Monthly Archives: October 2013

Staircase Transformation

WEEK 20: Fresh on the heels of last week’s set-back, we’ve made some steady progress this week, albeit not nearly enough for my liking. The majority of the work effort has been restricted to the new front staircase. It’s great to see the transformation, but what I’d really like to see is a beehive of activity on my house. You know, like they show on TV where an extensive renovation takes 4 or 5 days on a shoestring budget. But, this is hard-core reality here, definitely not for those with weak inclinations.

JULY: Back in early July, while we were busy celebrating the Declaration of Independence, the front of our house looked like this:

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House elevated and separated from the foundation – July

AUGUST: By mid-August, our construction crew had nearly completed the new foundation walls:

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House lowered onto newly built foundation – August

SEPTEMBER: About six weeks after the above photo was taken, the crew began to construct what would become our new front staircase:

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Frame work for new front steps

Of course there was a lot of work that went into the formation of these steps including digging a sizable trench, forming the underground footings, and building the majority of the rest of the staircase out of cinder blocks. But by the end of the month, we had a front staircase:

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Front staircase framed, poured, and cured

OCTOBER: Nearing the end of October, the stonework has been added to the front staircase. Missing, however, is any semblance of a railing. At this point we’re not sure whether we’ll go with wrought iron or natural wood. Likely which ever gets us back in the house sooner.

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Front steps having stonework applied

The picture above also shows other key updates. The front left corner of the house show a new gas meter. That was a hard-earned element of the project and we’re happy to have it behind us. Also the new “basement” windows have been framed out and shingles have been added to this side of the house replacing a damaged white border.

Sure beats what we were doing a year ago – riding out the effects of Superstorm Sandy.

A Low Down Dirty Shame

WEEK 19: Mired in a sea of inept, lazy, self-righteous pin-heads this week, things could be better.  Sometimes life is bound to get a little dicey, particularly when undertaking a substantial home renovation. Allow me to elaborate.

A VOLCANIC EXPLOSION: The week started with a site visit in which our contractor had erroneously poured cement in the wrong place when building up our foundation walls. His solution was to jack-hammer out the aforementioned cement that was located in our basement (lowest lying floor). If you’ve ever seen this before, you’ll appreciate how much dust is thrown off. Through every crack and crevice this dust exploded upwards resulting in a scene akin to a volcanic ash flume straight to the top floor. There now sits an appreciative layer of a “dust” cover on every surface – EVERY surface. Our weekend task will be to undo this mess and seal off all interior rooms. Oh, that’s the contractor’s job, you say? Yeah, that’s what we thought as well when he said, “You don’t have to seal up anything. That’s our job.”

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Steps in dispute: approved for two, but NOT three steps.

DEJA VU: Last night the good times just kept coming when we had our Zoning Board meeting to determine the fate of our back deck steps. If you’ll recall, the steps were called into question by our self-righteous, non-stop belly-aching neighbor (she’s still single?). Turns out the stamp of approval from the city’s building inspector on our blueprints somehow did not include these steps. The building inspector feels our architect tried to pull a fast one and sneak something in on the plans. Apparently when we went before the board initially,  our architect did not ask for the proper side-yard variance. He then failed to attend the hearing on this decision last night. As a result, the topic was tabled until the next meeting which is held once a MONTH when MAYBE our pinhead architect will see fit to show up and defend his drawings. In order to move the project along, we may opt to simply redesign them. *similar problem was had with the front steps, but that’s another story

ONE FOR THE MONEY, TWO FOR THE SHOW:  The stairs in question are already built. We have permission for two steps leading to the ground, but not three (as seen in the photo above). Any changes now will cost more money. The contractor was following the plans given to him. The plans which were spuriously stamped by the building inspector which riled up our neighbor which resulted in us attending a meeting last night where nothing was resolved. Merely trying to lift our house out of the flood path while helping our city improve it’s standing with FEMA (who issues flood insurance) has been on par with sustaining a flood event itself. It’s nothing but a low down dirty shame.

