I have so been there. Too bad "Rescue Renovation" wasn't. The DIY Network TV show that pulls over-zealous remodelers out of their pickles was nowhere in sight during any of my umpteen demolition disasters.
Where was show host Kayleen McCabe and her hunky handsome crew when I was up to my eyeballs in rubble, broken pipes and torn-out sheetrock? Like the time my husband and I knocked out a pillar in our basement that was, uh, structural.
Fortunately for the Romanos and the Leos, two couples who live in Denver, where "Rescue Renovation" is taping, their renovations ran amok in the right place at the right time. Their projects will be featured in upcoming episodes, but here's a preview:
'Do I need you'
Mike and Marissa Romano bought their 130-year-old Victorian home for its charm. (In real estate lingo, charm means trouble, the way a shiny vintage car or a pretty girl means trouble, all that alluring deception.) The Romanos, who are in their late 20s, bought the two-bedroom, two-bath house eight years ago, and have been fixing it up.
"It needed cosmetic changes in every room," said Marissa Romano, who came home one day recently to find her husband had decided to demo the upstairs bathroom. After Mike had gutted the space, which had ugly carpet and mildew, he uncovered floor joists that had sunk several inches in spots and were wobbly. While trying to fix the floor, his foot slipped off a loose joist and....
"I was in the kitchen when I saw Mike's leg crash through the ceiling," recalled Marissa. "I thought the rest of him was coming next."
The next day — talk about luck — Mike was in a coffee shop down the street and met McCabe. She noticed his firefighter sweatshirt, knew a guy who worked at the same fire station and struck up a conversation, which led to him say, "Do I need you!"
Moments later, McCabe was in the Romanos' torn-up bathroom saying, "What an awesome mess!"
She and her crew took it from there. They fixed the joists and other issues that come with a century-old house. They put in new appliances, tile and fixtures, and a door between the master bedroom and bath – all while staying within the Romanos' $10,000 budget.
"The result is way different from what we were planning, and a lot better," said Marissa. Only one problem, she added: "Now Mike has some dangerous new knowledge, and he's thinking of tackling the kitchen."
Out of the jungle
Meanwhile, a few miles away, Doris and Bryan Leo had gotten into their own mess. Their four-bedroom1960s ranch house had a space they affectionately called "the jungle room," a shabbily enclosed a patio that housed a broken hot tub, an oversized plant that looked like it ate humans and a swampy atmosphere.
"We did our best to ignore it," said Doris Leo.
What they really wanted instead, however, was a great bonus room that would transition their indoor space to the outdoors and also be a living space where they could hang out with their two daughters.
They embarked on what they thought would be a modest remodel that would involve four new walls and a new hot tub, she said. But once they tore the room apart, they found leaks in the five skylights, faulty plumbing and electrical wiring not to code.
"When we hit the plumbing and roofing issues we knew we were in over our heads," she said.
A friend told them that "Rescue Renovation" was looking for projects in peril and they raised their hands. The rescued space has a new, non-swampy hot tub against a wall with a waterfall, one tight skylight instead of five leaky ones, six windows looking onto the backyard and an inviting sitting area.
"We sit in here every night," said Doris. "It gives our house its wow."
Because not everyone can have their renovations rescued, here's what the Romanos and Leos say they've learned from the wreckage:
•Plan before you plunge. Neither couple had a plan for their rooms. Both just figured they would gut the space first, then decide. Bad idea. Don't knock out anything until you have a plan, even if you need to change it.
•Expect trouble. Imagine the worst (mold, faulty pipes, bad wiring, hornet's nests) and plan for it. You'll never anticipate every problem, but you'll be a step ahead when you find problems and you'll be pleasantly surprised if you don't.
•Think through all the steps. The Leos knew they wanted a hot tub and the one they had wasn't worth fixing. However, they didn't think through how to remove the old tub. The switch required them to rent a boom truck to lift both tubs and to remove an exterior wall, which added costs. "We didn't see that coming, but we should have," said Doris Leo.
•Stay open. Though the Romanos had pictured blue and gray spa colors in their updated bath, they love the sage and chocolate direction the crew proposed. "I'm glad I listened," said Marissa Romano.
•Pay for design. Even if you do the remodel yourself, pay for a few hours of design consulting. Both couples agreed that involving designers made their spaces way better than they could have imagined, for the same money.
"Rescue Renovation" airs Tuesdays 8:30 p.m. on the DIY Network. See local TV listings. The Romano episode airs May 31 and the Leo episode on Aug 2.
Marni Jameson is the author of "House of Havoc" and "The House Always Wins" (Da Capo Press).Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun