In every renovation, there comes a day when you ask “Should I stay or sell?”
The day we almost moved out of our old house was a warm and sunny one during early spring. We had been living here for less than a year, and survived our first winter, stuffing up drafts and nursing a cranky old furnace. Signs of spring were popping up all around the house, crocus and daffodils in the flower beds, and old-fashioned lilacs with their heady scent. Naturally, one’s thoughts turned to sewage.
We had moved into this beautiful old house nine months earlier with grand plans and dreams of renovation bliss. I had visions of myself as Renovation Girl – first designing and then competently implementing all that needed to be done to bring my old house into the twentieth century. We knew a lot needed to be done, but it would be a nice part-time hobby for the evenings. Reality came bubbling into my dream that morning when the sewer line started backing up into the downstairs bathroom.
Now, we knew the size and location of the sewer line because it was marked on our property survey. We had been very happy that the house was hooked up to city utilities, thinking that we would not have to replace an old and under-performing septic system after we moved in. How could we know that the pipe connecting our house to the sewer line in the street, an old clay pipe, was being invaded by tree and shrub roots over the years? Our first clue was the funny-colored, murky water coming up through the bathtub drain. Soon, the toilet and the vanity sink were involved. You get the picture. After many hours with the plumber, checking fixtures and snaking drains, it became apparent that we would have to replace the sewer line out to the street. But even that is not why we almost moved.
Sometime later, I was standing in the front yard, telling my tale of woe to my neighbor Bob. Now, Bob’s Victorian house is younger than ours, built by members of the same family, and he found $ 900 dollars in his dining room ceiling when he tore it down. These stories always happen to other people, but can spur on the renovator with a false sense of purpose. (When we tore ours down, we found a steel beam, held up by nothing, splicing together two timber beams.) As we’re commiserating about old houses, I can see the old lamp post, out by the street, begin to fall over in slow motion. Incredibly, the post had rusted out at ground level and fell over on this day, of all days. If the house had been burning down at that minute, I’m not sure I would have called the fire department.
Years later, this is one of the funny renovation stories that we tell during parties, or when visitors are admiring the house. So many other things have happened over the years to test our patience and perseverance, that this story seems almost whimsical. (Someday, I’ll tell you about the old tin signs used as roof flashing.) But for us, this renovation has been about making a home, a home with history, and has been worth it every day.