Things like picket fences that are screwed and to end and to trees with no posts. Or where there are posts they are sunk 4 inches into the ground with concrete around the top.

Or plumbing done with automotive parts or using the sump pump to empty the washer runoff.

Or main fuse boxes that are wired up with no rhyme or reason.

22 Answers 22


In a house we rented a while back, the previous tenants tried (and failed) to install a dishwasher. Apparently, they were too cheap to find an adapter to hook up the waste flow from the dishwasher, so they cut a hole in the waste line of the sink on the wrong side of the trap and epoxied a piece of PVC there. Then they hooked up the waste hose from the dishwasher and let it sit on the floor.

This caused dirty dishwater to flow back into the dishwasher where it sat and stagnated, and if there wasn't enough stagnant water in the hose, sewer gases would leak up through the dishwasher.

They also failed at the wiring, so the metal parts would occasionally carry some voltage and shock you if you're just unlucky enough. Good times.


I don't even know where to start. My home (a log cabin built by the previous owner) is a veritable shop of horrors. Some of the highlights.

1) One day I was leaning into a door by holding on to the piece of trim above the doorway. It came right off in my hand. It wasn't nailed or glued into place, just balanced on the vertical pieces of trim on the sides of the door.

2) The light switch boxes were apparently installed as a result of very little planning. They are too close to the door opening so that a notch is cut out of the trim around the door to accommodate putting the switch plate covers on them.

3) Many of the electrical circuits aren't grounded. It's not that there isn't a ground wire, it just isn't attached to the outlets/switches in the circuit. For some reason they are just cut off as they enter each box.

4) Scariest one - There was an ungrounded and obviously no GFI circuit than ran right next to an above ground pool. If the wall of that pool had leaked or collapsed that would have been an electro-fest.

5) Rigid Satillo tile installed right over the junction of two foundations (that weren't tied together). I'm sure you can guess why I know EXACTLY where those foundations meet.

6) A wire running along the outside of the wall and joined with electrical tape (no box) mid circuit. I didn't notice it until the water heater (right next to this) started leaking right onto that splice. Very scary.

7) The heat pump is installed in a small closet just so that to replace the filter I have to twist it considerably to fit it through the opening, usually mangling it.

8) Tons of trees planted way too close to each other in the yard. Now they are large mature trees that look like they are wrestling.

8) The plumbing in my well-house is unnecessarily haphhazzard. It is a made of stepping over and ducking under pipes just to get to the water softener, which I have to do carrying 40lb bags of salt.

9) The drain for the tub (clawfoot) is set right in the middle of where the tub goes instead of at the end where it belongs. It took some creative plumbing to make that work. The first plumber I called needed to escalate it to a more experienced guy from his company.

10) The electrical line from the main breaker to a workshop in the yard was strung across the yard like a clothesline. Had to be careful not to choke myself on it when mowing.

I've fixed several of these and continue to do so as my budget permits.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that the previous owner was such a cheapskate he would regularly underpay people who came out to my house to do work or intentionally nitpick their work in an effort to negotiate them down AFTER they finished the job. Several repair guys I've called had to be convinced I there was a new owner before they would come out.

  • Fortunately I don't have problem number 7 in my house, but unfortunately I do in my car... The clearance between the filter housing and the body of the car is about .25" too small... Air filters get smashed and bent installing and removing. Must have been a Summer automotive intern project. :-) – Brian Knoblauch Dec 3 '10 at 14:21
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    My car is the same way with the battery. You have to take 6 pieces of trim and engine cover off just to install or remove it. – JohnFx Dec 3 '10 at 14:31

The previous owners of my house were too cheap to buy wire nuts, every junction is just taped. Every time I simply want to change a switch, I end up rewiring the entire circuit. Not to mention the hidden junction box in my bathroom hanging loose with no cover and taped up connections, I almost had a heart attack when I found that.

  • Oh yes mine too. Many of mine have no covers as well, and they are hanging. – nportelli Sep 9 '10 at 11:46
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    You had tape on your connections? Luxury! – Alex Feinman Sep 9 '10 at 14:05
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    I have found old light fixtures hidden by the drop ceiling, that were feeding the new light fixtures. At least they used wire nuts though. – Brad Gilbert Sep 15 '10 at 15:29

We bought a house from people who had, lets call it, questionable taste in decorating and color schemes.

One of the first things we needed to do was take down the hideous wallpaper in the family room, and paint it a reasonable color.

It turns out they'd applied the wallpaper directly to the drywall - no primer, no paint, just paper glued to paper. We ended up using an oil-based primer to seal it, and then painted over it.

These same people had replaced carpeting at some point. Rather than get rid of it, they piled it - sometimes 3-4 layers deep - in the damp crawl space. Talk about smell! Fortunately, it cleared up when we got rid of the carpet.

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    It was perfectly good carpet, why throw it away? – nportelli Sep 9 '10 at 11:46
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    @nportelli: You're right. I'm sure it provided at least R1 of insulating value. – chris Sep 10 '10 at 14:03
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    And the thickness of the mold growing on top of the carpet would provide another R2! – Bill Karwin Sep 24 '10 at 1:28

My basement was installed backwards (seriously).

It's a split level house and the opening to the garage was supposed to be in the back of the house. This is because the ground slopes down from the road to the house in the front. I'm told by my neighbor (who was here when the house was built) that the contractor accidentally poured the concrete for the basement 180 degrees backward. This put the opening to the garage on the front of the house, and since the ground slopes down to it, my garage floods every time it rains.


When we closed on our house last year, we took the week off to remove wall paper, carpet (we knew there were hard wood floors), etc...

My wife starts to clean the kitchen - wiping down cabinets, washing the floor, etc... and she smells something off in the bottom cabinets near the sink.

We thought it was just left over from spices or the like.

She uses soap and hot water; smell lingers Oddball Oder remover; still there Thinking she was crazy, my mother gives it a once over; still there

Finally we said f'it. We primed the interior of the cabinets will killz 2 primer. no good. Used spray on polyurathane. Smell is still there.

We knew we were gonna gut the kitchen when we bought the house, so we decided to do it then and not wait.

Pull the cabinets; well well; a slow drip from the faucet caused mildue under the cabinets = bad smell

Continuing to gut the kitchen, we found 7 (SEVEN) layers of flooring; drywall over plaster and lath; lack of wall insulation. what a nightmare. from corner to corner of the kitchen floor, it pitched down 1.5 inches; which we had to rebuild with cement board to lay the porcelain tile.

that was fun.


We installed underfloor heating in the top two floors of the house and when we lifted the floorboards in each room we discovered the redundant wiring from at least two or even three previous rewires of the house. I eventually had to resort to carefully opening junction boxes and testing the circuits to see if they were still live. I think that there are still some lengths of wire buried in walls that we can't get to.

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    I have left old wiring in walls, but I always make sure that all of the wires are connected to ground. That way I, or anybody else can come along with one of the non-contact voltage testers, without being fooled by inductive coupling with nearby wires. – Brad Gilbert Sep 15 '10 at 15:33

When I was a kid, my parents bought a 1936 Dutch Colonial home from an antisocial, reclusive, retired guy. Wall-to-wall forest green carpet and matching green velvet drapes made the interior as dark as a tomb, and outside the windows a line of pine trees and yew trees blocked all natural light.

The guy owned two huge dogs, and every carpet and drapery reeked of... pet stains. As soon as you entered the house, you'd be bowled over by the smell. Our first task after moving in was to tear out all the carpet and drapes.

We found that the oak hardwood floors underneath literally had water damage from the years of letting the dogs urinate inside the house. We had to have the floors throughout the whole house refinished.

We also found scores of empty bottles of scotch stashed away inside the walls and floors in the basement.

  • Why would someone buy a house like that? – Jeff Swensen Sep 17 '11 at 4:09
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    It was a good price, and the messed up parts were basically cosmetic. It was a good house in a very good location. – Bill Karwin Sep 17 '11 at 5:14
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    Years of dog urine soaking into the wood is cosmetic? I'd hate to see what you think a real problem is – Jeff Swensen Sep 17 '11 at 12:30
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    Well, it's not a structural problem or a design problem. Refinishing the floors fixed it. I'm sorry that this story bothers you so much. – Bill Karwin Sep 17 '11 at 16:30
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    No need to get defensive Bill. I believe I'm allowed to have a different definition of acceptable detriments when buying a home and was simply pointing out the frame of reference. – Jeff Swensen Sep 18 '11 at 13:35

There's only one access point to the attic. The main furnace duct was installed right in front of it, so the entrance is unusable. I have no way of getting into the attic.

