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How my fixer-upper almost killed me

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 31, 2012 09:05 AM

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We've dodged a number of bullets since my wife Karen and I bought a decrepit village colonial near Natick center a decade ago this summer and began renovating it.

First off, we managed to avoid an electrical fire, a miracle given the knob and tube wiring in the house was so archaic the lights in the house would dim when we turned on our small toaster oven.

We also lucked out and never fell through to the basement while using the bathroom, a real possibility given how soft and rotten the flooring around the toilet was.

And thankfully no one was working in the yard when an old and defunct chimney tumbled down into the yard from its ungainly perch atop what was then the bump-out kitchen.

The worn wiring, creaky bathroom and other unpleasant features of the old house are fast becoming distant memories now, with Scott, our trusty neighborhood builder having overhauled and added onto our old house a couple years ago.

But in a blast from the past, the last piece yet to be revamped, the garage, came close to doing me in last night.

A relic from the 1920s, the small concrete structure was once probably the envy of the neighbors, big enough to house a Model T.

I guess we could have tried to squeeze my old Saturn sedan into it, but instead w used it for storage, packing it with shelves, a huge and heavy tool chest, bikes, saws, shovels and the like.

Looking back on the events of Monday evening, it is a very good thing we never tried to park a car in there.

I was in the middle of mowing the lawn, scrambling to finish in the fading light, when I had to dash into the garage to get the gas can.

No problem. But on the return trip, as I headed back into the garage to put the gas can back, the floor felt oddly spongy. Then, in a flash, all heck broke loose.

Shelves, saws, bikes, strollers, shovels and paint cans can crashing down around me as the floor beneath gave way,  trapping me under a pile of junk and leaving me wondering whether the wall was coming down too.

As it turned out, thankfully it was just the floor. Some boneheaded builder back in the twenties had slapped down a wooded floor and poured two inches of concrete over it, without any supports underneath. The space below, in turn, had been hollowed out to create a three to four foot deep crawl space.

Trapped under a mountain of junk, my next door neighbor and a couple passers-by teamed up to pull me out.

I escaped with just a scratch or two - the 500 pound metal tool chest missed me. If it was going to happen, better me than to one of my children, who could easily have wound up seriously injured.

So where do we go from here? Scott, our builder, came by and took a look this morning. While the floor was rotten, the rest of the structure is sound, so we may just extricate our bikes and tools and pour gravel into the hole, rebuilding a floor above it.

We spent years ignoring the garage, always pledging to do something about it the next year. Now it looks like next year has finally arrived, and with a bang at that.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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