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.

Kitchen Crawlspace Update

I had some help this weekend from my brother. He’s a hard worker. We cleaned out the remaining cellulose from the kitchen crawlspace and the pink insulation that was between the floor joists.

Cleaned up crawlspace. Nice to find it has concrete floor.
A dozen bags of cellulose for the dump.

There were few signs of wildlife in the cellulose, but the pink insulation was riddled with mouseways, poop, and the odd skeleton. Ew.

My brother helped get the super-glued plywood off the kitchen floor, so now just a strip under the sink and dishwasher, and then the whole kitchen floor is down to original fir. Part of the kitchen addition has a different hardwood and the other part has yet to be revealed. I’m suspecting the same fir as the original kitchen floor.

The kitchen addition has a 2″ slope toward the back door. My brother determined that the addition hasn’t shifted since it was jacked and supported in the late 1990s, so We’re going to correct this by removing the flooring, building a level/shimmed subfloor, and putting in fir to match the rest of the kitchen. “We” means my brother, with me helping out when I can.

Baby steps

Three weeks after asking the builder to provide the 7′ basement he promised, he is still waiting for a new drawing from the engineer. I don’t understand the processes involved here, but for whatever reason the original drawing (acknowledged as crappy, done by a ‘designer’) would not do if we are digging down a foot, so the engineer had to do an entirely new drawing. It may have had something to do with the vague references on the old drawing regarding roof trusses and basement entry way.

In any event, the engineer is now on week two of completing the new drawing and the builder is still waiting to dig down. Properly, he won’t do it until the engineer formally approves the change.

Last week I took down what was the coal room. It had been used more recently as a cold storage room. I took off the door, the shelving, and part of the wall. This is where the door to the new basement is going to be.

Coal and cold storage room
Shelving in coal/cold storage room








View into corner of coal/cold storage room where gas meter is usually located









Coal from the wall where the shelving came down

The builder started framing the main floor and today broke through the basement wall. Very cool.


Where the doorway to the new basement will be

Also good news is that the builder has hired back the project manager that he had lined up for the previous fall. This man is much better at explaining what is going on and I have a bit of confidence now that the builder actually intends to move the project forward. Since the project manager arrived on the scene, work appears to be getting done and the work site itself is cleaner and more professional.


Baby steps.

Creepy Crawlspace

I don’t seem to be able to focus on a project until it’s done, and instead start new things on a whim. The whim I entertained recently was working on the kitchen crawlspace and removing some of the cellulose.

I promise it will look really nice when it’s done!

Granted it was a very hot and humid day and I was in full sun, but after a couple of hours of work I only had a few bags of cellulose removed and have many many more to go. I gave up.

Two hours of work and that’s all I have to show for it?!

Two interesting discoveries in the crawlspace: First, as noted in another post, the space had been supported by a significant beam in 1999 (after seeing the beams I dug out the receipt, kindly saved for me by the previous owner).

Support beam

Second, aside from mice and spiders, something nested in there. At least I think it’s something other than a mouse, as I don’t know that mice make nests like this.

Kitchen Floor Fiddling

Man, this kitchen floor will not give up the ghost easily. I’ve struggled with removing 8 layers of previous flooring, layer by layer, including the last layer of plywood that often had to be removed splinter by splinter.  Honest to goodness I counted 22 nails along one 24″ edge. See my previous post on this topic for further laughs.

This weekend was a little better. I got the flooring beneath one side of the lower cabinets off without much difficulty, because it only had three layers of flooring, and then the cabinet re-installed easily, albeit an inch and a half lower than before. I also cleaned my extremely dirty stove and put it back into place. Nothing like cooking grease caked with renovation dust. It was satisfying to get it cleaned up.

Base for west wall cabinets.
Bare floor under west cabinet

I didn’t tackle under the other side of the cupboards because that side has the plumbing – sink, water filter, and dishwasher.  Since whenever I touch something I wreck it and the whole cabinet system would be dropped an inch and a half, I decided I didn’t want to be in the position of calling a for-real-plumber on the weekend.

It’s unfortunate, because that side has the major mouse activity – a superhighway. I’d really love to seal that off, but because of the plumbing that will have to wait until I think the situation through and psych myself up to do it. Maybe next weekend.

Exit ramp for mouse superhighway. Carcasses of many accident victims located under cabinet.

Several interesting discoveries in the kitchen! What I thought was a single porch turned into a kitchen ‘bump out’ was something else. Not sure yet what, but the pieces of that puzzle are coming together.

The kitchen ‘bump out’ is made up of two structures. The newly revealed floor shows that a structural wall (long since removed) divided the two spaces north to south. The east space has painted narrow plank hardwood installed perpendicular to the kitchen flooring, which runs north to south.

East side narrow plank hardwood, perpendicular to Doug fir kitchen floor

The west space has original siding on the outside but on the inside the floor has a sheet of plywood overtop an opening to the crawlspace below. I wasn’t able to get that plywood off yet because it glued down with industrial strength adhesive, so don’t know if the crawlspace extends under the east space as well. I haven’t bothered climbing under the space, because it’s filled with cellulose, spiders, and mice. See my next post for more on that topic. Anyway, finding out whether the crawl space extends under both sides of the ‘bump out’ will help solve the puzzle, once I figure out how to get the plywood off without wrecking it.

So, my guess now as to the origins of the space is that the east side was always porch, and the west side was built as an addition to the kitchen in the 1960s. The reason I say the ’60s is because there is a wood threshold that fills in the space where the exterior wall was removed and that piece of wood has a stencil on it that says “Western Cabinet Ltd.”.

