Friday, February 26, 2016

...And Then There Was a New House, Part 3

(Reminder - you can click these pictures to make them larger!)

When we last visited this topic in my previous post, I was describing the horror of the refrigerator in the new house, and having to totally scrub it out and sanitize it as the movers were underfoot, unloading everything we owned. The whole process of having movers touching everything we own is enough to put my introverted self into overload anyway; add this little discovery, and I think I went into survival mode.

Eventually, we got the kitchen to a point that it was usable. The movers left once everything was unloaded and we were left there alone to reflect. The smell was so bad. So very bad. We weren't even sure where to start on making it better. We left windows open a lot and hoped that with every day the cats were gone, the smell would diminish. To a point, it did. But not nearly enough. Meanwhile, fall was in full swing, complete with chilly nights, so we were just wasting heat. Which kind of added insult to injury.

We didn't know it at the time, but this was the start of a two-month period of smelling cat pee. ALL. THE. TIME. First thought when your eyes open in the morning? Ew, cat pee. Walk in from work after a long day? Bam, cat pee. Step out of the shower? Ugh, cat pee. Flop into bed at the end of the aforementioned long day? Cat pee. It was awful. 

As I type this, it occurs to me that it might sound a little diva-ish. Let me assure you, I am no diva. My standards of cleanliness are not all that high, really. I grew up playing in the woods in Alaska. I'm okay with things being a little dirty or even a little smelly. But this? This was like nothing else I had ever experienced. Everything just felt dirty and gross. 

And quite frankly, moving into this house was supposed to cap off the whole experience of buying the house, which was not extremely easy or pleasant. I had to do a lot of footwork on things that were other people's jobs. There were a lot of things that fell through the cracks, that I ended up having to work double time to take care of, to make sure we could close before the seller left the state. The lender overpromised and underdelivered throughout the whole process. The title company completely miscalculated all the closing costs, which if I hadn't caught, would have cost us $8,000 we just didn't have. It was just kind of a stressful process, and what kept me going through all of that was that at the end of August, we should be moving into our beautiful new house and living happily ever after. 

Years ago, I had a therapist tell me that one of the most dangerous words in the English language is "should." She was right.

So, fast forward a few days from move-in day. We were in a place of deep regret, severe irritation and just generally helpless feelings. We were tired from the move and everything that goes with that, and unlike other moves, we didn't have the immediate payoff of basking in the glory of a new home right from moving day. Instead, we got irritated sinuses and burning eyes from the smell. We felt like we had just made the biggest mistake ever - which is not a good feeling alongside a new mortgage payment. We turned away family and friends that we had promised to invite over right away to see the house, even before we really unpacked. It was embarrassing even though we knew we didn't cause the problem.

We had exhausted most of our on-hand savings to pull off this house purchase and the move. We did not have the time, money, or desire to deal with trying to eliminate the cat pee smell. However, we were faced with a choice: figure out how to fix it, or smell it. Intensely. ALL. THE. TIME. Obviously, this was no choice. We had to figure out how to fix it.

We had used most of the vacation time we had left for the move itself, so for the next two months we spent evenings and weekends... dealing with this. Not ideal at all, but you do what you have to do, right?

Despite having just been professionally cleaned twice in a week, including being 'flooded' with cleaner and enzyme, it was obvious that the biggest portion of this problem was coming from the carpet in the living room. The appearance and smell of this carpet was pretty bad.

This is that stretch of four or five feet along the wall by the fireplace. Because it's so well-lit, it's not quite as obvious in the picture as it was in person. But you can see it's well-anointed... and this was after those cleanings.

The cleaning expert had told us to give it a few days for the enzyme to work fully, and that it should improve over that time. So we waited.

It did not improve.

Some days were better than others. If we kept it cool in the house, it wasn't quite as bad. If the sun happened to hit the floor in that room for a couple hours in the afternoon, it was like an oven effect. The smell became so intense that it was worth wasting all the heat to flush out the air in the house when we came home from work.

We tolerated this for close to a month while trying to develop a routine, mostly for the kid. He had changed preschools in June and then changed houses in August, so we wanted to quickly get his routine re-established. It was tough since we really couldn't put much in the living room due to the fact the carpet was destroyed. The dining room and kitchen were full of boxes and we ate our meals at a card table wedged into a walkway, but we survived. I had contacted the seller and told her the carpet was much worse than we originally thought. She processed that for an hour or two and then told me that when she reached her new home, she would be mailing us a check to cover new flooring. We were very grateful for that.

Hubby spent his birthday, which was a paid day off work that year only, ripping up all that carpet in the living room. He's the one who is allergic to cats, so this was an especially pleasant way to spend a birthday...

You can see all the cat pee stains on the backside of this carpet. It was a bit gag-inducing. We knew it was bad, but we didn't know it was quite this bad.

And you can see below the dirt that was under the carpet - and cat pee crystals mixed in. (Shudder.)

