After what felt like years, demolition officially started on December 12th - walls, windows and moldy carpet disappeared at lighting speed, reducing our solid little house to a wispy structure of sticks and studs. And while all this rapid change and progress ushered in a whole lot of excitement, it also entailed a great deal of unfortunate surprises.
Despite having conducted walk-through inspections with our original contractor, our structural engineer and our architect, and paying for numerous inspections (plumbing, termite, chimney, foundation and general)- it was only with gaping holes in our walls and ceilings that we were truly able to crack into the proverbial ‘can of worms’.
Unfortunately for us, there were quite a few slimy suckers lying in wait. We learned for example, that the previous owner had been overly keen on DIY home improvement. Based off of the layers and different materials now exposed, our contractor Bob estimated that the house had been ‘renovated’ a total of 8 times since the 1940’s. Doorways had been carved out where it was structurally unsound, concrete had been poured over existing slabs, and the raised foundation had mysteriously been filled with cement in certain spots. While the unsound doorway was a relatively easy fix, the concrete-happy pouring meant quite the headache for us. Two slabs of concrete meant double the work and debris removal. A foundation filled with concrete not only meant a great amount of debris removal, but required deeper excavation for entirely new footings up to the 2017 code.
Even our carefully rendered drawings and architectural plans were based off of some incorrect measurements and assumptions, as is often the case when you don’t have existing architectural drawings to work from and/or x-ray vision. With the discovery of unexpected concrete in the front of the house, it turned out that our architect and structural engineer had designed our entrance off of footings that simply did not existing - something we couldn’t have known until demolition began and we had opened everything up. This, coupled with the surprise existence of bearing beams in the ceiling that needed to be moved to raise our ceiling to full height sans dated soffits, necessitated entirely new structural plans that included new beams, ceiling joists, fascia, all new roof sheathing, as well as a new foundation for the front of our home.
And while we already knew that the house was infested with termites, we had no idea that the damage from their voracious appetite, paired with natural erosion over 70 years, could be so extensive that an entire front wall of our house would need to be completely replaced. All in all, a lot of expensive worms.
Naturally, while we were aware of the risks associated with buying and remodeling a 1940’s home, these blows came as quite a shock. However, as the house was already bought, our contracts signed and the house torn asunder, we had little choice but to swallow the high cost and trudge on ahead. At this stage we were already in too deep - the worms had to be swallowed. Perhaps if we had know this our plans would have looked different or we might have sprung for a complete tear down project rather than a remodel. Like always, hindsight is a beautiful thing.
It’s important to remember that in spite of all the walkthroughs you conduct, measurements you record, or inspections you pay for- it’s impossible to see what is really going on underneath the facade until you can literally get under the facade. While you may luck out and have no surprises, the risk is great that something will thwart your carefully laid out plans. Ultimately, always budget for the unexpected, worm your way into and under any spaces that you can to uncover as many structural surprises as possible, and be aware that nothing is ever certain- especially in the world of construction.