My Roof Might Kill Me.

When we closed on our house, I bought this book called Renovating Old Houses because I figured it would be chock-full of interesting and valid information that would come in handy as a new renovator of an old house. Reading through the book later on, I was quickly filled with an all-consuming sense of dread: what the hell have I done. While informative, the book basically chronicles everything that can go wrong in an old house——which is to say, everything. Everything can go wrong in an old house. If it isn’t the foundation, it’s the roof, and if it isn’t the roof, then it’s the framing. The electrical will probably start a fire, the plaster will fall apart, and——of course——the asbestos will kill you eventually. I read through about half of it before I felt that it would be better for my mental health if I gave the book a little break for a while to recover from my house-hypochondria. All of a sudden, I couldn’t just see all the beautiful old things——instead, only a collection of problems, or potential problems, and a future full of regret and failure.

Old houses are difficult beasts by definition. They were built at a time before standardization, and before modern construction methods. Sometimes, that’s a good thing. Other times, it’s a massive pain in the ass.

roofold roofold3 roofold2

We knew the roof was a problem before we bought the house, and intended to have it replaced in the near future. It wasn’t until we started living there that the “near future” became somewhat pressing. I came to be one of those people who dreaded sudden shifts in weather——each new rainstorm bringing slow (and…not slow) leaks of water into various areas of my home. We did our best to do some temporary patching, but we knew the roof needed to be replaced ASAP. Because of the way our home was built——a main section with various additions over time——we have a few different types of roofing. The main pitched roof was clad metal shingles (probably installed in the 1920s?), and all of the low-slope or flat sections were covered in sheet metal, covered up over the years by rolled asphalt roofing or gallons of tar. Metal roofing is really beautiful and extremely long-lasting, but unfortunately when it isn’t properly maintained (painted every few years, that kind of thing), it tends to corrode. It corrodes further when the repair method is covering leaking sections (or the whole thing!) with loads of tar——it works well for a while, but is a very temporary solution until the tar cracks and buckles and separates from the substrate (and further corrodes the metal). This “temporary” repair method has probably been used on our house for…oh, 50 years. Not awesome.

Eventually we found a roofing contractor (long story, not worth it) who came in at a reasonable price (and offered financing options), and we scheduled the work. Things were going super well, like so:

Roofattic

Oh yeah, did I ever mention that our whole house is insulated with brick and mortar? Well. It is.

roofing

roofbeforeafter

And then they weren’t.

The problem is our house.

Remember that thing I said about old houses being difficult and complicated? Well. Unlike modern homes, our house is outfitted with a built-in gutter system called box gutters, which is part of the whole structure of the roof. I made a simplified technical drawing to illustrate. Excuse my chicken-scratch.

diagram1

Basically this means that the gutter itself is built into the cornice of our house, as opposed to the  regular aluminum gutters that contemporary homes have. The gutter structure is built out of wood and then lined with metal (or sometimes rubber, if it’s been redone recently). The problem with this elegant solution to water drainage is that a lot can go wrong over time——the house settles, a leak develops in the metal lining, or if you’re like us, both! Both awful things have happened, meaning that water leaked into the gutter system for a really long time and caused a whole mess of rot.

I was aware that this could be a problem, but every roofing contractor who looked at our house (not just the ones we hired) proclaimed our box gutters A-OK and good candidates for a quick re-lining job.

HA. HA. HAHAHAHAHAHA. *bursts into tears*

I’m the sort of annoying homeowner who lingers around whenever work is being done on my house, so when I climbed up onto the roof to check on the progress, I immediately saw some problems. The original tar-covered metal lining had been partially torn off, and underneath was a horror show——nothing but remnants of the original gutter structure remained, mostly comprised of completely rotted little splinters of wood.

rot

And it wasn’t just this gutter (although——hopefully——this is the worst). It was all the gutters that they’d exposed. Luckily at this point they’d only torn off half the areas of roofing (and gutter lining), so I immediately told everyone to stop what they were doing so we could assess the situation before opening up more cans of worms. Good move, Kanter.

Basically what happened to this gutter can be explained by this second (exaggerated for dramatic effect) technical drawing I composed for your viewing pleasure.

diagram2

The box gutter SHOULD  slope within the cornice down to a terminal at the end, where water is then released onto the ground via a downspout. But on our house, over the course of 150 years, not only did the gutter lining develop leaks, but the entire wall of the house (and the cornice) bowed out, causing the cornice to settle with a slope at both ends toward the center. Water began to leak through the gutter lining, and then settle in the middle, rotting some of the wood of the cornice and continuing to eat away at the gutter structure. Just terrific.

To make things even more fun and exciting, this kind of repair is beyond what our roofing contractor could address——it’s really carpentry, at this point, and a fairly specialized type of repair. So basically they covered all the exposed gutters with ice & water barrier and told us we needed to fix it ourselves or hire someone who could, and it needs to happen within the next month or so, before there’s massive amounts of cold and rain and SNOW to ruin our house/life.

The whole thing was absolutely devastating, honestly, and I don’t say that about a lot of things. I panicked. I went to the hardware store and bought some tools and supplies and wood. Then I got on the roof and basically didn’t get off for three days. It was cold. I might have been sick, both physically and in the head. It was awful. I wanted to be dead, but I thought maybe I could fix it myself and really, really didn’t want to deal with contractors or pay contractors lots of money to do something that my pea-brain thought I could maybe conceivably handle myself.

meonroof

I really tried.

EFFORT

At various points I thought I was doing super well and maybe I was an amazing carpenter/roofing prodigy, but Sunday night basically ended with me shivering on my roof, head in my hands, trying to figure out what to do next. I needed to come to terms with the fact that this is just beyond what I’m capable of dealing with by myself, for the following compelling reasons:

  1. I don’t really, actually know what I’m doing. I don’t think this repair is exactly rocket science, but it’s dumb for me to think I can do it correctly without any real knowledge of how to do it correctly. I’m not sure I can possibly make things worse, but I also don’t want to do it all wrong, cause further damage, or need to have it all redone in the next few years because I was too stubborn to hire somebody the first time around.
  2. I have no time for this. There are a lot of exposed gutters right now, and I’m under no illusions that upcoming rain/snow aren’t going to make all of this SO much worse. I need this to be fixed quickly, and doing it myself is not going to make it go quickly.
  3. There’s a problem of scale at work here. I’m one person, and even if I knew how and had the time, I can’t fix this many linear feet of gutter, half of it while balanced precariously on a ladder.

I’m not the sort of person who cries in moments of self-pity and dejection, but if I were, I would be. I know I try to keep things light and fun and happy around these parts (and I debated even writing this post), but honestly? This feels awful. I feel like I’ve destroyed my house. I know it’s just a dumb cornice and some dumb gutters, but this all feels overwhelming and insurmountable and sad.

We’ve had a couple of contractors out over the last few days who are familiar with rebuilding box gutters, though, and I think things are looking up. One of them in particular I LOVED, and his quote was actually relatively affordable, so hopefully he’ll be able to shuffle his schedule around and I’ll be writing a big update a couple of weeks from now about how he is amazing and solved all of our problems and I didn’t even have to sell my organs or anything AND my house has wonderful and reliable drainage that I’ll never have to touch again.

Hopefully. Fingers crossed, big time.

OK. Make me feel better. What’s the worst thing that ever happened during your renovation? Ready, go.


193 Comments

  1. Our house is only 70 years old and the worst we’ve had to deal with is mold from a leaky roof and some dry rot. But chin up, Buttercup! This too will pass and hopefully be the worst thing you find in your beautiful old house.

  2. Roof problems suck! We tried to repair our roof too and spent days trying to scrape off all the old tar and paint so we could lay down a rubberized coating. We did the smallest section of the roof and then gave up. It was too much work for a short-term fix and too dangerous for us to do the main roof and we had so much anxiety about doing it wrong and destroying this house that had survived 113 years of other home owners only to be undone by a couple idiots who thought roofing was within their abilities. So we just stopped and found a roofer who should start working later this month. I’ve been gearing up to write my post on it but I feel weirdly ashamed and embarrassed.

    • I totalllllly understand, Sommer! I knew that this might have been an issue, and for a long time I considered doing the low-slope/flat roofing myself. I bought a whole book about it! EPDM rubber really doesn’t seem very complicated to install, but the time and labor involved in the tear-off and repair work of these gutters would be an enormous undertaking without a team of worker, and it’s not like roofing is really one of those jobs you can take your time on! I get it, though. Hopefully your new roof goes on easier than ours!!

  3. Oh Daniel. I am so sorry. I hope things turn around for you.

  4. Houses be money pits. And not for the fun stuff. We’ve spent $2000 to decommission an oil tank that supposed to already be dealt with, and $5000 to redo a perfectly functioning sewer line. Simply because the house next door sold, and their sewer contractor turned us in to the city for the shared line IN ORDER TO GET THE JOB FROM US!

    Houses be money pits. You are not alone, and you will get past this.

    Katy

    • omg, that sewer line story. UGH.

      So true…the fun stuff is cheap in comparison to all the invisible things. Our cornice is going to look more or less the same as it did after it’s all fixed up, but my bank account won’t!

    • WHAT?! I would have gone with someone else, just because he was such a jerk.

  5. I was beginning to think you had little house angels watching over this reno for how well/lucky it’s been going.

    I feel your old house pain on this one!!

  6. Awww, Daniel, so sorry. I really feel for you, but I’m sure things will turn out just fine, just like you, Max and your gorgeous house deserve…Sometimes it’s just not worth saving money on something, I hope the contractor of your choice can come around soon.

    *fingerscrossed*

  7. If you set up a donation box, I would contribute. Seriously.

    • That’s very kind, Kelly, but I don’t think I’d ever be comfortable accepting money directly from readers. Thank you, though, really. It’s going to be OK, and we’ll make it work!

    • I had this thought, too! I’ve laughed a lot reading your blog and have really enjoyed your style. It would totally be worth sending a few dollars your way!

    • Yes, set up a donation box. I would contribute as well. I don’t think you realize how many of us just love you in a non weird way..sorta of. Your blog makes us happy and I know I eagerly check to see if you have any updates on it. Even if it is just a dollar, it will add up. Think of it this way, your readers are paying for THERAPY! ;)

      Do it!

    • Maybe set up an organ donation box then?!?! I’ve totally got an extra kidney I’d throw into the pot! Better mine than yours – – you have a job to do here, several actually…getting that house rebuilt and keeping us entertained. You’re doing an admirable job at both btw.

      • Hahahaha. SOMEBODY MUST SACRIFICE THEIR HEART FOR MY GUTTERS.

      • LMAO! Molly offers up a kidney, you go straight for the heart! (So sorry this is happening, but I’ve had a rough week with my own house and though I wouldn’t wish it on anyone else, there’s truly something comforting knowing you’re not in the boat alone.)

    • There are people who really need a roof over their head, or warm clothing, who might enjoy your donation. Perhaps make one on Manhattan Nests behalf?

  8. I’m just so sorry. You’ve done so, so great through this whole process, at least relative to anything I could ever do or be and I’ve found you to be just so inspirational. I hope it doesn’t turn out to be as bad as one could think it could be and no matter what happens, I really hope you write about it! Best of luck, guys! I’ll be thinking of you and sending good karma your way.

  9. Daniel, so sorry to hear about the roof troubles! It’s totally understandable that this is so upsetting – roof/gutter issues suck.

    Here’s a laugh for you, and I cannot believe I am publicly sharing this… Approximately 2 months after my husband and I became proud owners of a condo, he was out of town for business and I managed to clog the toilet. I tried everything I could think of to fix the problem and nothing worked. Then the pipes started making weird noises from me turning off/on the water supply so many times. First I panicked, then I came up with a brilliant solution: I’d just buy a new toilet, have a plumber come and install it all before my husband gets home and it would be like “Tada! I started remodeling our perfectly fine already updated bathroom. You like?” And all would be fine. So I went out and bought a fancy schmancy $300 toilet (why? I don’t know). When it was delivered, my building’s engineer saw it and informed me that our building needs specially fitted toilets and standard ones sold from big box stores won’t fit. Womp, womp. Return delivery would have cost me $100, so I tried to sell/craigslist/donate the thing instead. Well, I tried for 3 years before I just gave it to a friend of a friend who was remodeling a house. That meant for 3 years a toilet set in my bedroom closet, mocking me. Years later, my family still mocks me. Worst part was, my husband got home and fixed the toilet in about 2.5 seconds.

  10. What a bummer, I hope things turn around for you! We are nearly done fixing up our first house that’s 50 years old. We spent 4 years updating it, but nothing was catastrophic. Our 2nd home, which is only 13 years old is giving us WAY more problems! The day after we moved in the basement flooded and we had to replace the mainline sewer, the plumbers had to dig a 9ft deep hole in the middle of the front yard, right under a nice maple tree. Then we had a huge branch (from a tree outside of our property line) bust up the fence, then a freak storm threw the neighbor’s trampoline into the other side of our fence AND THEN a woodpecker pecked a bunch of holes in our wood siding. I feel your pain! Even “new” houses can be trouble.

  11. Hope things will go smooth from now on and be all finished before it gets too cold up there.

  12. My parents are currently renovating a 1960s house and building an addition. It includes a new basement, the contractor swore on the quality of insulation. We had a lot of rain lately and guess what… the basement currently looks more like a pool and they still can’t figure out what’s causing the leak. Hope everything ends well, both for you and them :) *fangirl mode* I love, love, love your blog!

  13. Wow! I am also willing to donate a bit if you set up a paypal button – I am living vicariously through your renovation…

    • me too! i soo enjoy reading this blog! all the best for your further reno from china!

  14. Well, I also have a shitty roof, that I was told was not leaking at time of purchase, was just super old. The worthless previous, previous owner probably pocketed the insurance money from a massive hail storm five years ago instead of replacing it. We asked the seller to replace it before closing and he refused. But hey, at least it’s not leaking right? We can wait a few months, right? Then we got a massive amount of rain (I think it’s up to ~15 inches now) in the last month and it started leaking. Into my bedroom. Onto my bed. God only knows if it’s leaking anywhere else and just hasn’t made it through the ceiling. And the insurance company made me wait two weeks for the adjuster to come and say “You’re SOL” when I could have had roofers looking at it instead and gotten a new roof by now. Yeah. And it keeps raining. Fucking roofs.

  15. Shit Daniel. That sounds like a nightmare. Here’s to hoping it’s the worst thing you encounter in this whole remodel and that the contractor will get it fixed asap. Until then, I suggest booze.

