Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Tales from the Renovation Track: One Woman’s Experiences of Being a Renovator: Part 8

Tales from the Renovation Track: One Woman’s Experiences of Being a RenovatorCollage: construction, medicine cabinets, women
Credits: MS Office ClipArt - j0301238 + j0401589

Part 8 - Just Where Do I Stop?
A while ago, a customer asked me to visit and discuss some renovations to her bathroom. Her toilet tank was cracked, and that led her to ultimately decide to redo her entire bathroom. The plumber was called in to take out the bathtub, shower and sink and disconnect all drains and supply lines and cap them off.

I will tell you, that tub was a cast iron behemoth, and not a nice one at that, with 4 raised legs on it. No - not these! It was just a regular tub with one finished edge and the other 3 sides were to be finished by the walls surrounding the tub. They call it a widow maker. The unfortunate plumber and I hoisted that thing up onto an appliance dolly. While both of us grunted and groaned it down the porch stairs, the bathtub bounced dangerously back and forth as we banged it down the stairs, one step at a time. Whew!

That accomplished, I was now able to focus my attention on the tearing down of the lathe and plaster on the walls. I am like almost everyone on the planet, I love demolition. It’s simply the best! You can take out all of your worldly frustrations on that old nasty 2 by 4, smash the price of gas into a million pieces of plaster and toss that jerk on the road who cut you off, right into the dumpster!

When the copious amounts of dust had settled, my eyes landed on the horror story before me. A few of the studs in one corner where the tub had been situated were full of dry rot and only about one quarter of each one had any structural integrity left in it. The remainder crumbled like brown ash in my hands. To make matters worse, this house was two stories and was balloon framed, not platform framed. Balloon framing is where the wall studs are continuous from the top of the building to the bottom, meaning that those same studs are tied to the upper story as well. In the early 1900's, they had longer studs from the larger trees of the old growth forests.

I then had to rig up a beam to carry all the weight, and cut off the bottom of the studs to replace them, and then sister up another one beside each one to make sure the repair stayed together. Being the curious cat that I am, I couldn't figure out why only a few studs had dry rot in them. Not seeing anything too unusual in the bathroom itself, I decided to venture outside and check the exterior of the wall for causes. Yup, there it was in plain site. A huge crack, about 6 or 7 feet long existed in the brick wall, allowing water to seep in inside the stud walls and rot the framing. This is doubly accelerated when you add in the freeze/thaw cycle of our northern climate. In winter, the crack allows water in, which freezes and expands in volume, and then opens the crack more which allows even more water in ... you get the picture.

I called my buddy Steve, the brick mason to repair the crack. He was just finishing up and wiping the mortar off his tools, when he told me that the brick was just going to crack open again in the near future. "Oh, why, oh why do these things happen to me!" I exclaimed. He then told me to look up. I looked up at the eavestrough which was in complete disrepair, and sure enough the water was flowing down right onto the brick walls, settling in any little space and then doing the freeze/thaw cycle thing again.

I informed my poor customer, and then retrieved 2 sections of scaffolding and got up there to replace and repair the eavestrough.

Finally, I thought, the worst is over, but things do come in threes as they say. If I ever find out who "they" are, I'm going to tell them to quit talking. It was late on a Friday afternoon when my customer had ventured over to view my progress. I told her I was going to remove the sizable built-in medicine cabinet, then pack up and quit for the day. I was quite surprised when she told me she didn't think that this was such a good idea.

Now, at times customers can be fusspots, and I assumed at this particular moment that she was exhibiting said trait. I told her there was no worry, for after all, as I smugly laughed, medicine cabinets were just not structural elements and things would be fine over the weekend.

"No", she replied, "I just have a feeling about this. Don't take it out until Monday".

Well jeepers I thought to myself. I am just going to have to prove this one to her. I started to pull out some of the nails holding the plywood medicine cabinet when I noticed the whole wall moved a tad. Holy cow, wouldn't you know it ... the medicine cabinet was big enough that it occupied quite a space in the wall, and really and truly needed a proper header like a window opening. There was no header of course. On top of that, "they" whomever built it, had screwed the drywall on the other side of the wall into the back of the medicine cabinet making the cabinet an integral part of the wall. Period.

I must say though, I have seen just about everything. But imagine that, a medicine cabinet that is a structural element! The worst part of it is that every time I think she has forgotten about that stupid medicine cabinet and my smug attitude, she brings it up again like some fond memory. I guess she has a right to, after going from a cracked toilet tank, to brick repointing, to eavestroughing and a structural medicine cabinet.

Now you know why they say in the renovations business, "And where do you want me to stop?"

Happy Renovating!

Janice Bell
Bell Renovating
2009 © Janice Bell

Tales from the Renovation Track: One Woman’s Experiences of Being a Renovator
Part 1: All in All
Part 2: Weld on Fire
Part 3: They Were Nailed
Part 4: It Pays to Be Honest
Part 5: Rural Renos
Part 6: Messy Is Costly
Part 7: Door Hell
Part 8: Just Where Do I Stop?
Part 9: Dressing for the Trades

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