Cursed house: the smell of wet insulation

This is the second post in a series of personal stories about how my parents’ house has some really bad luck.

You know how scent is associated with memories? The smell of warm cookies reminds you of visiting your grandparents. A warm, salty breeze takes you back to that family vacation when you were a kid. But are you able to see something and then recall the smell? I can!

The summer after my freshman year of high school, my parents decided it was time to have some work done on the house. The first step was replacing the roof. Their house being old (like “parts of the original log cabin still exist” old), the roof was…rough. It had a rafter construction, so the roofers had to take the entire roof apart.

Before they could put the nice, new trusses in place, they had to make the top plate level. This took some Doing™ apparently, and they made slow progress. When Friday rolled around, it rained. The roofers had put tarps flat across the top of the house, but some water soaked through and damaged the drywall ceiling in a few places. No big deal—that’s easy to fix.

So then Monday rolls around. Both of my parents are at work, so I’m home with my sisters on a warm June day in the Ohio Valley. If you don’t know about warm June days in the Ohio Valley, they sometimes have pretty bad storms. Come the afternoon, several tornado warnings have been issued. Being the eldest child (and also a weather weenie), I keep my eye on the TV coverage. My memory is a little fuzzy on this point, but I seem to recall having to get my sisters to shelter at least once.

But the important part here is that it rained. And rained. And rained some more. Officially, Standiford Field recorded 0.86″ of rain that day. At my parents’ house a dozen miles to the northwest, it rained slightly more than that.

The tarps were still on the not-roof, but they were still flat. This meant that water could not run off and fall to the ground, but instead puddled. Slowly, water began seeping through the tarps. And into the house. Not just in one or two places like it had on Friday, but all over.

The living room. The dining room. My parents’ room. My sisters’ room. The bathroom. Water was coming in everywhere. (My bedroom and the kitchen were an addition and had a separate roof, which spared them). For the next few hours, we became a bucket brigade.

Everything we could find, we put to use catching the water falling from the ceiling. Trash cans. Buckets. Our sleds. The water became a steady stream in some places, filling up the small trash cans almost as soon as we could empty them. Meanwhile, severe thunderstorms still threatened.

Eventually the rain stopped and my parents came home from work. It was clear that staying in the house that night was not an option. Everything was wet and the ceiling was falling in the living room. We stayed in a hotel that night, and for the rest of the week. Then we spent three weeks in the basement of some friends. After six months in a rental house, we were able to return to our home.

All of the interior walls and ceilings had to be replaced. The floor (including the floor joists) in two rooms were also replaced. We threw out many of our possessions: books, toys, furniture, clothing. So much had been soaked through. High temperatures were in the 90s the rest of the week, making it oppressively humid in the house.

The smell of wet insulation and drywall is something else. It sticks with you. For years, if I saw a picture of damage, I could smell the insulation as if I were standing there in the middle of the aggressively moist house.

We fired the roofers. Our insurance company sued their insurance company. Life went on. But we never did the addition that we had planned.

1 thought on “Cursed house: the smell of wet insulation

  1. You really had some traumatic events in your childhood! I know you said “life went on,” but having a house you lived in become uninhabitable *twice* is wicked hard.

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