Olivebridge Cottage: From Bad to Worse (and Worse and Worse and Worse)

Have you mentally recovered from the last post about Olivebridge Cottage yet? If you thought things could only go up from there, I hate to tell you that you are so sorely mistaken because this house is the worst. Happy Wednesday!

So far, we have a host of structural issues ranging from somewhat serious to super duper serious (try not to get lost in my jargon), evidence of multiple infestations that wreaked havoc not only on structure but also electrical and insulation, code violations for days, severe mold problems, one very ugly and increasingly torn apart house, two blindsided homeowners, and one grumpy and dejected blogger guy who was me.

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Where we left off, we knew we were looking at reframing this entire wall, the bottom of which was completely rotted after sitting under an improperly installed deck thing for years. Those two tall narrow windows are in the bedroom, and over to the left (mostly out of frame) there’s a third one that’s part of the full bath.

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We also knew we had to reframe this adjacent wall, which had similar rot issues due to the deck. I guess it looks almost OK from the outside, but the sill plate was completely rotted and most of the studs were compromised as well, to say nothing of the under-sized header creating the rough opening for the sliders and the foundation being entirely below the ground and everything just being a total fucking mess.

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Lemons, meet lemonade? Since this bedroom wall also had its own host of issues, I proposed that while we were doing all this framing work, maybe we should steal the sliders and put them in the bedroom, and then steal these windows and put them in the dining room, and then steal some other windows to take the place of those two tall skinny ones in the first picture, because they were dumb and nobody liked them anyway. Musical windows. The homeowners did not want to try to recreate the little deck thing outside of the dining area and we all agreed that the space remaining there was a gross mosquito-ridden cesspool anyway, so waking up and being able to open your nice big sliders and walk out onto a nice big platform deck outside the bedroom seemed more appealing.

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So that is what we did. It was kind of exciting even in the midst of all these other things that were really not exciting.

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Out came the sliders. Up went some temporary support for the roof. Out came the old rotted framing.

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Ahhh, nothing like a brand new pressure-treated sill plate, properly anchored to a CMU foundation, amiright? Just say yes. In bleak times like this you take what you can get in terms of excitement and reason to carry on.

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The new-old window from the bedroom actually worked VERY well in the dining room. Centering it on the wall looked a billion times better than the off-center sliders, and it framed the view of that postmodern toilet sculpture really beautifully.

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Framed, almost sheathed, almost back in business. See how the bottom plate of the wall is just peeking up over the dirt, though? That’s not good. By code you should have at least 8″ of foundation above grade, so this area will need some excavation and some way to redirect water away from it, because otherwise it all flows down here and causes the house to rot to pieces. Ask me how I know.

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Love when a whole wall is torn off a house. It looks like a dollhouse? Like a dollhouse from hell? So we sistered in a new pressure-treated sill plate, took out the old framing, and framed it in for the huge sliders. Fun fun fun fun fun.

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Also a nice change! This area also needed some excavation and grading to get the bottom of the framing out from essentially being underground.

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Then we moved on to the really bad wall. Shudder. Same story, different day, some creative framing work I don’t even want to remember.

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We stole the old kitchen window and two smaller windows from the front enclosed porch, which are different styles but the same height and look fine together. Between the new sliders and these new windows, the little bedroom got a nice big upgrade in terms of views, light, and how furniture can be arranged…so that was good? The roof was so crazy sloped in here—look at that piece of wood between the header and the top plate! Oy. To distract from it, I thought maybe we’d use vertical beadboard in this room, up until about 8″ from the ceiling and drywall the rest of the wall up. That way the molding that finished off the top of the beadboard would be a straight line and the rest would read as “character.” Not ideal, but there’s only so much you can do when working with parts of an existing structure.

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Better? I like it a lot better.

OK, I’m out of good news. Hope you rejoiced in that bright moment of kind-of-almost-progress.

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Back in the living room, remember this mess? We’d already figured out that we had to redo the roof over the enclosed porch, and we also knew that the posts supporting what was originally an exterior wall of the house weren’t sufficient—basically everything you see here was a big structural mess. Demo continued to go along swimmingly:

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Look at how these stairs are built. Drywall screws, 2x4s, and a prayer. WHY. It’s not like this is even such a problem so much as it’s just incredibly weird and annoying and very evident that whoever did this work was even dumber than me.

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Naturally, underneath the stairs things looked like this. I’m not even going to list all the things that are wrong because everything is wrong.

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Here’s what’s on the other side of the shower wall in the bathroom! Is it even worth explaining? Or trying to understand? There are some original 2×4 studs supplemented with some 2×3 studs, some of which are attached to some other wood but some of which are kind of just floating and then used as nailers to screw very heavy cement board to which is holding up hundreds of pounds of tile and thinset and grout. All manner of creature had been hiding out around the tub, evidently, because they left the nests to prove it.

OH YEAH AND A CARCASS. What is it with me and houses that have dead bodies near bathtubs? On the bright side, this corpse was a squirrel but on the not-bright side, I had to find it this time. I’ll spare you the photographic evidence.

