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Saving Etta - One Woman's Journey to Save a House Built in 1900 | Pretty Handy Girl
Saving Etta: Chapter 12 – Discoveries

This is the true story about a house built in 1900 that is in serious disrepair. It’s also the story about my journey toward becoming a general contractor and my attempt to save a home from being bulldozed. I hope you’ll follow along as I embark on a journey into the unknown perils and rewards of flipping a home in downtown Raleigh, NC.

If you are just joining the story, you may want to read all the Saving Etta chapters for more of the back story.

Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Instagram as I share live updates about this project I’m calling Saving Etta.

As I walked around the house assessing anything else that needed removal before the mold remediation, I had that nagging feeling again. Although I had tested the flooring for asbestos, I felt like I was missing something. I looked up a phone number and pushed “call” on my phone. The span of five years disappeared as a familiar voice said, “Hello.”

Never in a million years did I think I’d hear from Jeff again, but here I was in the present day hearing him on my phone.

“Hi Jeff. This is Brittany Bailey. You had worked on my house five years ago to get rid of asbestos vinyl flooring in our kitchen.” I quickly explained.

Surprisingly he remembered who I was (probably because he doesn’t meet too many women who decide to renovate their kitchens all by themselves).

We talked for about 15 minutes and he kindly talked me through all the possible locations I should test for asbestos. I had checked them all until he mentioned the joint compound. He told me he was in the area and could stop by to show me where to take the samples from.

Jeff stepped out of the truck and said, “Nice to see you again. It has been a few years, right?”

“Yes, It’s been about five years.” I replied.

I was immediately pulled back to that day. Just when I didn’t think things could get any worse on our minor kitchen leak, the restoration team manager called me to tell me he had bad news. They had begun to remove the flooring to get rid of the mold and found a layer of linoleum flooring underneath that had tested positive for asbestos.

“What? You have to be kidding me! Asbestos is only in old homes. Our house was built in 1978.” I exclaimed.

Sadly our home was built at the tail end of the asbestos window. Even though the products were no longer allowed to be manufactured, stores were permitted to sell any asbestos products still on the shelves. Unbelievable! You’d think they’d outlaw everything. I read there were reports of asbestos related deaths as far back as 1940 and yet no one pushed to remove asbestos from building materials until the late 70’s.

Within a day Jeff pulled up to our suburban Raleigh house and began to seal off our kitchen. It looked like a remake from the movie E.T. The doors were sealed with plastic and big “WARNING: Asbestos Beyond this Point” signs were taped to the doorways.”

The crew set up a metal stall in the driveway. Jeff explained it was a shower and the workers wore disposable suits and underwear. When they finished with the removal process, they went directly into the shower and stripped down to clean any trace fibers off their skin. Then they could get dressed in their street clothes.

The workers hauled out big square sections of our flooring with the edges taped off to prevent any asbestos fibers from flaking off the edges. Then all the disposable clothing and tarps were double bagged and hauled away in a big truck.

I found the entire process fascinating and terrifying at the same time.

After our own asbestos abatement, I didn’t think I’d see Jeff again. I actually hoped I wouldn’t under a business need. But here I was shaking his hand five years later, and talking about taking asbestos samples from Etta’s interior.

I warned Jeff about the black mold and he grabbed a respirator from his truck. We walked around the house and he showed me how to take samples all the way down to the studs in each room. He showed me how to keep the area wet with a spray bottle and how to clean up after taking a sample. I felt less nervous as Jeff explained that as long as you take precautions, the risk of exposure is minimal.

Jeff turned toward the kitchen and pointed out a strip of vinyl flooring peeking out from under the subfloor. How could I be so stupid not to test for multiple layers? I lamented all the additional samples I needed to take and felt like turning the task over to someone else.

Jeff reassured me by saying, “You got this.” Then he and I discussed any other areas I should sample. (Most of which I had already tested.)

After Jeff left, I reflected that every time I felt discouraged and wanted to give up on this massive project, there was someone urging me to keep going. Many of the people who have spurred me on are online friends and readers. When my spirits are low and I feel like giving in, I get an email or a comment from one of my readers telling me if anyone can save Etta, I can. I am eternally grateful to everyone who has been “in my corner”. It seems I have amassed a huge squad of cheerleaders along the way.

