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.
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.
Removing the insulation (presumably there for sound rather than heat…) revealed a beautiful cornucopia of mold…everywhere.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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?”
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.
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.
Cool header there, bro.
And thus began the Olivebridge Cottage renovation. Only up from here, right? RIGHT?
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.