House Update: the Thoroughly Unsexy Side of Fixing a Fixer
I’ve put off writing this post (writing much of anything about the reno in general really) because it’s not a pretty one. Scratch that, it’s downright gross. You know how on every home makeover show they have the uh-oh! moment where they grimly call the homeowner and inform them, “Your budget is blown!” Everyone grimaces but the show goes on, and five minutes later the homeowner is wiping their eyes during the big reveal? Well, real life isn’t like that. When you find surprises and “Your budget is blown!” you don’t get to fast forward to your beautiful end result. Instead you wade through it, and in this case “it” happens to be all manner of pests. None of which happened to be on the “pest report” we received when purchasing our home, but I digress.
One of the selling points of our home when we purchased it was that it had a garage. Our garage, however, is like an ancestor to the modern version you might be thinking of. It’s a bit more rustic you could say. Picture someone digging a hole in the side of the hill below your house, shoring it up with a bit of concrete and adding a bit of drywall to the sides while leaving the back a murky cavern of a crawl space where the dirt floor is barely covered with a thin layer of concrete, and there you have it. We can fit our car in just barely but the bottom scrapes on the way in, and you have to flatten yourself against the wall to squeeze out. Still. It’s a garage, in the city, so that must be an advantage. Right?
Well, apparently we aren’t the only ones who think so. The rats also find the space advantageous. It has a furnace pilot light for warmth, exposed insulation for nesting and a barely functional drainage system means there’s also often water to drink. We first discovered our small(ish) housemates when my in-laws stayed in the downstairs guest suite over the holidays and described a scratching noise on the other side of the wall. It didn’t take long to find where they were hanging out and start the process of attempting to clean up the garage and seal off any access points...
Which led to our next infestation. We went nearly a week without stopping by after the holidays as we attempted to catch up a bit and the next time we approached the house we were greeted by a strange noise. Buzzing. As we drew closer, we saw that the front window was filled with a swarm of large black flies. Unnerved, I stood back then offered to run to the cafe around the corner for drinks when my husband went in to “deal with it.” The swarm looked worse than it was in reality. There were dozens, not hundreds as I had imagined. They were all pressed up against the window following the light and came spilling out the door when it was opened. It turned out that we had a blowfly infestation, most likely the result of a rat that we had unwittingly trapped in the wall in out attempts to seal off the garage. We set traps and swatted what we could.
The upside of a blowfly infestation is twofold, one: they’re productive. They consume decaying organic matter meaning the dead rat would not remain in the wall stinking the place up. Two, they more or less see themselves out once the job is done.
Once things settled down a bit, we got back to the job at hand and discovered a third “pest” because when it rains, it pours, right? We were stripping the outer layer of wallpaper (yes- there were layers) and discovered the underlying paper was covered in mold. With the addition of masks and a bit of extra ventilation we kept at the task at hand and were relieved to find that once all the paper was removed, the remained mold scrubbed cleanly off the surface of the walls. This meant the drywall itself didn’t need to be replaced, but the experience made us glad that we went into the project intending to take the paper down otherwise we may not have discovered it.
Looking back on all this it’s easy to make light of it, and in truth, it’s just a part of the process we needed to see our way through, but I’m not too proud to admit I handled it poorly. It was the first time I honestly second guessed our decision to buy a home and understood the full weight of the responsibility of dealing with issues like this on our own. It was really, really stressful, and I fell much further down the Google rabbit hole than I probably should have. We've since had several visits with a professional exterminator, been educated more than I ever cared to be on the subject of vermin, finished removing the last scrap of wallpaper and cleaning up the last bit of mold. We hadn’t seen a single fly since that fiasco either although we did have to do battle with a flood of ants when the rain started, and we have a lot of work to do to make the garage a useful, sanitary space. I’ll go a bit more in depth on how we dealt with these issues in a future post, but that’s a story for another time.