Tag Archives: house elevation

New Landscape for an Elevated House – House Lift Landscape

FINAL STEPS TO COMPLETION: The house project finally completed, the only thing left to do is fill in the landscape.

As the former landscape was completely destroyed during the process, we were starting with a clean slate. The front yard just after our house elevation project –

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Front yard prior to landscape

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AFTER: A few trips to some local nursery’s, viewing of other lifted homes, and a bit of research on the web and we made our decisions. Sod was an easy call as it goes in so fast and we only needed to cover a small area.

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New sod being rolled into place

THE VERY NEXT DAY: A storm whipped into town dropping a lot of rainfall. At first it was welcomed as a huge boost to our new sod, which needs to be watered – a lot – in the first few weeks. Mother nature came at just the right time.

But the rain continued. It rained and rained. Flood warnings were issued. We sat snug in our newly lifted house. But our new sod did not fare so well …

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The sod was strew about due to minor flooding

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The high water mark …

The homes across the street suffered minor basement flooding, but the water never reached our house, just the front yard.

SUN SHINES AGAIN: 

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A few moths later and our yard was complete

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In the photo above note how the red maple plays off the red hue of the rocks; it’s height helps to  off-set the tall foundation. A cypress was added to the planting bed in the stair design to provide year round interest.

 

Top 5 Tips for Painting the Exterior of a House

Our house elevation project is almost complete. The next step is the exterior painting aspect. What do you need to know?  Top 5 tips for painting the exterior of a house:

1. TEMPERATURE: Ideally, exterior painting will take place when the temperatures are going to remain above 50 degrees, even at night. Otherwise you are likely to get peeling.

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Obviously too cold to paint

Once the temperatures warm up, you can tackle that exterior paint job. Below, our hand-made iron railing system finally gets painted.

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The same team who built our railing system, also painted it for us.

2. GET AT LEAST 3 BIDS: With three bids you’ll see what the fair market value is for the job. After our house elevation, the house is pretty high. How are they going to paint it safely? I didn’t want to have any surprises in terms of injuries or the price once the job began.

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A scaffolding system was required for our project

3. POWER WASH and PREP: The integrity and longevity of your paint job hinges on the preparation phase. Make certain you’re painters don’t skimp on this stage. Our house is made of cedar shingle, so it had to be handled a bit more delicately than other exterior finishes, or the shingles could break. The preparation is the most time-consuming part, but also vitally important. Cracks need to be filled, nail holes covered, etc. FloodSavvy.com

House gets a full power wash

The power wash rids the house of any dirt, mold or debris that may have built up over the years. Cedar shingle homes are susceptible to mold in areas that get little sunlight or excessive moisture.

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BEFORE: Mold build up over the years

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AFTER:   mold is gone.

As with any natural wood product, there is always going to be some variation in the color tone of the shingles. For a more homogenous look, shingles can be painted.

4. USE LATEX PAINT: Make sure the paint you choose is designed for exterior use and is latex based. Some paint companies may try to use oil-based paint for the trim, but this is an outdated practice. Following the adage of wine before beer – prime before paint. Both will provide for better results.

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BEFORE: Back porch post and deck railings

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AFTER: back porch and deck railings after power wash and fresh coat of paint

5. WATCH THE WEATHER: The exterior of your house will need to be dry before the paint can be applied AND after the house had been painted  the weather will ideally stay dry for at least a few days. If Mother Nature is taking requests, ask for sunny skies with no wind.

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Finished job

CEDAR SHINGLES: We opted not to paint the shingles. Over the next few years, the older shingles and the newer shingles will blend in tone. We left the shingles bare to allow for color change. We spruced-up the front door and the garage door, starting with a power wash and followed up with a stain to enhance the wood.

Now for some landscaping ….

 

 

Best Ways to Prepare for Home Renovation / House Elevation Project

The best way to prepare for a home renovation project/ house elevation: assume the project will be messy. Plan accordingly or at least try to learn from our mistakes.

POST CONSTRUCTION CLEAN-UP:  We’ve been living in our flood mitigated/ house elevated home for almost three months. The remnants of construction dust continue. How can that be? Haven’t you been cleaning like mad?

An emphatic “yes” to that question as anyone who knows me would expect. I”m a bit of a neat-freak and crave organization; we all have our quirks. I began to suspect the vacuum I had been using was no longer performing it’s job sufficiently when stray pieces of thread became a challenge for it.