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    Hire a contortionist who also happens to be a HVAC contractor? – Doresoom Dec 3 '10 at 15:44
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    Been thinking about just cutting an access in the ceiling elsewhere, but the only reasonable places for it happen to have load bearing structures in the way. Sigh. – Brian Knoblauch Dec 3 '10 at 18:48

My current 1927 bungalow is chock full of atrocities.

They really, really, loved telephones. There were 3 large telephone lines running to the house, tons of bundled up cable all over the side yard and in the attic, and phone jacks in every room of the house, including the bathrooms and dining room. They even had a phone line running out to the detached garage by the pool, and there was a phone jack inside the garage, as well as outside the garage for the "pool phone". Not necessarily a nightmare, but definitely a pain in the you-know-what when remodeling.

They also decided to destroy the bathroom tile floor and fill it with concrete then cover with ugly pink-purple tile, without fixing the termite-eaten and rotten subfloor, so tiles were loose and cracking when I went in to re-tile, had to completely remove the floor (I was standing on the ground below the crawl space between floor joists), and rebuild the joists, subfloor, and floor. The toilet drain was loose, so wastewater had been seeping into the plywood subfloor for years, such that when I got around to replacing it, merely lightly touching the subfloor caused it to crumble. I'm amazed no one fell through the floor while on the john!

And, of course, the usual stories of bad wiring, poor plumbing, and doing things on the cheap.


I bought a house, knowing that there was water damage from a leak in the roof. After starting the repair/remodel I found out why there was a leak. Someone decided to make more room in the kitchen by cutting a hole in the wall to the closet on the other side and putting the refrigerator in the hole. Unfortunately the closet was in an addition, so the wall was the former exterior wall of the house, and naturally load bearing. They didn't put a header in after cutting the hole.

So there's this hole cut with a sawzall in the wall, stretching across two studs, whatever finishing material was put outside of them in 1948, a layer of bricks, because it's a brick house and the studs on the other side of the brick in the addition. Give it a little time and you'd be amazed how much water can come in through that.


The closet was demolished already and this is what we found after taking out the wall in the kitchen.

  • While I agree that was poorly done, I'm not sure there is a connection with the water infiltration. Unless it was caused by two mating surfaces on the outside settling at different rates. – Brad Gilbert Sep 15 '10 at 15:37
  • Right, the addition to the house has a flat rubber coated roof, the original house has a 30 degree or so sloped shingle roof, the wall they cut into is where the two meet. – Neth Sep 20 '10 at 15:36

Our patio. It was this huge cracked rough concrete thing. That sloped TOWARDS the house. That then had this bad layer of patch on top that kept flaking off.

I thought the thing was ancient...maybe 40 years old until my neighbor mentioned "Oh, they put that in a couple years before you moved in". We had to pay to get the entire thing hauled out and then I replaced it with pavers. So much nicer and now the basement is dry.


I have to say that I have had two good ones.

The first was with the wiring of all of my Cable TV Drops, after searching for almost an hour the tech finally found that 6 of my 8 cable drops were controlled by a pair of splitters, hidden behind a blank wall plate in my MASTER BEDROOM closet. No labeling, it was a total nightmare to straighten out, finally ended up paying a contractor to centralize and label everything for future use.

In a previous house the previous owner finished the basement, but thought that 2X4"s were over rrated, so they finished the entire thing with 1X2"s with no vapor barriers, it was a VERY bad situation. To run wiring they simply ran the wire behind the 1X2 studs


There must have a leak in a copper water line and the previous owner did not want to (know how to) solder. There was 18 inches worth of every threaded fitting in every metal connecting two straight pieces of copper. The black discoloration from the galvanic corrosion stretched for three feet in either direction.


Cheap cork tiles

...over every inch of the walls and roof

...of the toilet.

And various old dildos in the roof, under the fence, etc, etc.

(We replaced the kitchen, bathroom, floors and some drywall. Then we repainted all the interior walls and ceilings)

  • So very bizarre! – ErikE Jul 23 '12 at 19:38

So glad I found this question, it makes me feel a lot better about what we inherited.

