Saturday, October 08, 2022

Covid-19 Repository of Articles

I keep finding articles and studies that talk about the dangers. Most of those don't seem to be dwelt upon by the powers-that-be, as is evidenced by the lack of covid measures just about anywhere. And sometimes I talk to someone who's completely unaware of the dangers of "mild" covid-19. (Keep in mind, you can have a "mild" heart attack.)

So I'll keep the collection here.

Note that I consider data that's pre-Omicon to be a "weakness" because we know that not only does Omicron cause less severe acute infection, it also infects cells in a different way than previous variants. Therefore it's logical to question if it would also have different long term effects. Since Omicron has wiped previous variants off the map, as we approach 2023 (as of this writing) in order to do a proper self-risk assessment, one needs to be concerned with what's out there today, and not what was once out there but is gone.

As I write this, I realize that this page isn't going to be a good place for it. I'll have to move this to a better place.

Articles

Strokes, heart attacks, sudden deaths: Does America understand the long-term risks of catching COVID?

Strokes, heart attacks, sudden deaths: Does America understand the long-term risks of catching COVID? Oct 6, 2022

In a huge analysis of more than 30,000 vaccinated patients who had experienced COVID breakthrough infections (pre-Omicron), scientists found that six months later, even the vaccinated incurred a higher risk of death and debilitating long COVID symptoms involving multiple organs (the lungs, heart, kidney, brain, and others) when compared to controls without evidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Even the fittest are not immune. Researchers have noted a troubling pattern of sudden cardiac death in athletes in the wake of the pandemic, owing possibly to COVID-related heart complications–myocarditis and pericarditis...

In a non-peer-reviewed study, Ziyad Al-Aly from the Washington University School of Medicine and his team analyzed the health records of 38,000 people with COVID reinfections. Compared to individuals with a single infection, researchers found that these reinfected individuals had higher risks of mortality, hospitalization, and adverse health outcomes in multiple organs.

These risks were present regardless of vaccination status. Every infection added increased risk for both acute and long-term complications.

...A study that included data from over a million pediatric patients found that adolescents ages 18 and younger had a 72% increased risk of developing Type 1 diabetes in the six months following their COVID infection. That risk isn’t limited to children; it’s being seen in adults, too.

Weakness: Takes into account pre-omicron, and a whole lot of post hoc ergo proptor hoc.

Scientists have identified 4 factors that point to a risk of developing long COVID

Scientists have identified 4 factors that point to a risk of developing long COVID Jan 26, 2022

The four risk factors seem to be:

  1. Existing type 2 diabetes
  2. Circulating fragments of SARS-CoV-2 at the time of diagnosis
  3. Reactivation of the Epstein-Barr virus
  4. The presence of specific autoantibodies directed against a person’s own tissue or organs.

References study Multiple early factors anticipate post-acute COVID-19 sequelae.

Weakness: Too early to take omicron into account.

Long COVID could be linked to a totally different (and common) virus, new study finds

Long COVID could be linked to a totally different (and common) virus, new study finds Oct 10, 2022

It seems a previous infection of a particular cold virus, OC43, may be a culprit:

When their bodies’ immune systems were exposed to the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID, they responded with OC43 antibodies that, while similar, were less than ideal, leading to chronic inflammation and other long COVID symptoms.

References study: Impact of cross-coronavirus immunity in post-acute sequelae of COVID-19.

Weaknesses: It's a pre-print study, not peer reviewed. The study was conducted months after acute infection making direct causation harder to establsh. Also, the cohort was limited to people with rheumatic disease. Small sample size.

COVID is leaving long-term mental health scars ‘on a scale that we have never seen before’, author of new study says

COVID is leaving long-term mental health scars ‘on a scale that we have never seen before’, author of new study says Feb 17, 2022
Even patients who were never sick enough to be hospitalized for COVID were still 68% more likely than their non-infected counterparts to be diagnosed with a sleep disorder, 69% more likely to have an anxiety disorder, and 77% more likely to have a depressive disorder. The relative risk of developing the conditions was significantly higher still in patients hospitalized for COVID, and translates into dozens of additional mental health conditions for every 1,000 coronavirus cases.

Weaknesses: It doesn't take into account Omicron. It's also from a study involving older white men (US Department of Veteran Affairs).

References: Risks of mental health outcomes in people with covid-19: cohort study (BMJ).

Brain damage, hair loss, and fatigue: Everything we know about the long-term effects of COVID infections

Brain damage, hair loss, and fatigue: Everything we know about the long-term effects of COVID infections Feb 1, 2022

The article mentions that there are over 200 different symptoms that can persist from acute infection, or start well after the acute phase is over. The article mentions:

  1. shortness of breath
  2. fatigue
  3. coughing
  4. body aches
  5. loss of taste or smell
  6. cognitive dysfunction
  7. anxiety
  8. depression
  9. brain fog
  10. memory loss
  11. tinnitus
  12. cardiovascular problems
  13. heart palpitations
  14. excessive hair loss

Weakness: It's pre-omicron.