Channel surfing on a recent morning I came across QVC hawking the latest and greatest product they had found: a HEPA filtered, wind tunnel, 3 channels of suction – Hoover.

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My new favorite vacuum

With the company’s 30-day money back guarantee, I figured I had nothing to lose. I was a bit skeptical as my last vacuum had been the Rolls Royce of vacuum’s at the time when I bought it – an Oreck. (Is this post seriously about vacuum cleaners? Sort of, but I have a point).

WHOSE JOB IS IT ANYWAY? When we’d moved out of our home just prior to the start of this house elevation project, our contractor had assured us that they would cover and protect everything. That was their job. They took pride in their neatness on the work site. Well unless their last customer was Oscar-the-Grouch, the muppet who lived in a garbage can on Sesame Street, I can’t imagine anyone finding their version of clean and neat desirable.

MISTAKES WERE MADE: The mistakes we made could easily be avoided once you know what to expect. First off, never trust a builder to appreciate the level of clean that most of us our referring to when we say we don’t want to have a giant mess. Second, go ahead and prep your space yourself.                                                                                                                                                   1. Roll up any carpets and put them in a room, away from the construction zone. Not only will dust and dirt accumulate from the job, it also will accumulate just sitting there. When we moved out we knew it would be for at least three months. It turned out to be six months. That is an awfully long time not clean a house – even if no work were taking place.

2. Cover any furniture that can’t be moved out of the way

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Cover all furniture

3. Seal off all vents. This was a huge oversight on our part. Most of the dust and dirt came up from the basement through the vents. All duct work was removed prior to the lift so these vents were completely exposed to the area below them.

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Seal the vents with saran wrap

4. Pack away all smaller items and store them in a zone away from the construction. Anything that is too big or awkward to move, such as a mixer, cover it.

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Kitchen counters cleared except for largest items, such as this mixer

It’s much easier to pack things away, clean up the mess, then restore the items to their proper place. So much of the discussion during a house elevation was that you didn’t have to move anything. Nothing would be damaged from “movement” but a huge mess was left due to simple and inevitable construction dust.

WARNING:  to those fellow cleanliness aficionados’ out there, the following may be too graphic to see. Here’s is what my new found favorite vacuum pulled up from my floors and areas rugs this morning:

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Dust, dirt and nerf darts

That is after a vacuum has been over the same areas many times in the past few weeks. I’m not trying to sell any Hoover’s and I’m not being paid to write this endorsement, however, the dirt collection speaks for itself. This excessive amount was from the entire house, including the mud room which is notorious for collecting significant dirt.

Keeping dirt at bay during any renovation project, let alone a full house elevation, is not feasible. However, forewarned, the labor to bring a house back to it’s former level of acceptable dust and dirt (with three boys, I have to have some margin of acceptance or I’d do nothing else but relentlessly clean) can be minimized. I prefer neatness, but take what I can get as I am outnumbered in my house as to who cares and who does not.

Insurance Costs Remain High post House Elevation

OUR HOUSE IS “SPECIAL”: We live in a flood zone that has been deemed “special” by FEMA, and not in a good way. It’s rated in the highest category of flood insurance, beat out only by those who have ocean front views. The guilty party in our instance is not the Atlantic Ocean, but a gentle brook whose size is disarmingly small. Yet, it provides, under the right circumstances, significant flooding around the entire perimeter of our house. For all kinds of obvious reasons, we no longer wanted to have the brook entering our house like an uninvited guest who crashes the party and trashes your house.

RAISE THE ROOF: or the whole house, as we did. That’s right. Ripped it from its foundation, jacked it up about 5 feet, built some new access stairs and endured a few months of costly construction. All in the name of decreasing our flood risk and ever-climbing flood insurance rates.

Our updated information was sent to FEMA complete with our required new flood elevation certificate. We weren’t looking for a gold star for our foreheads, just a decrease in our flood insurance rates.

FEMA’S RESPONSE: No rate change – same as  BEFORE the lift. Why? Two words – Flood Vents.

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Interior view of flood vent

WHAT IS A FLOOD VENT? Simply put, a flood vent allows for a free flow of flood water in and out of a home’s foundation walls. They serve to equalize the pressure on both sides of the foundation walls, decreasing the chance of significant damage. (see earlier post on flood vents)

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FEMA accepted flood vents

Not only do you need to have them, you need to have the right number of them based on the square footage of your house. The correct number of vents were on our plans, but our builder missed two of them. FEMA is a stickler that all criteria be met. Our house is out of harm’s way, but because we have seven instead of the required nine flood vents, they offered no reduction. A true all or none philosophy.  They have no competition, you can only get flood insurance through FEMA so they get to make all the rules. Once installed, we’ll resubmit our data to FEMA and hope for a better outcome.