I deposited the double bagged ziplock of samples into the truck and washed my hands using the outside hose. My eyes scanned up and down the street, staying aware of my surroundings when I am alone. The weather was hot and humid, but there was a nice breeze blowing. I left the truck door open as I sat in the driver seat and ate my snack. Suddenly my eyes focused on movement in the bushes next to the driveway. A disheveled looking man popped out of the bushes in the vacant lot next door. He saw me looking at him and walked toward me, hand outstretched. I hesitantly shook his hand as he started talking to me. He said his name was William, but the rest of what he said was unintelligible. His words were slurred and his eyes were yellowed. I finally deduced that he was either drunk, on drugs, or mentally off. Wishing him a good day, I quickly walked back into the house. I was slightly shaken, but relieved that he hadn’t made any movements toward me beside the handshake. My self defense instructor’s voice spoke up in my head. “Don’t let anyone in your personal space. Be firm and don’t be afraid to come across as rude. Women are too worried about being polite, and that’s a real problem.” I had definitely failed that lesson. I vowed to keep my distance from William and not let any strangers get close enough to shake hands in the future. 

Back inside I cleaned up any dust from the plaster before heading to the lab. As I walked through the kitchen something caught my eye. I stared at a hole in the drywall where I had removed a cabinet the day before. What was that? I saw a horizontal aqua colored stripe inside the hole. I tugged the wallboard around it and uncovered bead board with a chair rail on top. “Oh, so pretty.” I said aloud, my words muffled by the respirator. I knew I had yet to get the asbestos results back from the drywall, but I couldn’t stop myself. I kept tearing into the wall. A layer of shiny laminate wall board sat on top of the chair rail. Behind that was more drywall. The layers fell to my feet as I pulled back the years like opening a trick present that has been wrapped numerous times.

A layer of lattice and flowers revealed itself. I carefully removed the wallpaper adhered to cardboard and set it aside. The beautiful pattern might look nice in a shadowbox frame, I thought to myself. There were many found objects I was collecting in the hopes of displaying them in the house when it was finished.

Saving Etta - wallpaper & beadboard

Behind the cardboard was wood lathe. I pulled a few pieces out and the carcass of a petrified mouse fell out of the wall. I scooped out the remains of her nest between the two studs. Suddenly, I stopped digging in the wall. What I saw behind the nest made me jump with excitement.

Continued in Chapter 13

If you are just joining the story, you may want to read all the Saving Etta chapters.

Are you enjoying the Saving Etta chapters? I’d love to hear from you! What are you enjoying the most?

29 replies
    • Rusty
      Rusty says:

      Edge of the seat is right, When you get tired of contracting take up writing – great stuff! What I like best is the sheer painstaking professionalism. Eager I am too.

      Reply
  1. Lindsay Pearson
    Lindsay Pearson says:

    These are so well written and riveting! You have many talents and I always can’t wait until the next installment. Thanks for including us on the fun!

    Reply
  2. Kevin
    Kevin says:

    This series is great ! It is so sad to see just how many old(and beautifully designed) homes get pulled down and replaced with something more modern yet ugly….
    Kevin

    Reply
  3. Eileen
    Eileen says:

    A cliffhanger – oh no, now I have to wait for the next chapter.

    You’re amazing, Brittany. I’m one of those cheerleaders in your corner 😉

    And thank you for the reminder about personal space. I’m timid and really hesitate to “be rude.”

    Reply
  4. Linda L Weeks
    Linda L Weeks says:

    you know how to write a cliff-hanger! I can’t wait to read what comes next! Good luck with Etta, it is a lovely little house… to my eye!

    Reply
  5. Colleen Taylor
    Colleen Taylor says:

    What did you find? It must be good or your wouldn’t go back for more. My daughter & I have often said, remodeling is a sick addiction but so worth it in the end. You are 1 tough lady! Keep on going!

    Reply
  6. Barbara
    Barbara says:

    Another great chapter! Always some good lesson learned long the way. I learned that personal space one too! Goes for the internet as well. Can’t wait to see what you found and yes, we are cheering you on!

    Reply
  7. Jenni
    Jenni says:

    I have loved these updates. I am curious – you said that you ripped into the wallboard even though you hadn’t gotten the results back yet from the lab. If they came back positive, what would that have meant? Would you have contaminated that whole area? I only ask because I’m worried that our walls could have asbestos in the joint compound and we didn’t know this before drilling holes in them or pulling out some cabinets that removed part of the drywall with them.

    Reply
  8. Carla from Kansas
    Carla from Kansas says:

    I just read all 12 chapters after getting your best of 2017 post. This is riveting and you definitely have the makings of an ebook. I love old houses and can’t wait to read more about this project.

    Reply

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