Hey friends! I am catching up on home renovation posts so that I can start posting in real time. You can find my post about purchasing our home here. I am planning on posting about each week over the next few days so that I can get caught up and start posting in real life!
Starting the Renovation Process
B and I closed on our home in mid-August and one of our priorities was to keep the ball rolling with our renovation plans. This is mostly because some of the major repairs that the house needs (like a new roof and dealing with a drainage issue) will be wrapped up in the renovation, and we felt like we shouldn’t put them off for too long.
The process of doing a renovation starts with a contractor who creates plans and formal drawings of your new home (2-3 months). A structural engineer approves it (1 month). Plans are then bid out to contractors and they give you price estimates (1 month), and then a contractor builds it (4-6 months). On top of that, we are also adding in an extra 2-3 months of construction buffer time in case things take longer than estimated – which is likely.
So we knew going into it that we we were looking at a year-long process, and since we weren’t going to be starting construction until at least January.
Here’s where we were at in the process when closed:
- July 26: met with contractor for first time to make sure our renovation plans fit within our budget
- Aug 3: met with architect for the first time, walked through house, gave him our “wish list”
- Aug 16: closed on the house
- Aug 17: signed architect’s proposal describing the process of working with him
Had we already been through the process of working with the architect by closing then we would have probably wanted to move straight into an apartment. But considering it was going to be at least 4 months between when we were hoping our previous house sold and when we would start construction, we decided it would be better to temporarily move into the house with minimal belongings.
Cleaning, Cat Pee and Fleas
I really wish I had a positive story about everything that has happened with the house since we closed. I’m sure one day we will look back on this and laugh. But for now, recapping this still feels a little bit like a nightmare.
We learned almost immediately after closing that the previous owner was using the home as some sort of informal cat rescue. Many neighbors came by to meet us and all brought up the cat situation at this house. They told at one point she had 27 cats and that some of them were feral. Apparently she hid them in the shed in the back yard during house showings! We were so afraid we were going to be the nuisance neighbors with our renovation but it turns out everyone was just happy that there were no longer cats in their yard.
Now that we know the extent of the amount of cats, everything that we discovered during week 1 makes a lot more sense.
One of the priorities before we ever knew the extent of the cats was getting the duct work in the house cleaned out. There was cat hair everywhere, and the house had a strong cat smell. We had no idea she had so many, but we knew she had at least one.
I’m really allergic to cats but allergies weren’t really much of a concern when we bought the house. The entire house (except for 1 room) is hardwoods. Our contractor assured us that the cat allergens would not be an issue when we were done with the renovation. But needless to say, deep cleaning the house was a priority for us. I had lined up duct work cleaning before we even closed on the house and it was supposed to be done almost immediately after closing. Duct work cleaning is recommended for allergies in general, but with our house specifically we were told the ducts were so dirty that we would never be able to get rid of the cat smell if we didn’t clean them out.
Cat on the Loose
The duct work cleaning got postponed after we closed because we realized that the previous owner was still coming into the house after closing looking for one of her cats. We pulled up one day to find a cat trap on the back porch, all of the basement lights on and all of her mail gone from inside the house. After talking to her, she confessed that she was missing a feral cat.
One night we came to the house and found the neighbor’s cat in the trap on the back porch, so we let the previous owner put the trap in the basement. Thankfully the cat was captured. And the locks were changed :)
Cat Pee & Fleas
Once the cat was gone, we tried to get into the house to do some deep cleaning. I’m not sure if it was because the air conditioning was off or whatever was done with the house before we bought it was wearing off, but I opened the door and the smell of cat pee just hit me in the face. It was the worst. smell. ever. Not only that but I was wearing shorts that day and realized that I was covered in fleas.
I have never dealt with fleas in a home like this before, but an exterminator could not come out until the following day. They asked that the floors be vacuumed and mopped before the flea treatment. So I set off 9 flea that same day just to be able to go over there and clean.
GUYS. With mopping, realized there was dried cat vomit and/or diarrhea in almost every room downstairs. Disgusting.
The exterminator came out and sprayed the inside of the house and the yard. He explained to us that fleas start out as eggs that aren’t killed by their spray, so it was really important for us to stimulate the eggs to hatch. People who continue to have flea issues after treatment do so because of the new fleas hatching.
He asked us to vacuum every day because the vibrations of the vacuum apparently stimulate them. He also said it could take up to 3 weeks for the spray to be fully effective so he asked us not to put any cleaners on the floor until then.
I now know way too much about fleas.
Dealing with the Cat Pee
At the suggestion of our contractor, we hired Servpro to help us investigate the cat pee smell in the house. There were a few spots where we knew for sure that the cats were peeing because the smell was just overwhelming, such as the kitchen pantry and all over this blue carpet. It was promptly removed from the house:
But overall the smell just seemed everywhere.
Servpro explained to us that cat pee goes through the hardwoods and is absorbed by the sub flooring. Then there’s always some element of higher moisture in the floors and it never really dries out. They went around the house with equipment that measured the moisture in the flooring and marked spots where the moisture was much higher. This is indicative of cat urine.
As expected, the room with the blue carpet and the kitchen pantry were the highest. But we were disheartened to find higher moisture in almost every room. They gave us a lot of options for decreasing the smell, but overall it is impossible to get rid of completely without replacing the hardwood floors.
B and I had actually specifically talked to our contractor about the flooring before we decided to move forward with purchasing the home, and we had all agreed that keeping the hardwoods and refinishing them would be a huge money saver. So learning that they were mostly ruined was obviously upsetting.
Another thing Servpro was helping us with was cleaning out the crawl space in the basement. When you walk down the basement steps, the space to the left is unfinished and the space to the right is a crawl space.
The previous owner was allowing cats to come in and out of the crawl space through a hole where a vent was supposed to be, and the cats were basically using this space as their litter box.
This was also in our inspection report:
Unlike most of the stuff in the post, cleaning out the crawl space was something that was planned prior to purchasing the house. As gross as it sounds, the process of getting it cleaned out would be pretty simple. Servpro looked at that week and got us on their calendar for September.
Well, there you have it. The first week of homeownership :) We started calling the house “cat house” after that!