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?
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 to 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 exposed 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.
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:
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.
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.