Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Losing My Marbles

For the last week, I've been carrying a couple of marbles around in my pocket. Every so often, I'll reach in and roll them around, then smile. Since the storm, the marbles served to demonstrate the degree to which my house was pitched to one side, not that they were really necessary; all you had to do was look at it or walk inside to feel the pull.

This issue has remained unsettled with State Farm for the last year, but I recently got the go-ahead from my lawyer to get the work done. I hired Davies Shoring to straighten it out and the job was subcontracted to a company called HG Underpinnings, Inc., USA - Building Movers. The slogan on the trucks: We're up to the task. They came last Monday and worked from dawn till after dark in the intermittent rain. Despite the USA in company's name, only one guy in the crew spoke English. The rest, including a man who came by and was introduced to me as the owner, spoke only French. They're all from Canada. Um, whatever made me think that all French-speaking Canadians would also speak English? Muse? Am I that much of an idiot?

New Bases Installed
After two days of non-stop work, the house is level. After 17 months of crookedness, I am absolutely giddy about this. Every time I've been in the house for the last week, I've reached in my pocket, fished out the marbles, dropped them on the floor, and then done the butt-shakin' dance when they just sat where they fell. No rolling. Amazing. And I've done this little demonstration at every opportunity, much to the amusement of my audience.

It's funny to me how much we've adapted to the old tilt of this house. Having it righted feels strange to us now. My body still wants to gravitate to the right to compensate for the pull toPiers Askew the left. Alex has finally stopped insisting something is wrong with the house now that it's fixed and has reconciled himself to the fact that he'd become used to it being off kilter. Before we know it, we'll forget what it felt like when it was racked.

Fixing the foundation was not as simple as pie, and we knew this going in. The chimney was going to be a big problem. Since the house is 100+ years old, all the masonry was constructed using lime-sand mortar. This stuff crumbles pretty easily (and the brackish flood waters probably didn't help), and it was clear that if they tried to raise the chimney to get everything leveled, it mortar would crumble and it would collapse. I loved the exposedNow The Piers Are Straight and New bricks in the house's interior and really didn't want to lose any more of the historical architecture. The solution was to use the chimney as the pivot-point and to level around it, raising one side and lowering the other.

So, the chimney survived, and the house is level to within 1/8" in most places and 1/4" in a couple of spots. Good enough for me. But if I thought the walls and ceilings were messed up before, it's nothing compared to their state now. I expected this. The gaps at the chimney are a little disconcerting, and the porch (which supports the balcony) now has cracks that span an inch or more. Oh, and a bunch of pipes burst during the process, too. And (happily) only one of the marble tiles on the downstairs bathroom wall cracked, but that may be a moot point, given the other problems in that room.My Chimey

A major structural problem also emerged following this procedure. Apparently, some work was done on the kitchen before I bought the house, probably when the den was added on. Whoever did it framed some things wrong and some idiot sawed 3/4 of the way through some of the studs on the outer wall (while on the wall of or off, I don't know), but decided that they were okay to use without "sistering" them. (I'm learning a lot about this kind of stuff.) There was a lot of water infiltration on the back wall and it's taken its toll on the old, untreated wood, plus the bad framing job left inadequate support in the corner where these two walls meet. And can you guess what happens to sit directly above this spot? Nothing other than the bathroom with the 400 to 500-pound cast-iron, claw-footed bathtub. Lovely. So, now the entire wall bows outward from top to bottom and from side to side.

Anyway, now that the foundation is done, at least I can begin the rest of the work --if I'm not driven mad first by the scope of it and the awareness of my single-mommy-female vulnerability to the charlatan contractor types out there who look at me and start salivating as their mental cash registers start cha-chinging away.

Let me remind you what needs to be done here:
Wavy, Rippled Floors
With the exception of the den, the walls and ceilings in every room in the house need to be gutted. We're talking about 3-coat horsehair plaster over wood lath in a large foyer, living room, dinning room, kitchen (already done), three bedrooms, upstairs hall and stairwell, and two bathrooms. There is lead-based paint under the latex and I'm hoping it won't be a problem. Then the walls have to be insulated, drywalled, painted and trimmed. And the insulation under the house has to be replaced, too.

