Several weeks ago we started talking about our efforts in establishing a budget friendly and very quick renovation of our kitchen. A refreshed kitchen was a move in necessity, and between our cabinet painting, hardware updates, spray paint counter top treatment, and inexpensive under cabinet lighting, we had established a pretty solid renovation for only a few hundred dollars. It was good enough to give us a kitchen to move into, but didn’t break the bank.
The first year in our house we were slowly getting our arms around everything. Our renovation projects, though minor and inexpensive due to our broke-ness, were starting to come along. We had a few issues here and there that we were able to resolve on our own or with some outside assistance, like the replacement of our leaky skylight, and things were going pretty good. Wendy decided to continue the inexpensive kitchen update we had started when we bought our home by extending the work to the sun porch area just beyond the kitchen.
The tile that adorned the floor was a very 1970’s pattern and color combination and we wanted it gone. Unfortunately we didn’t have the knowhow or the budget to replace it with another tile.
After much deliberation Wendy decided she was going to paint the tile white. The tile had a slight texture to the decoration, so a consistent white tile with the irregular surface would be pretty cool looking, and it would work well in a pinch. So Wendy chose a cold January day just about one year after we moved in to paint the floor.
Her project was going well and she was making quick work of it. We were both happy to be rid of the ugly floor, and we were ready to make better use of the space. We were still very gung-ho on our home and projects and hadn’t hit a major speed bump since we moved in, but little it we know it, we were due.
About this same time we had our first snowfall of the winter. We always enjoy looking at the snow out our back door as it collects on the tree and ground, and this snowfall was no different. Unfortunately, the days immediately following proved to be quite a bit less serene.
Our poorly configured and overflowing gutter (it clogged because of the sharp angle and use of PVC as a downspout) caused a significant amount of ice damning on the gutters and down the back of our house. The warm-up in the days that followed the allowed the melting snow to run behind the ice that had formed and beneath the shingles on the lower sun porch roof, ultimately working its way into the wall of our house. We first saw it with this little drip of rusty water coming out of the base of the heating register.
Curious as to the source of the leak (we didn’t realize it was from the ice damming, we were noobs), we decided to pull off a bit of the drywall to get a better look at what was going on. What we discovered was similar to a visual version of the dreaded “record scratch” sound.
The wood sheathing was completely saturated with water, and what’s worse; it was spongy to the touch. The wood seemed to have completely rotted away wherever the water was consistently getting into the house. Remember how we hadn’t hit a major speed bump? This was a speed mountain!
Serving no purpose and not even able to hold a nail, I removed the wood sheathing to get down to the studs below. What I found was even more shocking. Mud tunnels on the outside of the studs, the telltale sign that a termite colony, either active or vacated, was working on munching away at the structural members of our home.
The more we removed, the more horrified we were. We weren’t built for this, we didn’t know how to fix it, we didn’t have any savings, we hated termites…what were we supposed to do?
Oh, did I forget to mention the random live wiring we also found hanging down in the various stud cavities?
Our nice kitchen had become a nightmare once again.
On a recommendation from an Internet message board, we called in a well-respected home inspector named JD Greewell. JD is the kind of guy who will deliver the news that your house is falling down with the same gravity that he will let you know that you have ungrounded outlet or a window painted shut. We felt the need to have someone come in and take a second look because our home inspector had apparently missed so much. While he was there, we were also hoping he could put us in touch with someone who might be able to help us do the work.
JD Took a look around and was flabbergasted by the fact that the original inspector had missed so much on our house. From poorly patched burst pipes to a leak that was actually an active leak (not just old damage long since repaired), he just didn’t see how the inspector couldn’t have noticed so many issues with the house. After taking a look around, JD gave us the bad news.