  16. We, too have had roof problems in our 140 year old house. We have a detached garage that our insurance company refused to insure until it was re-roofed. By far the worst thing that has happened though, is when we first bought the house. We got a letter in the mail from our insurance company saying they were dropping our coverage because of the peeling and flaking trim on our house. It was November. In Michigan. We couldn’t get a painting crew to save our lives. We spent two weeks in 30 degree weather stripping and priming two story farmhouse. Horrible. Also, just for giggles, my husband cut down a tree this weekend… and it landed right on our re-roofed garage. We must have bad karma.

  17. We’re still home shopping/browsing. But one of the homes we looked at was stunning (original floors, original windows, cute little farmhouse-now-in-the-city) until we realized that the “metal” shingles someone had used once upon a time, the ones that were starting to fall off, were 99% likely to be asbestos. AND in Washington, you’re not supposed to DIY anything with asbestos. *sad face*

    • Emily, i don’t know where in Washington you live (or if you live in the “other” Washington) but in Eastern WA, resident single family homeowners can do their own asbestos abatement. It is still hard work but the inspections are less stringent for owner occupied homes if you want to take it on yourself. This is a “how to” for removing asbestos siding from your residence.

      • Ryan,

        I am in Eastern WA! That’s good to know, I wasn’t finding any information, except on how it had to be done by a professional. Maybe we can afford to renovate an old home after all :)

  18. Daniel, I feel so very many of your woes! My husband and I have been married for 11 years and we’re on house #4 and remodel #4. Somehow we keep buying homes that need new bathrooms, living rooms, kitchens, roofs, driveways, windows — you name it, we’ve replaced it. A lot of it we’ve done ourselves with help from family and some of it we’ve hired out. The latest project we’ve completed is the kitchen in our current home. We just replaced/updated and had contractor help, thankfully, but it was still tough. Many things went wrong, it took longer than anticipated and cost more than was budgeted. But with each project we’ve learned something new (16 boxes of 12×12 floor tiles weigh a combined 800 lbs! That’s hard to move in and out of a car by yourself! TWICE!), gotten on each others nerves, laughed a whole lot and were reminded why we love to hate the process.

    Your blog is how I learned about subway tiles. In the past few months I have rallied hard for a white subway tile backsplash based on your kitchen. I rarely win these battles with my husband but I wore him down on this one. I am proud to say that a white subway tile backsplash is being installed in my kitchen right this very instant. And I have you to thank for that.

    You and Max have done so much wonderful work on this house already, this project will not do you in. It will drain your pockets and make you feel a bit humbled, but it won’t do you in. This too shall pass. And, to quote the Money Pit as my husband and I do frequently during projects in order to keep our sanity, “THE HOUSE IS GONNA BE GREAT!”

  19. I don’t own anything because I’m too chicken to commit. You, however, are brave! You’ll figure it out!

  20. Worrying about both a problem and the money required to solve it feels way worse than solving the problem and only having the money part left to think about. At least you’ll have a warm, dry place to look over your budget!

  21. Ugh how shitty. I wish I could make you feel better with horror stories of my own but all I’ve got are some light fixtures without junction boxes and a little bit of mold.

  22. My parents bought a 100+ year old victorian farm house with the intent of returning it to its former glory, but life got in the way. Throughout my childhood events like the family gathering to hoist a piece of plywood over a hole that formed when a part of the ceiling fell through overnight were unfortunately common. The plumbing upstairs is so bad that if you turn on the hot water knob, water will pour through the walls downstairs and flood the hallway, so there’s just a little masking tape x over those knobs that say “don’t use.” The electrical wire was insulated with paper (!!!) and when I was in second grade, we came home and the house smelled like smoke, and the volunteer fire department ripped out basically all of the wiring to find the source of what was about to be an inferno. The also sawed through the original wall moulding and floors in parts of the house. Old houses are beautiful but sometimes… shit happens. Addressing the problems as soon as they occur is all you can do. Hope everything works out for the best.

  23. I’m so sorry. Roofing problems are scary and stressful. I hope this contractor you found who knows box gutters can help you, and bravo for trying to fix it yourself.

  24. The entire roof (rafters and all) of my husband’s (then boyfriend) 1890 Victorian was completely rotted. When you walked in our attic, you were outside. I cried a lot, drank a lot, and prayed for no rain. My husband, his brother, and his friend rebuilt the entire roofline, and re-shingled it. It was a month long nightmare, and even thinking about it makes me want to cry. I feel for you Daniel…I have been there before!

  25. I just bought my first house and it’s old, but not GOOD old. It’s 1980s old. So I don’t have a commiserating story to share, but I will tell you that throughout my childhood my father would perform unconventional “fixes” for semi-minor problems. Such as stuffing an old t-shirt in a hole created by wood-boring bees, or declaring a moratorium on all laundry-doing so that he wouldn’t have to have a new leach field dug out. I’ll follow his lead when my house calls for repairs. It’s kind of a family tradition.

  26. I hope that you go with the contractor you love, that he loves your house and fancy cornice as much as you do, and that it gets done nice and quick! I am sure you will be able to juggle your money around to cover the unexpected expense. You can always try to get a loan from a credit union or bank for big repairs like this, or even from family if they have available funds. It will be worth the money to get it done right so that it will last forever.

  27. Ok (in roughly chronological order!):

    1. That bulging bubble of latex paint above our bed where water was coming in around the chimney.
    2. The day we had no roof and rain was in the forecast and we had to pull a gigantic tarp over our roof in the dark.
    3. Three years without a heating system.
    4. Asbestos Abatement.
    5. Digging out hardpan dirt in our crawl space with a freakin’ pick ax and hauling away countless loads of dirt.
    6. Basically rebuilding the entire structure of our house.
    7. Digging a moat around the house to install a real drainage system.
    8. Oh, when our neighbor’s sewer backed up into our basement!
    9. Oh, when Kyle ran the Bobcat into the corner of the house!
    10. When Bailey fell into the basement through some plastic sheeting (fortunately he’s like a cat and landed on his feet and didn’t hurt himself!).
    11. A few close calls with electrical.

    I’m sure there are a few more that I’m still repressing.

    It sucks big time when you’re in the middle of it but it does get better and is eventually worth it. Eventually. :) Hang in there! I was always quick to get discouraged but Kyle often was able to maintain a positive attitude which helped SO MUCh not only for general morale but allowed us to think clearly enough to come up with a solution (and there always was a solution).

  28. Been there, and lived to tell the tale.

    We too have an integral gutter across the front of our house – images here:

    http://thirdstory-ies.blogspot.com/2013/03/lucky-thirteen-love-story-and-attic.html

    Our “before” shots looked much like yours – except we just had the front (narrow) portion of our house to deal with – the two long sides were brick parapet walls and most of our house is covered with a flat roof that drains to a gutter in the rear. Still, disassembling and rebuilding that mansard / box gutter / cornice / dormer window about did us in. We begged contractors to bid the work and they just shook their heads. In the end we did it (mostly my husband because I smartly timed a pregnancy), and it was an immense amount of work. We hired out the copper work and the slate roof – and holy, moly, that was expensive. But it’s good to go for another 100 years, and I’ll be long gone before it has to be dealt with again.

    What’s the total linear feet of cornices / gutters on your house? It’s got to be a lot – I totally feel your pain, but it will get better.

    • Wow. Impressive. So your husband is a…contractor, right?

      • No, but we’re architects, and pretty detail oriented. We’re self taught on everything, and we’re slow but thorough!

  29. Oh, boy. We, too, are putting off the roof as long as we can… but now, well, I have a sinking feeling…

  30. Our worst story is when the roof of our condo building leaked. Apparently the company that was up there fixing the roof accidently knocked out part of the drainage vent and then it poured for three days. All the water ran down the outside of the pipe instead of the inside, taking out drywall and hardwoods all the way down the condo building until it reached the basement.

    We were on the first floor and the damage wasn’t as bad (I guess everyone else’s drywall soaked up most of the water). But it did take out the ceiling and one wall of the bathroom that we had JUST FINISHED RENOVATING LAST MONTH. The water pool ended up right in our basement storage unit, destroying everything on the floor.

    We’ve also had a few renovation surprises that strained our budget. Comfort yourself, if you can, with the fact that you will feel so much more confident and comfortable with your house once you KNOW your gutters are good. I remember we avoided looking in our drop ceilings for the longest time, afraid of what the wiring looked like. When we finally did, found the true horror of the situation, and fixed it, I really felt better. The the nagging worry in the back of my mind that one day our apartment would spontaneously burn down was gone.

  31. I love this post. Not because your roof & gutters & bank account are going down the drain (har har har, bad pun intended, sorry!!) but because it’s SO REAL. I totally would have been standing on the roof crying, telling my house how mad I was at it, and my husband that everything was the worst & that our house was a disaster & a complete death trap. And I would think that I ruined everything. But even though you felt that way, you didn’t. I just love that you are so real about it because so many other blogs make all this stuff seem like a cake walk or dont talk about how it’s easy to find yourself in the dark in a precarious situation, mad at your house, and feeling like you ruined everything. You’ll restore that beautiful old house to it’s former glory, but better, and we will all love to hear the tales. It’s a labor of love!

    • Agreed x1000! You’re an inspiration and I so appreciate that you don’t try to sugarcoat what a potential shit show renovating an old house is.

    • Totally! Wea re all felling for you guys and we all know it is going to be an awesome house!

  32. Oy vey times one hundred. In our last house, which was built in 1948, we had ice dams. And we live in Wisconsin, where it’s winter about 14 months of the year. When someone came to have them fixed, they took down part of a wall and showed us that water was just POURING down our walls – which could clearly lead to mold, etc. We had to vacate our house for 10 days while new walls were installed on both sides of our house. We then included foam insulation (see winter comment), framing, drywall, etc. I think it ended up costing close to $20K. Thankfully, insurance covered a lot of it, but staying in a hotel for 10 days with a toddler was no fun. Oh, and I got a sinus infection during that time and my husband developed Shingles. Yay, homes!

  33. Our next door neighbours and us have matching houses. We both seem to have a rising damp problem. Heritage preservation guy doing workshops at the local council came out to diganose our houses for free…
    Unlike the neighbours, our house does not have a damp proof course.

    Further: in about 2006, the two matching houses were re-tuckpointed. At the same time the contractor put some kind of cement coating over the limestone that looks exactly like limestone. Problem: it is waterproof, as is the acrylic paint on the inside of the house. So the damp coming up from the ground cannot evaporate. Heritage dude told us what would happen is it would try to evaporate out of the wall, could not, so would form a salt buildup that will nibble away at the limestone. Because it can’t evaporate, it would sink back in, then try come out again and form salt buildup again, and again, and again… Our walls are kind of dissolving, and the only fix is to strip all internal paint, and/ or pay someone tens of thousands to hand-remove a thin layer of render from the enter outside of our house with a chisel…

  34. Repeat after me: it’s not the foundation. It’s not the foundation. It’s not the foundation.

    And don’t ever go into your basement.

    • This is totally my mantra!! When one of my chimneys pulls away from the house, when the basement floods again, when the original copper plumbing gets so thin it disenigrates I keep saying “at least it isn’t the foundation.” Though what do you say when it is?

  35. Sometimes it pays to hire a professional…

    My now foreclosed upon neighbors rented a backhoe and tried to fix their lateral sewer line under cover of darkness, all the while shoveling contaminated mud into my side yard — next to my kitchen! Luckily the city intervened, but it was going to be a very bad scene if they’d proceeded. (Imagine a Beverly Hillbillies bubbling crude situation!)

    And sometimes the price does not justify the pay off…

    Our 1939 cottage sits on a questionable cinder block foundation, but the cost benefit analysis of making an expensive repair to a house that went up in value during the height of the bubble only to have the value plummet to a level that we could never recoup the $$$ we’ve invested over the last 24 years in other updates, well…you know where this is going. (I’m typing this (figuratively) with my fingers in my ears saying, “lalalalalalala.”)

  36. ok, I don’t have any scary/sad home reno stories because I don’t own a house! But in a tiny way, I’m sort of envious (?!) of your problem because, well, it means you have a sweet sweet house to play with! hoping this is the worst problem you encounter, and that in a few years when you are basking in the glory of your completed home, you can look back on this and (mostly) laugh!

  37. I feel your pain (though not yet about roofing, but definitely about every other project in my 100+ house). If it makes you feel better, my top three are:
    1. that time I turned on the sink in the upstairs, only to have it rain in the basement. One gargantuan hole in the wall followed by one gargantuan plumber bill gave me a new waste line there.
    2. that other time that I innocently began replacing a ceiling fan in the living room – only to discover the old one was hanging from a live gas line.
    3. and of course that upstairs bathroom renovation that I’m trying to wrap up caused by the drain lines that began leaking into the downstairs bathroom – that I had just finished renovating…

    But – it’s been made worth it by the many times friends have complimented the house – or even by the one time a new visitor said “your house just feels like home”. Stick with it Daniel!

  38. In my 6th grade year my mother decided to buy an old fixer-upper home on the Jersey Shore. It was a block from the beach and built probably in the 1800s. I can still remember two things:

    The electrician laughing at the outdated third floor wiring saying, “ma’am this whole house is a fire trap” and the unseen costs of rewiring out 3-story home.

    The foundation of the home was sinking into the soft sand and my mother had to hire people at a really hefty cost to come out to keep out home from being swallowed by mother nature.

    My first beach summer in the home was spent pulling up nails because gross carpet had been laid over plywood that was nailed all over the living, dining and great room as I believe some call it. It was not fun. The biggest boon for our home came when Jeff Goldblum came to our house wanting to shoot it for a straight to VHS movie. My mother ended up getting a lot of things knocked off the to-do list thanks to Hollywood including having a front banister built, a book-room added to our great room with custom shelves made for it plus a window seat and fresh paint on several rooms. My mother always called it “The Money Pit” and the worst is when I was in 10th grade we ended up down-sizing our lives never to see the home finished. All the work she/we/our family did on it was internal. The wiring and foundation costs ate through savings big time.

    This post made me sad but I feel like things go your way, dude. Maybe someone from Hollywood will knock on your door and bless your roof with new gutters.

    • Teresa, fascinating story… what was the Jeff Goldblum movie, if I could ask?