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As a final “fuck you” before dying in the wall, this badass squirrel tried to make the house collapse.

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Or catch on fire.

Honestly, at this point? TOTALLY understand where that squirrel was coming from. Big up, my brother. You did your best.

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Then it got worse, because it wasn’t super apparent until I pulled up the carpeting that the living room floor was sagging really severely in the middle. Like, a few inches over only a 12′ span! Not only did it look horrible, but it would also make laying new flooring (which at the time was supposed to be an engineered hardwood) sort of impossible. Something told me (can’t imagine what!) that this was probably due to some other awful underlying cause that nobody had noticed, because in this house where there’s smoke, there’s fire. It’s always worst case scenario at Olivebridge Cottage.

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At first glance, the condition of these joists seemed kind of alright! The sill plate looked to be fairly new pressure-treated lumber and the joists were too.

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Then I looked closer. Yikes! That’s the end of an original joist, totally destroyed by what I assume were termites. But that’s not that big of a deal, because look!! Somebody already sistered in new joists. IS SOMETHING HERE ACTUALLY…KIND OF OK?!?!

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Don’t get crazy, of course it isn’t. Whoever made this repair evidently decided only sistering in a few of the joists was worth the effort, leaving most of them still super rotted and failing. If the major sag in the floor had been from normal settling and just a funny quirk of this house, it would have been OK, but this is really the result of this floor system no longer being up to the task of, ya know, supporting weight and stuff. Kind of important.

Oh, and upon closer investigation? Those joists that were “sistered in”? ONLY SPANNED HALF THE ROOM. To do it properly and actually reinforce the old joists, the new joists would have had to span the length of the entire joist—from sill to sill. I guess conceivably it might be OK to terminate the sistered joist halfway, but then I think you’d need some kind of beam running perpendicularly underneath to support everything…I’m no engineer but any idiot can tell that this is SO JACKED UP OMG GET ME OUT OF HERE

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Because the crawlspace has only a few inches of clearance between the ground and the joists, the only way to get at the joists was to pull up the subfloor. You can kind of make out in this picture how the sistered-in joists aren’t really doing what they’re supposed to do…maybe because they’re roughly 5 feet long on a 13 foot span.

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Because we were now looking at a new roof for the enclosed porch part of the living room, new wiring, new insulation, new joists—basically new everything—at some point in there it seemed to make much more sense to take the opportunity to change the house in more visible, valuable ways than just trying to rebuild a heartier version of what was there. The living room itself was really small, with a huge hearth, doors, stairs, and openings on every wall, which made it a huge design challenge from the get-go. Like, where am I supposed to put a couch in this room where it won’t either block something or look horrible? I never really found the answer, because the new plan became to rip down the enclosed porch roof and half of the living room roof, pocket a new structural beam up to the ridge, and run new rafters down the front elevation to match the pitch of the kitchen/dining section of the house. Like so:

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At this point we are also re-siding the house due to all of the layers of exterior wood rot, so obviously I was also advocating that we paint this sucker black. Our original inspiration for this project was modern Scandinavian cottages, of which we were mainly looking at interiors because we weren’t planning to really touch the exterior of this house, but then every plan we made fell to pieces because this house was a piece of garbage.

I love a black house. Leave me alone.

Anyway. It’s not like the house in that rendering is about to win any architectural awards, but I still think it’s sort of cute in its own way and gave the house an actual living room without changing the footprint. Everyone was pretty much on board with this and it felt kind of exciting.

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Until it didn’t. Here’s a fun little glimpse of the foundation under the living room. Notice anything? How about the fact that the sill plate and rim joist have actually migrated a couple inches beyond the outer limits of the foundation, leaving them…floating? How about the enormous hole made by rodents right through both of these essential pieces of structural framing?

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How about the fact that the ENTIRE FOUNDATION is what you see here? That’s a single row of cinderblocks resting on some bluestone rubble, right on the earth. No mortar. Not footings. No anchor bolts, or…anything. HOW this house was even standing was kind of a miracle.

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Moving down the wall, things just got worse. Note that you’re also seeing black tar paper over the studs—zero insulation, zero sheathing.

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Hot holy damn.

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I give up. I have no more words to say, no more feels to feel.

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I think this is the image that I see when I imagine how hell looks. Then we figured out that that 8-foot span of window had a single 2×4 for a header and that entire wall was a combo of bad foundation, rot, no sheathing, no insulation, eaten electrical, and hell started to look more like this:

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Which got cleaned up to look like this:

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Annnnnnnnnd, everything is terrible.

At this point, it’s probably plainly obvious to you (and me, and the contractors, and my dogs, and…well, anyone) that this house is more or less the definition of a “tear-down.” It should be noted that I do NOT say that lightly, because I’m the sort of person who thinks everything can be saved. So why were we still doing all this stuff?

