Olivebridge Cottage: Oh Dear, Here We Go…

Toward the end of high school, I became what some people like to call a “theater kid.” Those words make me cringe a little because everyone always assumes you mean that you were one of those annoying 16-year-old “thespians” practicing your “craft” for an “audience” of younger siblings and grandparents who were “emotionally riveted” by your “art,” who then typically turn into attention-craving nightmares of adults, but only the second half of that is true for me. Me, I was on crew. My high school was super cool because we had one of those experimental “black box” theaters, which is exactly what it sounds like, so every season we had to totally conceive, design, and build the set for our peers to tromp across with their forced British accents and fake theater cigarettes and stuff.

We didn’t mess around, either. When we put on A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, we built three 3-storey Roman houses, clad in faux-stone that yours truly crafted from foam insulation, which turned on enormous carousels to expose the backsides of the set during the second act. We were fast and loose and dumb and it’s amazing that nobody died.

Maybe the best part of the whole thing, though, wasn’t the building part or the shows but what came after that. After the final show, the actors would spend some time doing some weird bonding shit and crying and stuff, and then when they were all tuckered out from emoting, we’d get into strike-mode. Per tradition, the school would basically lock us all in while we spent hours and hours dismantling our months of work. We’d wield screw guns and circular saws with wild abandon until our masterpiece was reduced to a pile of lumber and garbage, and then we’d sweep the floor and eat pizza and the graduating seniors would do some awards ceremony thing and then we’d all leave, I guess. The details are a little fuzzy. This one time (er, probably every time) one of the actors had the forethought to bake and then kindly distribute pot brownies to the cast and crew after the show, but he got suspended and then things got slightly more supervised and significantly less fun.

I bring all this up because demo at Olivebridge Cottage reminds me a lot of striking our theater sets. See, we didn’t really know how to build things and it didn’t really matter because realistically the set only had to last through a couple of weekends. They always looked good, but everything was more or less held together with either 4,000 screws drilled in from every angle or 1 screw that broke in a wood knot and a bunch of duct tape. There was nary a middle ground. Because we saved anything salvageable to potentially reuse when building the next set, I recall spending a lot of time removing said screws from 2x4s and cursing whoever put all of them there.

The thing is, the insides of a house shouldn’t really remind you of a theater set built by a bunch of children with braces and anxiety disorders. They should probably remind you of, well, a house, ya know? Like maybe you’ve seen houses on TV or out in the world or on the internet, so when you see the insides of your house you can be like “ah, looks familiar!” while thinking about those things and not what you were doing when you were 16 and struggling to roll a halfway decent joint.

bathroomdemo1

Starting roughly 20 minutes after demo commenced at Olivebridge, little red flags began to slowly erect themselves throughout my brain. See that wall? It’s, uh, wrong. It doesn’t really look so wrong in the pictures but the thing you don’t see is that the entire thing was built not with lumber and nails, but with lumber and screws. SO. MANY. SCREWS. The screws were primarily of the drywall variety, but there were also decking screws, regular wood screws, some other types of screws…anyway. No normal contractor would build a wall this way, because the act of framing walls generally involves framing nails, as that is their function, but I sort of let it slide at the time. The wall was coming down anyway, and it was probably just this wall, right? Red flag #1.

Not right. Not even approaching right. I started depositing the removed screws into a cup, then when that filled up I found a mid-size tupperware, then I had to graduate to a bucket. Screws everywhere. Drill batteries could barely keep up. Total chaos. My life is wild.

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Removing the insulation (presumably there for sound rather than heat…) revealed a beautiful cornucopia of mold…everywhere.

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A mold issue had been noted on the home inspection report and having it professionally remediated and a vapor barrier installed in the crawlspace to prevent the issue from returning were conditions of the sale, but looks like some of those minor details might have slipped through the cracks. And by some, I mean all? And by minor, I mean relatively major? I’m pretty sure that actual mold remediation would have entailed removal of affected drywall and other materials, and I’m also pretty sure that some 6-mil plastic thrown down in the crawlspace without so much as a piece of tape, gravel underneath, etc., does not a vapor barrier make. Red flags #2 and #3.

mousenest

Then there was the unidentified rodent nest. Mouse? Squirrel? Chipmunk? What you’re seeing in this fun blurry picture is a bunch of eaten up insulation with a hefty dose of animal shit and a bunch of eaten acorns. It wouldn’t be terribly uncommon to find this in an exterior wall (though still troubling for reasons we’ll explore another time…hello, foreshadowing), but here? Inside of a totally interior wall with no obvious access point? No bueno. Red flag #4.

Great start.

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So, ahead I forged! Despite the unwelcome discoveries, getting this MASSIVE waste-o-space bathroom outta here felt good. It felt like the house was expanding and starting to look and feel right without this stupid useless space.

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Hopefully you can get a sense of how enormous this bathroom was, and how right-in-the-middle-of-everything it was. Totally dumb. The hot water heater is being swapped for a tankless model in the hall closet (this one was about 20 years old, so it probably didn’t have a ton of life left in it anyway). That metal thing that looks like a duct to the right is the backside of the big propane-powered heater thing. I didn’t know at the time but this thing was about 15 years old and rather than try to relocate this huge ugly beast and wait for it to die in a few years, we decided to spring for one of those little ductless mini-split systems that’ll do A/C, too, instead of just heat.

Anyway, holy moly, the framing up in here was some crazy stuff. It took a little while to disassemble, but I’d rather take a *little* extra time on this stuff and be able to potentially reuse the lumber than see it all go to a landfill. Spending so much time at the dump kind of guarantees everlasting guilt about creating more garbage so I try to keep it to a minimum when possible, since renovations generate more than enough garbage as it is no matter how conscious you’re being.

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Almost there! The construction of this wall that the bathroom shares with the kitchen sort of confirms my suspicion that the bathroom was added sometime fairly recently. See how the bottom part of the wall has older framing, and then some newer work was added on top of it? So I think the kitchen always had this division wall that ended a couple feet from the ceiling, which I can see being pretty cute when it was built. Our standards for “openness” have changed a little in the past 60 years or so, though, and I think having more of a flow between the kitchen and dining spaces will work really nicely in this kind of house.

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With the half-bath mostly gone, it was fun to start to really get a sense of how big this space will be! Even with that wall still standing, the amount of light traveling through the two rooms was vastly improved and way exciting.

I try to keep things reasonably clean when I demo, and on a job site in general. Especially if you don’t have a dumpster, taking periodic breaks to bag debris, sort out electrical (TURN THE POWER OFF), and collect and organize your tools so you don’t keep losing them all helps keep things running smoothly and without a massive pile of garbage to try to wrangle at the end.

Also, be safe! ESPECIALLY if you’re dealing with mold, a good respirator is important to protect those lungs. Add in a bunch of rodent nests and who knows what else and none of this is stuff you want to be breathing in. You’re welcome for that glimmering piece of very obvious advice.

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Andddddd, woah! Yay! Light! Space! Removing this cabinetry and this drywall was so awesome. Light just came FLOODING into the dining space and the whole house felt lighter and so much bigger. This is gonna be nice!

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Of course, this meant I had also moved on to demo-ing parts of the kitchen, which was exciting and terrifying. This kitchen has a lot of confusion and bizarre aspects so diving in was a little scary. You never know what you’ll find!