Blood clots, heart problems, kidney failure: COVID creates a higher risk for rare pediatric health problems, new CDC study finds

Blood clots, heart problems, kidney failure: COVID creates a higher risk for rare pediatric health problems, new CDC study finds August 4, 2022

They found that young people who had been diagnosed with COVID were about two times more likely to experience a blood clot in the lung—and nearly two times more likely to experience myocarditis cardiomyopathy, a disease that makes it more difficult for the heart to function correctly; or blood clots in veins—in the year following their illness.

They were also roughly 1.3 times as likely to experience kidney failure, as well as Type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disorder that destroys the pancreas’s ability to make insulin, according to the study.

....An estimated 5% to 10% of children who’ve had COVID go on to develop long COVID..

References study: Post–COVID-19 Symptoms and Conditions Among Children and Adolescents.

Weakness: The vast majority of the data is pre-omicron.

Omicron patients may develop Long COVID less frequently than those who had other variants, study finds

Omicron patients may develop Long COVID less frequently than those who had other variants, study finds May 22, 2022

only one Omicron patient out of 18 interviewed had long-term symptoms, versus 10 out of 18 in a group of similar patients who had other COVID variants.

References study: Post COVID-19 condition of the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2.

Weaknesses: It's a pre-print (ie: not peer reviewed) from early 2022, so it takes into account Omicron, but not later subvariants. Also, given the nature of Long-Covid, it can take more that 5 months to get a real handle on just how bad it is.

2 symptoms are emerging as dominant in long COVID cases

2 symptoms are emerging as dominant in long COVID cases October 4, 2022

[...] researchers have determined that about 5% of adults who reported an initial change in their sense of smell or taste after contracting COVID-19 may go on to have long-lasting issues with those senses.

According to new research from The BMJ, at least 15 million adults may experience long-term smell deficiencies, while 12 million adults may struggle with taste. The research also found that only 74% of patients reported smell recovery and 79% reported taste recovery 30 days after initial infection, but recovery rates increased with each passing month.

References study: Prognosis and persistence of smell and taste dysfunction in patients with covid-19: meta-analysis with parametric cure modelling of recovery curves (BMJ).

Weaknesses: It includes pre-Omicron cases, and it only deals with loss of smell (anosmia) and loss of taste (ageusia).

7 things doctors who treat long COVID want you to know

7 things doctors who treat long COVID want you to know June 23, 2022

It's a mistitled article (as clickbait no doubt). It's just 7 things about Long COVID.

  1. The cause of long COVID is still unclear
  2. More severe infection heightens the risk
    Englund estimates that 80% of the patients receiving treatment at the ReCOVer Clinic were never hospitalized. Dr. Benjamin Abramoff, director of the Post-COVID Assessment and Recovery Clinic at Penn Medicine, is seeing a similar pattern.
  3. Vaccination offers some protection
    A study of 13 million people found that those who received the COVID vaccine were 15% less likely to develop long COVID than those who were unvaccinated; smaller studies have shown that those who received two doses of the COVID vaccine cut their risk of developing long COVID in half.
  4. Research is ongoing
  5. Delaying treatment affects recovery
    The latest data shows that long-COVID symptoms lasted an average of 14.8 months among patients who were not hospitalized for COVID, with some patients experiencing long-COVID symptoms for 18 months following their initial COVID infection.
  6. Long-COVID treatment centers can help
  7. Long-COVID treatment scams abound

References studies: Long COVID after breakthrough SARS-CoV-2 infection (Nature) and Risk factors and disease profile of post-vaccination SARS-CoV-2 infection in UK users of the COVID Symptom Study app: a prospective, community-based, nested, case-control study (NIH).

Wednesday, December 01, 2021

My Leaky Roof

This post continues the series of My avoison of Covid-19 where I thought that staying the blazes home would be fine, as long as I didn't need to have any service people into my house.

But then I had Appliance Troubles which caused me to have 6 service people into the house. Then there was my My basement issues which brought 9 more service people into my house. Plus two movers and a furnace maintenance person. That's a total of 18 service people in my house in less than two years, compared to 17 the previous 5.

And I'm not even done yet.

The Roof

I don't know if it was the siding project a few years ago, or if being home all day during the day, and spending most of that time in an upstairs room lacking in proper insulation caused me to turn the heat up more than I used to, but for the first time since living here, an ice dam formed during the winter on my roof above where I sat at my computer whilst working. I wasn't alone. Other houses had ice dams too. The property management company sent people around to break the ice dams off of people's roofs including mine.

All was well until the Spring. Then one day we got a heavy rain. It was right at the end of the working day. I was still in my office room. A few minutes after the heavy rain started outside, it started raining inside! I called the property management company, but it was after-hours for them. So I called the emergency after-hours number. But, the rain was a short downspurt, and shortly after the rain stopped outside, it stopped inside.

Nevertheless, they sent someone around to take a look. They said they could see some damage to the shingles. Then they did was put some caulking on the roof.

For the next few rainfalls, mostly light rain, all was well.

But then on July 8th, just as I was soon getting ready to go out and get my second dose of vaccine for Covid-19, the heavy rain started outside. Then it started raining inside again!

