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An Engineer in the Woods, Installment 11: Demolition Man, Part 2

Friday, March 30, 2018

If you can remember Installment 2 of this series, Critters #1, Bats and Rats and Elephants…Lord So Forlorn!  (June 1, 2017) you may recall that I introduced the topic that for my entire life the house had critters from the outside that were getting inside.  If you’ve never read that one, I recommend it as it is one of my favorites of the series, so far… 

To keep the critters out, we first had to find where they were getting in.  That meant that ALL exterior walls had to be stripped to the studs.  Then, any cracks or holes would be filled with caulk and stainless-steel wool like we had done in the cottage in Ely (Installment 5: Critters #3, Batman and Batgirl Succeed!) – maybe my random ramblings really aren’t that random?  After all the new pipes and wires were run, a home insulation company would spray foam over all exterior walls between the studs providing a continuous waterproof seal against future critter attacks. We also stripped the interior walls because with the walls stripped the electricians, plumbers, and audio-IT guys would have an easier (and less expensive) time performing their work. So, with our team of 8 we started tearing into the project, and each “fun” event gets its own short story.

Aileen’s Surprise 
The paneling in the main floor living room, dining room and stairwell used to stop short of the ceiling leaving a ledge behind it that had ineffective fluorescent light fixtures (see sketch):


The ledge, besides serving as a track for the lighting was also a place where mice and bats played and critters went to die.  Kristen is not as frugal as me, so she offered a reward for dead critters:
Bugs of any type had no value, unless they were too large to vacuum, in which case they each had the value of one mouse.
Mice = $1.00
Bats  = $5.00
An additional bounty for any live critters was considered but, thankfully, it wasn’t needed.
At the end of each day’s work, Kristen would pass-out multiple $20 bills to each worker as critter bounty.  In defense of her frugality, this investment in our slave labor was still considerably less than hiring a demolition crew.
The process for deconstructing the walls was:

  1. Remove the paneling
  2. Remove the drywall
  3. Remove the insulation
  4. Remove the nails
  5. Remove the lights
  6. Vacuum the light track
  7. Wash the light track
  8. Stuff cracks with steel wool
  9. Caulk over the steel wool

On Day One our older daughter Aileen was performing Step 6, shortly behind her cousin Trent (the demolition professional) who was responsible for Step 5.  Just before lunch, work came to an “All Stop” in response to a blood-curdling SCREAM from Aileen.  She had a glue trap stuck on the suction end of the shop vac and the trap included a dead bat!  The mystery of the missing glue trap and extra bat from Installment 4: Critters #2, An Epic Battle was solved, but at the expense of my eldest child’s mental stability.  Trenton just smiled quietly as he had found the deceased varmint first, but had lovingly left it for his cousin.  It cost him a $5 bounty, but for him the screams made it worth the investment.  He was thinking like a CPA while still a college student. 

I would also like to add that this proves that the criticism of my bat-catching competence that had been offered by my mother and by my wife was inaccurate.  By successfully trapping one of the two known bats bat for about $50 (Buford the bat-guy had caught the remaining bat for $500) my bat-ting average was 0.500, more than enough to qualify me for the hall of fame as an expert bats-man, and at one-tenth the cost of the expert!!!

Just Like Wrigley Field
As the kids stripped the fluffy pink fiberglass insulation from the walls in the master bedroom and bath they found long “strings” throughout it.  I was pulling nails in one of the bedrooms when I heard, “Dad!  We found something weird!”  I ran to the shouts and identified the "weird" quickly. Baltic ivy on that side of the house had worked itself into the walls and the vines were growing in the insulation--and we wondered how critters were getting in?!

What's the Buzz?
Only minutes after finding the vines, our younger daughter Sean and son Rick called me back to the Master Bedroom.  “Dad, there’s something odd about this insulation!”  It was “odd.” In one 4’ x 4’ section, the Kraft paper, instead of tan, was a greasy dark brown, and instead of pulling out in sheets the insulation came out in crumbly handfuls.  A few handfuls and the issue was diagnosed.  This entire 16 square-foot section of wall was a long-abandoned bee hive.  There were too many dead bees to vacuum, so they had to be shoveled-out along with the sheets of dried honeycomb.  Being college entrepreneurs, my younger offspring started counting the bees for the $1 each bounty for non-vacuumable bugs, since shoveling was NOT vacuuming…Kristen ran-out of $20s.  A pic of the first portion of hive follows:


Oo-oo That Smell! 
The downstairs was paneled with red barn boards that Dad and my brother Bruce had salvaged in the late 60’s from a public works demolition project on South Chicago Street in Joliet.  For this portion of our home demolition project my nephew Brice (Jan’s oldest of 3, now middle-aged “boys”) joined us from Geneseo as he had a horse trailer to transport the saved wood and he had a use for it. Though weathered and beautiful, the boards had developed a musty smell, and we needed to strip the walls anyway- so they were going away with Brice.  We diagnosed the smell quickly – MOLD!  The concrete walls behind the boards were damp and black with mildew.  It took me some time to fix this issue in a five-step process that will never be appreciated, and which may make it into a future blog since I’m running out of space here.  To date, the work appears to have been very effective.

Trent’s “Snack”
The entire lower level was stripped to the foundation along with the ceilings.  This was to remove any critter homes, dry and de-moldify the walls to allow new foam insulation to be sprayed onto the concrete, and to provide access for new plumbing, electrical and audio/IT.  At the base of the stairwell, in his later years, Dad had installed an aromatic cedar tongue-and-grove ceiling – probably to battle the musty smell, but also because it looked cool.  However, it was not some of his best carpentry.  Also, this is where the main gas line to the house was, and it needed to be upsized for the new commercial range and outdoor gas grill.  Much of the new water supply plumbing to the kitchen went above this ceiling as well, so the ceiling had to go.

Dad had put nailing strips across the ceiling joists and had glued and nailed the cedar boards to them.  Consequently, demolition was easy as the strips just had to be “popped” at the joists, and ceiling could come down in small sections.  I had already taken several rows of ceiling down to show the team how to do it.  Now “Demolition Expert” Trent took the lead with assistance from Aileen and Ricky. 

Trent stood on a step stool, reached over the edge of a row of ceiling boards and PULLED!  The entire ceiling Popped! and the edge he had grabbed dropped to chin height where he held it.  Coinciding with that action began a surge of what sounded like small pebbles flowing down a playground slide.  Trent looked upward in shock, mouth agape, as a torrent of dried mouse droppings, birdseed and acorns poured onto his face, down his shirt and into his mouth.  He was not pleased, but it earned him additional hazard pay!  Aileen simply smiled as Trenton’s misfortune was significantly more disturbing than hers with the bat had been.

We worked hard, but I ended-up hiring some construction worker friends for a couple weeks to complete the demolition because there is only so much you can accomplish in the dark and on weekends.  If nothing else, we all learned that in demolition you should always expect the unexpected, wear tight collars, and KEEP YOUR MOUTH CLOSED!

Enjoy your lunch,