The Things You Learn

AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File

They say what doesn't kill you makes you stronger (but with less hair on your head), and that has been the case for yours truly over the last few weeks during a massive home repair project undertaken at my mom's house.

Her home is around 50 years old. She and my dad bought it in the late 1990s and did some work to it after that, mostly painting, new appliances, and a new HVAC system.

A new roof, windows, French doors, and a back deck came about 15 years later and some new toilets about five years after that, but not much else was done because, as the saying goes, if it ain't broke, don't fix it - right?

Unfortunately, it's hard to know if something needs fixing if you don't look at it, and like a lot of people, they didn't pay much attention at all to their crawlspace. Technicians we'd had go down there the first 20 years or so for various things didn't mention seeing any issues, and along with that was the whole "out of sight, out of mind" thing.

That all changed in December 2022. It was two months after my mom, to whom I'm a caregiver, was diagnosed with cancer and we were having a smell issue in the home office and had an HVAC technician investigate the ductwork. He couldn't find anything related to the smell but mentioned something about "moisture issues" and how "you really need a vapor barrier." 

A week or so later, we had critter control come to the house to see if they could determine what the smell issue was. Though they didn't see any critters, they said it was probably a mouse that had gotten stuck somewhere when it was cold outside and probably died in there.

READ MORE (VIP): Ooh, That Smell

But the critter control tech mentioned to me something else he spotted - that we likely had a mold issue. Not a big one, but one that we should address at some point.

So. Moisture, vapor barrier, and mold. Hmm.

I couldn't think too much about these things at the time because my mom was getting ready to start three months of chemo and there was the recovery time after that. Every ounce of energy I had needed to be dedicated to helping her stay strong and keeping myself from falling apart, so I put thoughts of vapor barriers, moisture, and mold on the back burner.

A year after her chemo started, I sold my house. At that point, we talked about whether to keep hers or to cut our losses and find something else. She loves the house for sentimental reasons and I'm fond of it, too, so a couple of months later we had a home inspector come in. Having in mind what I'd been told by the HVAC guy and critter dude (not to mention the cracks I was seeing in the walls), I wanted to know what the issues were with the house and if it was worth it to pay to fix or move on.

Hoo boy.

Yes, there were issues. After the home inspector did his thing and then a structural engineer came in to do a deeper dive, we found out we needed mold remediation, and that about 60-70 percent of the wood in the crawlspace needed to be replaced due to wood rot, and to also bring it up to code to meet today's standards (there was an "overspanning" issue, among other things). 

We also needed some new piers.  And a crawlspace French drain system, complete with a sump pump. And full encapsulation with the vapor barrier and a dehumidifier. 

On top of that, we also had termite problems.

It was a hot mess, to say the least.

After a very adventurous time getting quotes, we settled on a contractor for the vast majority of the work. Before they got started, though, I was busy earning my YouTube/Google crawlspace degree (still waiting on it!), trying to find out everything I could so I could at the very least have a layman's understanding of the things that would be explained to me and my mom, and so I would know what questions to ask.

The good thing is our contractor explained things in a way we could understand, and if I had any concerns, they either explained to me that I didn't need to worry or would work to make sure I was good with what they did to fix the issues.

I learned a LOT through this process, more than I ever wanted to know about crawlspaces, pest control, etc. It was a very expensive mistake, but one I'm glad we learned about before it was too late for the home to be saved. 

The main thing I learned is that a crawlspace, like a car, will last you a lot longer if you maintain it and take care of it consistently, instead of ignoring it because you can't see it. And that's what we're doing now. Mom plans on keeping the house, but if the decision is made to move at some point, we now know that if we are looking to buy a home that has a crawlspace, have a structural engineer come in to take a look.

We still have a few more projects left to do in order to "modernize" the home a bit - like a little bit of roofing and electrical work, but I feel like the home is on solid ground again thanks to all that was done.

Moral of the story? When life hands you lemons, turn them into lemonade. Also: Take precious care of your crawlspace!

Related (VIP): My Caregiver's Diary Series



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