We could say it all began with squirrels. The ones that ate through the metal flashing around our central chimney to gain access to our wall interiors, something we learned about only after a particularly nasty winter storm ripped the metal crown and top layers of brick off the chimney itself and into our driveway. Blew them, in fact, the opposite direction from the nor’easter itself.

You couldn’t see the flashing problem from the ground – that was something the mason discovered only once he was up on the roof. At least that got fixed.

A few years later, we noticed some discoloration in part of the vinyl flooring of the bathroom two floors below – something that slowly spread until part of the floor itself became spongy. Were water infiltration from the chimney and the rotting floor linked? Or was this an unrelated problem? It’s the sort of problem that homeowners too often encounter, not only a This Old House experience, either. Welcome to the club?

Our usual handyman, a combination carpenter and licensed electrician, was booked out for months, and inquiries in other circles proved equally futile. Everybody was busy. (Career advice for young adults? This is a great field. Be your own boss. Set your own hours. Essential service.)

Our own cash flow was another matter, one that had me trying to delay as long as it, in turn, didn’t lead to even more costly problems. These things can be a kind of balancing act. Over time, I’ve come to look at home ownership not so much as an investment but rather an opportunity at free rent, repaid when you finally sell the place. But that’s a long-range view.

Of course, there was no way for us to know what we were really in for until we ripped up the floor. Was the wall behind it full of mold? Would we have to get into the shower plumbing by ripping into the wall from the bedroom on the other side? (Another big project all on its own.) Or would we have to rip out some of the wall in the dining room below – something that’s on the longer term to-do list anyway?

These things can snowball.

I had hoped we could hold off another year, till the mortgage was paid off. But that was being optimistic and ignored the arguments from other partners in the household.

And then our handyman had an opening in his bookings. The summer jobs were over. It was time for us to get serious. Ready or not, here we go.

Who knew what we’d really be in for? Yes, our latest journey was about to begin. Let’s just call it the Bathroom Project.


My poems arising in squirrel encounters and domestic survival are collected as Rat-Tat Oscar, a free ebook at Thistle/Flinch editions.

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