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For instance…removing the stove and the cabinet next to it revealed some funky crap. A punch through the back wall revealed lots and lots of totally rotten, eaten, and otherwise destroyed fiberglass insulation, and the side wall didn’t even have any drywall!! No wonder this kitchen (the whole house, really) was freezing in the winter! It’s essentially uninsulated 2×4 walls without drywall in places. Yikes! I keep debating whether my garage is more weather-tight than this house was.

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Once the final wall was gone, I got to work on removing the lower run of cabinets and appliances in the kitchen. Oof. So much grime and mold and nastiness.

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A little mold I can handle. Show me THIS much mold, though, coupled with the damp rotten insulation and the mouse shit and the acorns and the rest of the unidentified collection of horrible crap and I might throw up.

I did not throw up, FYI, but I COULD have is the point. This was some nastiness right there.

So…wanna know something fun and cool? See that big white PVC pipe going down through the floor? That’s the dryer vent. Guess where it vents into?

THE CRAWLSPACE. THE SPACE UNDERNEATH THE KITCHEN. WHO DOES THAT. I picture it going like this:

“Honey, I wonder why we have such horrific mold problems! I feel terrible all the time and the house is full of spores!”

“I wonder if it’s because the machine that dries our wet clothes has been pumping hot moist air into the enclosed space under our kitchen for many decades?”

“NAH.”

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Probably the consequence of this absurd venting situation (aside from the extreme mold) was…lots and lots of rot. At least on this wall. We’ve since found more and more and more rot in other areas of the house for other reasons (we’ll get there…) but this wall specifically seems to primarily be a result of the stupid vent.

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Also, the framing on this wall? Horrors. It looks like somebody basically decided to build a new wall about a foot in front of the actual exterior wall, except they had no concept of how walls are made. Then they built a soffit another foot out from the exterior wall just for funsies. Then they plopped a crooked window inside this lunatic construction with zero support, added some cabinets and plumbing and called it a kitchen.

You can probably get a sense from these pictures, too, of JUST how wonky the floors are here. Basically the entire floor slopes down overall about 1.5 inches from the left side to the right in the picture above, with a pretty significant dip in the middle to make matters even more fun and exciting.

I don’t have a picture of it because it’s too dark in the crawlspace, but a quick look down there revealed why the floors are like this. See, the flooring in this section of the house is a funny mix of 2×4 and 2×6 lumber. Because the span is about 13 feet from side to side, some sagging isn’t surprising at all…I think the modern standard for this is 2×12 lumber, so the joists are under-sized to begin with. Luckily there’s a big support beam that runs lengthwise down the center, held up by posts, to hold up the middle of the floor and prevent this…except whatever genius put in the 1/2 bath decided to CUT IT IN HALF and just leave it dangling in space, doing nothing and supporting nothing. Coupled with the fact that these joists are also rotted in places from the moisture damage, I guess it’s not that surprising that the floor looks like it’s probably about to collapse? Go figure.

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Cool header there, bro.

And thus began the Olivebridge Cottage renovation. Only up from here, right? RIGHT?

(wrong.)

Diary time!

Day 1: Demo’d half-bath, inspected crawlspaces and moved appliances out of kitchen space.

Day 2: Continued demo on half-bath and utilities spaces, started demo in kitchen!

Day 3: Kitchen demo. Noted extensive mold issues and likely plumbing concerns. Dryer vents directly into crawlspace, Jesus Christ. Loaded truck for dump in AM.

Day 4: Two dump runs in John’s truck, continued work on kitchen demo.

Day 5: Dump run in morning, then continued demo in kitchen/dining spaces. Loaded truck for dump run in AM.

Day 6: Dump run in morning, more demo in kitchen and dining spaces. Will complete next week.


125 Comments

  1. Good heavens! I know all about the mice (and birds) and nests. At THE Bungalow, the PO had removed a gas heater in the sleeping porch and NOT covered over the old chimney vent on the exterior. We pulled off the siding and the stud cavity was chock full of dried up bird’s nests with knob and turn wiring running though the center…….. I’ll see your mold and raise you a fire waiting to happen.

    • And I’ll see your fire hazard and raise you live electrical with no insulation left from hungry mice, roof structures on the brink of collapse, and a house with no foundation.

      (I think I’m always going to win this game. thanks, Olivebridge!)

      • I give, I give – you win! (not that anyone would WANT to win this one LOL. My roof is solid. (I’ve done the mouse nibbles enough to short circuit – ugh. And it’s a mortar and rock foundation that still has the original pointing on it – which is a project for another day and will be hired out if I can find a mason.)

  2. Misery!

    …and then you applied for a demolition permit and started over from scratch?

  3. This whole situation makes my skin crawl. The people who built/renovated these areas were trusted or paid to do the job right. Instead, they left a disturbing trail of bad choices. It’s giving me trust issues, haha.

    • Well, if it’s any consolation, my understanding is that most of these renovations were done by the previous owner and friends/neighbors. There’s zero chance in hell any of this was permitted (framing alone would never have passed inspection), and it’s pretty clear that they just had no clue what they were doing or how it might affect things down the road!

      That’s not to say there aren’t bad contractors and builders out there, but I don’t think that’s really the situation here!

      • I agree. We recently renovated our rental with the landlord’s blessing. I know previous reno were done by him or his late father (landlord is maybe 60 and grew up in this 100 year old building).
        And their work looked just like this, complete with a trillion nails and screws. No salvageable wood though. Everything we removed was thoroughly rotted.

  4. Eee Gads! So you have the opportunity to right many wrongs here. I am guessing there weren’t a million You-tube videos on how to install a dry vent and they lacked the ability to understand basic laws of physics.

    I have never understood the concept cutting corners when doing it right from the beginning usually ends up costing less in the long run. Let’s just hope you don’t run into any other really scary stuff like random electrical junction boxes buried inside the walls.

    • You know, that might be the ONE THING I don’t think I’ve found…but frankly, that’d be a lot less scary than things I have found!

    • Oh wait, I take it back. Does it count if the electrical junction isn’t in a box at all, but is buried in the wall and held together with tape? Because I did find that.

  5. Wow, you’ve got your work cut out for you.

  6. OMG! I cannot imagine! We had a water damaged front wall of our 20 year old home from an inadequate gutter that allowed water to spill down the front of the house. Anyway……only an approximately 10’x4′ portion of the wall was removed to reveal a mold problem. Within 6 hours, I had a 100+ degree fever and a cough that lasted about 2-3 days. That being said, after my very minor mold discovery, I cannot even imagine the possible consequences of the disturbing and disgusting discovery in this cottage! I’m thankful you’re okay!

  7. I love your demo posts Daniel. In fact every time you do one I want to get up and start bashing at things! In FACT you have inspired me to get up off my arse and go open up that (I think/hope NOT supporting) wall between the dining room and the middle sitting room in this old house RIGHT NOW!. I’ll let you know later if it all comes to a crashing halt:)

    • Yikes! Definitely make sure it isn’t load-bearing before removing or altering any framing!! Otherwise, have fun!

      • Well the wall is gone and nothing fell down and I now have a verrry large lounge :)))) Thank for the inspiration Daniel ! (I was 95% sure it wasn’t load bearing but I checked with a contractor neighbor just to be sure ;)

      • Oh my! Congrats!

