Don’t Step Out My Patio Door! (C) Lauralyn Bellamy
We’re lucky to have Larry. In a way, he came with the house. Our DREAM house!
Of course we had an engineer do a long inspection of the then-28 year old home (with multiple decks looking W-NW down our backyard to a 55-acre lake) before moving in. We knew then (Oct., 2005) that the roof would have to be replaced sometime in the next 3-5 years. So we weren’t too alarmed 10 months later, when a hard rain produced a bit of a leak in the living room.
There are only 8 other houses on our cul-de-sac street so we asked our neighbors. Most were original or 2nd owners and most swore by a carpenter named Larry. Larry just about lives on our street going from one house to another – patching, replacing, adding on…
Larry climbed up on our roof as I stood on the living room deck and watched him bend down and poke around. "Lauralyn, we’ve got a problem here that goes way beyond the leak."
"Oh?" I tried to stay open, calm and positive.
"Oh yeah." He stood up and in his hands was a pile of dark, mushy – stuff. "These are your shingles. They’re rotten. I can peel off your entire roof. The whole thing needs to be replaced! There’s mold underneath the shingles, too. I can’t believe your inspector didn’t catch this!" He made these pronouncements walking up and down our gabled roof, picking up and tossing away the gunky old shingles.
"Bad" news? I chose to regard the incident as a blessing – we "caught" the problem before water damage could ruin our piano, furniture and artwork. We chose top-of-the-line architectural shingles in a deep Spruce green that really embraces the tall, expansive trees surrounding our personal sanctuary. "Good" news!
A few days into the project, Larry was at my front door. "Got a minute? I want you to see something." He lead me out and around the east side of our house and pointed to the chimney that now had a gaping 10-inch hole on the side revealing black mold, space and the metal flue. "I don’t know what’s keeping this chimney on your house, Lauralyn. All the wood’s rotten. We’re going to have to take it off and rebuild it."
"What about the other one?" I asked in as neutral a tone as I could muster. There is a chimney on the west side of the house, too.
"Haven’t gotten there yet. We’ll have to see."
An hour later Larry was back at my door. "You’ve got to see this!" was all he needed to say, and I obediently followed him down around the other side of our house. "This one’s even worse! I swear to God, Lauralyn, I don’t know why they both haven’t just slid down to the ground!" Because of the terrain, Larry simply reached up and pried off rotten siding with his bare hands to show me more mold lurking in the empty cave of what I thought was a chimney.
"Bad" news? As if we could cover the $15,000+ cost to give our home a new roof and 2 new chimneys! "Good thing we caught this situation before winter. Imagine lighting a fire in the fireplaces at Christmas and breathing in that mold – shortly before the chimney caught fire…or simply fell down," I told myself and my "spice" (= spouse that’s a blessing), Jim.
By Halloween, 2005 our home was as good as new.
It’s April, 2008: our son, Luke, will be marrying his beloved Heather in June at a special events facility nearby on the banks of the scenic Chattahoochee River in Roswell, Georgia. Might be good to have Larry take a look at our decks to see what needs cleaning, staining, that sort of housecleaning. Larry’s working up the street so I flag him down while walking our greyhound, Rhonda, and he agrees to take a look before heading home that afternoon. It’s a pretty day, the temperature is suggesting Spring may have actually sprung, and the shadows dapple the wall and decks as the Sun begins to favor the far shore of the lake when I slide open one of the 3 patio doors that lead out onto the decks and Larry walks out. We’re both silent as he slowly walks around inspecting the siding, the deck boards, squatting down here, patting the house there, squinting and sniffing and sorting things out.
"Lauralyn come over here and let me show you something." Our decks look like a dumbell stuck on the 2nd story of the back of our house: two spacious squares are connected by a 30-inch wide walkway. Larry is squatting down at the far end of the narrow walk way. His voice sounds sufficiently ominous that it doesn’t feel safe to me to walk over to him. I stay on my end of the walkway. He looks at me to signal I should pay close attention; then he reaches down and his fingernails claw a hole in the floor board.