All the wood floors have to be sanded and refinished to get the little ripples out of them --yes, all of them, because water infiltration from the roof and excessive moisture messed the upstairs floors up, too, which means the entire house's floors, with exception of the den and bathrooms, must be refinished. The wiring that got wet in the walls, ceilings and under the house has to be replaced, the plumbing needs to be fixed, and oh, because of the leaky roof, all the attic insulation has to be replaced, too. And a few doors need to be rehung now. And one of the central heat units got soaked when the roof vents blew off and it needs to be replaced. And the entire kitchen needs to be re-outfitted --cabinets, counters, appliances --the works. It's just an empty room right now.

One Of My Screens After the Storm (10-05-05)Outside, new siding and fascia are needed in some spots, new paint all over, (when wood gets soaked with water, all your paint peels off), new screens, new shutters, new roof, new gutters, re-glaze the windows---gee, what am I forgetting? Oh, there's the mess in the downstairs bathroom which involves the rest of the marble tiling and how the tub is seated in its spot, all the result of both the house's shifting during the storm and the recent leveling . (Think *big gaps.*) And the flooded central A/C units and hot water heater need to be replaced.

So, it's almost like we're starting from scratch here. By the way, I'm talking about the main part of the house and not the den, which is an addition and needs its own share of repairs, too. Aside from the chimney, most of frame and most of the siding, everything will either be repaired (floors) or replaced. Every knowledgeable person who's walked into my house -- the structural engineers, the various contractors, the insurance adjusters, and even the SBA inspector -- has shaken his head woefully and asked me if I had any grasp of the scope of work needed to be done. This freaks me out because I can only imagine what it must be like for the people who had water to their ceilings. Mine only came up to the floor joists.

So, accepting the reality of the house finally being level allows me to lose the marbles I've been carrying around in my pocket. But I'm a little worried that dealing with what comes next may cause me to lose the *other* ones, too.

12 Comments:

Blogger TravelingMermaid said...

Oh baby girl - my heart goes out to you.
I admire your strength to tackle such a project - of course, it is your home and I'm sure you never thought twice about doing it.
I'll link to your story - it's one people "out there" should read to really get an idea of what people face here. You've explained it so well.
My friend here at work lost everything in N.O. East -- she says there is absoloutely no one back in her neighborhood. So she bought a flooded out house in Violet and is about to start the gutting process. She said just this morning she never thought she'd be living in a Fema trailer for this long......

7:59 AM  
Blogger Scott said...

congrats on getting this major step done. We had to do that to my old house before we ended up selling it. We couldn't brave the contractor nightmare.

Anyway, two tips I learned along the way
1) If you're going to replace all your plaster with drywall, you will want to review your homeowner's insurance policy. (I know, when you stop fighting them for the money they owe you) When I bought my current house, all the plaster had been replaced with drywall in a prior renovation. When the insurance company checked it out, their inspector/appraiser reported it as plaster. That changed the rebuild cost of the house by over $100K and raised the yearly premium over $1000. I complained since there is only drywall in the house and got that fixed. you may be able to save some money in the future if your policy is based on rebuild cost.

2) "And the insulation under the house has to be replaced, too." Don't be so sure. Talk to your flooring company that is sanding your floors. If they are local, most will tell you NOT to put insulation under the floors, especially exposed to the elements. The humidity here is way too high to do that. Unless you're adding a subfloor and you can insulate between the subfloor and your floorboards you shouldn't do it. I had insulation under my old shotgun held up by netting and chicken wire. It was moldy and I had it ripped out.

8:21 AM  
Anonymous ashley said...

Posted at 3:15 am.

Jeez...get some sleep. Now you can without rolling outta the bed.

12:36 PM  
Blogger Michael Homan said...

Congratulations Lisa. If you ever feel sad because the marbles don't roll, you are welcome to come to our house.

1:38 PM  
Anonymous Diane said...

Hi Lisa,

Your blog came to my attention while surfing for info on the same insurance carrier.

Do not give up with them. Only 2% of claims are handled completely and that is because the homeowner did not give up.

I, also, am a photographer from Minnesota. Our house had to be gutted due to a frozen, burst pipe. This has pushed us to learn how a home is constructed from top to bottom. Why are we and you learning all of this? To help others later? To learn patience??