  8. “I wonder if it’s because the machine that dries our wet clothes has been pumping hot moist air into the enclosed space under our kitchen for many decades?”
    They must have thought it would warm the cold house up! Ha! Like those things they used to sell to divert your dryer vent heat back into the room. Hot moist air — no thanks.

    • Oh GAWD, that never even occurred to me! NOPE NOPE NOPE.

    • Haha, back in the 70s, I remember reading a helpful hint to run your drier vent hose into the basement and tie a cut-off pantyhose leg over it to catch the lint. Cut down on those pesky heating bills! Also, hello carbon monoxide! Those were fun times.

      • Oh GAWD. This whole time, it actually never occurred to me that this could be something people *actually* thought was a good idea, ever! Jeez.

  9. So much fun and you’ve just started!

  10. Wow, guess that really goes to show how you never know what is lurking behind.

    Is that kitchen window level or is it an optical illusion with the floor being unlevel.

  11. HOLY COW! That is a night-mare!!!!!! We had really bad mold in our basement cause the house sat empty for 6 years and no circulation through the seasons. We used the heat method to remove it and it’s worked really well. The company heated our whole basement to 140 degrees after cleaning and spraying the beams. The 140 degree heat kills any existing mold spores in every little crack. We installed an air exchanger that removes humidity and keeps the air circulating. Gosh – may the force be with you. Glad this place is getting a strip down and rehab.

    • Susan, your comment is so weirdly reassuring! I looked at a foreclosure recently that turned out to have a terrifying mold problem (spores were blooming into little 3D spheres through the drywall), and while that definitely wasn’t the house for us, it made me wonder if mold is ever really solvable. So many people seem to end up with terrible health problems from it. I’m so glad the heat method worked!

  12. You should be filming this. It would make a great hgtv show!

    • Actually HGTV is always casting for their shows. I think they have two renovation shows casting nationally right now. Just Google “Be on HGTV,” it’ll pop up.

    • I hope you do a post on all the things that could have been done when buying the home that would (maybe) have helped the owners see some of these problems before purchasing. I know home inspections are notoriously fouled up, and that you’re expected to find a good one yourself. I’m sure there’s a whole blogs worth of stuff people would look for. Please enlighten us.

      • I’ll try, Ashli! It’s understandably a touchy subject and I’m not an expert on real estate transactions, but I definitely think it’s worth talking about! I’m guessing the comments on that post will be full of great info too. :)

  13. Daniel….omg
    The mouse poop is beyond the beyond
    Face masks at the ready please
    And good luck with all that.

  14. Hey Daniel. How are you feeling? You didn’t need to be exposed to mold on top of all the other shit this year. It’s so frightening to me to see that a house was sold to your friends/clients in this condition. Engineers are supposed to check for structural problems before a buyer closes. No one looked in the crawl space? Or saw the crooked floor? Or checked that the mold remediation was done correctly? That’s just insanity. Good luck. You will right all its wrongs and it will be beautiful. But Damn.

    • I’m doing OK! I tried to be as safe as possible around the mold and just get it outta there. Health isn’t really at 100% these days but I think it’s mainly exhaustion at this point…thank you for asking! :)

      There are far more problems with this house than what’s in this post, unfortunately, and I don’t think the responsibility really rests on any one person. The previous owner very clearly knew about some of these issues and didn’t disclose them. The home inspection was not thorough enough, and issues noted in it really weren’t adequately explained. These first-time homeowners were not advised to bring in a contractor, electrician, plumber, engineer, or anything else to evaluate the property before buying it. The mold remediation I don’t know a lot about…I guess the PO claimed to have gotten mold remediation specialists in to do the “work” but it’s very obvious to me that no materials like moldy drywall were removed and the extent of the “remediation” was throwing plastic down in the crawlspace and calling it a vapor barrier—I don’t know why it wasn’t double-checked (where’s the proof that a licensed remediation expert ever even came, let alone did anything?) by the buyer’s lawyer and/or real estate agent. Anyway…basically it’s a fucked up situation on many levels that we’re all trying to make the best of—I gotta give my clients major props for keeping their chins up throughout!

  15. Oh god. That’s just nasty. THIS is why when I’m looking at houses there are only two options I’m considering buying: 1) total gut or 2) needs new paint. My working premise is that anything that looks like it falls somewhere in between those is likely a damned lie just waiting to be revealed. You are a champ (read: masochist?) for not backing slowly away from this whole project when the extent of great screw-rodent-poop-mold situation became apparent.

    • Ha! I wasn’t considering backing out at this point, but there have been some moments since where I’ve wanted to torch the whole place and run!

      Not to scare you, but unfortunately the majority of this house really looked like it just needed new paint, and has ended up being almost a total gut! Sometimes you really just don’t know—in this case I think there are several things that could have and should have been done to insulate the homeowners from unknowingly getting into a project this big…I’ll try to talk about those in a later post as it’s a complicated and sort of touchy subject.

      I gotta say, working on this house has made me sort of scared of newer structures! I think the oldest section of this house is 1930s or 40s and the construction is just such a disaster. Both of my houses have almost a century on this one and are in much better structural condition!

      • Totally agree about the hazards of newer construction – Green Building Adviser had an amazing post the other day on some brand new construction at a development in Arizona – basically, they don’t bother to put sheathing on most of the house, and instead just apply a thin layer of rigid insulation to the framing, with stucco over in – thieves are able to break in by poking a hole in the wall with a screwdriver. Because they know it’s terribly constructed, they preemptively run “pest tubes” through the walls to periodically pump insecticides through to deal with all the critters that can get in through the gaps in the walls/foundation/sill plate, etc. The horrors went on and on. These were not cheep houses either – but they had granite counter tops, so buyers were happy. It was unbelievable: http://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/blogs/dept/qa-spotlight/why-are-houses-built-way.

      • OMG. That’s insane! The materials cost of building a house correctly isn’t really that high, either…it’s amazing that they can get away with something like that!! Insecticides pumped through all of my walls?? NO THANKS.

      • Also, a plug for GBA, if you’re not a reader already – the group there has a ton of great knowledge about really good energy efficient building practices, heating methods, etc. A lot of the articles are available to paid subscription only (we’re building a new house and have definitely found the paid content is worth it – I think it was something like $100 for a year), but the Q&A section is free and full of great advice.

  16. Oh man, this is crazy. I would have nightmares that other mysteries were hidden and would have to investigate each wall. I can’t believe that vent situation though. INSANITY.

  17. I love your posts Daniel K! Your black garage has me mesmerized, but this post is making my lungs tight just readin’ about it… I think I’ll go to lowes and buy a air purifier tout de suite!

  18. The more I read the more I get scared for you, and then I remember that you aren’t the property owner. I’m assuming the property owners are going to be the ones bearing the cost of the crazy renovation expansions (I’m assuming all new electrical, framing, structural, etc.) This house is like a Holmes on Homes episode, and I know there is more of a train wreck coming!

    • Yes—unfortunately we’ve had to expand the scope of this entire project a few times over at this point. We’re trying so hard to keep costs down, work smart, etc., for the clients’ sakes but none of this stuff is particularly cheap…materials have to be bought, everyone needs to get paid—that’s just reality! The homeowners are busy working professionals who don’t live in the area, so offsetting the costs by them pitching in with stuff like demo isn’t really a viable option, either.

      I’m not sure any Holmes episode can compete with this sucker. Just you wait.

