As you may know, we moved into a brand-spankin’ new home a couple years ago. This is the third brand-spankin’ new home we have bought in our career as grownups. I didn’t think anything could have been worse than our first one, where there had been a labor dispute during the final phase (which was where our house was of course), the experienced contractors walked off the job, and the builder had to hire anyone he could get to finish the houses on our street. As a result, a lot of the finish work was horrible. Ours was mostly cosmetics, poor cleanup, and water damage (it was an El Niño year), but nothing as serious as our next door neighbor, who had a two-story house, took a bath and when she pulled the plug she discovered that the drain was not connected to anything and all the bathwater ran through the floor to the dining room below, ruining their family heirloom dining furniture. The tub only went halfway through the hole in the floor/ceiling, so I guess they were lucky in that respect.
There are a million stories like this in California, mainly because production houses are built wiki-wiki and with the cheapest materials possible, and a lot of contractors are skinny, hard-drinking, dubious dudes. The houses aren’t worth a shit, it’s the dirt lot they sit on that is where the steep prices come from. Location, location, location. In our case, we have a 2200 square foot house and the price tag was around a million. That’s about $485 per square foot. Unbelievable, huh.
So here we are, two-plus years later, and our house is coming apart at the seams. No, really.
Last fall, as in most years, we had a powerful Santa Ana wind and it felt like the walls were being blown in by the Big Bad Wolf. As it turns out, they were.
Because of these winds and the fact that the hills are alive here, houses are built to be flexible. Slabs torque, walls move, earthquakes happen, it’s all part of the magic that is California. Bear with me. After many months and various engineers and experts crawling around our house, I finally have a grasp on what and why this happened. But first, pictures.
This is the first spot we noticed where the wall separated from the ceiling.
Then we saw more and more places like this. It was scary because we didn’t know how much bigger it would get. As it turned out, this was about it. But still—holy shit!
Then the wall started lifting from the floor, or maybe the floor was dropping down, we didn’t know. We put the coins in there to show scale.
We even had cracks outside. Yikes!
We had more engineers and specialists in here than you could imagine. No one really knew what they were up against, and no one wanted to assume responsibility ($$). Who messed up? Was it the slab guys? The framers? The farmers?
And then we learned some of our neighbors were having similar cracks, but we were the only ones whose floor was falling. So we were what you might call ground zero.
Speaking of ground zero, this really is it. The attic. Sort of makes me think of the movie Poltergeist.
Are you still with me? We have learned that the fault lies in the trusses. What’s a truss? I am so glad you asked! Truss 101, coming up! No! Not that kind of truss! Please!
THIS kind! The trusses are fastened tightly to the exterior walls. But not the interior walls, which divide the rooms, are not load-bearing, and are supposed to remain in place when something makes the house move (earthquake, wind, big bad wolf). When they are installed correctly. Which they weren’t.
In a nutshell, when the house moved with the wind, it took the interior walls with it. Capisce?
Here’s how it looks today. Pictures are worth 1,000 words.
They are literally unbuilding the house. We are in day four of a three-day job, and my guess is they’re barely at the halfway point.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your stewardess speaking... We regret any inconvenience the sudden cabin movement might have caused, this is due to periodic air pockets we encountered, there's no reason to become alarmed, and we hope you enjoy the rest of your flight... By the way, is there anyone on board who knows how to fly a plane?”