Disc4tw's habitual improvements and upgrades- plus a saga

This is a long one- hunker down… Not to spoil the story, but a background in the sitcom Friends may prepare you for the ending, the one where Monica is trying to find out what her switch in the apartment controls.

Much landscaping was done for this story so I decided to go to general gardening. I plan to update with snapshots of the various stages we’ve worked through for the property, which are many after this initial epic update. Also future projects and fruits/gardening to come.

Back story- our house is on a hill and a small lot. Built in the 1950s as a ranch with a single car garage, nothing fancy, a second garage was added on later. We bought the place about 8 years ago as a “sterile lawn” with one spruce tree and lots of low maintenance ornamentals planted in the yard. Now most of that is gone with way too much food forest scheduled to cram into a tiny lot.

A few years ago I elected to remove our full grown spruce tree in the backyard and built a flagstone retaining wall to flatten the hill and make more usable space, which has received many compliments from the neighbors. A patio on the corner around the fire pit, whole nine yards. This is what happens when you can dig up free giant sandstone boulders and grab them yourself from work!

We finished installing a 6’ slotted aluminum/horizontal decking board privacy fence along the edge of that wall this winter. A one call for digging was performed for both projects with no known utilities other than a sewer line we assumed was 5+ feet deep. Regardless, all of the work we did for the wall and the fence was filling, not cutting ground. No way we hit any pipes.

I did a good amount of grafting last year and stored my wood in the freezer converted fridge in the corner of the original garage. Around last March, our water bill doubled in cost and then was triple the normal amount each quarter since. I couldn’t figure out why this was happening and called the water company on multiple occasions asking if the rates had gone up, because covid. No helpful advice received.

Around the same time, the “paper road” in the backyard (downhill of the wall/fence) began making water. It was wet in one specific spot, about 5 feet away from my retaining wall at the closer side of the gravel paper road towards the northwest corner of the house. My neighbors downhill asked me about it as it was making a parking area a bit wet for them on the side of the paper road. I tried poking around with another retired neighbor and digging near my wall by hand, everything was bone dry except for the one wet spot. You could poke a stick about 2 feet into the road, easily. We opened the sewer observation lid/manhole and confirmed water flowed only when I flushed the toilet. No leaks from our actual sewer line. Water visibly trickling from the paper road hole, very slowly. At this point cattails and rushes had begun colonizing the neighbors parking area.

This led to questions about the old disconnected septic system. I had cracked the lid to the box driving over it with the excavator on the most recent grading/fill effort related to building a wall extension to make the fence work easier. Maybe rainwater was getting into the box from our downspout just beside it? Maybe my leach field was abandoned and the fill I place was doing something weird with the hydrology and pushing water to one specific spot? Water does flow downhill… So I dug up the box by hand, located the outlet pipe, no obvious flow from the box. Whatever I plant there is going to grow one heck of a root system.

Defeated and more confused, I noted our failures in sleuthing with my downhill neighbors, offering to dig a French drain to the road to address the water the next time I had equipment available, trying to be a good neighbor. Calling the water company led them to asking if the “spring” was on our property. As it was not, the water company informed us that it was not our responsibility and so it wasn’t our problem. I still wanted to do the right thing.

Around that time I was working away from home and a plumber was called to repair our pressure regulator. and replace our expansion tank. Later on (months later), another plumber noticed our meter was running and said we had a leak and that they were going to do a repair on something outside and replace a few thousand dollars worth of things. We declined because I have the ability to do stuff like that myself and they couldn’t actually pinpoint the issue. I didn’t want to guess on a few thousand dollars in repairs.

Fast forward a bit, we recently received a letter from the water company informing us that we probably have a leaky toilet running all the time and to fix it. Toilets are newer and not leaking, basement is dry, no visible obvious water damage or leaks anywhere we can find. It’s good to know it’s not just covid pricing increases but still frustrating to not have an idea on the root cause of the problem.

It’s grafting season again, and I’m once again gearing up to go out of town, adding and removing scion and cuttings from the freezer/cooler in the corner of the old garage. While thinking about it this past week, it hit me (so I thought). It had to be a leaking pipe outside of the house on the main line to the street. The fact that I can see water slowly moving from the hole in the backyard, maybe a little leak in the main line is flowing sub-surface, running down the hill side along my foundation and popping up like a “spring” at that point below the backyard on the edge of the paper road beyond my retaining wall and fence.

I did another one call, scheduled water to be shut off, and I contacted the plumber I usually try to use but they were swamped. So I asked to borrow the excavator for the weekend and asked another neighbor to come over for moral support while I worked. For reference, his stepson is a contractor and they recently bought a fishing cabin together. I noted that with my water turned off, the next day the “spring” appeared to stop flowing.

We ended up digging everything up (not easy in a confined space amongst my gooseberries, garlic, redbud and having to demolish my raised bed). It looked like a spot near the house could have been an entry point for water to the subsurface. Then we headed to a box store for replacement parts.

