Bringing the Existing Plumbing “Up to Code”

I’ve heard it said many times that whenever work is done on an old house, whatever is touched by renovation has to be ‘brought up to code’. Of course that code changes yearly and is designed to keep manufacturers and industry folks busy and rich, and I’ve never questioned whether it’s true, because the Canada Building Code and its Provincial subsets are not public documents and must be purchased at great expense (every year). So, I have no idea whether it’s true. But on the basis that it is, the plumber noted that my existing bathroom plumbing, which was upgraded in 1999, did not have ‘p’ traps. Or ‘y’ traps. One of the alphabet traps.
The result is that my only bathroom has been torn apart. As has my dining room ceiling. And my living room ceiling. And living room wall. That’s additional work and cost I wasn’t anticipating, and mental stress as we struggle to manage around the living situation. The only non-disaster/untouched room in my house is my bedroom. And it’s a disaster anyway, because it is crammed full of things from every other room in the house.
I wouldn’t ordinarily gripe about this situation, especially since as far as I know this is the only unexpected thing to happen and the only unexpected cost, but I’ve been living in shambles and half-done work since July 2016 – 18 months at this moment. I’ve moved the same things around in my house, from space to space and room to room, trying to make room to live in for 18 months. I am DONE. Actually, I was DONE in December. And that’s when my friend Craig stepped in to take responsibility.

Anyway. I’m sure you’re not here to read about how angry I am. So, photos!

Here’s my living room ceiling after the plumber caused a freezing pipe at Christmas – the ceiling stain is from sewage.

Holes in the ceiling, cut to see whether my existing plumbing meets money-making code.

What was noticed by the builder at this point was that the previous plumbing company (Go Gregs!) cut through the joists to install pipes. So, my cast iron tub was not properly supported. Scary. The builder fixed that.

2x4s supporting joists until they can be sistered.

New plumbing in living room wall. What was interesting to see from this cut, was that plumbing was always installed in the houes – that is, there are no plaster keys in this area and it was always walled at an angle across the corner. Cool.

Long view of ceiling and wall cut outs in living room.
View of bottom of bathroom floor.

This shows the original fir floor in the bathroom (from below), but it also shows that the fir was cut away and replaced with plywood. Two layers of plywood now. So, in restoring that bathroom I will have to re-tile it.

Next post to display lovely photos of inside the destructed bathroom. Stay tuned.

Basement is “done”

My contract with this Builder was to create a 7 foot basement. He gave me 6 ½ feet instead. One of his many delightful surprises.

With flooring, that will make it pretty much my son’s height and into an unusable family space. However, it is square footage we never had before and hopefully we can get something good out of it, other than storage. Maybe a ping pong or fussball table?

View from one end to the other (south to north).
Looking into space from the old basement.
View of the pass through to the old basement.
This is what my old basement looks like, crammed full of stuff.

The old basement will always be short and mostly useless, other than laundry and storage. I had hoped for more from the new basement. We’ll see what I can eventually make it into.

At least now the formerly bowing basement wall is no longer a danger to the house. In fact, the Builder tells me I could (theoretically) take down the entire wall between the two basements, because the engineered beam that the addition is built onto is also supporting the original house. I’m not going to test that theory without consulting an engineer.

Nearing Completion

I hope I’m not being stupidly optimistic in saying this, but the building seems to be nearing completion. In  December my friend Craig took over managing the project and dealing with the Builder for me. I was at wits end, ready to commit assault, and he very kindly stepped in and has been saving the day.

Craig reminds the  Builder that he also has to come to work everyday, stay for most of the day, and get some work done. Amazing that a so-called professional needs that babysitting, but he does. It hasn’t been 100% successful, in that some days the Builder still doesn’t come or do anything or stay for any meaningful length of time, but it has helped significantly as we’re nearing completion. I’m quite confident I would not be saying that if Craig hadn’t been babysitting.

Right now we have my beautiful windows installed, the insulation is almost complete, and poly on, with City inspection in a few days. If Craig hadn’t been on site, the Builder would have then disappeared for a month after he’d installed the windows. That’s his “m.o” But with Craig’s help, the Builder came back the next day to keep on working! Amazing!

One issue with the insulation is that some frost developed behind some temporarily installed pink insulation, where the Builder now has to put in foam insulation. Foam insulation can’t go onto frost, so we have to get rid of the frost. So, today, since the weather is supposed to be nice, I’m going to remove the pink insulation and set up a strong fan. It’s a small area. Hopefully by tomorrow the frost will be out and Builder can get sprayfoam done and final poly installed.

Then there is a chunk of concrete in the basement the Builder has to crack out. He’d installed it as a landing, but it is no longer needed. Then rim joist insulation down there and all small holes filled, widen the doorway area to the original basement, and clean up. The doorway area has to be widened because the plumber installed heating ducts through that door and now I can’t walk under it without ducking. So, new door location required.

Then sub-floor, and  upstairs: bathroom fan, poly, attic hatch, et voila! Builder should be off my property until the springtime, when he comes back to  clean up his work site, grade the elevation, and do a gravel driveway.

Oops, one more unresolved issue: the Builder did not put any heat into my upstairs bathroom. Yes, that’s how clever he is. It is wired for in-floor heat, but that is not sufficient in my climate So, either electrician comes back and installs electric wall-heat or plumber comes back and installs furnace duct.

