House renos during a time of COVID

I pack my favorite tools in a checked bag. I fly to Victoria and successfully avoid and evade COVID in order to help our son and daughter-in law with their recent house purchase. I pour over the inspection report whose main purpose includes finding as many defects as possible. Caveat Emptor. The buyer needs a thousand eyes, but the seller, well he needs but only one. That kind of university education does shake one’s faith in humanity a touch, but I persevere.

Arriving at the house, my son and daughter-in-law beam happily. But the house remains stoic. I am pleased that the house does justice for all of the photos from the report. Any photo from the realtor seems to distort reality, while the inspector’s photos bring reality back to focus. Sometimes harshly. Like all good things, a bit of distance does make things look better. Up close, some of the flaws can be distracting. Thoreau’s mild caution comes to mind for when the couple get their house, they may not be the richer but the poorer for it and it be the house that has got them. 

At twenty-five years, the house aged well. The first owners may not have aged as well however. When the original owners sold, a contractor bought the house a few years ago and saw an opportunity to do a quick gut and turn a bit of a profit. The subsequent buyers only had the place for a couple of years and decided to move to a different neighbourhood. Unfortunately, they had to sell during the time of COVID. The virus had not peaked yet, but the fear component was quite high. And Warren Buffet did recommend along the lines of buying when others are fearful, so this seem be that situation. Not that he made it into the realtor’s report.

The contractors revamped the exterior. This meant a new coat of paint that also meant painting the roof. They advertised the roof as slate tiles, but I eventually figured out the tiles were actually cement. Did painting cement mean anything longevity wise? How well does paint adhere to concrete? Many questions and not too many answers. The house inspector did not have a firm answer. This became more of a research project as opposed to a renovation project.

All the lovely flowers in Victoria seem to be a result of all the rain. So it seems that constant November to February showers bring March flowers. It does not sound as poetic that way. A problem with houses is that they are mainly made with wood. If the wood is no longer part of a tree, then the showers contacting the wood becomes a problem. Showers also bring fungus rot. Not as pretty as a flower.

And yes, we began caulking. One of those neat words that act as a noun and as a gerund. Builders cover many of the decks with vinyl to keep the area underneath the deck relatively dry. So whenever they cut through the vinyl to make way for deck railings, it just seems to defeat the purpose. Remember National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation when Clark Griswold was happily putting hundreds of little staple holes in his shingled roof? Something like that. More Chalking.

The main living area on the second floor faces a rock hill behind the house. This attractive feature diverts all of that surface water down to the base of the house. Lovely moss and ferns cover the rock face. This suggests that lots of moisture cascades down this area. Weeping tiles seem to be doing a great job in collecting the water and diverting it around the house. Except for all of those little spaces in between the house and cement patio. More Caulking.

A few deck posts appear to have been heavily puttied. This material covers up areas that have decayed away, until the putty starts to crumble itself. Cut and replace. Way past caulking.

At the far end of the deck, one of the main beams no longer reaches its final destination. A standing post. Just a few inches shy. A post too far perhaps. The next to last post is only four feet away, so this hovering beam needs to be redone. The beam can cantilever for a couple of feet, but it can’t cantilever there forever. Cut out the old, and put in the new.

Good job for a reciprocating saw. I have a nice rechargeable Black and Decker one. Did I say rechargeable with one of those large lithium batteries that seem to catch on fire occasionally when on a plane? The battery would have to come in my carry-on while the saw itself would have to stay in the checked bag. And does anyone besides me read those little boxes you check before printing your airplane ticket? One asks are you carrying explosives? Easy no there. The next one asks about carrying power tools? Answering yes kicks you out of the main line and into the exception line for check-in. In Canada, the attendant taking the bags simply told me that a saw would be fine. I have been dragged into the “exception line” in foreign countries on occasion. These rooms have metal tables and people with automatic weapons. No reasons were ever given, and it was not a Midnight Express experience, but something to avoid.

After the outside repairs, we can now look inwards. Not for introspection, but for the problems inside of the house. The one thing that could be worse than water, which gives life and appears so attractive in photos, would be termites.

Termites have a right to live too, just not in the house. Our inspection found this little insect colony near the boiler room. Termites become the kiss of resale death for houses in the US. The Western Drywood termites there can start on wood and carry-on merrily until they are done. The Victoria Subterranean Termites require moisture and they construct tunnels in order to move from one area to another. So they constructed little earthen tunnels. Taking out small parts of the drywall, we can see that they did not affect the wood at all and simply abandoned the nest. It resembled an ancient abandoned Mayan civilization. Only the structures remain. But we got rid of the termite structures anyway.

After a week of tearing some things apart and rebuilding others, I return home. The young adults seem pleased. Job done. At least for now. I pack away most of my tools. I leave some behind since I seem to own 4 or 5 of the same tool. I can’t resist shiny things.

Later that month at home our daughter calls. She just bought a nice turn of the century house. Come and have a look she says. Bring tools.  

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