Tag Archives: money pit

More Home Improvement Fiascos


Celeste and I, having recovered from some of our earlier home improvement projects, have decided to start on some major projects that we hope to have completed by the end of the summer.  We began the process by ordering a dumpster (see the picture on the left) from Waste Management so we can demo a bunch of our house quickly and without dozens of trips to the dump.

Hopefully we’ll do a better job than some of the folks featured in the Home Inspection Nightmares section of the This Old House website.  I’ve written about the site before and they recently added a new gallery, of which my favorite is the alternative ambient floor heating system pictured here:

Compare that to the system we inherited and I think we might have found the culprit who did both.

Misery, and Every Home Improvement Moron, Loves Company

I’ve written before on this blog about some of the crazy stuff we inherited when we bought this house.  By far the craziest is the alternate water heating system the previous owner built and I figured it’s about time I gave a little visual evidence of this fiasco (you can click on any of the pictures to enlarge them).


First is a picture of the outdoor fireplace that the previous owners had built behind the house.  Besides the fact that it looks like a giant phallis the other problem with it is that it is too short. Some would say this is fitting, but this isn’t about me. If we were to burn wood in this thing the smoke would come in under our eaves and when the wind blows it would send the smoke into our neighbors’ homes (something we’ve been informed used to happen quite a bit).  When they had the fireplace built they had water pipes passed through it and hooked up to the main water supply of the house.  Brilliant!

The water pipes exit and re-enter the house through a hole in the wall in the garage (pictured at left) and then are attached to a radiator-type contraption which you can see pictured to the lower right (the silver looking thing).  After passing through this radiator the water was routed to several other sets of radiators and the hot water heater.  The result?

First we found that the pressure in and out of the water heater was all screwed up so it leaked through the pressure valve.  We had the water heater replaced before the second set of plumbers to look at it figured out the problem.  (For this my eternal gratitude goes out to John’s Plumbing).

Then when we removed the drop down ceiling in the basement we found out that there was a set of radiators between the joists of the main floor.  Double brilliant!  Finally when we had our ducts cleaned we found that they’d put a set of radiators inside the ducts, which of course let to mold in the HVAC system.Triple brilliant!

To top all of this, in my mind, is the fact that all of this was driven by an outdoor, wood burning operation in North Carolina.  So the logic is that you freeze your butt off for hours on end while you’re sitting outside burning wood to heat water in a climate that’s bitterly cold about three weeks out of the year. Quadruple brilliant!

We’ve had all of the water disconnected from our inherited Macgyver-esque alternative water heating system.  My next job is to physically remove the radiators from between the joists and the ductwork, which ought to be all kinds of fun.


Celeste and I were pretty well convinced that we had the craziest water heating system ever seen, but of course this is America and there’s always an ass dumber than yours out there.  The last picture I have is one that I found on the This Old House website that shows someone had a similar idea except they used an old car radiator.  I guess we should thank our lucky stars.  BTW, you should check out the photo galleries here and here on This Old House for some truly nightmarish home “improvement” projects (found via Boing Boing).

I’ll end with this piece of advice:  When you’re looking to buy a house and the home inspector looks at something and says, “What the heck is that?  I’ve never seen anything like that” you might want to reconsider or get some major concessions in your contract.  That’s exactly what the inspector said when he saw the contraption in our garage and it’s a sentence we’ve heard many times since.

Money Pit or “I’ve Never Seen Anything Like This Before”

The sentence that will forever define our experience in our first house in North Carolina is “I’ve never seen anything like this before.”  That’s the sentence used by every service technician that enters our home.  Today it is being used by the good folks at Duct Doctor who are here cleaning out our air ducts.


The reason the good people at Duct Doctor used “the sentence” is that they’ve discovered radiant water heating coils in the ductwork of our basement.  As I may (or may not) have documented in the past the previous owner of this house had a large chimenia built in the back of our house (picture above), had water pipes run through it and then attached those pipes to some radiant heating coils throughout the basement.  Until now we had no idea that they also put radiant coils inside the ductwork.

Apparently the theory was that the coils would aid in heating the house by allowing the air handler to blow air around the warm coils, but unfortunately the coils are just resting on the bottom part of the ductwork so the air can’t really circulate around it.  Furthermore, it makes no damn sense when you consider that you have to worry about heat around here maybe 3 months out of the year.  And the fact that this was all hooked up to an outdoor, wood burning operation kind of totally defeats the purpose too by causing you to spend your entire day out in the cold stoking a fire.

Unfortunately for us the result of all this is that we have a higher propensity for mold in our HVAC system.  We already had the water source detached from the coil system when we had the plumber (John’s Plumbing, Heating & AC, whom I highly recommend) in to fix our water pressure after our new water heater started leaking, so that part of the equation is taken care of. But, we still need to get those metal coils out of there since condensation can build up on them when we run the AC. Oh, and by-the-by, we run our AC a LOT more than we run the heat.  Guess what I’ll be doing over the next few weeks?

So now we’ve had a general contractor, a plumber, an HVAC tech and a duct cleaner all walk in our house and say “I’ve never seen anything like that before.”  I suspect we’re becoming infamous among the service people in Winston-Salem.