How renovators, builders scare off terrifying home problems

Rotting wood, creeping mold, dilapidated decks, roaming rodents and cracked foundations can unintentionally turn homes into haunted houses.

The trick for renovation companies and builders is turning the properties into inhabitable houses. By repairing, rehabbing and sometimes gutting the structures, it becomes a treat to see the transformation of bungalows, ranches and multi-story homes of various architectural styles across metro Atlanta.

Some neighborhood eyesores, which could include a home that you are considering buying, are being improved by metro Atlanta contractors and builders who frequently tackle these ghoulish issues. The horrifying truth is that some obstacles can delay projects and add unexpected expenses to a renovation budget.

Unsteady structures

Bungalows can charm buyers, but inspections and consultations with builders may uncover unpleasant obstacles. Sometimes, the floor and ceiling joists are too small and far apart for the span of the room, especially when there’s an open floor plan. The problem also can be seen in carports and garages that are sagging in the middle, which is a sign of “overspan,” said Anthony Pourhassan, founder of Atlanta-based Highlight Homes and Vesmont. “Beams were not sufficient enough to support the weight,” said Pourhassan, whose company builds homes in areas such as Brookhaven, Chastain Park, Sandy Springs and Dunwoody.

If the floorboards are bowing, the boards may be removed and thicker ones installed, which could delay the project for a month. “You have a board and it can’t handle the weight,” said Randy Glazer, owner of Atlanta-based Glazer Design & Construction.

Menacing mold

One of the most frightening mold problems that Scot LaVelle has seen was in his own Georgia home. When water seeped from behind his refrigerator (a small screw was loose), he discovered that mold on his floor joists was causing water to leak through this walls, moving from the kitchen to the living room and office.

“It can get inside the walls like ours and be growing for a long period of time and you don’t even know it,” he said.

The floors and walls had to be removed, and the total bill was close to $54,000 for the family, who had homeowners’ insurance. LaVelle, who owns Dalton-based Niche Custom Flooring, created MoldHold, a “sticky tape” that traps mold into place until a professional restoration company can remove the it and repair the home. MoldHold, which adheres to wet surfaces and prevents spores from becoming airborne, received its patent in 2014. MoldHold offers a temporary solution, he said, that enables people to stay in the home, reducing costs. He’s heard even nastier mold stories, such as how mold in one home ate through the homeowner’s leather boots.

Exterior horrors

Decks are often on must-have lists, but when they are not correctly attached to the house, they can be a disaster waiting to happen. When Pourhassan was renovating homes and confronted with that problem, he would tear down the deck and rebuild.

Granite foundations, if exposed, can be a stunning feature in an older home. If the granite starts to deteriorate, the mortar joints can crack or come apart and cause water to rot the exterior or fill a crawl space. Remedies can range from repairing the foundation wall with a substance such as epoxy or putting a waterproofing system inside the perimeter of the crawl space or basement. Those repairs typically take two to three weeks, Glazer said.

Sometimes Glazer will find four layers of shingles over existing shingles, which causes the roof rafters to bow. In a process that also could extend the renovations by about two weeks, load-bearing walls need to be added to carry the load and remove the bow.

Eerie electrical issues

One of the most unsafe situations that Glazer sees is when homeowners add more lights or ceiling fans without taking proper precautions.

“There will be 20 junction boxes in the attic with no covers on them,” he said.

The wires will be touching each other, causing an arc, which can result in fires. To make matters worse, he will find where squirrels or rats have been in the attic or crawl space and have eaten the wires. In fact, it’s wise to set aside 20 percent of the budget to handle unexpected issues such as faulty electrical wiring behind an old wall, according to BuildDirect, an online supplier of home improvement products.

Ghastly utility bills

When Glazer renovates intown Atlanta homes, his crew often will remove plaster and find no insulation. “We end up ripping off most of the sheet rock and insulating the walls,” he said.

The No. 1 issue that Pourhassan saw when he renovated homes was lack of energy efficiency. Little-to-no insulation, lead pipes that resulted in water trickling to the shower and sinks, and single-pane windows were among key issues. Older toilets, faucets and showerheads can be replaced with low-flow fixtures and dual-flush toilets bearing the WaterSense label (an U.S. Environmental Protection Agency program).

When building homes, Pourhassan uses spray-foam insulation, Energy Star appliances (brands such as Thermador), tankless water heaters and high-efficiency windows by manufacturers such as Marvin and Jeld-Wen. He estimates that the 6,000-square-foot homes he builds have an average monthly power bill of $300-$400, compared to twice as much for homes without those type of energy-efficient features.

For older homes, he suggests starting with the windows. “One of the best things you can do in a house is to replace older windows,” he said. “You’re losing a lot of heat and cooling through these windows.”

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