The Cross House

Oh. Oh! OH! Oh….FUCK!!!!!!!!

Today was the best of days.

Today was the worst of days.

For, today was the day I have waited years for: getting the radiator system online.

At first, it seemed a fortuitous day, being literally 0 degrees. So having more heat was something I would vastly appreciate.


Over the last 123-years, the radiator system of the Cross House has been through a lot. Pipes were added. Pipes were deleted. Pipes burst. Radiators were added. Radiators were deleted or moved or just shut off because they leaked. Radiators sprung holes.

My desire was to fix this mess. My desire was to rethink the whole friggin’ system and make it viable for today. And I spent a shocking amount of money to do this.

I must have a fabulous radiator system!

Not once did I ever consider the vastly more sensible and vastly more economical solution: Installing a forced-air system. I did actually convert one AC “tower” to become a forced-air system, too, and I could have easily and affordably converted the second AC “tower” to forced-air as well. And the house, at quite a reasonable cost, could have had a central AC and a central heat system.

But sensible is something I seem allergic to.


I must have a fabulous radiator system!


Today was the best of days.

Today was the worst of days.

For, today was the day I have waited years for: getting the radiator system online.

Arriving at 8AM, I rushed from my car, being shocked by the frigid air, and into the house, nominally (and I mean nominally) heated by the converted Tower One. Tower One was incapable of comfortably heating the basement, the first, and second floors, but it was all I had these past years to keep the house from literally freezing.

For, some heat is better than no heat.

Justin had already arrived, and then Travis and Brett from Modern Air. Scott arrived a bit later. So, the house was full of guys to  get the radiator system online. The chilled air was scented with testosterone.

And we manly men went to work.

And, yes, manly men so do not react as such, but: Whoee!!!!!!!! 


We all checked and double-checked every pipe and every fitting and every radiator.

Sooooooo manly!

Everything seemed good for launch, Houston!

Then, as all of us, you know, guys stood in the boiler room as Travis opened the water valve, releasing water back into the system.

Us guys held our breath. As our many ears were tuned for the worst: flowing water.

But…but…we heard nothing.

Travis looked at all of of guys. Us guys all looked back. And we all…smiled. Manly smiles, of course.


But…damn…fuck…it soon proved the worst of days.


A T-fitting was cracked. Fuck. Fuck! The system had to be shut down, the water drained, and the cracked T-fitting replaced. I stood, my soul assaulted, as hundreds and hundreds of unexpected dollars soon vanished from my wallet to repair this.


About ninety minutes later, and with me the poorer, the cracked T-fitting was replaced.

Houston! We are ready to resume the countdown to launch!

But…but…oh fuck…FUCK!…it soon proved the ever-more-worst of days.



After, again, filling the miles of pipes with water, Scott asked me: “Is that dripping water?”

He was pointing to a pipe in the basement.

Which did, indeed, have some water dripping from it.

While this was, obviously, a concern, I was not alarmed.

I would soon be.


Scott and I stared at the dripping pipe. And during the next five minutes we traced the drips to…a horror.

OMG. Please, dear God, please, tell me this is NOT happening.


The dripping basement pipes were traced to SOMETHING very wrong above the parlor celling on the first floor. A ceiling which now had a line of water droplets dangling, ominously, from it.


The Cross House has, I am pretty sure, 5297 acres of ceilings.

But only a single room ceiling is actually done. Only one ceiling has been laboriously hand-painted to glorious completion.

And which ceiling was being destroyed by evil burst pipes?

Yep. That ceiling.


All us manly guys were now shrieking like six-year-old-girls: SHUT THE WATER OFF! DRAIN THE SYSTEM! And then I climbed up a ladder and then — EEEEEEEK! — cut holes through my GORGEOUS finished parlor ceiling to find the fucking burst pipe. You can see more damage to the seam to the right.


And inside the ceiling the culprit was discovered. A pipe, long ago with issues, which had been “repaired” with putty. Putty! PUTTY!!!!!!!!


With each passing minute we all stood with ever-increasing horror as the parlor ceiling manifested more damage. Even my beloved oculus was damaged. And at this point my eyes began to well up with so-not-manly tears. This was NOT happening.


Then water began pouring through the chandelier. We hung a bucket to keep the water from the finished floor.



But it was.

It was.

We hurriedly pushed all the furniture to the side and rolled up the rug. Scott raced out to his truck and came back with large towels. We used them to soak up the water on the floor.


All us guys stood in the now wreaked parlor, which has been pristine just ten minutes before, and breathed some relief when the damn damn damn water stopped dripping dripping dripping from the ceiling.

Water = Evil.

Travis and Brett then bypassed the damaged pipe/radiator.

