If you don’t think it’s possible for a pandemic virus to evolve here, then you’ve never gutted a forty-five-year-old, mouse-infested garage before. Well, I just did. One very well could be gestating within my body as I right this.
Our house, particularly the garage, was suspect from the moment we first laid eyes on it. I won’t bore you with the machinations of compromise couples navigate when buying a home but suffice it to say the obvious garage issues were ones we ultimately chose to ignore. Besides, who could resist those colourful spotlights and odd slider switch?
Instead, the garage became the very first project we initiated upon taking possession of our new abode. We began by removing the unused pool heater and water filter tucked away in a partially finished corner. A simple, albeit heavy, task, it marked the beginning of our grand property transformation that promptly ground to a halt soon after. Now, about a month shy of our eight anniversary at this address and mired in COVID-19 isolation, I finally summoned the energy to get our garage fixed.
Time is no friend to procrastinators. Those once questionable flaws that gave me pause eight years ago have grown into overt signs of neglect. Water and critter damage, neither a surprise, has impacted not only the appearance of the building but also its structural integrity. Before I could even attempt to assess what all needed repairing, I first had to strip it bare.
That meant removing all the drywall and insulation which in turn required my first ever dumpster rental. I’m no avid home renovator, but I’ve engaged in a few DIY projects over the years. Until now, I’ve always managed to deal with the accompanying trash burden through a combination of municipal collection and my own visits to the dump using a utility trailer.
Gutting our garage was a bigger job with crap accumulating much more quickly than my usual pace. Oh baby, was renting a dumpster the right decision. Insulation may compress plenty, but I’d still be making daily trips to the dump had I tried to do this myself with a single axle utility trailer. My estimation skills are terrible!
There’s been little doubt the rear wall is severely damaged. The entrance door and neighbouring segment of wall had ceased to be attached to the underlying concrete for some years now, resulting in a wobble with each opening and shutting. Decades of water damage, not to mention mice and even bees at one point, has taken its toll. I was equally curious and mortified of what I might find behind that drywall.
The remainder of the garage, though more stable, still had troubles. More water damage, for one. The north wall routinely incurs flooding from rainstorms and melting snow thanks in part to a previous neighbour whose house eave was funnelled along the fence line, inexplicably stopping halfway to the back alley. Right beside our garage, this regular dump of runoff infiltrated the it regularly.
A second entrance door to the south, facing our yard, was unusable. I honestly don’t know what happened to this door. It’s either the worst door installation imaginable or a lot of shifting of the structure has occurred. Whatever the reason, the door literally will not close. It is secured against its own frame using a metal clasp and padlock while simultaneously providing fresh air flow throughout the building.
The main vehicle entrances aren’t much better. Both sectional doors are original and showing their age. One is even broken, though still intact, thanks to a certain someone’s embarrassing driving skills. Yet more water damage is apparent on the surrounding exterior of both bays and the concrete approach is literally disintegrating.
Inside, the concrete pad is also in rough shape though not quite as bad as the approach. It is well worn and as I understand it, this is not something that is easily or durably patched. What we end up doing with it remains unknown, but despite the appeal of renting a jackhammer to alleviate both the concrete and my stress, for now the pad stays as is.
Much as I love that my son is always eager to help with destruction, the potential contaminant concerns left me no choice but to do this alone. I used my fancy respirator mask to prevent as much inhalation of debris, both organic and non-organic, as possible. It also put a little fear into my neighbours and nosy passersby who were all left wondering if their colourful, fabric masks are sufficient to repel the coronavirus.
The job was messy. And, at times, gross. But there were no significant surprises other than the lack of surprises. I uncovered plenty of mouse tunnels, shredded insulation, and accompanying feces but not nearly as much as I anticipated. Most notable was the complete lack of bodies, alive or mummified. Not a single mouse or vole corpse was found. Not in the walls. Not in the ceiling.
Furthermore, nothing remained of the bees that had at one time infested a portion of this same wall, entering through a hole in the siding behind an exterior receptacle. I fully expected to find some kind of abandoned hive complex in that wall, but there was nothing. Not even a single bee.
