Let me just clarify that despite the stress of remodeling, despite the expense, and yes, as I dealt with this week, despite some surprises, you will never hear me truly complain about this remodel project, for two reasons.
First, I know how damn fortunate I am to own a home that I can remodel in the first place. To complain about remodeling strikes me as the same way I feel about people who whine incessantly about jet lag: It’s a nice problem to have that many people never experience.
Second, for me, remodeling is fun and exciting. I love to take something that has as much potential as my new/old house, and bring out the best in it.
As I wade more deeply into this project, I have to laugh at how, once again, when it comes to remodeling, I underestimated everything: how long it would take, how much it would cost, and the scope of the work.
I thought if anyone could pull off a speedy remodel, even on a 1938 house, I could. I knew the house had great bones, a newish roof and modern windows. I knew who to hire. I knew I wanted new kitchen cabinets. I knew I wanted to save the wood floors. And I knew exactly which walls needed widening and/or removal to make the kitchen more open to the dining room, living room and laundry room.
But there’s no simple removing part of a wall – even a tiny, non-load-bearing one – without a drawing for a plan to take to the city.
Believe it or not, there are some people who’d like to make an example of me during this project; you know, take me down a peg or two. If you think I’m being paranoid, let me tell you about the time many years ago when I was a newspaper columnist and I wrote about my dog, Emma. A few minutes after 8 a.m. on the day the column appeared in the paper I got a snotty call from someone who worked for the city of Redding who said she’d read my column, and that she’d taken it upon herself to look up my dog’s records, and Emma’s license was expired, which I better pay immediately or be fined.
So, yeah, I’m getting permits for this job, for those who are wondering. But before I can get the permits, architect Tyler Hendrickson needs to draw the plan and submit it to the city, which will be eventually reviewed, and most likely marked up and kicked back with questions (that last part was told to me by a man who works in the city’s permit center), which could take many weeks. And THEN I can have those walls taken care of.
Meanwhile, I have cabinets on order, which should be here anywhere between four to six weeks from now. The cabinets must go in first, before the flooring (if I go with bamboo and even some vinyl planks), because installing cabinets on a free-floating floor voids the floor warranty. In my perfect little world, the wall work would happen before the cabinet installation, but that may not be in the cards, timing wise.
Speaking of cabinet installation, it turns out it costs less to fly out my youngest kid from the Czech Republic during this off-season time to help with the cabinets than to pay for professional cabinet installation, so that’s exactly what I’m doing. Joe arrives the first week in September, and I’m hoping upon hope that the cabinets arrive on time.
The thing is, the flooring can’t be installed until it’s acclimated for a few days in a temperature-controlled house, or those floating floors will either expand or contract after installation, which would mean the planks would either buckle and pop up, or just ease apart, leaving gaps. I was asking the flooring guy for clarification about this whole temperature requirement just yesterday, and he kind of waved it off.
“Don’t worry too much about the temperature,” he said. “I mean, it’s not as if it’s 90 degrees inside your house, right?”
Uh, yeah. It is. Ninety degrees. Inside my house. Until I can get the ducts replaced.
Moving away from the duct conversation, Wednesday Kenny from the City of Redding’s Solid Waste department picked up my totally packed drop box.
Gosh. Where did those two weeks go?
This job reminds me that many things are beyond my control, and the entire project is a major domino effect.
The duct system needs replacement, not just repair. (See last week’s column where I discussed rats that had chewed through the duct work.) Sure, I could have the ducts patched up for about 500 bucks, and you can bet there are slum lords out there who’d do just that, not caring what kind of rodent-tainted air their renters breathed. But to do this right all the rat-infested ducts need to go, and will cost thousands, not hundreds of dollars. I have two bids so far and am waiting for the third before I decide.
But because of the rats that chewed the ducts in the first place, no matter how much a hurry I am to get new ducts and glory-hallelujah air conditioning running inside the house, I won’t have the ducts installed until I know the attic is completely healed from its rats-gone-wild days. What would be the point in getting brand new ducting if the rats returned and chewed through the new stuff?
I’m so obsessed with rats that when I recently looked up at a living room ceiling vent, I was pretty sure I saw the outline of a dried rat corpse.
Every single possible rat entrance needs to be blocked, which is no small feat, considering, as one of the workers told me this week, a rat can get through an opening the size of a nickle.
Super handyman Corey already blocked all the under-house rat entrances with stiff wire mesh that no rat could chew through. I figured the attic required a professional.
So, I hired a pest control company to get rid of the rats in the attic of my new/old house. Having peace of mind about this whole rat situation is a priority.
