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When to go back into debt for house repairs - and how far?

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 

DH and I have been working on getting out of debt, and the last of it is $700 on a student loan.  We quit paying extra on everything in order to prepare for the birth of our twins and my unpaid maternity leave.  I ended up having a miscarriage, and we're waiting to get the hospital bills.  In the past two months, we've also had a major drain backup, which resulted in $900 of plumbing repairs/modification.  Two trees fell in our yard, and we had to pay tree trimmers to assist with removal ($600).  Our car has needed $1400 worth of work.  I also had to take the cat to the vet this week and then have her put to sleep.  So there went our savings/emergency fund.  We currently have about $1200 left in savings.


And then tonight DH used drain cleaner that ate through our bathroom pipes, corroded the front of our appliances, resulted in a minor kitchen flood, and rendered our only tub/shower unusable.


The plumbing in this house has been no end of misery.  Last summer we had a drain backup/flood that ruined the kitchen ceiling and floor.  We had a "blackwater" incident the year before.  And earlier this summer the kitchen sink drain pipes needed to be replaced.  I've just about had it.


I guess what all this background is leading up to is when do you stop with the piecemeal repairs and just rip it all out and replace it?  We have a good income and essentially no debt, but also no real savings.  But the folks who owned our house for the 40 years before we bought it did not make sound improvements.  The house is almost 100 years old, so some repairs are expected.  But the half-assed plumbing work they did is nickle and dime-ing us to death.  


Do we just suck it up, take out a home equity loan/LOC, and replace the bathroom plumbing so we can be done and know that everything is done properly?  Or just repair the pipe that is currently leaking and then hope for the best until we can save more money?  The subfloor in the bathroom is almost certainly gross and water damaged from all of the above incidents.  Do we pull up the floor too?  Or just worry about the plumbing, which can all be reached from/through the ruined kitchen ceiling?


Assuming nothing else in our life falls apart, we can save $500-700 per month...  

post #2 of 8

So sorry for all of your recent losses. *hugs*


I'd get a few plumbers/contractors in there to give you an estimate and let you know how bad things are plumbing-wise. Could you get away with just repairing the leaky pipe? Or will other parts of the plumbing get worse (and more expensive) over time?


I'm almost leaning more towards just repairing everything now vs waiting. With water leaks and plumbing problems, I'd be concerned about mold and the health of your family. Get everything taken care of now, nip future problems in the bud, and you'll have the peace of mind that nothing will explode at the worst time. It sounds like you can't really trust the plumbing system to work correctly, and there's a lot of potential for even more damage (wet sheet rock/walls, ruined floors, etc.) Getting into debt stinks when you're almost out, but I think that for your family's health and preventing worse future plumbing problems, its a good use of debt.


Definitely get the estimates and opinions first, look at your budget and be sure that you can afford the home equity loan, find out how invasive the repairs would be, how long they would take, etc.

post #3 of 8

We have a similar home (almost 100 years old, very little work done on it in quite some time, most of it shoddy repairs/cover ups). There was so much work to do on our house when we first moved in. We had it inspected and the previous homeowner also told us some of the issues she had. Anything that would a) cost more in the long run (heating!), b) posed a possible health risk, c) cause more damage if we left it alone got fixed asap. That pretty much left cosmetic stuff for last. So we put in all new plumbing, put a new roof on, and we're insulating left and right... but our floors are still old rough hardwood waiting to be refinished and our counter top is chipped and ugly. :/


For the first year and a half we paid for things as they came up but when the roof started leaking we decided to borrow more. It was very sad (especially considering we had just finished the room where it leaked!!!)  and it was a little frightening to up our mortgage but it was worth it. It had to be done so we did it right and the materials are supposedly guaranteed for 40 years. In my books, it counts as debt that protects your whole investment. What good is a house if the roof or plumbing leaks?


So I vote for redoing the whole thing. Shop around for quotes or if you know someone handy, look into DIY. DH did our plumbing using PEX. It was slow going (his fault, not the PEX wink1.gif) but once it was finally in, we haven't had a problem. 


Good luck! 

post #4 of 8

Since these plumbing problems have the potential (and history!) to cost way more if left untreated than to fix I would dive in and get it done.  At least interest is a controlled expense.  The damage water can do is not.  It can ruin your appliance, flooring, ceilings, paint, personal property, etc etc.  Depending on what goes next it could effect your foundation as well.  

post #5 of 8
Thread Starter 

We had the plumber out today, and he'll be back on Monday to finish the job.  He comes highly recommended by both co-workers and my mom, and he's AMAZINGLY reasonable.We decided to have him replace the drains, since those are the problems/potential problems.  The supplies aren't a big deal, so we're leaving those alone, though they will be replaced with PEX when we redo the bathroom.  We're doing all the demolition and clean-up ourselves to save a bit of money.  


The biggest issue right now is that we have to remove the kitchen ceiling in order to access the plumbing.  Because we're already tearing it apart, and finding new problems like improper electrical connections, we're going to end up sprucing up our kitchen into the bargain.  We already have new flooring in there, but there is a wall that needs to be rebuilt in order to run a heating duct up to the second floor (it used to be there, but a previous owner removed it irked.gif  ), and we'll remove wallpaper, paint and put new drywall on the ceiling.  We may be able to do it without a home equity loan...  But the other side of the new wall being built is the dining room.  And we'll have to pull up the flooring in there as well.  Thankfully, everything but the plumbing and electric is something we can do ourselves.  I think we could do the plumbing too, but I don't want to take any chances given our luck lately.


I feel like I'm opening a can of worms.  Now that I'm thinking about what the repair entails, the plumbing is just the beginning...

post #6 of 8

Yeah, I was gonna post that you can pretty well count on it not being "just the plumbing".  Last year, we moved out of our home of 10 years and it was the same as yours except 50 years older (150yo).  SAME thing, too: whatever the prior owners did was COMPLETELY half-assed.


TRY, TRY, TRY to limit yourself to the repairs that have potential to be an actual hazard in the future and count on it costing 20-25% more than the estimates. Something always comes up.  :/

post #7 of 8

I just went through something similar with the tile roof on my nearly 100 year old home we've owned for 10+ years. We ended up doing a refi and taking some equity out to pay for the roof repairs. And more still needs to be done. I kind of agree that sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and do it. I'm still putting in 15% into my 401K and the max in our Roth IRAs so I consider it good debt. And tax deductible. 

post #8 of 8
Thread Starter 

After talking with the plumber and looking at all of the various problems and work that needs to be done, I think we're just going to do it bit by bit as we have the cash.  I'll keep my Dave Ramsey-ish emergency fund, though I will probably have at least $2000 in it (or will once we build it back up!).  We're finishing up with the plumbing today, then we'll address the scary electrical wiring we found.  The rest is technically cosmetic work, though it's pretty intensive cosmetic work.  But it can wait til we're able to pay cash.  I guess I kind of panicked when the pipes started leaking, and although there is a lot of work to be done, I don't have to have it done all at once.

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