I’m Traumatized

June 3, 2009

Reading is not enough to keep my mind off the destruction outside. They started it yesterday.


One thing I noticed as I was taking the “before” pictures is that it is almost impossible to capture topography with a camera. The flattening effect of photography. I think painting and drawing do a lot better.

Anyway, they are digging great honking mountains of dirt out of our yard with Big Machines. Pretty much no area of our lot will be untouched.  They are going to dig deeper than what you see now, too. My front yard will be a pit when they’re done. I’m thinking a drawbridge and a crocodile moat would be about right.

A long series of events led to this. At first we thought the “slight negative grading” around the foundation that the inspector mentioned could be corrected with shovels and wheelbarrows and our own muscle. Then we discovered what a mess the soil was. Beyond awful. The house is 96 years old, but most of the dirt is much newer. Generations of yahoos thought the answer to the fact that it was built on a slope was to haul in truckloads cheap fill and gravel and at various times, allowing them more places to park their cars. The fill caused water to flow toward the basement. In one place, right under a mis-laid pipe from the downspout, a non-draining cinder block retaining wall held it against the foundation like a dam.

We only discovered the extent of the water problem when we started taking down the raw, cheap tongue-and-groove that had been nailed to the basement ceiling and the 1/4 inch unfinished plywood that had been nailed to the sheet rock walls as wainscotting. We knew about the small moldy wall by the cinder-block dam, but we thought the rest of the basement was okay. They had done such horrible things to the rest of the house for no apparent reason–except possibly laziness–that we were willing to believe they had gone crazy with the rough wood in the basement both because they had no taste and found it easier to use a nail gun than to sand and paint the sheet rock. We called it The Man Cave and laughed, thinking it would be an easy fix–at least compared to the rest of the house.

But no. The basement had only been finished recently, and it turns out the former owners didn’t use any kind of a moisture barrier–the studs were in direct contact with the foundation and floor. Naturally, the walls were soon infested with mold. What to do? Cut the sheetrock away to a height of two feet off the floor in a laughable attempt at mold abatement, then cover the gaping holes holes in the sheet rock and moldy studs with plywood to fool prospective buyers.

Then didn’t we feel dumb! We were even looking for mold when we first came to look at the house.  I thought my bloodhound-nose for mold was infallible.  Because of the moldy farmhouse we lived in, and my resulting allergies and first-hand knowledge of the near impossibility of eradicating mold, it was our deal-breaker.  Only it didn’t.

My dad is going to help us re-frame the whole basement. Or rather, help Der Mann do it, because my allergy is really bad. Just the one patch we uncovered has made it hard for me to spend time there. I try to run up and downstairs with my loads of laundry before I start to cough.

We reasoned that it wouldn’t to do any good to re-frame the basement if ground- and roof-water was still being directed toward the foundation. That’s where the big machines come in.  I would have liked a cheaper and less intrusive fix, but once I started looking at the lay of the land, I could see it just wasn’t possible. In order to take away as much dirt as you need to take here, you have to take even more there. Which is basically what the experts said.

Also, we have to unbury the porch to keep it from rotting, which meant removing the cement walkway that led to the buried porch.




The only good part about this mess is that there was no remainder of the original landscaping to worry about, after the depredations of the former owners. I love old gardens. It would have been hard for me to make the decision to grade properly if it had involved tearing out antique snowball bushes, bridal wreath, lilacs, or the decendents of flowers and herbs planted back when the house was new. (Actually, I should correct myself. There is one old Rose of Sharon and one lilac. Luckily, they are in places where the machines can word around them (knock on wood).

I am learning that it is hard to communicate with equipment operators. I’m having the opposite problem from what I expected: it’s hard to get them to take away as much dirt as needs to go, as much as they agreed to (I thought.) I say 4 inches, they take 2. I’m afraid this is because we chose to pay a set price, rather than hourly plus dump fees–and they had already underbid the job in their eagerness to get work. The more dirt they take away, the less profit. Politeness plus directness seems not to be effective. It’s like I’m talking to the air, if the air could get annoyed. Maybe they are so used to bullying and cajoling, that unless I bully and cajole, they think I’m not serious?

One, maybe two more days of this.


9 Responses to “I’m Traumatized”

  1. Stef Says:

    How traumatic! I am so, so sorry to hear that you are going through this.

    I feel your pain with respect to the communication difficulties. I’ve reluctantly come to the conclusion that men working on my house only want to listen to my husband. It doesn’t matter how nice and accommodating I am (or, for that matter, how I bully or cajole them), once they’re hired for the job, they won’t listen to me. My theory is that any words from a woman remind them of a wife or girlfriend at home nag, nag, nagging them and they tune it out.

    That’s just my theory. Hang in there!

    • trapunto Says:

      It seems a likely theory. I have been trying to walk the fine line of not getting their backs up by being to forceful, and not being so mild I get tuned out like the mosquito whine of their women at home, but I think there really is no line to walk. It’s all one or the other.

      It helps to know that other people have experienced the same thing!

  2. Cally Says:

    AAAARGH! What a nightmare. But won’t it be great when the job is done and done Properly? You will feel better, the house will feel better, the whole neighbourhood will feel better.

  3. Cally Says:

    By the way, I suspect Stef’s diagnosis of worker deafness is correct, but I need to tell you a story…

    We had a funny incident on the day we moved in to our house, which shaped our relationship with our builders for years. We needed a lot of work done to the (poorly maintained, badly repaired etc etc you know the story) floors in our house and the joiners were so keen to start that they turned up on the day we were moving in. My husband, who is a very mild and gentle soul, gave an uncharacteristically firm NO to this and the recipient of the NO took it very much to heart. If he ever had to speak to me about anything it was always to clarify what Mr Booker would want, and would it be OK with Mr Booker, was I absolutely sure he wouldn’t mind this, that or the other thing. I felt like a kind of high priest to the awesome Mr B, conveying his whims to the hapless mortals who risked his wrath. Eventually, I’m afraid, they got to know us too well and Mr B’s true nature was discovered, so all the fun went out of it 😉

  4. trapunto Says:

    That is a funny story! On *moving* day?!! It’s encouraging to hear from someone who has gone through all the insanity and come out the other side with a home.

    Maybe I need to bring out the big gun, too. Unfortunately, they’ve already met him a couple of times. Last night Der Mann was saying something along the lines of, we should just keep a big bottle of testosterone on hand and shoot up whenever we need to talk to a workman.

  5. I wonder if it would help to let the workmen know they would be pictured and posted on the internet so all would know of their deafness?

    With all the work you’re doing on the house, it’s a wonder if anything of the original will be left when you’ve finished. We have friends who remodeled an entire house because they painted over a discoloured spot in the ceiling.

  6. wandering vine Says:

    We have also worked with contractors recently with better results, fortunately. Anticipating problems and communicating what you envision is so difficult.
    I’m wondering if you have considered incorporating rain gardens into your design? They can be very beautiful, they’re effective in quick draining of runoff away from the house, and can be planted in any style desired. Plant material can be shrubs, perennials, native or hardy hort varieties. You can even do this yourself and use the excess soil to make a berm. in other words you don’t absolutely need to rely on a contractor.

    • trapunto Says:

      This blog entry a year old, but a rain garden was part of our plan. There was literally no where else for the roof water to go! This year the plantings are starting to flesh out a bit, and we are really enjoying it. The porous soil makes it easy to weed, and as it is the one “all finished” part of our yard, it gives us a boost.

  7. wandering vine Says:

    I’m glad to hear it.

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