      • This story sounds more like my sexual fantasy than a reno story. Goldblum. Mmmm… okay. I will stop. : )

      • Sorry for the late reply: it was called ‘Fathers and Sons’

        Also if you find a copy he plays my mother’s grand piano in it and the two of them totally had a pianist-rap-session in our living room. It’s a TERRIBLE movie though; I cringed watching it on VHS D:

  39. My worst story was from when we did our kitchen. The kitchen connects to a small mudroom which connects to a powder room that was added on after the house was built, so was over a dirt crawlspace instead of the basement. Each of the three rooms had a different type of flooring- bad vinyl, outdoor carpet, a different bad vinyl- and we wanted them all one type. What should have been simple- taking up the vinyl in the powder room and adding plywood to stabilize for tile- turned into a nightmare. The vinyl came up to reveal a partially rotted subfloor- which in turn came up to reveal massive termite damage- all the floor joists, the door to the crawlspace, etc, were ruined, and had been “repaired” by a previous owner to the tune of replacing the joist over which the toilet was installed with a 2×4. I think the only reason no one rode that thing into the crawlspace is that the span was so short. Pipes had leaked down there too so the insulation was a mess and the ductwork had rusted to pieces. Did I mention it was February, freezing back there, and we were already weeks into a frustrating kitchen remodel? My husband came home that day to find me standing in the crawlspace between the rotted floor joists just crying. I couldn’t take any of it anymore.

    We got past it though! That stuff never lasts forever and it’s kind of amazing how quickly you forget just how miserable you were…

  40. the worst thing was a bad roof which caused massive water damage. plus no plumbing, no heating and the oldest electric our inspector had seen in 40 plus years on the job, all wrapped up in gorgeous asbestos siding oh joy.
    then the worst thing was no walls and a drunk contractor who disappeared, made worse by a lying unlicensed electrician who disappeared with the money. and having no more money and not being anywhere near done. that was the worst.

  41. Hmm, where should I start. Oh yeah: our house is 160 years old. There we go.

    1. I pulled both my hamstrings pulling (with a crowbar) old linoleum from the parlor floor of our 1860 bowfront. That meant I couldn’t walk for two days.

    2. I literally fell through the floor at one point. There was a hole that went from the first floor to the basement, the width of my thigh. Guess where I stepped? One knee went down half a story, and the other knee went up to my left ear. No puncture wounds, which was miraculous.

    3. An angry contractor at a neighboring house literally attempted to set our house on fire, mid-renovation.

    4. We had a metal lath ceiling on the top floor. Ever tried to remove metal lath? It’s like pulling on a steel cobweb with a hook. Except above the lath, in our case, the space was filled with pigeon guano and soot (from a long-ago house fire).

    Oh, also: former rooming house with a toilet and sink in every. Single. Room. Lead pipe run straight through elaborate crown molding. Removal of boarding house status. Et cetera.

  42. We bought a house that was built in the early 90’s hoping to avoid dealing with serious issues(since we have 2 young kids and we are oldish). We have had major sewer line break. Plumbing burst and flood basement. Find out said plumbing is not allowed any more. Insurance dropped us because we could not afford to have entire house replumbed. Sooooo…new house or old house. They are money pits and headaches. But they are home,shelter,love,memories.
    Hang in there Team Gay Gardens…this too will pass.

  43. Oh, the agony. This was hard to read. Hopefully this will all be a memory soon, a nice new skillset acquired and feat accomplished. I think my worst moment, or the maybe just the FIRST time I felt defeat in my 1922 home, was when I discovered the rotten wall behind the fireplace (paintityellowblog.blogspot.com/2009/12/i-made-mess.html). We were already armpit-deep in dry rot in the basement, more than our home inspection had reported, and were handling it like champs. But when I peeled away that paneling and felt that cold, musty air on my face, I truly wanted to cry…

    On a positive note, your pictures of buckets of tar have inspired me to patch up the roof on our our unwarranted addition myself before the winter rain. I’ll be damned if I put serious money into a structure we will likely be forced to tear down. Let’s call that the SECOND time I felt defeat. Actually, I’m still feeling it.

  44. Well, it wasn’t actually during the renovation but after and not my house but my parents. The people doing the work had done a lot of things badly, some things immediately noticeable and some not. My parents had basically transformed one balcony into a small sunroom and added another uncovered balcony on top of that. They had done that so badly, that a few years after basically the ceiling of the sunroom came down. Luckily nobody was in there or the ceiling might actually have killed somebody (not very likely) or seriously injured (very likely).

  45. Fingers crossed !
    Anyway you are a very inventive and smart person with tones of will ! you can handle it!
    May the fourth be with you !
    Cheerleader Lala*

  46. My story isn’t as heartbreaking as yours, since it didn’t break us financially, and we had a licensed person on hand to deal with it, but, at the start of our major kitchen/bath renovation we asked our electrician to come in an add one outlet for the carpenters to use as a tool recharger. They commandeered the dining room as a tool storage room, and would need a dedicated place to charge up their gear at night, as well as run power from during the day. Simple, no? Well, that first day, having committed to this full scale renovation both in terms of preparation (our house was filled with miscellaneous materials) and cost (we had written some hefty checks already), our electrician discovered that our house was completely riddled with knob and tube wiring. When we purchased the house years earlier we were assured that it had been eradicated, and our house inspectors couldn’t open up walls/ceilings to confirm. We took the previous homeowners word for it. They lied.

    So, on day one (actually pre-day one), we basically went over budget by $8K, not including all the light fixtures that we had to replace that were also original knob and tube fixtures (I think there were 11, and lighting isn’t cheap). There are all these people who say to plan for 10-20% overages beyond your original budget, but we ended up about 50% over by the time it was all said and done (not only due to the electrical). It sucked. We ended up loving the end result, but we lost a boatload of money when we went to sell. It happens.

    You’ll get through it. It’s only money. I promise you’ll love your house even more once you get beyond some of this major stuff. Just like you did with Linus. xoxo

  47. I’ve never owned or renovated a house. But for awhile I lived with relatives who were putting off renovations. They had a phantom roof-leak whenever it rained and their solution was to climb onto the roof in a rainstorm and throw some tarp over where they thought he leak was. Oh. But they had let a friend borrow the ladder so one of them started stacking piles of chairs and boxes on the deck and tried to make the other hold it steady while he climbed up this makeshift tower.

    Also, the railing on the deck was falling apart but they put that off too until the day their dog was barking at some neighborhood kids and the weight of her body actually caused a couple of the rails to give and she fell two stories. She landed in a bush and survived. My relative, alerted by the fact that the dog *wasn’t* barking, came outside to see what was wrong. The kids said, “Lady your dog fell” and biked off.

    So, no, you are not alone in your crazy. You are actually on the saner end of the spectrum at least compared to my bloodline.

    • I couldn’t help myself; I laughed so hard at this comment. Love your droll description of these disasters.

  48. I’m so sorry, but it will get better. And you’ll laugh about it. At some point. It will happen, I promise…. My story is with out kitchen remodel about 9 years ago. I had wanted to redo the (awful, terrible) kitchen for a while but my husband refused saying it was “OK.” It wasn’t. Then I traveled to South America to visit my parents, and he decided to fix a leak in the sink. As he worked, he kept finding more and more wrong things with the kitchen, and decided to tear down the whole thing. I came back to walls, ceiling, floor, windows, and nothing else. It was THEN that we started to figure out what our budget was, what we wanted the kitchen to look like, and what was out there that was a good fit. Even if I had been able to make quick decisions, the budget/research took about three monts, and all this time we were living with a hotplate, a microwave, and a coffeemaker. We finally bought the cabinets from Home Depot, and the day that I went in to pay for everything, I double checked the layout and realized that there were six inches of wall space that we were not taking advantage of. I made the kitchen guy redesign everything based on those six inches (yay me!), paid, and went home. When the cabinets arrived three months later (at the six-month mark without a kitchen), my husband started measuring everything, frowned and said “What did you do?” It turns out that we did, indeed, have six extra inches of wall space… on the OTHER side of the kitchen door, where no cabinets could fit. So now we had a few thousand dollars’ worth of cabinets we could not install nor return because they were custom, so we did the next best thing: decided to tear down the outer kitchen wall and extend the kitchen 27 inches out. Well, our contractor did not have the permits to do exterior wall work, so we had to scramble to find a new guy who could do it. We found him, but because this was during the housing boom, we had to wait another three months for him to finish all the other work he had to do. Nine months without a kitchen. In the meantime, we redid the kitchen floor from the joists up, redid the drywall, changed the orientation of the basement stairs, and redid whatever pipes would not be affected by the build-out. I also had visits from my stepson, my uncle, my dad, and my good friend’s 16-year-old blind dog, which meant I was washing four times as many dishes as usual, going up and down the stairs about a thousand times a day. Then, finally, we were ready for the cabinets, which thankfully we slapped on the walls without a hitch, then it took me another month or so to figure out the countertop (I hate granite, which was a problem then, so I went with concrete), wait another two months to have it installed, and another month or so to find a backsplash I liked, which we installed ourselves. Total time: about a year. Longest year of my life. But we ended up with a fantastic kitchen and a funny story. See? There’s hope.

  49. the worst WORST i know of is how my inlaws scored their brooklyn brownstone: a friend had bought this gorgeous old home, did crazy major renovations it to replace all electric and plumbing, redo all chimneys, install A/C, the works. mid-renovation, she also had the old oil heater replaced with a gas unit. there was a cold snap when the cement was poured to stopper the old oil spigot, however, and the company forgot to cancel her next oil refilling appt. so the oil man came, knocked the ‘snow’ (actually powdered cement) out of the spigot, and proceeded to pump raw oil into her dirt-floor basement for two hours. it was a toxic waste clean-up site for months, and she ended up so frustrated that she sold my inlaws the house for a song and decamped to upstate! their benefit, but that poor woman’s loss (of, i presume, her renovation sanity).

  50. I once destroyed a main water pipe with a jackhammer. The geyser was both terrifying and awe inspiring. And then I accidentally did it again two weeks later.

    Don’t worry! Gutter speed!

  51. Ha – roofing. I know a story or two about that as well (so you’re definitely not alone in your woes). In my house (built sometime in the early 1900s) the top floor flat is empty. I kept old furniture from my grandmother there. One autumn I got a call from the family who rented the second flat that water was pouring down on my grandma’s bed in the bedroom (the doors to the flat are not locked). It turned out that one of the gutters was clogged and therefore the water found its way into the attic and collected at the lowest point under which the bedroom was. Over the course of several autumn storms (and at least several months) the water worked its way through the concrete in the attic and the old ceiling, rotting a few of the beams and finally breaking through down onto the bed. When I came to have a look, the bed was covered in rotten wood and plaster and the whole room was covered in mold – all furniture (bed, sofa, chairs and 2 old wardrobes) had to be thrown away (which broke my heart…). Some of the beams had to be replaced and I had to get a completely new roof on the house – the bank loves me for that. That said – the old roofing tiles held up for more than 80 years. I don’t think that the new ones will last that long.

  52. Daniel, I’m so sorry. Hug Max and your dogs, and just–don’t die from your roof. That’s all I’ve got.

  53. Wow, some of the stories above should cheer you up. Mine are minor by comparison but caused plenty of heartburn and bank account pain at the time: Neighbor’s heavy equipment doing renovations that cracked our foundation, resettled the entire house, and sent water seeping into the basement behind built-ins, which we didn’t find for too long. Removing non-load-bearing wall to find all kinds of interesting post-WWII structural creativity and evidence of an earlier kitchen fire. Result: heavy beam installed to support an upstairs room that, by some miracle, hadn’t plunged to ground floor yet and basically redoing half the downstairs ceilings. Damage from fire ants uncovered during roof work that required considerable reframing in the attic–in a hurry.

    Sometimes the surprise is a good one. In our current house, a basement window left open by a realtor during weeks of heavy rain soaked a downstairs room, leading the inspector to report that the entire lower level had black mold and needed to be taken down to the studs. Purchase price was adjusted accordingly, but once we got in here, turns out the mold was minimal, localized, and no big deal. So we got a solid but dated house no one else was even looking at for an amazing price. Many updates later we’re happy, but we still have those blasted popcorn ceilings….

    Hang in there. This, too, shall pass. And every other buck-up cliche you can think of. And know that your loyal fan base will only continue to grow as you spin your Gay Gardens tales, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

  54. Not exactly a reno story… but last year a toilet on the 2nd floor of our rental home failed while we were on vacation. It flooded the entire home for about 4-5 days from the top down. The house was uninhabitable and about 85% of our belongings destroyed. Luckily, we didn’t have to spend a dime since both insurance companies found the homeowner’s negligent and 100% responsible for our losses. Homeowner’s had a happy ending, too: they got a whole-house remodel done on their horribly outdated home by their insurance company. 7 months later they had it listed again as a “like new home” for hundreds of dollars more in rent than what we had been paying.

    So, you are not alone. It sounds like you have a handle on the roof situation. Eventually it will be nothing but an awful memory! Hang in there.

  55. My husband and I gutted our 150-year-old Bklyn townhouse in the 1980s, largely doing things ourselves like you and Max. My dad was a carpenter and helped out quite a bit and taught us a lot of skills. Worst day: we pulled out an old drainage pipe that needed to be replaced and the plaster ceilings crumbled around them, up and down all 4 flights. You could stand in the basement, look up and see daylight. We survived, and so did the house! You and your lovely work-in-progress will too! Hang in there! Sending good reno thoughts your way.

  56. My godfather is a quantity surveyor and deals with this kind of stuff all the time. He says that every pound spent on a roof saves you two on house repairs in the long run. And, you’re there for the long run right? So, you might even end up in profit in the end! Chin Up.

  57. Oh God — I’m so sorry! Don’t despair — everything can be fixed! You’ll look back on this one day and laugh — drily. In your dry house. Sending you healing thoughts!

  58. Dear Daniel,

    Just remember that you can’t see everything coming, know everything, do everything!!!! No one can. A wise man named Frank A Clark said, “If you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere.”

    You are an AMAZING young man and you will get through this……..you have Max, Mekko and Linus to love you as well as your parents and those of us who read your blog and are crazy about you!!!!

    Take a deep breath………this too shall pass!!!!

    All the best!!!

  59. We are renovating an old bowling club to live in. We had to drive three hours to the emergency department on Saturday after my husband put a screw into the end of his finger into the bone with a screw gun. Luckily his father was there to unscrew him otherwise he might have been stuck to the ceiling for a while!
    When I studied architecture my building tech lecturer warned us against box gutters, they are basically the devil, good luck!

