Into the Breach

There is knowing that your house is going to need "a lot of work" and then there is living it.  This house, friends and neighbors, needs A. Lot. Of. Work. If there was a movie made about this house, it would be called "A Lot of Work: The Blue Elephant Story." Or just "Fright Night".  It is not like one of those shows on HGTV where the couple debates buying a house and they say "There is just too much work!" because the paint is an ugly color or the bathroom fixtures are outdated.  This is like an HGTV show where the couple walks in and then runs out screaming, because zombies are coming up from the basement and mutant Termite Monsters are swinging from the chandeliers, and that same couple end up rocking on the floor sucking their thumbs and humming, just trying to forget...

Let's recap.  This week I kicked off the festivities by coming to the house at night the day after we closed and began tearing out the carpets and curtains upstairs.  We knew for sure that the worst of the visible damage was upstairs (with the exception of Hell Bathroom downstairs- but that's another story for another day) but had no idea just how awful things were with the condition of the walls.  In one bedroom there is an entire wall being held up by the tenacity of the dingy floral wallpaper.  In the bedroom next door, I pulled back the colorless rug (I think in another life it was sea-foam green?) to find that the padding beneath was so old it had literally disintegrated into orange dust- I was able to fill a shop vac sucking up a room's worth of foam-dust.  I filled 5 contractor bags with stick-em tiles from under the rugs and tossed curtains that were so old and dirty they could stand straight up off the rods.  But! The good news! Under the horror of the rugs were unfinished pine floors- so no wall-to-wall carpet will be needed! Hoorah for unspent money!!
Vacuuming up The Orange Carpet "Padding" Note the artfully placed hole in the plaster.

Next Mom, my grandmother and I went on a quick tour of the house (Grammy hadn't seen it) and couldn't help but tear down some wallpaper while we were there (yes, my 87 year old grandmother was put to work. We do not age-discriminate at the Elephant).  We found a weird/cool Chinese-style mural under one wall's worth of paper in the living room (see pic left) and a lifetime's worth of MOLD under another in the kitchen. NOOOOO!!! It seems like it was part of some bathroomtastrophe from the past- there was clear warping from water damage in the stick-em tiles outside the bathroom door and in an entire house of plaster the only new sheetrock is in the kitchen ceiling below said bathroom (which by the way has a lovely painted plywood panel in place of tile in the tub, ostensibly for quick access to whatever pipe-demon had caused the flood I deduce caused all this damage).  I guess that was where repairs stopped because some seriously scary beardy-black mold was practically flipping me off once we got rid of a big swatch of (mustard and green plaid- my hand to God) wallpaper. Ok house.  You win.  For NOW.

So let's see- that was day 3.  On day four Gavin began by spraying some bleach water on the mold (we will tear out the wall later). He also tore out the big sheets of brown faux-wood panelling in the kitchen.  Yes, the same kitchen with the green and mustard wallpaper.  I'll give you a moment to process how pretty it was.  Oh, and sea-foam green painted cabinets. Yeah....now you're there.
Current color-scheme of our kitchen.  It is the full spectrum of colors found in infant diapers.

At some point he went down to the basement to get a tool or something and BOO-YAH- a giant puddle of water.  I had turned the water on the night before so I guess it served me right.  I should have known better than to just assume basic plumbing is, like, a thing.  Thank God turns out it was a simple fix of tightening a couple of pipe joints but just the Elephant's way of reminding us who's the boss (It's Tony Danza. That's who).

On this same day we got the first quote from a roofing company to flash our chimney.  You see one of the selling points (hah!) of the Elephant was that there is a very well-done brand new roof.  There apparantly was not, however, any attempt made to seal around the chimney (usually done with metal "flashing" which is kind of layered like fish scales at the base to keep water out).  So a van rolls up and all these bizarre little men come pouring out.  My brother Joe wondered out loud if they had been bred for chimney maintenance over the generations- they were all tiny and had weirdly large teeth and beedy eyes and were clearly related.  Any-who, they walked up to our attic to look and point at where the sunlight glints in around the chimney gaps, said something to each other in Chimnese and then quoted us $1850.00.  Har.  De har har.  When I actually laughed out loud in their faces they immediately dropped it to $1400 but at that point I was already dialing another company for another quote.

Which brings us to day 4.  I forgot to mention that our cellar doors (the double sided hatch-type ones like they use for tornado shelters in movies) are literally rusted through with giant decroded holes all over and blue tarp and logs on top to keep the elements out.  Really, this was the solution someone came to. So we had to order a new set, and because God has a sense of humor the only place that carried our size was a Lowes about an hour and a half drive from where we live. The other option was to order a different brand at nearly twice the price so of course we loaded an infant and a toddler into our Santa Fe and away we went.  I had thought to ask over the phone how big the box was and I felt confident it would fit in the car.  What they neglected to mention was that this box weighed about 300 pounds.  Oh, and once Gavin had given himself a near-hernia getting it into the back of the car it rattled the whole way home like a box car full of ball bearings, causing the baby to endlessly howl in annoyed rage.  Goodtimes.

But we got it to the house.  Gavin then began ripping the acoustic tile off the downstairs ceiling (while I wrangled the babies and worked from Mom's local and lead paint dust-free house) to reveal how bad the plaster was under there; the plan is to reveal as much as we can throughout the house so we can make an educated decision this weekend as to what our game plan is re: ripping out walls, etc.  The good news- the bowing we saw above the mantle in the dining room fireplace was not from bricks crumbling in on us as we initially feared but just some manky plaster falling behind a piece of plasterboard that had been slapped up as a quick fix. The bad news- chimney guy number two informed us, after walking our roof, that if he really wanted to he "could kick the whole sonofabitch chimney right over.  It's shot." Awesome.  Well, we weren't under the impression that the fireplace worked, so not the end of the world I guess.  Plus turns out that until we are ready to rebuild the chimney, it would be stupid to do metal flashing (like putting a nice new brass bell on a sinking ship) and he suggested meshing and tarring the whole thing and doing a rain barrier. Long story short- half the price and they guarantee their work not to leak.  Works for me.
Above Our Mantle (Hey, the chimney's not collapsing- just the wall! Yay?)

And finally, as we were packing in day four, a wee winged insect landed on my hand.  Gavin said "That's not a termite, is it?"  "No babe!" says I.  "Termites look like this..." I whip out my trusty iPhone, do a quick search, and proceed to pull up a photo that Mr. Bug-on-my-hand could have posed for. So yeah, turns out termites "swarm in spring" and they are swarming their asses off all over our porch.  There is a termite contract on the house so our bug man will be there next week to well and truly kill the little bastards, but the idea that creatures are actively eating his house has Gavin freaking the freak out. This morning he said to me "I just feel like I'm gonna open a wall and there will be a million termites in there, doing cartwheels and eating and crapping all at the same time..."

Tomorrow we meet with my uncle Joe (who hereafter shall be referred to as "the Taper" since there are no less than three "Joe"s involved in the rehab of this house) for walk through.  He is a professional drywaller (you didn't think we were doing this completely unarmed, did you??) and he will give us his opinion as to what we should do with our walls. I can hear the words "Gut it!" in my very near future.....

So that was the first week.  Wow.  But....Onward and upward!  Into the fray! Fight the good fight! A bunch of other uplifting platitudes! Wheee!

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