The Cat House


  • We called our new home "The Cat House" because the prior owner had 9 cats. We had to remove ALL the carpet from the house - the carpet guy almost left when he discovered the carpet on the entry stairs was dripping with cat pee! It took us about a week to dry the stairs enough to apply the pigmented shellac primer (heaters ran constantly during that period).

    After the carpet was removed we had some work to do before any flooring, carpeting or painting could be done. We obtained a "black light" and 15 gallons of "pet enzyme" from our local pet store (had to go back for enzyme twice). The black light was to help us find where the cats had sprayed (we found cat spray as high as 4 feet up most walls). We also found the flooring of some of the bedrooms to be wet with cat pee. We applied the enzyme on the cat spray - in some cases as many as 5 times to neutralize the spray.

    This spraying process was largely successful except for the entry stairs. We should have torn them out and replaced them (we can smell pet odors especially on warm days). We may still have to remove the stairs and take up the parquet flooring in the entry area.

    Then there was the smoking. The prior owners were heavy smokers - 14 years in the house. We painted every surface with the pigmented shellac primer (16 gallons) - floor, walls, ceiling, stairs, cupboards, closets, etc. If we didn't paint it we scrubbed it - doors, windows, cabinets. This was all done before the new tile and carpet were installed. This process was mostly successful.

    What we did not understand about a house is that it "breathes". It had taken a lot of breaths in 14 years and the whole inside of the walls reeked of smoke and still does (on warmer days or in closed rooms or closets the odor is particularly strong). We now understand we will never get rid of all the smoke odor.

    We also discovered that even though we had applied several coats of oil based pigmented shellac the nicotine bled through the paint!!! We can still wipe nicotine (sort of an iodine color) from the bathroom walls even though these walls have 3 coats of pigmented shellac and 3 coats of enamel paint.

    We cannot tell if we would have purchased the house if we knew then what we know now. We doubt it. We just couldn't comprehend it could be this bad.

    If there is a message to this story, it is listen to your inspector and NEVER underestimate the extent of pet or smoking damage to a residence.

    Here are a few tips and suggestions from George:

    Cats spray (urinate) on walls and other surfaces to mark territory. This activity increases whenever there are many cats in the house and/or when their lives are disturbed. It is common to see this activity increase during the time that the owners of the home are preparing to move out of the house.

    The repair of the damage and the odor control can be difficult and expensive. The following steps are usually required:

    • Remove all the non-fixed items from the house;
    • Remove and dispose all carpeting and carpet pads, drapes and any other fabrics.
    • Remove any soaked drywall and underlayment material.
    • Use pet urine neutralization enzymes on the spotted areas. These are good products but they are of limited use and impact. (available in most pest supply stores).
    • Prime all paintable surfaces with pigmented shellac.
    • Thoroughly clean all: furnaces, furnace ducts, wall heaters, washable surfaces, fireplaces, wood surfaces and any other surfaces of systems that might be sprayed with urine. Be sure that the area around the bottom of the refrigerator is carefully cleaned.
    • Don't bring back to the house any belongings that might have been damaged by the cat urine. Don't even think about re-using any carpet or carpet pad.
    • Once all of this work is completed you can repair the walls and floors, bring in new carpeting and paint the walls etc.
    • If you plan to bring a cat to the house, expect some marking activity even if you think that the house is clean.

    This is a tough job! so don't expect miracles.