  1. the master bath at some point was "upgraded" with the addition of a jetted tub. But whoever installed it clearly didn't know what they were doing, because the wall panels appear to have been put up before the tub was brought in. The half inch overlap that should have been in place to channel water from the walls into the tub is tucked behind the tub, so the only thing keeping water in the tub and not in the wall cavity behind the tub is caulking. Which of course fails all the time, so there is constantly mould starting to form. I shudder to think what is behind the wall panels. We'll find out this summer when we pull the tub out. Oh, and speaking of the cavity behind the wall... it turns out the one that the plumbing is in happens to be the one that a return air for the master bedroom runs through. I don't know yet if it's in a duct, or if it's just pulling air through the empty cavity. I think it's ducted, because the tub also doesn't fit the shape of the old one, so on the wall where the side touches at the bottom there's a 2" wide by 14" tall gap where you can see back into the stud cavity

  2. the down spouts on the house came down and just stopped, no elbows, not even a splash pad, just a tube pointing down that stopped a few inches above the ground. The erosion from that would a been "bad enough", except that it's made worse by the fact that our back yard slopes away from the house at about a 50 degree slope, starting about 7' out from the back wall. (there are a couple places in the back "yard" I kid you not, the ground drops a foot every 3 inches farther from the house, very steep. So how's that bad you ask? the slope should take the run off away, right? yes, but it's also taking the back slab patio with it. Imagine a 6' wide, by 25' long concrete surfboard, 20" thick on the back side, surfing sideways down a 40' tall grass wave... you'll have the right mental image of my back "yard". The separation there is so bad that the gap between the house and the slab is about 8" wide on one side and maybe 6" on the other. (the home owners immediately before us solved that problem thankfully.)

  3. this erosion has noticeably lowered the back end of the house, I didn't realize just how much until I built in floor to ceiling shelves in one of the upstairs back bedrooms. Along a 14' wall, there's almost 3.5" of slope, with much of it in the last few feet.

  4. in the above mentioned "back yard" some previous home owner decided to take down all the trees and plant grass to the property line. (we back up to a small green space with a creek in it.) Stop to think about mowing that. "It's too steep for a riding mower" is what the guys that sell riding mowers all said. (one even lived in the area and stopped by to look in person.) So I was pushing a mower up and trying to control it down that hill. (eventually I learned to do it diagonally for better stability on my feet. Then I wrenched my ankle 5 times in a month and rolled down the hill behind the mower into the brush... At that point I said a number of words that would make a marine blush and I called a few services to come give me quotes. Two of them said "no way in hell." when they saw it, one of them said... we have a big enough mower, no problem. They've been doing it since.)

  5. the deck off the kitchen. total death trap. Quite clearly it was installed without permits, possibly without even a design. The stairs leading down from it to the back "yard" was like a bad amusement park ride. they were built with 2x12 stringers down the side, but they couldn't get long enough ones, so they spliced to end to end by nailing 2x4s on the sides that spanned the splice. Between these two 2x12s the steps were mounted as 2x10s just end nailed through the 2x12s with a piece of 2x8 under the front edge of each one as riser, again just nailed through the side and into end grain. The only support for the stairs was at the ends, nailed into a landscape timber buried in the ground at the foot, and, you guessed it, end nailed into the 2x12s through the skirt board on the side of the deck.

  6. in the process of building the new deck, we learned that the osb under the siding next to the kitchen door was all rotted and moldy. We assumed it was from leakage from a gutter combined with the rail for the deck having been nailed through the siding. But in the middle of measuring for the new wood, the guy building the deck all of a sudden got a blast of air in his face. We eventually traced it down to the vent for the downstairs bathroom was ducted through the ceiling between the joists and just stopped about 4" before the exterior sheathing (that was rotted out). Apparently they thought it was acceptable to just let it vent out through the soffet that was just below that. (the kitchen bumps out about 2' past the basement walls, so there was 2' of soffet under the floor joists... 1 panel of which right below that duct was vented.)


Bought a 1962 back-split last year.

In the lower bathroom there was a ceiling light, controlled by a wall switch. The original wiring was: Circuit to light. Hot to switch, and return to the light. So the ciruit was Hot -> switch -> light | light - neutral. Which is perfectly fine, and I'm assuming this was the original wiring.

