Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Realities of owning a Historic Home

In addition to cleaning up the orchard and preparing for Christmas we've been doing a little house work lately.

We bought this old girl knowing there would be work ahead of us.  Not to say she's in bad condition as there many good things about her.  Considering some of the old farm houses we had seen, this house was in great condition.  But her maintenance had faltered prior to our purchase and we took her over with stars in our eyes thinking we would have her ship shape in no time.

So pretty but hiding so many problems
It started off well, we installed a new furnace, a hot water tank and did a major bathroom renovation.  But two years has passed quickly and there's still so much to do.  Some of those renovations cannot wait anymore.  A few weeks ago I ran upstairs to fetch something and heard an odd sound.  Looking around I realized it was coming from the doorframe of the guest bedroom.  Water was dripping between the wood panels onto the carpet below.  How can a door frame spring a leak?

oh wait, it wasn't the door frame, it was the roof.  In the attic above the door frame.

We had previously discussed putting a new roof on the house but the amount of money had us stalling.  Obviously it can't wait any longer.  So we started discussing our options and considering our finances.  Not for too long though as the old girl reminded us, not so gently, that a roof was absolutely necessary, as soon as possible.  This time I heard a noise coming from the living room and sure enough, drip drip drip, through the dry wall and onto the carpet.  A second leak.  Time to take immediate action.

So despite a fear of heights it was decided hubby would go up on the roof with a bucket of tar and temporarily fix the impending disaster.  We've discovered home ownership means a lot of things, one of those is a fear of heights must be pushed aside.  There are greater issues here.

Emergency roof repair goo
The second leak turned out to be easily repaired.  It's a small side roof on the back of the house that juts out just a couple feet.  Luckily it's not far off the ground and easily reached by ladder.  An hour of painting and the problem was solved.  No more leak.

Luckily we've had good weather this fall so it was
easy to find a nice day to do this work
That first leak though proved to be much more difficult.

The leak is SOMEWHERE up there!
This time the fear of heights won out.  Getting up on that roof was downright dangerous.  What were we to do?  We were pretty sure we knew where the crack was but had no way to reach it, unless, that is, you have a very long pole.

We took some long boards and nailed a bucket to the end.  Filled the bucket with tar and pushed it far up to the peak.  Some twisting and turning and the bucket was tipped releasing the tar which rolled slowly down the roof covering the shingles.

Now, if anyone is thinking this is a brilliant idea you might want to reconsider.  Things were going well until the bucket came loose off it's nail and barreled down the roof sending tar flying in all directions.  Hubby was covered literally from his head to his feet in tar.  I was holding the ladder and found I couldn't let go as both my hands and the ladder were now covered in tar.  Even the cat managed to step into a puddle of tar coating his foot.

Have you ever tried to clean tar off a cat?  Difficult is an understatement.

His ears are back for a reason
Tar is nasty smelly toxic stuff and I could see that the cat was going to try licking it off his foot so there was no choice but to pin him down and use a different toxic chemical to remove it.  Ironically the cat was completely okay with this process, that is, until we removed all the tar and then had to use soap and water to then remove the toxic alcohol from his foot.  Why in the world are cats so cranky when it comes to water?  At one point the cat was attached to my head and Jody kept telling me to let go.  Let go?  I wasn't even holding on!  In fact the cat was embedded so deeply into my skull that I was worried I might have to wear him in to work the next day as a hat.

The good news is that hair, hat, hands, carpet and pets have now all been de-tarred.  The bad news, after two tries we still weren't able to find and tar the exact spot of that first leak.  So for now we're living with buckets in the attic and hoping for freezing weather so we won't have to worry about dripping.  I can't believe I'm actually wishing for colder weather!


  1. The image of you with a cat on your head had me laughing! I bought a house built in 1895 when we lived in upstate NY 10 yrs ago. It was a money pit but we loved it. Our water pressure was hideously low, a bathroom was moldy, there wasn't a single plumb angle in the kitchen, and we had bats in the attic. But we also had an original stained glass window and tin ceiling, 12 ft tall ceilings and enormous windows, a stone basement, incredible woodwork and a ghost next door. It was awesome!! Fortuantely, our roof was great but a good friend had to replace hers due to a leak. Here's hoping you win the lottery and have a dry winter!