And we all held our breath as the water was turned back on.


Can a person age ten years in ten minutes?


With the water back on, and the evil pipe bypassed (hundreds more dollars flying out of my wallet), us guys had to go to every radiator in the house (I think there are 2,967 radiators, surely?) and open a little valve to let air rush out while the system filled with water.

We each stood next to a respective radiator as it filled with water, pushing out the air. The process resulted in a quiet HISS from each little valve.


And then, after ten minutes, maybe fifteen, the hissing air would, in an instant, be replaced with a stream of water,

I yelled: “Travis! This radiator just pissed on me!”

But I learned something vital.

A pissing radiator is a good thing.


About an hour later, every radiator was filled with water. Every radiator had taken a leak.

And…no more unauthorized leaks were discovered.


And my mood transformed, incrementally, from defeat into — dare I think it? — victory.


The miles of pipe were filled with water.

And no more ruination was cast upon the Cross House.

Victory? Dare I hope?

Dare I?


With the miles of pipes now filled with water, the boilers were turned on.

Boiler #1 fired up!

Boiler #2 fired up!

Boiler #3…gave us guys the finger.

Boiler #4…gave us guys another finger.

And…ahhh…you know…I really hate boilers with an attitude.


Hours later Travis and Brett had boiler #3 running, and more money vanished from my wallet.

But there proved no hope for boiler-with-an-attitude #4.

However, during the intervening hours, the radiators in the Cross House…heated up! They heated up! THEY FRIGGIN’ HEATED UP!


Today was the best of days.

Today was the worst of days.

For, today was the day I have waited years for: getting the radiator system online.


Late in the afternoon, as the temperature rose to a balmy 12 degrees, the 123-year-old radiator system in the Cross House…came alive.

Each radiator grew warmer and then ever warmer. And then hot! HOT!!!!!!!!

When all seemed OK, Travis and Brett left in the very late afternoon.

Scott had departed hours previously.

So, it was just Justin and myself in the house as daylight transformed into night.

The three working boilers were humming, their sound of victory resonating throughout the house.

And Justin inquired: “We need to drink some red wine, and sit our butts on a radiator.”

Some wine was found in the house. Two glasses, too.

And our butts (fabulous butts, no less!) were soon sitting, in glorious pleasure, upon the ever-so-hot radiator in the library.

NOTE: No butts in history have ever been more pleased.


Today was the worst of days.


And I feel dread faint regarding the work involved in restoring the parlor ceiling.

But…oh, baby, oh sweet baby…the radiator system in the 1894 Cross House is alive again. IT’S ALIVE! IT’S ALIVE!

So, no matter the price and the pain, I am gloriously happy.




38 Responses to Oh. Oh! OH! Oh….FUCK!!!!!!!!

  1. The damage to the ceiling and the oculus just breaks my heart. Aahahahah. So very sorry to hear about that.

    But the radiators working: I’m so very, very happy for you. And for the house. Damn, what a lot of work.

    I’ll be in town this week and I might stop by with a celebratory bottle of red wine, or perhaps, a consolation. Or one of each.

  2. “…I anticipate Travis and Justin and myself squealing like little girls. “EEEEK!! Another leak! Another leak!” I anticipate the newly finish parlor ceiling collapsing from water from some pipe gone bad…” You called it, Ross. The radiator gods will have their sacrifice before granting your wishes! Hope that does it, but your vision and success in rendering functional such a vast, ancient and complex system cannot be denied.

  3. Oh my goodness, not the parlor ceiling!! How does one even say “sorry to hear that,” regarding something so…. UGH!

    What has to happen with it now?

  4. Fuuuuuk who fixes radiator piping with putty. At least the disaster you have been dreaming about happened and it’s fixable. We have the technology, the ceiling can be repaired and be even more amazeballs than it was.

    And you can be warm whilst fixing it.

  5. I can’t even imagine how crushed you must have been at the sight of your beautiful ceiling being damaged within minutes. As you said, the ONLY ceiling that was finished, painted and gorgeous. Happily the radiators turned into a victory to compensate. Good luck with the fixing of the parlor’s ceiling. I think you’ll do it quickly or you’ll just feel depressed every time you sit your (fabulous) butt in your parlor’s sofa and look up.

  6. Oh my – I’m so sorry! And congratulations ??

    I don’t know the first thing about radiators and boilers but the whole time reading this my mind is imagining other pipes having issues as days or weeks go by? Is this a concern or once they hold they are good for the long haul? I don’t mean to be an alarmist, just a worry wart.

    Hoping I’m worrying for nothing!

  7. I honestly wept while reading this post. (By the way, I read every single one of your posts, even tho’ I don’t normally comment).

