Somebody else’s project

This evening I went for a house inspection, or as we call them in the UK, a survey. I tried to buy a flat in England once and didn’t when the survey revealed it was in danger of falling down. I did buy a house where the survey didn’t reveal all the damp in it, so I was sceptical about the value of this exercise, especially as the house was so wonderful.

And then it wasn’t. 

We started by walking around outside the house, and having things pointed out to me that I’d missed, like the rotting front porch, or that the siding of the house was too low, so the water never ran away from it, or the windows were missing flashing (strips of metal to guide the rain off). But these were fairly minor, things we could fix.

We went in the back yard. The decking was rotten and also not up to code, because it was above 30″ above the ground but lacked a rail. Never mind, I could fix that. Likewise, the stairs to the basement weren’t protected by a rail, but I could fix that.

And I could fix the roof, which needed replacing. And the chimney stack, which needed to be rebuilt. And the skylights, where again there was no flashing, and so more signs of water getting in.

I hadn’t realised a roof has a lifespan. I also hadn’t realised that it’s cheaper to stick a new roof on top of the existing one, rather than remove the old one and start from scratch, but that takes five years off the life. Oh dear. 

We went inside. The kitchen was lovely, beautifully installed. The bathroom was a mix of loose fittings, an extension cord masquerading as a power point, and some noisy piping. 

In the living room, exposed wires, hanging out the wall without any attempt to terminate them. And thence to the basement..

There was bodged plumbing. I still don’t understand p traps and s traps exactly, but I recognise bodging when it’s done. I don’t understand what tube and bulb wiring is, but it’s from 1906 and with a series of dodgily spliced, uninsulated wires strung through holes drilled in the middle of support beams, I didn’t have to understand too much. Or the electricity main circuit board, quaintly referred to as a panel by Americans, which on the outside was a metal box, the inside a rats nest of buzzing cabling.

And then the signs of damp, the support pillars of nonconpliant sizes, the questionable other bits of plumbing, the need for an exterminator to clear rats out the crawlspace, the asbestos tiles… I began to lose track of all the things to fix, and that was before we went upstairs to find more exposed wiring in the potential kids’ bedroom (and I don’t mean wires visible through a hole in the wall, I mean four inches of prehistoric live cable poking out of the wall, ungrounded and looking threatening).

When it got to a hundred thousand dollars of work to fix the visible problems (and who knows what else was hiding in those ancient walls?) I turned tail and ran. That house could be someone else’s project. 


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