Saving Etta: Chapter 15 – What Lies Beneath
This is the true story about a house built in 1900 that is in serious disrepair. It’s also the story about my journey toward becoming a general contractor and my attempt to save a home from being bulldozed. I hope you’ll follow along as I embark on a journey into the unknown perils and rewards of flipping a home in downtown Raleigh, NC.
If you are just joining the story, you may want to read all the Saving Etta chapters for more of the back story.
Anthony suddenly rushed out of the house heading straight toward Nathan, “Stop, don’t cut over there!”
Nathan froze and Anthony began pulling ivy up until he revealed a concrete pad that was completely hidden by the ivy and leaves. He explained that there had been a shed on the site a long time ago, but now all that was left was the concrete. We were glad he had been there to prevent an accident.
After a few more minutes of small talk, Anthony bid us a good day and drove off. We put in a few more hours of yard work before calling it a day. After five hours of work, we had accumulated a big pile of branches and weedy trees on one side of the driveway. All four of us, sweaty and pink-cheeked, loaded into the truck and headed home. The boys didn’t have to try too hard to convince us to make a quick stop at McDonalds for shakes.
Monday morning my muscles were sore after the weekend of yard work, but I was anxious to get underneath the particle board that lay beneath the carpet Mike had pulled the other day. If there were original hardwood floors underneath, I knew it could help my budget immensely. From the truck, I grabbed a hammer, a pry bar, and a three foot long wrecking bar. In my mind, it would be simple to shove the pry bars under the sheets and lift up the full 4 foot by 8 foot particle board with a little effort. Instead, small one foot sections broke off the lumber like little bites out of a big cookie. It was incredibly frustrating and time consuming. Finally I decided to pull all the nails from the particle board and then lift the full sheet up. The music blared from my little work radio, and a mixture of Cyndi Lauper and Bon Jovi filled the room as I scooted around on my butt pulling nails.
After about 20 minutes, I pulled the last nail from the first sheet. Sliding one pry bar under the particle board allowed me to get my hands under the edge. I heaved the full board up from the floor. A layer of black felt paper lay underneath. I quickly rested the particle board against the wall and ripped a section of felt paper. Beneath it lay what looked like berber carpet at first glance, but turned out to be a big sheet of linoleum printed to look like carpet. I chuckled to myself, thinking that, long ago, people must have liked faux berber carpet-printed linoleum the way they like faux woodgrain tiles today.
Knowing full well that the linoleum needed to be tested for asbestos, I left it alone until I could find an edge to gently pull up and sample. The next several hours were spent alternating between scooting on my behind or crawling on all fours to pull nails. Sadly I only freed three more sheets of particle board in that time. To appease my aching back, I decided to change tasks.
Although the door was closed to the room with the mold in it, the house still had a musty odor. Stepping outside, I took a big breath of fresh air, then wrestled the sheets of fiberboard over my head and threw them into the dumpster. Wanting to stay outside longer, I threw my energy into breaking down the big yard debris pile by the driveway.
I had hired a woman named Sarah to come haul the limbs away to the yard waste facility and wanted to get it ready for pick up. I was curious to meet this woman who loved to earn cash by performing an assortment of labor intensive jobs. Raleigh has a yard waste processing center that will mulch the debris and resell wood chips or compost to city residents. We’ve frequented the facility many times (and it’s always fun to see the big trucks and equipment working), but my time was better spent working on the house. On the phone, Sarah had told me that everything had to be six feet or shorter for her to be able to haul it away. Luckily there were only a few limbs that needed to be cut down. By the time I had cut the last one, a little white Nissan pick up truck stopped out front and backed into the driveway. From the driver seat stepped a woman with long sandy blonde hair pulled into a ponytail. She wore a white t-shirt, black exercise leggings, and running shoes. Sarah introduced herself and shook my hand. I was surprised by her appearance, but hadn’t been sure what to expect. She looked like me: fair skinned, medium build, with strong arms and legs. Her clothing suggested a day at the gym instead of a junk hauler. We quickly loaded her truck and chatted about ourselves. Sarah told me she liked the flexibility of her “odd jobs” so she could be home with her kids most of the time. The variety of jobs and the workout she got hauling things to the dump kept her happy and stress-free. I smiled and told her I completely understood.
Whenever I worked on Etta, I had that same feeling. I thoroughly enjoyed the break from the depressing news of the day and instead threw my anger and frustrations into the physically demanding aspects of rehabbing the old house. Each day I worked on Etta, I left physically and mentally exhausted, leaving no room for worrying or anger.
After a short time, Sarah’s truck was full to the cab, but there was still another load to take. She told me she’d be back later to take the second load and would collect her fee then.
After she left, I took a quick snack break and then went back to work pulling nails from the particle board. It was a slow process, but after a while I finally revealed the edge of the linoleum.
I carefully pried up the sheet and found yet another layer of linoleum underneath. It was a brick red color and solid instead of the patterned berber print. Reaching into my tool box, I extracted two ziploc bags, a utility knife, my respirator, a paper towel, and a spray bottle. Using the technique that Jeff (the asbestos abatement professional) had showed me, I misted the vinyl with water from the spray bottle. Then gently cut a section out of each piece of linoleum with a sharp utility knife. I placed the samples into the ziploc bags and sealed them. Then I cleaned off the knife with a damp paper towel and threw the towel away in a sealed bag. I labeled each sample to differentiate them for the lab results.
Looking back at the hole where I had cut out the linoleum, a brown patch beaconed me closer. Using the flat end of my pry bar, I gently scraped away the years of dirt and grime. What I discovered left me with a range of emotions.
To be continued…
If you are just joining the story, you may want to read all the Saving Etta chapters.
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