    Yeah, it is a TOTAL drag that the one freaking (ornately) finished ceiling in Cross House was “damaged” by a leaking rad pipe, but, my very good man!! Piffle! This is but a small speed-bump in getting the rad system up & functioning almost to full capacity!! A SMALL price to pay!! Yes, I too wish that there had been a perfect opening night, but – WTF – the best heating system EVER invented – still and probably forever – is now working in your beloved Cross House!! This is cause for HUGE celebration, and frankly, tears of joy and accomplishment!! I cried with joy. You are SO to be commended, Ross. Forge on!!

    I don’t know if you remember my Old House story – to be brief – we saved our 1904 2-story house from being demolished to make way for a new river dike in our town – we live right alongside the Red River – had to move it over on our lots & raise it up – entire new foundation, back addition, etc. We had to rip out all the basement electrical & plumbing, including all the basement rad pipes, and after killing ourselves for three years, were very nervous and excited to get things hooked back up and operational again – felt the same anticipation mixed with a definite tinge of dread – had some leaks, but – WTH – caught them fast /fixed them, and all is wonderful again. It has been down to 58 below here in northern rural MN in the past 2 weeks – as I write this to you I can hear the Winter winds howling outside, along with the beautiful background hum of my hot water boiler in my basement – and I am snug as a bug in a rug, with my beautiful radiators, in all the right places, warming my beloved home (and my mittens). Every single person that I know who has a forced air heating system walks into my home and says: “Man, it is lovely & warm in here, And the air isn’t dry at all – what?” Bwahahahaha – yes, soon this will also be your reality.

    To paraphrase a wonderful statement from a favorite book of mine, “Wind In The Willows”….”there is nothing, simply nothing, like a fabulous radiator system”.
    Much love to you, always. xox

  8. Horrible Ross!!! But…I’d expect nothing less from you. Memories from the Monkey House abound at least in my mind. The Banister House too.

    Must say that the bucket on the chandelier matched nicely.

    Truly hope you are well and carry on regardless!

  9. I read your title and wondered what kind of overly dramatic post is this going to be about that requires such harsh language. Then I scrolled down half way and saw the picture of the dripping ceiling. I felt sad for you. Of all the rooms that had to have a leak in the ceiling it had to be that one. At least the heating system is fixed for now and I know you’ll repair the ceiling so well that no one will ever have known there was water damage. If I could shove a bottle of wine through my iPad and it come out through your computer screen, I would.

  10. Repeat after me: Mechanical s working 1st, pretty is ALWAYS last. I have watched this play out time and time again. You MUST do the not pretty hard things first and the pretty is always last. The restoration order as set by the Old House gods must always be observed, Roof, gutters, chimney, Electrical,HVAC, plumbing THEN and only then the pretty stuff.

    • Yes, but when you’re working basically alone on the night job of restoration, to come in from the day job to see all the undone hard things without anything to refresh the spirit is depressing. I fixed up my front parlor–woodwork, walls, chandelier just to have somewhere to rest my eyes and encourage my hopes. Then I jacked up the house and put a new foundation under it. Wall cracks looked like the delta of the Nile, but I’m a dab hand at spackling and don’t regret repeating myself.

      • John, I agree.

        With any long-term project such as the Cross House, I advocate for getting at least one room pretty ASAP.

        This is what I call the Sanity Room. This is where you can flee to when the project gets overwhelming. This is the room that will affirm: THIS is what it is all for.

        The finished parlor has given me a huge boost since its completion last spring. The disaster of yesterday is repairable. With the repairs completed, the room will again fuel me enormously.

        It is well worth it!

  11. Oh no! Not the only ceiling that is ready! (I know how important it is for the mood to have at least one room ready in the midst of the dust.)

    Coming from a country where central heating is standard I’m wondering that they layed the pipes transversal in the ceiling. Normally you go up in the walls in a supply shaft and then with small pipes (in former times they were thicker to use the system by gravity, too, and not only by pump operation) around the room a few inches above floor/ baseboard level to the radiators. The pipes are either in the walls or in former times normally in front of the walls (we have massive stone or framework walls here).

    Meike from Germany

  12. ROSS! The House has truly breathed a deep sigh and is surely alive in a whole new way. Because I know you guys, I could hear the expression . . . expressed! You’re so good at showing not telling in your writing 🙂 I absolutely love the picture of you and Justin warming on the radiator enjoying a glass of wine at the end of a harrowing day. If I’d known what was happening I would’ve brought you each a slice of lemon cake 🙂

  13. This line with the para preceding is inspired writing – “The chilled air was scented with testosterone.” – I LOL’ed.

    Great post with a happy ending.

