When I walked outside, the heat and humidity smacked me in the face. However, I faced the balmy late summer Florida morning because the love of my life wanted me to help her hang a wind chime off the balcony that sat over our front porch. Sometimes the “honey-dos” are much more challenging. But today I’d get those bonus points for a pretty simple task that would not require much time or effort.
As I opened the garage to get out the ladder, she explained that the reason she needed my help was because the wood underneath the headers was soft. As a result, the weight of her chimes kept pulling through. (By the way, she’s a very capable and resourceful person and doesn’t like to ask for my help often.) So when I heard that she was having trouble and the wood was soft, I realized it wasn’t going to be as simple a task as I had first thought. Yet I still leveraged my typical optimism and was sure I could get the chimes hung with out much effort and quickly troubleshoot a simple issue.
Often when things like happen around our home which is about 14 years old, it’s a surface issue which takes little time, effort or money to fix. I had jumped from thinking I could climb a ladder and screw in a hook to I’ll likely have to buy a 1X8 and do some sawing and painting. So I was still relatively optimistic, but just a little bummed that I’d have to spend the money on the repair.
As she finished explaining that she made several attempts with same failing results, I saw multiple holes along with a large chunk of wood missing from the finish board underneath. I looked down to see several chunks of rotten wood and grew even more concerned. The hook she used should have been long enough to screw into the much more hefty joists. While the facing was rotting away, why would the joist be soft?
Also as I set up the ladder and climbed, I saw that the entire 1×8 facing board was sagging. It wasn’t even attached to the header. My mind jumped to the realization that the nails had come loose from the header, and that wasn’t good. I pushed the sagging board back up hoping to feel some resistance from the solid wood beams above. Only I felt nothing and watched the board sag again as I removed pressure. After that I grabbed a screwdriver and pushed it up through the hole where the wood had fallen from one of her attempts to hang the chime. My heart sank. The screwdriver plunged deeper and deeper into where the header for the porch should have been.
Furthermore, I could press the screwdriver through the facing board at several points with the same results where the heftier beams should have been. Due to what I had found, I decided to pull the facing board down. It wasn’t a pretty sight. The majority of the header had either been destroyed by termites or rotted away by water damage. I was no expert with diagnosing what exactly had happened, so I called a friend of mine who came and took a look. He said it was water damage, which made me feel a little better. Being a commercial contractor and property developer, he also gave me a plan of action which required some pretty big decisions.
The last thing I wanted to do that day was a strenuous water damage repair job or spend the day on the phone trying to find a residential contractor. Nevertheless, I had to do something. The porch’s structure also supported a balcony that was in kind attached to my roof. We had found a serious issue. Fortunately, we found it before something worse happened. I quickly put my friend’s advice to work and placed supports under the balcony. I put a picture below.
My father came over to help me. Once we pulled most of the facing boards off, we could see the extent of the damage. Major support beams had completely rotted away. Also, the original builder had cut some corners that could have had devastating effects had we not found the issue in time. Some major support posts weren’t sufficiently supported in the middle of the structure. That issue compounded by a design error in water run-off management for the balcony’s floor had created a natural place for water collect and sit. Over time the water had eaten through the metal(!) flooring and found its way into a sealed box facing that wrapped the headers. Therefore, the headers had been sitting in water or damp conditions for years. Now they were little more than mush due to the water damage.
Why does this matter to you? Well, we all come to these kinds of issues. Something breaks. Maybe something wears down. An issue can arise and hit us out of nowhere, and we are forced to do something that is expensive. An HVAC unit goes bad. You car requires a repair. The garage doors need repairing and refinishing. Maybe your toilet stops flushing. The ground erodes under your patio brick. An unexpected medical issue arises. The faucet won’t completely shut off. A tooth breaks. A medical issue requires you to spend thousands out of pocket. Your balcony and porch have hidden water damage. Weird stuff happens. Wear and tear comes of age.
You have a choice. The issue can eat at you and discourage you. Or you can rise to meet the challenge. The problem can knock you off the path to financial independence. Or you can be resourceful and soldier through all the while maintaining your resolve.
