Category Archives: Humor

Insurance Rates Drop Dramatically, But Not Without a Fight

TIMELINE OF INSURANCE RATE ADJUSTMENT:  June 2013: we officially started the construction phase of our house project. (The planning phase began July 2012)

December 2013:  We moved back into our house with the majority of our project complete.

February 2014: All paperwork and certificates related to our building project were closed out. Project officially declared complete. (Still lacking minor details such as exterior painting and any landscaping, but too cold to address those issues now).

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March 2014: Submitted request to FEMA (umbrella under which the National Flood Insurance Agency operates) to lower our insurance premiums based on our new and improved flood savvy house. They rejected this request citing we required one additional flood vent.

Had additional flood vent installed.

FEMA again rejected our request to lower our rates. This time it was because the wrong box had been checked on our elevation certificate (final survey) sighting the source of our base flood elevation level.

In other words, they needed to confirm that we didn’t  just make up some numbers to make it sound good.

Skip this section if your eyes start to roll back in your head or you suddenly feel like you need to  nap. The source of the base flood elevation (BFE) MUST come from FIS or FIRM (Flood Insurance Rate Map) for your specific property.

Returned to my surveyor, spoke with the Flood Plan Manager for my city and resubmitted the forms to FEMA.  They requested yet another form, a flood application form, be completed. I thought this was odd as we’ve had flood insurance for over 10 years. FEMA insisted it was the protocol. Fine.

April 2014: The next hurdle: FEMA/NFIP wanted the square footage of our garage, despite the fact that is attached to our house, they have pictures of it, and they have a survey marking it. I should clarify that these conversations were between NFIP and my insurance agent. After spending weeks sending my insurance agent down a rabbit hole, I recommend she educate herself on this product (flood insurance), take the bull by the horns, and tell them what’s what. They have all the information, we’ve crossed every i and dotted every t, you have more important things to do than run around chasing your tail all day.

Mission Accomplished: Our insurance agent called and told me our paperwork had finally been accepted and that our flood insurance rates were going to drop from several thousand dollars per year to several hundred.

The clouds parted,  beams of sunshine shone down and a collective sigh could be heard across the phone lines. Then my agent told me she had to go – she was getting ready to watch a webinar on flood insurance.

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Things (About my House) I Never Wanted to Know

FOUNDATION-TO-FLOOR BEAM CONNECTIONS:  … and other things I could have gone my whole life without knowing and never missed it. Here’s the scoop: A sill plate is a lining of pressure-treated wood that is secured to the top of a foundation wall before a house is either build up (most scenarios) or lowered back down onto it  in the case of a house elevation. It looks like this:

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Sill plate: the little piece of lumber atop the foundation wall.

PRECISION FRAMING: Ideally, your house would be level and square all the way around, providing a seamless transition between the house, the sill plate and the foundation.

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Good: Foundation – sill plate – house frame all secure without any gaps.

SHIMMING THE SILL PLATE: If the house is uneven (not ‘square’) there will be gaps between the house and the sill plate as shown below:

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Bad: All kinds of wrong

If the house is supported in some spots, but not in others, that’s not good. Enter the shim …

Shims are used to fill in any gaps. It’s a common practice and can be applied successfully. They should be made from a strong material such as metal or pressure-treated wood. Using whatever is handy at the time, like a scrap of wood or a crumbled up receipt from your pocket, is a big no-no. Anything marginally soft will be crushed by the house like a fat man sitting on a fragile chair and shifting will occur.

WHERE THINGS GO WRONG: In the picture above you can see where shims were installed in the back corner – see how the house is pushed up in that area and not sitting on the sill plate? My kitchen sits right above this area and the floors, cabinets, granite counters, etc. are all bulging out or pulling away from their frame. Ugh!

Could a proper calculation on the part of the masonry team have avoided this issue? Maybe. Was jamming random scraps of wood into any gap a bad idea? Definitely. The “fix” will require a slight re-jacking up of the house in this location to properly shim it.

Useful tips about your home that will come in handy the next time you elevate your house or lack witty banter at your next cocktail party.

Spread Some Kindness

“The art of war is simple enough. Find out where your enemy is. Get at him as soon as you can.  Strike him as hard as you can, and keep moving on.”  Ulysses S. Grant

MY OWN LITTLE WAR: After months of enduring an overage here or extra charge there by seemingly every service provider who crossed my threshold during our house elevation, I had begun to feel like I was fighting my own little personal war against being ripped off and was determined to fight back. So when I met our unsuspecting movers recently, I greeted them with an aggressively defensive stance – like bringing a sword to a pillow fight – ready to thwart any trumped-up extra charges.