Somebody decided that they would like a socket by the switch. What they ended up doing was jumping from the hot off the switch, and then jumping switch Neutral to ground. Needless to say, I fixed it fast, put GFCI in and ran the proper wiring to the switchbox.

  1. bath with cracks that was applied on sand, and so it is sinking slowly, as the water Permeate through the send...
  2. falling ceramic tiles (in the same bathroom)
  3. leaking roof
  4. gas water heater that keeps getting clogged, with no backup as solar water heater (that is very common in my country)
  5. A legion of mice in the septic tank

but i love the house so much! :)


I'm sure there's more than this:

  1. Ugly coper colored glass mirrored tiles attached with adhesive to a wall. The adhesive lines showed through each tile and pealed the drywall paper as they were removed.
  2. Prefab doors hung without any nails installed into the frame (just tacked into the drywall).
  3. 2x3 studs all over the place.
  4. Aluminum siding on top of drywall (no wood sheathing).
  5. They apparently ran out of concrete while pouring the foundations, and the replacement concrete they used doesn't form a good seal at the joint.
  6. Threaded copper joints have all been soldered.

Only done one house reno in my life, but it was a doozy.

Had inherited an old farmhouse from sometime in the 19th century that was "given" (aka rented but were too dirt poor) to family members, and they treated it as you'd expect for a thread like this. Some highlights include:

1) The bathroom - This made you wonder just how drunk they had to be to use this thing. The neon pink paint was awesome, the exposed wires from what we could only assume was when someone tried to pull down the light out of the ceiling (yes they were still live), and the bathtub that had a noticeable lean to it. But the best part was that the toilet could be ripped out of the floor without any help, because the boards were rotten right through. We assume the combination of the previous tenants vast consumption of booze had something to do with that.

2) The basement - Being a house over a century old, the floor was dirt, but that wasn't the main problem. The basement could not be entered because the stairway fell apart when you stepped on it. From the amount of nails that were hammered into it, the wood had been going south for quite a while. Add to that the floor was completely covered in garbage that consisted mostly of organic materials and liquor bottles that almost reached the ceiling (the basement was six feet deep) and it made for a wonderful aroma that saturated the house. Add to it that the fusebox was a firestarter waiting to happen (pennies and fuse slots...nuff said) and it's a wonder the place didn't burn down.

3) The living room - I had been in the house years before the previous tennants had taken over, and the floor was solid hardwood, that shined enough to where you could see your reflection. When we came in it had been been torn out and replaced some plywood and four inch thick shag carpeting. With enough cigarette burns and ashes to makes collecting it a chore. We also found that when we were stripping the wallpaper (which had been stained yellow from a few decades of constant smoking), their idea of redecorating was putting on a new layer of wallpaper....every year or two. In some spots it was eleven layers thick.

4) Everywhere else - There were random holes punched in walls, or kicked depending on height. The solid wood banister had been completely ripped off, a chandelier that had been there looked like it had met the business end of a baseball bat (with the glass still in the carpet), and the tung-and-grove work? Well a combination of holes, cigarette burns and what looked like pet leavings made sure that was unsalvageable.

That was fifteen years ago, and every time I've thought about repairing a house, that horror story always gives me pause.

  • Did the house burn wood for heat? That might explain the floors, etc. I knew a family that would run out of fuel in winters and start burning furniture, stairs, banisters, etc. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Oct 4 '11 at 18:11
  • It hadn't' had wood since the early 50's, that's when it was purchased by the family. – canadiancreed Oct 4 '11 at 19:55

Microwave, Dishwasher and Fridge on Same circuit! If we use the microwave while the dishwashers going it trips the breaker, still gotta fix that. Lots of little shortcuts that wouldn't have been a big deal to do right.


Some horror stories so far. The one house I had seems quite tame in comparison.

  1. Asbestos skillion roof. And the eaves were (we think) asbestos. And the ceiling in the garage.

  2. Concrete area behind the house sloped the wrong way. Which meant we always had a big pool when it rained.

  3. Hot water waste also contributed to this pool.

  4. No insulation! The house got freezing cold in winter and scorching hot in summer.

  5. Unbalanced circuits. If you had two heaters on, using the kettle would trip the breaker.

Unfortunately, we never had the money to fix these. So I'm kinda glad we separated and sold it.

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