This is the third and final installment in a series of posts outlining the issues we have with the family room addition built by the previous owner which have led us to the decision to completely tear down and rebuild it.
When my wife and I attended the open house on a cold Sunday in March just over 11 years ago, we were mesmerized by the beautiful back yard surrounding woodlots. We walked through the entry door into the addition, amazed by the size of the family room, which was almost as big as the house we were living in. Our eyes were drawn to the bay window overlooking the scenic backyard. It was the view that seduced us. We barely paid attention to the room that we were standing in.
The addition had a lot of aesthetic issues. Blue siding on the exterior didn’t match the rest of the house. But we could eventually change it. Pink and cream sponged walls inside did not impress either of us. But we could repaint. And while we are at it, we could rip out and replace the cranberry carpet.
Obviously this was going to be a project house. Once we moved in, these and other flaws became more and more noticeable. Some are fixable, others not so much.
Wall of Blue
The blue siding (desperately in need of washing) dominates the front of the house and looks out of place next to the stone facade and red brick. The gas line for the fireplace (yellow arrows) runs along the exterior wall and the only other item that breaks up the solid mass of blue is the fireplace vent. There are no windows on the front of the addition.
Most people assume that the addition is an attached garage. In a way, they are right. The previous owner built the addition using lumber that he moved board by board, from a free-standing garage that he tore down when the lot was severed.
How it can be fixed: The siding could be replaced with a color that better matches the stone or brick. Because there is no crawl space, the gas line could not be easily run any other way. I question whether the size of the gas line and its installation even meet code.
The fireplace hasn’t worked in years, so we can actually get rid of the gas line and the vent completely. We have already disconnected the gas line in the basement. We could even remove the fireplace and install a window without too much difficulty if we choose.
A year or two after moving in, we removed the rotting wooden front porch. Obviously, the previous owner built the porch before installing the siding. Yeah…. that’s not proper.
How it can be fixed: We would have to remove the rotting sheathing and replace it with new and then install the siding. We don’t necessarily have to attach the porch to the addition. However, if we were to attach it, we would have to cut holes in the siding, insert spacers and seal everything well.
Roof comes up short and the bay window is past its expiry date
At the back of the addition, a bay window overlooks our yard. The window actually extends beyond the roof line which is not a good look. The aluminum capping is a poor substitute for a proper roof. Inside, the wood frame at the bottom of the window is rotting out. While there is no obvious water leak, there is water damage. The window seals have also failed and the glass is foggy between the panes.
How it can be fixed: The window needs to be replaced with a higher quality window. The roof of the bay window should probably be shingled rather than capped with aluminum. Ideally, the roof of the addition should extend beyond the window. The extension would allow for proper soffit ventilation.
Exposed wood framing around an ill-fitting patio door
The wood framing around the patio door was painted. There is no sign of any kind of flashing. At the very least, you would expect to see aluminum capping around the door, rather than leave the wood exposed to the elements.
The door does not fit square in the opening, leaving a thin gap on the vertical edge when closed. The rollers cannot be adjusted enough to compensate. In the summer, this allows insects into the house and cool air to escape. In the winter, it is the source of a major draft.
How it can be fixed: This would a pretty big job that would entail removing the patio door, re-framing the opening and then reinstalling the door, making sure it fits square in the opening and closes properly.
Paint runs from sponge technique
The previous owner had applied a sponge technique to the walls of the family room with a somewhat heavy hand. Sick of the pink and cream walls, I painted them a few years ago, without addressing the old paint runs.
How it can be fixed: Sanding the paint and applying a high quality primer might get rid of most of the runs, but there is a risk of damaging the drywall by over-sanding. Skim coating the entire room with joint compound or even plaster is another option. A LOT of work, for sure.