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Flood vents cut into the foundation near the ground

 

Kitchen Renovation – Post House Elevation

THE PROBLEM: As the saying goes, you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.  Or, as I like to say,  you can’t undertake a massive house project (house elevation) without eating a few crap sandwiches. Today’s topic hails from the kitchen. The situation created stems from careless foundation work when our house was lowered (see older posts). An entire bank of cabinets, along with the granite counter top, shifted out-of-place, resulting in drawers that would roll open and an unsightly gap in the counter. Not an entirely big deal, until you appreciate that this kitchen had recently been fully gutted and renovated ALREADY!  Here’s what it looked like before:

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Gap in granite seam about the width of a pencil.

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Entire bank of cabinets shifted away from the wall

THE FIX: This project required a bit of re-tooling of the cabinets, or in  construction speak “shimming” to readjust them.  The backslash had to be  pried off  with a crowbar to achieve this and then the kitchen sink had to be reset.

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Shimming the kitchen cabinets

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Small pieces of wood added to the bottom of the cabinets, kick plate removed.

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Ripping off the backsplash

AFTER:

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Gaps are gone!

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FOR EVERY ACTION, THERE IS A REACTION: For the most part, this side of the kitchen was restored. We’ll still have to shore up the refrigerator, again. Plus, a new gap was created at the top of the backsplash. You can sort of see it in the picture above. Note how the beadboard and the backsplash do not meet. The gap is too big to use caulk . Eventually, we’ll put in new tile or replace this beadboard.

NOW FOR SOME GOOD NEWS: At the very beginning of this house elevation project, we had to remove a superfluous chimney that ran right through the kitchen. We decided to install new cabinets in its place to open up the kitchen a bit. The crew today did a fantastic job seaming in the new cabinets to blend in with the already existing ones.

BEFORE:

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Chimney tucked neatly behind the bead-board.

AFTER:

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Cabinets replace former chimney

We opted to go with a walnut cutting board instead of more granite. This kitchen already has plenty of it and it was much easier to seam in a piece of cutting board than another piece of granite. When I asked the lead installer about this kitchen in terms of how this project faired compared to others he has worked on he said,” This job was a nightmare.” Tell me about it!

Although you can’t tell from the photos above, this old house has walls that are no longer square, if they ever were.  A lot of tedious maneuvering went into lining up these cabinets. Many thanks to Pablo and his crew for working some magic.

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.

Settling In or Just Plain Settling: House after Elevation Project

HAPPY NEW YEAR! As the calendar turns over to reveal the start of a new year, 2014, we are still in the midst of our house elevation for flood mitigation project that began many moons ago. What’s left? Final inspections, certificate of occupancy, landscaping, driveway resurfacing, exterior painting and a few other odds and ends.

MOVEMENT AFOOT: We moved back into our home just about a month ago and continue to see some settling with the house. But how do you decide between to-be-expected movement and compromised structural integrity? Hairline cracks in most of the walls – fine. Gap in seam of granite countertop – ok. Buckling of floor boards due to misplaced shims between the house and the foundation – yep, that too. We had mentally absorbed all of those issues. But the list continues to grow …

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Built-in refrigerator pulling away from the wall

It may be hard to tell from the photo above, but the built-in refrigerator is beginning to pull away from the wall. Fueling my discontent here is that I paid a refrigerator specialist to secure it back into place just last month. Also:

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Granite countertop pulling away from the wall – brand new injury

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Yesterday we saw new signs of movement with the granite beginning to pull away from the wall as well as the floor beginning to buckle in a new location.

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Floor boards pulling apart

In the photo above you can see how the floor boards are tight on the right side and pulling apart on the left – again, brand new development as of yesterday.

THEORIES: Two thoughts on what is perpetrating these new injuries to my kitchen. One: the house is simply settling into its new foundation and due to temperature changes and shifting weight from our boys running around the house, the house is in flux. Two: Due to misplaced shims and missing shims (thin pieces of wood added to the foundation wall for the house to sit flush), the house is moving  – and will continue to move – until the house is properly shimmed.

I’M NOT A CONTRACTOR, BUT … It seems to me the only new problems are in the exact location where the shimming has been called into question. With a call into our contractor and a promise to investigate the issue, hopefully we can stave off any more problems.

