When home remodelers get in over their heads

May 21, 2011 

I have been there. Too bad "Rescue Renovation" wasn't. The DIY Network TV show that pulls overzealous remodelers out of their pickles was nowhere in sight during any of my umpteen demolition disasters.

Where was host Kayleen McCabe and her crew when I was up to my eyeballs in rubble, broken pipes and torn out sheetrock? Fortunately for two couples, the Romanos and the Leos, their renovations ran amok in the right place at the right time. Their projects will be featured in upcoming episodes, but here's a preview:

Mike and Marissa Romano bought their 130-year-old Victorian home for its charm. The Romanos bought the two-bedroom, two-bath house eight years ago, and have been fixing it up.

"It needed cosmetic changes in every room," said Marissa Romano, who came home recently to find her husband had decided to redo the upstairs bathroom. After Mike had gutted the space, he uncovered floor joists that had sunk several inches in spots and were wobbly. While trying to fix the floor, his foot slipped off a loose joist and...

"I was in the kitchen when I saw Mike's leg crash through the ceiling," Marissa recalled.

The next day - talk about luck - Mike was in a Denver coffee shop nearby and met McCabe. She noticed his firefighter sweatshirt and struck up a conversation. Moments later, McCabe was in the Romanos' torn up bathroom saying, "What an awesome mess!"

She and her crew took it from there. They fixed the joists, and other issues that come with a century-old house. They put in new appliances, tile and fixtures, and a door between the master bedroom and bath - all while staying within the Romanos' $10,000 budget.

Out of the swamp

Meanwhile, a few miles away, Doris and Bryan Leo had gotten into their own mess. Their four-bedroom 1960s ranch house had a space dubbed "the jungle room," a shabbily enclosed a patio that housed a broken hot tub, an oversized plant and a swampy atmosphere.

What they wanted was a bonus room that would transition their indoor space to the outdoors and also be a living space where they could hang out with their two daughters.

They embarked on what they thought would be a modest remodel involving four new walls and a new hot tub, she said. But once they tore the room apart, they found leaks in the five skylights, faulty plumbing and electrical wiring not to code. "When we hit the plumbing and roofing issues we knew we were in over our heads," she said.

A friend told them that "Rescue Renovation" was looking for projects in peril, and they raised their hands. The rescued space has a new, non-swampy hot tub against a wall with a waterfall, one tight skylight instead of five leaky ones, six windows looking onto the backyard, and an inviting sitting area.

How they learned

Because not everyone can have their renovations rescued, here's what the Romanos and Leos say they've learned from the wreckage:

Plan before you plunge. Both couples figured they would gut the space, then decide. Bad idea. Don't knock out anything until you have a plan, even if you need to change it.

Expect trouble. Imagine the worst (mold, faulty pipes, bad wiring, hornet's nests), and plan for it.

Think through all the steps. The Leos knew they wanted a new hot tub, but they didn't think through how to remove the old tub. The switch required them to rent a boom truck to lift both tubs, and to remove an exterior wall, which added costs.

"Rescue Renovation" airs at 8:30 p.m. Tuesdays on the DIY Network (digital cable channel 356 in the Triangle).The Romano episode airs May 31, and the Leo episode airs Aug 2.

Reach Marni Jameson at www.marnijameson.com.

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