After talking to those who had gone before me, I knew that the next day I was likely to feel like garbage. I had everything all worked out. I had finished my shopping, chores, cleaning, laundry, etc. I had it all planned out that for the next few days all I had to do was lie on the couch watching TV feeling miserable. This would totally put a monkeywrench in my plans. Should I cancel my shot and re-book? If I had to move a bunch of stuff out of my office, I didn't want to do it right after getting a needle. (I hate needles! I consider my arm to be ineffective for at least a couple of days after I get a shot.)

I tried. But you needed to cancel within two hours, and it was about 1 hour and 57 minutes. So I decided to risk it.

Anyway, again, I called the after-hours emergency number, and they sent someone over right away. He came in (person 19) to take a look at the damage inside. (At first he wasn't even wearing a mask! I had to ask him to put one on!)

He couldn't see anything from the inside. So he called the property management company and they sent two guys out tomorrow to take a better look.

When they showed up pretty early in the morning on July 9th, I was only feeling a little tired. The real side effects (fever, headache, chills, etc.) hadn't kicked in yet. These two guys (one of whom was the guy who cut the hole in my basement wall) cut out a square of drywall in my ceiling. They saw that when the guy was clearning the ice dam, he hit the ice dam with the sharp side of the axe, not the broad side. He put a hole in my roof! And now there's a hole in my ceiling! (Now we're up to 21 service people.)

They took pictures to send to the property management company. Eventually, they sent a roofing company around. "Ahhh, finally! They'll fix the roof, then I can get the ceiling fixed!"

And how did they fix the roof? They put more caulking on it. That was it!

The roof no longer leaks. But it's still broken! If they're not going to fix it further, then okay. But they need to send someone around to fix my ceiling.

I'll let you know how it all turns out when it's finally fixed. I may have to live with it through the winter and see if it leaks again. I'm getting really tired of this property management company. I would sell, but the housing market is nuts, and this place has not gone up in value as much as other places. So I'm further behind than before. And there's no way I can sell with a big hole in my ceiling.

Update: On the morning of January 18, 2022 I came into my office room to significant leaking. I promptly emailed the guy at the property management company I had been dealing with with pictures and a note saying "Since my roof still hasn't been fixed, it's leaking again into my unit." I got an email back from someone else saying that the person I had been dealing with was now elsewhere. I hope this new guy is better.

He did send a roofer around to fix my roof on Jan. 20th. He cut out a small hole and replaced the wood and shingles. Of course, the ceiling still has a big hole in it. But I don't want to get that fixed until the roof itself is fixed.

Then on January 28 we got another big snowfall, and I had more leaking in my roof. So, finally on Feb 18th they sent a couple of guys around to go into my attick and investigate. That was this morning. I'm waiting to hear back what happens next. But I think they'll be waiting for Spring for when everything melts.

Anyway, as of today, we're at 23 people in my house during the pandemic.

Update April 25, 2022

As I was waiting to hear the next steps, on March 1 I got an email saying that we've got a new property management company. *sigh* Will the old company pass all my info onto the new company? And given all the different issues with all the different issues, this could take a while for the next steps. Maybe even go back a few.

After waiting a few weeks for the dust to settle, I wrote to the new property management company to ask if they got any if my file from the old company.

They hadn't.

Now, they have to send roofers around to take another look. They sent two on April 25 (just before I wrote this). They took a look and said I'd have to have my front 3 feet of roofing replaced. Apparently, the repair mentioned above didn't have any weather sheilding on it, so it was bound to leak. And, oh look, we're supposed to get 25-30mm of rain today. So probably more leaking.

Now the count is 25 people in my house during the pandemic.

Update July 31, 2022

Well, after a bit of a wait two roofers showed up on July 21st to fix my roof. After a few hours of work, they told me they were done. (They didn't need to come in at all, so my count isn't going up.) From my bedroom I could see that nothing had been changed from the underside of the roof. They told me that the previous person to repair the roof only replaced a bit of wood and some shingles. They didn't replace the waterpoof covering that goes between the shingles and the wood. That's why I was getting leaking. But now that's fixed.

So now I wonder: do I wait til we get lots of rain? Do I contact the condo management company to ask that the internal damage be fixed? This would include replacing the insulation in my attic and replacing some damaged (and now missing!) drywall. I am not looking forward to this.

Pictures

Here are some pictures of my roof issues:

Water dripping down onto my window frame on the inside.
Water damage to my ceiling above my window.
Water dripping through my window frame on the inside.
The hole in my ceiling the roofers cut out to take a look from the inside.
A hole in my ceiling showing the hole in my roof, about a quarter inch wide.
A closer view of the quarter inch hole in my roof also showing damanged wood around it.
Icicles almost the height of my window.
Icicles forming from underneath my overhang over my front door.
Ice forming on my siding all the way down from my window to the overhang.
A block of wood where the main repair was done.
The wood around the repair is now wet due to melting snow.
Water damage to my ceiling around where the roofers cut.
Water damage to another part of my ceiling along the front wall.

Friday, November 26, 2021

My Basement Issues - Part 3

Recap

As of My Basement Issues - Part 2 I found out that my basement does not have asbestos in it, and I've had to have 5 non-appliance service people into my house during the pandemic. But the fix hasn't happened yet. I was contemplating two options: Basic repair, or replace the drywall ceiling with a suspended ceiling.