Western Cabinet stencil

With a tiny bit of internet research in between prying off layers of floor, I saw that this was a company that was in business in the ’60s.

I wasn’t able to track down when it ceased business, so a trip the library will be required.  Complicating this theory is that the second to last linoleum (yellow-y) was only installed in the east space, while the west space had a sheet of plywood.

Strip of yellowed 1980s linoleum between hardwood and sheet of plywood

Both spaces were not covered with linoleum until the last owner put it in the late 1990s. But for now I’m going with a kitchen remodel in the ’60s that took out the exterior wall of the house and the east wall of the porch and added the east space, resulting in over 60 new square feet in the kitchen, and of course brand new cabinets. The work wasn’t permitted, as I’ve checked on those. Anyway, this scenario explains the different roof configurations between the east and west space. The west space (the former porch) is sloped, while the east space is not.

The 1960s cabinets are gone. What I have now is 1990s oak in Shaker style. Nice enough but the carpenter routered the inner edges, eliminating the clean edge of a simple Shaker, and also the hardware is polished brass. Not my fave, although I’ve seen in a few magazines that polished brass is making a comeback.

Beveled Shaker with brass knobs

The major difficulty for me in the long run will be the sunshine ceiling. The cabinets were built to that 7 foot height, instead of to the 8 foot ceiling, so they won’t be tall enough and will look awkward when I take the sunshine out. Also, the electrician who installed the lovely fluorescent fixtures in the sunshine ceiling simply stapled the wiring to the popcorn ceiling. So, lots of work when it comes time to take the sunshine out.

After I accepted that the plywood floor was not coming off today, I got out my belt sander and had a go at the fir. Quite exciting! It will look very nice when it’s sanded. My plan is to shellac and wax it. The idea of re-waxing my floor once a year makes me feel good. Connects me to my mother and grandmother. A feel-good day.

Sample sanding

Finally, basement excavation has begun!

This is a real fun renovation so far. Friday was spent with the plumbers in and out of the house the whole day, as the gas line was moved to a temporary location. Every time they entered the house knock knock, can we come in? I must have said six times that they ought to just come and go without asking me first. But I had well-mannered plumbers who insisted on knocking. I was exhausted from getting up to open the door for them. That was my EDO and they were not gone until after 6pm.

Then, at 7am on Saturday morning the excavator showed up with two helpers, ding dong on the doorbell, could I move my car and advising they would be done by noon. Half an hour later, ding dong on the doorbell, where should we put the fence parts that have fallen down as a result of the excavating. Then they did a couple of loads out and then ding dong on the doorbell, the excavator wanted me to pay him directly for the excavation work and wanted a cheque today, even though the work was only about 1/3 done and he couldn’t cash it anywhere because it’s Saturday and there’d be a 5 day hold on the funds because it’s a personal cheque. I suggested I could get him cash on Monday if he’s in a real hurry, and he says no, cheque today please. I was baffled, but he was sure that’s what he wanted.

Since I have a contract with the builder that includes excavation of the basement, I was a little taken aback by the excavator’s request for payment from me. Then he says he wants me to leave the cheque blank. “Blank!” I say incredulously. “I’m not giving you a blank cheque!”. He meant just to leave the payee line blank. He explained he didn’t want to deposit it into his bank account and he would put his wife’s name on the cheque, whom I’m sure he told me he had divorced some time ago. I was concerned about his motivation for doing this and people who know me would know why I was concerned, but I was baffled by it all and felt powerless to say no.

Instead, we had a chat and he explained that the builder owes him money from previous work and he wants to get paid this time. I’m all on board for being paid for work done, so I called the builder to tell him I’d be giving the excavator a cheque today and that it would come off the cost of the contract with him. I didn’t really care how the excavator dealt with his money, as long as I had proof of payment.

The builder was annoyed, and explained that the excavator wanted the cheque today because he’d go off to MoneyMart and cash it immediately. How awful. It’s unfortunate, but if that’s the way he wants to do it, then that’s his business. Anyway, it was Saturday and the builder was out with his family, but he stopped in and gave a cheque to the excavator. I was happy the excavator got paid, sad that he’d give MoneyMart part of his hard-earned cash, mad that I’d been used by the excavator to force the builder’s hand for payment, and annoyed with the builder because he made it seem like such a big deal that he had to stop in on a Saturday for five minutes when I had been dealing with the ding dong excavator all day. Distasteful all around .

Then the excavator had vehicle trouble that ate up the rest of the morning and a good part of the afternoon, and ding dong on the doorbell to advise of that. Later in the afternoon he returned with a ding dong on the doorbell, to say excavation would resume with just himself digging, loading the dirt into a truck, and then driving the truck to unload the dirt. Very slow process.

Then, I went out and when I got back at about 5pm I saw the excavator’s half ton being towed away, the Bobcat parked in my driveway, and nobody returned for the rest of the day.

Sunday morning at 7am, ding dong on the doorbell, would I move my car from out front. The excavator had arrived by himself again to finish the job. He’d be done by noon he said. He was earnest. At 7pm, after a brief but heavy rainshower that turned the clay in the excavated hole into a slippery mess, ding dong on the doorbell, he wouldn’t be done today. But since he had slipped on the messy clay when he went in to check on how slippery it was and got himself covered in mud, could he use my garden hose to wash up.

And there I was, handing paper towel to the excavator at the end of another long day of comedy with the promise that it will all resume again tomorrow morning at 7am with a ding dong at the doorbell.

5 feet down and the wall looks ok. Whew!
Bobcat parked for the day. My son in the background playing barefoot in the wet clay.