  2. Sounds helarious :) We have an d house too, the second year we had a bad wind/rain storm during the night and my son came down to my room to inform me it was raining on his bed :) we hired. a local handyman who reshingled the roof for us.
    We will be doing the bathroom next month hopefully :)

  3. Oh how I know this story. A bit too well, actually. We had a leak last thaw in the kitchen and I was certain the mudroom addition would remedy that even though the roofing isn't redone yet. Hubs has done what you've done but we did have a leak in the kitchen (totally new spot) but not since then. However, I can smell that smell in my closet which is a first. Don't be too discouraged. It can be fixed but the timing and funds... arrgghh.... a totally different matter, right?

  4. I'm sorry Marguerite but the idea of Jody telling you to let go of the head hugging cat made me laugh though it was the sort of laughter that is close to screeming! I hope your head has healed,
    a new roof is something I dread and worry about every time there is a really strong gale, there are pros and cons to both buying and renting, I hope your repairs stay fast for winter and you get that cold weather soon, I woke up to snow this morning, Frances

  5. This is some story. I would be mortified to be covered in tar... nightmares of some incendiary thermal weapon of medieval times would haunt me. Not to mention the poor sticky cat. My cats would run away from home before sitting through that removal ordeal.

  6. So funny!!! but I do feel for you. looking at where your other leak was..did you check where the small overhang is at the peak of your house, just below the window?

    The house and your land look quite lovely.

  7. I do love it when you post pictures of your house. She is a graceful old thing, and I would so enjoy rehabbing her and redecorating the spaces. But not doing the messy tar and water leak projects! Good luck.

  8. Oh my goodness what a story. Glad that you and cat are all fine now the tar is removed. Can imagine how difficult it was with the cat .They do dislike to be held if they haven't decided to allow you. Trying to give ours a tablet every now and then is a major task. Hope the leaks are not too troublesome over this period.

  9. Oh, dear. A leak can cause a lot of problems and headaches, now and later. I hope you can find it and take care of it easily. Your tarred and furred (instead of feathered) story was funny, but I can imagine it wasn't so funny at the time. It's one of those things that you know you'll laugh at - later on!

  10. Marguerite,
    Only you could change a bad situation into something so laughable. Glad everyone was ok.
    Yes old house do have problems down the road but they are old and just tired out. New house on the other hand have problems from day one and there really is no excuse except poor workmanship. I'm looking at a older home in my future because I just love the character, style and history they have to offer.
    I think your house looks beautiful from the outside and I'm sure you and Hubby will find that leak or by the Spring have a new roof.

  11. Oh Marguerite - that's the one thing I worry about most with my old PEI home is the roof what with all the wind and rain. That was a mighty bold move going up that ladder with a board & a pail of tar! If only it was that easy.Is it too late in the season for a handyman to do a quick fix? You DO have a steep pitch (haha) to your roof!

  12. You are so me! I have been in my historic home now for 2 years, which was in 'great shape' for a rotting, need a roof and other major repairs home... and I have been putting off replacing the roof and rebuilding the historic windows (not allowed to replace them in the historic district). Maybe this is a warning to me. You are my guardian angel, reminding me gently that, like dentistry, the roof will not get better on its own.

  13. Hi Marguerite, I feel for you! Tar is messy stuff.
    We have a very similar steep slope to our roof. When we moved in we had to have the roof redone immediately because it was in such rough shape. The new shingles are about 10 years old now and are holding up well. Our peaked window on the east side of the house has some serious issues though. The peak seems to be slowly caving inward. Like your roof re-shingling, we have had to put of the repair for financial reasons.
    On a brighter note your package arrived. Thanks so much. It brightened my seriously cloudy day! My seeds will be off in the post shortly.

  14. I would so love to have an old house but have since given up the dream. My husband is very handy with tools at his work but not carpentry items. I can pick up the slack but am not good with heights nor do I have the "push" for endless hammering. Sigh, it was a good dream, tho.

    So, we have settled for life in an old manufacturing building/loft with some new walls and a leaky skylight. All I have to do is call the landlord if it gets worse than this. The best of both worlds.

    If you have an Avon lady close by - Skin-So-Soft does well with tar...

  15. What, no feathers to go with the tar? I am so sorry but your story is so funny. We have an old house too--it was the gardener's cottage on an estate--and I know how hard it is to figure out where a roof is leaking. That water really gets sneaky before it enters the house.

  16. Oh no. I hope you find your roof leak soon. You could call this post adventures with tar :)

  17. Tammy - I have to admit I love these old houses despite the work. As you point out, there are just so many wonderful aspects, although I think I will take my leaking roof over a ghost. That was my one fear in purchasing an old home.