"This wood is rotten. We’ll have to see how many of these boards need to be replaced. And you see this?" He slightly pivots to his right and pats the base of the siding; except that I can see it isn’t really siding. It’s some kind of thin metal strip that’s been painted over to match the siding and the nail heads have lost their paint. "Rain collects behind this metal strip and God-only-knows what’s behind it!" How did we not see that metal strip before we made an offer? How could the engineer not have seen it during his 5-hour inspection?
"Bad" news? I mean, it’s only money, right? We’ll just put it on the tab we’re running with our home equity loan. Wait a minute; while he’s at it, how much would it cost to widen that part so that we have one, long rectangular deck? That will make the wedding festivities much more gracious.
"Good" news! For about 35% more cash, Larry can widen the deck! He can begin work the first week in May. It’ll take a week. Plenty of time before out of town guests start arriving.
Larry dutifully excavated and poured the concrete foundations for the support beams in early May. He, and his 27-year old Coast Guard officer son, "EJ," began working on the deck yesterday morning (May 21). They worked hard. They worked intensely. By late afternoon all four support beams were up and braced. I thought Larry was at my door to tell me they’d be back in the morning. Instead, it was, "Can I come in? I’ve got to show you something on the deck. Come with me." We walked through the living room and out onto the deck.
"Wow! look at all you’ve got done!" I said, hoping to prevent anything negative from coming at me.
"Thanks. But, Lauralyn, this is what I want you to see. Look at this!" He squatted down where he’d clawed the plank weeks earlier. Now he reached over and peeled away the flimsy metal strip, beckoned me to come in for a closer look, reached into the space and cleared out the rotted sawdust where the side of our house should’ve been. He looked up at me to see if I grasped the significance of what he was doing.
"Lauralyn, it’s like this all along this wall. The wood of the floor boards is rotted, the wood screwed into the side of the house is rotted away and where there should be wood siding for the screw to be resting in, that’s rotted away, too! I swear to God, Lauralyn, I don’t know what has kept this deck from pulling away from the house and just collapsing!"
"Probably the fact that our boys are grown and not running back and forth the way they would have, had they grown up here. I mean, Jim and I come out here, sit down and enjoy dinner by summer sunsets and that’s about it. Thank God you discovered this before wedding guests were celebrating out here!"
He rose slowly and turned toward me, gesturing to the deck I was standing on, then turning to the deck at the far end, reachable through our den.
"The deck off the Master bedroom must have protected that part of the deck, because it isn’t in bad shape. But your whole deck is made of pine. Not weather-treated hardwood, Lauralyn. Pine! The softest wood I know!" As if they were an improv group, EJ grabbed a piece of the deck and proceeded to demonstrate, shearing off the length of it to reveal its powdery, rotten core. Larry swung back toward me dramatically, "But this deck! This deck! It’s a miracle it’s still standing. I don’t know what’s holding it up or onto the house! You’re gonna have to replace this deck entirely. That deck can wait; but, alllllll this (gesturing expansively) will have to be replaced! And we use only weather-treated hard wood, I assure you!"
I remember feeling frozen with fear and ignorance: was it better to stand still or get my self off that deck and into the house? I took a deep breath and met his gaze, "Just give us a number tomorrow morning, OK, Larry?"
Which brings us to today. And the number. And putting it on our tab. And being truly grateful that Larry did discover the precarious condition of our decks so we wouldn’t end up leading the six o’clock local newscast with a story of another party gone tragically awry when the deck folks were socializing on suddenly collapsed.
I can stop our ongoing saga here on a note of "good" news: turns out a portion of roof shielded a section of the metal strip so not quite as much of the infrastructure was rotted away as Larry initially thought.
It’s going to be a beautiful sunset, tonight. Jim and I will enjoy it from the sofa facing the lake inside our den. Just to be on the safe side.