Surprise No. 1: The rat specialist guy who works for my chosen pest company said that while he can trap and bait rats in the house and around the house and in the garage all day long (and by the way, to my knowledge, not one caught rat), he can’t work in the attic to plug the rat entry points. He said it’s a liability issue.
What the what? HVAC guys can go in attics, and so can other home-improvement related professionals. But a company that specializes in ridding a house of rats – many of them attic-loving rats – cannot go into the attic to block rat accesses?
Tomorrow the pest company and I are having a little come-to-Jesus moment over this. I may end up moving onto pest control company No. 2 if company No. 1 can’t work in attics.
Surprise No. 2: There was a little space heater on a wall of that back bedroom, which seems to be full of surprises. I asked handyman Corey to remove it, since I was sure it was an energy-sucker, and it just looked funky. When he took off the paneling that surrounded it, this is what we found: charred wood inside the wall above the heater, as well as another charred piece when he extracted the heater itself. Surprise!
Just like when I decided to remove the kitchen cabinets, and found nearly 2 inches of rat excrement in the soffit, I’m finding that sometimes it’s good bite the bullet and go beyond the surface and see what lies beneath it. Sometimes, ignorance is not bliss, but danger.
Surprise No. 3: I had (sort of) accepted the possibility that I couldn’t save the wood floors beneath the ripped-up carpet. Yes, I could see with my own eyes that much of the perimeter of the floors were destroyed during the pest-damage repair beneath the house.
But Corey and I hatched a plan to basically use one room as the wood “nursery” and borrow the wood from that room’s floors to patch others throughout the house. The room from which we borrowed the wood – a bedroom- would be covered with store-bought wood flooring, or maybe bamboo, which I love.
It should have been a red flag for me when friend Randy Smith walked through my house, looked down at the floors and observed that the board widths were more narrow in the living room than the bedrooms, kitchen and hallways. In fact, there looked to be at least three different kids of wood: oak, Douglas fir, and another I couldn’t identify.
I brushed off the observation, because I was just sure we could make it work, in a rustic way. I really, really wanted the original wood floors. Besides, it would be so much less expensive to sand and restore the old floors than to buy new ones. Have you priced flooring lately? You could buy a nice new car for what it costs to install mid-priced new flooring throughout a house.
One of the workers pointed out that strangely, the wood planking from room to room were not just different widths, but different thicknesses, too. Some were 3/4 of an inch thick and others were 1/2 an inch thick. I have no idea how that transition worked from room to room in my house, but it did.
That change in widths and thicknesses confirmed we couldn’t mix and match the woods.
I have one more guy coming to talk with me today who knows wood floors, and actually creates wood flooring, to look at my floors and see what he thinks. He’s my last ditch effort to save the floors. But I’m so sure it won’t work that I have bamboo and vinyl flooring picked out as back up.
Surprise No. 4: This was the second-best news all week. Corey was able to salvage and sand the back bedroom floor; the only one that didn’t need pest repair.
This would be a good time to apologize to my kindly neighbors for the all-night sanding noise that prompted one concerned person to call the police, who responded with large flashlights and requests to stop working.
See, Corey sanded at night, while it was cool, and ended up working until about 4 a.m., until the police arrived. (Again, so sorry, neighbors.) Corey resumed work yesterday and finished the floor. I’m so happy!
He even pieced together some salvaged pieces of wood from the kitchen and used them for that bedroom’s closet floor.
Seeing how pretty the floors were looking made my day. As you may recall, this back bedroom is the room in which I’d planned to have the container of my belongings deposited until the house was ready for me to fully unpack.
Surprise No. 5: The first-best news all week was from the wonderful man who owns the container that holds all my earthly belongings. He asked if it was OK to put off the delivery of the container for a week or so. (Today was the original drop-off date.) This buys me some valuable time to get that back bedroom completely finished and ready to store everything I own.
Someone asked me when I expected my house to be finished. I told him that if he’d asked me a month ago I would have said one month. Now, I know that the end of September is more likely. I’m a little bummed, but it is what it is.
I’ve met a few of my neighbors, and all have been friendly and welcoming. But I don’t know how much longer these good folks can hold out being patient and understanding about the remodeling racket and mess and workers’ trucks parked in front of neighbors’ houses, and the beep, beep, beep of 30-yard drop boxes coming and going.
I’ll bake and deliver my most-loved sour cream coffee cakes as a neighborly token of apology … the moment I get a kitchen.
But first, there are rat holes to plug, new ducting and insulation to install, interior walls and doors to paint, walls to open, old hardware to refinish, and cabinets and floors to install. And I haven’t mentioned outside. I can’t even go there right now.
Surprise No. 6: By then, I may have fallen so out of love with baking that I might just buy some coffee cakes.