The Fix

I decided that I would rather the suspended ceiling. This would involve someone coming in to remove the remaining drywall ceiling, install the suspended ceiling, fix the hole in the wall, and then paint.

So on Sept. 2nd, 2021 the demolition guy showed up (that's non-appliance service person #6). Then the next week two guys showed up (#8) to install the ceiling, and repair the wall, and do some painting. And they were fantastic. They just kept going with the paint, and painted my whole basement! They even fixed some minor issues that had nothing to do with the damage mentioned in this blog. A++++ right there. Then on Thursday, Sept. 9th someone showed up to do the cleanup.

Total Number Of People In My House

So that's 9 non-appliance service people in my house plus 6 appliance service people. For a current total of 15.

But wait! There's more!

My parents sold their house to downsize. In doing so they sent me a bunch of stuff. So two movers had to come in and out of the house. And it was a hot and humid day. Sept. 23rd. Some of the stuff was pretty heavy, and sometimes the moves had to remove their masks. So that's two more people.

I had just gotten my furnace cleaned and serviced just before the pandemic. It's something you should do every year; and I pay for one of those plans where it's included. So I needed to get my service when the weather started to cool. So on Nov. 10th the furnace guy came and cleaned the furnace. I stayed upstairs for most of it. At the end I asked a question about installing a coldair exchange in my basement to increase air circulation. I think that question may have been above his paygrade. But anyway, at some points, his mask was below his nose...so basically no mask at all. Now we're up to 18 service people in my house total. That's more than what I've had my entire time in this house pre-pandemic!!!

Here's some pictures of the basement:

One piece of siding not connected to the next, leavaing a hole allowing water to enter the house
Carpet by wall with big wet spot resulting from water getting in through a hole in the siding
A big hole in my ceiling and wall from water damage
The wall all patched up and a nice suspended ceiling
The finished basement with clean carpet and a suspended ceiling.

Thursday, July 01, 2021

Netflix Won't Take My Money

Fry from Futurama holing out a wad of cash saying 'Shut up and take my money!'

I want my own Netflix account. I don't particularely want most of the other streaming services for reasons beyond the scope of this post. I want Netflix.

A few years ago I had a roommate living here. When he moved in, he brought his Netflix account with him. My TV has a Netflix app built right in. He put his credentials into the TV, and set up a profile for me so either of us could use the account. Then he moved away, but continued to let me use his account. After a while he cancelled it. So I decided it was time to get my own.

On I went to Netflix.ca and created an account. When it came time to pay, I noticed they no longer offered the free one-month trial. I was disappointed, but decided to carry on anyway.

As part of the registration process, I had to give an email and password, and it knew I was in Canada, but didn't ask for a postal code.

When it came time to make the payment, I selected the cheapest option ($9.99/month) and filled in the form. After filling in my credit card information and clicking "Submit" I got a vague error: "There appears to be a problem with the payment method you are trying to use." Netflix error saying There appears to be a problem with the payment method you are trying to use. Update your credit or debit card.

That's not very specific. I tried a different credid card, a different browser, a different device, etc. etc. Here are the different things I've tried: (Note Netflix Canada only accepts Visa, Mastercard, American Express, and gift cards.)

  1. My laptop
  2. Two different desktops
  3. Firefox
  4. Brave browser
  5. Chrome
  6. The Netflix app built into my TV (which just told me to do payment details in my computer)
  7. The Netflix app built into my BlueRay player (which just told me to do payment details in my computer)
  8. MasterCard
  9. Visa
  10. Putting my middle initial at the end of my first name
  11. Putting my middle initial at the beginning of my last name
  12. Leaving my middle initial out completely
  13. MY NAME IN ALL CAPS
  14. My name with only the first letter in capitals

Here are the things I have not tried:

  1. A more expensive plan. Maybe this problem only exists on the cheapest plan?
  2. A gift card...which may always leave some money on the card.
  3. I switched from DSL to Cable Internet (temporarily) so I'm on a different network. Perhaps with this different network I can hit a different Netflix server that may work.
  4. I recently got an AppleTV and upgraded my iOS. I can install the Netflix app on each, and the app store says it accepts in-app payments. If I can get Netflix to charge my app-store account, which will charge me, then it's not ideal, but I'd go for that.
  5. Use a VPN to try to access Netflix in a different region to see if things could work there. (But they may block a lot of VPNs.)
  6. A friend once told me that you can get these "anonymous" credit cards online and use one of those to try. It seems super-sketchy....but perhaps it's something to investigate.

If you Google "Netflix won't accept my credit card" you see that this is a huge problem, and Netflix refuses to acknowledge that the problem may be on their end.

I called Netflix and they sent me a list of questions to ask my credit card companies (and along with the answers of both cards:

Are there enough available funds to cover the charge from Netflix?
Yes
For credit and debit cards, is the card still valid, or has the financial institution recently issued a replacement?
They're all still valid and no recent replacements were issued
For credit and debit cards, can the card be used for recurring billing?
Absolutely
Does the card or account support e-commerce transactions?
Absolutely
Was the transaction processed as an international charge? Does your account support this?
It was processed as a local charge, and I'll return to this question below.
Was the transaction declined for any security reasons?
No, it wasn't declined. More on this below.
Does your financial institution see the transaction attempt from Netflix? Can they explain why it was declined?
They see it as accepted. More on this below

I called both my credit card companies about this. And my cards are both properly set up to accept Netflix. The problem is 100% on Netflix's end. Above I mentioned that Netflix no longer offers the 1-month free trial. I think this may have something to do with it.