Poorly designed fireplace and bookshelves
Built-in bookshelves flank the fireplace. The problem is that the fireplace blocks or hinders access to a portion of the bookshelves. The curved surround, admittedly, is kind of cool. Previously, it was painted a dark blue that contrasted the formerly pink and cream walls. To save time and money, I painted it the same color as the walls. The fireplace no longer works so that was a good way to make it less of a focal point.
How it can be fixed: A more traditional fireplace design would allow easier access to the existing bookshelves. Otherwise, we could frame in and drywall over the bookshelves. Removing the fireplace completely is another option. That would allow the installation of a window, as I have already mentioned.
This is not a straight wall. The pronounced curve is likely the result of using old lumber that was not straight. The previous owner saved money by recycling his old garage, but this is the price paid for not investing in $100 worth of new lumber.
How it can be fixed: Plaster, expertly applied, could help straighten the curve. It would likely take many applications. Another option is to shim the wall and add a second layer of drywall over the existing. The most obvious solution is to remove the wall completely and build a new straight one using new lumber. Any repair of the wall would also affect the ceiling. It could really open up a can of worms.
Doorway to the gazebo
The addition is attached to the house. A gazebo is attached to the addition. Access to this built-on gazebo is provided by double doors that appear to have been salvaged from the primary wing of a school. Not only do the doors not meet code (they are only 72″ high instead of 80″), they don’t fit properly and are not airtight. To address the drafts, I completely caulked around the doors, sealing them shut. We installed drapes to hide the doors, which are out of place in a residential setting.
How it can be fixed: If we wanted to keep access to the gazebo, we would have to replace these doors. We would have to cut a bigger opening and frame it properly, Otherwise, the doors could be removed and the doorway framed in and sheathed and sided on the exterior and drywalled over on the interior. The gazebo encroaches on a required set-back, so if we were doing everything right, we would have to request relief from the municipality to keep the gazebo. But it was always our plan to remove it completely so we would have room for a garage.
The family room ceiling can cause sea-sickness. A flat ceiling it is not, and the popcorn texture does little to disguise its undulations. Nowhere is this more apparent than where the ceiling meets the walls. This is likely the result of using old, warped lumber, or not using lumber properly sized for the span. We won’t know for sure until demolition day.
How it can be fixed: A skim coat of plaster, expertly applied, could flatten the ceiling. But if the ceiling joists are not the proper size, the additional weight could make the problem worse, or even create a dangerous situation. The popcorn texture probably has to go before a skim coat can be applied.
At the walls, a simple paint trick can disguise the imperfections. Extend the ceiling paint to a straight edge on the wall. The uneven top of the wall will blend into the ceiling. Crown molding might also help conceal the imperfections at the walls.
Remember, though, that the entire ceiling is wavy. I believe the best solution is to remove the drywall and sister the joists to create flat level framing for a new ceiling.
Code Violating Stairs
Having a second stairway to the basement allowing access from the family room was a good idea, at least in theory. However, the stairs themselves do not meet code. Not even close.
I hesitated to post this picture because we have neglected the stairs for years. We just don’t use them. We blocked the stairway off so the dogs can’t use them to go to the basement. Out of sight, out of mind.
- The steps vary in height. All the risers should be uniform to prevent a tripping hazard.
- The width of the stairway, including the stringers, is only 24 inches. The usable tread is only 21 inches.
- There is no handrail.
How it can be fixed: Well, realistically, it can’t. These stairs would have to be ripped out and replaced. And there simply isn’t enough room to do that. The best long-term solution would be to close off the stairs completely.
Since there is an entryway cut into the block foundation allowing access from these stairs to the basement, we are going to try to incorporate a stairway in the design of the new addition.
The final analysis
All of these problems are fixable. Some are easier to fix than others, but the solutions exist. However, there are just too many issues with the addition. Trying to salvage this beast is not the best use of time and resources. It will just be easier to tear it down and build something that better matches the architecture of the house and meets the current building and electrical codes. Expensive? Yes. But probably not much more than fixing everything that needs to be fixed.