  60. We have box gutters and ended up pulling the rotten ones off from the sides and back of the house and replacing them with a plain fascia and then placing a new gutter systems from Home Depot over them in matching color. They were all lined with copper, so we kept that. The front of the house stays dryer and has been repaired well over the years, so the copper lined gutters and down spouts look great. We hemmed and hawed over this decision, but are happier we do not have to worry anymore.

    Best of luck

  61. This sucks so hard! However, I know that this too shall pass and come winter, your family will be safely ensconced in your lovely home, plotting more renovations that will continue to awe, amaze, and entertain us. Good luck, Daniel!

  62. I applaud you for working so hard. I think I would have given up and had a major freak out after just looking at the damage. Crossing my fingers that everything works out…

  63. When I bought my house, the inspection was shockingly good and the inspector said everything was just cosmetic and nothing would cost over $1,000 to fix. WRONG. He was either completely incompetent, a liar or both. The whole back of the house, which was uneven when you walked on it, had to have all the flooring ripped out so all I saw was dirt for several months while contractors jackhammered out an old porch that had been pulling water out of the ground and into the floor joists since the 1970s. The inspector had to crawl around it to get to the other parts of the house and he said everything was done to code and all I needed were some extra piers to bolster the beams. No, actually I need to replace a ton of floor beams and then level the whole house.

    Every day of that renovation I dreaded what new nightmare the contractors would unearth. For example, when they were redoing the bathroom, they turned off the water and then started removing the sink when water started shooting out. They ran back out to the street — yes, they had turned the water off — but what’s that there? Oh, it’s another water supply line no one realized was there.

    I basically lived in one room for months and I’d use an old shower curtain to cover my bed so it wouldn’t get dusty. I had to shower at work and at friends’ houses for all that time. And lest the contractors sound like the heroes — no. They left a pile of debris in the backyard and when I hired someone to load up two Bagsters, there were a ton of beer cans in the pile. Not confidence-inspiring.

    I will say that it was worth it because I love my neighborhood and my house didn’t deserve to stay in that condition and it was far beyond what I could’ve done myself. But it was awful going through it.

  64. The day (seriously, the actual day) we accepted an offer on our 1900 year old house it rained and i walked up to my home office on the top floor to find it raining. in my office. on my grandmothers rug. My husband climbed into the attic and could see daylight…
    Not only did we have crazy box gutters but a super pitched roof, so 9/10 roofer people wouldn’t even go up to check it out. they would just drive up, look up, and then say nope and leave. The buyers were threatening to back out. (lots of stress) Finally I talked the last roofers to at least put a ladder up on my neighbors roof and walk over (super easy, right?) to our 4 story up roof and throw some goop on it so it would stop leaking for now. It only worked because I 1. paid them cash, 2. paid them waaaaay more than was necessary- but it worked. On the way down the guy said he would “never ever in a million years fix that roof.” thanks guy. Luckily the leak was stopped and the sale went through and the new buyers found a nice company that put on a new roof.

    It will all work out in the end- thinking good thoughts for you guys!

  65. This is a GREAT post. Not a fun situation to be in, but I really appreciated the drawings and other information. So thank you for that.

    Our worst story is also the roof! We bought our 1898 house 13 years ago and had absolutely no idea what we were doing– but we loved this house, so it made up for many of the troubles. The roof was supposed to last a few more years, but it basically started leaking the first month we moved it. At one point I had to put a towel on my head while sitting on the toilet to avoid getting my head wet! We had not counted on this, had no money for it and the cost was WAY more than we had thought. I lost sleep over it. However, we took out a loan and here we are 13 years later and the roof is still fine and that debt is paid. AND we love our house more than ever.

    Roofs suck because it’s expensive and boring (unseen) but necessary work. You are saving this house. It’s totally worth it. I’m so glad you’ve found some people to help you. Hang in there!

  66. This will make you feel better. When I was 8 months pregnant with my daughter (now 4 so some of the horror is gone) my husband found out our basement was filled with toxic mould. Our basement – where our bedrooms are and where this baby was going to come home to sleep. Yeah. It all started when he was installing new floors. What was supposed to a at most a week at my parents turned into 3 months plus a rental house. They were a long 3 months – my husband did all of the work himself, with some help from his Stepdad. We brought the baby home to a rental and soldiered on as best we could. $20 grand later we were back at home and everyone was fine. We will never be moving as part of my husbands soul is in that basement. You will get through this and laugh about it one day. Four years from now. & only when you’ve had wine. Good luck! Wish I was local and could offer some contractor recommendations.

  67. I love “Yankee gutters” although most are in poor shape anymore. But it really is a clean look. Our house most likely had them before a remodel in the 40s. Our house’s sister house (ours is the city “Sundsy home” for a farmer) had Yankee gutters.

    Anyways… We replaced our roof last year as a hail storm broke some of our asphalt-concrete shingles. Luckily, our roof was in remarkably great condition that they hardly depreciated it and set the replacement material cost really high, so we were able to splurge on a new roof. I wanted a roof that looked like it could be original to the home, so I chose variable width Slate look shingles from DaVinci Roofscapes. Just gorgeous!

    We did our gutters a couple years ago and had a local company put on copper-colored gutters with round galvanized downspouts for a vintage look.

    Funny story… Before we hired it out, I was experimenting with spray painting regular gutters with copper spraypaint. We left them outside to dry and when we came back from running errands, we found someone had stolen them. Um nice work, geniuses.

  68. I got Renovating Old Houses shortly after I bought my 120 year old house, and I had to stop reading it, too. Reading about everything that could go wrong just made me feel ill. As if I couldn’t already see enough that had gone wrong. The worst day was when we found out that the plaster in the dining room wasn’t sagging, it was the floor joists because a load bearing wall had been removed! My mom said brightly, aren’t you so glad you bought a house!

    Anyway, if you haven’t already, check out wavyglass.com. It’s a great community of old house lovers!

  69. When we pulled back the ugly-ass wallpaper in our upstairs master bedroom, there were major cracks in the plaster and mildew everywhere. Everywhere. I cried. For a long long time. It looks beautiful now though. All cleaned up. Cracks fixed. I’ll spare you all the gory details as to how;).

  70. Geez, I’m so sorry BUT you’re getting it fixed!!! YAAAA! You’ll be able to enjoy (!) the seasons without dreading the changes in the weather. Again, so sorry that you have to do this.

  71. Oh, goodness. I can totally relate to this. Our old house was hastily flipped. It looked good cosmetically, but there were all kinds of issues beneath the “slap”. I fell in love with the home’s character, but I’ve been kind of beating myself up as I’ve realized all of the expensive projects we will need to tackle. Our worst surprise so far was discovering that our wall oven was connected with at least 3 different types of wire from various decades, it was forced into position with inadequate clearance, causing the case to dent and short out the oven, welding a metal piece inside to the case. Oh, and the wall opening where the wires came through was charred. Needless to say, I spent $200 on additional smoke detectors that night.

    Roof problems are absolutely the worst. And, if it makes you feel better, I have an architecture degree and built lots of things for studio, but I’m almost totally inept when it comes to home improvement projects more complicated than, say, painting. Nothing wrong with admitting that your skill set doesn’t match the job at hand.

  72. I hate to even remind myself of this story; I’ve blocked it out since we sold that house. A 1920s bungalow. We’d refinished ALL of the wood. Ripped up awful carpet and redid the stairs, the floors, the baseboards, the newel post (of of those awesome giant square things). We had original leaded windows and doors. So much work.

    And then we decided to buy an old barn and make it house (that’s another story, and one full of bird shit). Our house sat alone, on the market for quite awhile. We stopped by once or twice a week to keep in tidy and make sure it was okay. We went out of town for a week at Christmas and returned to check on our house. From the road it seemed as if the front door wasn’t quite right, a little frosty maybe.

    Yeah, frosty. A pipe burst upstairs and for DAYS water flooded into our house. Ruined ALL of the floors, most of the baseboard, some of the windows. The ceiling fell in in the living room. We decided to cheap out on the house and used only what insurance would cover for some junky floors and trim. I’m still sick thinking about it.

  73. Oh Daniel. Those fixes are the devil – all your money and it looks just the same except not gank when you’re done. The most recent “you’re not alone” story: on a sunny Saturday morning I started poking at our original wood double hung windows (first mistake) and found several rotted frames and that most of the putty needed to be replaced. So in a remarkably cavalier moment I googled how to take the windows out of the sashes and decided to start with six (second mistake). I got through stripping the sashes, rebuilding the window frames with epoxy based on thisoldhouse videos. Removing putty proved my undoing – I managed to crack every pane of glass I touched. There were tears involved at this point. $1000 and several weeks of living through rainstorms with nothing but painters plastic protecting the six gaping holes in my walls, I had new windows. Lesson learned: DON’T POKE AT THE OLD THINGS. Incidentally, the day after I shelled out that money and picked up my newly glazed windows you posted about how easy it is to reglaze windows. Not a joke.

    Also an old house highlight – when I gutted our bathroom six weeks before our wedding and realized the previous owners had cut a load bearing beam when running a new plumbing stack up from the basement. I called in a pro on that one too… Who got arrested in my house before finishing (add new front door to the tab, thanks to the local PD)… So I called in a second pro. Who also stopped showing up. I finished the remodel after the honeymoon.

    Hey shit happens when you live in old houses, I like to remind myself I can move when it gets really bad.

  74. Know this: Many a man before you have faced and conquered roof nightmares equal to yours. You have the added advantages of major brains, know-how, energy, youth and, and … and Max, Mekko and Linus.

    When you tally your home improvements, yes, the roof expense will stand out, but factor in all the deliciousness you’re adding to the place at little cost, and you will be a happy man again.

  75. Sending love from Atlanta! Chin up!

  76. You sell have my kidney :D
    It’s pretty cool that you climbed up on the roof by yourself. You’re like Tarzan. Or Zeus. Hang in there sir. Sometimes things get rough. Hopefully all the Dan-fans can cheer you up.

  77. I was wondering if additional damage has occurred since the date you bought the house and if it could be covered (at least in part) by your homeowner’s insurance. It seems this is something your pre-purchase inspection should have uncovered. I am also wondering if there is a different type of gutter system you could put in now that would be less costly and work better while still looking just as good. Best of luck!

    • Thanks, Janna. It actually didn’t really occur to me to go to my insurance company…I doubt they would do anything, though. They have actually stipulated that we needed to have the roof replaced within a year of buying due to its age, so I’m not sure this kind of damage is a HUGE surprise to anyone…but maybe it’s worth looking into further. I am paying an arm and a leg for it…(try insuring an old house under renovation with an 80 year old roof, old electrical, no heat, and a pit bull…NOT FUN).

      There are alternatives to rebuilding the gutter, but the last part——”looking just as good”——is really only going to happen by restoring what’s already here. MANY houses have mitigated this problem by either removing the cornices (DEFINITELY not an option) or basically extending the roofline to cover the box gutter and attaching a normal metal gutter. Unfortunately, this would mean a sudden change in the pitch of the roof (not cute) and removing the crown molding around our cornice to accommodate the new gutter. We really did consider that option, but it’s just…lousy. If we can swing fixing it properly (I think we can), that’s definitely my preference! Downstairs bathroom reno can wait. :/

      • yes, yes, “looking just as good” is soooo important! your house is gorgeous and charming and you are restoring it lovingly. that’s the point. you are rescuing it from “good enough” past fixes that were, ultimately, bad. i admire your integrity and, like everyone else here, thank you for sharing your journey.

  78. You want a sad story? Our first house was a 1929 craftsman style bungalow. Loved her. BUT one weekend when we had company I walked into our master and noticed all the wood flooring that ran along the bathroom walk soaking wet!!! So after a call to a plumber we discovered that there was no leak. Instead there was a section of tile where it met the tub behind which the wall had rotted from bad grout/caulking job. But instead of fixing it the previous homeowner had mounted new matching tiles to a peice of styrofoam board, like packing styrofoam and just popped it in there and grouted it up. Soooo…we were in it a shower/tub mini-remodel and water damaged hardwood repair. Womp womp.

    But chin up good contractors may feel like magical unicorns but they do exist! Plus I many drive my contractors crazy but being annoying and paying attention has always done well for me!

  79. What is it about roofing repairs? That was by far the worst of our many ‘invisible’ renos. After a wonderful meeting with our roofing contractor he sent out a bunch of sub-constractors to tried to get away with shingling over the rotten wood. I was watching them out the window and caught one of them hammering away. After which I had a bunch of dudes on my front parking pad PO’ed that a woman would dare tell them not to fleece her and ruin her roof. It was our mistake, we went for the lowest quote because the guy seemed fairly ‘stand up’. But it wasn’t so.

    Someone said earlier that some repairs are worth paying for – too true! Money well invested is far less stressful than conflicts with your contractor. Hard but valuable lesson learned.

  80. Well, I have been lucky in our home but my manager had the worst home reno ever. She took an old 1950s home with a minor previous reno and decided one day to redo the rest of the house. She’s a “decisive” type: she decides to do things, has no idea about the details of making it work, just picks her ideal finished product and then sets people to work on achieving that finished product.

    Her contractor of choice was her husband’s cousin, who wrecked the house and then declared bankruptcy. The roof was done wrong and leaked, ruining drywall and flooring. The paint job was terrible. She loved the painter he hired, but he was arrested in her home for an ancient warrant that he wasn’t aware of. Why were the police there? The house got broken into twice, and the family’s laptops and tools were all stolen. It was the process of filing the police report that caused the man to be arrested! The plumbing in the master bathroom ensuite is wrong hot is cold, cold is hot.

    Then, during a huge windstorm, a tree fell on the house, landing on her young son’s bedroom.

    In short, it was terrible. For awhile, because the renovation ran past its deadline, she had to live with her contractor (FAMILY!) and his dogs (she hates dogs) and and and. It was a nightmare that has wrecked the family.

    Also, her gutters weren’t right, so yeah.

  81. Hugs to you guys, a house is such an emotional thing and when stuff goes wrong it’s just exhausting.
    So far it’s been the asbestos and the missing floor under the kitchen cabinets, and the fact that the kitchen still isn’t finished after 12 months.
    It’s basically why even though I desperately want to do the bathroom it’s been moved to last on the list. I’m positive it will be full of things going horribly wrong.

  82. The day we moved in after renovating our 1945 home, we discovered the bathroom pipes were full of cement…a ‘contractor’s mistake’ that was not noticed by any inspectors. We found a creative plumber that really problem solved & allowed us to have water and other essentials. But I really love my house…good ones are worth it!