Back Where it All Began

WEEK 26: Oh me, oh my what a week it’s been preparing to move home again. I can summarize the week’s main emphasis in one little word – cleaning. My goal was to rid the house of the ubiquitous remnants of dry-wall and construction dust. No small task considering that every cupboard on the first floor had to be emptied and throughly cleaned.

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Construction dust crept into every cupboard

Hauling out goods:   One of the things I learned about living in a small apartment with a small kitchen is that I generally store WAY too much food in my kitchen: cans, boxes, packages, spices. I found some spices in my cupboard  dating back to the George Bush era – and I don’t mean W. We haven’t lived here that long, I’ve just been throwing these items in moving boxes over the years and taking them with me, like that $5 bottle of bay leaves was some sort of precious metal. No more – I’ve decided to live lean and keep all food products in the 21st century. As my momentum picked up I starting tossing out anything I didn’t miss in the past six months of living away from home.  It was a pretty impressive clearing.

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The cleaning project snowballed into several car loads of items being removed.

I remember my grandparents’  house, attic and barn brimming with so much stuff they couldn’t tell you where or what they had stored away. Not here. Thanks to flooding and construction projects, every couple of years we unload heaps of belongings. Living lean – feels good.

There’s no place like home for the holidays: You know what else feels good? Moving home in time for Christmas. This holiday season I’m just a bit more overwhelmed than usual, but at least I’m home. In a house that no longer floods. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!  (or rain – I’m good either way).

Giving Thanks this Thanksgiving

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Thanksgiving 

WEEK 25: GIVING THANKS THIS THANKSGIVING: There are many reasons to be thankful and I appreciate the simple luxuries of life everyday. Things like hot water at the turn of a handle and fresh coffee every morning. I’m ever thankful for my family and friends. But this year has been a bit unique.

The Top 5 Reasons I’m thankful this Thanksgiving are not the sort of things that have ever made my list before:

1. I”m thankful to have an apartment rental with unbelievable flexibility! It took away all the  worry of where we would live month-to-month.

2. I’m thankful my house did not crumble or come apart during the lifting phase of my house project.

3. I’m thankful to be wrapping up this seems-like-it-would-never-end project and to be moving back home soon.

4. I’m thankful for being able to make lemonade out of lemons – at least most of the time. For example, “Hey, kids, this apartment adventure will be just like a long vacation.”

or “I was in the mood to change all the paint colors in my house anyway,” (after realizing most of our walls sustained cracks and would need to be repaired and painted).    

or “I’ve always wanted to get to know some of the public officials in town and now I do!” (the building inspector, the city attorney, the city manager, the city planner, all the members of the zoning board and all the members of the architectural review board. I even had a change to talk to the head of FEMA for the state of New York – good times).

5. But most of all, this year I”m thankful that when the waters crept higher and higher today, I had no fear of flooding. That. Is. AWESOME!

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Near flood level – note the car in the parking lot.

The above picture is the same brook that floods my house periodically. It was taken at a location down stream from where I live and although it did not breach its banks today, it came close. Had my house not already been elevated, this would have been a watch-the-weather-all-day event while tactically planning how to move items out of harms way if indeed the rain continued.

For that I give many thanks!

Chimney Chase Remodel and Design

IN THE BEGINNING:  One of the first steps in this house elevation project was to remove the chase of a superfluous chimney. As all of our mechanicals had already been relocated to another area of our house, well above the threat of any flood, this chimney was no longer needed. As such, it had to be removed prior to elevating our house.

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Furnace Chimney prior to house elevation.

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Chimney removal for house elevation

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Chimney demolition is complete

CHASING STORAGE:  As the chimney extends from the basement to the roof, it used to be hidden away behind our walls, minding its own business. But it did create an unfortunate bump-out in our kitchen that broke up the visual flow of the room, as well as taking up valuable real estate:

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Chimney tucked neatly behind the bead-board.

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Chimney removed – space opened up. Note the plaster walls.

We’ve since ordered new cabinets to fill this void and will have a butcher block installed merging the two counter top pieces. The butcher block will help to break up the monotony of a long run of granite as well as make it appear more inherent to the kitchen rather than an after thought add-on. While we wait for the cabinets to arrive, we’ve prepped the space in anticipation:

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Former location of chimney, the space is prepped for cabinets.