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The price for the move had been predetermined with the moving company weeks prior to meeting the actual movers. When they arrived and started talking about additional transportation fees, extra gas charges, blah, blah, blah I was ready. Not today, buddy. You just found the wrong customer to start talking about extra anything. 

GET A MOVE ON: You think we’re already 45 minutes on the clock and decided to add another 15 minutes of intro chit-chat?  AND you walked up all the stairs to my apartment without carrying any moving supplies in your hands? Sounds like you guys are going to have to hustle like mad-men to get this job done within the time-frame I already agreed upon for this job. Giddy-up!

BEHIND ENEMY LINES: And they did. They were fantastic – quick, careful, courteous – the whole deal. I began to rethink my initial stance. These movers were not the enemy. They didn’t OWN the company, they merely worked there. They weren’t going to receive the fees for this job, their company would, they’d get a small fraction. And they were doing all the heavy lifting – literally.

LIGHTBULB MOMENT: Maybe it was seeing the sweat on their brow that cold December day or the Christmas music playing in the background that sparked my epiphany: this crew were mere worker bees in a corporate hive, working as best they could in a grueling job that probably didn’t pay that well. They were just doing their job, trying to make a living. Not setting out to put the screws to us, not these guys.

We made restitution by giving them a generous tip, a heartfelt thanks and an ultra favorable review, by name, to their company. I learned two lessons that day: It’s a jungle out there, but not everyone’s an animal. And, kindness matters so spread a thick layer where you can.

Happy Holidays!

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Vive La Victorie!

New Stairs for Elevated House:  The winds of change have visited our project this week and delivered a blast of good news. With a follow-up to our oh-so-friendly encounter with the neighbor, we have come away victorious.  Recall our project was held up for two months while she disputed the few extra inches of variance required for the bottom step, a variance that we already had. Defying all logic, initially they granted us far more variance than we required, but realizing we needed far less, we had to go back to the board to ask for a lesser variance. Yes, that happened.

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Steps in dispute: bottom step was 4 inches past our variance.

Deck Stairs and Back Stairs:  Not even a full step, I might add. We were over the variance line by a mere 4 inches. At this month’s zoning board meeting the board voted unanimously in our favor. Our sour neighbor stormed out in protest. Seriously. Left a draft in her wake. Why she was so outraged is not clear to us for once our fence  is reinstalled she will not be able to see ANY of the steps. Maybe someone needs to find a better hobby. An indoor hobby  – like extreme ironing or maybe guerrilla gardening, if she insists on peeking over my side of the fence incessantly. Hey, I could use some new landscaping.

*Those are actual hobbies, by the way. See link below for more ideas for your pesky neighbor to try. communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/world-our-backyard/2013/jan/25/11-unusual-and-bizarre-hobbies/

Just a Mess

Week 22: What happens when a crew of sheet rock workers run amok in your house? Someone’s going to be very unhappy. That someone was me this week.  The first day this crew started, they made a huge mess. Dust was everywhere. The kind of dust that can find its way into closed cabinets. I was not happy. I let them know. I asked them what their wives would say if they made this kind of mess in their home, hoping to appeal to their spirit of treat others the way you’d like to be treated.

Fuel for the fire was that I had covered anything that may be in harm’s way, and someone had UNCOVERED everything. Seriously.

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Drywall goes up in new room

I thought they were really inconsiderate, but assumed they had heard my concerns. Well, they may have heard them, but they sure didn’t heed them. The next day’s mess was even bigger. They had come back to tape and mud the drywall and just let the spackling paste fly.

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This piece had been covered.

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Spackling mud on the stairs

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On a table

They also had it on a curtain rod in an adjoining room, door handles, the kitchen floor and the mat in our foyer. Guess they didn’t like my suggestion to treat our home with more respect.

Where was my contractor during all of this? Good question. I encouraged my contractor to refrain from sending pig-like animals to work on my home. He apologized.

What other fun treat did we have happen this week? Our contractor’s electrician broke through a sealed off bathroom to take a dump and clogged the toilet. Clogged it. Are you kidding me?

I’ve heard that construction can be really messy, but his week was over the top. If this we’re a cheesy 1970’s commercial I’d be encouraging Calgon to take me away. If this were a Rolling Stones song, I’d be reaching for mother’s little helper.