During that blissful time, we set about renovating the basement of our home so that when our grandbaby started school, we would be free to travel in our Airstream trailer, which we had purchased to take him and his parents to our wedding in Nova Scotia. The retirement building was going extremely well, it SEEMED.
Upon removing the drywall from the already finished basement, (to build a kitchen so that we could take in a tenant to help pay for our travels and be eyes in the house while we were gone), a PILE OF SAND fell to the floor from the removed wallboard. Our basement foundation was turning to sand. :-(
After seeking the advice of my brother-in-law, a City Building Inspector, the engineer he recommended and the engineer that THAT engineer recommended when he deemed the job "over his head", we also met and interviewed seven contractors. We got quotes ranging from 50 thousand dollars (laughable in retrospect) to 170,000 and gratefully had a choice of two who seemed competent and aware of the depth they were jumping into. The engineer we eventually found had been called in on a job in the area, to solve the problem after the contractor had the home cave in on his remedial construction. This process of investigation, sourcing and interviews took a year and a half!!
The shoring up process was the most important. It was vertical and also supported by crossbeams, all done under the guidance of a laser level.
My contractor designed it and also used 2X8's instead of 2X6's so that he could cut them in half later and use the 2X4's for framing the basement!
Why didn't you just build new?Before you ask, I will answer the questions that will come up in your head, as I have answered everyone else who asked as this story unfolded and in order of the most common questions:
1. I did not choose to "knock it down and build from scratch" because a) I love my house AND b) there's a huge difference between $150,000 to fix and probably 350 to rebuild; not sure where people think everyone has 350 large stashed away!
2. No, insurance doesn't cover it. AT ALL!
3. Yes, I did have a Home Inspection and so did the people next door but the problem was not caught on either house. If a basement is finished and the problem is "hidden", the Home Inspectors are protected from a law suit because of this. In retrospect, hindsight being 20/20 and all, there were many signs of coverup by the previous homeowner that an engineer should've been brought in to speak to. Since it took me three engineers and 7 contractors to diagnose and cost out the problem, I have no regrets at my decision to buy and again: I love my house and am glad I still own it even as I watch it slowly, slowly be repaired from my window seat at the dinette in my Airstream trailer, across the street in the middle of winter as money flies out the windows!
4. Yes, I could have sued the Seller because they did know they were passing on this problem and covered it up, but they had no money and were elderly so I didn't have the heart on the one hand. On the other hand, because I am a Realtor, my lawyer and I were pretty sure there was only a fifty/fifty chance that I'd win.
If savvy, the Sellers would have sued the Real Estate Brokerage I worked for, which is owned by a good, old friend of mine and the suit would be of an agent I've known for more than 30 years who did NOT know they were passing on this major problem. Most importantly, their Errors and Omissions Insurance company is also my insurance company, one of the largest in the world and I'm pretty sure they would have fought like hell to make sure I did not win. If I were them, I probably would.
5. I didn't start it in the Winter! I even had a total stranger who lives on the street knock on the Airstream door to express her sympathy and in the middle of our conversation blame her husband for asking this question. We started in May getting permits and in the middle of our requests, the City of Toronto shuffled their Zoning By-Laws. As became a harsh reality over and over when dealing with the City, and Enbridge, the head never knew what the ass was doing! After a nearly 3,000 dollar fight for the right to put our porch BACK on the way it was, (because of a variance of 9cm's in the new Zoning Regulations), we finally got started at the beginning of October. The projection for the new foundation job was 2 months, so it should have been over by the end of November, except that the previous owners had ALSO covered up and hidden massive amounts of concrete so near the new foundation that it had to be chipped and excavated with jackhammers instead of faster, albeit more expensive large machinery. Living in our Airstream for that length of time and in normal late Fall temps in Toronto, would have been a piece of cake, even if until Christmas, IF we had had a normal winter! Of course we didn't, we had record breaking low temperatures, for record breaking lengths of time and with record breaking amounts of snow!
The Good News
Through a good friend, I was given a referral to his best friend, a contractor unlike any I've ever met, let alone heard such glowing praise of and now know first hand, is amazingly good at his job. He is smart, compassionate, considerate, beyond ethical and has achieved the level of success those of us who will never truly retire, all dream of: he works only with nice people that he likes, that are referred by the nice people he likes and has worked with. So, I guess that makes me nice and I try hard everyday to live up to his first impression of me. I have a great working relationship with my contractor and I hope at the end of this job I can call him a friend too.
We live in our Airstream!!! I'm living my dream. (except that the view never changes, so I'll include that in future visualizations of our dream of full-timing.) Rick and I are getting along pretty well under the circumstances; it's 174 square feet in here and we have 3 labrador retrievers!!! It's a very good experience of managing the systems. The black water pipe froze and we had no toilet for a couple of DAYS!! It was a drama and I kind of melted down, but invented a composting toilet and bucked up again once we got it melted and emptied. Thank you, airforums.com and my many, many Airstreaming friends on Facebook! The support has been overwhelming.
Our neighbours to the north went to their house in Mexico for a month while we excavated their driveway. Our neighbours to the south offered us showers and laundry, their 3 year old made hot chocolate for our workers and charmed them all to pieces and most appreciated of all, they drank copiously with us when we really needed it. Our neighbour across the street gave us a campsite in his driveway with a hydro hookup and we used his water (fortunately he had a special outdoor device that allows for him to leave the water on in winter....the LUCK on us!) It would have been aLOT harder to live in our trailer and watch the renovation without him and we are super grateful to him and almost all of our neighbours.
Strangely timed, our least friendly neighbours decided to put their house on the market just before we started excavation and so we indirectly got to make sure the same problem did not get passed on to an unsuspecting Buyer since it made it pretty obvious that the problem could be there too and probably is.
We did have neighbours calling the Parking Authority to target our cars parked on the street because we couldn't be in our driveway. I guess we have p.o.'ed someone in the neighbourhood but with generosity from others we juggled, although not without a public ranting from me one evening towards the poor parking officer so that whatever neighbour was lurking behind their curtains could hear. Of this I am not proud.
Organic Compound Breakdown
We're not alone.
It's a pretty widespread problem because it was not uncommon in the 1930's and 40's when a lot of the homes in southern Scarborough were built, for builders to use local sand in the poured concrete basement foundations. Over time, the organic compound that contaminated this sand broke down and left the concrete turning to sand.
I mostly wrote this blog post to bring awareness to the problem for my Realtor friends in the area, so that they might better protect themselves and their clients from lawsuits and potentially bankrupting repairs.
While lots of people in our neighbourhoods will lose a substantial part of the equity they thought they had in their homes and a few will likely unethically pass the problem on, the replacement of these homes, mostly bungalows with 2 storeys, is raising the value of mine. The up and coming neighbourhood I bought in, is speedily arriving at "up and came" and it appears that eventually I will recoop the loss. I'm currently dreaming of adding a second storey! (ya, my contractor is JUST THAT GOOD!)
I just hope that the many topped up bungalows with second stories I see around me have had the foundations checked! and I tell every Realtor who'll listen, what has happened to us, so that they can help their Buyers BEWARE! of this problem.
In the meantime, it has been just an incredible lesson in how strong I am and how strong my marriage is and how very, very fortunate I am!
OH, and I almost have a brand new basement!!!