THROUGH THE ROOF: On our second floor, we created a linen closet. As an old house, closets are not its strong suit. I don’t know what people used to do with all of their stuff because they sure couldn’t hide it away behind any closet doors. Maybe in that bygone area they didn’t have any extra stuff to squirrel away anyway. In days of old I’m certain the children didn’t have toys spewed everywhere, either. I guess if you have to whittle your own toys out of a hunk of wood, you’re probably not going to have heaps of them.

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Former location of chimney chase. This will become a linen closet.

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AFTER: New linen closet where a chimney chase once existed.

The picture is not deceptive, it IS a small closet, but a closet none-the-less. Can easily store sheets, blankets and beach towels like a champ in this captured storage space.

 

Collateral Damage to Elevated House

WEEK 24: There are many positive aspects to lifting your house above the flood plain, mainly that you will no longer have the dreaded anticipation of an impending flood every time it rains. That can not be overstated enough.  However, with every gain there is liable to be some growing pains.

WALL CRACKS: Our house is from the 1920’s, at least parts of it. Some of our walls our plaster and the rest are sheetrock. We saw damage to both types of walls during our lift, but more to the plaster ones.

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Sheetrock: Gap runs floor to ceiling in the sheetrock in one corner

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Plaster wall cracks

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Plaster wall cracks after house elevation

Essentially, every room received these hairline cracks. As a result,  all of the rooms will need to be repaired and painted. This week my main project is choosing a color pallet. It’s turned out to be a lot more time consuming than I anticipated. Especially since I’ve decided to chase down the phantom “perfect” color.

NORTH FACING LIGHT: When we first moved into the this house, many of the walls were white. We added color everywhere. Nothing pronounced, generally neutral hues. But I’m ready for a change and since the walls all have some cracks, I get a do-over in terms of choosing a color scheme.

I’ve lived in this house for quite some time now and realize that several rooms are only afforded north facing light which means they tend to be on the dark side even on a sunny day. I’m looking to brighten up these gloomy rooms with bright warm tones.  Have you ever looked for a shade of off-white? There are many, many, many of them.

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Choosing an off-white color pallet

PAINT WHEEL: Although it may be hard to tell from this photo these are all variations of off-white. The bottom shades have a gray tinge (cooler tones) the one third from the bottom actually has a green tinge, and the others have a yellow  or brown (warm tones) tinge. There were peach tones that were immediately cut from contention.

I could make myself crazy spending days deciding on the “perfect” shade, but fortunately I’m under a deadline. I work better that way anyway. 

KITCHEN AND DINING ROOM: I also have to track down the color scheme for these two rooms. Again, I’m looking to brighten and lighten up the space, but don’t think I want to have a monochrome house. I”m leaning toward the color in the photo below, the sample on the wall, but may move up a few shades to lighten it as well.

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Color decisions

Floor Woes: Entirely unrelated to paint decisions, below are some photos highlighting what can happen to your floors when a “shim” of wood is left in the wrong place and then your million ton house is set back down onto it.

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Pencil is flush to floor

The above photo shows what a pencil should look like when resting on your floor.

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Pencil resting on bump in the floors

Note how this picture shows the pencil up in the air. It’s not too pronounced, but it is noticeable when you walk on it. My contractor is hoping to remove the shim today and assures me that the floor should  settle back down. All in all, the floors fared very well throughout this process. Which is more than I can say for the walls. Given the choice, I’d rather fix walls than floors. I’ve done both and walls are much easier.

Complete Staircase for Elevated House

The front of the house is coming along this week. The staircase is complete except for the railing. The porch has had the columns placed this week as well. All the exterior trim work is done as well as the exterior faucets installed. We are still awaiting the leaders to be dropped for storm water run-off.

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Front view still awaiting the railings

You can see where the cedar shingle has been added and is still fresh. Over time it will blend and not longer be a drastic color distinction.

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.

Mudroom Renovation

WEEK 21: The mudroom, like this entire project, is S-L-O-W-L-Y  taking shape this week. In an earlier post I had discussed the history of flooding in this room as well as tips on choosing tile (see: Lighting up $100 Bills).  So this is merely a pictorial update:

SEPTEMBER: 

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What lies beneath the mudroom floor

OCTOBER: The floor was built up and then the concrete was poured:

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Mudroom awaiting fresh tile

LAST WEEK OF OCTOBER: The tile was laid out and the sheet rock was installed this week.

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New tile and sheet rock

The tile will definitely serve the “mud” room well and hide what my boys will track inside.

 

 

 

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.

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.