It is Always Worse than you think

It is Always Worse than you think

You know how when you start a project and you think you know how what it will involve. Then you get into it and you find out you vastly underestimated things. Well, this week I experienced that in a big way, and I was reminded that when it comes to home repair and maintenance it is always worse than you think.

This week Sarah’s (my wife’s) sister and her brother moved in with us until they can buy their own house. Since it is going to be several months we decided it would be nice if we could give them some autonomy. Our mother-in-law house could give them that autonomy. However, the house is in need of some repair before anyone can live in it. Repairing it now knocks a task off my to-do list and gives them their own space, two birds with one stone. Few things are better than that.

An initial look at the project

Our mother-in-law house has been neglected for a long time. As far as we can tell no one has used it since the main house was built, about twenty years ago. The house looks great despite the neglect. The roof doesn’t sag or leak, the walls are all solid, no animals have been getting into it (except mice). When we looked it over the only thing that stood out was that the living room floor was warped and sagging. It would need to be replaced.

I crawled under the floor to see exactly how bad things were. Belly crawling through the crawl space I looked around with my headlamp. I could clearly see that the floor joists under that section of the floor were cracked and/or rotting. This was not surprising, it was just good to know what we were getting into.

We decided the best course of action would be to drop the floor out. Then replace the joists and put new plywood down. Easy peasy. We estimated we would have the floor replaced after two weekends worth of work.

Dropping the floor

The sagging floor in the mother-in-law house.
The visibly sagging floor in the mother-in-law house. We had just cut out that single square piece of floor.

Friday afternoon I walked in with my chainsaw and started cutting through the floor. Turns out, I probably didn’t need the chainsaw. The floor joists weren’t just rotten, they were powder! They literally disintegrated when touched! So after cutting an initial trench with the chainsaw we changed tactics and got out the circular saw.

The circular saw cut through the OSB flooring like butter and the floor started to vanish quickly. Just as I was starting to enjoy myself we also started getting a better look at the rest of the floor supports. I can’t think of any other time in my life when my enjoyment of making progress on a big project has morphed into discouragement and dismay.

The proof is in the powder: Taking a closer look

As we pulled the subfloor and what remained of the joists away from the exterior walls we could now clearly see the rim joists and sill plate; both of which were rotten…

At this point what could we do? We decided to finish dropping the floor and evaluate where we were at. As it turns out, things got a lot worse. 

The mother in law is a 28’ x 24’ structure. The floor joists are 12’ boards that run from the rim joist to the center beam. That central beam is composed of three 2” x 8” by 14’ boards that are joined together. The central beam became visible when the last sections of the floor drooped. I started laughing again and decided I would need to do another belly crawl.

I ended up doing several more belly crawls to double and triple check what my eyes were telling me. Now that I knew what to look for I discovered an additional fourteen floor joists, half the sill plate and rim joists, and 2 of the 3 boards that comprise the center beam need to be replaced. One of the corners of the house was basically floating!

Next, we pulled a piece of siding off the wall to make sure the rot restricted to the floor. Thankfully the walls and roof are completely sound. The foundation is sound. Just everything between the foundation and the walls is falling apart.

The hole in the floor once we removed collapsing floor.
The hole in the floor after we removed all the collapsing subfloor.

Calling in a consult

I am not a builder, I have very limited construction experience, yet I was confident that I could replace the floor joists and subfloor because it’s not that hard. From the moment I saw the sill plate rotting, I knew I was in over my head. So I made a phone call to the best handyman/repairman/can fix almost anything guy I know, my dad. 

As soon as I told him what I was looking at he started telling me what else to keep an eye on. He also told me what it will take to fix the floor. Just as I suspected, my easy, simple project was going to take a lot more work than I had thought. It was way worse than I could have dreamed. Thanks to dad we knew our first priority; get a temporary roof support in place. Then we can replace the rotting sill plate and rim joists. 

The temporary roof support.
Our temporary roof support. Yes we know the posts should be on the center of the blocks, things shifted as we pounded them into place.

A new plan

Armed with my father’s advice we made a new plan. We erected a temporary support for the roof, to prevent it from sagging or shifting until the floor was fixed. Then over the course of the week, I will order more wood, some adjustable joist posts to wedge up the floor as needed, and a whole lot more nails. Our hope is to tackle this one piece at a time, and with a little luck, the “it is always worse than you think” portion of this project is over.

4 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Oh my goodness 😂 this was over your head and crumbling beneath your feet! I really enjoyed the picture with the roof support and how you called the best handyman, handyman dad. How cool is that?!

  2. Well written Spencer. I really enjoyed reading about your new project. I printed the blog and pictures and dad is reading it now. It should give him a chuckle. 🙂 I hope the project continues to go well. Dad sure wishes we lived closer so he could help in person. Mom

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