the ballad of polly bee: in which newbie homeowners learn things they didn't want to know, but turn annoyance into opportunity

As you may or may not recall, Allan and I are first-time homeowners. In 2019, both of us in our late 50s, we bought a home in Port Hardy, BC, on the northern tip of Vancouver Island. We were lifelong renters, and had no desire to change that. But circumstances conspired... and here we are. 

Statement of privilege

We love our home, and we were incredibly fortunate to be able to purchase it, taking advantage of a government option for first-time homebuyers who have RRSPs, a temporarily depressed housing market, low interest rates, and a gift from my mother. We bought a modest home by North American standards, and we hope to live here for the rest of our lives.

I love our home. But I can't say I love being a homeowner. Maintaining a home is incredibly expensive and time-consuming. It was a big adjustment. I'm grateful to have the privilege, but I was happier renting.  

Bethatasitmay, I'm a homeowner now. I tell you this story with full awareness of my privilege. I have a secure, middle-income job, as does my partner, and we can afford our life well enough. So as you read this story, please know: I'm not complaining. I just want to share.

First there was a bubble

On New Year's Day 2021, Allan noticed a discoloration, a bulge in the ceiling. When he poked the bulge, water leaked out. Holy moly! Move the TV, get a bucket, call a plumber. It turned out an upstairs toilet need a new seal. But... while the plumber was there, the told us our home was full of Poly-B. Read about it online, said Plumber. And so I did. 

Poly-B was an inexpensive plumbing material used in the 1980s and 90s. It was very popular in western Canada. Turns out, 10-15 years after installation, Poly-B deteriorates and disintegrates. Not might deteriorate. Does deteriorate. There are class-action lawsuits and law firms specializing in Poly-B. 

Our house was built in 1994. The horizon for plumbing failure was already visible. We realized that the smart move was to replace the plumbing now -- while we are both employed, and while the ceiling was already open. Why wait until the plumbing fails and we need everything done on an emergency basis? What if the plumbing failed while we were out of town? How could we ever be comfortable knowing that a plumbing time bomb was ticking behind our walls?

And if you do have a flood because of Poly-B, the insurance company won't look at you. In fact, if you have any homeowner's claim at all, and Poly-B is discovered, insurance won't pay, even if the issue is not water-related!

The fun begins

So. We had the plumbing replaced. One plumber did 80% of the work, then moved out of the area. 

We found another plumber, and waited for his availability. 

Then at last, all the Poly-B was out of the house.

Then there was no ceiling in the family room and there were holes throughout the house.

Eventually we found a drywaller and waited for his availability. 

He filled the ceiling, and now it had an ugly flat patch in an otherwise-textured look. 

Then he disappeared.

We found another drywaller, and waited for his availability. 

He patched the rest of the holes. (We opted not to fill the holes beneath the sinks, hidden by cabinets.)

This whole process was really difficult for me. Money that I thought would be saved for travel or retirement was being used for maintenance. Important maintenance, yes. We could afford it, yes. But still. Ouch.

So. Now the necessary work is done. The rest is cosmetic. 

We were going to paint the drywall patches ourselves, thinking the previous owners left cans of paint to match every room. But the paint was old, the colours were off, and we realized it would look crappy. The house looked beautiful when we moved in, and I wanted it to look beautiful again.

Turning annoyance into opportunity

So. I made a decision. 

The house, as purchased, was painted in shades of gray -- a light charcoal gray with a darker charcoal gray border. One room was a mustard yellow, another a very pale blue. 

I love colour. I have always loved the look of colourful walls. We've painted accent walls in rental houses, and I've spent scads of money on colourful window treatments and other colour splashes. When I see rooms on TV or online with richly colourful walls, or when we visit countries where colour is a prominent design feature, I always love how it looks. 

I also like bright white walls, and the brightness that brings to a room. Bright white + colours = exactly my look.

Here was an opportunity to bring my own aesthetic to our home. 

I found a professional painter. I started putting money aside. I looked at colours. Choosing colours was crazy! Especially if you love teal. Teal can mean dozens of different things, depending on the mix of green and blue.

Painting finished last week. I absolutely love it.

Our social/hangout/watching room has a teal accent wall,and the teal also borders the bright white kitchen, hallways and stairs. The laundry room and downstairs bathroom (not shown) are also bright white.

A wall at the top of the stairs, visible when you enter the house, is also teal.

The upstairs bathrooms are both tangerine.

We didn't have the bedrooms repainted. The walls in our bedroom are a light sage green. The two rooms we use as offices, which were previously kids' bedrooms, are a bright swimming-pool blue (mine) and the colour of a greenscreen (Allan's). We both like the colours, so we kept them. 

I'll also throw in a vid of the best part of this house, the feature that sold us, and that is very dear to my heart: the deck. The deck is roofed, so useable in all weather, but the roof is 12 feet high, and translucent, so you don't feel like you're indoors. It's my little slice of heaven.


lungta said...

So you replaced poly B with what exactly? Or did I miss it?
back to copper maybe? Or better poly?(is there such a thing ?)
Got a call into my broker to get a reading. The plastic I have is frost repair and frost free hose add on so not a big deal but the voiding of insurance because of it is pretty harsh tho considering the mercenary merchants of fear ...just about right.`

laura k said...

Replaced with... I don't actually know. Definitely not copper. Some type of plastic, whatever is standard now.

Amy said...

I can't believe home owners' insurance companies refuse to cover this.

The colors look great! We are all muted and neutral colors, but your colors make me wonder if we should be more willing to take a risk next time we decide to paint. Did you do all this painting yourself??

laura k said...

Amy, thank you! We did none of it ourselves (see above).

Also, we didn't submit a claim or try to get our insurance to cover any of this. I was referring to potential future claims, had we not replaced the pipes. If pipes burst, and the insurance inspector sees Poly-B, they will not pay, and could drop your coverage until the Poly-B is removed and replaced.

Amy said...

Ah, that makes more sense. But still seems somehow wrong since it wasn't your fault the house had Poly-B installed.

There is a similar sort of thing going on in MA/CT where a quarry used by major contractors in the early 2000s to make concrete for foundations had faulty material, causing foundations to crack and fail in houses built in those years. The house we used to own used one of those contractors, and some of the foundations in that development have started to show cracks. (Ours did not---at least not at the time we sold it.) And I am not sure what insurance companies are doing when people make claims...maybe also denying those claims. I know CT passed legislation providing for a fund for people who make those claims, so perhaps insurance was not covering them.