabinets were removed, and wet drywall was cut away. We had drying fans, which operated at decibel levels similar to jet engines, running in the house 24/7 for a few weeks. Ultimately, we had to move out of the house for a month to allow for the floors to be refinished and for other repairs to be done.

All told, the damage bill ended up being just short of $20k. Ouch. Insurance covered most of that, but we did end up having to assume some of the responsibility. Remember that slight warping in the living room floor? You know what they call that in the insurance industry? Preexisting damage. You know what insurance doesn’t cover? That’s right, preexisting damage.

So what’s the moral of the story?

  • Maybe that it’s important to get good insurance? It definitely is. Especially given that our home warranty didn’t cover anything.

  • Maybe that home ownership is expensive? Also true. Even an obsessive budgeter like me can get thrown for a loop when it comes to how expensive home repair can be. Just because you can afford the mortgage payment doesn’t mean you can afford the house.

  • Maybe it’s that, when it comes to buying a house, it’s important to sweat the small stuff? Well, it is. I should have pressed for more information about those minor issues. It’s possible I would have discovered that there had been a problem in the past and that it had been shoddily repaired.

There are few certainties when it comes to buying and owning a home. Unexpected things will happen. That’s why it’s so important to be prepared for that rainy day – especially if that rain happens to fall inside your crawlspace.