Most people get on the path to financial freedom only to get knocked off by life. Maybe they make a new year’s resolution. Or maybe they come to a point where they have the courage and motivation to start. They start saving and make some progress paying down debt. Then a challenge like this hits them, and they are forced to do something about it. Most have to contract work like this out, and the cost wrecks their progress. As a result, they give up.
In the example of my porch’s water damage repair, I’ll be honest. I was frustrated. I knew this could be super expensive. By estimates, this job would cost multiple thousands of dollars to contract out to the experts. I even heard figures over $10,000. Most contractors would require me to redo the entire structure even though it was obvious that wasn’t necessary. I get their reasoning, but I wasn’t going to just let it happen that way.
Such a costly set-back could certainly put a major dent in your financial plan. However, it shouldn’t knock you off the path. Most people would have to pay for such a problem with credit. Fortunately for us, we had the cash to cover it if we chose to do it through a contractor. I want you to be like that… able to pay with cash if necessary. Sure it would suck, but at least you wouldn’t be paying interest for months or years to come. So get on the path. Take the blows as they come. Pick yourself up. And keep going. Even if you have to pay for it or worse borrow to fix it, move forward on the other side.
While most people would have to pay someone for a repair like water damage, I’d like to offer a better solution. Learn how to fix something like this on your own. Maybe you don’t have the skills and are protesting. It’s OK if you don’t know how to do something like this. Maybe you know someone who does. A friend or acquaintance with the skill to fix something like this might help you out or at least give you qualified instruction for a smaller fee or some pizza and beer. It would be worth it.
You’d not only save a boat load of cash, you’d also gain some experience and skill you didn’t previously have. The value of learning such a thing is almost priceless. You can translate those skills to fixing all kinds of things. Sure it can be scary, but with the right guidance you really have little to worry about.
Fortunately for me, I had made similar repairs before. In fact, I had helped my father build a house all the way from clearing the land to completion and landscaping. I loathed most of the time spent doing it back when I was in high school. However, today I count it as invaluable and am forever grateful. That experience has given me confidence to fix most construction issues or even remodel a room. And it has saved me thousands of dollars. If you take the issue of my porch and its highest estimate for repair, it saved me around $10,000 last summer.
Yeah, I decided to fix the water damage myself. I spent the evenings and weekends that followed carefully pulling away the solid portions of the boards that remained. As I moved from one side to the other more and more of the solid wood survived. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to leave in place. Since I didn’t have anything solid to leverage against, the removal of the remaining lumber from the water damage proved to be pretty challenging and took a long time. I had to take special care to not destroy the ceiling of the porch. It was also a chance to get my boys involved and teach them some basic construction skills.
Once I finally had all the old water damaged wood removed, I purchased the necessary materials to replace the headers. Once I finished the major construction with the help of my father, wife and sons, we bought some paint. My amazing wife did most of the painting. I inserted picture of the finished project below. Please forgive the glare on the car window… it was raining.
To be honest, I don’t really favor this kind of work. What I mean is I don’t go looking for it. Some people intentionally spend their weekends on similar projects. I’d probably benefit from doing the same. I just prefer to use my time off differently. However, believe it or not I somewhat enjoyed the overall experience. The need to get it fixed kept me on task, and it felt like an inconvenience. But when I finished, I had a sense of accomplishment and a pride in how I spent the previous weeks and weekends.
All told, it cost just over $200 to fix my porch and balcony, a way better price than $10,000. Now I also invested some elbow grease and plenty of time as well. But most people would just pay someone else to do it. One of the best things you can do on your journey to financial freedom is invest some time into learning to fix things yourself. It will make unexpected repair expenses go significantly down. I saved thousands of dollars.
The principle also applies to other areas. Do your own yard work. Clean your own home. Change your own oil or even the belts and hoses in your car. Once you get started down this path, your skills will increase, your confidence will soar and your belief in reaching your financial goals will grow. Along with making progress down the financial independence path, you’ll gain skills that will help you make that progress permanent.
As an added benefit I was also able to do a big project with my family that helped us all. My younger son and I spent a lot of evenings on the ladder together. Those are great memories for me. And I also know he learned a few things and thinks fixing your own house is common. There were so many benefits.
Don’t let a set back like this knock you off your path to financial freedom. Hardship can be a blessing if you leverage it.