It’s a complicated answer, which I’ll try to uncomplicated a little. Firstly, because at this point we actually hadn’t spent that much money, and the building department had continued to give us the go-ahead every time I called them to explain how the renovation had expanded beyond the work detailed in my original permit application. Secondly, tearing down a house is a big deal, particularly when the homeowners didn’t buy a tear-down—or, more accurately, didn’t know they were buying a tear-down. They bought a house, and paid for it accordingly. TV shows would have you believe that basically any money you put into a house becomes equity that you’ll then see a great big return on if/when you sell, but there are limits to that.

Out of respect for the homeowners’ privacy, it should be noted that the figures in the example below are fictitious—they do NOT represent the actual costs associated with this renovation. I’m only listing numbers to illustrate a hypothetical—because costs on all of this stuff vary dramatically depending on where you are, the costs of this particular renovation aren’t as relevant as the bigger picture. Here goes…

Say houses in your area generally sell for between $300,000-$500,000. Say you buy a house for $350,000, and hire contractors to do a $75,000 renovation, bringing your investment to $425,000—which is OK, you figure, because you’ll have a really nice property that you’ll be able to sell in a few years for probably close to that $500,000 upper limit.  But then you start to renovate—paying people to do so, as many (most?) people do—and the problems pile on and pile on and pile on. When the issues start rolling in, you do what pretty much anyone would do and have them fixed so you can move onto the rest of your plans. Then the problems don’t stop, and before you know it you’ve spent $35,000 of your $75,000 renovation budget just finding issues, fixing them, and finding more issues, bringing your total investment to $385,000, and all you have to show for it is a complete disaster, and a house with a TON of problems that may or may not be fixable. So what do you do?

Tearing down the house and rebuilding it is, of course, the most simple solution…but now you are $385,000 in the hole and will probably be at least $400,000 deep after you demolish and dispose of the thing. Then you have to hire an architect to design you a new house (call that $20,000), pull a permit for that house that may or may not be approved by the town’s building and zoning department—whose zoning rules have changed in the 60+ years since your house was built—and find a builder to build the thing from the ground up for about a year (the year during which you thought you’d be living in your house and must find other accommodations). Of course, now you need new everything, because you no longer have a house at all, just a piece of land. New design, new well, new septic, new foundation, new rat slab, new framing, new sheathing, new roof, new walls, new ceilings, new electrical, new plumbing, new HVAC, new insulation, new finishes…new everything.

The house you now have to tear down is 1,800 square feet, and the town is allowing you to expand the footprint 200 square feet—bringing you to a 2,000 square foot house. Even at a modest $130/square foot of new construction cost, your new house is going to cost $260,000 to construct, meaning that after the initial purchase, the initial kind-of-renovation, the architect’s work, and now the new construction cost, you’ve spend $665,000 on a property that’s worth maybe $475,000—perhaps less because that cost per square foot doesn’t exactly buy you high-end finishes. You think that maybe pre-fab is the way to go, but after quite a bit of research you realize that those suckers are actually quite expensive and typically pretty little, so that idea gets more or less shelved.

It’s not like you can make this decision unilaterally, either, because your mortgage, assuming you have one, is tied to the house you bought—it’s extremely important to review the terms of your mortgage documents carefully and consult qualified legal guideance to ensure that you aren’t violating the terms of your mortgage. At worst, a complete tear-down could result in the bank needing back all that money that you borrowed because the house that they essentially own no longer exists! So now you’re out of pocket on your 20% down payment ($70,000) the initial renovation ($35,000), the new design ($20,000) the demolition ($15,000) the new construction ($260,000) and the remainder of your mortgage ($280,000), which means you’re $680,000 deep on a house that’s not going to appraise for over $475,000 anytime soon. OUCH.

On top of that, you bought this house. You love this house. The idea of tearing down this house is almost unfathomable because you would be legitimately very sad to see this house that you love and bought end up in a landfill. And even if the process of renovating is slated to cost $125,000 on top of what you’ve already spent, that means you’re $230,000 out of pocket with 30 years to pay off the other $280,000, which isn’t great but also isn’t so bad considering the severity of how shitty your situation is.

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So we kept trucking. Kind of. Sort of. Until everything came to a halt.

Diary time!

Day 15: Continued all clean-up and organization on interior, pulled up flooring in sunken living room. Adriana visited and we talked plans.

Day 16: Dump run, continued demo on exterior and deck space and moved indoors to work on sunken living room.

Day 17: Finished demo in sunken living room, de-nailed beadboard, and took up half of living room carpeting.

Day 18: Dump run. Pulled up all carpeting in living room and organized wood. Cleaned up front yard and got wood ready for reuse. Demo’d existing stairs. Loaded truck for dump.

Day 19: Dump run.

Day 20: Got dump truck serviced. Continued demo in living room and diagnosed issues with living room floor sagging—shit. Discovered more major mice/squirrel damage including damage to framing and electrical. Pulled affected electrical—lucky house hasn’t burned down.