      • I have to hope it’s not worse than the Mike Holmes “Lien on Me” House. He had to tear that one down and start over from the ground up.

      • We’ll all find out together, I guess!

  19. You have a latent hit reality show here. Got any friends with video skills?

  20. I guess this is what you have to consider experience on the job. A necessary learning process, but it is really way too much at once.

  21. I keep forgetting to ask you. Did you go to THHSST in Fairfax, Va

  22. Seriously. Knock this effer down to the ground and start over.

  23. Wow. On the bright side (because the dark side is more like a black hole at this point), I’m loving the mid-century vibe on the those windows and all the light streaming through now. I remember reading the owners/you are going for a Scandinavian look. I can’t wait to see this baby finished! You’re a brave soul.

  24. I have a bungalow that I have finally gutted but the foundation problems are so much worse than what you are describing that I am stuck. Not enough money to fix it, and can’t get a loan on the property based on its value because I gutted it so now the bank says its uninhabitable (lesson learned finance before gutting). Biding my time, saving up my pennies so I can tackle the problem again. But so disheartening. Love your blog. Makes me feel less pessimistic about my bungalows prospects.

  25. Oh god, that looks horrible! D: But, you don’t own this house, right? Some unlucky other people do, and so all the horrifying surprises you unearth are … just really bad news for the actual owners, correct? I bet they are so sad (but with all the major health & safety concerns here, I’m sure it’s better to know!)

  26. Hilariously brilliant set up, Daniel – can’t stop laughing, even though the ensuing dark tale of Olivebridge is far from a joke. Thank god for humor in the midst of this disastrous dressed set of a fake house. My heart goes out to the homeowners, whose happy dreams of a simple country getaway are morphed into an epic cash-draining nightmare. The only bright spot for them right now is the genius score of your services – somewhere, over the rainbow, awaits a solid happy country getaway thanks to you and the crew (you do have a crew, right??).

  27. One blog post, at least six varieties of horror: dread, alarm, dismay, disgust, awe, and terror. I read peeking through the fingers of the hands covering my eyes. Damn.

  28. Hi Daniel, I am wondering if you have a respirator recommendation to share. I had one, but it did not fit well – once it was sweaty, it would always slip and then fail to really seal against my face. I’d like to get another and advice would be welcomed.

  29. It’s funny how MUCH these pictures really make me want to go out and buy a new respirator, actually.

  30. God, how depressing! And those fools who built this catastrophe were living in it? If it was only a vacation home, geesh. Old beach shacks were in better condition. (Back when there were old beach shacks, before the hurricanes took them down and the developers swarmed in.) How you are able to have a sense of humor about this is amazing. I was laughing and now I’m gagging. Stay safe!!!

  31. Wow, that header really is something, just kind of floating in air like that. This post is terrifying in every way, but somehow I am sure you will figure everything out. Good luck, good sir! (Houses like this are the exact reason I am terrified of buying another house. Yikes.)

  32. Wow Daniel, some serious stuff there.

    It is amazing how this house seems to be standing at all when you compare some of the dumb shit you found (and mold too) in just the kitchen area alone.

    The hint at the end, this could be interesting to read as you reveal other issues as you move along.

    I hope when I finally find a house to purchase in a hot seller’s market that it doesn’t have these kinds of problems, at least not to this extent anyway.

    However, right now, I have other serious issues, work related to deal with as it could mean as much as a 10% pay cut as I scramble to find another site within my employer as the site I’m at now is being removed in a month.

    Good luck on this “lil” project.

  33. Is there any sort of warranty on this purchase? Have the buyers consulted a lawyer? (I am one, but I don’t do this type of work and am not licensed in New York.) There are SO many problems, potential health issues, etc. I can’t fathom what this is costing them considering this was supposed to be a small vacation home with a few cosmetic issues. The seller shouldn’t have gotten to walk away from this without any financial liability. Just my $.02, I’m sure you’re/they’re looking into it.

    • the owners may want to thank Daniel even more if they go down the legal path – all this documentation will be great evidence!

  34. omg
    there are no words… hope you are not suffering any illnesses from all the nasty stuff.
    you are a dedicated man!

    reading between the lines – it seems this is NOT the worst… and now you leave us cringing in our seats waiting for more – horror, destruction, falling walls? rotted floorboards? bats in the attic?

  35. I can’t stop thinking about hanta but that’s not a thing in your part of the country…

    My heart goes out to you and the owners. I’m utterly disgusted with the sellers. I know, I know, buyer beware…but who the fuck takes money for a shoddily constructed health hazard? Seriously. What kind of scum bag does that??

    • Oh, trust me…I got SO BEYOND FREAKED OUT about Hanta when I got really sick…turned out to be Lyme but I was CONVINCED I was going to die and this house had killed me.

      It’s an incredibly frustrating situation. Some of the things I’ve found confirm in my mind that various issues were known by the previous owner and consciously covered up to insure a sale, which is horrible. Hopefully there’s some good resolution for everyone involved at the end of this.

      • That is truly terrible, if the PO knew about the problems and deliberately deceived your friends into buying an infectious hazardous building. Just the pictures of the mold made me feel so icky. Hope the new owners are able to seek some compensations from them. This mess is going to take so much $$ and time.

      • If it gets expensive enough to make a lawsuit worthwhile (and trust me, that’s a nasty high bar to clear) the buyers might want to consider taking this to court. I had to take a condo through a flood and mold remediation. I had a viable claim against my HOA but the total bill just wasn’t quite high enough to make a suit worth my while…and the total bill was in the low five figure range. I was also very diligent – photos, hygienist reports, the whole nine yards. The disclosure packet I assembled, complete with invoices, was so thick that if you printed it out you needed either binder clip or one of those ginormous staples to hold it all together. This is why, even though I don’t know you or your friends, I find this situation so offensive. Is diligence expensive? Yes. But how can you pull crap like these sellers pulled and still sleep at night? HOW?

        Anyway, the condo story ends with me selling the thing for market value to a first-time homeowner. They were thrilled to have a place of their own and I was thrilled to be rid of the stress. I figured everyone got a win. And since the disclosure packet came with pictures of flood-cut walls, the buyer doesn’t have to rip out any drywall to know what’s lurking in the wall cavities. :P

  36. Daniel, I’m sorry for you and your clients about all the mould & rot, but I have to admit that all these obstacles make for fantastic reading. I cannot wait to see how you sort this all out! (I am confident that you will, and you will be better for it in the end.)

  37. Sweet baby Jesus…I want to weep for the homeowners.
    Thank you for making reading about this nightmare so interesting and entertaining though.

  38. Oh I hope the previous owner (or their children) are reading your blog!!!! Seriously, I don’t know why someone would renovate such a mess….seems like a complete demo (as in down to the ground) is in order!!

  39. OH HELLS NO.

    I don’t even know you, man, and yet this makes me want to start a comment by saying, POOKIE THIS IS MADNESS. You need to either go visit your parents, run away with the sexiest man you can imagine, or just take on a different client while these folks either lawyer up and/or buy the appropriate explosives to level this place. This is a sight worse than building a house from scratch. This house is actually toxic and from what I am seeing not worth the remediation costs. For the love of premium denim and jdate, occupy yourself elsewhere.

    • HAHAHA, first of all, you are amazing.

      I’m not one to run from a challenge, but man…this house is testing me! Now find me that sexy man and we’ll really be talking!

  40. Tankless hot water heater? Would that be like on demand hot water? I’m renoing a small space with limited closets and at the moment the hot water heater is taking up valuable storage. I was thinking of doing on demand but I haven’t pulled the trigger yet.

    • Yep, same thing! I have one at my house as well, although it’s powered by natural gas and this one will be propane (no municipal gas service here). I really like it. It does take longer for the water to heat up than a traditional tank, but the energy savings is worth it. My hot water heater is in the basement so space isn’t really an issue, but if I had the funds and space were a problem, I’d totally do it! (mine is Navien brand, btw.)

      • Thanks for the info! I’m also thinking of moving it to the basement but when you add the labor the tankless may be the way to go.

  41. O man, I feel for you, and I feel for your friends who bought the house. I hope you agreed to an hourly wage rather than a fixed price. I was once in your shoes (I might tell you about it some day) and it ain’t a nice place.

    • I typically do a combo of a flat fee for design work and an hourly for after work commences (sometimes I’m only hired for the first part). I have no idea what I would have done if I’d done a flat fee for this job! Luckily these clients are awesome and very fair and totally understand that the scope of this project is MUCH more than we agreed to or any of us imagined, so everyone’s adjusted a bit along the way to keep things in balance.

      • It must be really stressful for them (and I can imagine you). I had a similar project, the lesson you can take out of that is that you never know what the true state is of an old building until you take it apart. But being built or remodeled by someone with no experience with building is obviously a major red flag. Over here there is a very forgiving homeowners insurance for these kinds of problems where it is difficult to be clear on who’s responsible for the issues.

      • It’s been a really stressful project, yes—I’ve truly never seen a house in this kind of state or with this many problems either in real life or otherwise. The saving grace of this project is that the house isn’t a primary residence so at least we have some time to work with (although obviously the clients would like to be enjoying their house right about now!), but yeah…it’s not fun to constantly be revising an ever-expanding budget and scope and timeline. The homeowners have been amazing throughout, but naturally it’s just wearing on everybody!

      • Hi Daniel, (couldn’t entirely let it go jet) have you had someone come around to reassess the whole building technically? Because if the floor is bad in the kitchen and the backwall and the roof etc, wouldn’t it be better to literally saw off the kitchen and build a new addition to that part of the house? Ditto with all the other parts that come up in the assessment as rotten and/ or bad or technically not sound. That is starting to sound like a more viable and swifter option than having you painstakingly taking it apart piece by piece and they would end up with a technically sound house. Couldn’t your builder on the other cottage make a technical assessment like that? It seems to me that taking a step back and deciding what is important and where you want to go with this might be a good idea at this point.

  42. Yikes! Thanks for this, though, I’m feeling much better now about our own rotting shack-disaster.

  43. I stopped by to read another one of your awesome uplifting posts before bed so I could dream of wallpaper and makeovers. Instead, I’ll just be nightmaring that rodent nest in the wall. WTF! GAH!

  44. Good grief dude, that looks nasty!! Must have really enjoyed your own bathroom after this little episode….. thank God you don’t have to live on this demo site! Well, looking forward to the outcome, it can only be great – will be following with great anticipation! Adél x

  45. This is so terrible. I see the before pictures now and am just horrified at what was lurking underneath all of that pinkish pine and checkered tile. At least it’s getting taken care of now?

  46. That mould is foul. FOUL. Well done on not throwing up mate.

  47. Oh Daniel. First, as always, I love you and your readers, some of these comments were hysterical! “For the love of premium denim and jdate”… Secondly, we are looking at some turn of the century beach houses in the south coast of Massachusetts/Rhode Island to buy and renovate..while also considering a rebuild of our current little beach cottage. (Our debate is to buy a bigger older home and fix it up or build a bigger home on our current lot.) I will bookmark the Olivebridge Cottage as a reminder of what could lie ahead with the older homes. Especially because in this area, these home are often owned by old yankee families for generations of summer use (read: yankees that no longer have family money and therefore had/have shoelace and bubble-gum budgets for any and all required renovations/repairs). And, they are often sold in “as is” condition, which pretty much means I would be willingly buying mold and rodent nests! Yikes!

    • Aw, I really hope the consequence of writing about this house isn’t to turn people off of old houses. This house is really abnormal…it’s like 6 different additions built over the course of the 1940s-1960s or so (so not even very old), with heavy renovations done in the 80s and 90s by someone who clearly didn’t know what they were doing. I think this house can absolutely be a cautionary tale about steps you can take when buying a property to prevent this many surprises, but I don’t think it’s representative of most old houses—even ones that clearly need work. Neither my house nor the condemned house I’ve been working on have had anything even approaching this many issues, and they’ve got this house by about a century!

      That said, of course buying and renovating an old house is always a labor of love—it’s not for everyone! Best of luck with your search! :)

      • I think that’s right… Need to learn how to ask the right questions in the process. “New” can never have the same character as anything with a story, but it’s good to remember that “old” doesn’t always mean historic or character so I’ll need to learn the difference!!

  48. Hi Daniel, I’ve read your blog for years now and have always enjoyed it, especially the care you’ve taken to restore your own home. I’ve never commented before but feel compelled to after seeing what a mess this Olivebridge project is. My question is, how do you represent yourself to people who you provide services to? An interior designer, contractor, architect? Do you have proper qualifications to be any of these things? I don’t mean to sound snarky by asking that, it’s just that I am a registered architect and the process to become one was, to put it very mildly, incredibly challenging and time consuming. Multiple degrees of formal education, years of development as an intern in professional practice, 7 exams over broad subject matter. That said, even with qualifications, I would be worried about the liability involved if I were in your shoes. Is there a contract involved here? I don’t know how you market yourself (you don’t seem to define what you do/what your profession is anywhere on this site), and I honestly wonder if what you’re doing here is truly ethical. Renovating your own home/property is one thing, but taking on “clients” is another – there’s liability there and beyond a few years’ experience on your own home, I would like to hear your justifications as to why you’re capable of doing this. You responded to another commenter that all the screwed up stuff in this house was because it was all done by the previous owner or their neighbors/friends, but isn’t that just what you are too? A friend of the owners’? In my opinion, there’s a somewhat disturbing trend of bloggers marketing themselves as professional designers without real credentials. I know you have a lot of general knowledge and seem to enjoy basically apprenticing for your contractors and have learned a great deal in the field, so I’m not trying to diminish you or insult you. Just genuinely curious and hope you’ll respond!

    • Hi Nia! Not insulted at all—these are totally fair questions.

      First of all, I don’t and would never represent myself as an architect, interior designer, or contractor—I’m none of those things by any metric! Frankly, anybody who claims to be and isn’t, in my view, would be being pretty disrespectful of the amount of education and work it takes to legitimately claim one of those professions. Just to be totally clear, I don’t do any work that I’m not qualified to do, ESPECIALLY on a client’s property. The players with this house are more or less the same as my house and my formerly-condemned property—Edwin and crew are handling framing, Carl is on deck for plumbing and HVAC, and Duane is likely to do the electric—all licensed and insured contractors in their fields and legally permitted to do work on a house in this town. I’ve handled most of the demo work primarily to try to keep costs down (which has been good on this house, too, because it’s allowed me to uncover problems and coordinate appropriate action), and plan to do some of the finishing work, but I don’t personally physically do too much in between aside from manage: oversee, plan, schedule and coordinate subs, try to keep things efficient and running smoothly, communicate with the building department, scout materials and products…ya get the idea. I’m not sure I fit neatly into a particular professional label, honestly, but I’ve been hired to do the design work (decor work?) of the renovation—so all the products, materials, finishes, that kind of stuff—and oversee the project as the owner’s representatives. Particularly for a project like this, I think this kind of thing is a valuable service—this is a second home where both of the homeowners work intense jobs and do not live in the area, so having somebody on the ground to oversee things, schedule work, present obstacles and problems to them in a legible way, take meetings with the necessary people, etc., is important. There are also just a ton of things that come up daily on a construction site that need a final say, and that’s me. This job is somewhat unique in that I’m actually contractually obligated (it doesn’t feel like an obligation, but technically it is!) to blog about the project, as the owners intend to also use the house as a vacation rental and hoped that this blog would provide good promotion for that side of things. That’s why it’s hard to label my role…I don’t think there’s a word for that stuff! Frankly it would be hard to “market” myself in any way other than exactly what I am—a lot of my life for the past 5+ years is right here on this blog!

      Anyway, yes—there absolutely is a contract (it’s about 10 pages long and took over a month to finalize—Adriana is an ex-attorney, so of course!), which is extremely detailed (and, actually, a similarly detailed contract amendment that was formulated after the scope of this project changed so dramatically) which is designed to protect everybody involved. In case you’re really curious, the contract is technically between my LLC (which I am the sole proprietor of…always seemed overly technical and bureaucratic to me, but this is the world we live in…) and the homeowners, and I have an insurance policy for the type of work that I personally do, which is called and “artisan policy” and covers stuff like painting and tiling and putting in flooring and stuff like that.

      I can’t really speak to this “disturbing trend” you’re referring to…I don’t really read many blogs and I’m not sure if you’re talking about anyone in particular (if you really want to talk, feel free to email me—I don’t like comments that talk negatively about other bloggers), but I hope that answers your questions?

      • Daniel, really interesting to read your response here, and really glad that you’re covered for all eventualities.

        I don’t know what your title would be either. I think ‘Daniel Kanter’ says it all . . . I mean, you’ve been building more than just bricks and mortar on this blog for the past five years!

        I must say, I love this little house, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what you come up with, because I know from your posts that the owners are very particular about what they want. A really interesting project, all in all, ever more so due to all that fantastic light now streaming in!

      • Thank you for your thorough response and explanation! I really appreciate what you said about it being disrespectful to claim a profession you haven’t earned – I feel like a lot of people in your position would SAY that to cover their bases but you took the time to really explain your process in a way that, to me, proves you really believe it. I’m sure a lot of your readers don’t care about contracts/liability/definition of roles, but I definitely have interest in that so having it laid out answered a lot of questions. I’m glad to hear you have a proper contract and liability insurance – I’ve seen many people get screwed by not protecting themselves on either side of this relationship! And I’ve never heard of an “artisan policy”… interesting! Will google for more info on that.

        I do think the service your provide is valuable given your background, experience, and relationships with reliable contractors. I feel like if you had a proper “label,” it would be something like Project Manager with design focus. I half made that up, but feel like it describes what you do in terms of the overseeing/sequencing/efficiency/communicating, as well as design consolation and finish selection. You don’t need to be a licensed/registered professional to be a Project Manager, and you can still utilize your considerable design instinct without being a traditional “designer.” From my end, it’s actually SO refreshing when project team members and clients really understand aesthetic and design intent, so bringing it to the table up front as you do helps keep design at the forefront of decision making – can’t argue the value in that.

        Though I disagree with Thel that a name alone qualifies someone for a job, I will say your response has changed my opinion of you for the better. In truth, I was losing respect for you as you presented this Olivebridge project because I thought you were misrepresenting yourself/your qualifications to the owners. However your response here has made everything quite clear and I’m glad I can continue reading knowing that you are, in fact, taking a responsible role in all of this.

        As for the trend I’m referring to, I definitely won’t name names here either but my opinion is that DIY/”design” blogs, perpetuated by Pinterest, have in a way cheapened the architecture/interior design industry. Having a good sense of style and a platform to display it doesn’t qualify someone to be a professional designer – one can’t become a “self-taught” interior designer or architect. I think it’s unethical to charge “clients” for services one isn’t qualified for, and it also gives the public the misconception that they don’t NEED a true architect or engineer or interior designer. In reality, there IS a reason the design industry and design professions exist, and to those of us in it, the services and results some bloggers provide are painfully amateur. This is obviously a point of contention for me, and I hope I’ve summarized it eloquently here.

        Thanks again, and good luck with all your projects! I’ll be following along :)

      • Thank you, Nia! I appreciate that, and thank you for keeping this conversation open and respectful! I really appreciate the dialogue. I have several friends and mentors who are architects, so yes—I absolutely believe it! Getting that degree takes such an incredible amount of time and work, and you’re absolutely correct in that there is an immense amount of value in the type of training that goes into those professions. If it helps (spoiler! haha), this project seemed so straightforward at the outset that we didn’t feel it was necessary to bring in an architect or engineer (and it certainly wasn’t required by the building department). I don’t think every project necessarily needs one, especially a pretty low-impact kitchen renovation, but that has since changed and we’re working with a local engineering firm to evaluate several major concerns that will hopefully be within the scope of my guys to fix. If not, we’ll absolutely bring in the necessary parties. At the end of the day, I feel responsible for making this house habitable, functional, and SAFE, and those aren’t things I mess around with because watching me try to lay rebar because I read about it online once sounds like better blog content than a licensed professional doing it. I try to be very conscious of that in general, by the way…if real life, actual decisions, the things I want to do with my own living space, etc., don’t make for good enough blog fodder to keep people reading, I’d so much rather lose the readers than live my life in the service of a blog.

        Anyway, this is such a big topic, but I feel like what you’re describing with DIY/”design” blogs cheapening the design industry is such a pervasive problem in all sorts of industries and areas of our culture. I remember a couple years ago when all these bloggers FREAKED OUT when Martha Stewart had the audacity to say that bloggers aren’t experts, which was so beyond absurd because she’s absolutely right. I have zero problem putting myself in that category, partially because to me that’s part of the appeal of blogging about stuff like this to begin with—I’m a regular person and a lot of the things I do are things I’m trying for the first time, and I think that helps other people feel more confident that they can tackle this stuff, too. I think there’s been a major cultural decline in the idea of being able to do things yourself…lots of kids don’t take home economics or woodshop in school anymore, parents either don’t know it or aren’t teaching it, and then those kids grow up into people of my generation and are incapable of even super simple home repair (and maintenance…and cleanliness…) tasks. People should know how to paint their own walls, or sew a button back onto a shirt, or even (gasp!) replace a broken power outlet (assuming local electrical code allows it). Right? So now what you have is this generation of “DIY-ers” who used to just be called “normal people,” and then on TOP of it some of them thinking they’re hot shit because they write about it online and other people read about it. Calling myself an expert because I know how to slap subway tile on a wall? Absurd. Offensive to actual experts and professionals. Do I maybe know more than the average person about plenty of home-related things? Sure, maybe, but I’ve also made it my business to try to educate myself about those things for a lot of my life, and literally (part of) my business to know them for the past few years. But an expert? That’s ridiculous. How do you keep learning if you’re convinced you already know everything?

        Sadly, I think that idea—that we’re all experts!—extends so far beyond just the small world of DIY/decor/shelter/whatever blogs. Personally I think it’s INSANE that major newspapers still have comments sections on articles published online. I can’t even look at them, because it’s always a bunch of misinformed lunatics shouting over something they probably think they know a lot about. Our culture used to value cultural critics because they were experts. We could accept that they knew more than we did, that maybe their opinion was important to formulating our understanding of the world, and that maybe they deserved a platform from which to explain themselves and monetary compensation to allow them to do their jobs. But now…what? If I have a Pinterest, I’m a goddamn “curator.” If I have an instagram, I must be a photographer. If I’m a registered user on Rotten Tomatoes or Netflix or iTunes and leave a movie review, I’m Roger Ebert. And on and on. And the problem is only exacerbated because I think we naturally equate popularity with…expertise? My blog, I think, has the readers it does because some people find it entertaining, some people like my style, some people find it at least occasionally informative or instructive, some people totally hate me and think it’s fun to feel grumpy about that all the time…but it ain’t because I’m an expert. I can see how bloggers might wind up feeling that way about themselves, though, because attention and stuff, but it’s generally totally misguided. Unless they really are experts. Which they are probably not.

        Do I sound like a crazy person yet? I’ll shut up. Point is, I guess, it’s a fine line to toe, because with this blog I guess partially I do want to encourage people to feel like they can do stuff themselves, but I also don’t want people thinking they don’t need professional design services when appropriate or necessary!

      • design consultation* !

      • Daniel, you’ve nailed it on the head. God, if only other bloggers had your attitude about this whole subject! Thank you again for taking the time to explain and sharing your opinions – it’s so refreshing to have someone say exactly what you’re thinking. I was worried my original comment would insult you (as it would so many) and really appreciate your openness too.

        There is definitely a difference between being a professional whatever and being a professional blogger. Most fall into the latter category and don’t realize it. I agree with Martha. Sure, there are some experts who HAPPEN to have a blog or blog their work, but I think that’s significantly different. You’re right about media/social media/the internet really diluting true “expert” content, and the fact that everyone now has an immediate platform is why. You cracked me up with your comparisons to being a photographer or chef – it’s SO true though. In fact, my initial comment was vocalized after a recent conversation with a colleague about a local blogger who claims no joke 15 titles, none of which she’s actually qualified for! And we made the same comparison that just because we can put a hot meal on the table, doesn’t mean we’re master chefs :)

        I think you’re still an anomaly among your peers in that you post only when you have something to post about. I don’t ever feel like your content is forced to just put something out there; even your sponsored content is continuous and makes sense in the context of your projects. I think your posts are inspiring to people and DIY blogs surely have a place to say “hey you can do this too!”… I often reference your posts to figure out my own DIY adventures! That’s why I’m still here after several years of reading.

        The challenge for you may lie in the transition from blogger to real-life professional. I’m anxious to see how you do it, and hope to hear more details like the ones we’ve discussed here. As this conversation shows, the process is SO much more than the glittery before and afters. Also, both glad and sorry to hear you had to bring in the big guns – it sucks when things go wrong but engineers know their stuff and it’s also good to recognize when you’re in over your head. I have to do this EVERY day (the growing pains of being a young architect!!!) and am so lucky to have a bevy of veteran pros at my disposal. Definitely always learning.

  49. Would you like a story or two to make you feel better? You would? OK.

    The college I went to had, 35 years ago when I was there (and still has!), a very strong tradition of dining hall theater (for anyone who thinks he or she recognizes the school, yeah, it’s that college in New Haven, Connecticut). Each of the 12 residential colleges had its very own dining hall theater association, presided over by people who scoured the steam tables for edible food by day, wowed audiences by night, and (often) are now the stars of Broadway and Hollywood (yes, really). The set-building denizens of that scene were known for playing…how did you put it?…oh yeah, “fast, loose and dumb” with the amount of dining hall left for actual student dining once the sets were built. When we did Sweeney Todd in my dining hall my junior year, I think we cut the seats available from about 400 to, oh, 175 or so. The Master of the college was not amused. There was a university-wide crackdown. I understand the production is still legend.

    My last full-time job in NYC was at the Museum of Arts and Design. After we had been awarded the purchase of 2 Columbus Circle by the Mayor’s office, we spent many hours touring the building, which had been various incarnations of weird after Huntington Hartford deeded it to the City. The building was constructed in 1984 with a marble facade and NO VAPOR BARRIER. We all wore respirators every time we had to go in there (for me, development director, often). Because of the mold, the exquisite bookended walnut veneer that had been so revolutionary in 1964 was all bubbled and peeling (the only area that was salvageable was in the theater in the basement, which you know if you’ve been in the building because it’s the only area we fully restored). On top of that, after the Department of Cultural Affairs had vacated the building, it had been used for years partly as sets for Law and Order (?!?!?!?), so you would turn a corner in this MCM ruin that screamed “I belonged to a man who snorted his fortune” and suddenly see a glass office door with some character’s name on it. SO weird.

    I know you’re gonna keep going,

    Hang in.

    • Hahaha! I bet I would have liked college more if I got to watch Sweeney Todd in the dining hall!

      That’s crazy about that building! I would have assumed Law + Order was filmed on soundstages in LA with just exterior stuff in New York. I love that!

      • I’m a law and order junkie and one of the things I love about the show is how it is so connected to New York. Watch the “vintage” episodes and you’ll notice that the guest stars, of which there are many being a procedural show, are often theater actors. It’s great to see an entirely different pool of actors cast, they are just less “California”.

      • Yep, when I go to the theater, I look for the actor bio that doesn’t have a Law and Order credit in it – they all do!

  50. After living overseas for many years and seeing how the rest of the world builds homes- it is baffling to me why the US is so stubbourn about wood frame construction. I think the US is really one of the few/ if only countries where homes are built in this manner. That being said- I just bought my first house and its in South Africa! My partner and I are starting our rennovation plans and I am CLUELESS how the renovation will work and what the pitfalls and costs will be to move walls and rennovate with the SA building codes and materials and costs..

    Your response to Nia about your role and responsibilities was very professional and fascinating! I would love to do your job!

    Always checking my blog feed for your updates! What is going on at Bluestone!?

    • The US’s building practices are a little nutty. I don’t think wood frame construction is necessarily a bad thing, but I definitely hear you! I’m so used to looking at old houses now that new construction looks so flimsy. Construction hasn’t changed that much but the materials are so different…framing lumber is softer, solid wood or even plywood has been swapped for OSB everywhere…not to mention stuff like windows that we now totally expect and accept will only last, what, 20 or 30 years? The house I spent most of my adolescence in was built in the 90s and had its share of problems within the first 10 years or so…I wonder all the time how long it could possibly last, and what that’ll end up doing to the idea of investing in real estate. Houses used to hold and appreciate in value, but are newer homes going to wind up being thought of more like a car or an iPhone? A commodity you lose money on just in the act of purchasing that you don’t expect to ever recoup because you know it’s going to degrade with use beyond the point of fixing? I’m blabbering on but really, it makes me wonder!