  14. Would it make you feel any better if I told you that I lost my entire kitchen this way recently? I woke up at 3:30AM to the sound of heavy rain…in my kitchen. A pipe burst on the 2nd floor, and 4,000 gallons of water made it’s way to the basement via my kitchen, where it flooded my boilers. The kitchen was a total loss, and similarly to your parlor, it was one of the only rooms in the house that was very nearly finished. The ceiling crashed down into the room just as I was running across the dining room…anyhow, we are getting a new kitchen now; the wife will love it, and for once, I am not having to do it all myself. I appreciate how you feel, but at least you have your heat up and going. Doesn’t the radiating warmth feel great on these cold days? Sorta like being bear-hugged by a HUGE Care-Bear, LOL…

  15. That just sucks! I feel so awful for you. Just hope that is the only hiccup you will have. And really, hot water heat is just the best. I put up with window ACs because I just love the hydronic heat. May your warm radiators bring you much happiness. This too will pass.

  16. Ross I am so so so very sorry, It breaks my heart to see this. The tears welled up in my eyes as I seen the water drops on your beautiful ceiling. What a bittersweet post. What a cruel joke the boiler Gods have thrust upon you. I have always thought that your ceiling looks like a beautiful opal. Please say you will recreate it. Maybe will go quicker knowing that you will be making your repairs in the heat. Also did you get my email about the globes and light other light fixtures that I am looking for to go in a 1903 home.

  17. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” Charles Dickens

    “It was the best of times, it was the…blurst of times! You stupid monkey!” Charles Montgomery Burns

  18. I used to work in a cathedral. There was a water leak…somewhere…but they couldn’t find where. So they had the plumbers put Peppermint oil in the pipes and asked the staff to walk all over the cathedral, smelling for Peppermint. After a while, Peppermint was smelled in a back office, walls were torn down, and the pipes were fixed. It was a very efficient trick.

  19. I think that I might leave the damaged ceiling as is as the first and the last completed project in the house. It would stay that way until the rest is done. I might repair the holes that you had to cut. All of your followers, when touring the house, admiring your work in whispers, would look at it and say knowingly, “See, he’s not perfect,that is where the putty repaired pipe leaked when the radiator system was turned on.” We could then go home and feel better about our own projects. I am not saying that you should do this. I am again demonstrating that I am crazier than you.
    -On another note, epoxy putty is a great pipe repair if the damage is where it can be formed into an actual repair of the pipe. It requires much less damage to ceilings and such and often does not require you to take out old pipes or fittings. They advertise that it is as strong as the steel itself. Plumber’s putty is useless where water is under pressure.

    • A pressure test might show that there is a leak somewhere, but with most of the pipes inside walls and ceilings, there wouldn’t be much way to locate the leak.

        • I was wondering about a pressure test too. It might not have revealed the location as fast as the water did, but it would indicate that there’s a leak and the system should not be filled with water.

          On a much smaller scale, when I have to find leaks in automotive systems (A/C, evaporative fuel) I pressure test them with nitrogen. When a leak is indicated, I pressurize the system with nitrogen smoke. Then go looking for smoke.

          Leaks in walls and ceilings would take awhile to find, but it’s possible.

          We will all be waiting patiently to see what the restored ceiling will look like!

  20. Wow, what a rollercoaster of emotion! I’m sorry to hear of the damage, but glad you succeeded in getting the system up and running again. It’s definitely worth it, and I’m glad you didn’t take the “easy” route and tear out the radiators. We looked at one house that had the radiators removed and replaced with forced-air, and quickly excluded it from consideration. They’re such a part of a house of that era, and provide such good heat.

    Hopefully the damage to your new ceiling appears worse than it is, and can be spot-repaired.

    When we were working on our heating system this fall, we also encountered several old fittings that unexpectedly cracked. One of them actually cracked when we were loosening a pipe that threaded into it (so it wasn’t caused by over-tightening, as is often the case with NPT fittings). I can attest to how frustrating that is. We still have one very small leak in a fitting in our boiler room, but it’s slow enough to evaporate before dripping to the floor, and in an unfinished room with a floor drain, so I’m just waiting until springtime to address it.

  21. Just now catching up on this earlier post of yours. So sorry, you deserve to have every day a wonderful day, considering what you are doing. This last year since Pumpkin head stole into the White house has been really tough for me. I love what you are doing, but it is your writing that makes me feel better after each post. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  22. You should put a modillion under the light. I just finished the restoration of my 1856 home and i bought one and it looked great!

    • Agreed, a ceiling medallion on an 1856 home would look great! But the Cross House never had ceiling medallions, which has gone kinda out of fashion by 1894.

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