    Johanna - friends of ours just had the same issue. They replaced their roof just a year ago and suddenly discovered a leak that was dripping right in the middle of their bed! We were fortunate that the one leak was easily repaired and the other isn't causing any damage.

  18. Michelle - like you we've got a laundry list of things to be fixed. One at a time we keep telling ourselves but a new roof is a killer for funds. Unfortunately there's no way around but I'm sure we'll be much happier when we're completely dry.

    Frances - We've heard lots of stories about roofs since moving in here, seems they don't last long with all the storms. You can even tell which way the wind blows by which side of the roof has the most damage!

    Donna - we're awfully fortunate to have a fairly complacent cat but the water thing gets him every time. I was more concerned about him ingesting toxic chemicals though so I was insistent he be cleaned properly no matter how much it hurt all of us!

    Brenda - we can't quite figure where that leak is coming from. We can see it clearly when standing inside the attic but looking at the outside of the house it doesn't line up. Luckily it's actually a very small leak so while not good, at least the damage is minor.

    Laurrie - I thought the same thing when we bought this house. I have so many ideas for redecorating but unfortunately it's the not so pretty projects that need to be dealt with first.

  19. Kentish - we've been so fortunate with our cat, despite having several major health problems he's always good about medication. He just does a lot of moaning and groaning. Water though is a different matter, he turns into spiderman where water is concerned.

    Holley - funny enough we did laugh during the whole episode. It was just so ridiculous a laugh was inevitable. Hopefully we're still able to laugh when the roof bill comes in, that will be the real test.

    Witch - I know exactly what you're talking about. Years ago I worked for a law firm that did construction cases. I was shocked at how many new homes were riddled with issues from sloppy workmanship. One thing Jody always reminds me of is that this house has already stood for 100+ years so it's got strong bones.

    Jane - The wind here really does play havoc with shingles. We considered having someone fix the roof for us but felt that since we intend to replace the roof anyway it would be silly to waste the money on repairs. Now I wonder if a handyman would be able to find the leak anyway since we're having so much trouble.

  20. Jess - LOL, yep, we like to keep our heads firmly in the sand around here! We knew the repairs were coming but just couldn't face it. I haven't even mentioned the other issues that have cropped up that we're dutifully ignoring.

    Jennifer - how wonderful, in the midst of this I had completely forgotten about the seeds! These steep roofs are something else aren't they? Too difficult for just any old person to fix and expensive to get a proper roofer to do the job.

    Tufa - who knows, maybe one day you'll end up in an old home yet. I sometimes wonder where I'll end up in the future. I love living here but you never know where life might take you. does skin so soft remove tar off clothes too? ;-)

    Carolyn - we thought it was pretty clear where the leak was but I think you're right. It must be entering at a different point and then running further away. At this rate we'll have tarred half the roof before we find it.

    Melanie - hopefully there'll be no more adventures with tar in the future! once has been more than enough. It really is hideously smelly sticky stuff.

  21. Ah, the joy of home ownership. When the tar fell all over your husband, why not let go of the ladder and grab the camera. Now that could have been a Wordless Wednesday!

  22. NittyGritty - Hubby was pretty worried about his camera and I was told when we started the tarring that under no circumstances was I to photograph the proceedings. Good thing as that would have been impossible to clean but what I would give for a photo of him with tar oozing all over!

  23. OH .... MY ..... GOD !!!!!
    Marguerite I had the most outrageous pictures in my head with you and poor hubby going through tar hell ... let alone said cranky cat attached to your head !!!
    I feel for you girl .. we had a wake up call a few years ago when our roof leaked and it cam through the dining room light fixture .. I thank god I heard the dripping before I did something stupid like turn the light on !!!
    My fingers are crossed for you that this will be under control SOON ... and ... that picture of said cranky cat was PURRFECT !!!
    Joy : )

  24. we live in an old house and it's a nver ending renovation project and a money pit!!!


  25. Gill - I think of that movie 'The Money Pit' often and another reader has mentioned the movie 'Baby Boom' as well because of our unruly orchard. There are so many benefits to these old houses - I wouldn't
    have it any other way - but some days I wonder if we'll ever stop finding things to fix. But then that's home ownership in general isn't it?

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  27. I love this post. It reminds me of Eric and I. The joys of owning a home when you're young eh?