Doni’s Old House Remodel: Month 1 – AC and Rat-free

These foil intestines are what's left of the previous rat-filled ducts.

These foil intestines are what’s left of the previous rat-filled ducts.

I have officially owned my house for one month and and three days.

I look forward to the column I write about my house in which the word rat is nowhere to be found.

Today is not that column.

But I’m excited to report that today is the day when my new duct system should be completely installed. And new ducting means I can finally turn on the air conditioner. Yesterday the guys from Phil Carpenter’s Air Conditioning & Heating  arrived at 6 a.m., climbed in my attic and removed all the ducting from the clean attic, now free of flammable redwood shavings, dead rats and even live rats.

My dilemma with the duct work was whether to pay about $500 to just repair the places chewed through by the rodents, or whether to spend thousands of dollars to remove and replace all the duct work. I chose Door No. 2, and I’m so glad I did.

It turns out the ducts were filled with rats’ nests throughout. This got me wondering about the previous dwellers in that home, who inhaled the rodenty air conditioned air all summer and rodenty heated air all winter.

I now wonder about all the times I’ve been inside some building, oblivious about  the quality of air flowing through the vents into my lungs. I was blissfully ignorant regarding the contents inside the bowels of the ducts themselves.

Before I bought this house, I naively assumed that ducts were a closed system. I never imagined that not only could/would rats chew through the ducts, but they could get inside the ducts where they could mate, give birth, poop, pee, die and decompose inside the ducts. Not in my wildest nightmares did I conjure up those horrible images.

Yes, I realize I’m a bit obsessed with this whole rats-in-the-attic situation. Corey, my right-hand handy man, is well aware of my rat phobia, which is why he spent two full days blocking every possible rat access point, from the top of the attic to every inch beneath the house.

Corey's Doni's right-hand handy man on her new/old house.

Corey is Doni’s right-hand handy man on her new/old house.

For all the talk and all the crazy ratlore about rodents’ Houdinish ability to flatten and squeeze themselves through openings no larger than a quarter, in my house, no rat had to ever squeeze, since the house lacked screens on some of the more spacious openings, places that should have been covered with wire mesh.

See those little vent holes in the plaster? Before Corey screened them, they were side open.

See those little vent holes in the plaster near the peaks? Before Corey screened them, they were wide open. Hello, rats.

The rats at my house could form a chorus line 12 abreast, join their chubby little rat hands and river dance through the ample openings in my old house, such as this large vent shown in this photo, below, where, once again, there were no screens. (There are now.)

See the retangular wood vent near the roof's peak with the space slats? No screens. Come on in, rats. You're welcome.

See the rectangular wood vent near the roof’s peak with the generously spaced slats? No screens. Come on in, rats, bats and other creatures. You’re welcome.

I could go on and on showing examples of ways and means the rats could enter my home, but I’m weary of rat-writing, so I’ll move along to tell you something awful the duct guys found in the attic that I thought at first was a head of a rat skeleton. Some Google searches (rat skeletons, squirrel skeletons, etc.) proved fruitful when I was able to breathe a sigh of relief and know that the small critter skull was not a rat. Most likely it was from a small opossum (it’s all in the teeth, you know).

Oh, the surprises Doni's house provides.

One never knows what one will find in an old attic. Jumbo Solo cup for perspective. (Skull update: Son Josh figured out the critter was a raccoon. Check out the photos on this site to compare.)

To escape thoughts of rats, I have set up a little paint station – my happy place – where I go in the cooler evenings or early mornings to work on furniture for the day when my house can actually accept furniture, like these cute chairs I bought at a yard sale last weekend, and painted.

Doni painted these cute chairs for the day when the chairs can be in the house around a table.

Doni painted these adorable chairs for the day when the chairs can be in the house around a table.

Oh, that reminds me. My container drop-off of all my stuff has been miraculously delayed again. I’m so happy, because the house is still a major mess, and it wasn’t ready for the delivery. Now the container drop-off date is scheduled for the first week in September. Perfect!