Even the ceiling, a mysterious, hidden place I’d never once peered into, was void of any animal evidence. Considering the obvious entry points, two former exhaust pipes in the roof, and the ever present squirrels visiting our backyard I’m shocked there wasn’t something unpleasant in that attic space. Instead, all I found was an abandoned cardboard box for a vintage, remote-controlled model airplane.
Exposing the ceiling did reveal one peculiarity. The small vent on the back wall visible above our shed proved to be a useless contraption. From the interior, it was nothing more than a handful of holes drilled through the rafter and siding. Several don’t even appear to fully penetrate the wood. I hate to think this is a common practice in the trades.
What detritus I did uncover was still plenty yucky. The insulation along the back wall was almost entirely consumed in some places, collapsing to the ground once I removed the drywall. The wobbling door was quickly explained by the rotten (to the point of near-absence) base plate for a few feet. I even discovered that some genius had stuffed insulation under the base plate in what I think was an attempt to prevent surface water infiltration. This, obvious to anyone with half a brain, did nothing but trap water like a sponge directly beneath the untreated lumber, ensuring and accelerating the rot.
Such brainless modifications are to be expected in aging buildings. Successive homeowners add their own DIY flourishes, compounding the ridiculousness. Much like I’m about to do. But nowhere was the idiocy more apparent than with the multiple generations of electrical modifications adding and removing lights throughout the garage. A couple of these comfortably fall into the category of “not to code,” a declaration I make based not on personal expertise but common bloody sense.
Once the drywall and insulation were removed and disposed of, I was finally able to bring in the boy to help with the neurotic portion of my project. Hundreds of drywall nails and screws, not to mention staples for the vintage, paper-backed insulation, needed to be removed. This was done for several reasons, most of which would make you roll your eyes. The most legit is preventing me from ripping my skin to shreds which I guarantee would otherwise happen daily.
As we went about removing metal, we got a good, close look at the current state of the greater structure. A few blemishes showed up on the yard side wall indicative of punctures from who knows what. Maybe a ladder or errant puck.
The fact that the garage has no genuine siding, instead covered in a thin sheet of plywood with fence boards tacked on to mimic the lap and channel cedar siding on the house, wasn’t encouraging. No vapour barrier either. Guess a cheap bastard like me built it.
Of course, destruction is always the easy part. Most fun too. Like everything else with this Godforsaken house, what we do now is a giant question mark. Yes, the garage is damaged. Enough to warrant replacing the entire building? Well … that’s complicated.
Repairing is obviously cheaper but has the downside of history repeating itself. Cutting out the rot and installing new wood does nothing to prevent the rot recurring. Some landscaping alterations would help mitigate flooding and snow melt, but there are limits to what we can accomplish.
Conversely, a complete replacement is costly. It’s also wasteful considering the upper structure is relatively fine. But a new garage would offer a clean slate with the luxury of the sizing and layout we desire. I’d love a workshop and a small hobby printer space, neither of which fit in the existing garage footprint.
Our intentions play a big part in deciphering which option is smartest, too. If we are stay here forever (God help me), then building new seems a reasonable investment. If we expect to move in a year or two, or even five, then perhaps repair is the more sensible route. Let the next owner deal with ROT 2.0 in a couple decades.
And having little to no income, either now or in the foreseeable future, potentially renders this entire thought process moot. It’s hard to wrap one’s head around building a garage when our entire household is well into the second year of involuntary retirement. The termination of employment insurance only exacerbates the situation, not that spending EI cheques on peripheral home renovations falls into the “intent” column for such social programs.
I honestly don’t know what we will do. Same as it ever was when it comes to me and decisions. For now, I am just happy to have finally gotten to this point. It’s easily five years overdue, if not more. The garage has been gutted and all the grossness cleared out. We and any contractor can at least assess the damn thing properly.
And maybe the critters will stay away now that we’ve removed their hiding spots.