The house we have rented is a bungalow. Our landlady, her mother and two kids had been living in it, but are building a second, larger house adjacent to it, duplex style, for themselves. When we agreed to rent it two weeks before moving in there were some renos wrapping up on our side, almost all of which would be complete by move in. The only issue would be that the roof of the kitchen, which runs along one side of the house, would “be repaired”.
You can probably see where this is headed.
When we arrived our landlady’s family had moved into the partially completed adjoining house and cleaned up our place nicely. The renos inside the house were more than we expected, including fresh paint, a new floor in the bathroom and some new fixtures. We really felt that the place would be comfy once the work was done.
It turns out, though, that the issue of “fixing” the kitchen roof was an understatement. When we arrived the roof had been completely removed, so we would have no kitchen for at least a week. Work was underway, though, and we’ve seen whole houses go up in a matter of weeks, so we accepted dining out for another week or so and watched work progress.
All went well for the first four days. That was when the thunderstorm came and exposed a few flaws in the plan. In short, construction standards and procedures are a bit different here, they hadn’t closed all the holes they had created for the renos, and the first storm of rainy season showed up a week or two early.
The first bad sign was the water running down the walls of the bathroom and kitchen, which run along the back of the house. The reason was immediately obvious – new tiles had been put on the roof, but no flashing had been put at the bottom where they meet the gutter. We could see the lovely new gutter running along the top of the ceiling, but the water was coming off the tiles just short of that gutter and pouring down the wall.
The good news is that bathrooms and kitchens here are tiled and have floor drains, so at least that mess was contained and could be hosed away in due course.
Next came the water streaming down the bedroom wall. It turns out that in order to connect the new house to our existing house they had rebuilt the joining wall and hadn’t sealed it. The heavy rain penetrated holes in the brickwork and ran down the wall. There were also a number of minor leaks elsewhere where they obviously hadn’t taken the time to make things align.
The incredible thing is that, despite the amount of water that ran in, absolutely none of our belongings or the furniture got significantly wet and the water pooled in two or three areas that we were able to clean up relatively easily post-rain.
Our landlady was mortified. During the storm she and her teenage daughter helped us mop and dump buckets. She brought the workers in to look at where the problems were so they could fix them.
It was only after we had dealt with our issues that we noticed the significant activity in our landlady’s partially constructed house. A myriad of clothes had been hung out to dry and there seemed to be lot of mopping going on.
Their house will be two stories, so their roof right now is what will be the second floor. The planned concrete top coat had not yet been applied to this floor, so it was basically a sieve for water. While we had water running down an adjacent wall on our side, they had streams of water falling from the ceiling in every room of their house. Everything – clothes, bedding, furniture – was wet and water was pooled in every room. And while this was happening they were mopping our place.
That was two days ago and it has been action central around here since. Flashing was put in over the gutter, the adjoining wall was sealed and they are top coating the landlady’s roof. There was another storm this morning and our place had only a couple of minor leaks. We’re hoping they are as successful on our landlady’s side – it’s hard to imagine how they could deal with another deluge like the first.
This has, at least, given us quite the introduction to construction, Cambodian-style.
For starters, the frame for the new roof over our kitchen is aluminum, arc-welded together in bursts of blinding light and showers of sparks. The welder looks to be about 16 years old. His eye protection is a pair of Ray Ban knock-offs.
Here, everything is done by hand. Sand, bricks and bags of concrete are piled on the ground in front of the house. Bricks are carried by hand to wherever a wall is being built. The sand and concrete are mixed by hand on the ground and the cement is shoveled into buckets that are carried to the area being worked on. That is one man’s job. He started at 7:30 this morning and left at 6:30 this evening. He is probably about 50 years old. He looks like he could be 70.
For the ceiling top coat the bags of concrete are hoisted by hand to roof, followed by buckets of sand, so the mixing can be done on the roof. Four men put in an 11 hour shift today on that job.
The only power tool we’ve seen is an electric drill, resorted to only when all means of hammering, prying, twisting and banging fails to get the desired result. Standard safety gear is a t-shirt, long pants and flip flops (remove the flip flops, of course, if you are working on tile). Maybe a scarf or hat to protect from the sun.
And yet it all seems to work, although given recent events in Japan and Myanmar we are grateful that we sit well outside the earthquake zone that passes along this side of the Pacific – if there are any earthquake-proofing bylaws here we suspect that they aren’t being enforced.