I hope.

I bought a little dresser that I will use as a small kitchen-sink vanity in the back guest room. It’s well-made, with dove-tailed joints in all the drawers. I got the idea after pricing the pressed-wood cabinets upon which most sinks are housed. Something of the dimensions of this little desk would be in the $400-$500 range. So I decided to use old, well-made furniture as sink bases instead. I got this piece for $79.

This old desk will be a kitchen vanity that holds a tiny bar sink.

This old desk will be a kitchen vanity that holds a tiny bar sink.

I have no idea what kind of wood the little desk is, but I painted it a pretty grayish-purple color that I found on OSH’s oops paint shelf for $2.50. I love oops paint, because while it may be considered a mistake by one customer, it’s often a winner for me, especially because it’s sharply discounted.

A small can of oops paint transformed this little old desk into the foundation for a kitchen vanity.

A small can of oops paint transformed this little old desk into the foundation for Doni’s guest room kitchen vanity.

Speaking of oops paint, I invested $118 in a 5-gallon bucket of Dove White paint, a color I chose after much research, and learned that Dove White is on many decorators’ lists of favorite whites.

Within three days I’d brought home five 5-gallon buckets of paint after two paint-mixing errors. The first error was the paint clerk forgot the add the tint, which left the paint looking like something more fitting for an airport runway. Super white! The second bucket I had to return was tinted, but it was incorrect, which produced a color I’d call Someone Pissed in a Bucket of White Paint – white.

This is poor lighting, but look closely and you can see the swath of pus-colored paint.

This is poor lighting, but look closely and you can see the swath of pus-colored paint.

I’m happy to say the two final 5-gallon buckets of Dove White I purchased are correct. The rooms are finished, and are awaiting trim.

And the back guestroom floor is done, too. It went from this:

This is what the back bedroom floor looked like before sanding.

This is what the back bedroom floor looked like before sanding.

To this:

Corey sanded the floors, which will need a few more coats of sealant.

Corey sanded the floors, which will need a few more coats of sealant.

Sometimes in the evenings, after all the various workers are gone, I’ll sit on my front porch, take in the sky and imagine the day when all the work is done inside my little old house.

The view of the sky from Doni's front porch is a beautiful sight at the end of the workday.

The view of the sky from Doni’s front porch is a beautiful sight at the end of the workday.

Right now the biggest push is still regarding waiting for my permit so I can have a few walls altered. I won’t say “removed” because all the extracting is on partial walls. Even so, there is the unfortunate matter of at least one load-bearing wall, exactly where I want to remove a hunk. The reason I want these openings is so I can see from the kitchen into the living room and out the front door.

Look carefully and you can see the markings that show where the wall will be altered.

Look carefully and you can see the markings that show where the wall will be altered. The kitchen is on the back side of this wall. The dining room is to the far right.

All four of walls that require cutting are related to the kitchen. The first is between the kitchen and living room (see above). Here’s the back side of that wall, inside the kitchen.

In Doni's dreams, this portion of the wall will be gone, and give a view from the kitchen to the front door.

In Doni’s dreams, this portion of the wall will soon be gone, and give a view from the kitchen to the front door.

The second is between in the kitchen and dining room.

The dining room doorway will be widened. (That's the cabinet-less kitchen in the background.)

The dining room doorway will be widened. (That’s the cabinet-less kitchen in the background.)

The last wall is between the kitchen and laundry room.

The doorway that leads to the laundry room will be widened.

The doorway that leads to the laundry room will be widened.

As usual, for me, when it comes to houses, it’s once again all about the kitchen. But there’s the whole frustrating domino effect, such as the fact that although the kitchen and laundry room cabinets will officially arrive in a few weeks, and son Joe will be here the first week in September from the Czech Republic to install them, the cabinets can’t be installed until the walls are cut and finished off.

