Home Repairs and Decorating
This has been an extremely busy summer for Sue and me. In fact, it’s been a busy year. This has been the year of major home repairs and decorating. Our house was built about 40 years ago. One person owned it for a few months, before selling to the second owner. That owner lived in it about 10 years, before we purchased it. So, we have done most of the maintenance work on it over the past 30 years. When we began planning our retirements, in the late 1990’s, we decided that we did not want to move from our home, and therefore made plans for fixing it up to live the rest of our lives here. Since making those plans, we have replaced the windows and patio and storm doors, added painted steel siding to cover all exposed wood (our home is primarily brick), replaced the wooden garage door with an insulated and painted steel door, and had the three bathrooms and the kitchen remodeled (which required some major electrical work to come up to current city building codes).
In February of this year, we had an electrician check all our electrical outlets, switches, and light fixtures. Unfortunately, our house was constructed in the mid-60’s, when there was a shortage of copper, and houses were sometimes wired with aluminum wiring to save money. Of course, the aluminum wiring is connected to copper or brass connections on switches, outlets, and lights. Because aluminum and copper or brass do not expand and contract at the same rate, with temperature changes, the connections gradually loosen. This can cause tiny gaps to occur, which leads to heating, oxidation, and sparking, and this can lead to house fires, all behind walls or electrical plates, unseen. The solution is to “pig-tail” a short copper wire between the aluminum wire and the connection point, using mineral oil-filled wire nuts (very expensive) on the aluminum/copper wire joints. These nuts prevent the oxidation and sparking, if I understand it correctly. All of our switches, outlets, and light fixtures should now be as safe as we can make them, short of totally re-wiring the house.
After the electrical work was completed (which didn’t take long, but was expensive), we began planning some major work around here. Our concrete garage floor and driveway have been in poor condition since we bought the house. Worse than that, however, is the fact that our family room, at the head of the garage, is built on a concrete slab, not on the house foundation, and the slab has been tilting in one corner (at the door from the family room to the garage) since before we bought the house. We had hoped that the movement would end on its own, but it did not. At one point, many years ago, we had to have the concrete covered with a repair mixture to level it, finding a slope of three or four inches from one corner to another in that room. Because of the movement, our door has never fit properly and moves with changing seasonal conditions (hot and dry, cool and wet), so that we have had to continually adjust the door, frame, and strike plates. Also, because of the type of soil under our neighborhood (Bentonite clay), our driveway and garage floor have buckled quite a bit over the years, and we’ve had to shim the garage door to try to make it close tightly, several times. In the past couple of years, we have begun to see some ceiling cracks in several rooms, which we attributed to the shifting slab. We really wanted to solve all these problems, so we began contacting contractors who might be able to help.
The engineering company we contracted with proposed to install four helical piers below the sinking edge of the family room slab, with brackets fastened to the slab. The piers are drilled down until the torque indicates that they are in a very solid base, with a reasonable expectation that they will never sink further. In our case, the depth was only fifteen feet. One of our neighbors had to go down about thirty-five feet, and the engineering company assumes an average in this area of twenty-five feet.
We contracted with a concrete company to tear out the garage floor and the driveway. That was accomplished in one day. The next day, the engineering company installed the piers, and the garage floor and driveway were replaced during the following two days by the concrete company. Fortunately, the contractors worked well together, and all the work was done on schedule. Of course, we had to remove almost everything from our garage for a week, as well as park our cars outside our property for almost two weeks (to allow the concrete to cure). We were lucky to have good neighbors across the street who have an over-sized driveway and who offered (insisted, actually) that we park our cars on their driveway during that time. In fact, we were the third house in a row to do that, while driveways were being replace over the past couple of years. We were very pleased with the quality of work by both the engineering and concrete companies.
When the engineering company looked at our ceiling cracks, they told us that they did not believe those cracks were connected with the shifting concrete slab, which left us with an unsolved problem. We scheduled a drywall finisher to repair all the cracks – the ones in the family room which were caused by the slab problem, as well as the others. The crack in the living room was becoming so prominent that the drywaller hesitated to repair it, until the cause could be determined and fixed. Otherwise, it most likely would recur and cause continuing problems. He brought in a general house repair fellow who studied the situation for a short while. He discovered that the living room crack, as well as the one in the dining room and the master bedroom were caused by shifting ceiling joists. The joists are made of 2x4’s, butted together in the middle of the house, exactly where the cracks were appearing. The joints of the joists had slipped over time and were causing the cracks. He repaired the joists, and the drywaller repaired the cracks and textured walls and ceilings.
Next, we had a paint crew come in and paint all the main floor rooms (except the kitchen, which still looks nice from the remodel work). After the painting was done, we purchased new carpet (all but kitchen and two bathrooms), and that got laid this week. Next week, we have a drapery person coming to measure and order custom drapes for the living room and dining room. We also have the house repair fellow coming back next week to replace a threshold, in the doorway from the family room to the garage, which has been a bit of a problem for a long time.
Our house has been in a mess of one kind or another for the past two months. Sue and I moved almost all the furniture, contents of closets, dressers, and chests, and everything hanging on the walls to the basement, which has been unbelievably crowded for those two months. We also had to clean out the attic, including taking up the nailed-down plywood flooring we had installed for storage space, so the ceiling joists could be repaired. While that was out, we installed additional insulation there, and then replaced the flooring and all the attic contents (except what we disposed of). That was a major job! It was also done during some of our hottest weather this summer, unfortunately. Now, we are in the process of moving everything back from the basement and re-constructing all the main floor rooms. Fortunately, we can do this work in a much more leisurely fashion than the way we moved it out to prepare for the workers. I’m really getting too old to do this manual labor!
The good news is that we are very pleased with all the contractors and the quality of their work. Our door from the family room to the garage actually works as it should, for the first time since we bought the house, and the garage door closes tightly, finally. We plan to live in this house for the next 30 years or so, and we hope to never again do so much work on it in such a short time span. It will be nice to be able to relax and enjoy it, after all the work we have done.