One of my banks told me they saw a few Approved charges from Netflix for $0.00.

Very interesting. Here's what I think is what's happening:

Netflix Canada, years ago, sets up a one-month free trial. But before they give out any free trials to a new customer, they need to make sure that customer can pay in the second month. So they ask for credit card details. They charge that card for $0.00 to make sure it works. I figure the psuedo-code could look something like:

At Netflix


// planRate and ccInfo would be from elsewhere.
// I'm just making them global here so you can visually see it.
global planRate = $9.99;
global ccInfo;

function checkCreditCard () {
  planRate = 0;  // temporarily set planRate to 0 for the free trial
  let approval = getMastercardApproval(ccInfo, planRate);
  // the 0 is the $0.00 for a free trial
}

At Mastercard


function chargeCard (Amount) {
  if (applyCharge(ccInfo, Amount)) {
    // It worked!
    sender.sendMessage(true, ccInfo.number, Amount);
  } else {
    sender.sendMessage(false, ccInfo.number, Amount);
  }

Back at Netflix


function checkApproval(success, number, Amount) {
  planRate = 0;  // temporarily set planRate to 0 for the free trial
  if (success == ture &am;& number == ccInfo.number && Amount == planRate) {
      successFunction ();
  } else {
      fail ("There was a problem with your credit card.");
  }

If you follow that code through you'll see that Netflix is charging $0.00 and then checking to see if $0.00 was charged. Then when the free trial ended, Netflix Canada removed the planRate = 0; // temporarily set planRate to 0 for the free trial from both functions, and somehow the first function didn't make it to every production server. So on some servers, the planRate (say $9.99) is being charged. On others, $0.00 is being charged. Then in the last function, it's checking if the amount charged is the same as planRate. It won't be on the servers that never got the updated code. Since some people hit a server with the updated code they're able to sign up. Netflix sees that some people can sign up, so they don't notice the problem. They see fewer people have signed up than before, but that's to be expected after prices go up, and a free trial goes away. And I suspect the tech support (no doubt outsourced to a private firm in India) has no way of telling Netflix "We're getting a lot of complaints about this. You might want to look into it."

If I'm right about this, then it's the loss of free trial that's the problem. Some people who have complained about this said that the tech support was able to put a one-time charge through and it worked. Someone else mentioned that using the live-chat feature, the tech support guy was able to have the customer fill out a separate form somewhere.

Aside from the list of questions to ask my credit card companies, tech support suggested I use gift cards. I don't want to use gift cards because the amounts you can buy are never exact multiples of the plan amounts! As of this writing, a basic plan in Canada is $9.99 + HST: $11.29/month. If I could get a gift card for $11.29, or $22.58, or $33.87, etc. then okay. Instead I could get one for $30 and charge 2 months to it and have $7.42 left over. If my above suspicions are correct, then I'd be beyond the free trial part so I could switch payment details to my credit card and it would work. Is it worth $7.42 to find out? If it doesn't work then I'll be forever buying gift cards and always having a bit left over.

UPDATE

In order to get the actual text of the credit card error for this blog, I decided to try signing up again. Just to get the error! But the registration worked! I now have Netflix!

I don't know why. I must be a poor scientist. I altered two variables:

  1. I used Chrome instead of Brave or Netflix (maybe Netflix only specifically supports Chrome and not Chromium browsers like Brave. If this is the case, I should abandon Netflix.)
  2. I tried using my Cable Internet connection (different networks could hit different servers. I'm now on TekSavvy's network instead of Bell's. (I'm not linking to Bell because I don't want to give them any more traffic.)

Now I'll never know if my suspicions about the new code not making it to all servers are correct. Nevermind! I have some serious watchin' to do.

Saturday, February 06, 2021

My Basement Issues - Part 2

Recap

This post is a continuation of two posts: My Basement Issues - Part 1 and My avoision of Covid-19.

In My Basement Issues - Part 1 I told the story of how a broken furnace exhaust pipe had wrecked a section of my basement ceiling, and how some shoddy work from a condo siding project caused a section of my basement drywall to be torn out. In My Avoision of Covid-19 I told the story of how I was hoping to get through the pandemic with as little human contact as possible, and how I thought "As long as I can make it through the next few months without any service people coming into my house, then I should be a-okay. And I've hardly had any service people in the house since I bought over 5 years ago, so I should be fine.

Old Basement Damage

Due to the pandemic I had to (or got to?) start working from home every single day from Monday, March 16, 2020 until [insert date here]. My office was down in the drafty, dirty, messy, disrepaired basement. And now that Zoom calls were all the rage, my colleagues got to see the inside of my basement. I tried to keep the damage out of sight, but I wasn't always successful.

One day on a Zoom call, a colleague asked about my basement, and made the comment "Didn't insurance cover that?"

