Mea Culpa Mea Culpa Mea Maxima Culpa – Old House Woes

Y’all, I am so sorry I’ve been MIA. I’m gonna be honest here–I haven’t even opened my email inbox in like a week. I feel terrible about this. And the worst thing is, I received such nice gifts over the past week–a Dyson vacuum (OMG OMG OMG I have finally achieved the level of luxury of which I’ve always dreamed!!!), a rain barrel for my backyard (yay water conservation!), an absolutely adorable pair of boots that I can’t wait to wear (pics coming soon, once my legs are suitable for photographing), and something else that I haven’t allowed myself to open yet because I first need apologize for being MIA. So. I am really, really, really sorry for my absence and whatever frustration and inconvenience I may have caused due to my failure to read, much less respond to, my emails in several days. I hope you can forgive me.

You may be wondering WTF I’ve been doing that prevented me from spending a measly little hour or three each day corresponding with clients and potential clients. Well. It’s a long-ish story (isn’t it always?).

First, I got the fantastic idea to clear out the storage room/shed/laundry room in the back of my house. If you don’t know already, I bought a historic home in New Orleans (my hometown) about a year and a half ago. The majority of houses in NOLA are pretty old, so I had experience dealing with the quirks of old houses as a renter. If you’ve ever lived in an older home (I don’t mean a mid-century ranch; I mean a house that’s about 100 years old or more), then you know that they’re a pain in the ass. And I knew this one was going to be a pain in the ass when I first walked through the front door. But, never one to choose the easier option, I fell in love with it and bought it anyway.

So yeah, I decided to clean out this back storage room. And while I was doing that, I figured I might as well move the washer and dryer to a place where they made more sense, even though it meant I’d have to re-do some plumbing stuff. So, I started on that…while also still cleaning out the storage room. Of course this just added to the chaos, but I was still ready and raring to go! So full of vim and vigor! So optimistic! And enjoying all the pain and sweat and filth involved!

dirty girl  3-19-17
You should have seen this outfit by the end of the day…

I’m pretty sure this room qualifies as what’s called a “historic addition”–an add-on to the original house that someone slapped on a long, long time ago. And my house, like houses in many of the oldest neighborhoods in New Orleans, has suffered neglect for the past several decades. As I was throwing things away, wiping down shelves, and moving things around, I realized one wall felt particularly…flimsy.

So, I started pulling down the badly-installed, ugly sheetrock that someone nailed onto the studs sometime in the past 10 or 15 years, and found…

Really bad drywood termite damage and rot in a wall of my historic home
Yep, this sucker’s done for.

…really bad drywood termite damage and rot, all throughout the wall. It’s gonna need to be rebuilt.

That was, of course, a bit of a blow. I hunted for the little buggers, but this appears to be old damage from an old infestation that is no longer active, thank God. But just to be sure, I ordered termiticide and applied it to this portion of the house.

To cheer myself up, I decided to go hunting for the original fireplace in my kitchen. There’s a fireplace in the room on the other side, and if you look up into the chimney you can tell it’s joined up with another behind it. The wall bumps out awkwardly in the kitchen, so I’ve always figured the old fireplace was still there. So I started digging, first at the baseboards, then through a couple layers of plywood, until a little avalanche of dirt fell and I saw brick. Woo hoo! I can’t wait to uncover the whole thing and repair it. I think it’ll look pretty cool. I didn’t take any pics because damn, it looks really gross. There’s decades of dirt and grime in that wall. I’m kind of scared to uncover it alone right now because I’ve heard old fireplaces can collapse on people and man, that would be a stupid way to go. Anyway, at least now I had something to look forward to.

So, I went back to the termite wall. The more I thought about it, the more I wondered if the termites had moved on to greener pastures (or more intact 2-by-4s, as it were). One of the walls perpendicular to this one was free of sheetrock and I could see that the studs, etc. were fine. But the sheetrock nailed to the one across from that one–a wall that had once been the exterior wall of the house–made me suspicious. So, I started ripping it down, and I found…

Hidden window

A window!!! Bet you thought I was gonna say “more termites,” huh? Well, I didn’t find any, but I’m having a pro come in anyway. The point is, I have a window I didn’t know about (but kind of suspected, once I had decided to pull the sheetrock down). So at some point this year, I’m takin’ my window back, y’all.

hidden window - my house has a window I didn't know about!
It’s a really weird size, though. Different than all the other windows in the house.
hidden window - my house has a window I didn't know about!
I promise, it’s gonna look really cool when I’m done!

It still looks pretty gross right now, but I promise it’ll be great when I’m done. I need to clean up and repaint the old siding (I’m going to leave it exposed because I think it’ll look a hell of a lot better than sheetrock, plus it maintains some of the historic integrity of the house), and then I’m gonna remove the kitchen cabinets from the other side of that wall and put a window in. That way, my kitchen will look out onto an enclosed porch (it will no longer be a storage/junk room). Oh, and that window will be straight across from my kitchen fireplace, which won’t be hiding behind a stove anymore.

So, it’s been over a week of maintenance, cleaning, assessing damage resulting from years of neglect (grumble grumble), and coming up with various plans to undo some of the “remuddling (a term I’m stealing from this guy, whose blog is awesome, btw) that’s been inflicted upon this poor house over the past century. As it turns out, it’s a pretty difficult (and expensive) task. Ah, if only some moron hadn’t replaced most of the house’s original windows with cheaper windows held up by plastic spring-tension thingies sometime in the 80s–or, for that matter, completely ripped out and walled over the back window, which doesn’t appear to be a standard size. If only they hadn’t decided that drop ceilings were a good idea. If only they hadn’t paved over the brick courtyard/backyard. If only they hadn’t made an awkward mess of the front of the house by bricking over the original facade and the two floor-to-ceiling windows it had.

“Old buildings are not ours. They belong, partly to those who built them, and partly to the generations of mankind who are to follow us.
The dead still have their right in them: That which they labored for … we have no right to obliterate.
What we ourselves have built, we are at liberty to throw down. But what other men gave their strength, and wealth, and life to accomplish, their right over it does not pass away with their death…”

~ John Ruskin 1849

It’s like somebody slapped a coat of spray paint on a Model T and hung a pair of Truck Nutz on the back. And then they snapped off the hood ornament and threw it in the river. And then added hydraulics.

It might take me a really long time, but I’m gonna leave this house in a much better state than what I found it.

I’ve already filled up like 15-20 contractor bags, just in the past several days. And I have to say, as badass and competent and powerful as all this physical labor makes me feel…

I’m over it. I’m ready to feel pretty and sexy again. And I’d kill for a glass of wine and some conversation with someone other than the dogs.

3 Replies to “Mea Culpa Mea Culpa Mea Maxima Culpa – Old House Woes”

  1. Annie : Wow !!! I know that you are an amazing woman but what you are tackling on your own is truly amazing. Hell even telling the story is a testament to your wordsmithing skills. I hope all goes well as you move forward with your renovation.
    Btw , if you are down for some fun May 11 and 12 in Mid-City let me know.

    1. Hey Jim!!

      Yeah, I can deal with the physical labor of it, but the mental stress…ugh, that’s my weakness. One project led to another, which led to another, which led to bad news, which led to another project…and I kind of shut down for the last couple weeks. Sigh…

      I miss you, and I’m looking forward to seeing you in May!! I thought I’d already responded, but I probably blanked. I’m gonna email you in a sec.

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