Home Renovations and Cambodia’s Spirit Houses

There is an old Cambodian saying: “Open the walls of your house with caution. On the one hand, the evil spirits will be set loose. But on the other hand, you will discover all the mischief they caused behind your walls.”

That’s not really a Cambodian saying, but it totally should be. Especially considering the construction drama going on at our own house right now and the wonderful use of “spirit houses” in Cambodia.

We saw these intricate, small golden shrines everywhere in Cambodia – outside houses and businesses, gas stations, restaurants, just about everywhere. There was even a very simple wooden one at Choeung Ek. Most of the ones we saw looked like gorgeous, miniature pagoda temples or stupas, and were usually on a pedestal or wooden pole just outside the house or in the corner of a lot, around eye-height. Cambodians pray at them every day and make offerings of flowers, fruit, incense.

spirit houses

Spirit houses are sort of like an insurance policy for the home dwellers and one of many ways that religion is entwined with daily life in Cambodia:

“Where does this tradition come from? It is hardly a formal Buddhist practice, though it is so integrated into this very Buddhist society that it is accepted as part of the culture and beliefs. It seems that the spirit houses are part of far more ancient traditions, animist colored by the Hindu beliefs and gods that were part of Cambodian culture and life for a thousand years.”

As this blog notes:

Most spirits are finicky pranksters and they require respect from humans to keep them from interfering with a happy home or business. Offering a beautiful spirit house is the first step in appeasement.

Two thoughts here: 1) I should have bought a spirit house as a souvenir while we were in Cambodia; and 2) we must not have given the proper respect to the spirits that reside in our house walls.

We are getting work done on our house. The house we spent a lot of money buying just three short years ago. The house that was gutted and renovated before we bought it, thereby necessitating no work on our part for many, many years.

Yet, here we are.

We noticed some water damage on the wall under a window in my office. We concluded that the siding was leaking and it was probably time to get it replaced, something that had not been done during the renovation.

We went ahead and replaced all the back windows and the back door, while we were at it. And, we wanted to remove the substrate and install new insulation, also while we were at it. Pretty big project, pretty hefty price tag.

After the siding was removed, we discovered our framing (the original framing) was a disaster of epic proportions. Wood rot, old termite damage, water damage, even beams that had apparently been through a fire at some point and now resemble used charcoal. There’s a whole history of stories that were hidden behind our walls.

house construction

We also learned about the various short cuts the original contractor took during his renovation. Missing beams, particularly headers for window support. (hello, floating windows). Wood framing that doesn’t have the necessary metal brackets in place to protect them from electrical wiring (hello, fire hazard). A haphazard, jerry-rigged oven vent without proper metal plates to protect the wooden frame (hello, grease fire hazard). Short drywall that doesn’t completely rest on any beam and has left a 3-inch gap along the backside of my office that was covered over with interior trim (hello, high heating/cooling bills).

We’re pretty sure the old, leaky siding was the only thing that was holding the back of our house together.

So now we’re in it. We just started week two of this incredibly noisy, cringe-inducing project (there really is nothing like hearing workers repeatedly banging and sawing away at the outside of your unexpectedly fragile yet very expensive investment).

On the one hand, it’s good we know about all these problems and can fix them, even though “the fix” is now causing damage to some of our interior walls (we’re also down two window screens so far). But it also really, really sucks, and is going to cost us a fortune.

Hopefully, we’ve released all the bad spirits and they’ll leave our house alone now. Otherwise, we might be investing in a Cambodian spirit house.

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4 thoughts on “Home Renovations and Cambodia’s Spirit Houses

  1. Ugh! I hate to think what our 105 yr, renovated row house looks like behind the walls. Can you go after the previous owner/contractor/real estate agent for not disclosing the damage to the property before you bought it? If the owner knew about it, and they must have if they did the renovations, by law they have to disclose the fire and termite damage.

    Good luck!
    Melissa

    1. It’s funny because the house was owned by the city of Alexandria for years and years (we think it was a halfway house for girls who had graduated out of the foster system). It was sold about four years ago in one of those city property liquidation sales (all cash, as is). It was purchased by the flipper who then renovated it and sold it to us. So most of the damage must have occurred under the city’s ownership.

      1. Go after the flipper for every penny you can. If it was sold to him as-is, he knew about the damage and didn’t disclose the details when you purchased it. He should have fixed them and he probably knows it.

        I’m very litigious lately having gone after the developer who did extensive damage to our property when he flipped behind our house. These bastards must pay!!

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