11 March 2013

Bread, birds, and cloudbursts

It started off as pleasant, sunny Sunday, but it ended with a bang. Rain was forecast for the end of the day and into the evening, but we didn't expect the déluge.

"Light bread" for toast and sandwiches

In the morning, I decided to make a loaf of what we used to call "light bread" where I grew up. That's bread "lightened" with yeast, as opposed to heavier breads like, say, cornbread, which are made with baking powder (levure chimique in French). It's sandwich bread, loaf bread, or, in French, pain de mie.

A tight fine crumb is what you want in pain de mie. More and more French people
are using bread machines (MAPs or machines à pain) to make their own daily bread.

It came out pretty nice. We don't have a bread machine, by the way. We use our Kitchenaid stand mixer and also do some of the kneading by hand.

Then I watched some birds nesting in a hole at the top of the trunk of a birch tree that we had to have cut off a few years ago. The birds are insect-eaters called "blue tits" — we see them and the larger "great tits" all the time.

Nesting behavior

Around four p.m., I was on the phone with my mother. We had a bad connection and got cut off twice. I don't know why. And then I noticed that dark clouds were coming in from the west. I told my mother I needed to go walk the dog before the rain started, and that I'd call again in a few days and we could hope for a better line.

Storm clouds moving in from the west

So I went out for the walk with Callie and was back home by 5:00, when the bottom fell out. It poured and I was glad I'd gone out early. Hard showers alternated with bright light from the setting sun.

Then darkness fell and lightning and thunder started. The lightning wasn't too close to us, but the thunder was strong enough to rattle the roof tiles. You know, those heavy tiles just hang on slats — they're not really attached to anything — and the shock wave from the lightning shook the whole house, setting the roof tiles clattering. It was unnerving. Callie was nervous and started barking at the noise.

Next came the déluge. At first it sounded like hailstones hitting the roof tiles and, worse, pounding against the Velux skylight-style windows. I sat up there in the loft thinking, what if hail breaks the glass in the windows? How would be keep the rain out?

Rainwater pouring in through a crack in the kitchen ceiling — not ideal...

I went downstairs to open a bedroom window and stick a hand out to see what it was that was falling from the sky. It turned out to be rain — huge, heavy drops. That was a relief. Suddenly I heard a strange popping noise from the direction of the kitchen. It sounded almost like popcorn popping.

It turned out to be water dripping into the room through a crack in the ceiling, directly above the microwave oven. This has happened before, but the first and only other time we had such a spectacular leak was in June 2007. We actually had some roof work done last fall to try to fix it. We were optimistic that it had worked. No such luck.

The water was dripping heavily out of a crack about three feet long. We put pots and dishes under it to catch as much of the water as we could. We deployed many towels. We quickly grabbed the microwave and a lot of other kitchen things and moved them out of the way. The dripping continued for fifteen or twenty minutes, until after the heavy rain stopped.

Lots of towels, pots, and dishes

Now we have to try again to figure out what the cause is. It only leaks when we have extremely heavy rain in sudden downpours. Three different roofers have inspected that part of the roof and none has found any real sign of a problem. It leaks where the main roof and the dormer roof form a valley overhead.

It could be worse, I guess. A couple of hundred miles north of us, along the Normandy coast from the Mont St-Michel to Le Havre and Rouen, they're having heavy snow right now. They might get as much as 6 or even 8 inches, and high winds will cause drifting. March! Yuck.


  1. Ken, you say your leak is in a valley between two bits of roof?
    We had a similar problem inbetween two of our dependances... it badly degraded the wall there and we had to have it repaired.
    The following year we had the two outbuildings reroofed.

    Lo and behold... the gutter wasn't one piece of metal... but two... it couldn't be seen until the tiles came off as the smaller, overlying strip, that merely formed a shallow gutter, looked intact to all inspections.

    What was happening here was, in "normal" rain, the replacement gutter worked fine... in heavy rain, it flowed over the shallow sides, underneath and through the holes in bottom of the original, much deeper gutter.

    That kept the mortar nice and damp and it began to die!!

    As it was a relatively short run [2.5metres], we were advised by our roofer to let him replace it with a stainless steel gutter [at about 50% more than a zinc one] that would last many lifetimes.
    The visible end is a tad shiny when compared to the dull grey of the zinc downpipe... but I would prefer anything to a collapsing wall!!

    Bonne Chance with yours.

  2. I forgot to give the reason for the shallow one... it was able to be slid into place without the tiles being removed... a hasty, but cheeepa repair!

  3. The usual reason you get intermittent or irregular leaks like that is to do with wind direction. Some leaks only occur when the wind is strong and in a particular direction. But I would assume your roofer would have thought of that. The wind can whip rain up and under in all sorts of surprising directions. We had endless problems with a couple of the historic houses owned by the organisation I worked for in the UK.

    We had hail yesterday briefly, but no real downpour.

  4. Tim, you could well be on to something. I think we are going to have the roofer take the tile off the roof this summer and replace the flashing with stainless steel or whatever, in a wider strip.

    Walt was up on the ladder inspecting the valley this morning and he said there is definitely debris (dead leaves, twigs) stuck in there under tiles. The debris might be causing a dam. I am worried about the kitchen ceiling being badly damaged by the humidity.

    Susan, it could be wind direction too. We were so busy mopping up and trying the keep the dog calm that we weren't paying attention to the wind. Our roofer successfully fixed the problem with seepage that we had around the Velux windows upstairs, so I think he knows what he is doing.

    No hail here that I detected, but torrents of rain.

  5. Holy cow, what a frustrating and worrisome thing. My mom had a sudden flood come in through a bathroom skylight a year or so ago-- never had ever happened before in that spot, but we had a huuuuge wind and rain storm, and it just pulled up the flashing around the skylight long enough for the wind to blow torrents of rain in. Hers was fixed easily enough by roofing tar, but, of course, your construction is completely different-- just saying that the wind can change everything!

    Your bread looks wonderful! How fortunate that you and Callie got in before the deluge.

  6. Ken, I was going to mention about the rain fall direction, since I have a leak when the rain comes in from the north, which is rarely. Driven by the wind, it usually ends up in an area where one would never dream of.
    I hope you find the source of the problem soon.

  7. I too would think that sometimes the wind could blow rain up under the roof tiles if it and the rain were strong enough....an flashing is always an issue.....haha

  8. You have some savvy readers, Ken! Glad you have enough pots to catch most of the water.

    Your bread looks Wonder-derful;-)

  9. Hi E., we made tuna salad and open-face tuna melt sandwiches with cheddar cheese for lunch. Ah, life in France!

  10. Sorry to read about the leak in the kitchen. I have no solution to offer, but you should tend to it as soon as possible. Water - although indispensable - can be a real nuisance. I know what I'm talking about ... remember! Good luck. Martine

  11. Martine, I know what you mean. Sorry to read about the wintry weather you are having... Ken

  12. Most of the timer, the roof is not leaking directly over the place where the water is dripping in.

  13. We had a valley leak repaired this winter too. It had been leaking into the wall for two years before it got bad enough for us to figure out that's why we were getting efflorescence on the grout on the adjacent tile floor.

    Roofing problems make me nervous; good luck with yours.

    Any problem can be improved by making bread.

  14. If it only happens once every six years or so it's not so bad.....we had this problem in our garage, it was fixed with complete new flashing.


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