PolicyholdersOfAmerica.org is a great website to help with your claim.

Good Luck!
Diane

4:58 PM  
Blogger LisaPal said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone.

Mermaid, I never imagined I'd be out of my house for so long either. *Sigh*

Scott, I found out some important things about my coverage and the plaster wall situation yesterday. I intend to post about it because it turns out to be a big deal-issue in my case. And thank for the floor info. i had insulation held up with chicken wire under the floor for years. Not long before the storm, I had that styrofoam board kind of insulation added as a barrier because it gets so cold in the house in winter. (I'm on a corner and get a lot of airflow under the house.) I've never had problems with it getting moldy until the flood, but I'll definitely talk to my floor contractor about it.

Ashley, I don't know if my nocturnal proclivities can be cured at all, even if I did have the pleasure of sleeping in my own house in my own bed, rolling notwithstanding.

Michael, just wait 'till it's your turn. You'll see what I mean. It's really strange to have a straight house again. I hope you guys have that experience soon.

Diane, thanks for the encouragement and for the URL. POA addresses so many of the issues affecting countless people here and I intend to include a link to it in my next post. It's always my hope that the things I learn and am able to post here have some value to others at least some of the time.

9:01 PM  
Anonymous Adrastos said...

Wow, some good news in Debrisville for a change. Bravo, Lisa.

4:43 PM  
Anonymous wintermute said...

Wow - it only took two days? I've heard that levelling takes a while.

I badly need to have this done to my house. Its exactly the same situation. You can put a marble on the floor in the middle room, then watch it slowly start rolling towards one wall, gradually accelerating until its rolling along quickly. Walking around the house, you feel yourself having to shift your balance to keep upright, if only ever so slightly.

Were you pleased with Davies? How long did it take for them to get somebody out from the time you called? And if you don't mind my asking ... how were their rates?

Thanks, congratulations, and good luck....

9:15 AM  
Blogger LisaPal said...

Thanks, A.

Winter, my marbles used to fly across the room...zoom! There was nothing subtle about the tilt.

Davies initially told me that it would take two weeks to complete the job. I was stunned when it was finished so quickly. The Canadian subcontractor had a large crew and they worked non-stop. When I arrived at 7:00AM each morning, they were already there and were well into the process of setting up. They worked until after 5:30 PM and it seemed that they only took enough time for lunch to eat and nothing else. Maybe 15-20 minutes.

I can see this process taking much longer on a house that is spread out over a greater area with more piers. Mine is two stories high, long and narrow. I think that working around the chimney rather than lifting or demolishing it probably saved them a lot of time.

I've been impressed by the level of professionalism demonstrated by Davies from the beginning, especially when compared to the other foundation contractors I called, Abry Brothers included. I didn't have to wait long (less than a week) for an appointment to get a bid and when the rep came, he drew up a work diagram and gave me a priced contract before he left that day.

It was many months from the time I got that contract until the time I was ready to execute it and do the work, but Davies stood by their initial pricing. (I would have expected most companies to take the opportunity to tell me too much time had elapsed and the prices had gone up, or something to that effect.)

It took less than a month from the time I signed the contract until they were ready to do the work on my house. And they adjusted the price downward for the job when they found a way to save my chimney.

I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Davies, not at all. They absolutely exceeded my expectations. Even though they subcontracted the job, clearly they were diligent in screening their subs because the Canadians guys were great. Feel free to e-mail me (address is on the profile page) if you have any other questions, etc.

Best of luck with your house!

2:07 PM  
Anonymous Sophmom said...

Good grief, Lisa, that sounds like sooo much! Bless you, darlin' and congratulations on the positive step.

5:20 PM  
Blogger LisaPal said...

Thanks, Sophmom!

1:44 PM  
Blogger Cursed Tea said...

Wow, I am in awe of what you guys have to go through. I came to this city post-Katrina and am renting.

I can't imagine the mental stresses and strains of what you are dealing with!! I hope you can save five minutes a day to plan a party for when its all done!!! [day dreaming when everything seems like shit is often a nice break!]

I love your blog - I'm linking it!!
Best Wishes and GOOD LUCK!!
kirsty

1:11 PM  

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