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The Problem

We knew the attic had problems.

From the peeling garish floral wallpaper plastered upon nearly every exposed surface, to the stained gray industrial carpet, to the useless and horrifying salmon cubby-wall, to the original single-paned single-hung windows (circa 1912) that would not close and the storm windows with frames that had become separated from the wall, to the obvious water damage beneath the stairwell window that would leak 4 gallons a day of meltwater from the roof on a bad year.

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On top of that, the original architect obviously prized form over function - as no sane designer would intentionally build a residential roof with a flat center and valleys on both the north and south faces in a location that is frozen 6 months out of the year and routinely receives four feet of snow. The limited insulation options of the era (sawdust) for a sloped ceiling/roof combined with funneling a third of the roof's accumulation into two single drainage points is one of the best ways to ensure enormous ice dams and water penetration.

During the worst of the melting season, icefalls would develop at the two drainage points. Not icicles, icefalls. 10 feet tall and 18-24 inches around, they would hang precipitously over the walkways along either side of the house - poised to crush anyone unlucky enough to try and walk under at just the wrong moment.


We knew the attic needed to be ripped apart, resealed, and refinished from the studs down.

The Plan

The plan was to turn the attic space into a large, open bedroom for our two girls to share. A private 3-piece bathroom would be built in one corner (if feasible) with a shower, toilet, and sink to keep them from tying up the main bathroom as they grew older and turned into teenagers. It would be their space to do with as they wished until some day when they would leave home - at which point it would either be passed down to their siblings or converted into a master-suite.

Between 2012 and early 2016 we had used the space primarily for storage and as a temporary office until the basement was complete. Renovating the attic was intended to be in the 2-3 year plan. We knew that as soon as we commenced demolition, we would need to fix any structural deficiencies, complete any electrical, plumbing, and roofing work that would be required, and then insulate it before November of the same year in order to avoid running up massive heating bills through the winter.

It's Winnipeg, Manitoba (in Canada). Winter is cold. Insulation is not optional. A furnace problem the previous winter during one of the coldest stretches when the outside temperature hovered near -20C during the day, and approached -40C at night, plunged the interior temperature of the house from a comfortable 22C to 13C in a matter of hours.

The plan was to do the rough work during the summer to ensure the house was in a livable condition before the snow returned, and then use the winter months to do the interior including drywall, flooring and fixtures. With luck we could work on finishing and furnishing the space during the long daylight hours the following year and have it ready for use by September when our two oldest girls would be back in school.

However, the sudden news of a new baby arriving in October threw a wrench into those plans. Now with limited space our goal of 18 months suddenly shrunk to 10 months - so that we could finish the space and rearrange our children's living arrangements as soon as the new baby started sleeping through the night and could be transferred from the bassinet in our room to a crib in the shared kids' bedroom. Not only was the timeline suddenly cut in half, but the clock was already ticking.

Part 2: Demolition - Uncovering Past Mistakes