      Good luck with your new place!! South Africa! Can’t help ya much there, but what an adventure! Be prepared to learn a whole lot really quickly, I’ll tell you that much!

  51. YIKES is all I have to say.

    My boyfriend judges me for being worried about mould. (Our apartment block has no sealant around its windows, meaning all the rain from the (leaking) guttering goes straight into the air gap between the bricks. There’s mould *everywhere* in our apartment block. Not uncoincidentally, my lungs are pretty crap these days.) I’m going to show him this post.

    Good luck, Daniel!

    • Oh man, that’s no fun at all! Mold issues in a rental are so tough to deal with especially if the landlord denies it or isn’t willing to deal with it properly. This isn’t all that uncommon in New York (high demand for housing = overpriced apartments with landlords who would rather replace a tenant than a gutter…). I know some people have had success with air purifiers and dehumidifiers (although apparently the only air purifiers that work really well are the super pricey ones, which sucks) to make their situations livable, but on principle a tenant shouldn’t have to drop hundreds of dollars on a device to make their air safe to breathe! Ugh. Hope you feel better soon, mold is no joke!

  52. I feel so bad for the owners and I wouldn’t want to make them feel worse, but it might be helpful to other readers to list a few ways to avoid ending up in a similar position, like make sure to hire your own inspector and be there when the place is inspected to make sure they go into the crawl space and up on the roof. If there is anything noted in disclosures like mold remediation it’s worth it to hire your own pro to inspect that specific thing as well.
    I once was in escrow on a house where I ended up paying for an inspections for electrical, HVAC and drainage, then deciding to back out of the deal because the costs to fix all those items was much more than the house was worth. It cost me $2k out of pocket but that’s a drop in the bucket compared to what it would have cost me.

    • And also to have an inspector there when you go to closure, because, how do you know that the issues have been addressed and resolved I swear, buying property is like buying junk bonds. Maybe you’ll be ok? Don’t put yourself in the position of having to take the agent’s word. Experience is an expensive teacher, as too many of us can tell you.

  53. Ohmygosh. This is a nightmare!!!! I love your vision, and am a lover of saving homes, but I think this might be a bulldozer/fill/tinyhouse sitch. I feel like I would always be wondering what was lurking around every untouched corner!!! Black mold is no joke. Take care of yourself!!!

  54. Your posts alternately amuse and alarm me, often in the same post. Amuse because I enjoy your writing and your adventures, and alarm because I’m living in a little house that I HOPE is not as bad as the Olivebridge cottage but of course I won’t know until I have the money to renovate. While reading THIS post I decided to just paint the outside, slap on a new roof, and let my heirs uncover any potential horrors after I’m gone. I’ll put a link to your blog in my Will.

  55. I hope you are using a really heavy duty respirator, the ones that look like WW1 gas masks, not the paper things, as mold is seriously bad for you to breathe.

    Set building story – so now I totally get why you insist on putting interior french doors on your garage :-)

    Buying an OLD house is not the problem – buying a newer one is. This is a newer one. Go back to the 40s or before, and you are likely to be OK. Even much of the 50s. You need a solidly built house built with plaster walls inside. From the use of drywall in original construction on, forget about it.

    I really feel for the owners. This was started out as a light, cheap reno, and has turned into practically rebuilding the house. You call it almost a gut – I think what you’ve exposed in this post shows it will be MORE than a gut. I have a feeling there is more in the additions, that it isn’t just this kitchen and bathroom. I’m also not sure it is worth it to rebuild it as it is – some careful consideration should be given to that when you’ve all digested the engineering report. A new prefab could be nice vacation home.

    Not to say told you so, but, although it was oddly cute, the very fact that it had the character of sort of random add-ons that didn’t really gel into a house that looked like a house, and the fact that the bathroom you are removing was stuck into a space in a terrible way, as was the stove in the living room oddly placed – maybe should have clued the owners into the fact that the place was messed with by haphazard types. It isn’t just ‘why would they put a bathroom here – let’s remove it’ – it is more like ‘if they were stupid enough to put this bathroom here, what else might they have done?’ I don’t envy the project you have in front of you, only it is good it is not your house, though I imagine you feel it as bad as if it was, managing the project as you are.

    Stay well. I had Lyme a few years back, but saw the tick and so discovered it right away. No bullseye, but enough odd symptoms within days that I knew it was something unusual, and insisted my doc prescribe me with 5 weeks doxycycline. (She wanted to give me 3 – I told her my research suggested otherwise.) I did felt better quickly. If you didn’t catch it as quickly though, and are still feeling fatigued, take that seriously, and perhaps seek out docs who treat lingering Lyme. Though mold exposure can also cause fatigue. I think you must have some energy, though, if you completed the work shown in these photos in the time described in your diary.

  56. Holy cats!
    I audibly gasped at the first mold picture. Then my mouth dropped open at the rodent nest and stayed open until I just had to start laughing as it got worse. It becomes tragicomedy at some point because if it doesn’t you would just cry. Thanks for the entertainment!

  57. Ah, animal droppings in insulation. Worst bonus prize ever.

    In our place, we pulled down metal lath (a wonderful invention, not–it was like pulling a nest of steel slinkies apart), only to find 50 years of bat guano and mouse droppings in the old drop ceiling of what is now our master bedroom.

    Thank you, whoever invented Tyvek suits. And respirators.

  58. Thank you and Nia for your thoughtful and lovely adult discussion. It was a pleasure to read.

  59. Good God. What a beast! I look forward to the happy ending, tho–you really do work miracles. As a weekend rehabber, I really look forward to your posts. You are not alone in these nightmares, others have gone before, and lived, and we are all rooting for you!

    And as the mom of a 16 year old Jean Valjean, curtain up in approx. 1 hour, I….I know EXACTLY what you’re talking about. I mean you could not be more spot on. Love him anyway, however. Maybe someday I’ll marry him off to you and then I can look at all your projects up close?

  60. Hi Daniel! Just found this via Gardenista and immediately thought of your fire pit project, It’s a tutorial how to make a pretty fine looking fire pit from concrete. I’m going to use the technique to make a bird bath because I have never found any that aren’t too twee. http://www.manmadediy.com/users/chris/posts/2618-how-to-make-a-diy-modern-concrete-fire-pit-from-scratch

    • That’s really nice! Although admittedly I want it to be, like, 12 times the size. Ha!

      Actually, somebody kinda saved my ass by informing me that in Kingston, you aren’t allowed to have an outdoor fire pit that isn’t manufactured to be one, which makes total sense. So looks like it won’t be a DIY, which is OK too! Now to just find something good looking and well made and stuff!

  61. Have you even seen this fabulousness?!?!? Made me think of your black garden shed.
    http://www.rogerandchris.com/blog/247/restyling-a-garden-house-paint-it-black

    • I have seen that house, but I never saw the whole post with the before pictures and everything! gorgeous!! those guys are really great–the inside of the house is beautiful too!

  62. Just to let you know that this post caused me to have an actual nightmare.

    xx

    A

  63. It sounds as if the house will need some serious structural work and rebuilding. Are the buyers thinking of suing the sellers? Was the house sold as-is? There’s a neat little special kind of title insurance you can get at closing that covers this sort of situation (defective house and cover up) — but no one ever seems to get it.

  64. This post reminded me of you and your theatre days! http://thedesignfiles.net/2015/09/bern-chandley/

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