Surprises that weren’t

Watch any home renovation show and unexpected surprises are a foregone conclusion. Despite living in this house for 9 years and discovering most of the proverbial bones that are buried in the walls, we sorta knew SOMETHING would surface.

So far, there have been two, though neither of them are a total surprise.

The first is that our electrical system is a mess. Ever since buying this house, we’ve been deciphering the Rosetta Stone that is the 4 pieces of card stock the previous owner left for us, each mapping the various outlets and lights throughout the house.

While we never met him, “The Colonel” (as he was known to friends and neighbors) always reminded me a lot of my grandfather—someone who grew up during the Depression, never threw anything out, and would use whatever he had on hand to solve the problem of the day. His way of cataloguing where electricity flows in this house is Exhibit A.

With that as a starting point, we’ve since added circuits, split others, replaced a generator, and changed appliances. I guess push-button circuit breakers aren’t a thing anymore either, so we’ve been long overdue in cleaning all of that up (and I’m glad we’ll be able to do it right as part of this project).

The second, and slightly more significant surprise, is that our house is made with 4” cinderblocks, not wood. All of us—including our architect and contractor—assumed it was the latter, mainly because the wall widths in places like exterior doorways and windows are a pretty standard thickness (about 6+”; 4″ from a typical wood studded wall and the rest for the brick exterior). But alas, once the sheetrock came off (which was nailed to strapping) the truth was revealed.

This revelation certainly explains (a) why certain walls are particularly cold and drafty in the winter (there’s no insulation…) and (b) why screws and wall anchors would bottom out after about an inch. It also makes replacing and re-sizing windows a bit more of a challenge—and expensive—and the kitchen just shrunk 3” (we’ll need to build a “normal” wall in front of the block walls so things like the kitchen cabinets actually have something structurally sound to hang from).

The older neighbors on our block have mentioned over the years that many of our houses were likely built by an Italian builder; having now seen the amount of masonry work that has been hiding in the walls (and foundation), I think we can now say that with confidence 😉

How I imagine my house was built

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