"The entire second floor rear section of your house is being held up by two 2x4s...and it's going to cost $30k to fix it."

This is an example of something you don't ever want to hear from a home inspector when referring to the property you and your significant other have poured your heart, soul, and your financial past, present and future into. But back in the winter of 2004, that was exactly what we were told. I can't even begin to explain the sinking feeling that struck us to our core when we heard that. 

What started as a suspect drip of liquid coming from a heat register in our sun porch had quickly revealed itself as massive water, termite and structural damage to the rear of our 1880s Victorian. As we detailed earlier this week, we had just finished a great looking budget renovation to our kitchen and were starting to gain some DIY confidence when this disaster struck. 

In a matter of what felt like minutes, our kitchen had gone from dated 1980s bachelor pad...

...to light and bright thanks to a budget reno...

...to our worst nightmare.

After hiring a reputable home inspector to diagnose the situation, as well as a reputable contractor to install an LVL structural beam and concrete footers to support the whole thing (since this 1890s addition was built right on dirt and had no foundation), we had exhausted what little savings we had and were therefore left alone to put the pieces back together. 

But let's be honest, even if we had the money in the bank, I'm sure Alex would have wanted to do it all ourselves.

"So where do we go from here?" was something we asked ourselves time and time again as we stood in the shell of a room that was once our kitchen and sun porch. As we looked around, icy winter air poured in through the gaping holes in the side of our home that we had duct taped over, chilling not only our bones but our burning desire to be DIYers. They may say a little duct tape will fix anything, but it wasn't working very well to keep the cold out.

This room's lack of ceiling, walls, electrical, in some places floor, insulation, and safe wiring left a lot to be desired. We knew we had a lot of work to accomplish, a learning curve to tackle, and an inspection to pass in a short six month period before our permit expired. But at least we were getting an opportunity to open up some walls and see the long hidden secrets of our home. (That's my attempt at a silver lining.)

We kicked things off with the electrical work. First up was determining the location of our new outlets and switches. We started by trying to figure out where we needed switches and outlets for the current kitchen, and perhaps where we might need them if we ever pursued our grand plan of swapping the locations of the kitchen and family room.  

Alex is my electrician, and he's a pretty good one at that. He learned the basics from a master electrician in college and has been able to apply that wonderful knowledge to our home. While working on this project we removed all of the dangerous old mishmash of wires, covered sub panels, and in wall splices to produce a safe and organized installation that will serve the room now and in the future.

With the necessary electrical run, the project quickly took a turn down overkill lane. I'm not quite sure what happened, nor do I remember the conversation where he said "I'm going to buy 1000' of CAT-6 network cable, Coax video cable, and speaker wire and run it all over the house, are you cool with that?" but somehow it happened. My lovely husband was bringing our 19th century row house into the 21st century, and I was an innocent spectator to the mess. Looking back on the photo below, I don't know how the neat freak in me survived when our house was a complete and total disaster. I think I have a case of hives coming on just looking at these photos.

No, seriously. He had bundles of wires everywhere!

We decided to use our new LVL beam to our advantage with the electrical. We notched and cut several 2x4s to create a bit of a box where we could run all of our wiring without the need to drill and run them through all of the floor joists in the room above. This meant a far less time consuming and much better organized process without any aesthetic sacrifice.

It feels like we worked on this part of the project for months, but it was only a couple of weeks. As I mentioned, in the dead of winter the room was COLD, and all we wanted to do was to get to a point where we could insulate the walls and ceiling.

After running the electrical and my dear husband's overkill geekfest wiring, we had one small aspect of plumbing to attend to. When we moved in several copper supply lines were running outside of the wall and along the baseboards. I know this is a common occurrence in old homes where plumbing was first added, but this was different. Whoever did this just was just plain lazy and wanted to get the job done. To make matters worse, one of the pipes that exited the house to the hose connection had burst inside the wall years before. Someone then applied a temporary pipe patch that had remained in place for probably 20 years, just waiting to wreak havoc again. If you look very closely, you can see the old hose connection and pipes along the wall in this photo.

We realized the pipes were no longer even necessary since we were moving our hose bib, so my plumber...yep, you guessed it, Alex, reconfigured all of our supply lines into this neat assembly that would eventually be hidden under the floor.

Though we still had a LONG way to go until we were done with this project, we were making progress and moving towards putting it all back together. The inspection went well and there were no issues with anything we had done. We let out a huge sigh of relief, looked around at our room and decided there was no time to waste, we needed to get moving on the next step.

At one point during the process of electrical as plumbing, our contractor, Craig, came by to check on us. I think he was surprised both by our progress and our determination. But I think he was a little glad we weren't calling him every ten minutes asking him to bail us out of our mess.

