Have you ever noticed that sometimes you see something and it’s so unexpected, so out of the ordinary, that for a short while you don’t actually see it? You just feel that something in your sight is indefinably wrong but you don’t know how?
Happened to me a while ago. First week in March last year
I was over in Acton for the day. I had an appointment on the High Street and it was at a time that made it convenient to take the bike on the train and cycle from Fenchurch Street. Well, I did all that. Got away from my commitment at about 2pm and rolled gently up Horn Lane to Casa Gillett. All I wanted to do was a security check and collect the post.
I opened the front door and–well it’s hard to say what I saw. It’s a bit of a blur. I simply couldn’t process what was in front of my eyes. It had no context . I have an impression of there being something large and white lying in the hallway and my first, panicky thought was that I’d been burgled. Again.
Then the noise broke through the fog. A rushing, roaring sound, and I saw that, well, I couldn’t properly see the length of the kitchen.
And then it pulled into focus. Water. Cascading through the kitchen ceiling. Sheets of it.
A leak. A bad one.
It took a while, and involved lying face down in a couple of inches of cold water reaching under the kitchen cabinets but I eventually managed to close the main stopcock and the torrent slowed and stopped.
Then I had to take stock.
The power was off, and with that, the heating. Large chunks of the ceiling had come down in the back bedroom and in the rear half of the living room. The “white object” lying in the hall was a sheet of the ceiling paper and the plaster work above was bulging.
The suspended ceiling in the kitchen was just a sagging, soggy mess and the floor was inches deep in water. All the carpets were soaked.
So I phoned the insurance.
They were very good. The call handler took details and once I’d confirmed that the water was off she told me to lock up and walk away for the day; a loss adjuster would be in touch. She offered to find me alternative accommodation but I just said I’d go to the “other ‘arf’s” and she was OK with that.
I secured the bike and got the train back to Essex
Over the course of the next couple of days I played phone tag with the loss adjusters in amongst trying to evaluate the damage. I really shouldn’t have bothered. It was a professionals’ job. The only thing I did of any use at all was to get into the loft and fix the source of the trouble.
It was all down to the “Beast from the East”. Despite me keeping the heating on as frost prevention, at some point in the week before the discovery a water pipe had frozen up in the loft. It hadn’t burst the pipe though; as far as I could tell, the ice had pushed a compression joint apart. It was a simple enough matter to remake the joint. and it’s been fine since.
Basically, mains pressure water had been pouring into the loft for up to a week. It quickly soaked through to the rear bedroom and bathroom and then into the void between floors, where it spread through the whole house and down into the ground floor.
The loss adjusters were pretty good. The first thing they did was assign a local recovery specialist and I met the boss on site about a week later.
He walked into the house, took one look and muttered, “This is Bad” (It sounds a lot worse in his Eastern European accent) His crew started work that day.
They condemned almost everything and started slinging it out. Bed, chests of drawers, dining chairs, most of the soft furnishings, all the carpets and floorings except for the front bedroom. Then they installed a bunch of dehumidifiers–large fan heaters that suck in cold damp air and condense moisture out and left them going.
They ran for six weeks before it was declared dry. It cost a fortune. I know because they were efficient enough to note the meter readings before and after.
Then the builders came. Well, eventually the builders came, but that was my doing because I was expecting the loss adjuster to call me, and he seemed to be waiting for me to call him. I suspect that with a fair number of water damage cases on his desk he was happy to expedite those that were costing a mint in bed and breakfast accommodation and leave me at the bottom of the pile.
Down came almost all the ceilings. Off came all the plaster. Out went all the kitchen units and the non-ceramic bathroom stuff. I got sent a “Schedule of works” and a request to choose wallpapers and paints and stuff and there was some back and forth with the supervisor and the office about what I could and couldn’t have. That took another couple of months until they signed it off in November and then the carpet people got involved.
That was an interesting example of the kind of fragmentation and diffusion of responsibility that seems to be the norm now.
The insurance issuer (Nationwide) had passed me on to their underwriter (Royal Sun Alliance) who appointed a specialist loss adjuster (who, by the way changed ownership during the year but that was at least transparent to me; my bloke-of-contact remained the same) who engaged a flooring surveyor in Blackburn who sent the assessor round and nominated a supplier and fitter in Kenton. Who I then had to visit. And by this time it was late December and they couldn’t get the new carpets ordered before the New Year.
Oh, and then they screwed up by making an appointment to fit it all assuming that all the carpet would arrive from the manufacturer in time. Which it didn’t. So they had to come back a fortnight later. It was finally all finished only about a month ago. Just short of a year.
And while all this has been going on I was intermittently in contact with the loss adjuster about the financial loss. I made an estimate, based on comparing the bill for first quarter of 2018 with Q1, 2017 on how much the water escape had cost. He accepted that in such a hurry I wondered if I’d underestimated. He got, as I said, a cost of electricity from the recover team and I had to put a price on the list of stuff they’d thrown out. Much rummaging in the files for old receipts, checking websites for current equivalents, and for the bed, I think it was, submitting a scan of an old credit card bill with all but the one relevant line redacted.
Finally I tried to estimate out of pocket expenses for living away. I suggested a proportion of the council tax and utility costs here at Watson Towers and added a couple of overnights for the days when I had to meet tradesmen on site first thing in the morning. And again, he agreed so fast I wonder if he’d been expecting a lot more. I think perhaps he was just relieved I wasn’t costing him £500/week in a Travelodge (And frankly, having stayed in the local Travelodge when I had a morning appointment once, I was relieved too.)
One final thing. When the time came to turn the heating back on, it wouldn’t. I got the engineers in and after a bit of faffing they diagnosed a failing pump. With that replaced all was fine, but I wondered. Did the pump fail a year ago and cripple the heating? Was that the original cause? Probably never know, because the flood (Not a flood, said the family insurance expert. An “escape of water.” There’s a technical difference) put the power off and erased the evidence.
And there we are. The place has been about 80% redecorated mostly at someone else’s expense. We took the opportunity to empty it of most of my accumulated stuff and this now looks like a good time to let it go. I really can’t justify the cost of keeping a 3 bedroom house in West London just for the handful of times a year we need an overnight. The savings on Council Tax, insurance and utilities would pay for quite a few hotel stays and we’re already looking like Frequent Flyers at the local Holiday Inn.
More on that as it eventuates.