Insurance?! Why didn't I think of that?! I have insurance! Of course, this will mean having people into the house. I wonder, given the time that's passed (about a year) if I'm beyond the window of being able to make a claim?

New Basement Damange

Well, I didn't have to worry about that last part because one morning in April I came downstairs to hear a drip drip drip. "Oh no. Not again!" Thankfully I still had my plastic sheets and buckets around from the last basement issue, so the carpet wasn't getting wet. I looked around to see where this water drip was coming from. Remember the furnace exhaust pipe, and the hole in the ceiling to the valve to the pipe going to the back of the house for the hose? That water pipe to the house is about a foot and a half over from the furnace exhaust pipe — right where a lot of the water damage was. Well, that pipe had sprung a leak. Just a leak. It hadn't burst. There was no flooding. just some drips. But listening to that all day was annoying.

I called for a plumber. They weren't able to send one for a few days. So I did what I could to slow, or stop the dripping. When I didn't need running water, I turned the water to the house off. This would slow the drip significantly.

When the plumber got there (This is service person #1. Long story, but two other plumbers came out for another issue. I'll count them here. We're up to 3 service people.) He cut out a bit of the copper pipe and replaced it with a plastic alternative. Problem solved.

(As an aside I learned something very valuable in this process of constantly opening and closing the main water valve that I'll pass along to anyone here who needs to read this. It's normal for bits of debris to get into your water lines. If this debris makes its way to a faucet with a filter, then it gets stuck there and the waterflow of that faucet will be severly hampered. This was happening with my upstairs bathroom sink. To fix this: shut off the water to your house, turn on all taps in the house to drain the pipes. Once all water stops flowing, close all taps in the house except the laundry room sink faucets. These faucets aren't filtered, and they're typically the lowest faucets in the house. Turn on the water. As the water rushes in and fills the pipes, this will cause the debris to go to the lowest point in the house and get flushed out your laundry room sink. That knowledge alone is going to save me hundreds of dollars in plumber calls.)

In July I decided to stop procrastinating and get the house back into a sellable condition. I had gone through a whole year, a whole winter of constant basement monitoring. No new floods from last year's issue. I was now confident that part was fixed.

Now for the fun part: I called my insurance company. I've never had to make a claim before. I didn't know what was ahead.

The Repair Saga Begins

I told them the whole story; the exhaust pipe, the siding project, and the leaky pipe. They told me that typically you have to make a claim within a year of the damage. So it was too late for the exhaust pipe issues, and the wall, but I'm still good for the leaky pipe. This works out. They both caused the same amount of damage. As for the wall, since that was from a different incident (same time, different cause, different area) it would be a separate claim. So I made two claims: one for the wall and one for the ceiling. And, yes, that meant paying the deductible twice - and the deductible for water damage is high.

They sent out a contractor (non-appliance service person #4) to take a look and give me an estimate. When the contractor came out he took a look and said "Yeah, we'll have to fix up the ceiling. But the wall? That'll be easy to fix. That'll be well below your deductible, so it won't be worth making a claim." And he was right. So I closed that claim. But there was still the ceiling.

We talked about options. My basement celing is drywall with this swirl pattern that was somewhat popular in the 70s. That makes it harder to fix than flat, or popcorn drywall because the pattern and finish have to match. So one option is to tear out the drywall and replace as it was. Another is to tear out the drywall and replace with flat drywall: no swirls. A third option is to install a suspended ceiling. I like this option if it can be done. Basement ceilings have a lot going on behind them. There are pipes and electric boxes, wires, and who knows what else. You want to be able to access that. And, by code, you have to be able to access to electrical boxes and valves. But with a suspended ceiling, you can just take out tiles. I have that in my laundry room. It's great!

Another advantage of suspended ceilings is that if one gets damaged, it's waaaaaaay easier and cheaper to repair than drywall! (I even helped friends install their suspended ceiling, so I kind know how to do it myself.) If my exhaust pipe issues had happened with a suspended ceiling, when I first saw that discolourization, instead of wondering about it and ignoring it hoping it was nothing, I would have just popped out the tile, and took a look. Finding the break in the pipe would have been easier. And I wouldn't be writing this post!

Anyway, I made the inital call to the insurance company on July 23rd, 2020, and here we are, January 20th 2021. There's been a lot of back-and-forth with the contractor; a few esitmates, and revised esitmates. They took samples of the wall and ceiling to test for asbestos (non-appliance service person #5). Thankfully the asbestos tests came back negative. Today I sent one final question to the contractor ending with something to the effect of "...if this last peice falls into place, then just let me know when you can start!"

For context, all of Ontario has moved from a Lockdown to a stay-at-home order until February 11th. Since I've lived with a damaged ceiling and wall for nearly 2 years, I'd hardly think of this as essential work. I can live without it for a few more weeks. Even if it has to wait til April (when I predict Covid-19 case counts will start dropping due to vaccinations and warmer weather and people spending more time outdoors), then that's fine with me.

After a week, I finally heard back from the contractor saying that the last peice isn't falling into place. The last peice being the cost of replacement. If I go with a full replacement (drywall with swirls), then all costs are covered by insurance (minus the deductible). But, if I do anything else (such as suspended ceiling), if it's more expensive than a full replacement, then I pay the difference. During the inital estimates, the suspended ceiling was about $600 less than the full replacement. In revised estimates, it's more expensive by about $150.

