Monthly Archives: September 2013

To Deck or Not to Deck: When Designs and Neighbors Clash

REAR VIEW: Originally we had a healthy backyard with a petit patio and enough green space for our three boys to run around. After a few poundings offered up by Mother Nature in the form of floods, our once charming backyard lost it’s luster. Perhaps it was because the water table under our house had permanently been altered or maybe healthy soil had eroded away, whatever the reason, we’ve no longer been able to recreate the lushness this yard once afforded.

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Back of house prior to lift

LOOKS LIKE RAIN: To give you an idea of how much water we’re talking about, the flood water has come as high as 1/4 the way up the window you see above, surrounding the house on all sides. Hence, we opted to elevate our house, forever mitigating against flooding. We had to lose the maple tree prior to the elevation process as it sat too close to the house, but the roots were beginning to wreak havoc anyway. Additionally, the foundation plantings all had to be removed or else face certain death once the formal construction process began. Many plants were able to be temporarily relocated to the edge of the backyard.

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Post elevation

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House elevation: rear view

RISING UP FROM THE EARTH:  The new foundation was built, flood vents were added near the base of the foundation walls and the house was lowered back down.

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New foundation with flood vents – No, the house is not levitating. It hadn’t been lowered yet.

DECK DESIGN AND DECISIONS: Now that the house had been raised, access stairs were needed.  A creative design was sought to address numerous issues: lots of stairs needed in a small space, that would not take up too much room, while providing an easy access port for furniture moving.

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Deck development for raised house

THAT’S A WRAP: Additionally,  we wanted to achieve some symmetry between the two rear doors, rather than have a bunch of stairs everywhere. It was decided to wrap the deck around the house and have the deck stairs meet up with the backdoor stairs, creating a streamlined design with minimal yard impact while preserving an access point to the house for furniture.

Flood Savvy: deck design

Creative step design to have the deck wrap the house

HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM: Everything we’ve done, all of the plans, with blueprints, had to be presented to and approved by  the zoning board and the architectural review board. But you see the three steps above that lead down to the ground? Yeah – well we were only approved for one of them. And now our neighbor has her panties all in a wad over the 2 extra steps, called the building inspector, who in turn halted our deck project. The building inspector is insisting we don’t have the proper variance to go beyond the side of our house (note how the three steps reach beyond that threshold), yet that is what our “approved” plans show. *see my post on how to hire an architect

THE GOOD TIMES JUST KEEP COMING: Up next? Another meeting with the zoning board, who have voiced a strong appreciation to all of the homeowners raising their homes, getting them out of harm’s way (Apparently, the building inspector missed that memo). But since they meet just once a month, we’ll  have to wait 4 weeks for the next meeting and pay a few hundred dollars to present our drawings again. Definitely not feeling the love.

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There’s a Gladys Kravitz in every neighborhood                                (picture by highlands_pixie)

As for the pesky neighbor: Turns out fences really DO make good neighbors. Keep your eyes off of my side, would you?

The Gas Man Cometh

WEEK 16: aka The Continuing Saga of the Gas Service. When I last left off this topic, we had remedied many of the gas line installation woes with our utility company. They had correctly repositioned our project as a “flood recovery” one and therefore were much more receptive to our needs. They agreed to install the new gas line, at their expense. We dig a trench, they do the rest. They gave us a date to allow us time to get the trench dug.

SURPRISE: Imagine our surprise when they showed up a week early. Giant piles of dirt and a huge excavator were in the way. As a trench was yet to be dug out, they promptly left, vowing to return the following week.

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A PROMISE IS A PROMISE: Knowing how hard it had been to get them to come at all, we were worried we had missed our window of opportunity with conEdison. Would they come back as they had promised? Indeed they did – again earlier than expected. Again, our site was not ready. So …. they just went ahead and did what they needed to do without any help from us.

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New gas line installed – meter to be added later

LIKE MAGIC: Note the big pile of dirt in the background? No trench in sight. Apparently, they have the tools to dig a narrow access hole to install the new gas line that does not require any trench at all. One day we did not have this on the side of our house, the next day we did. Poof!

