Much of I my earliest training in the trade consisted of performing repairs on old homes in Sandpoint. It was (and is)
dirty work–sometimes belly crawling in spaces under houses
barely deep enough to fit a human, dragging heavy timbers and hydraulic jacks for lifting the floors, swiping at cobwebs, breathing contaminated air and putting elbows in piles of… Well you get the idea. It’s dark, it’s musty, dusty and dank and all in all, thankless demanding (but worthwhile) work. At the time I was young and enthusiastic to learn my trade and willing to do almost anything for my boss, whom I worshipped for taking a green untrained hippy in the 70’s under his wing to teach the business. He had earned the reputation of being the local expert on foundation repairs so a lot of those jobs came our way. Sandpoint certainly has its share of homes with varied degrees of rot in their floor systems and I was to learn just about all of them during my career. Foundations with insufficient ventilation, vapor barriers and drainage will suffer decay in their floor systems– mud sills, floor joists and beams are all susceptible. Of course, hand in hand with decay, come all forms of mold and fungi, which brings to mind one of my more memorable experiences. Asked to inspect a foundation on a home on cedar st. in Sandpoint, I
entered the crawlspace with my flashlight and encountered an otherworldly sight; spread out across the entire space were little piles of something with long thin stalks of ghostly white fungus growing out of them, like some alien bushes. When I got closer, I saw that the clumps were actually piles of cat shit (can I say this?)–dozens of them! Needless to say, I abandoned the crawlspace and that job. I’ve never seen anything like that since. Quite often, though, I have seen mushrooms growing out of the sides of floor joists–not a good sign, since they only grow in wood that is in advanced decay.
Many of these old homes can be saved if the damage is caught in time. However, in some cases, the cost of repairs exceeds the worth of the the structure. I found one like this
on the south side of town in a nice neighborhood back in the seventies. It was a brick veneered home on an immaculate lot and the interior was as nice as the outside, with expensive finishes and hardwood floors, but sadly, when i saw what
was underneath all that, an entirely different picture emerged. Whomever had built the place 20 or so years earlier hadn’t provided the it with any foundation venting and every sill, joist and beam was rotted to the extent that I could
grab handfuls of (former) wood with little effort. I still don’t understand how the place was still standing. When I informed the owner of my discovery and told him the repairs would run in excess of $20,000, a lot of money in those days, he never called me back, and frankly, I was happy because I wasn’t sure even that amount was enough to correct the problem.
So, my advice is to take a look under your home if you
have any concerns. Put on your overalls, a respirator, grab a hammer and crawl around beating on anything that looks questionable. Check to see if there is a vapor barrier on the ground and it is covering adequately, look to see if the foundation vents are clear and unobstructed, and remove any organic debris from the crawlspace. Or, alternatively, hire a professional to do this for you. A reasonable fee could start at $100.00 and go up from there depending on what needs done.
Ted and Gini Bowers own and operate Bowers Construction in Sandpoint. Their office is located in the Cedar St. Station, Suite F, 502 Cedar, now closed. UA-3648303-4