Lighting Up $100.00 Bills

WEEK 18: Finally, something to cheer about – we passed the electrical inspection today. Not that we ever questioned if we would pass it – but another hurdle has been cleared. Did I mention that the wires from the basement, the new room atop the garage and the mechanical room all had to be rewired? Add that to the new foundation, the new gas line, the new gas meter and all new gas pipes that ran through the basement and you can tell that we’ve been striking a match to hundred-dollar bills in a steady fashion.

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This mess of wires had to be ripped out and rewired

MONEY PIT: Is there anyplace to save some money on this project? Indeed there is – the mudroom floor. The tile was left out of the budget of the contract in order to allow for us to choose whatever we wanted – high-end or economy. Turns out you can spend upwards of $30.00 a square foot for tile or more, pretty easily. The more labor intensive the design, the more it’s going to cost. Typically, a homeowner will splurge for this only in a kitchen or bath space, not a mudroom floor.

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Mudroom awaiting fresh tile

MUDROOM – EMPHASIS ON THE MUD: With three boys, this room will more than live up to its name. The “L” shaped space affords a row of free-standing storage units, a double wide closet, and an entry point from the garage and the back door. Once you add a few doormats, how much of the tile are you going to see anyway?

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Mudroom tile after 2007 flood

UPSIDE TO FLOODING: One of the benefits to enduring a flood is that we had a chance to start with a fresh pallet every couple of years. Originally, I liked this color as it was light and opened up the room. Turned out to be really poor at hiding all the dirt my boys tracked into the house.

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Darker tiles were chosen the next time

DARKER BY DESIGN: After a few years, you can see where the tile really darkened by exposure to the light (the lighter areas were covered by a doormat and storage units). But what about durability? With a pack of  boys throwing down weighted-down backpacks, sports gear and heavy ski boots, the tile has to stand up to a high threshold of wear and tear. Can you skimp on cost and still end up with a viable product?

TILE I.Q. : All tile is rated, whether you buy at a high-end boutique or Home Depot. There are three scales: PEI Rating (4 or 5 is good), COF, (higher number = less slippery) and Break-strength (300+ is what you want in a high traffic area).

If you check the labels on the desired boxes of tiles you want to buy at Home Depot, you can be certain you are buying a high quality product at a discounted price. You’re going to sacrifice points to originality as the big store options are designed to have mass appeal, but gain dollars in your wallet with the savings.

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Tile for the mudroom from boutique store: 5X  more money than the ones in the picture below

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Discount Tile

Big ticket or discount – know what you’re paying for before you throw those hard-earned dollars on the pyre.

There’s No Place Like Home. Where’s My Ruby Slippers?

WEEK 17: It’s true what they say: There’s no place like home. And much like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, our children are yearning to return home. Too bad they don’t have any snazzy red shoes to click together three times and make that happen. (Although we do have three boys, so donning red high heels is not exactly the look we’re going for anyway.)  They miss their toys, they miss their rooms, they miss having any outdoor room.

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One of the things our apartment lacks: a place to play football.

Moving into our apartment over the summer felt a bit like a holiday: new surroundings, relaxed rules, and a go-with-the-flow attitude. But now summer’s a mere memory and school and rules are back in session. Initially set to return the end of September, the calendar rolled on into October today, with a pretty healthy punch-list on our house still to cover.

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Our house last fall, before the start of the elevation project

THE THRILL IS GONE: It’s not really a disdain for apartment life, for there are many aspects about it that I’m really enjoying: easy to keep clean, lot’s of together time, no worries about lawn care. It’s more of the constant hum of energy surrounding such a big project. I can’t remember the last time I spent a whole day without having a major discussion about my house. It’s been a consuming occupation for years (floods, flood recoveries, to lift or not to lift, a year with the architect – and now this).  I harbor a fantasy that once this project is complete, I’ll be able to go a whole week just living in my house – not dissecting every nuance. Ah, what that must be like …

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Still much to be done: Current state of  mechanical room and new room over garage

FURTHER ON UP THE ROAD: We’ll view this project in our rearview mirror one day and be relieved to be on the other side of the mountain. Another fantasy? To be in my elevated house when the skies open up and unleash a waterfall and my first reaction is to reach for the champagne NOT start moving things out of the way. Indeed. I can almost hear the toast we’ll make, raising our glasses as the water creeps higher, “It’s a fine day and there’s no place like home.”