How do you think you would have handled a similar situation? Do you typically have grace under fire, or are you more the Chicken Little type. Given that we literally felt like the sky...or at least our second floor...was falling, I think we gathered ourselves together pretty nicely. It also helped to know we weren't alone, and to know the somewhere someone else was going through the same thing. That's why we love to hear your stories about similar scenarios.

We'll be bringing you the next steps in our process and what we had to go through to put everything back together just a little later this week. So be sure to check back and see some of the cool materials and methods we used when reassembling our little disaster area. 

Comments 9


2/29/2012 at 7:59 PM
We literally found a "silver lining" when, to expand our tiny kitchen in a former home, we annexed a large closet in an adjacent room. While tearing out the walls down to the studs and rewiring, my husband found a lot of old silver coins (early 20th century). He was real excited by this.

Not so exciting was all the work we had to do to the story below. The floor of the top story was flush with ground level in the front of the house, and the floor of the lower story opened into the back (built on a very steep hill, bottom story below grade so it appeared from the front to be a single-story house). The front walk was very cracked and for years water had been leaking down the front walls of the first floor. The walls were paneled and we could see some damage, plus there was a lot of dampness coming up through the floor. Anything cloth or leather left in those rooms for more than a day developed a massive mildew "coat of hair".

Without anything other than a pick and shovels, my husband removed the front walk and regraded, improving drainage on the hillside that was our property. He ordered a load of concrete and poured and finished new walks for the front entrance. Then he turned to repairing the interior. Some paneling (real wood, tongue and groove) could be reused, he waterproofed and insulated the below-grade exterior block walls, I painted everything and we had a great first floor that actually could be lived in, complete with carpeting and upholstered furniture!

Our present house is quite a bit older but has proven to be more structurally sound. The original builder knew the score and constructed the house on a raised mound of earth, so everything above the basement has stayed high and dry -- except of course for roof leaks which is a different issue altogether.

Thanks for sharing your stories, and I really admire your determination! And it was definitely smart of Alex to think ahead and install all that wiring (I'm saying this in all seriousness, living in a house that with few excetions only had a single outlet in each room).
What a great find! We're so jealous of people that find cool things in their walls. We've found very little over the years.

Our neighbor has a similar issue with their basement moisture, so we know how awful that can be. Very cool that you were able to resolve it on your own, and get a usable space out of it.

And thank you very much for backing me up on the wiring. I know I'm over the top, and I think as long as I know that, it's OK. :-)
2/29/2012 at 9:42 PM
Love your blog!
Congratulations on the nomination at The Homies. I just voted for oldtownhome. Good luck.
I love Old Town too!
Thank you so much for voting, we really appreciate it. And thanks for reading, we love hearing people love our blog :-)
2/29/2012 at 10:52 PM
I was just wondering did your homeowners insurance cover any the repair costs?
You want to hear something brutally honest? We never even called our insurance company. We were very young, quite naive, and constantly worried about things like losing our insurance coverage. What can I say, we're neurotic. We heard through someone that what we had wouldn't have been covered, so we (probably stupidly) took that as truth and never pursued a claim.

The total cost ended up being far far far less than $30k since we did so much ourselves, so in the end we really wouldn't have gotten much from insurance if we had filed. But it was very much a learn as you go sort of experience. If it happened today, we would have at least investigated making an insurance claim. With age comes wisdom.
2/29/2012 at 11:42 PM
Good question about insurance, and good to see that Alex would reconsider seeking assistance in the event of future catastrophes.

Homeowner's insurance has been good to us and helped pay for some much-needed improvements. Due to continuing problems with asphalt shingles blowing loose/failing on our steeply pitched and shed roofs, we used our insurance payment for the like replacement cost to install a standing-seam metal roof. We had to put in extra money to cover the cost difference,of course, but we never could have afforded it without a generous insurance payment.
3/1/2012 at 8:28 AM
Oh my goodness I asked the question but I fully expected you to say they had! I would definitely call them first next time!!! If they turn you down or drop you because you file a claim then you don't want them to provide you insurance anyway. My parent have had to make a few claims on their house for much more minor stuff then yours and the insurance was always willing to help them in some way. Also they just had to get quotes to submit to the insurance agency for the work. The agency told them if they wanted to diy for cheaper that that was fine so they were able to use the money to do additional fixes and improvements elsewhere in the house when they ended up with some money left over.
3/2/2012 at 7:09 AM
yay, finally part 2 :)

its pretty amazing that theres such a difference how houses are build here and oooover there ;) totally different structures..
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