July 31, 2012 by megmstephens
This post is a story about Heartland House on the first weekend that I owned it. It’s not a pleasant story, so if your stomach is sensitive I would recommend you stop reading now. Really.
There were many reasons that Heartland House was so cheap. First, it’s in the rust belt of America, where manufacturing jobs were once plentiful but now barely exist. There are many abandoned houses in towns like this, to the point where the City owns quite a long list of properties. I didn’t buy Heartland House from the city, nor was it a tax sale. But it could have been, based on the condition of the house. The people who lived there before just up and left, including leaving behind furniture and other miscellaneous items that had never been cleaned out.
There was also the ankle-deep sewage waste in the basement that had been sitting and decomposing for 8 months. That might have been a small factor in the very low listed price of the house. Walking through the house for the first time there was a very strong smell, partially coming from the basement and partially from the left-behind furniture and carpets. The story the neighbors told me later confirmed that the sewer line had been broken and disconnected from the house for about 6 months, and the residents continued to live there and use the facilities.
Cleaning out the living spaces in the house was a pretty sad story. I found kid’s toys and bottles and school papers, meaning there were at least a few kids living in this place ranging from infant to probably middle school. I did find several papers and a business card from a Child Protective Services caseworker, so I am hoping that the kids were removed from this house and taken somewhere else with actual plumbing and facilities.
I was still left with a mess to clean up in the basement. I bought the house on a Friday, June 1, and on June 2 I tackled cleaning the house and getting supplies for cleaning the basement out. In the afternoon on June 3, I geared up in disposable coveralls, rainboots, double latex gloves, and descended into the basement pit:
I took a shovel and a couple of 5-gallon buckets I found lying around the property down into the basement with me. I would fill a couple of buckets halfway and then lift them to the ledge halfway out of the basement. Then I would climb up next to them and out of the basement and haul the buckets out of the hole the rest of the way and dump them on a tarp. It was really hard work, and disgusting.
I was very lucky that Allison chose that day to be the first day she came over to help me at the house. I am not sure how long it would have taken without her help, and I don’t like to think about it! She was the up top person, grabbing the buckets from the halfway ledge and dumping them. I would take the empty buckets from her and fill them and set them on the ledge, meaning I didn’t have to climb in and out of the basement with every trip. It was a backsaver! And for some reason she still has come back to help, even after that first day’s experience.
The basement, in addition to being ankle deep with sewage, also had an interesting collection of random junk mixed in. There was a ladder, some bags of pink batt insulation, kids’ toys, a few more buckets, wooden steps, and lots of drink containers: beer, pop, Styrofoam cups from the gas station down the road, and even a coffee mug.
The wooden steps ended up being a help, too. I’m only 5′-3″, and the distance to the halfway ledge to get out of the basement was about at my waist. Once the steps were shoveled out and I figured out what they were I turned them over and set them by the ledge. That made cleaning out the basement easier too.
Another thing I had to contend with was the plumbing. It had been redone with PEX at some point, but nothing was supported. All the runs were just dangling from the main supply or the fixture they fed to, creating a spider web of PEX across the basement. It was creepy to take a step back and feel something brush my shoulder…
So eventually I ended up cutting it all down to get it out of the way. It was all going to get replaced anyway, so I thought I might as well get it out before I had a heart attack from being startled and I died in the basement with my shovel and poo-buckets.
The corners of the basement were the worst. It was piled up to my knees in a few of
the corners, and the picture shows what the bottom of the cellar steps looked like. They still look very similar to this today, minus the piles of poo. Soon we will get to the point of making structural repairs, and these cellar steps will be history. I have another plan for what to do for basement access, and believe me when I say it will not involve ledges, poo-stairs, or cellar stairs like we have now.