The big box didn’t have what I wanted. But in the next aisle over in the bathroom vanity section beside plumbing, my neighbors stepson was trying to call my neighbor’s phone to discuss options for remodeling the cabin bathroom. What are the odds? He came over to convince me off the ledge of burying pex (bad information from the internet) and going with K copper. He sent me to a wholesale supplier who set me up with almost all the right parts. The stepson went to work on some things and came over to help work on my problems, by the grace of God.

I ended up needing a shorter brass fitting inside and two stores later my neighbor came back and we had it all put back together. The water was turned on to test for leaks in our work and no leaks were visible,… but the meter was still running.

After we thought about it, it had to be something inside the house or the meter was broken. But, you could still hear water moving through the check valve so the meter was likely working. That’s when the process of elimination and desperation began. We thought maybe a hose supply line through the concrete block was leaking and draining outside, maybe going subsurface out to the “spring”. We cut the line for the hose and capped it inside- meter still running. We turned off flow to both toilets- meter still running; Turned off flow to hose on the other side of the house - meter still running… There are no other appliances or toilets or ACTIVE water outlets on the north side of the house that could POSSIBLY have water flowing- or so I thought.

Defeated, we began packing up tools and supplies and headed out to the original garage. We stopped to talk for a bit. My neighbor glanced over towards the freezer/cooler where I keep my scions and asked what the pipe went to on the wall right beside it. I said I had no idea, and that I had no clue where it went to or what it did. He walked over to it, stepping through the tote of soil mix blocking the way, and saw there was a valve near the bottom of the pipe where it outlets down into the concrete foundation… Turns the valve… Checked the water meter… No more spinning :person_facepalming::person_facepalming::person_facepalming:

I could have taken that one to the grave, but I shared it with my wife. So at some point during grafting season last February or March, we were down in the basement and she distinctly remembers me looking at that exact water line and wondering where it went, trying the valve to see if it worked, not seeing anything or hearing anything happen, then I promptly forgot to close it as I was distracted by the project on hand and forgot about closing the valve.

If you recall, the second garage was added on at some point before we bought the house. There must have been a hose bib through the wall on that side of the house at some point, which was redirected to a hole into the concrete foundation of my garage and outlets to - you guessed it - a little “spring” in the paper road beyond my backyard. Water flows downhill.

So what have I learned from this experience to grow from as a person and positive spins and takeaways-

  1. Don’t mess with valves when you don’t know where they go
  2. Don’t forget to close a valve even if you don’t think it does something
  3. Never trust a used house to be what you think it should be, no matter how good the “guts” appear to be
  4. We ended up with a brand new supply line and I am at peace knowing that it was already copper and not a lead line from the street, as many lead supply lines still exist in the Pittsburgh area
  5. I shouldn’t have to worry about our supply line again as long as we live at this house, more piece of mind
  6. We’ll be “saving” enough money on our water bill to pay for the materials I bought for repairs within a year
  7. I can let my neighbors know their wetland will no longer exist
  8. I can happily put some stone down and improve their parking pad knowing it will be a “permanent” fix
  9. I don’t have to research more obligate wetland tolerant fruiting plants to put in the bed along the paper road
  10. I can focus on planting more fruit instead of a wild goose chase digging into the paper road for a pipe that doesn’t exist (in that location)
  11. Hopefully my add on garage foundation isn’t completely destroyed by having water running underneath it for a year.

More “historical” photos to follow for various landscape design changes.


What a saga! I am only slightly exagerating when I say you had me on the edge of my seat the whole time!


I cannot tell you how relieved I am to have the neighbors wetland situation figured out.


I’ve heard of water utilities giving refunds on past bills once a leak situation like this is resolved. That might help your financial bottom line even more.


Yeah, that was a long one, @disc4tw , but I really appreciate your list of lessons learned at the end. :smiley:

1 Like

It never hurts to ask!

You read all of that? Props to you



Yeah, I’m often up for a good little story. Plus, we have a couple of switches and whatnots in our house and on the property that we don’t understand, so I can relate. I’ll try to learn from Ryan’s situation, lol.


Thanks for sharing, bro! That was a riveting story, and very well related. I work construction for my bread and butter, and have discovered similar situations with wiring. You can never assume that some red nosed DIY Bob Villa wannabe didn’t do strange, and unnecessarily complicated things, like running multiple circuits through the same box. I have seen coworkers get shocked several times by circuits that were “off”. Even saw my boss get hit with 240 once when we were doing demo, because someone decided to use a metal box designated to a 120 circuit as a “convenient” junction box for an electrical stove wire. He was hurt, but didn’t seem to get the full brunt. Anyway, its true you never can be to sure what strange things have happened before you got there.

1 Like

I’m a fan of learning from others mistakes instead of making them myself. That’s why I put so much effort into explaining the whole process.


I can relate to what you just referenced too. Always turn it off at the box and test it out to confirm. Electricity is definitely not something to mess with.