Ask Sally

Ask Sally



Dear Sally:

Just over a year ago, my partner and I finally finished a major renovation of our home. We worked with a contractor for some of the projects and did other parts ourselves over long weekends.  It looks beautiful, but lately we’ve noticed some problems, cracks appearing over doorways, separation where there shouldn’t be separation in the new tile around our bathtub. Recently, I’ve notice that even the banister is coming loose in the front stairway. The contractor told us the house (which was built in the early 1990s) was just “settling” and that he would send someone out to take a look later this week. I’m a little concerned about the long-term structural safety of the house as well as the potential expense and inconvenience of having to deal with another major home repair right after the first. Both my partner and I are currently working.  I am pregnant and expecting in August.  The timing could not possibly be worse. Do you have any advice for how to handle this situation so I don’t, as my partner says, “freak the f*&$ out?”

Help! SOS!

Mayday Mom-To-Be


Dear Mayday,


I suppose this is where most folks start bashing the General Contractor. I can hear it and regularly do. But if you’re looking for me to participate, you may have written the wrong girl.


I like to think all General Contractors want to hop in their trucks and dash over to a previous client’s house ASAP but OMG that is so unfair. When my mother calls with her problems, I don’t hop in my 4-Runner and haul boogie to her assisted living facility. Heavens, no. I have to stop and evaluate. Is this an emergency? Is this mine? Do I have room for this? Is this an issue that has a clear solution? And to be honest, I don’t always tell her the truth.


I’m guessing your GC did not build the house. He may know that you elected for “long weekends” DIY-ing to save a buck to two, or two thousand. Why would he rush over? Seriously. We are not talking about fire or water. We are talking about cracks. Maybe he doesn’t know what to do. Maybe he does not have time to do it. Whatever.


Here’s the thing: it’s your house. Yep. You heard me. Yours. The cracks, the separation between the wall and the ceiling, the loose handrail? They all belong to you. And though you may not have caused the problem, they’re yours to deal with now.


I am guessing that you are mega-preggers and bed-bug crazed that you are bringing this baby back to a lemon of a home. Is it not a place you want on your birth announcement return address envelopes? Let’s just acknowledge that, accept it and move on. Call a new GC. If you are super-duper worried, call a structural engineer. Seriously. Skip the GC and get an answer for your real concern. I have a great guy named Frank who has laid eyes on plenty of my “old dogs” in Asheville. “If it ain’t broke,” he will tell me. And if the place was built out of cardboard and staples by a bunch of prospective 12-Steppers, then Frank will find a nice place to give me the real deal. In other words, Mama, just cut to the chase.


Realty check. I, too, like to think that 1990 was just yesterday. It was not. Hell, I’ve married and divorced twice since then, had babies who are now teenagers, changed careers and renovated countless homes both younger and older than yours. Your house hardly meets the pre-qualifiers for the National Historic Registry, but it’s old enough to vote, drink and die for its country. And really? It’s rare that we hear someone say “Wow, what a solid, well-built home,” or “Impressive framing” for anything built in the 90s. That sheet rock tape or the application therein may be ending the near of its lifespan.


Good news: Fixing newer construction does not require PhD. It’s not rocket science. If you’re needing some work beyond cosmetics. (and indeed are due a bit of structural, not-the end-of-the-world foundation work) this TLC can likely be done easily, maybe via an unfinished basement or a decent crawl space.


That rockin’ banister is a bit of a concern to me. Let’s get that fixed before you are carrying a baby down those stairs. I have had this work preformed on banisters young and old. It can be done. You might not need a GC. A brilliant trim carpenter can likely tackle this. If you have a GF who is building and installing a staircase, give her a jingle. Her installer may have the genie in the bottle you are looking for. It seems scarier than it is. Promise.


Now listen up: your house will never be perfect. Not now and not for this babe’s arrival. But just like you as a parent, your home is equipped with exactly what this baby needs. I am not a rich woman but I would put a few bills on that as fact.

From one mother to another,



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