JD reported, “The second floor at the back of your house is not structurally sound. The water infiltration has attracted termites over the years that have eaten away the majority of the studs in your back wall. The entire second floor rear section of the house is being held up by two 2x4s. You’re going to need to get this taken care of soon. The total cost to sure up the structure, install a beam, pour new footers, replace all of the siding, and repair and replace all of the plumbing and electrical, refinish the drywall and ceiling, and finish everything back up will probably be in the neighborhood of about $30,000.” As I mentioned, this was all delivered in a very calm “your world might be ending” sort of way.
Though to this day we’re still so glad we had JD in to give us his brutally honest assessment, I’m not sure he made it out the door before Wendy burst into tears. $30,000, where were we going to find $30,000? I figured I was going to need to start working the night shift at McDonald’s to pay for these repairs…and that’s a lot of night shifts.
We collected ourselves and took the name of a contractor that JD gave us to get started on this project. He suggested we work with a guy named Craig Wallace. We gave Craig a call and he came out to give us his assessment. He was far less gloom and doom than JD, so it was a bit easier to work through all of the options. We told Craig how we liked to do things on our own, so he suggested that he could just install the beam and footers to make sure the structure was in good shape, then we could take a shot at doing everything else.
I think Craig really thought we were paint and paper DIYers and assumed we would get into it, realize we were in over our heads, and call him back out when we couldn’t handle it. He was wonderful to work with and made us feel like we could trust him and like he was in our corner, but just to let him know if we couldn’t do it.
Craig and his two-man crew got to work and installed a double LVL beam and a few big footers beneath the damaged section of the wall. We opted to have him leave this completely open rather than installing partial walls to bring back the doorway that had been there before. This allowed the kitchen to be open to the sun porch and made the whole space feel larger and brighter.
After Craig wrapped up his work Wendy and I took over. Before I get into the details of what we did, let me first say that there were plenty of moments where we would look at each other and say “what next?” while simultaneously thinking, “what have we gotten ourselves into?”
We actually started the project off with more demo. As we tore off more drywall from the walls and ceilings, we continued to find more and more evidence of water damage, poorly insulated spaces, and downright dangerous electrical wiring. It was a seriously scary sight and nothing like what we expected. I think we figured we would jump in where Craig left off, put up drywall, paint and be done. Instead, we ended up with the biggest project we had ever taken on.
Once we had torn back all of the damaged material we were left with a shell of the kitchen. The floor was torn up, ceiling removed from about 1/3 of the kitchen, and the whole ceiling removed from the sun porch.
With the drywall removed and the lacking and moldy insulation torn out, you could see the extent of the damage that years of water infiltration had done on our poor home. You could actually see through the wall from the inside of the house right through to the outside.
You could also see all of the remnants of weird ventilation fans that no longer worked but still had live wires running to it, another main panel that had long been covered over, and just item after item I was shaking my head at, both human created and insect.
After several days of effort, we had ripped everything back to the point it needed to be. Demo can be a fun part of a project, but in this project, it wasn’t particularly fun. We went through a tremendous roller coaster of emotions, from feeling like we might have to have to leave our house (yes, it crossed our minds a few times), to feeling like we had everything under control. The key in the process for us was getting to a point where our demo was done, the structural items were taken care of, and we felt like we could start moving forward to actually put our house back together.
Wendy and I put together a plan of attack. We were going to run new electrical, run a bunch of network, speaker, and cable wiring, install insulation in our ridiculously cold kitchen with holes in the siding, install drywall for the walls and ceiling that were open, and patch in the floor that was now missing. It was a lot to take on, but we felt like we could maybe…possibly…just maybe make this all work. It was going to be a little tough, we knew it, but we knew we could do it…maybe.
We’ll fill you in on the effort we had to take on to put this all back together in our next post. But until then, we’d love to hear about any similar experiences you may have had that made you question to ability and sanity in working on your house. What do you think, were we crazy in what we were trying to take on with little to no experience working on the house? Or was it the feet to the fire scenario we needed to let us lose our fear. Perhaps a bit of a sink or swim moment.