This next one shows the section that was along the wall (in the 'before' picture above). The holes from the tack strip are even stretched and distorted from being soaked so often, or for so long, or both. We're not sure.

Soon, he had all the carpet up.

Next he had to remove the trim around the base of the walls (which I have heard people call baseboard, but to my Alaskan brain, baseboard means a baseboard heater...), but remember that saturated stretch along the one wall? When he pulled the trim off, guess what he found behind it?

Soft sheetrock.

That's never good.

He pulled that off, and guess what he found?

Oh, yes. That is wood. WET wood. Wet to the touch. Saturated. With CAT PEE. The cat had been gone for over a month by this point. We were shocked and horrified. No wonder we hadn't been able to get rid of the smell. But the bigger issue was, how far did this go? If you've ever dealt with cat messes, you know it is very difficult to get this smell out. It takes replacing whatever is soaked, usually. This wood is at the bottom of a 17-foot-tall wall. How on earth do we replace that?!?

And so began five more weeks of a new kind of frustration. Dave covered the entire rest of the floor with primer to try to lock in the smell in the rest of the floor. It helped, but not much. Most of the stench was coming from this one problem wall.

We tried everything to dry this out. We ruled out the idea that it was rainwater or something leaking in from somewhere. It looked orange/brown like cat pee, it smelled like cat pee, and you could see the crystals on the surface of the wood. I contacted the seller again and told her what we had found. She replied, "sorry it's so bad, didn't know that" and then immediately and completely stopped answering any of my correspondence.

I wasn't kidding about five weeks. First we tried just letting it air out for about a week. No luck. Over the next month we tried heaters, fans, and everything else we could think of. We'd leave heaters and fans on it while we were home, then turn them off when we left for work (because we're both a little paranoid of fire). It would be dry to the touch in the morning, but by the time we got home, more of it would have seeped out and it was wet again.

This cycle was completely maddening. We'd been in the house two months by this time and we were still smelling cat pee, day and night. We don't have a dang cat!! Just really frustrating. The worst part was we were starting to wonder if we were ever going to get rid of it. If not, then what?!? We definitely did not have the option to rip walls out and rebuild them. The stress of the 'what-ifs' at this point was pretty intense.

In sheer desperation, after having been silent about this publicly for this entire time so as to not cause drama with the seller, who we used to work with and considered a friend, and who remained friends with people we still worked with... I finally turned to social media for help. I spent literally an entire evening composing a post that would be a request for help and suggestions without mentioning her at all, without it sounding like some kind of attack or insult, without any nastiness at all. I even ran this post past Dave, who is the world's greatest diplomat and protector of feelings. He approved.

I posted it. At first, I hid it from the seller, who was still on my friends list. I really didn't want to hurt her feelings, but I had to do something.  I was desperate for help and I have 300 Facebook friends, many of whom are connected to the construction industry. We were down to either calling a contractor, and possibly selling our truck to pay for whatever the fix would be, or asking publicly for help. A couple of hours later, I decided it was worse to hide it from her, not to mention that one of our mutual friends would more than likely mention it to her and she'd be even more hurt. So I changed the settings so that the post was visible to her.

The outpouring of support on that post felt really good and validated my feeling that we were not being unreasonable. More importantly, we got a lot of great suggestions and input. One of those suggestions was to invest in a dehumidifier. The very last thing I wanted to do was spend another $200 out of savings on this disaster, but I was also desperate to smell anything but cat pee and get my living room put back together. (At this point, the flooring was still absent obviously, and the living room was a construction zone. The whole area was cordoned off for safety, so anytime we were home, the three of us and the two Chihuahuas were coexisting in a space about 8 feet wide by about 15 feet long, with a couch, an entertainment center, a dining room table and a kitchen in it. It was cramped, unpleasant, and STILL smelled like cat pee.)

Dehumidifiers are expensive to buy, expensive to run, and noisy. Also, they are apparently magical. It took about a week of alternating the dehumidifier, fans and heaters, we were able to declare the wood in the wall DRY!! This was nothing short of a miracle. I cried. After two months of this ordeal, I just couldn't believe it.

Now what?!  To be continued...

(Next part of the story HERE.)


Heather said...

I am totally shocked that she was able to hide the smell from you when you looked at the house before you bought it! Obviously it was done in a deceptive way. You are awfully nice not to call a lawyer or at the very least blast her on Facebook. Way too nice! We are getting ready to finish our basement which OUR cat used as a litter box and I'm worried about sealing the concrete floors and it's not nearly as bad as what you are describing.

Amber said...

We were shocked about that too!! Let's just say it's definitely a testament to the effectiveness of Scentsy...

Amber said...

Oh, and I left a comment on your blog with a suggestion about your floor! I think you'll do fine. Good luck!

Heather said...

Thank you for the recommendation! I forwarded it to my husband. I'm glad you found a solution that didn't involve burning the house to the ground. Lol!

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