Living among the rubble of ambitious home improvement

Posted July 23, 2010, at 7:34 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:47 p.m.

There is a new home improvement “reality” TV program that I caught the other day: “Family Renovation.”

It’s about a family that moves into a story-and-a-half house they want to renovate. They have five kids, ages 2 to about 12.

They are having a third story added to their home, which means they are removing the roof and adding another floor of living space.

And they are going to live in the house while the work is being done.

Of course, this is happening in hurricane season and makes for great TV, I guess. Hey, they got me to watch it.

It got me to thinking about how stupid these parents must be. It seems unfathomable to do this severe a renovation with anyone living in the house.

It also got me to thinking about the renovations that my loving wife and children have lived through. Being, at times, naive enough to take on very challenging projects with everyone living in the house is a symptom of Do-It-Yourself-ism.

We have had more than one kitchen sink that was precariously set on a skeleton of two-by-fours while we were saving up for new kitchen cabinets.

There was the time when we removed 150 years of paint off a spiral staircase while our two dogs, the cat and teenagers and friends all felt it was imperative to run up and down and up and down the stairs. Amazingly, we laughed a lot during that project. I think we were too tired to do anything else.

Once those stairs were stained, we had to ferry the whole crew outside (yes, it was winter) and go around the house to the back stairs to go upstairs to go to sleep.

After taking on that project, we decided to redo the master bathroom. There were drains and plumbing that needed upgrading. More importantly, there were some structural issues that plumbers from years ago had foisted upon the house.

The floor joists had been notched repeatedly to install piping. This left the joists, which were about 18 feet long, seriously compromised. There was a hallway outside the bathroom with two steps that went down to the back section of the house.

If you were sitting in the bathtub while one of the aforementioned teenagers decided to jump off those steps, the floor would drop and rise, along with the induced bathtub wave action. And you might anticipate landing in the dining room below.

This project really tested our resolve. Three inches of flooring had to be removed. Since this was a bathroom, the nails had rusted in place and were a real pip to remove. Colorful banter ensued.

The first night of the demolition left the bathroom still in service, with somewhat precarious paths of unremoved flooring that one would travel to get to the tub, toilet and sink. A missed step would have at least a foot or leg sticking out through the dining room ceiling.

The floor then was reinforced with glued and screwed two-by-tens that were “sistered” to the original floor joists. New floor decking, again glued and screwed, really stiffened up the floor. Of course, once the bounce was gone, the hallway jumping stopped.

That was child’s play compared to a later house project, which entailed removing the whole house floor and lifting the house up in the air 8 inches to install a new floor that would allow me to stand upright in the basement. That floor was more than 200 years old and made me get real personal with 6-foot-long pry bars and made me very grateful that my friend Bruce talked me into getting a Metabo reciprocating saw for cutting things apart.

I’ll save those gory details for another time.

Building stuff is relatively easy. Taking on old stuff is not, and it is not for the faint of heart.

Questions for Tom Gocze should be mailed to The Home Page, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402-1329. A library of reference material and a home-project blog are at www.bangordailynews.com/thehomepage.html.

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