  83. I have a story for you about our 1920s bungalow. When we bought it, it had a new coat of paint on the interior walls. After not long, we noticed rising damp in the loungeroom. Boo hoo. First up, we had a silicone damp proof course injected into the brickwork, then had the walls repainted. Afterwards, we realised that was only stopping us from seeing the evidence of the rising damp but it didn’t stop the cause, so we had a subfloor vent installed. This helped a lot but we weren’t convinved we’d sorted out the source of the problem. Knowing the previous owner did a flip-to-sell reno on the bathroom (which backs on to the loungeroom) and being unsure about the quality of the waterproofing, we decided to reno the bathroom again (we’d lived here for 7 years at that stage). We hired a portable en-suite for the reno and as they were setting it up in the backyard, the contractor was trying to find the sewer pipe outside. In doing so, they flushed water down the stormwater pipe, which runs alongside the house next to the bathrrom and loungeroom, and noticed it took a long time to get to the street outlet. We got in another contractor to put a camera down the stormwater pipe and what do we find – it’s blocked with a beer can and there’s tree roots cracking the old ceramic portion. So the beer can is removed and the stormwater pipe re-lined. We have a new bathroom even though the waterproofing turned out to be ok. After all of this, the rising damp is sorted – yay – but it sure cost a bit!

  84. A week after a hail storm that broke all the storm windows on the north side of the house, it was raining one evening when I went into the pantry to grab a bag of chips. The light flickers, so I look up and there is an enormous bubble forming on the ceiling — the roof has leaked and water is building up between the plaster ceiling and the several coats of paint on the ceiling. It is alarming — I ask my husband to come look, and it’s growing visibly. We grab a trash can and he carefully pokes a hole so that the water can come out — and it just pours and pours, overfilling the trash can and we’re running all over the place looking for ANYTHING to hold it. The next day, pulling down the soaked plaster, we find we have to remove the entire ceiling, which leads to the discovery that sometime in the past, someone had done some remodeling and the beams that are directly under our 500 lb cast iron tub have been cut so that plumbing and electrical can run through. I think of all the times I have filled that oversized tub to the brim and laid there, not knowing that I could have come crashing down into the middle of the kitchen. An entire kitchen remodel later, I was still nervous getting into the bathtub even after replacing all the support beams.

    Despair is a natural reaction, and there are so many stories here that make me feel like a part of a slightly unhinged group of crazed remodelers. Hang in there, you’ll look back at this some day and be glad you did it right after all —

  85. Catastrophic plumbing/sewer failure. The day we were supposed to leave on our honeymoon. We had a mother-in-law apartment downstairs, and our tenant came up as we were getting ready to leave with a “Hey. Ummmmmm… God, I hate to bother you with this, but…”

    The (clay) main had collapsed and, meanwhile, the supply line was leaking. The emergency plumber gleefully pointed out that SOME houses in our neighborhood had PAPER pipes, and we were lucky ours had lasted as long as they had, with all the trees in our yard. While he was playing around outside, the supply lines burst, flooding the (already sewage soaked) basement and destroying our new furnace. When he replaced the burst pipe and turned the water back on, the increased pressure burst more pipes. And so on. Goodbye, wedding money. Hello, five-digit plumbing bill and new new furnace.

    But, we survived. And we still love our (completely re-plumbed) house. It helped me to keep in mind everyone who has lived in our house over its history– this house has been home to so many people, and the work and money we’re putting into it now will (hopefully) allow it to continue to be so for generations after we’re gone. I don’t want to be ridiculously sentimental, but I do think it’s worth it.

    Try not to get too bummed out.

  86. I been having Manhatten Nest withdrawals! Is it pathetic that I check everyday to see if you’ve updated? I’m SO sorry about the roof. You’ll feel great once its done. We replaced our roof(leaking and rot) and now can’t go forward with kitchen reno since our money was sunk in the roof. Ugh.

    Hang in there. I’m glad you’re alive and posting :)

  87. No wonder it took you so long to write again. So sorry about this. And in between (or before) you found time to help Anna with her floor. My my, I do wish you well with your roof (and the weather). A while ago I was thinking, that the scale of the things that need to be done to your house (and the work) are really pretty big for a blog with regular posts.

    And for my horror story: as an architect I once designed a conversion of a former school (about 100 years old). The owners had had a contractor friend (who doesn’t work for friends and family) swing by and they walked through it and he said “This will cost that much, that will cost that much etc.” they counted that all up and that is how they arrived at a budget. They had a surveyor come by and look if there were any problems with the house (I don’t know who came first) the plaster on the outside was not up to par otherwise everything was fine (hahaha). Anyhow, we talk I make a wonderful design ;-) it is all OK (the original lay-out was terrible).
    I have a constructional engineer drop by to look at the place and he notices a tear in an outer wall in the back, turns out, the house attached to it at the front has a tear as well, the foundation is slipping away (it basicly had no foundation and now it was sinking into the ground). We get in touch with a contractor he comes over to look at the place the first thing he does is stick is entire car-key for the full length into the first windowsill he runs into “Windowsills are not supposed to be made from pinewood” he tells the original owner who is standing around grinning stupidly. Then I send the drawings and stuff to the town hall in order to get a building permit and they can’t start looking at it because the destination of the building is still a school (even though it was just bought from people already living in it as a house for the last 20 years) so they need to change all sorts of destination plans (it takes 3 months if all goes well) before they can start to look at the building permit (that takes 3 months as well). In the meantime they new owners find out they are expecting a third child and they have already sold their old house and need to vacate that in 3 months (that is the time they allowed themselves to rebuild the entire thing (it is so big that just plastering it took 6 weeks)).
    And of course the budget was all over the place. They ended up with a Slovecian contractor who made everything up to Slovecian building standards (so lets hope that nothing catches fire). Fortunately the man did understand the design so it does look really great. They moved in 2 weeks before their baby was born. I guess all’s well that ends well.
    I would like to emphasize that I quit almost halfway through this proces due to differences in opinion about priorities and how things should be done (I wasn’t a fan of the Slovecian contractor either).
    Two years ago a handyman that does stuff for them told them they need a new roof, I don’t know how that plan is faring. I shudder when I think back to this build.

    But you two will do much better I am sure of that.

    • P.S. You can’t believe how incredibly therapeutic it has been for me to write this all down and to read all of the other stories. I was so hurt by that project and worked so very very hard on it to turn it around that it made me afraid of working (it was a first disaster for me). Upon writing and rereading I really felt for the owners, my goodness. They were really screwed, but they are very happy in their house now though. And we still speak to each other.
      A house is so very personal, it immediatly touches on your personal safety when something happens to it. I will take some time today to look at all your sponsors (that I usually ignore) as a form of financial support. Hang in there!

  88. Hello! I really admire your hard work, attitude and willingness to give scary things a go. I think owning old houses can do that to you. It’s the never-ending list of tasks and potential money being spent on said tasks that can drive us to these things.
    Thank you for sharing your house adventures – your blog has helped me to get stuck into DIY and the sheer hard work (much harder than you think it’ll be before you start a project) involved in making old houses better.

  89. Oh, I just wanted to install a ceiling fan in my bedroom. No biggie! Started to take down the existing fixture only to find raw wires with no box hanging out in the ceiling!!! (runs screaming from the room) After regaining composure I do the only logical thing, tape down the light switch and live in darkness as the quotes for rewiring the house roll in. On the bright side, I did manage to find an awesome electrician who did the job without cutting monster holes in the plaster walls (several electricians swore the work could not be done without cutting massive trenches up the wall from the floor to the switches). Fingers crossed for you!

  90. Having lived in many old houses, including a Brooklyn apartment building where one side of the apartment was 4 inches lower than the other side, I have been terrified for you guys. My main source of fear has been: I don’t remember hearing anything about the furnace in this house. Please tell me that the furnace is working fantastically because I really can’t stand the tension any more and the roof story just fills me with dread.

  91. Daniel, so sorry you are having to deal with this roofing/gutter predicament.
    After YEARS of restoring an old brick farmhouse ourselves (except for the roof and gutters) I can tell you it IS worth it in the long run. Love our old house. We laughed and cried and can now laugh easily when reminiscing about the horrible stuff that we uncovered and had to fix.
    My worst memory was in my previous marriage which was crumbling just like the house I was in at the time. Ex-husband not a DIYer. Lots of projects started and never finished. He finally hired a “contractor” to do all of the work and we borrowed a ton of money to do it. So much for due diligence on him checking credentials and references. The guy was a crack addict and took all of our money. That was the final nail in that marriage coffin.
    I was a bit gun-shy to take on a much more involved DIY reno with my boyfriend but he knew what he was doing, was confident, decisive and finished what he started. Big difference.
    You will get through this.

  92. A) thank you for your writing, it’s such a nice treat to read your posts over a cup of coffee starting at my own pile o’ house renovations B) Sounds like you found a carpenter that works for you. Keep them around. As a carpenter’s daughter I’ve learned a bit about the trade. There is a difference between a carpenter and a builder/roofer/construction worker. It’s an artform. My father (and most of his type) will spend an entire day measuring, thinking, drawing, etc and only charge for gas because “I’m not really working”. They usually don’t mind if you help, ask they’ll tell you no if it’s not okay. Use it as an apprenticeship. If all goes well, see what you can use this carpenter for for future projects and also keep in mind they usually have a network of a roof guy, pavement guy, landscape guy, plummer guy etc that they’ll refer if you’ve got something that’s beyond their scope of expertise. Saves you the hassle of vetting. Good luck!

  93. Those old renovation books are fun but as you discovered, probably a waste of time. The last page should just be a mirror with a tissue box. Despite the challenge this particular project poses, I’m excited to see how this finishes up for you. Box gutters aren’t something you see everyday and getting them fixed up is pretty cool.

    BUT, if you do have to sell an organ to pay for it, I’d stick with a kidney since you only REALLY, REALLY need one. :) I did this sort of thing with my last house and it’s probably the reason we bought new construction after we sold it. I’m vicariously reliving my first home anxiety through you two. Fun times.

  94. Oh Daniel! I feel your pain… but you haven’t destroyed your house! Fixing the roof is essential. Imagine if you weren’t fixing the roof, all your hard work to the rest of the house would be at risk. Worse, imagine if someone else had bought your house and didn’t have your sensibility to period details. So although it is tough, unplanned and overwhelming, I am convinced that you will do the right thing considering the circumstances. Good luck!

  95. Wow! reading all the stories makes me thankful we had a kickass inspector!!! So, no surpises on our once-upon-a-time crackwhore house.

    Daniel: we have built-in gutters, too. It’s not cheap to have them repaired, but worth it. We had a friend who took installation payments for repairing ours (including adding new downspouts where the house had settled, and gravity caused water to build up). Our built-ins were not in as bad condition as yours, and we had the rubber lining replaced when we had the roof replaced (sad to see the slate go, but it was a choice between $7k and $25k).

    IF you don’t mind the naked look, you could do the fascia portion (the “pretty” part that is visible underneath the gutters) on your own time. Really, it’s just the checking/fixing the supporting beams and replacement liner that need to be done by winter. All the paneling and cornices underneath are just for show.

  96. The last home that I owned, a “charming” 1940s Dutch colonial, passed the home inspection swimmingly. And then in less than five years I had to re-concrete half the driveway (disintegrated down to gravel), upgrade the electrical (sparks! melting!), replace the furnace/ac/water heater (CO leak), rebuild the chimney (no mortar left), fix frozen pipes and water damage (hole in insulation), and deal with tree roots in the sewer (suds in the toilet). Now I live in a “maintenance free” condo which needs expensive exterior repairs (chunks of concrete falling 20 stories). Ka-ching! So, you’re not alone. There are ups and downs, but in the end, it all has a way of working out.

  97. Our upstairs bathroom was a nightmare (that I hope makes you feel better).
    1. We move in and there is no functioning toilet or shower
    2. “Contractor” our landlord hired comes and “fixes” it up
    3. I’m suspicious when he hires out the tile to someone else and smokes in my house
    4. He declares the bathroom done and available for use (by 5 people)
    5. I come home from work to a major leak in the living room
    6. Call a plumber thinking something is terribly wrong
    7. Spend $300 to find out contractor DIDN’T CAULK AROUND THE TUB (because who would check for that?)
    8. Spend $5 fixing his mistake in the bathroom and another $50 to have the ceiling fixed

    And that was just the upstairs shared bathroom. We also have an inexplicable master bath leak, a sunken patio, cat molested carpets (we don’t have cats), hideous linoleum, windows that open on their own in cold weather, a wallpaper adhesive that I can’t remove for the life of me, and intensely nicotine stained ceilings (we don’t smoke).

    • Sorry to say this: You have a ghost. Kind regards

      • I know exactly who it is!

      • Really? It was meant as a joke, now I’m a bit confused. But I have heard that burning Russian Sage can do the trick when you have ghosts. Although that might depend on it’s strength. I would hire someone, at least for mediation, you know to avoid misunderstandings.
        Good luck with that (as stupid as this may sound my sister once had a ghost for real).

      • My boyfriend’s grandmother died in our house and we have experienced some odd things now and again that are probably home issues and not ghost issues. Lights flickering on and that kind of thing. The craftsmanship of our home is terrible so it really is probably just structural/guts issues. We do like to say we have Marion around to watch out for us, though. :)

      • My sister had really strange scary things going on in her house after our mother died. She talked to someone about it, he told her to put a picture in a frame of her somewhere visible in the house and to burn a candle there in the evening for a while, she just wanted to feel included he said. After that it was over.
        And now I’m going to stop about this because otherwise Daniel will never take us seriously again (unless he finds a ghost in his house as well ofcourse). Have a wonderful weekend.

  98. Dang. I owned a Victorian townhouse in Boston that had major roof issues. I put a new roof on it twice in the span of three years, thanks to one really shitty roof job that happened before I bought it and one really shitty roof job that I paid for (ah, the naivete of new homeownership), which meant I had the fun of paying for a second $$$ roof job to fix all the shit that went wrong because of the first ones. Oh, and my teeny tiny patio used to overflow during downpours, so my entire finished basement flooded, too. I was also one of those freaks who cowered in the corner every time the Weather Channel predicted so much as a 30% chance of rain. It only got better when I sold it. Double dang.

  99. Oh dude, that really is awful. One time I saw the sky through my upstairs office ceiling unexpectedly, and I can tell you that sucked. I went outside and some contractor working on next door’s chimney had torn off a significant chunk of my roof and when I asked about it, he told me to go inside and keep napping and let my landlord handle it. Um. I gently told him that I actually owned this POS house and he told me to F off anyway. So that was fun.

