Cement truck in backyard rumbling joy to behold

July 30, 2005|By ROB KASPER

THEY POURED a new concrete floor for our kitchen this week, and then the dining room microwave and the second-floor shower stopped working. So it goes in the saga of kitchen restoration, a big step forward, a couple of small steps back.

The excitement started shortly after 7 a.m. when a throaty cement truck with a rotating mixer reading "LaFarge" pulled up in the alley behind our house, ready to pour. It is every boy's dream.

Crews sprang from the accompanying fleet of trucks, and like firefighters attacking a burning building, they went to work. They assembled a 4-inch metal pipe, running it from the alley, across the parking pad, under the cherry laurel bushes and toward the kitchen door.

The metal pipe was connected to a large rubber hose. The hose snaked into the house and, powered by a pumping unit throbbing in the alley, dumped a stream of cement, laced with decorative stone. Fellows with big forearms and wearing tall rubber boots smoothed the cement with long-handled rakes. It was like the Bay Bridge construction site had moved to our kitchen.

Unlike the basic gray cement used for highways, this was cement with flair. It had color and, a month from now when it is scored by machines, stones will emerge and give it "texture." Or so I am told. Out in the alley, as I watched the mixture flow from the cement truck into the pump, I thought to myself, "sure hope the color is right." Concrete, decorative or otherwise, is so permanent.

Weeks ago my wife, along with my sister-in-law, had picked out the color, "Sombrero buff," during a visit to Premier Decorative Concrete Inc. in Harford County. In a showroom in Forest Hill off Jarrettsville Road, they had examined the various sample concrete floors, some brightly colored, some scored. I had made an earlier trip with my wife to Harford County to eye samples. On the way home we stopped at the Belvedere Market to look at fancy concrete floors in a few of the shops there. Despite having spent four hours looking at decorative concrete I was not, in my wife's view, a trusted color consultant. For that, she wanted my sister-in-law, who generously agreed to come down from Boston and consult on the correct shade. It is a gender thing, and it is fine by me.

Our kitchen, which is on the ground floor of our four-story Baltimore rowhouse, used to have a ceramic tile floor. That old floor was tough, durable and could be quickly mopped up, a benefit when your household has males.

The floor also destroyed anything that was dropped on it. When our kids were younger, we went through glass cereal bowls like Sherman went through Atlanta. Now that the kids are out of the house, we think that less glassware will fall to the floor, even though few dishes survive a dive onto concrete.

The tile floor was also cold, even on those rare occasions when I fired up the furnace. Now we are putting in radiant heat, tubes of hot water, under the new floor. As I watched the crew spread cement on the floor, I worried that these heating tubes might get squashed. When you renovate an old house, your fields of worry get much wider.

The fact that the dining room microwave stopped working did not worry me as much as the failure of the shower.

The microwave went out, I figured, when the tips of one of the long poles that the cement crew used to smooth the mixture accidentally hit wires in the kitchen ceiling. That tripped a circuit breaker, which shut off power to a section of the dining room where we have set up a temporary kitchen. We couldn't get to the circuit breaker, however, until the concrete cured. We managed to survive a day without a microwave and without the television set that was also connected to the dead circuit. You learn to do without when you are doing your kitchen. The next morning, Cy Fisburn, our contractor, flipped the breaker and once again we were back in the American mainstream, defrosting food in the microwave and muting TV commercials.

The loss of shower power was puzzling. I discovered it when I was up on the second floor all set to lather up. Only a tiny trickle came out of the shower. The water pressure in the rest of the house was abysmal as well.

The house water pressure had dropped as soon as a fellow on the concrete crew turned on the backyard hose. Before we started improving our house, water regularly gushed out of the shower even when the backyard hose was going full blast.

Something had happened, and that night as I lay in bed, I envisioned worse-case scenarios - crushed water pipes, a plug of concrete "decorating" the inside of a pipe. That is how you dream when your home is under renovation.

It turned out to be something much simpler - the valve that supplies water to the house had been turned down, almost to the off position. The next morning when I opened the valve to full bore, water streamed out of the shower like Niagara Falls.

The journey toward a new kitchen is, I gather, filled with peaks and valleys. We have a new floor, which now looks more Sombrero than buff. The buff, I am told, will come later. I have some issues with the pour - a corner of a step looks cracked - but on the whole it feels great to be standing on solid ground, and to be able to take a shower.

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