Final electrical and plumbing inspections will be my responsibility, because I’m installing the drywall, flooring, and fixtures. With my friend Craig helping, I think I’ll be able to be motivated and educated on how to get that all done. It’s possible that by March I could be sitting in my addition, at least with sub-floor, drywall, and fixtures. Final painting, wood trims, and decorations might be longer.

Update – or lack thereof

I know a blog with no posts is worth little. There isn’t a lot to talk about, however.

I have a builder who is treating my project like his hobby and dabbles at it a few hours a day for a couple of days a week. He does not have a full crew and brings ’round whomever he is able to rustle up that day. Many days nobody shows up at all.

When I talk to him about moving this project along, he sounds reasonable as to why things can only happen in a certain order and what the hang ups beyond his control are. He really does sound reasonable. But when I step back and see that this is a build that he started in JUNE, then the fact that he’s still puttering at it in DECEMBER is unbelievable.

I’m shocked at myself for allowing it to go on.

But, the updates for the last month: Most of the shingles have been installed. Not completely, of course. That would be too straightforward for this builder. But day by day someone comes and does a bit of work and the so far the shingles have taken 3 weeks. Apparently he has ordered a special material to cover the flat spot on the roof, which of course he couldn’t have ordered any time in the previous 6 months. But now he’s waiting on it.

The shingles themselves are beautiful. I’m glad I ordered them.

Carriage House




Now the builder is working on flashings, fascia, soffits, eavestroughs etc.

The HVAC appears to be done. I elected to go with 5 vents off my current furnace (3 on main, 2 upstairs), with in-floor heat in basement and in upstairs bathroom, as well as wall-mounted electrical heat. Had I been offered choices a few months ago, I probably would have chosen a high velocity furnace for the addition.

My main concern was having air conditioning on all floors.

The plumbing is roughed in. I had to take the advice of the plumber on where the toilet and sink HAD to go for the powder room, so we’ll see how that looks in the end. (I’m afraid I might be so renovation-weary that I make those “I don’t care – just do what you want” decisions).

The electrician is scheduled for next week. Then after that will be complete insulating and sealing up.

Very funny is that my end of the bargain – refinished windows – is not completed. When reglazing, the putty takes weeks to set, and I can’t paint the sashes until the putty is set.

Further, I have to build the window jambs, and I’ve been balking on that. I went to the hardware store and saw that fir for this project (8 windows) would cost $600 or so. It’s hard for me to just go and buy that. On the other hand, new wood windows would have cost $12,000, so I should just go and do it. I think another thing slowing me down is that I’m not a carpenter, so I’m not sure I’m making the right decisions on the wood or building the jambs correctly. Obviously they have to fit the actual sashes, so there is some customizing of the jambs as well. Plus, the sill has a downward bevel to it, in order to allow water to pour away from the window. Don’t know how to do that.

The stairs are still in the planning stage. Builder says he does not want to start those until after the building inspector has been by on the other parts. I’ve reiterated that I want the builder done before Christmas, so I expect we’ll come to blows shortly because there’s no way he can do all of what is left in the next three weeks.

Being a customer of a useless builder is no fun.




Concrete walls are in

Pouring of concrete into the ICF  (insulated concrete forms) started yesterday around 8am. The builder showed up alone. He had paid his helper the day prior, which resulted in a classic post-payday “sick day” for him. Luckily for the builder, one of the concrete supply guys offered to help.

I know the builder expected the job to take only a few hours, because he booked a second-opinion plumber to come at 10am. But it took until 3pm to finish pouring the walls, and what a mess they made! I have no idea if this is normal, but since my plan had been to leave the ICF wall as is/uncovered in the basement (particularly if all I’m getting is a crawlspace), I will now have an ugly mess for a wall. They also kicked the walls everywhere to ‘tap’ the concrete down to the bottom. The kicking left indents on the styrofoam wall. I don’t know anything about ICF, but I’m pretty sure that kicking the wall wasn’t the inventor’s planned means to get the concrete to the bottom.  A Fine Homebuilder post indicates that multiple helpers, tamping rods, and a vibrating attachment on a drill are what are used to settle the concrete properly in the form. In that post, their forms were filled in 2 hours. Mine took 7 hours and was only three walls.

Concrete that missed its mark

Anyway, at 3pm, the builder disappeared without a word. Since I had been waiting all day at the house to let the second-opinion plumber in for a tour, I was quite annoyed that this tour didn’t happen and that the builder left without telling me he was done for the day. And, since this is a long weekend, I won’t see or hear from him until next Tuesday and am left hanging on the important question of whether this can be a full basement or not.  Am I allowed to swear on a blog?

Somebody is bad at their job

Yesterday my builder told me that my new 7′ ICF basement is actually going to be just under 6′ high.

I don’t think something under 6′ constitutes a basement, but rather a crawlspace. Certainly with me being almost 6′ tall, I won’t be able to walk freely down there, and my son, who at 13 is 6’2″ tall and continues to grow, will have to crawl. It’s shorter than my current basement. It’s a crawlspace.

How is this not something the builder could have assessed at the time we discussed basements a year ago?? He knew the current building code, he knew my present basement height, so how could he have promised me a 7′ basement?? He’s trying to pin it on the designer.

I’ve asked him to go back to the engineer to see whether we can dig down a foot between the footings, which would give us about 10 feet in the middle where we can walk and maybe play ping pong.

Also, the said builder has not worked a full day yet. Every day there is some reason to leave early.