2 homeowner horror stories for happy hour

Jim Mallery

Experts like to talk shop at parties, and they always seem to have a couple of homeowner horror tales to swap. Here are two favorites from a couple of contractors in Washington state.

The roof of compost

A contractor who will remain anonymous for obvious reasons, recalls looking to purchase a house a few years ago in an upper-middle-class area, a very pleasant, older neighborhood where average homes ranged from $450,000 to homes with a view, worth well over $1 million. The lots were large, with many of them about three-quarters of an acre. But this particular house was different.

The contractor recalls thinking he had been suddenly transported to another part of the country. "I almost expected to see a…youth plucking banjo on the front porch…The front of the lot was a huge tangle of blackberry vines, probably eight feet tall. They even crowded the driveway so that you had to be careful not to scratch your car."

The thorns grew about 30 feet up the 150-foot driveway. "I have a feeling that the vines would have engulfed the house, except the rest of the lot was so densely shaded by maple trees that the blackberries wouldn't grow," he said.

The landscaping was a harbinger of the condition of the house.

The 25-year-old house was in obvious disrepair. As he approached, the contractor immediately noticed the dry, weathered cedar siding, the gutter that had pulled loose from a rotted fascia board and the substantial growth of moss on the aged cedar-shake roof.

"Then I nearly fell through the first, rotten step on the porch stairs," he said.

The homeowner grew defensive about the long list of problems with the house; for instance, he insisted the woeful-looking roof only needed a sweeping every spring to remove the moss. In the end, the contractor got the owner to slash his price, and he bought the house. His first project was to replace the roof.

Now, if Washington had a state gastropod, it would be the slug. With a confluence of climate and flora, the state is the nirvana of slugdom. But on the roof?

"Basically, parts of the roof was compost," the contractor said. "There were bugs everywhere, and a fare amount of slugs. There was enough green growing up there to support the slugs."

About the only part of the roof without slugs was where the owner had patched the old cedar shakes with some composition shingles. Slugs apparently don't like composition shingles -- which would be the only reason to patch cedar shake with them.

"I've never seen slugs in cedar shakes before," he said. "Talk about a slipping hazard!"

An indoor water feature -- not

Sometimes, a homeowner gets too clever for his own good.

Byron Johnson, a contractor who specializes in remodels and repairs, was called to a house with obvious moisture problems. "The current owner knew there was a leak somewhere. The carpet near the door was damp and the floor was spongy," Johnson said. "He thought the problem might be with the door, so he replaced the door's threshold and recaulked, but there still was a problem."

So he called Johnson.

Johnson pulled back the damp carpet; he found dry rot in the floor. The drywall also was bad, so he started pulling pieces of that. He found rotting studs. He kept pulling back bad drywall and eventually he found the problem; the previous owner had run a downspout down through the inside of the wall.

This screwy system had worked well for years, and nobody knew.

"Then the downspout became plugged with leaves and sand off a new composition roof, and the water backed up, spilling into the wall and into the house," Johnson said. And why would a person put a downspout inside a wall?

"We never found out," Johnson said. "Maybe he just didn't like the appearance of it." Or maybe he secretly longed for an indoor water feature. We'll never know.

About the Author
Jim Mallery, a semi-retired journalist and onetime registered contractor, has extensive experience remodeling, repairing and rebuilding homes.

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