Deck the Halls

Rule #1 of owning a not-new house: you have no idea what you’re going to find.

Four months after moving in and I’m dying to gut something. We bought this house to renovate after all, and I have not RENOVATED. The thrill of ripping out the world’s ugliest carpet has long since died away. It’s time to act!


Normally when you hear that a house has been insulated, the immediate next thought is positive. Wonderful! Insulation! Keep the warm air on whichever side of the house you want it! No drafts! Air tight! Amazing!


Nobody tells you that you might find fifty year old spray foam insulation. Spray foam insulation that has lost all structural integrity yet is also completely unwilling to be removed from its erstwhile home. Spray foam insulation that, once you manage to delicately dislodge, disintegrates into a powder that settles into every nook and cranny of your soul.


Let me rewind. After much deliberation and planning, we started our grand renovation with the hallways. Per our goals, all exterior walls must be re-insulated and, therefore, gutted. Ok. Let’s go.

Cardstock mock ups are essential when proposing chandeliers.

Cardstock mock ups are essential when proposing chandeliers.


The walls had multiple layers. First there was a layer of panelled wall board. This came off fairly easily in large chunks.

Next was a layer of cardboard glued to plaster over lath.This was an absolute nightmare.

Oh yes. That IS tongue and groove in the kitchen. 

Oh yes. That IS tongue and groove in the kitchen. 

I had a decently methodical approach of pulling loose one piece of lath at a time, taking the cardboard and plaster with it. Brandon was slightly more...enthusiastic, shall we say. I was pinged with pieces of flying plaster from the other side of the room on more than one occasion, but he did manage to clear his wall faster than I did so go figure.


It wasn’t until we broke through the lath the on first outside wall that we found the insulation.


Look at this stuff. While I do sincerely appreciate the previous owner’s efforts to maintain this building, did you HAVE to pick spray foam as your weapon of choice?

The insulation was installed by drilling holes in the house, both inside and out and piping in the expanding foam down the walls between the studs. I would like to have very stern words with the insulation crew as they seemed wholly unconcerned with what they destroyed in their quest to stuff the house full of foam.

Why? WHY?? Drill TWO INCHES higher and you don't hit the trim. WHYYYY?

Why? WHY?? Drill TWO INCHES higher and you don't hit the trim. WHYYYY?

The insulation is particularly effective as this house has balloon frame construction, meaning the wall studs run from the foundation all the way up the roof. After it solidifies, the entire stud cavity becomes one solid block of toasty insulating foam.

Until it starts to break down ten years later. For the upstairs hall, we tried to simply put the foam in a bag and smoosh it down to reduce the overall volume of garbage we were removing.

Nope. Not a snow storm through the nearby open window. Just...foam.

Nope. Not a snow storm through the nearby open window. Just...foam.

By the time we were working on the downstairs hall, we’d given up entirely and filled up bags to our hearts’ content.


At the end of many hours of prying, hauling, lifting, vacuuming, and a half-hearted attempt at mopping later, here’s what we have.


Now that the house structure is exposed, let’s go through the immediate problems shall we?

  1. Door was widened. To do this, they cut the king stud on the right, turned it upside down, and moved it over. Just to be clear, this is BAD: barely acceptable decision-making. I suppose it’s better than them removing the stud altogether - but only marginally.

  2. When they put HVAC ducting in the house, they took - uh - liberties with their reciprocating saw. They completely removed one of the supporting studs from the first floor and left the hacked end swinging on the second floor.

  3. The studs were rough cut and are therefore very uneven - not a problem with plaster and lath as it can be smoothed. But drywall must be applied in plane otherwise it will crack.

  4. The windows were shortened to accommodate an added soffit and also widened to make way for standard size windows. The six-over-six grilles are wildly inaccurate to the house and will be swiftly ejected.

  5. When running the ducting in the wiggle space (it’s 6” tall in some places which I don’t personally feel qualifies as a crawl space) they, once again, got sawzall happy and chopped some of the support joists. The result is loose boards and trampoline floors.

  6. Now that all the insulation is gone, we probably should put some back.

  7. Electrical is pitiful at best. 

There are more issues, but I think that's a good start. Please direct any further questions to our To Do list and don't be offended if it mocks you as a response.