Day 21: Worked on exterior demo and moved all things out of bedroom for framing. Edwin came and we installed sill plate on dining room wall. Discussed what to do about kitchen floor and construction of “addition.” Demo’d interior bedroom wall and removed all siding and exterior sheathing in prep for framing in sliding doors tomorrow.

Day 22: Demo’d siding from dining room wall and removed eaves overhang and shiplap sheathing. Edwin and Edgar came and we all worked on framing in new dining room window. Installed window and moved on to sliding doors in bedroom. Sheathed bedroom door and will sheath dining room wall tomorrow. Both changes look AMAZING.

Day 23: Lowe’s run for sheathing and Tyvek supplies. Demo’d cinderblocks on dining room wall and assisted with sheathing. Worked on cleaning up site.

Day 24: Met with Carl to plan excavation job. Some site cleanup.

Day 25: Demo’d concrete block from front of dining room wall to prepare for new sheathing. Demo’d interior of bedroom wall and insulation. Removed old siding and sheathing from wall to be reframed tomorrow.

Day 26: Helped reframe bedroom/bathroom wall and figure out new windows. Dump run in Edwin’s truck. Came back and finished framing dining room wall and did site clean up for a while. Went to Lowe’s to source window option for kitchen. Loaded car for stuff to take to Habitat for Humanity Restore tomorrow morning.

Day 27: Habitat for Humanity run to drop stuff and scout windows.

Day 28: Contract amendments.

Day 29: Met with chimney guy. Did some interior clean-up.

Day 30: Picked up windows from ReStore, door from Door Jamb, and delivered to site. Consulted with Edwin and Edgar on plan of attack for living room floor and foundation issues.

I Did a Thing! Talking about DIY at the New England Home Show.

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You know what feels fancy and scary at the same time? At least for me? When someone from HGTV Magazine gets in touch to ask if you’d be interested in speaking…at a home show…to actual people…on the broad subject of DIY. Like, who the hell am I? Going places? Making presentations? Talking into a microphone? Wearing clothes that aren’t covered in paint and sawdust? Excuse me, nice PR lady. I think you have me confused with someone else.

But apparently she did not, and evidently neither did the folks from HGTV Magazine, nor the folks from TD Bank who also sponsored this shindig which they have termed the TD Bank Rolling Renovation. Basically what they do is set up a cute booth out of this groovy converted shipping container thing that they’ve been driving all over the country and having different people (like me!) speak out of. When such people (like me!) aren’t gabbing about stuff, the very friendly folks at TD Bank are on deck to explain how they can help finance big and small renovation projects with a home equity line of credit, which is a good thing to know about if you’re into this renovation stuff (like me!).

It wasn’t until after I’d agreed to do it that they mentioned that other speakers had included actual TV folk from HGTV and these bloggers named John and Sherry and then I excused myself to go have diarrhea in my pants.

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ANYWAY! In case you have never been to a home show which I had not prior to this, they’re actually fun! There are lots and lots of people and lots and lots of companies representing lots and lots of things. After my presentations and meet-and-greets, I walked the show and ended up getting quite the education about some composite siding products, innovative advancements in cedar shake technology, and I may have been convinced to purchase this miracle doormat that promises to keep my floors less filthy. Home shows are good opportunities to find out about local companies that provide services you might be in need of, as well as talk to representatives who really know their stuff about the products they’re there to promote. Everyone working the event is super thrilled to talk to anybody who will listen, so they are literally beyond happy to answer questions and tell you all the things you want to know.

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The TD Bank Rolling Renovation booth was OBVIOUSLY the most fun place to be for various reasons:

  1. I was there, so duh.
  2. You could win money just by spinning a wheel. Just spinning the wheel was fun even if you didn’t win, which I did not, but they did let me have a free pen and a teeny tiny tape measure which was almost as good.
  3. Inside the booth, you could get tips on renovating, financing options, AND enter to win MORE money by playing a jaunty game on those iPads. I like games. I like money. I like renovating. I like learning how to be less house-poor. Win-win-win-win.

So YEAH! I did the whole dress-like-a-human-and-talk-into-a-microphone-in-a-strange-place-about-a-thing-I-kind-of-know-about and it actually went well! They even asked me to take my dog and pony show on the road with them and do it again in April, so I guess I didn’t totally screw it up. Here’s a handy list of where the Rolling Renovation is headed next, in case you want to check it out! Good times!

This post is in partnership with TD Bank and HGTV Magazine!

Olivebridge Cottage: Little House of Horrors

It’s been quite a while since we talked about the renovation of Olivebridge Cottage—that little vacation house I was hired to renovate back in the spring for a couple of NYC-based clients. I’ve hinted at stuff here and there, but to be honest I’ve had a very hard time figuring out exactly how to tell this story.

I was hired to basically do a kitchen renovation and some cosmetic upgrades to bring this little 1,100 square foot house up to snuff. How hard could that be?! It was supposed to take about 6-8 weeks, at which point I’d hand over the keys to the happy homeowners, collect a nice little paycheck to keep other projects/myself afloat, serve up a cute and satisfying before-and-after on the blog, and move on with my life.