Thinking the suspended ceiling (what I want) was going to be significantly cheaper than a full replacement, I was ready to just go with that option. Even if it turns out to be more expensive than the estimate, as long as it's less than $600 more than the estimate, it's still covered by insurance. Now that it's more than the estimate, then if it turns out to be even more expensive than the estimate, then that difference comes out of my pocket.

So, it's a question of one risk over another. If I go full repair, the risk is in further damage causing another insurance claim. After a certain point, insurance may no longer cover me, or it may get more expensive. So that is a risk for the future. This could come back to bite me in 4 or 5 years. Wheras taking the suspended ceiling option reduces risk from the future, it places risk today that installation could be more expensive than the estimate.

So, I'm not sure what to do here. I am leaning towards the suspended ceiling option: Take the risk right now.

I'll keep updating this post as things progress.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

My avoision of Covid-19

Towards the end of the year 2019, a new virus appeared in China, called SARS-CoV-2 which causes a disease called Covid-19. This caused a world wide pandemic in 2020 through at least 2021.

Covid-19 came to Ottawa in early March, 2020, and really started to take off in mid-March. On Sunday, March 15th I was told by my team lead at work that unless one was required to physically be onsite to do their jobs, they shouldn't come in. And only those deemed essential should log into the network the next day. And I was deemed essential.

So, on Monday, March 16th, 2020 I began working from home. (As of this writing, Wednesday, January 20th, 2021 I have not seen my office since then.) To me, that's the start of the pandemic.

Now, I hate being sick. No matter what. I can tolerate colds, but that's about it. Everything else is just the worst. And Covid is all of that! It's respiratory! It's gastrointestinal! It's neurological! It's vascular! The list of potential symptoms and effects sounds like a drug commercial. It's deadly in some cases!

I think that the scariest part of Covid-19 is the wide variety of symptoms. Two people get it, one gets a little tired. The other ends up on a ventilator. Another two people get it. One has no symptoms whatsoever. The other has a stroke. "Most" people recover in two weeks (which is really long, when you think about it. The Flu is typically 1 week and is only respiratory. Gastro is usually 24 hours.), but as many as 1 in 3 take longer to recover. Then there's the long-haulers: those for whom symptoms can last for months, or as far as we know, never go away. But since these people don't die of it, they don't show up in the death statistics, and people don't pay attention to them. So it makes look not as bad as it is.

If everyone reacted the same way to the virus, then we'd all have similar-ish levels of caution towards the virus. If it had a 30% fatality rate, we'd all be scared of it. But because of the wide range of symptoms and severity some people say "It's no big deal!" Others are like "We have to shut everything down!"

As for me, ultimately it comes down to: I'm a huge introvert who hates more than anything else being sick. So, yeah. Stay home? Not a problem? Avoid other people? My pleasure.

When this first started, they were telling us to not wear masks "because it can provide a false sense of security, and will cause you to touch your face more". They also thought you could get it from surfaces. Everyone was being really cautious.

As I started thinking through the implications of everyone stay[ing] the blazes home. Short term wouldn't be a problem. But what if something broke down, and you needed a service person in the house?

Since I bought the house in 2014 I've had into the house: 2 plumbers, the air conditioning guy with his assistant and electrician in to install the unit (as well as three companies to give bids), and an annual furnace maintenance person. Plus some guys sent by the condo to deal with the siding, which, yes, required some inside work (as explained in My Basement Issues - Part 1). That's 17 that I count. Or, 3.4 per year.

"Okay, this shouldn't be a problem then."

Well, My Basement Issues - Part 2 has caused 5 (and counting) service people, and Appliance Troubles has caused 6 more, totalling: 11 - and counting.

But so far, I've kept healthy.


And Now For Something Completely Different

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

My Basement Issues - Part 1

Background

I live in a townhouse condo. (ie: I, along with the mortgage company, own the inside and the condo corporation owns the outside.) A few years ago the condo corp determined that the siding on the condos was getting old and needed replacement. So we had this big siding project.

The siding project took forever and could be a series of blog posts on its own. But that's not this story. There were lots of problems with the siding project. A one year project turned into two. When they started the project they found a lot of rot underneath the old siding. And a number of units had rotting rim joists behind the back steps. This required workers to come in, put support stands in the basement to keep the house from falling apart when the old rim joist was replaced/repaired.

Sure enough, my house had a rotting rim joist. I have a finished basement with drywall ceiling (why?! Why would you ever put drywall ceiling in a basement?!). They didn't have to tear out the drywall, thankfully. But they did put up their supports in my basement to do the joist work. They also found a lot of rot on the wall of one of my bedrooms which caused them to have to rebuild the whole wall. (Turns out there was a lot of problems with that wall too, but that's another story.) So, they ended up doing a lot of work on my unit.

Something's Amiss in the Ceiling

During the siding project One day I went down to the basement and noticed a slight discolouration on the basement ceiling. "Has that always been there and I've just never noticed?" I wondered. There are a few places in my house where the ceiling has discolourations, largely due to bad paint jobs. They're not moist. They're hard. They've always been there. They haven't changed in years. Was this just one of those? Was this a left over mark from when they had to support my house with the rim joist work?

