House Hunting Episode 3.5

Episode 3.5 – Fixing all the things. Wherein our heroes discover that a dead rat is an upgrade, lonely boards cry dry rot tears and daisies are awfully cute.

As our final act of home-ownership, we needed to fix the things the inspector found on our house. We negotiated away the ones we thought were a little silly, and that left two fixes – one big, one small. The small one was a piece of flashing on the roof that needed to be replaced. No problem, easy quick fix. The other item was more worrisome, but we’ve worked really hard on this house for 8 years undoing all the dumb it was subjected to before we bought it (and believe me, there was a lot of dumb). We didn’t want to screw up the new owners chance at a happy home by throwing our hands up in the air and screaming ‘Not our problem anymore’ as we ran out the door. We tried putting our fingers in our ears and yelling ‘LALALALALA’ at the top of our lungs instead, but after a couple of minutes my arms got tired and Kris was laughing too hard to keep saying ‘LALALALA’. So we got to work on the fixing.

See, the inspector found some dry rot in the crawlspace and the told us we needed to “pull out all the insulation, remove all the animal waste, replace any rotten wood, then re-insulate the whole thing”. Which sounds terrifying right? Also, definitely something that needed to be fixed by a serious professional. We hired our favorite contractor to come out and do the fixes and he agreed we could work as his assistants to make the job go faster. The only day he could come out was a day Kris was at work, so it had to be my job. Lucky, lucky me. I thought really hard to come up with a reason, ANY reason, that I had to be at work too, but I came up empty. I spent the whole morning trying to reach a zen place about being in a small, dark, smelly crawl space cleaning out literal crap on my hands and knees. By the time we bought the industrial box of garbage bags and a filtered dust mask, I’d lost the zen attempt and tried to just hang on to an I-don’t-really-hate-the-entire-world mantra.

While our contractor figured out the extent of the dry rot, I got to pull all the insulation out of the crawlspace. So on the first 80 degree day of the year, I armored up with jeans, a sweatshirt, gloves, respirator and a kerchief over my hair as I crawled and shimmied around in a 24 inch high lightless crawlspace. Remember that ‘animal waste’ part? I thought cats or raccoons had managed to get under the house and do something horrid and I’d spend the day laying on my stomach, in the dark, gagging while cleaning it up. About 2 minutes after we started (before I’d even crawled in) I found a dried up dead mouse just inside the door to the crawl space. I said ‘Eww, dead mouse’ and tossed it into the garbage with the first wads of insulation. A beat later, our contractor said kind of slowly: “You handled that better than most people would”. Which made me feel super cool and really grateful it hadn’t been alive. There would have been squealing and maybe running if it had still been alive and I wouldn’t have looked cool at all. That was the end of the animal waste episode – we went over the whole crawl space a couple of times and never found anything else. All that perfectly good angst was completely wasted.

Over the next hour I pulled out 10 garbage bags of insulation in 2ft chunks. It would have taken about 20 minutes, but there were dozens of small pieces instead of a couple of long pieces. The easy part of the job was done and I got out and away to breathe normally for a bit while our contractor finished the wood repair. Repair makes it sound like it was important. It was really cosmetic, but we didn’t know that until we took all the insulation out.

Many years ago, a previous owner poured a concrete porch with stairs. They built a wooden frame to create the shape the concrete would fill. They just used cheap wood because it was a temporary frame that would be removed when the concrete dried. But they didn’t remove it, the just left it there for 30 or 40 years. It wasn’t holding anything up, or in, or down or anything else. It was just sort of there: sadly crying rot tears onto itself because someone decades ago forgot about the 4 boards hidden by the stairs.  A couple of decades ago, the sad little boards briefly got some company when a previous owner insulated the crawlspace. Whoever it was must have looked directly at the boards, custom cut some insulation, then covered them up. So our contractor replaced everything with pressure treated boards that will last almost forever. Then all we had to do was put new insulation back in. Which should have been half an hour of easy work. 6 long strips fit between the joists and we’re done. Yeah, not so much.

I cut the strips and started feeding them through the panel for him to place. After the first two, his voice echoing out of the back of the crawlspace started sounding really irritated. He gave me a MacGuyver list of supplies to find then went quiet for 20 minutes after I delivered them. It turns out, there were dozens of pieces of insulation because the joists were all different spaces apart by a couple of inches. They didn’t have cotton candy insulation when they built the house, so of course, what’s standard now was incomprehensible to them. When his string based MacGuyver fix didn’t work, he fed all the insulation back out the hatch to me. I spent the next hour comfortably cutting sections of insulation in the breeze outside while our contractor wriggled around the crawl space measuring, then fitting in each piece I handed him. Which led to my favorite moment of the day: I got to call my husband a daisy, mean it and still make him smile.

Himself came home to find me covered in dirt, insulation and sweat still cutting insulation chunks. When our contractor called for the next piece, I asked Kris to hand it to him. No, I didn’t really think that through. Kris looked at me, looked at the pile of toxic cotton candy I was standing in, looked back at me sort of baffled and said ‘I’m not touching that stuff’. And I about died laughing. There I was an exhausted, filthy mess facing my husband dressed in his dapper librarian best looking handsome as could be. It was a 180 switch from the days when I’d come home from work and he was the one who’d been doing whatever filthy repair or upgrade the house had needed that day. So I got to call him a daisy and hand the contractor another piece of insulation.

It turned into a pretty good day. The scary things were all fortuitously less scary and everything got fixed on time. And now I can honestly say there was a day in my life when a dead rat was an upgrade.

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Vivien NicUldoon

Vivien lives in Portland Oregon with two cats, a smart dog, a happy dog and a brilliant husband.