Instead, I’m 10 months into this project—longer if you count the weeks I spent on the design work before the physical demo work began. Even though this hasn’t been reflected in my blog content, this project has occupied more of my time than anything else I’ve been doing over that same period. So what the hell happened? And how do I account for it all here? That was a particularly difficult question to answer during the periods of this project where wasn’t even sure where things were headed!

So…I kind of sat on it all until I knew. Sometimes I forget as a blogger that the story doesn’t go away or lose utility just because it isn’t rehashed immediately—and in this case, I think it’ll be better because the teller finally has a reasonably good sense of the ending. So I hope it’s cool if we pretty much pick up where we left off on this, because skipping gory details for the sake of concision has never really been my style, anyway.

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So where did we leave off? This looks about right! I spent the first week on site demo-ing out the old kitchen and enormous half-bathroom and utility space to make room for the new open kitchen/dining space. The homeowners and I had settled on a design we were all happy with, and a budget that was optimistic but doable for the scope of work we were intending to do.

There were quite a few surprises that week, and none of them good. The house had clearly been altered over the years by somebody who evidently never thought to crack a book on the subject, leaving a variety of structural concerns in his wake. There was a lot of mold, everywhere, despite a very pricey remediation that had allegedly occurred only a few months prior (but very obviously had not). There was evidence of an extensive rodent infestation that had caused serious damage to at least the insulation if not even more serious things. And then, the rot. This structural, exterior wall that hadn’t been framed correctly in the first place, supporting half the load of the roof above it, had also rotted away to a point that would not pass code even if we’d wanted to leave it as-is, but moreover was a mold-ridden health and structural hazard that didn’t leave us any options that I can deduce beyond rebuilding it.

That was the first 6 days. Did I mention it’s been 10 months? Yeah.

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First, we had to pull out the old plumbing. I don’t mess with that. Everything was bad, basically—the galvanized pipe in the photo above was the drain line for the kitchen sink and laundry machine, which drained into…I don’t even know. There’s a main drain that goes to the septic system, but this one basically came out the side wall of the house and directly into the ground, presumably into some kind of dry well. It’s best not to think too hard about it. At least there wasn’t a garbage disposal.

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Since we decided to ditch the half-bathroom, all that plumbing needed to go, too! This was kind of exciting…the old plumbing had clearly just been added onto, cut out, added onto some more—creating a lot of half-corroded joints and areas primed for a burst. It’s nice to simplify systems like this! New plumbing will be run with PEX and PVC.

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Getting the plumbing out of the way allowed me to start removing the old subfloor. It was rotted, it was super uneven, it varied in thickness from space to space…it had to go.

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See that beam running perpendicular to the joists, to support them? Yeah, that thing had been cut in half with the installation of the half-bath and never fixed, rendering it more or less useless. The entire floor in this area of the house was pretty severely slanted, the under-sized joists showed significant signs of rot, there was no central support, leading it to bow…disaster! We’d hoped we could just shim up a new subfloor, but the damage was too extensive for that solution to be a lasting one—in other words, the floor might look OK for a while but would continue to shift and sink and move, which is not really what you want a year after a major renovation.

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The subfloor and all the framing under the half-bath (about 1/3rd of the space) was…a total mess. Essentially the whole floor system under the half-bath was build on some super shoddy and actively rotting 2×4 framing, resting on the dirt in the crawlspace, all built with drywall screws. It’s actually kind of amazing that parts of the adjacent floor hadn’t collapsed given how sloppily they’d been “supported” by the newer floor system of under the half-bath. Jeez.

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In preparation for reframing, I removed the aluminum siding on exterior of the rotted kitchen wall. This wasn’t a huge loss, since the rest of the house is sided with vertical wood tongue-in-groove boards and this section was not. That kind of tongue-and-groove is only about $1.50 per square foot, so the bright side of this was that we’d be able to have the exterior match without spending too much money.

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Underneath the siding was…more siding! This stuff is horrible. It’s a fiberboard kind of material that was used a lot in the 60s and 70s, often with a fake brick or stone pattern on the outside, which has the same kind of texture as asphalt roofing shingles. It is NOT a good thing to have between siding and sheathing, since any water that gets in essentially gets sucked up like a sponge and then sits and rots the structural components of a house. Yuck! I love how at some point they painted it white but didn’t bother to remove the shutters. Ha!

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The whole wall was so disintegrated. This enormous hole was the result of Edwin half-heartedly putting his fist through it.

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The underside of the eaves (which were covered in aluminum that had just been installed on top of 1/2″ plywood) had to be removed to get access to the top parts of the wall framing, and luckily things looked great. Kidding! It was horrible! So much rot! So much water damage! The ends of the original 2×4 rafters were all rotted! DAMNIT.

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Oh, by the way! These were nailed to the concrete foundation and supporting the siding. That’s called termite damage, right there! Instead of just letting part of the concrete foundation show and keeping wood off the ground, someone decided to run untreated wood down the foundation and into the ground. In case you’re short on common sense, this is just a big old invitation for pests and water damage.

