John White: Top 10 phrases you don’t want to hear in a home reno

Even a simple plumbing repair turned into a three-hour epic worthy of dramatic BBC acting talent.

The results of jackhammering the floor to replace the cast iron sewer pipe. (John K. White/Castlegar News)

The results of jackhammering the floor to replace the cast iron sewer pipe. (John K. White/Castlegar News)

I was asked by a contractor recently what my favourite tool is when doing work on my house.

“My chequebook,” was my very serious answer.

I can change out a light fixture, paint, build basic wood structures and organize like the wind, but anything beyond that is best left to the experts.

I have assisted with a total roofing replacement (my feet were incredibly sore and blistered from standing at an angle for six hours on a hot roof). I also helped build a screened room at my parents’ house (I somehow got a sliver under my eyelid that scratched my eye and required emergency removal). I have occasionally moved appliances and furniture (I once tripped and fell in a hole while carrying a large couch, damaging my ankle). Do you see the pattern when I try to do things myself?

Even a seemingly simple plumbing repair turned into a three-hour epic worthy of the most dramatic BBC acting talent, but with significantly more cursing. There were parts left over after replacing a bathroom sink and faucet, and my wife and I subtly disagreed on where they should go. After I failed to listen to reason, my wife generously suggested where they should go.

Sadly, I’ve also witnessed professional handy-people experience similar woes over the years. While troubleshooting the odd electrical setup at our Edmonton house that was just renovated, a contractor got a “polite zap” while checking for grounding in an outlet. It caused a wash of smoke in the room and a momentary lack of composure for the contractor.

After I took a bath in the same house, we noticed water suddenly pouring through the ceiling in the kitchen below. It came down through the kitchen pot-lights, which was quite disconcerting given the recent issue with the “polite zap.” Turns out, the original contractor forgot to attach the overflow pipe to the tub.

The same contractor forgot to tighten the toilet bolts after installation during the reno. I’m not going to describe what happened there as this is a family newspaper. Our handyman and his subtrade made short work of the fix, but it was, um, startling to discover.

We’ve stumbled upon many oddities when viewing or renovating houses over the years. Some of the questions or comments made at the time by various inspectors or contractors — or my wife and I — will give you a hint as to the issue at hand.

“There must have been a sale on mistinted paint colours at Home Depot. It looks like Walt Disney vomited on the walls.”

“Should there be black stuff on the grout?”

“Oh my. I just CLRed the shower door, and it looks like it’s actually supposed to be clear glass and not clouded.”

“Remind me, is it the six-by-six floor tile or nine-by-nine that have asbestos in them? These are nine-by-nine.”

“Do you smell natural gas?”

“So, the shower seems to be a garden hose hanging from the rafters in the middle of the basement.”

“Knob-and-tube is good, right?”

“This light switch doesn’t seem to do anything.”

“It appears the sewer drain clean-out cap was not quite on properly.”

“Yes, that is indeed wood shavings in the walls where insulation should be.”

“If you want to go up the ladder and have a look with the flashlight, you can see the unencapsulated asbestos is everywhere.” (Side note, why would I want to go up and look at or breath that in?)

“Should those wires be exposed like that?”

“That wall was actually structural.”

“I can’t believe there hasn’t been a fire.”

“The trim will cover it.”

“That’s where the mice are likely getting in.”

And finally, the worst phrase you’ll hear from a home inspector: “I’ve never seen anything like that before!”


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