And the floors cannot be installed in the living room, hallway, dining room and laundry room until the walls are cut, and oh yes, none of that can be done until the concrete pier block footing is poured beneath the living room floor to shore up the post and overhead beam (header, whatever), to mitigate the loss of that one portion of the living room wall.

It would have been so much easier if I’d just left all the walls alone. But the thought of being boxed up in the kitchen made me feel a little crazy. I hope it’s all worth it.

And I hope the city grants my permit quickly, despite what I wrote about Stillwater Business Park this week. 😉

Meanwhile, no segue, but a few of you had asked about my workouts. Never fear, I’m still working out at Align, although I confess that having this house remodel is like having a high-maintenance boyfriend, and he’s all I think about, to the point where it’s hard to make myself show up to work out. But I’m on a schedule, and the Align folks will hunt me down if I don’t show up. So I keep going.

Doni does a hamstring stretch on her back (that's the ceiling above her, and the workout assignment on the wall) , and she may or may not be checking messages to see how the house is coming along.

Doni does a hamstring stretch on her back (that’s the paneled white ceiling above her, and the workout assignment on the wall above her feet), and she may or may not be checking messages to see how the house is coming along.

I bring healthy snacks in a little insulated bag with me to the house, where I hang out and even work on my laptop until the inside temperatures get unbearable.

The house, sans AC from the ratty ducts, routinely reached into the high 90s.

The house, sans AC from the ratty ducts, routinely reached into the high 90s.

But as of today, I’ll have functioning duct work, which means I can use the air conditioning. I’ll have a fully rat-free attic, and a house with every access blocked to rats or opossums or any other critters that foolishly attempt entry. Of course, I will still have the pest guy set traps in the attic, and outside, and in the garage, and by the water heater, and anywhere else I can think of, for good measure.

I’m not out of the rat woods yet.

But at least I have air conditioning.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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40 Responses

  1. Beverly Stafford says:

    So glad you updated us on your Align time.  It’s probably cooler there than in your new/old house even when you’re hard at Matthew’s assignments.  Live free or die?  Nope, for you it’s rat free and cool.

  2. Randall R Smith says:

    Great going and thanks for the report.  There is some serious risk of picking a scab here, but mention should be made of the wonderful little part hidden deep inside your head, your amygdala.  Here is a primitive organ from the long ago which made us and still does, get up in the morning and pursue food, build shelter, obtain water, make weapons, care for children, go to school, finish homework, complete the job, do whatever is necessary.  Guess what is a favorite target of THC and other alkaloids in MJ?  Yep, along with frontal lobe judgement, pain and vomiting centers; early and frequent use disables this vital drive center.  Ever wonder how the expression “burned out head” came into being?  Soon we will have an entire society of walking dead.  Zombie Apocalypse is just around the corner.   And wouldn’t it be interesting to test for THC at illegal campsites around town along with heroine, cocaine, meth, alcohol and other mind altering substances.

    Sorry!  Stay with the now gone rats and permitting agencies.  Things are better there for people with a functioning amygdala; improvement is possible, hope is still real.

    • Joe Bob Briggs says:

      It would be interesting to test for THC, heroine [sic], cocaine, meth, alcohol and other mind-altering substances. at Rotary meetings, Board of Supervisors meetings,  City Hall, and other so-called “pillars of the community,” too.

  3. Michelle says:

    Not a bioligst but opssums have 50 teeth. A very ominous snarl when you see all those teeth-and I don’t think they have canines like that. Looks like the rats perhaps drug a tasty dog head upstairs to dine on. ewwwww, huh?

    • Yeah, I looked at skeletons of rats and squirrels, and they both have those long front center teeth … not long canines.

      So, you’re saying you think it’s the head of a small dog? Oh my gosh! I can’t even imagine how it got up in the attic, unless, as you say, a large rat dragged it up there. Nightmare material for sure.

      • Joanne Lobeski Snyder says:

        Not a dog skull.  The shape of the head and in particular the nose, and the eye sockets where they are do look like opossum.