Making what should be a short story infinitely longer, we still need to have the meter installed and the gas turned back on – prior to being able to move back home. But before we can do that, our plumber has to check the amount of load for the house and make sure all of our interior pipes are in good working order, before the inspector will pass the house for the plumbing inspection, before conEdison will come back again.

WHAT A DRAG IT IS GETTING OLD: As I’ve mentioned before, our house is old – almost 100 years old. Guess what else is old? Our interior gas pipes – not quite that old, but old enough to merit an extensive overhaul. Many of the gas pipes were found to be leaking at all of the joints. They were installed in the era when pipes were merely joined in a screw-type fashion, not sautered. Rather than fix all the leaks, it was determined to be more cost-effective to replace them. Not all of them, but most. The plumber said it was imperative to fix the leaks or the house was at risk of blowing up.

“You don’t want your house to blow up, do you?” he asked.

“Not if I’m in it,” I replied.

Although an older home does offer certain charms lacking in those built in the current age, it comes with a cost of high maintenance. There is little we haven’t had to update in this old house. The upgrades and updates have been extensive.

Dear future homeowner of this house …. you’re welcome.

Mountains of Mud in Boulder, Colorado

SAND VS. MUD: With 16,000 homes impacted by the historic flooding that occurred in Boulder, Colorado last week, many people are facing a mountain of clean up. Unlike Hurricane Sandy that decimated the eastern coastline last fall, dumping tons of sand in the streets, the flooding in Colorado brought mud – and lots of it.

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Hurricane Sandy 2012 – Hauling sand from the streets in NYC

WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS (AND STRANGERS): Coming to the help of those buried in Boulder are numerous volunteers willing to help sling some mud. With an assist from social media, those in need are quickly able to connect with volunteers willing and ready to help them shovel mounds of muddy sludge from their flood ravaged homes. What started as a grassroots effort has sprung into a website, one that  depicts a map showing where volunteers are needed.  Though the clean up efforts will take months, those whose homes and lives have been touched by the flood will hopefully feel empowered by the outreach from the community.  “I get by with a little help from my friends,”  John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

Photo credit: AP Mud encrusted homes in the aftermath of the Boulder flood - 2013

Photo credit: AP
Mud encrusted homes in the aftermath of the Boulder flood – 2013

To help with the clean up efforts visit: www.donateboulder.com 

The Devil’s in the Details

I think it’s important to find the little things in everyday life that make you happy. Paula Cole

Windows added to new 'basement'

Windows added to new ‘basement’

MORNING PLEASURE: It may be just a little thing, but the addition of the windows in our new ‘basement’ was an unexpected pleasure this morning. Why? Because they are the start of making this side of our house look finished. Yes, they still need to be framed out and yes the trim board will need to be adjusted and the water leader lowered to the ground.  And I guess I can’t ignore the giant excavator still parked in my front yard. I said it was a little thing.

Whoa - still lots to do here

Still lots to do here

Inside our ‘basement’ (technically called our ‘lowest lying floor’ as it’s above grade now) things are less rosy.  I’m actively turning a blind eye to the dirt floor, to the hanging ducts and to the 2 X 4 holding up my house at the moment (the vertical steel beams are not yet set). All I see is that the old gas meter has been removed and way back in the left corner the sewer pipe has been reconnected. Whoa, slow down!

Where some see a giant to-do list, I see what’s been done and how far we’ve come, bit-by-bit. Today it was windows.

Stair Elevation Design for Elevated House

WEEK 15: After spending a few days in awe of the flooding that has recently occurred in Boulder, Colorado, I’m back with an update on my flood mitigation project. We’re up to week 15 and taking steps toward seeing a completion date – or – rather making steps this week.

Digging down deep

Digging down deep

Building the footings for the new front steps

Building the footings for the new front steps

The photo above depicts our crew building the footings for what will become our new front steps. Notice how far down they had to dig? As we live in a climate that experiences a true winter, they had to dig down roughly 4.5 feet to reach below the frost line.

