I knew that simply describing the upstairs to the house as needing a lot of work due to its very poor shape was an understatement.
For starters, access to the children’s upstairs bedroom was gained by temporary stairs that had no railings. Fortunately, building a new railing to keep people from falling down the stairs was a no-brainier and relatively easy to fix.
The leaking roof and the windows which had been broken out and left open had caused major damage to the walls and floors. The old wood paneling had been defaced by the children. There was no electrical in the ceiling for lighting and the few outlets that existed in the walls had not been done to code. All the carpet had to be ripped out because it had been soiled by their puppy. The children had chosen and painted a kaleidescope of clashing colors on the walls and wood trim.
In short, the upper floor was another disaster. All I could do was to demolish it and start over; and so, that’s what I did.
I choose to simply cover the old paneling with new sheetrock. There was no reason to rip it out. I covered the walls with half inch drywall and the ceiling with five-eighths. I replaced all the trim. It had all been painted with bright red and pink colors and wasn’t salvageable anyway.
The carpeting was beyond saving, so it was an easy decision to pull it all up and plan for its replacement.
My biggest fear was how much damage had been done to the insulation and walls. After extensive testing it was determined that they were not as bad as I had feared.
I remember thinking that is was time something went my way. I had become so numb to bad news it seemed I had just come to expect it.
One surprise was to find what little existing electrical wiring was up there, was the old knob and tube wiring. This required me to fish all new wiring from the electrical panel located in the basement. This was a major undertaking. The walls had recently been brought up to the new energy code by the county for the previous owner. She had qualified for a government grant and the work was done at no cost to her. However, like many government programs, it fell short. The grant only covered the cost of installing the insulation. Even though it would have been easier and cheaper to do it at the same time, none of the other code deficiencies, like the vents, roof, electrical, or plumbing, were done.
At the end of the day, this caused more problems than it solved.
The insulation was pumped into the wall through holes drilled through the stucco from the outside. Two inch holes had been drilled to gain access to the cavity between every wall stud, and then plugged with a poorly matched patch; it looked terrible, like some giant woodpecker had worked its way around the house.
Another fine government program at work.
The windows were in bad shape. Many never opened and had to be repaired. None of the screens were intact and many of the glass panes had broken out and never been replaced.
If the weather was wet and windy the rain simply came inside. I guess the kids just moved their mattress away from the windows. There was never any furniture upstairs, just piles of bedding which was soiled by the dog and from the weather.
My work was cut out for me.
Starting over was the only practical thing to do.
The previous owners had attempted to rebuild the steps. They made these out of pine and the rise and runs were all different and not to code. Climbing up the stairs made one walk like a drunk. These had to be replaced.
The house was built in the 1920’s. The upstairs had never been properly finished off. The headroom for the stairs was minimal. It didn’t allow a queen size box spring to be taken up the stairway.
I decided to cut an opening above the stairway, place a header in the floor joists and extend to the sidewalls of the stairways. This wasn’t a simple task. To make matters worse, the walls of the stairway were plaster and lath.
With one hundred and sixty-seven sheets to mud and tape, I never forgot how much I hated to do that kind of work. To make matters worse, it was very warm upstairs.
It was a major task to get one sheet of rock up the stairway at a time. The headroom was only 50 inches and there was an abrupt turn at the top landing. Fortunately, once we got the rock to the top of the steps we could just flip it and get it into the room where it was needed.
After one hundred and sixty-seven sheets of 5/8 inch panels of sheet rock, countless pails of dry wall mud, hundreds of lineal feet of trim and casing, plus a major reconfiguration and reframing of the bedrooms and the creation of two walk-in closets, the upstairs was ready to be rewired. This sheet rock job took about half again as much time as a normal rock job should because of the steps and the limitations they placed on us.
I thought I had really started an early journey to, or at least a preview of, hell.
I promised myself that I would pray more after that experience.
I couldn’t afford to replace all the windows but I had to replace the rotten sills, glass, screens and hardware. I wrapped all the windows on the outside with aluminum. I really learned how to use a break( the machine that bends the aluminum to form fit the window mullions and sashes) by the end of that job. The purpose for wrapping the windows is to protect the wood from the elements. This process although time consuming is much cheaper and very effective compared to replacement. I had to do that to all the windows in the house. Including all the doors, they numbered over one hundred.
I can’t tell you how many times I asked myself, “Why am I doing this? Why didn’t I just tear it down and start over?” On bad days I would say to myself, “I paid how much for this?” Well-meaning neighbors, who had designated themselves ‘sidewalk superintendents’, reminded me of this option several times a week. It was a constant mind battle.
I know they meant well, but it sure took its toll and was most discouraging.
The remarks seemed to have a direct relationship to how bad a particular part of the job was going. I became used to them and simply let them bounce off me. I developed a thick skin very quickly. Any effort to explain whatever it was I was doing was fruitless anyway, so I just went quiet and tuned out all the remarks. I considered them ‘Job’s helpers’.
This job wasn’t a slice of heaven. In fact it was just the opposite, or as close as I ever wanted it to be.
I wanted to quit so many times. I was in over my head; I knew this, but couldn’t do anything except keep moving forward. Everything I had was riding on this house and completing the job. I felt powerless, even hopeless at times. I was down to one hour at a time some days, just trying to muster enough strength to go on.
I felt like I was trapped in a nightmare and couldn’t wake up.
Looking back now these were some of the most challenging days of my life. In all honesty, if you would have asked me whether it was all worth it, I would have answered a definite no!
I don’t know why I didn’t give up. Perhaps I was stupid, a fool, or a glutton for punishment. Maybe even a little bit of each.
I had never been tested like this. I thought it couldn’t get any worse.
I had finally reached a point in the house where all the major demolition work had been completed. I had exposed all the defects of the house. I knew the plumbing and wiring had to be replaced. The basement required a new floor and the upstairs needed new sheetrock and framing along with new steps and several other miscellaneous repairs.
Almost all of the woodwork trim and casing on the main floor had been taken down by the previous owner. They found out it was a much more difficult job than they had imagined, so they just abandoned it and placed the beautiful old woodwork out in the garage. Since it never had functional garage doors, it was left exposed to all the elements.
This was a disaster.
I was fairly certain, from what I had been able to see, that I wouldn’t be able to salvage much, if any, of the woodwork. Even if I was to be able to find a match in some residential salvage yard, this was going to be an expensive fix. I had hoped that I might locate it all in one place and just have to install it.
That turned out to be a naive thought.
I wasn’t looking forward to this part of the project at all. The more I thought about it, the harder my head pounded. I was already eating aspirin like candy.
After contacting three companies who specialize in harvesting old woodwork trim, doors and other items from old homes, I learned just how much I had been dreaming.
One had enough casing only to do two rooms. It didn’t even match the style of what I had or had existed in the house when it was built. The worse part is they wanted almost ten grand for this trim.
I politely declined and left.
The inevitable was next, and unavoidable.
I had to finally sit down and do a scope of work to be done on the house. I had to face the music and do a room by room assessment of what had to be done. I had to break down every room and every part of this house and categorize it into three categories; what had to be done to meet code, what needed to be done to improve the project to make it saleable, and what I wished I could do.
After breaking this down to a detailed list the final question was, how much could I afford to do?
I reached for the aspirins I kept in my pants pocket. Somehow, I could feel that I was going to develop a pounding headache.
I wasn’t disappointed.
copyright all rights reserved D.Jerzak 04/24/07