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So, we set about reframing the whole kitchen wall. Fun times! The left corner had sunk so much that we had to jack it up about 2″ to get something resembling level.

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That’s not horrifying at all, right? Totally normal? Great.

At some point in there, the clients and I decided that while we were at it, we might as well put in a bigger kitchen window. The old kitchen window was only 3×3 feet and looked sort of dinky both inside and out. These unexpected repairs at least had bright spots because they also presented an opportunity to change things that we’d taken as givens at the beginning of the project.

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We framed as much of the wall as we could without knowing the dimensions of the new window, and then moved on to the floor. The old 2×6 joists all got removed to be replaced by 2x12s—SO much stronger! The space is only about 12 feet wide, so this also allowed us to get away without having a beam run under the joists to support them.

Oh yeah, that blue thing is the pump for the well! The well is literally right under the kitchen. I guess this is what happens when a house keeps getting added on to? So bizarre.

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For reasons unknown, the old floor was framed a good 8 inches higher than it needed to be, so we decided to lower it. Silver linings! This meant higher ceilings and fewer steps up to the kitchen/dining space, both good things.

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Edwin and Edgar rocked it out. The foundation (oh, we’ll get there…) was SEVERELY out of whack, so every joist had to be carefully notched to make things level. Here you can get a better sense of how needlessly high the old floor was—so odd.

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Looky there! It felt good to see this floor looking so fresh and level. I’m not scared off by old lumber (I’m used to it!) but I really hate rot and poor workmanship.

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The excitement was short-lived. Very short-lived. This is the condition of the wall opposite of the one that we’d just rebuilt. This shit is bad, folks! Also, see how there’s water-stained plywood above the concrete block of the foundation? That was sitting completely below grade. Helllllo, rot and water infiltration! See that bit of blue stuff on the far left of the photo above? That’s insulation in the wall of the adjacent bathroom, peaking through because everything that should have been covering it was completely rotted. See how it also has gnaw marks all over it? Thanks, chipmunks.

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Here’s the sill plate! That’s the piece of wood that sits on top of the foundation that supports…everything else. Terrific.

So…I guess we’re reframing another wall. That makes 2 major exterior walls, and an entire floor! THIS WAS NOT THE PLAN.

The homeowners were aware of what was going on throughout all of this, by the way. Our original budget was dependent on things going really smoothly and using materials that were really inexpensive, so all of this stuff hurt. Nothing thusfar was hideously expensive or difficult or time-consuming (it seems like it would be, but it wasn’t), but still—it was a lot more than we’d prepared ourselves for.

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This second major wall that I’m now talking about re-framing (the one with the sliders) was a little more complicated than the first, mainly because of this super weird deck outside of it. The deck was being held up by some posts but mainly by ledger boards screwed into the sides of the house—so to get access to this wall to replace it, the deck had to go. This was just fine with everyone because it was kind of stupid and pointless and tiny.

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Could NOT have seen that one coming! Or maybe I could have. Jeez. What you’re looking at is new decking boards toward the top of the photo that were laid directly on top of rotting decking boards below. There literally aren’t enough eye-rolls in the world.

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Naturally, the baseboard around the perimeter of this deck thing was also covering major rot to the bottom of the siding.

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Like, major major. This is the kind of thing that can really only get worse over time.

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Under the steps was this cute fire hazard! That’s a duct tape electrical junction and NM cable that’s not rated for exterior use. Peachy.

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Plywood half underground, all below a very wet deck, ledger board screwed into the studs and without any flashing, rot for days…do I need to keep going? This is bad.

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Oh, look! You can reach your whole hand through the exterior of the house and into the crawlspace below the bedroom! The bottoms of the studs are all totally rotted! The sill plate is all rotted! Everything is terrible!

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Cute, Olivebridge Cottage.

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Super duper cute.

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This is what it looks like when a house is basically mulch. At least it’s composting itself?

So…clearly THAT needs to be redone, too. This one extra sucked because part of this wall is the bathroom, and we really did not want to be renovating that bathroom, which cosmetically and functionally was OK. After some head-scratching, we figured we could remove the siding and sheathing and repair it all from the exterior.

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One of the things the homeowners really wanted to do was make this part of the living room function better. This kind of addition is clearly the result of an old porch being enclosed. The ceiling height at the front is really low (really too low to reframe the floor to be the same level as the rest of the living room), but we figured it would be drastically improved by removing the supporting posts and putting a structural beam in its place. That shouldn’t be that big of a deal! Just take the posts out, temporarily support the roof, insert the beam and a couple of built-up posts on each end—it should have been a one day project where the major cost was the price of the LVL beams.

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“Should have been.” HA. One thing nobody really noticed is that the “beam” here (which is really just the original top plate of that wall, without any other support aside from the posts) was made to look like a solid beam because it was sheathed in 1-by lumber. The same was true of the posts! 4x4s masquerading as 6x6s! This isn’t great. In a different climate, maybe, sure, but here we have to worry about crazy heavy snow loads that can lead to something like this collapsing!

