Tear down before you build up

My father-in-law lives by the principle “if something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well”, and at least a quarter of the home improvement I’ve ever done has been under his guidance  – either in person, or on the other end of the phone. I couldn’t help but think of him when planning my first DIY post.

I’m in my first self-owned property, and we’ve been here just over a year. It’s an extended Victorian two up two down terrace house with a garden. It was built in 1901 & we’re the fourth owners. Structurally, the changes that have been made are very standard:
– knock out archway between two downstairs rooms, put RSJ in to hold upstairs up
– two storey extension to move kitchen out of original footprint & create third bedroom
– further one storey extension to create an indoor bathroom
– demolish wall to downstairs extension, larger kitchen, move bathroom upstairs ((lose one bedroom)

In terms of the “internals”, it’s a more mixed story:
– two gas fires were installed downstairs, with a back boiler on one of them
– a hot water tank and enclosing airing cupboard were installed in the corner of the second bedroom
– a linen cupboard was installed on the upstairs landing
– the back boiler & tank got replaced with a combi boiler upstairs
engineered wood flooring was laid on most of the ground floor
– a decorative large piece of solid wood was placed on the seat-box-thing in the bay window
– some ad hoc rewiring and patchy replastering happened throughout

Now, I know it’s not fair to judge people’s handiwork without knowing the context, and I must stress that I seriously love my house and recognise how absurdly lucky I am to have it.

With that said, let’s use some of my predecessors’ slightly slapdash workmanship to illustrate the point I’m making today: if you don’t tear down what you’re replacing, your finished project can never look that great.

Example 1: the flooring
We think it was originally carpeted downstairs, and that the guys who sold the place to us were the ones who put in the engineered wood.
There was already a skirting board down to the floorboards. Rather than replace it, the wood was laid over the boards, and a sort of trim laid between it and the skirting board. The trim doesn’t match the flooring very well, stands out as a “bump” against the skirting board, and particularly round the corners, a lot of the trim was already coming away when we moved in. It just isn’t secured down well enough and doesn’t look good.
There is a little sagging of the floor in one corner, and I’d be very surprised if there wasn’t some indication of this when they laid the floor. It stores the problem up for the next chumps who come along and worry that a joist has come away from the wall. We’re halfway through ripping it all up and until we reach that side, we’re in the dark.

Example 2: the landing cupboard
Originally there was a bannister around the stairs. When the cupboard was installed, the spindles were pulled out but the handrail was left. So when you look at that side (ie every time you walk down the stairs), you see the redundant rail collecting dust. If the handrail at the end had been ripped out and the cupboard joined onto the longways handrail, it would have added a couple of inches to the capacity and robbed my dumbest cat of a daredevil stunt to pull (yep, he walks along the rail onto that bit next to the cupboard,  which has only one way to fall and the only way he can get off is by backing up onto the corner).

Example 3: the wiring
There are a few places where the wiring’s been replaced and they didn’t bury it in the walls – they put a sleeve around it.
It looks amateur as heck.

I might come back to this theme in a future post. There are plenty more examples where that lot came from…

If anyone’s gotten this far, I thank you very much for sticking with it!


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