    Can I just say that things will be fine, even if they have to be fin-ANCED (see that? no? ok) and I am totally squirting over your gorgeous copper flashing around that chimney!

  100. After finally getting my side yard and driveway into shape and about to depart on a long-awaited trip to Europe I found out the neighbors’ sewer line problem was mine too. Our pipes were joined to one line going out to the street. And where were these lines? Under my yard, of course. They hired a contractor and I had him quote for doing my side too. Nu uh. Way over-priced and did not make a good impression. But for some reason they loved him. I found someone else, had my side dug up and redone well before my trip so I could redo the garden and replant (all the plants had been dug up and were stuffed into sheltered areas of the yard, in random pots, plastic bags, whatever. The water company put in the new connection to the mains for my house, and while doing so their contractor backed his truck into my car. The neighbors’ swell plumber? Didn’t get the job started on time, failed inspection, and then didn’t get it finished before I left on my trip…with all the plants dying slow deaths…and it STILL wasn’t done when I got back 3 weeks later. Finally had all the trenches filled in and was redoing the last beds when we had monsoon rains from hell: 20 inches. All the trenches caved in, sinking as much as 18 inches. Even on the replanted side although not as badly….and no one was responsible, it was the “act of god” escape clause. Many bad words were uttered, tears were shed, plants became compost….

  101. Oh Daniel, so sorry to hear about your gutters and cornice. So many of us have either been there or if not exactly there, very close. First, there’s the surprise discovery. Then the $$ shock. Always made more horrible with the timing – wedding day, honeymoon, just sold the house, winter. Then the incompetent contractor. And if you’re really lucky, sewage. It’s just awful. And for me, my husband’s chest pains!! Oh yes, when we discovered the addition on the house we JUST purchased had been built with no foundation, he got chest pains. It would be nice if I could laugh about it but it’s been 24 years and I’m not smiling. We had to take it in stages because we couldn’t afford to pay for it all at once. The yard was dug up, the house put on jacks and a bunch of concrete went in. We couldn’t afford to have the dirt filled in so did it ourselves the next spring. Sliding glass doors in the master bedroom didn’t work any more. Thank goodness they didn’t crack. Duct tape and plastic until we could afford to fix those. But they had to wait until we put on a new roof. It turns out when the inspector came for the foundation, the wood shakes on the roof weren’t spaced correctly so it all had to be redone. ASAP. We did it ourselves. I was so afraid of heights I would throw myself down on the roof and wiggle around like a worm. The first time, I thought I’d have to stay there until the fire department came to get me. So anyway, lots of company. And we’re sending you good thoughts. Oh, and totally off the subject, I’m expecting any day you will get an email saying someone has found a Venini chandelier at a local thrift shop and put it on hold for you. I’m keeping my eyes open.

  102. wow. I feel for you. But wait, you’ve really only been there a hot minute! Fast forward – a year from now, it will feel so good to have it behind you. Like in a relationship, there are parts that hurt, but they often deepen the respect, the understanding, even the love. This house has so much to teach you, and for you to tell the world. Don’t give up on it. In the meantime, you’ll take on smaller less expensive projects, wall paper peeling, caulking, painting. And let the bank account recover.

  103. I love that book! I didn’t know there was an updated version. The 1992 edition is not nearly as scary as yours sounds. I find mine oddly comforting, because there are so many things in it for which I can be glad my house does not have wrong. Plus mine has a more attractive cover. Sits on the coffee table in the living room of my 1884 house for easy reference :) So far, the worst thing has only been potential: I had to put a foundation under the addition, which I knew didn’t have one (at all!) when I bought the place. My contractor later told me he was greatly surprised the whole thing didn’t collapse as they jacked it up. That would have been unpleasant.

  104. I hope the following stories make you feel better:

    1. replacing a water heater led to an emergency re-pipe of our entire house, leaving us without hot water in the middle of winter for 2 weeks amidst both my husband and i contracting the stomach flu. Thank god we filed our taxes early that year.

    2. a foundation repair led to discovery of dry rot, which led to replacement of all our bad windows which were causing said dry rot, which is now leading to essentially re-framing the entire house as more dry rot and termite damage is discovered as we go around the house exterior perimeter. We’ll likely re-do the entire envelop by the end of this unraveling ball of yarn. It’s scary, but I’d personally much rather deal with these structural and internal systems before proceeding with anything cosmetic, as depressing as that sounds.

    Feel any better?

    You just have to breath and let go — your safety in the house is most important, and abating mold, dry rot, anything structural, water-related or fire-hazard-y is the sexiest thing you can do for yourself in the long run. Hugs!!

  105. About 18 years ago we bought a 1950 flat roofed house. It looked fine to our house inspectors and carpenter friends. About 4 months later I woke to the sound of rain dripping through the light fixtures in the bathroom. The gyprock caved in later that day and we began a major reno to replace the roof with a pitched roof and make some space for an additional upper level “somewhere down the line”. That “sometime in the future” renovation just happened last year and on the first day of demo the contractor had a look at the newly exposed walls and told us that we had to talk about the longevity of the house. The sheathing is some sort of puff-board that was popular in the 50s and is about as long lasting as cardboard. Cha-ching and extra cha-ching. Prior to that BIG reno, we also had to dig out our dirt crawl space (breaking giant granite boulders with jackhammers and liquid dynamite in process) and put in a concrete floor and walls. We had to do this because rats had been digging through the dirt of the crawl space and getting up into the walls of the house. Specifically the wall behind the head of my bed. And nothing wrecks your sleep like the rats crawling around your head. Worrying about gutters probably wrecks your sleep too so I am sorry to hear about your unpleasant discovery. I agree with most of the comments. You’ll get through it and eventually it will be a hilarious story. Despite the unexpected costs, we are still in love with our place. Put up the pay-pal thingie. I’d gladly pay a subscription fee for these great issues of “this old house”.

  106. I’m long distance squishing you into an awkward hug from a Canadian stranger, and sending you wine, lots and lots of imaginary sympathy wine. That sounds horrible!

    I wish I could send you Joe. He’s my parents neighbour and my honorary grandfather. He grew up in a sod hut in the 30’s shooting deer with ’22. He once fed my terrified, picky eater boyfriend homemade headcheese and a shot of whiskey with clamato juice, with a shotgun on the table for emphasis. He even taught me how to make moonshine!

    The most important thing is that he’s a roofing genius. A legendary tin smith and the nicest pioneering, Ukrainian, country gentlemen this side of the North Pole. Joe brings you fresh morels out of the forest and moonshine made from wild plums astride an ancient, shuddering beast of a yellow snowmobile at times like these. He has amazing, even magical, solutions for such problems. If he wasn’t almost 90, very fragile, and retired I’d recommend him in a heartbeat.

    Those my-renovations-are-beating-me-into-unrecognizable-hopeless-sludge days are the worst. I’m rooting for you and your elegant, future, problem free gutters! Also posting the ugly days is awesome. I celebrate your victories like a Roman Ceasar throwing a Triumph spectacular…but let us mourn the bad days with you. They suck, don’t go it alone!

  107. Didn’t happen to me but my sister and her husband: they were having an addition put on/kitchen reno and in the course of the addition they found under the stucco exterior (which was being removed and replaced with a different kind of exterior) SO MUCH DRY ROT. Essentially the stucco exterior was holding the house together. The frame of the house needed to be rebuilt, that’s how extensive the dry rot was. Oh and this probably contributed to the end of my sister’s marriage, but that’s another story. He got the house in the divorce but good riddance; she was sick of the both of them.

  108. We ran into terrible termite issues when we had no money, little skill, and no plan to work on the area affected for many years. It was a DISASTER, and left Wendy in tears on several occasions. http://www.oldtownhome.com/2012/2/27/Our-Newlywed-Kitchen-Nightmare/ It was one of those character building old house moments that was a crushing experience at first but ultimately helped to build our confidence and feeling that we can pretty much handle what the house can throw at us.

    Now, if your house were our house, and I were you, I would have been up there working on the box gutters and there’s a good chance it would have remained unfinished for years. But, hey, that’s my MO. I’ve got to work on our storm windows.

  109. We had the roof of our 1920’s bungalow replaced several years ago, and the contractor *assured* us that we didn’t need the crumbling chimney anymore and that it would be cost effective and easier to just take it down while they were doing the roof. WELL. Not true. For *some* reason, our gas water heater and gas furnace decided to stop working right after the roof was done. Turns out they had been venting out of the now extinct chimney, and with no vent in place, the pilot lights were going out. After a week of cold showers and lots of crying, we had to replace the water heater with an electric model, and had to hire someone to vent the furnace out the foundation. I feel your pain.

  110. okay Daniel,

    a) as an architect, i am firstly incredibly impressed that you’re taking on this project of a house. secondly, i am so thankful for humans like you who see value in historic (whatever degree it is!) architecture. that house could have easily been purchased by a developer-type who would have knocked the whole thing down and started from scratch. cause lets be honest, that’s what our culture breeds. half of americans just want brand-new. but c’mon! your house is going to be such a beauty when she’s finished.

    b) keep on keepin on!!!!!!!! this gem is going to be such an amazing place to spend your life… it’s better you’re doing this when you’re young and scrappy ;) and let’s be honest, when the roof is taken care of, other projects will seem tiny and less overwhelming.

    sending historical-home-loving-hugs.
    Ps, i absolutely love your blog and every post makes me giggle at least twice out loud at work. thanks for that.

  111. I love reading all these comments. I feel so…not alone.

    My house is ~150 years old. You are so right, nothing is standard, for example the stairs are not up to code. I can’t even fit my whole food on the tread. I thought it was “charming” until I went up and down them a million times. They will never be up to code either because there’s not enough room to expand them and I found out I cannot legally have anything done to them either by a professional (like if I wanted new treads), unless I have whole staircase remedied.

    One of the blocked off chimneys is crumbling. There are deposits of old brick, chunks and lumps, and red dust that just accumulate on the floor in the basement. We had the outside patched with some kind of wire support and stucco so that it didn’t fall into the neighbor’s house or anything, but nothing’s preventing it from collapsing! Waiting for that day.

    We had a (turns out unecessary) video scan of the sewer pipe done and that determined it wasn’t leaking, but very old and gonna go some day soon. Waiting for that day too.

    There’s also termite damage in ONE of the hardwood subfloors in the living room. I can feel the floor move and make weird noises when I walk over it sometimes … can’t even get to that issue until I have enough to pay for the flooring that’ll go over it.

    This’ll pass, you’ll find the money for it, and it’ll be over and onto the next issue before you even can relax from this one. And there’s a bright side. You don’t have a cardboard house, but a solid ass brick house with real wood and shit.

    Similar to yours, my house is stone and mortar. You’ll find it really is good insulation, in fact better in terms of retention, than modern wood/fiberglass insulation houses because it takes time and consistent extreme temperature to affect the stone or brick. My house stays between 60-78 at all times no matter what it’s doing outside, even if I’m not running any heat or AC that day. If I left the heat or AC off fore more than a day, it’d probably creep up (or down) but it still takes a while. (I’m in Philly, fuck East Coast weather, you know what I’m talking about. We get every single damn season and then some.)

  112. When I was 13, my parents, my sister and I moved into a house in Western Washington State, not far from Seattle. It was a cute, two-story Queen-Anne-/Craftsman-style, in need of some TLC. (Cue the theme from JAWS.) We moved into the house in the middle of October; in December, just in time for Christmas, Washington State had its worst snow storm in decades. All our pipes froze. My father and grandfather had to crawl under the house, in ungodly weather, with pans of hot water to try to prevent the pipes from bursting. That’s how we found out the pipes were not insulated, and that our foundation was crumbling.

    Oh, and when my parents bought the house, they asked the sellers if there was a heating system. “Yes, there is,” they were told, and left it at that. For all you future home-buyers out there, there are a couple follow-up questions that they should have asked: Does it work? Does it work throughout the house? We discovered that our ancient heating system worked in only one room in the entire house: the kitchen! You know, the place that gets warm anyway when you’re cooking. To replace the heating system, the house needed to be re-wired. After the great frozen-pipe fiasco, and the foundation fix, my parents couldn’t afford that. So for the first three winters, in the chilly climes of the Pacific Northwest, when my sister and I went to bed, it was right out of Little House on the Prairie. We would boil water in the kitchen, fill up our hot water bottles, wrap them in towels, race up the cold stairs to our freezing, unheated bedrooms, and throw ourselves under the covers with chattering teeth, clutching our only source of heat. How cold were the rooms? I once found a patch of ice on my windowsill inside the room, and I never opened that window in the winter.

    The house was not done with us yet – it also needed a new roof, harbored termites, had leaky windows that flooded the walls, and magically gobbled money they way zombies gobble brains. So, Daniel, you’re a home-owner now! An official grown-up! But it will be worth it, it will. My parents’ house really was our beloved home, in spite of everything it threw at us.

  113. We have a 100 year old bungalow. The previous homeowner told us the cute story about how it was built by a doctor, for his daughter, who he thought was going to die an old maid. But the daughter surprised him by getting engaged, so her father built her and her fiancé THREE houses, and they could pick the one they wanted. They picked ours! Super cute story. Then, after we moved in, we found out that all three of the sewer systems are connected before they attach to the city sewer line. So, no dishwasher or garbage disposal for us, EVER, and every time there’s a backup, all our sewage ends up in the neighbors house. Fun!
    That’s the major things, we also have all the other normal things; our electrical is going to kill us some day, if we ever remodel our bathroom, we’ll have to deal with the asbestos tile AND redo all the plumbing, part of our kitchen slopes away from the house, we have the old chimney that goes through the center of the house that’s crumbling (in the last year we’ve had three or four bats that have found their way into our house through that chimney). One day, I went into the bathroom to discover over 100 bees had decided to occupy it…so that was fun. Apparently they had found a hole where our dormer window meets the roof and decided to set up camp in my bathroom.
    But we’ve been in this house for two years now, and despite the creaky wood floors, the cracked plaster walls, and bees, and electrical, and the fact that we’ll never have a dishwasher, we love it. This house has been standing for 100 years. Just think of all the secrets the walls hold, and the way the real wood floors feel, and the way the leaded glass twists the afternoon light, and the way the ancient maples plaster their leaves all over everything in October. Owning an old house is tough, but it’s worth it.

  114. We bought a 100 year old converted storefront that was recently renovated. It had been done with proper permits, passed all city inspections, and was given two big thumbs up by our (expensive and best rated in the city) home inspector.