I came down again a few days later, and it had grown.....I think?

Not too far from that spot is a hole in the drywall where there's a valve for a water pipe for the backyard hose. One day I was sitting at my desk in the basement and I heard a rapid "tck tck tck pshhh". Water was dripping out of that hole onto a cardboard box.

Ohh crud. "Where is that water coming from!?" My strategy of ignoring the situation and hoping it would go away wasn't working very well.

I called a friend to come over and to take a look to see if he could figure out what's going on. It was the middle of the winter. He happened to notice that when my furnace came on, nothing was coming out of the exhaust pipe in the back of the house. The exhaust pipe looks like an elongated S. It comes out of the back of the house, turns up 90 degrees for about a foot and a half, then 90 degrees again away from the house. Except this time instead of turning up after coming out of the house, it turned down.

Back to the basement. A line of drywall, starting from that initial spot to the backwall was now soft. There are parts I could just put my hand through. I tore a lot of that drywall out. Behind that drywall was the furnace exhaust pipe. It was wet. "What's going on?"

I had a protection plan for my furnace where I paid every month so that certain repairs and an annual service are covered. I called the company. They sent someone out. He arrived at 10:00pm on a Monday night. He took a look. He poked his head up into the ceiling.

"Ahhhh, I see what's going on. Somehow the exhaust pipe broke just this side of the furnace room. Now, when the furnace comes on, it's blowing exhaust into the ceiling area, which is warming up the exhaust pipe — which is bringing in cold air from the outside. So the pipe is getting cold, and that's causing condensation around the pipe, which is dripping onto your ceiling.

"Now here's the thing. It's blowing exhaust fumes into your basement. I'm getting really low carbon monoxide readings, but you want lower. So we either have to fix this up tonight, or I have to shut this furnace down until you get it fixed."

It was about -20 out and getting colder. So I said we should do it tonight. (And by "we" I mean "he".)

It took two or three hours. He had to cut out more drywall to get to where the break happened. He fixed it. He told me "This isn't really covered under your plan, but it looks like you've got a big, expensive job ahead of you....so I'm just going to say I did work that was covered."

"Thank you thank you thank you thank you!!!!"

I did whatever clean up I can. I got some mold killer. I sanded down areas with obvious water damage. Then I continued to procrastinate doing something about this. This is way beyond my skills as a home owner.

A Puddle on the Floor

Then one morning I came down to the basement and the floor underneath the pipe was wet! "What is going on?!" I checked the exhaust pipe. It was working as expected. It wasn't wet. None of the left-over drywall ceiling was moist. I had a plastic cover on the floor, and it was wet underneath that.

I called the condo corp to ask for them to send somebody out. I really had to wonder if these issues are caused by the siding project. (There had been a number of issues which lead me to wonder, a few of which I'll get to in a minute.)

They sent someone out. They took a look around. The broken exhaust pipe was likely a coincidence since it broke pretty far from the outer wall. But this puddle.....

What was happening was that in the course of a few cold spells and thaws, ice had built up right by the rim joist. Somehow the insulation that should have been there had been brought out away from the rim joist, which allowed that area to get cold. Moisture got in, froze, then thawed. When it thawed, in dripped down the foundation wall behind the drywall, and came out onto the floor below.

The eavestroughs (part of the siding project) had been hung horizontally. Eavestroughs should be hung at an angle so that water flows down towards a downspout and out away from the house. But these were horizontal. This caused melting ice to collect, overflow, and drip down the side of the house. This dripping was happening right above the furnace exhaust pipe. The furnace exhaust pipe was shoddily sealed with tape. When they guy from the condo corp looked at it, he said "I can see right through that. And if I can see through it, water can get in."

To recap: we had the perfect storm: Water was overflowing from horizontal eavestroughs and dripping down right where there was an opening into the house, right at a point where there was no insulation to keep that area warm. At least two of these problems was the fault of the siding company. (The insulation part wasn't their fault.)

I was told that neither the condo corp, nor siding company was responsible for damaged finished basements. "We don't fix basements." I thought that was ridiculous. If a roofing company negligently threw old shingles off of a roof onto a parking lot and damaged cars, it wouldn't matter that they're not a car-fixing company. Their actions would have caused the damage, and they'd be found negligent. Same thing here. If the eavestroughs had been hung properly, that water wouldn't have dripped down the side of the house right at the point where there was an opening. If the exhaust pipe had been sealed up properly, then water wouldn't have been able to get into the house from outside.

I told my story to a lawyer friend and he just kinda said something to the effect of "Yeah, that sort of thing is really hard to fight." It sounded like I'd spend more in legal fees than it would cost to fix.

So I spent the next few months procrastinating doing anything to fix this situation. I had a huge, ugly hole in my basement ceiling, and a big section of drywall beisde the hole with some insulation held in by a clear, plastic sheet. This caused the basement to be somewhat drafty and more uncomfortable than usual. And I didn't want to start doing repairs until I went through a season of snow and meltage to make sure the problem was fixed.

This story will continue in a future post: My Basement - Part 2.