The other item of note in the photo above is our sewer line, the pipe in the foreground. This summer we had it power-blasted to remove tree roots (that had nothing to do with an elevation project, just part of general house maintenance). Prior to this, I can honestly say I never once thought of my sewer pipe. Reading about the recent sewer pipes bursting during the Colorado flood this past week, spewing raw sewage into the street and a few basements of unlucky homeowners, I’m happy to know this nondescript pipe is fine and in good health.

The pipe is our gas line

The small pipe is our gas line

The footings required  a site visit and an approval from the building inspector prior to work continuing on the infrastructure for the staircase. Note the slim pipe laying there looking so innocent, like it was not the cause of ANY grief at all.  That little pipe represents an enormous hurdle to any elevation project. I’ve lamented about it several times in earlier posts, our gas line, running from our house to the street.

No visible pipes anymore, buried underneath

No visible pipes anymore, buried underneath

The steps are really starting to take shape. I’m still uncertain as to what the final product will look like as the steps were yet another huge point of contention in this elevation project. I’m not going to beat that dead horse again, but suffice it say these are the steps what worked. Feel free to review some earlier posts where I went into great detail about the numerous versions of steps we considered as well as other options available to suit other homes.

Front steps take shape

Front steps take shape

This may seem like a lot of photos just for the steps – and they’re not even finished yet! That’s how big of an issue they were to this project. In hindsight or to the casual observer, it’s easy to suggest – what’s the big deal? Suffice it to say creating proportionate and eye-pleasing steps to get into a home that is now almost 5 feet higher than it used to be is easier said than done.

18 Inches of Rain Brings Pain to Boulder, Colorado

At long last the rain has let up and the storm has passed, yet many will feel the ramifications of the recent flooding in Boulder, Colorado for months to come. Numerous homes endured total destruction while others suffered comparatively minor damage with flooding restricted to their basement. Unfortunately for those without flood insurance, they will have to rebuild on their own. Flooding is about as appealing as a kick to the head.

Should those who were impacted by this freak of nature storm run out to purchase flood insurance? No. It takes 30 days for a new flood insurance policy to take effect. But what about moving forward, should those homes impacted by floodwater purchase flood insurance? YES. Depending on the flood risk for your home, the rates can be very inexpensive.

FLOOD INSURANCE: THE LEAST YOU NEED TO KNOW

1. It takes 30 days to take effect

2. Building Coverage (house and mechanicals) and Content Coverage (your stuff) MUST be purchased separately

3. Flood Insurance offers limited coverage for basements

1500 HOMES DESTROYED IN BOULDER FLOOD: “Some 1,500 homes have been destroyed and about 17,500 have been damaged, according to an initial estimate released by the Colorado Office of Emergency Management.” HUGE numbers of homes have been impacted.

120,000 HOMES DAMAGED: “According to FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program, 4,550 Boulder County homeowners are covered by flood insurance. That figure is well above the national per-capita average, but U.S. Census data suggests it still leaves many of the roughly 120,000 county households soaked and damaged, with dim prospects for total financial recovery.” www.dailycamera.com/news/boulder-flood/ci_24083820/flood-damage-leaves-boulder-area-residents-scrambling

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Hang in there, Boulder!

Surviving a 500 Year Flood

PHOTOS: The photos above show the destructive power of the flooding that has occurred in Colorado this past week, but more importantly, they illustrate the power to overcome adversity. Helping one another by pulling together, friends, neighbors and strangers alike.

An Outlet Of The Mind

Living in Colorado you pray for rain, but not this much rain. I want to write a longer post about my experience of being trapped in my neighborhood, but my brain is ready to process everything. So for now here are a few pictures. IMG_1277Flood 2013IMG_1285IMG_1301IMG_1302DSC_2565IMG_1266DSC_2579DSC_2578DSC_2569DSC_2622DSC_2711

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