  4. Debra Atlas says:

    Way to go, Doni. Your house is coming along just great! Dreams of completion – and a housewarming perhaps? – must be dancing in your mind’s eye.

    Yea!

    Debra

  5. sue lang says:

    Love your stories about remodel.  Can’t wait for next installment.

  6. Karen Calanchini says:

    I hope you have an open house for your posters.  People you know, of course. Would love to see the results of your efforts.

    You are amazing.

  7. Carrie Dokter says:

    I love your updates, as well as all your other stories! I always hope some of your spunk and ambition rubs off on me as I’m reading.

  8. Dang. Just got a call that the AC guys are thinking my HVAC unit’s motor is too small for the system. Arrrggghh! Maybe I won’t have AC today after all. 🙁

  9. Grammy says:

    And starting tonight you will have a horribly high power bill.
    You must go to sleep every night with a big feeling of accomplishment. Did you have a home inspection before escrow closed?
    A home in the neighborhood sold recently with people the new home owners not having a clue about country life. No well inspection was done on the well that only produces 1/2 gallon a minute. No septic tank/leach line tested but the tank was pumped. The many issues have over-welled them.

  10. trek says:

    Do a search on the info. from the tag ( AC Compressor/Condenser Unit Data Plates ) on the unit and see for yourself how much it can handle. (or post a pic of tag) Unit motors are generally matched to compressor / heat exchanger out puts.

  11. Steve Steve says:

    Looking forward to the virtual open house.  Sorry about the AC.  But you know it will all come together.

  12. Linda Gutierrez Bayless says:

    Can’t wait to see the end result! I know it will be fabulous!

  13. All is well with the AC unit. Some little fixable glitch. The COR inspector was at the house and signed off the work. Although we have AC, the guys suggested we avoid using it until the major dust producing part of the project (such as cutting into walls) is over.

    OK, but at least it works!

     

     

     

    • Beverly Stafford says:

      Eureka!!  Was that inspector one who could give you any idea as to when the walls can come a’tumblin’ down?

      • Well, Beverly, you can bet that I mentioned it to him, and showed him my few small-scope walls that needed just minor editing. He said as long as the architect does a thorough job with the drawings and explanations, everything should go well and it shouldn’t be kicked back.

        • Beverly Stafford says:

          Would a sour cream coffee cake to the architect be of any help?  This isn’t a time to be proud.  Grovel if necessary.

          • I know the architect is on it. But you know, I’m not really in a baking place right now. But I’m not beyond groveling, if necessary. 🙂

          • Tim says:

            I’ve never permitted a wall removal; do you have to use an architect or can you use a civil engineer instead?  I tend to think of the former as being fashionably late both in parties and to product.

  14. Tammy Douse says:

    Happy for your new home.  Keeping fingers crossed that the permits come through so you can complete your projects in a timely fashion!

  15. Karen C says:

    Hope your experience with the City has been better than most.  You are on top of it all, and not afraid to speak up and  find out how long it is going to take.  Not your first rodeo, I know, and it feels to me like things are moving along much faster than most.  Hang in  there, Doni.  Soon you will be in your beautiful new home, with another great kitchen!

  16. Ginny says:

    Oh, Doni, I am so thrilled with what you are doing on your “new” home.  It is such a wonderful achievement more so that the other home, which was very good, but that one took you into a “new” life, whereas this one you made your new life, and it this home will only add to your newer life’s future!

    God bless you!  ;o))

     

  17. Richard Oops Paint King says:

    I’m very excited for you Doni. This house is going to be a nice little gem when it’s all done. I’m glad you now have the cool air working.

  18. Mystery skull update: Son Josh figured out the critter was a raccoon. Looks right. 

  19. Russell K. Hunt says:

    Make sure your duct work is supported every four feet. Those coil ducts are spring loaded and gravity makes the wire tear the foil downward over time.

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