The Things You Learn When Your House Breaks Down

When I moved into our newly constructed house there was a naive side of me that expected everything to work perfectly for at the minimum the first five years. In hindsight, it seems to me that the best house to move into is a four to six year old home, after all the kinks have been worked out.

In the last month we have had a burst water pipe, cracked marble counter tops, halogen pot lights that seem to burn out the minute you change the bulb and a stubbornly clogged toilet (okay, so this last one may not have anything to do with the actual house). Currently our hotwater heater is making a strange humming noise and I’m waiting for the repair man to come and take a look.

On the positive side, I’ve learned a lot about lighting, marble, and plumbing which I thought I’d proportion with you so you can avoid the problems we’ve had.

Halogen potlights:

Angelo Bossi from Brak-Glan Electrical Service paid me a visit last week to take a look at my pot lights. Here’s what he told me:

  • 130 volt lights are better than 120 volt lights. strength to your home is supplied at 120 volts, but sometimes you get a strength surge and that can burst a bulb. The 130 volt bulbs are more expensive, but they last longer because they can absorb the surge.
  • If you’re looking to lower your electricity consumption, there is a 9 Watt compact fluorescent bulb on the market that replaces your 50 Watt halogen. We have 17 potlights on our main floor alone which all tend to be on from from 7-9 in the morning and 4 to 10 at night. I did the math:
  • 17 halogen pot lights at 50 Watts each burning for 8 hours a day uses 6.8 kilowatt hours of electricity.  At $0.05/kilowatt hour the total cost works out to $0.34 per day or $124 per year.  If you used the 9 Watt bulbs instead, you use 1.224 kilowatt hours of electricity per day which would cost $0.06 per day. The total annual cost per year is $22.34. You’d save about $100 per year, so switching to CFL bulbs would pay for itself in about two years, less time if your lights are on longer or if electricity prices rise.

There are some things to be aware of with these CFL bulbs:

  • They are not dimmable.
  • They are more expensive than halogen bulbs (approximately $9 to $13 per bulb).
  • They take a few minutes to warm up and provide their complete Wattage.
  • They come in a variety of  “colour temperatures” (a softer, yellow light to more day – blue light).
  • They’re obtainable at electrical supply stores.

Stone counter tops:

Whenever I tell a contractor our kitchen counter is marble there’s usually the strangled sound of disbelief on the other end of the phone which approximately translates into  “Marble in the kitchen? What were you thinking?”

Although we didn’t have a choice in finishes, I have to be honest and say that I liked the marble counter top when we moved in and I nevertheless like it – despite its prima dona, high maintenance ways. Of course if you look at it the wrong way it chips and it does need to be sealed on a regular basis, but it’s got a nice European look to it.

However, I noticed a few months ago that there were a few hairline fractures emanating from various edges of the counter. A few on each side of the stove, and one out from the middle edge of the counter. The original installer came and epoxyed them right away, but they kept growing. Finally, the contractor sent in Peter Potopov from The Stone Doctor.

Peter has repaired the fractures so that they will not get any larger (but they’ll always be there).

While I had always thought that the fractures had been caused by improper installation or the stove vibrating against the counter he said  that the house, nevertheless being new, hasn’t finished settling however. seemingly stone counter tops shouldn’t really be installed for a few years after a house has been built. To sustain that theory he showed me a 1/4 cm. gap between the backsplash and the counter top.

Now, I figure that the stress fractures occur when a counter is affixed to the wall on two sides because there is less ability for it to move. Our island, which is also marble, is perfectly fine.

Final stone tip: You know it’s time to reseal your counter top when a water spill leaves a dark mark after it’s been cleaned up.


I heard a hissing noise one day when I opened the front closet to get my coat. I felt the back wall of the closet and it was soaking wet. After the water was turned off, the plumber came and took the drywall apart. One of the water pipes had been punctured by a too long nail. Jim Davidson of Davidson Home sets said, “If they’d done the job right, they never would have used nails this long. If you miss the stud, you can puncture the plumbing or electrical wiring” – which is exactly what happened.

While Jim was repairing the burst pipe and the drywall I asked him if he’d please figure out why the second floor toilet was so backed up. We’d tried everything and couldn’t get it unclogged. After he removed the toilet from the floor he found the culprit: Q-tips. Q-tips create a grate which is impossible to unblock with a plunger. Conclusion: don’t flush Q-tips down the toilet!

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