    Within a month of owning the place everything went to crap, and we ended up moving out for 12 weeks while Mike Holmes essentially ripped our entire home to shreds (on camera) and put it back together looking exactly the same as how we’d bought it, just with a whole lot more money involved (months before our wedding, and then cancelled honeymoon).

    Oh, and I cried. On TV. In front of millions of people. Blubbering, sad, unattractive red faced tears.

    • Dear Kristen; I understand that you might feel embarrased about that, but I think nobody can blame you for going into the “ugly-cry”. Lucky you!

      • We were very very lucky! And I would appreciate if you ever see me on tv, don’t judge me for my ugly cry! (or my ridiculously long hair) :)

      • Kristen; in general I try not to judge, with shows like that I sometimes tend to lose a tear or two as well. Kind regards.

    • I’ve fantasized about Mike Holmes coming in to fix my house. That must have been an awesome experience when looking back now. At least you know everything’s been done correctly now?

      (I’m dying to know, but I’m sorry if this is too personal info so don’t feel obligated to answer, but I’ve always wondered for shows like that, does the show pay for any portion (or all) of the renovations/repairs? And when/if the home is sold, are you allowed to say it was renovated by Mike Holmes and on TV and stuff?)

      • Hi Nicole,

        It was a huge relief, and weight off our shoulders knowing that all the behind the walls stuff was fixed in our house, and we can move forward working on everything else. It was a lot to handle at the time, but its one of those things that seems so distant now, and less painful!

        If you’d like to chat more you can send me an email kristen@storefrontlife.com but to make a quick answer of your questions: we as homeowners did contribute, and I’m not sure about the selling part. I would probably tell the buyers about the work & encourage them to watch the show (cause they’re buying it!) but I don’t know if I would use it as a selling feature. Seems kinda like I’d be taking advantage of Mike’s good will in helping me, and trying to profit from it. Know what I mean? Just doesn’t sit well with me. Not that we have any plans of selling right now! We’re still in love with our home.

  115. Wow. Feel the love of at least 135 commenters, Daniel! Don’t be discouraged! Getting the roof done and out of the way sooner than later is probably best in the long run. And you’ve worked damn hard for months on end in heat, humidity and while sick! We have total admiration for you!! And now, here are my wimpy West Coast examples for you: Bought new house 27 years ago only to have pipes burst 3 weeks later. Why? Some smartie in the building crew nailed the pipes in the upstairs master bath. The nails popped out while I was home alone at 11 at night and while pregnant. Water streaming out of bath cabinets, vents and pooling on the carpet all over the place! We were only one of two families who had moved in on the street. Hubby at work. So me and other new neighbor were trying to shut off the water outside in the dark. No street lights. So now pregnant and no water. Water had streamed down from second story to first floor. Spent days using neighbor-stranger’s bathroom. Ultimately couldn’t save carpet anywhere. We were then moved out so builder could recarpet the whole house again. And then moved back in again. Did I mention I was pregnant?! Flash forward to decades of discovering many things not built correctly or anywhere near code in this new house like furnace installation, sliding doors, cheap windows that bounced when you touched them, incorrect venting. Who. Signs. Off on this stuff?! I could go on but won’t. So feel the love of the Dan-fans AND remember that you have Max and the dogs to boot! Looking forward to seeing the box gutter “afters!” This too shall pass and be a great story later on!

  116. Hi Daniel,

    So sorry to hear about your roof woes. I feel your pain, as I thought I was alone in my old-house-hypochondria suffering.

    I own a 100 year-old house with an assortment of “re-muddles” that I, too, continually work to correct. For some reason, the former owner thought a four foot high deck (think stage), beside a six foot high fence was a good idea – especially when the only way to get to it from inside the house was to go down a flight of stairs to a patio, and the go up a flight of stairs to the deck.

    So, one beautiful spring day, I had one of my friends come over and help me take it down. Geared up with safety glasses, work boots and suede gloves, we got to work ripping off the deck boards. When we broke for lunch, I went inside and let my one-year-old puppy out for a bathroom break. Well, what I didn’t realize, was my friend had removed the barrier I had just placed across the bottom of the deck stairs. She later told me she was “just going to go up and remove a couple more boards”. My puppy (an Australian shepherd mix = fur missile), took off like a shot and ran up the stairs to the now non-existent deck. She valiantly tried to navigate her way across the joists, but eventually slipped and impaled herself on a rusty, broken off deck screw.

    After a four hour surgery and eight week recovery, my puppy survived. My DIY demolition project cost me a few thousand dollars in vet bills, but I was thankful that was all it cost me.

    So lessons learned:
    1. Dogs and renovations don’t mix.
    2. The real tragedies are when someone gets injured.
    3. My new mantra is “it’s only money, it’s only money, it’s only money.” ‘Cause it’s true. (Even when you don’t have any.)

  117. Oh, so, so many things. Not us: neighbor across the street had a shit geyser like yours, except it was all under the house, pooling under there for months. Then their house (1920s Spanish Colonial Revival bungalow) tried to escape from the foundation and the stucco cracked all over. That’s when they discovered the horror below. They do have the most lush yard on the street though.

  118. Daniel, I’ve come to this two days after you posted it. I can feel how overwhelmed you must have felt – perhaps still feel now. It’s a horrible feeling to have.

    I had an old cottage once and there was a leak at the window. Got contracters out, who said the flat roof over the dormer window needed replacing, all of it. Did that, costing hundreds of pounds. That very night there was hard rain, and the very same spot leaked all over again. I was furious. Contractor came out, said, oh, it was the flashings round the window, but actually the roof had needed replacing anyway . . . YES, BUT I JUST GAVE YOU HUNDREDS OF POUNDS AND YOU DIDN’T FIX THE PROBLEM!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Be careful of tradesmen. Be careful because you are a nice (young) guy who some people would take advantage of. Make sure you get a number of quotes for the work, and make sure the workmen know, that even if you don’t know about something, you will find out by research or second opinion. You did the right thing to get up on the roof and check stuff out to your satisfaction.

    Just keep doing that, and you – and the house – will be fine. I hope you will also take a short break. Even a couple of hours drinking a coffee and reading a novel in a nice cafe, away from the house, will renew your enthusiasm for the next stages.

  119. OK, we had some sort of ‘overflow’ problem with what I thought had to do with our water softener/filter system. When it would regenerate, water would overflow out of the valve thingy. It’s right by the kitchen sink so I had a plumber out to use the snake-thing to fix the problem. Still had the problem. Went through this several times. I should mention that my husband was working in Saudi Arabia and when he came home on leave, there were lots of other little things to do and nothing seemed wrong and this went on for about 6 months. But basically I was in la-la land, be-bopping along like all was well. So after about 3 snake episodes and with the husband home, he decides to call out a big dog plumber, one with all the cameras and stuff. Meanwhile, my friend and I are off to Round Top, an awesome antiques fair, having our well-deserved girl-time with no husbands to spoil our shopping adventures. I get a call from my husband and he tells me our cast-iron sewer line is leaking and they have to tunnel under our house which is on a foundation to make the repair and its going to cost BIG money. (I’m thinking $5000) So I’m a little OMgosh at this point but I’m shopping so I’m OK. Then husband calls back with the ‘estimate.’ Going to be $12000. I’m shocked but by this time I’m drinking wine and I’m with my BFF so again, I’m OK. Also, I should state that we had our sewer line inspected, with a camera, before we bought the house and I thought it was in “great shape.” I could go on and on with this but by the time it was all said and done, it was $22000. They had to tunnel almost all the way under the length of the house (a man has to be able to go under, work and then turn abound, so the tunnel is quite large). Should also mention that this happened in September. In May, the husband broke his collar bone and had to have surgery. My 17-year-old, Jack Russell child passed away in June, our car had to have $5000 in repairs and my FIL also passed. Needless to say, it was a really shitty (no pun intended) capper to a really shitty summer. So yeah, I feel your pain. But there’s a happy ending to this story. Husband said I would likely lose my special-ordered-raised-from-twigs-fabulous yellow oleanders. Called my trusty yard guy and begged him to go dig up my bushes and put them in the best possible ‘hospital’ of our yard he could find. The oleanders survived and look great and I’ve basically forgotten how shitty that summer was. Time does heal.

  120. Wowsers.

    This has made a whole lot more thankful for the (tiny) mess that we’re currently cleaning up! We pulled up the laminate in our hallway and found a moldy damp patch on the sub floor running from the hot water tank to the bathroom. We’re pretty sure it’s from an old leak since the tank is pretty recently replaced, but still…That’s practically a basket of puppies compared to this shit!

    You will get there, if only because you’ve got no choice.

    Mrs E

  121. I haven’t read through all of the comments but I see that there are lots of us who would sincerely like to be a part of this project. Instead of calling it donations, you could have a raffle or silent auction of some sort, maybe for a “Meet-for-coffee-one-hour-consultation” in NYC. I’d bid on that and I only get to NYC a couple of times a year from Virginia so I’d think there’d be lots of us who’d participate. Just a thought.

    • Great ideas that could help fund the roof project. I’d participate, but don’t live in the NYC area. Imagine there are readers with other great ideas for funding.

  122. Wow, that is really a terrible story. But once it’s fixed, you’ll laugh at this I swear. Ten years ago my mom wanted to redo the half-bath in our house, and she was told by every diy website and book and hgtv shows that it was a weekend job. Well, she really wanted the project because my grandmother was dying and she needed to preoccupy herself whenever she was home. The weekend job turned into a few weeks job. One weekend I came home from college to help her, and when I arrived she had placed peel and stick tile over the floor linoleum, but in her absentmindedness used glue as well so when the tiles were placed and stepped on, glue poured out between the tiles. She gave up and went to do her shift at my grandmother’s so my brother and I tried to clean up the glue mess. Later, my uncle arrived to put in the new sink, but not knowing that the glue was not dry yet, slipped on the tiles and knocked a hole in the wall with the new pedestal sink, and moved all the tiles off the floor in the process. We ended up nailing the tiles to the floor, and instead of fixing the hole in the wall from the sink, we put up white wood paneling around the bottom half of the room. Now my mom hires a contractor to do the remodeling.

  123. When we remodeled and added onto the tiny 3-bedroom house that was our summer/weekend cabin, we changed it from baseboard electric heat and wood stove to a ground-water heat pump forced-air system. Such a system is way cheap to run, just the electricity to run the well pump and the heat exchanger. We had to drill a new well, however — $8,000. All the mechanical and new duct work — $6,000. Then the mechanical part (Hydron module) failed three times; once because the yahoos who had installed it did not extend the exhaust water line to our lake but simply ended it (above the frost line) in the yard (it froze, this is northern Wisconsin); second time because the unit was a lemon; third time because the yahoo who supposedly fixed the lemon didn’t bother to flush the metal filing out of the system. All the time the system wasn’t working we had to heat the 3,500 sq ft house with the emergency electric heat, supplemented with various space heaters — $500+/mo electric bills for 5 months a year. Eventually, we hired a different contractor to replace the unit — $11,000. He, however, forgot to verify the output of our well. New unit requires 14 gal/min, our well delivers 8 gal/min. We are struggling along.

  124. Cry. I swear, you will feel a million times better if you just let go and cry. Fight Club style. Just do it.

  125. Sending hugs from Stockholm, Sweden. All best to the fabulous four!

  126. I know I’m late to the party – but when I was re-doing my 1920s row home kitchen what started out as, “hey Mr. Contractor, can you maybe move up this extra, lower ceiling that was installed beneath the sheet rock-covered plaster ceiling at some point, and then maybe add some insulation to this woefully drafty exterior wall?” Turned into having the entire back wall of my first floor missing for a few days in the middle of winter.
    Seems the first floor exterior wall didn’t really go all the way up to support the second floor, and really old termite damage left one interior wall with no supportive studs in the middle. I’m convinced my tub and toilet were prevented from crashing into my kitchen by sheer luck.

  127. Oh! My turn! So… we rent. But I have 2 stories anyway.

    1) I decided to repaint the bathroom and when I was scraping paint, noticed that the paint on the back of the bathroom door was kind of…wavy. Guess what I found? Bubbles of mold! Black, swelling, powdery mold in pockets of water-based paint that had been slapped on over oil-based paint. Best. Landlords. EVER. I didn’t even call them to fix it. I once called them on a Saturday once about black mold growing OUT of one of our walls (our frat boy neighbors had COMPLETELY flooded their bathroom and told no one) and my landlord offered to send someone out MONDAY MORNING. I offered to call someone right then to take care of it and send them the bill, then they wouldn’t have to come out at all. Suddenly, someone was available to take care of it that evening. (Or start to, anyway… portions of drywall eventually had to be cut out and replaced.

    2) My parents once hired someone to paint the exterior or their house. They have a REALLY steeply sloped driveway. The painters forgot to put their parking break on and crashed through my parents garage door. The contractors got them a new one, but it wasn’t like the old one, which matched the gingerbread-trim style of the house.

    Feel any better?

  128. Daniel, Oy!
    I’m genuinely sorry you’re going through this. We haven’t had any major problems with our 1928 house. Just constant minor ones, and your blog keeps up my spirits for getting through those.
    As far as I’m concerned, you’re entitled to a really satisfying sulk over something like this, so indulge. Also chocolate helps.
    And I, too, would be happy to donate to the cause. I think you’re a real mensch for not being comfortable with it, but your readers love your blog, so let us give something back. And if you’re still not comfortable, offer something in exchange. I don’t know, some cool, illustrated pdf with instructions for how to renovate a bathroom with nothing but a can opener.

  129. Do horror stories help? Love to you and your little family, and thanks for keeping it real. May I suggest binge watching Rookie Blue when you hit your lowest point? That’s what I did at my rock bottom renovation moment.

  130. I’m so sorry! This looks terrible but on the upside, you’ve gained a new reader here. I came over from a link in the Young House Love comments. :) And I’m from Eastern WA like a couple of other commenters!

    Our house is not even 2 years old, but I so admire people like you who have the gall to take on old homes. I wish I did!

    Ok so stories: In our last house (built in 1983) a giant paint bubble (full of sewage) developed under our upstairs toilet from a wax ring leak. My hubby popped it into a bucket and had to rip out and patch the gross drywall.

    In that same house, the manifold for the sprinkler system froze then burst. Crash course in exterior plumbing. Thank goodness we could just saw off the broken part and had enough pipe left to retrofit a new manifold without re-piping into the house.

    When I was 5, a pipe burst under the kitchen sink and it literally rained in the basement all day long until we discovered it returning home from school. Had to replace ALL carpet in the house and rip apart the finished basement. It ruined our air hockey table, which was the most devistating part to my 5 year old self.

