Tag 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.

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.

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.”

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.

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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.

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.