Oh yeah, all that dust appears to be some kind of pest (carpenter ants? termites?) eating their way through the foam insulation in the living room ceiling. Delicious. I’m sure that’s contributing greatly to this house’s energy efficiency.

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The ceiling in here was, unsurprisingly, a piece of shit. The entire flimsy roof was being supported by those white rafters (too small, too spaced apart) toe-nailed into the original fascia. The roof itself was a layer of corrugated fiberglass with a bunch of tar thrown on top and a layer of EPDM rubber on top of that, held down with drywall screws (!!!!!!!). On the interior, there was an area of drywall that had been patched in with a piece of masonite, and underneath of that was a huge squirrel nest! As in, squirrels had literally eaten their way through the ceiling and a previous owner had fixed the issue by slapping up a 1/4″ piece of masonite to cover it.

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See that little sliver of daylight? See all that crap between the studs and stuff? See the acorn clinging to the original fascia board that’s supporting an entire low-slope roof? Lord DELIVER me from this madness.

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From what I can tell, the squirrels/chipmunks/whatever had gnawed their way into the house through some bad siding and framing, and been living it up in this ceiling.

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Aside from the yuck factor…this is—you guessed it!—NOT GOOD. Just some live electrical cable missing all of its rubber insulation. That stuff is there for a reason! Fire is the reason!

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Even where the electrical wasn’t totally eaten, there were illegal junctions hiding up in that ceiling, too. Just a little tape, right? Just because it works doesn’t mean it’s safe! SOBS.

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Not cool, Olivebridge Cottage. Not at all cool.

I know this might all read as kind of funny or so-awful-it’s-funny but at the time it wasn’t funny! I’m pretty good at taking things in stride, but it SUCKED having to call the homeowners everyday (sometimes more than once!) to report that we’d found some other awful thing wrong with their house. Not that the alternative of not knowing and potentially having the house burn down or collapse or consume its occupants in black mold was a great option, either, but sometimes you just wish you didn’t know about this kind of stuff. Ugh! Timeline, blown. Budget, blown. Expectations, dashed. Life, horrible.

At this point, we had to change approaches a little. We were trying so hard to stick to the original goals and timeline, so the basic strategy was to find a problem, quickly come up with a solution, and then quickly fix it. It’s not as though that totally wasn’t working, but given how many problems there clearly were, it seemed as though a more efficient long-term approach would be…an investigatory period. No more fixing before figuring out all the things that need it. At this point my priority became more about the long-term health and safety of the house than installing a cute kitchen and slapping up some paint. Gulp. What’s that thing they say? Seek and you will find?

Diary time!

Day 7: Dump run in AM. Met the plumber at house to disconnect old plumbing work. Returned to the dump, continued demo of kitchen/dining area and loaded truck for dump run tomorrow morning.
Day 8: Dump run. Removed trim in master bedroom and hallway, de-nailed, piled up. Demo’d ceiling in sunken living room. Met with Edwin about floors in dining/kitchen and plans for sunken living room. Removed aluminum siding on kitchen wall in prep for re-framing tomorrow morning.
Day 9: Edwin and Edgar went to Home Depot in morning for supplies. Met at site. Demo’d rest of kitchen wall and began new framing. Had to lift right side 1.5″ to level out roofline. Will try to find larger window tomorrow. Framed as much as possible before new window is found and sheathed in OSB. Will Tyvek tomorrow.
Day 10: Dump run in morning. Met Edwin and Edgar at site where they had removed all framing and subfloor from dining/kitchen. Discovered that other exterior wall must also be re-framed and window header replaced on other wall. Also discovered that we can drop floor roughly 8 inches! Edwin and Edgar had to leave early. I finished cleaning the crawlspace, organized, cleaned yard of debris, and loaded truck for dump run in AM. Went to the Door Jamb to look at kitchen window options.
Day 11: Edwin and Edgar completed work on framing kitchen/dining floor. Talked plans for reframing sunken living room roof. I worked on removing siding on bedroom/bathroom walls and demo-ing small deck to prep for reframing dining room wall with sliders.
Day 12: Continued demo on back wall and exposed framing below second bedroom. Sitting below grade—I think we will need to excavate area behind house to bring grade down several inches and create pitch away from structure. Demo’d deck and loaded truck for dump. Assessed condition of sill under bedroom and bathroom. Rot is very extensive…will likely need to reframe entire wall.
Day 13: Dump run.
Day 14: Cleaned up and organized kitchen/dining area, second bedroom, bathroom, and worked on cleaning up main living room and sunken part. Loaded truck for dump.

Pumpkin the Raccoon!

YOU GUYS! I honestly couldn’t believe the unbelievable response to the Lowe’s Spring Makeover thingy majiggy that I posted about last week. I was expecting…I don’t know, maybe 10 or 12 applicants? Well, I got a WHOLE LOT more than that and I’m super duper flattered and touched by the whole thing. Who knew! This selection process is going to be long and grueling, mostly because I so badly want to do pretty much all of them!