    Seems like plumbing is a common issue for us ha!

    It will get better and it will be worth it. Keep the end goal in mind at all times for motivation. Good luck!

  131. Around this time last year, we went down to our basement only to find five inches of water wall-to-wall. I stupidly jumped into the water to go try to solve the problem (broken sump pump), but later realized I could have been electrocuted since we didn’t call the city to have our electricity shut off. After many hours, we finally cleared out all the water——only to have it flood four more times within the following week. We threw a bunch of money at it and hired professionals to install a proper drainage system, and our basement has been bone dry ever since. We do still constantly worry every time it rains, but so far, so good. Those were definitely some dark, depressing days, but it eventually worked out. I know it’s incredibly rough right now, but it will get better!

  132. Oh, Daniel. I am so sorry. Hopefully this is the worst, and now it’s behind you, and you can move on. As far as my worst…that would probably be removing the linoleum in my kitchen, by hand, with no mask or other protective gear because I am a dumb dummy. And then reading your fun and funky asbestos post. OOPS. :( (I think the linoleum was installed in the late 90s, so while I should be in the clear, I am not necessarily, and oh boy the time I’ve spent kicking myself for that.)

  133. When we bought our first house in Boston, we had a lead inspection. Inspection found lead (we knew it would, just wanted to know the extent), but nothing that needed immediate fixing. So we figured we’d save up for a few years to be able to afford professional remediation.

    The upstairs was covered in 25+ year old really gross carpet. We asked them to remove it, as we knew there were wood floors underneath. They agreed, and before we moved in, we had the floors refinished. The guys who refinished the floors didn’t clean up their dust very well, and we noticed that the dust looked an awful lot like the floors had been painted. Paint that wasn’t tested in the original inspection, because carpeting is an acceptable method of containment for lead painted floors. We called the inspection company to come in again and test the dust. And it had lead. There was lead paint dust all over the house – not something that could wait to be fixed. Also not something we felt we could (or should!) handle ourselves. But when you use licensed lead remediators, they can’t just fix one thing, they have to fix it an. That was an unexpected $20,000+ expense!

  134. I guess it’s kind of like when you get a shiny new something (like a car or what have you), and you’re so nervous for that first scratch or dent. You have discovered your first scratch/house horror and are working on remedying it! So after the initial difficulty and sticker shock, you can relax that the “okay, what’s the big impending issue” sensation has passed.

    You hit the nail on the head–major ($$) things that can go wrong in an old house: plumbing, roofing, wiring, foundations. Well, you already started covering plumbing and now are working on roofing. Roofing is great in that a good one will protect potential future issues–for example, even if the wiring isn’t perfect, the lack of leaks will lower the fire risk.

    After the roof is resolved, not only will you not have to worry about your house becoming a winter wonderland inside, but also it will help keep things toasty and keep the progress you have already done, or are planning to do, lovely! Plaster will stay intact, and paint will not bubble with leaking moisture!

    I think of myself as a realistic to pessimistic person so if see an upturn on the horizon, I think you got this! That’s what adorable pets are for in the meantime-I-want-to-bawl-and-scream-and-drink-all-the-wine-and-cheese-in-pain-and-sadness-and-self-pity moments. So just hug Meko and Linus.

    Best wishes!

  135. The firehouse is like Texas – everything is bigger there. It’s kind of a ‘duh’ statement that gets translated into real dollars when you do anything, like paint the entire former garage to make it into a photography studio. Oh and add an extra degree of difficulty, the walls are made up of glazed bricks. We (thought) we took all the right steps – buy a paint sprayer, ask a friend who works at Porter Paints to help us select the right coating, etc. My husband sprayed on the first layer (an entire day’s task) then went upstairs to shower. Upon returning, the paint was dripping, nay, melting off the wall. Hundreds of dollars just sinking slowly to the floor with no way for us to stop it. In a panic, we called our friend who said ‘Isn’t it raining in St Louis?’ Oh…. yeah… you mean we shouldn’t paint an unairconditioned space when it’s totally humid???? Insert lots of drinking and sadness. The next morning we figured out that we could mitigate the drips in the grout lines (where they were most obvious) by cleaning the drips with a toothbrush. After a second coat (on a non humid day) it’s pretty great except in on corner. So, bad things happen. It will get better.

  136. Wow! Lots of people with lots of long stories! My contribution to the comment thread – ‘keep a-hold, pet’ (as my mother would say), you’ll get through it. Hopefully this guy will get the job done before winter. Get it done then just forget the cost because its a crucial job. The other stuff (that you can do) will still happen in time. Good luck! Jemma x

  137. Frankly, I was relieved to read that you gave up on at least one repair and called a professional. You were starting to seem like some form of supernatural house hero, sent to show the rest of us what a bunch of lazy whiners we really are. It will all be over soon, then you can focus on making more money for the next home emergency. Yay!

    If it makes you feel any better, I’ve reached the point where I barely even consider DIY before I call someone in — a trip to the emergency room or possibly a consultation with a divorce attorney can be a lot more expensive in the long run. ;)

  138. I’m sure you’ll have a reservation about this idea but honestly, if it all became too £££ and you needed help, you could crownfund for the guttering. I have very few spare pennies but I’d certainly give you a few ($2 / reader = helpful?) for the joy your blog brings me!

    Even if you don’t do, nice to have the thought that you could? You generate enough goodwill that I’m sure a huge number of your ‘fans’ would pay a few dollars to read all about it. X

  139. Oh dear… I never owned a place myself so I never had to directly manage such situations… but I know (as probably everyone does in a way?) what it feels like when suddenly something comes up like a big threatening cloud of needles and nails, about to rain down heavily and destroy it all in an instant… You stand up and struggle and fight like the little warrior you become in such a moment, but still the feeling that you’re helpless grows bigger and bigger, like that said cloud…

    But it will all be fine! The drain doctor will come and it will all be fine. He’ll see to it and fix it and it will be better than before.
    The bank account will surely suffer. But in the end, it will be grand.

    – Would you accept €uros then? Nah, joking, our banks can also send $s of course. ;)

  140. Just wanted to mention that I’m glad you decided to post this. Your posts are often quite lulzy and entertaining, but a truly generous reno blog also posts about the absolute nightmares. Being honest about the challenges helps people know what to expect. Mad respect.

  141. I do this when I read your email… skip for photos then go back are read it all… in this case I thought it was all about that awesome flashing and how roofs are awful to pay for but wonderful to live under. Then I read everything… ugh! I’m sorry this is happening! I hope that you are smiling and full of solutions right now. None of my stories are good enough to compare to the beauties that are already posted.

    Thanks for keeping it all honest… we all know you are The Radness. This makes you seem more real. Hugs.

  142. Oh….I feel your roofing pain. We purchased our 1965 mid-century modern ranch 3 years ago. We were thrilled with its huge, spacious interior, and 5 year old roof with 30 year architectural shingles. The problems started the first winter with leaks in the garage and the foyer. We are handy people and went up on the roof to try to find the problems. No luck finding most of them. At one point we had three buckets in our foyer catching water from different leaks. We spent $1500 having some flashing above the foyer plus rotted fascia board repaired. But then we had another leak in the garage, two in the kitchen, and one in the soffit outside my daughter’s room. And oh yeah, the plaster on one wall of the foyer started crumbling from more internal leaks in the wall. The stress of rain and snow was unbelievable.

    The problem with our roof is that its a 2-12 pitch. Its frankly too low for the shitty roofing job that was done on the house. The shingles werent overlapped as much as they should have been-a common practice in roofing. And despite having ice and water shield over the entire roof, the thing leaked all over the place. This year, we hired an architect to do a consultation with us, and decided to do a metal standing seam roof designed for low slope roofs. It’s being completed this week. The roof looks amazing but it was a huge expense. We had to take out a huge loan but peace of mind is worth it.

    • Believe me, you did the right thing. The first thing they teach you when learning about building is: Water is a wrecker. You can have a leak over here and water leaking 5 meters further down and no way to link the two (cause and effect) together and it goes everywhere and destroys everything.
      Good for you for hiring an architect to check it out! Have a wonderful day.

  143. Even new homes can have big problems. My son and his wife bought their first condo, a nice 2 bedroom on the first floor of a brand new three story building. There were only about 12 condos in the building. As soon as they had the first serious rainstorm, water ran down the inside walls of the master bedroom. They had to get a Shopvac and get up every couple of hours to gather up the water. No one knew what was wrong, and the builder was sure there was no construction flaw. Builder after builder came out to review the building, but it took about 2 years before a savvy builder recognized the problem. The window flashing had been installed backwards.

  144. OK first? I love this blog! I don’t run across many where I read every post from start to finish & then go back & start again – this is one of the few. Second, you have no idea how great it is to watch you work on that old house. Add my name to the list of readers who’d gladly contribute to the cause. My house was built in 1913 so it’s of the same era although not nearly as grand but I’m getting lots of great ideas and info. Love it! And finally, aren’t old houses fun, fun, fun? Our staircase has one handrail on it, on the room side, it’s much too low to be comfortable, plus it stops halfway up the stairs. After more than 25 years in this house, we finally put in a second one on the wall side last weekend. The stud finder doesn’t work in a plaster & lath wall so our (admittedly inexpert) method of locating studs to which to attach the brackets is to drill a bunch of holes. So of course we ended up drilling right thru a live wire that’s attached to the lath, looks like it was plastered right over and then drywall was added later. We can’t figure out why there’s a wire there, but it might explain why throwing the breaker to the room above doesn’t shut down all the power in that room. The whole house is like that, start one simple job and it turns into a big expensive mess. Just waiting on the electrician…..

  145. I too am at the mercy of a house-worth of sagging, leaking, dilapidated box-gutters. I feel your pain. They just don’t make ’em like they used to, and as a result, finding someone to fix ’em like they used to is near impossible. I wish you the best of luck!

  146. First off, I am a newcomer. LOVE your blog, most excellent, thank you! You asked for DIY tales that could top the gutters, so here goes.

    Six years ago, we bought an old farmhouse that sits in the middle of hundreds of acres of corn (or soybeans, depending on the whims of the farmers around us). The original part of the house was built around 1885, and it’s been added onto a couple of times since then.

    On the plus side, the house is the right size, in the right place, has the CITY WATER! (if you’ve ever had well water you will know what sort of priceless boon this is) and the HVAC system and the roof had been completely redone a few years before we bought the place. It was also VERY CHEAP! because of the downsides.

    What downsides, you ask? It was owned by a family of filthy little trolls who, in the seven years they had the place, did not pick up a broom, wash a dish, or take out the trash. They did, however, work on the electrical system, which had been installed in the 1920s (the whole knob and wire deal was alive and well here), because the Man of the House had delusions of being a Mad Scientist.

    We bought the place and set to work. We filled a 20-yard dumpster with the endless and mind-numbing collection of junk and bizarre objects that filled the house, ranging from the boxes of women’s magazines from the 50s to the full-sized mattress that had somehow been CRAMMED! into a tiny little cubbyhole that wasn’t much bigger than a beagle. I will spare you the tale of sweat, muscle, and outright cussing in several languages that it took to get that sucker out of the house.

    We were prepared for the usual stuff – remove the rancid shag carpeting, refinish the floors, repair the plaster wherever possible, gut the downstairs bathroom and start over, etc – but what we had somehow overlooked were the LEGIONS of mice that had overrun the place. They were EVERYWHERE. The first time I opened the silverware drawer was nearly the last, if you came down to the kitchen late at night they were sitting in the middle of the floor playing Texas Hold’Em and appeared resentful at being interrupted, etc. We killed 160 mice in the first six months we had the house (no, I am not making that number up), and things got a little calmer. The thing that almost caused me to throw my DH out the window, however, happened on a snowy night in January, a few months after we bought the place. The furnace vent in our bedroom, situated next to my side of the bed, had an old rusty grate over it, which I took off and cleaned and spray painted one afternoon. I asked DH to please put it back on for me and went off to work on something else. He said he would, but forgot, and I didn’t discover the omission till we went to bed. He refused to go down and get the grate, saying that there was no reason it couldn’t be left off for just one night, whereupon we retired for slumber. Alas for his sanguine hopes, the furnace gave a mighty WHOOF! in the middle of the night and coughed out a gigantic hairball of a mouse nest (including three mice) smack onto my side of the bed. I had heard that you can cling to the ceiling by your fingernails if necessary, but had always thought that was a fairy tale. However, I am here to tell you that it’s true. I spent the rest of the night on the couch, and the grate was installed without further delay (yes, we’re still married, but the bonds of matrimony were stretched mighty thin on this occasion).

    I will happily swap you the box gutter situation for three mice engaging in a panic-stricken run around a king-sized bed while being chased by an elderly whippet any day of the week.

  147. Wow! Very handy info here :) I love this post for the fact that you did see the problems in roofs and how you can avoid such dilemma. Roofs can be a headache that sometimes you do not know where the problem lies, especially with leaks. It’s crazy!

  148. Sounds like you’ve moved on some Daniel, and congrats on your shiny new furnace hot water heater gizmo.

    My horror story to share is from our 1870s house in DC. This is a teeny little house, off Logan Circle, a beauti-ful area to be sure. The house was gutted and redone (cheaply) in the 80s. One day I looked down at the floor just beyond the edge of the carpet. Something caught my eye. There were these little grooves or channels in the wood where there had not been anything there the last time I looked. Huh, I thought. I bent down closer to look and peeled back the carpet. And became quite sad. Termites were clearly having their way with a number of floorboards.

    So my husband and I took stock of this situation. We were in the midst of planning an upgrade renovation for our first floor anyway. This new fact caused some re planning in terms of the flooring choices and the urgency of doing something. I think that the termite damage was not unique to our house, but exacerbated by a moisture problem from a bad gutter, water was getting into one corner of the house and making its way to the floor. We got new gutters, redid the 1870s brick so the wall would not fall upon us, and proceeded with the rest of the mini reno.

    The most fun thing I learned though? Termites can swarm. And swarm they did. On at least one occasion, we fought back by deploying our shopvac and trying to vacuum them into some state of control. Oh and did I mention at the time that I was 8 months pregnant? It was swell. Me, on my knees vacuuming swarming termites. Don’t recommend it.

    We got the renovation done in the nick of time. Beautiful, termite impervious slate floors (also: new patio doors, electrical goodness, exposed brick walls). Threw a party to celebrate, went into labor. All good. Baby and new flat screen came home the same day. No more termites!

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