Into Each Life a Little Rain…

The New Year started out great for us. January 2 was when the trouble started.

Last year was so good – hard, but exciting as we got married and settled into our newly acquired 1927 stone house in Harpers Ferry.  I knew something had to go wrong before long, though. A fairytale life does not realistically extend ever after.

The frozen Potomac last week.

It was that darn spell of arctic cold that did a number on us. (And please don’t think I am equating our little drama with the recent true tragedies of families who have lost all their possessions and entire homes in mudslides, fires, floods, earthquakes, etc. Our thoughts and prayers are definitely with them!)

Last Tuesday I was de-Christmasing the parlor when I heard an unusual steady drumming sound. I followed the noise to the dining room where I discovered a stream of water gushing through our 1920s chandelier, cascading off the dining table, and seeping through our treasured, timeworn oak floorboards.

Panicked questions flew through my head about what I might have done to precipitate this disaster. Did I leave water running in the bathroom sink upstairs? I ran to the second floor, where I found an equally disturbing waterfall pouring through the chandelier in our office. Fortunately, Lenny, who works with our contractor,  Ron’s Custom Finishes, was in the basement doing some finish work in our new guest suite. I yelled for help, and he ran up with me to the attic guest room and heard water running behind the wall. Back down three flights of stairs he flew to shut off the main water valve.

The initial offenders.

By this time water was also seeping through the ceiling at various spots in the second floor hallway, and a couple of kitchen lights on the first floor had sprung fountains. The overflow from it all then coursed its way on down to the basement. I ran around frantically grabbing kitchen pots, buckets, wastebaskets – anything I could to catch the streams – along with towels to wipe down wood finishes that were already soaked.

It turns out that both the hot and cold pipes had burst behind the bathroom wall in the attic. Miraculously, we found plumbers who could come that evening – at after-hours rates – and ServPro showed up the next morning to start drying things out.

When all was said and done, we actually felt quite fortunate. Most of the damage seemed cosmetic – plaster cracks, drywall seams and blistered paint. It was limited to our private rooms in the house, while the guest suite upstairs and the new suite downstairs were virtually untouched. The worst loss of contents was to my vintage Christmas ornaments gathered about the dining room table, some of which had belonged to my grandparents. Bummer. It never crossed my mind that the paint on the old Shiny Brites is water soluble.

Christmas, Vintage ornaments, Rockhaven B&B, Harpers Ferry
These vintage ornaments are now plain silver, their pretty colors washed away. Glad I got a photo of them last month.

The unusually frigid weather stretched on through the weekend, though, and we woke up Saturday morning to refrozen pipes. (It turns out that whoever plumbed the attic did not foresee this kind of prolonged series of low temps.) Christian caught the first fissure immediately in the process of thawing the pipes and turned off the main valve before more damage was done. While we waited for a Monday plumber’s visit, we put up without running water for two days.

I know these are important for preventing mold growth, but do they have to be so loud?

I was dealing with the super-annoying obstacle course of industrial fans and dehumidifiers humming noisily all over the house, then Monday brought a setback. After the plumber finished his repair on the whole section of busted pipes, he turned on the water, and – Nooooo! – a heretofore unknown leak revealed itself. By the time he got the water turned back off, it was raining in the second floor hallway again. I nearly melted down on this one, but Christian was so calm and reassuring, he gave me strength.

This leak was hidden under the third story bathtub, which means that now the guest suite was affected. The kitchenette cabinets had to be pulled out for access. Fortunately, we had no weekday guests at this quiet time of year. And also, fortunately, our amazing contractors were immediately available, and the plumber could stay and finish the job. Actually, the work up there is nearly finished already, and with a good carpet cleaning the suite will be as good as new.

Lenny reset the cabinets after plumbing repairs.

The rest of the house – well, just as we were concluding renovations for the ground-level guest suite, we now must endure more disruption. The ceiling and wall repairs in the kitchen, dining room, and den on the main floor, plus the office and hallway on the second floor will surely send a layer of dust over the whole house.


A 2- to 3-foot section of ceiling plaster crashed to the floor the other night and scared us to death.

We will manage, though. We still love this house. We have good homeowners insurance (Amica has been very helpful). We are counting all our blessings. We’re glad these repairs will make the house stronger than ever, and we have no regrets about  moving here.

Give us a few days to get cleaned up, and then come see us!

4 Replies to “Into Each Life a Little Rain…”

  1. About ten years ago the very same thing happened to our century home. An Arctic blast froze bathtub pipes in a third floor bathroom. We were away, unfortunately, and by the time it was discovered the damage was extensive. Wood floors and plaster ceilings from the third floor to the basement. The ServPro folks did an excellent job and the insurance covered everything. But it was formidable project that we had not expected. In a few months things will be back to normal and this will be a bad memory.

    Hang in there! We hope to stay at this beautiful place some day and have a good visit.


    1. Jeff, that sounds terrible! Thanks for the encouragement, though. Nice to hear that things will work out, especially since your situation sounds like it was way worse than ours is. Come on down when you can! We would love to have you visit!

    1. Rachel, thank you! I’m sorry to hear about your leak. None of them are fun. Did you see that we’re having an open house for our newest guest suite on Feb. 10, 11:30-1:00? We were thinking of you the other day and hoping you might be able to come see it!

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