Surprise! You just discovered… 6 more weeks of work

Picture it: an old, creaking house, built before the Civil War, possibly built before we were even technically a country. It’s probably seen some “renovations” since then—the tacking on of an unsightly addition, the dissection of each stately room to accommodate apartments. You know the deal. But here you are, ready to tear down those ungodly, aluminum-sheathed tumors posing as “extra rooms” and rip through those unnecessary walls. You are going to unburden that beautiful home from its prison of vinyl floor tiles and layer after layer of hideous paint. And while you’re tearing and ripping, you keep waiting to stumble upon a treasure. An old jug from the 18th century buried in the cold, damp earth of the basement floor, perhaps. Or documents signed by George Washington hiding behind attic walls. Surely there must be some amazing find just waiting for you to unearth it. Right?

I’m afraid I might be about to dash some dreams and burst some bubbles. I apologize in advance.

Not so much a hidden treasure as a lurking nightmare. We discovered asbestos in the basement of our most recent Hudson Valley project. Every speck of it has to be removed before we can even begin thinking about downstairs demo work.

Guess what surprises most likely await you in the basement? Asbestos. Sorry.

At the same Hudson Valley project: This brick wall is where the building originally ended. It was added onto many years ago, but that’s not the surprise. The surprise is that the joists in the original part of the building run opposite to the joists in this added on portion, meaning if you wanted to run pipes or wires from the back of the building to the front, well… Too bad. You can’t.

What about behind the walls? No historical documents? No, probably just a jumble of joists that don’t line up.

Ok, so we did sorta find something interesting in the basement besides asbestos. This old printing press was hanging out down there. Now, it could be a leftover relic from this building’s past, or it could be a recent purchase that the previous owner either forgot was down there or just had no way of getting out and no where to store it once he did. I hate to play the pessimist, but my money is on the second one.

And even if you do find something you would consider a treasure, there’s a really (really, really) good chance that someone bought that treasure not too long ago from an antique dealer and just forgot they were storing it when they moved. Sad but true.

Now, I know this may seem like I’m slapping you with a harsh reality without any regard for your feelings, or hopes, or wishes, or lollipop dreams, but really, I do it because I care. Really, I am! You may indeed find some treasure hidden from the world for the last 200 years just chilling in the attic of your historic home, I’m not saying it’s impossible. But more often than not, the surprises you’re going to uncover when you begin restoration are going to be things you never expected. Like asbestos, or severe water damage, or a brick support wall almost completely sheared in half. These are not fun surprises. These are the types of things that can push your budget to the brink, your deadline into next fall, and your sanity to the breaking point.

I share this depressing information with you not to scare you, but to prepare you. The worst thing you can do during a renovation is be unprepared. Expect the unexpected! Be it good, or bad. And to those of you that really do find amazing things forgotten for years while renovating an historic home, YES! You’re the people who give the rest of us hope that maybe behind all that life-threatening asbestos sits an original copy of the Declaration of Independence. You are living the dream!

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