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Cover story: Good contractors handle big surprises
When Steve Briggs and Steve Weiss, principals with SAI Contractors in Cabin John, worked with homeowners in North Arlington to demolish their home and build a new one on their lot, they never expected to find three streams running underneath the site.
“We were building a Queen Anne-style home with a $750,000 professional sound studio and theater in the subbasement, but when we got about 30 feet below the original grade, we hit three different streams,” Mr. Weiss said. “We had to figure out a way to handle what was essentially becoming a lake in their backyard.”
Mr. Briggs, Mr. Weiss and the homeowners are all committed to avoiding waste and using green technology. Their solution was to redesign the basement and the landscaping to collect the water and use it for irrigation and flushing the home’s toilets.
“This type of water is called ‘gray water’ because it’s ground- or storm water and not potable,” Mr. Weiss said. “We worked with a landscaping company and an irrigation company that were already involved in the project as well as several Arlington County agencies.
“We basically had to mitigate the water situation in the basement, evacuate the water with sump pumps and store the water for reuse. We found industrial sump pumps and installed two, along with an alarm that alerts the homeowners when the backup system goes on.”
The homeowners have a whole-house generator that ensures the sump pumps will continue to work even if the power goes out. Mr. Briggs said the water is colored blue so everyone will know it’s not tap water.
While not every renovation or remodeling project will be quite this dramatic, many unexpected issues can arise in the midst of a project.
“It’s not possible to avoid all problems,” Mr. Weiss said. “The important thing is to see them as opportunities to adjust your plans. That’s why it’s so important to work with a knowledgeable, flexible contractor.”
When George Hodges-Fulton, a project leader and principal at BOWA in McLean, was hired to build a kitchen addition with a crawl space below, he and his contractors were surprised to find a buried oil tank when they started digging out the crawl space.
“Our first concern was that we might have punctured it and then oil would be leaching into the ground,” Mr. Hodges-Fulton said. “We were also concerned that the bottom might have rusted through and the oil [might have] created groundwater problems. Fortunately, neither had happened, and we were able to drain and remove the tank.”
The removal of the oil tank created a void, so BOWA was able to build a full-depth basement below the kitchen for storage. Mr. Hodges-Fulton said the county government was notified about the change in the plan so its knows the property now has a full basement.
When Mike Patterson, owner of Patterson Builders-Remodelers in Gaithersburg, was working on an addition to an 1890s-era home in Garrett Park, he and his employees found an odd concrete pit with rusted gears.
“We decided to remove it, not knowing what it was, and six months later, the homeowners sent us a photo they had found that showed there had once been a huge windmill next to the house,” Mr. Patterson said.
On another of Mr. Patterson’s projects, hundreds of mummified mice tumbled from the walls after his crew started demolishing the plaster for a renovation on an older home.
“We figured out that the insulation around the wires inside the walls was made of fiber, which appealed to the mice,” Mr. Patterson said. “We figured the mice had gotten inside the walls, bitten into the fiber and then gotten zapped and fell down inside the wall.”
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