OK, enough exclamation points.

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WAIT JUST KIDDING BECAUSE OMG CUTE CUTE CUTE!!!!!!

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This is Pumpkin the raccoon. I found her on Instagram. I’m obsessed with her.

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I don’t know a ton about Pumpkin. Pumpkin was rescued as a lil’ baby raccoon and taken in by these folks who treat her more or less like a cat or a dog. She’s a chubby little lazy thing who doesn’t seem to mind her dope lifestyle one bit. I wish I could make myself tiny enough to use her plump belly as a bed.

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Raccoon hands!!!!! They kill me. I can’t. I just can’t.

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I think my favorite aspect of Pumpkin’s life is her relationship with her dogs, Oreo and Toffee. I’m guessing Pumpkin thinks she is a dog, but she’s clearly not a dog.

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You know what’s cuter than two dogs cuddling with each other? A dog cuddling with a RACCOON! Interspecies friendships are perhaps the highest-ranking cute activity, and Pumpkin has it down. I love Toffee and Oreo for allowing this! I’m going to go ahead and guess Mekko would not be quite so accommodating. I guess no rescued pet raccoon for me, but we all have our crosses to bear. I guess I’ll just have to live vicariously through this magical instagram.

I just had to tell you. Every time I think I’ve found all the cute animals on instagram, I find new ones. I hesitate to ask, because, like, how many is too many to follow? but if you’re kinda the same way, who are your favorites?

Manhattan Nest + Lowe’s: Who Wants a Makeover?!

Have you ever thought to yourself “hey, I wish Daniel (that’s me, FYI) would show up at my door and do a whirlwind makeover of a space in my house“? You probably have not had that thought. But start thinking it? Because it could totally happen!

When my friendly sponsors at Lowe’s reached out and asked if I’d like to pass some Lowe’s love along to a Manhattan Nest reader this spring, I hopped on it! Because I like you guys! Sounds fun! Sign me up!

LowesSpringMakeover

If you read my blog, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that Lowe’s is pretty much my home away from home. I tend to be at my local Lowe’s several times a week, and they always impress me with their knowledgeable and friendly staff, and quality products to match.  It seems a little silly to feel that way about a big box store, but when you’re in and out of hardware stores as much as I am, you come to appreciate the small stuff. Going to pick up that extra tube of caulk or box of finish nails can be a drag, but those trips aren’t so bad when I get to catch up with Deb in the garden center, or Keith in doors and windows, or Sue at check-out, or Frank in appliances, or Sexy Ron who sometimes helps me with lumber. On top of that, Lowe’s carries a lot of seriously cute and nice stuff! I think a lot of people tend to think of Lowe’s as a place to by 2x4s and drywall screws, but I’m always super impressed by their collection of all sorts of home goods, lighting, outdoor stuff—it’s become a pretty indispensable resource in my life and one of the first places I look for…well, kind of anything!

SO! Lowe’s is teaming up with me (and seven other great bloggers!) to do a spring makeover for one of you! Do you have a back deck in need of some TLC? A boring bathroom that needs a pick-me-up? Maybe you just moved into your house and really want something checked off the list? Maybe you’ve been there a while and are stuck on what to do with that pesky guest bedroom? Let’s fix it!

Here’s how it works: I get to choose one applicant for a makeover! Sorry, international readers—you gotta be within the US and within reasonable proximity to a Lowe’s store. The makeover can be interior or exterior, but should be contained to one space—like a room, a backyard, a front yard, you get the idea. After choosing an applicant, I’ll work with you to design up the space and then Lowe’s will bring me right to your door to make it happen. I’ll have a robust team of Lowe’s helpers at my disposal, and all of us will have a day or two to make your space totally awesome with the healthy product budget they’ve provided to get her done. Sound like a plan? Great!

Ground Rules:

  1. You should be looking to fix up a space within your residence!
  2. The makeover project should be able to be completed within 24 hours.
  3. You must be the owner of your own home (sorry, renters! it’s a legal thing).
  4. You have to be outgoing, energetic, and fun with unique stories to tell!
  5. You have to be comfortable been on camera and/or interviewed by media.
  6. You have to be in need of expert design help from one of the participating bloggers (pick me!).
  7. You have to be able to make quick decisions in order to keep within the tight time constraints.
  8. You have to be available for a 2-day period to complete the makeover, which will take place between February 9th and May 1.
  9. You have to allow photos of your home to be shared online.
  10. You must be 21 years of age or older to apply.
  11. You have to complete the online application form and agree to the Terms below.
  12. To apply, visit: lowesspringmakeover2016.castingcrane.com
  13. Only eligible participants will be contacted.

ApplyHere

To apply for your Manhattan Nest + Lowe’s Spring Makeover, click here! Applications will only be accepted from now until THIS WEDNESDAY at 11:59 p.m. EST, so hurry your cutie booty along and get to applying!

This post is in partnership with Lowe’s! Thank you for supporting my sponsors!

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