Water, why do you have to be so water-y?

We have been having a ridiculous winter this year. Very warm, until it became ridiculously cold and then warm again. I don’t even want to think about what these extreme temps and the thaw/freeze cycles are doing to the portions of our façade still covered in paint. (oh, but I do…).

During yesterday’s torrential downpour of epic proportions, I was ready with our two shop vacs to bail water from the cellar. We have done extensive work to keep the water outside and we succeeded for most part. The French drains in the back yard encourage rain water to go into the ground, rather than into our cellar, but the wild card has been our neighbor. See, when you live in a row house, what happens next-door doesn’t always stay there.

Last winter our cellar flooded twice because of burst pipes in the adjoining brownstone. It was not fun. Since there has been a lot of work going on next-door, I figured with the amount of water falling form the sky, surely some of it would find itself into the nether parts of our house. To my surprise, our cellar stayed completely dry. Yey!

But like everything in an old house, victories are short lived. There is always something lurking around the corner, ready to whack you upside the head to wipe that smile off your face (where it clearly doesn’t belong). This time, water figured a different way in. Like a civilized person, it came in through the front door.

The day started, innocently enough, with a me trying to clean the encaustic tile in the entry way. It’s pretty gross and in need of some elbow grease.

Tile Before

In googling how to clean encaustic tile, I found that everything involved purchasing some kind of cleaning product, something that would involve me leaving the house and spending money, none of which I was inclined to do right there and then. Instead, I decided to use the same stuff I use for cleaning our old bathtub: A paste made of baking soda, dish soap and water. It’s a mild abrasive that shouldn’t harm the tile.

(I did learn that ye old timey Victorians kept this tile looking presentable by applying weekly coats of wax or oil. Some of the oil may have been absorbed into the tile for good, hence some blotchy-ness).

(Personally, I just think this area has long been neglected and hasn’t seen some soap and water in a long long time)


I merrily applied my environmentally friendly home-made paste and scrubbed with a small brush.


Some of the grime came off pretty easily.

Test Clean

But it clearly requires more work, or else I wouldn’t have to point out the clean area… There are stubborn stains that didn’t come off with the first pass. Since the entryway  needs work (see broken tiles), I’m not ready to go all out and clean it so that it can be sealed. I just want it not to be absolutely gross.

Water on the floor.jpg

I was making (slow) progress, but the floor was (slowly) looking a bit more presentable, as seen on the left side of the photo. However, I noticed that no matter how much I wiped it down, the floor was getting progressively wetter.

Turns out yesterday’s rain came from the south, directly hitting the façade of the house (normally rain hits the back of the house). As the storm grew stronger, more water started pouring from under the door and from the mail slot.

So it was time to bust out the old junky towels. Soaked through 3 beach towels before it was all done. And by then, I didn’t feel like cleaning anymore. So we’ll try again some other time. There is still a lot of grossness to be removed from the pretty pretty tiles.


(here is what I used to make the paste: 1 cup baking soda, 2-3 tablespoons of dish soap, enough water to make it a paste).



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