Doni’s Old House Remodel – Week 8: Doors, Floors and One Crucial Permit

Architect Tyler Hendrickson is a good enough sport that he agreed to being photographed at Redding’s Permit Center.

I’m pretty sure I was architect Tyler Hendrickson’s first client to request he pose with his plans in the City of Redding Permit Center lobby Tuesday.

It felt like a day worthy of documenting because we were dropping off Tyler’s application and supporting paperwork for my permit to edit four little walls, each of which is attached to my kitchen, for my home remodel.

Tyler was a trooper and allowed me to take his picture. Then he said it was only fair that I, the homeowner, should also pose with the plans. So I did.

Doni poses inside Redding’s permit center lobby with the plans created by architect Tyler Hendrickson.

After our photo shoot, we headed for the permit center counter where we spoke with Frank, who happened to be the same man who was at the counter that day in early July – seems so long ago – when I showed him my “plans” for the walls, all literally drawn by yours truly on a piece of printer paper.

Apparently, that’s not how it’s done.

Frank’s the guy who said I needed “real” plans, done by an architect or drafts person. That’s when I contacted Trilogy Architecture’s Josh Cuthbertson, who was unavailable, so he recommended his architect friend Tyler Hendrickson of TM Hendrickson, also of ONESHOP, Redding’s first makerspace. Despite having two fairly new businesses, and being insanely busy, Tyler accepted me as a client. I’m so glad he did.

Tyler drew up plans that would allow me to safely remove and support parts of those four walls, at least two of which involved load-bearing walls, which in turn will require pier blocks below the floors and beams overhead to mitigate the partial removal of the living room/kitchen wall, the dining room/kitchen doorway, the hallway/kitchen doorway and the laundry room (Tyler calls it a mud room)/kitchen doorway. As you can see, I like minimal kitchen walls. But I like an abundance of wall cabinets for storage. Yes, I’m aware those are conflicting statements.

Frank said that 80-something percent of Redding’s permit customers have their permits ready in a timely fashion, and are so happy that they push the dark-green happy button at that little permit-center kiosk when they exit the building. Frank said that if all goes well, my permit could be ready as soon as next Friday. That would be awesome because I’m flying out son Joe Domke from the Czech Republic soon to install my cabinets, which is cool because Joe can help me, but also because it gives me a chance to see my youngest kid who lives so far away.

The clock was ticking. We’d arrived at the permit center Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. I would have to be patient and wait. I promised Tyler I’d make him a sour cream coffee cake as a thank-you when the permit cleared.

The wall project needs to be wrapped up before the cabinet installation. And the cabinets just arrived yesterday, and are being acclimated in one of the bedrooms as I type. First the kitchen and laundry room cabinets will be installed; then the floors. That’s the required order or it voids the flooring warranty. Good to know.

Doni’s cabinets are waiting for the wall work before they can be installed.

This remodel is sans contractor. As the project’s owner/builder, it’s a nearly full-time job, but one that’s more fun than frustrating. Even so, the most difficult part for me is organizing that critical path for the most efficient timing. Does painting come before flooring? Does attic insulation come before the wall project? Do we close off the kitchen attic crawl space now and leave just the new attic access in the guest room, or wait until the insulation has been blown? What’s more important; removing the laundry room windows to plaster over, or getting running water in at least one bathroom sink? Do we first deal with the dry-rotted floor beneath the toilet in the first bathroom, or fix the leaky tub faucet (the only running water in the house)? Do we texture the walls in that first bathroom first in preparation for wallpaper, or tile the back bathroom wall?

It all has to be done. It’s just a matter of what happens in which order.

As it turned out, both floors beneath both toilets were a disaster.

I’m feeling especially under the gun since my long-time insurance company, Safeco, via George Peterson Insurance Agency in Redding, abruptly decided to cancel my insurance policy for my new/old house. An inspector hired by Safeco arrived unannounced at my house shortly after I’d purchased it and transferred my insurance coverage from my former Garden Tract home to this west Redding home. He walked around outside the house with a clipboard. I was fairly freaked to see this serious-looking stranger jotting notes on paper, because his visit was right in the thick of Corey removing cabinets and icky carpets, all of which were piled outside the back door, waiting for deposit into the 30-yard drop box I’d reserved. No doubt about it; the area behind my house looked dreadful.

The 30-yard drop box was filled with remodeling waste, mainly old carpets, cabinets and brush from around the house.

There was also one laundry room window with a missing exterior sill, obviously water damaged, a place where dry rot had been identified. Let the record show that that particular wall will be soon be repaired, and then the window will be removed and the opening closed inside and out as if it never existed.

Despite telling the inspector that what he was seeing was a temporary work in progress, the inspector later noted “yard debris” (no shit, Sherlock) in his report, as well as “dry rot on one wall” both of which were the reasons given to notify me via letter and email that my homeowners insurance policy would be cancelled. I was shocked and furious. I’d been a good customer for more than seven years with George Petersen Insurance Agency and Safeco. Seven years of never missing a payment. Seven years of never filing a claim. Poof. Done.

When I called George Petersen’s Redding office I was told that what I could do was really clean up the yard before the last week in August (giving some cushion time before my Sept. 10 cancellation date), as well as take care of that dry-rotted laundry room window. Then I could take a bunch of pretty photos, send them to Safeco and basically make a pitch for the company to pretty please reconsider the cancellation and kindly keep me.

My first inclination was to consider this option. My second – overruling – inclination was a final farewell and a digital salute. What really bothered me wasn’t so much that my insurance was cancelled, because I don’t have much faith in big corporate insurance companies, but that the local George Petersen’s office didn’t go to bat for me, or even pretend to go to bat for me, a long-time loyal customer.

What I also find interesting is the realization that if that particular inspector had shown up and walked around the property the day escrow closed, before I began improvements, I have no doubt my seemingly adorable little house would have passed with flying colors, because from the outside, it looked so darn cute.

The irony is that before the remodeling began, in reality the house was actually a train wreck of dry rot and pest damage beneath the house (yes, I knew about that part when I bought the house). Since then, I’ve spent many thousands of dollars to repair underneath the house. The attic was rat-infested to the point where the rats had chewed through the duct work and set up generations of rats inside the ducts, and the rats chewed through electrical wiring, all on top of code-violating flammable redwood shavings. Several more thousands of dollars later the attic is cleared of all rats – dead and alive, as well as a raccoon skull –  and redwood shavings. It has brand new ducts throughout, and new returns and better access to the back bedroom, a place some former renters said was hot in the summer and freezing in the winter. From the attic to the under-house crawl space, all rat entrances have been blocked. A pest service monitors the property weekly.

Both bathroom floors were rotted out beneath toilets, and one bathroom wall had so much dry rot (discovered when a sheet of ugly institutional-grade paneling was removed) that it’s a miracle one of the former renters didn’t literally fall through the plaster into the great outdoors. One space heater, when removed, had evidence of blackened, charred 2-by-4’s inside the walls, which only means one thing: at some point, a fire happened inside that little back-bedroom wall.

I could go on and on about the investments I’ve made in this sweet little house to make it not just habitable, but safe and sound, in these last eight weeks. Yes, it’s messy, ugly work, but it’s the only way to make things right. Kind of like a root canal, this part of the project isn’t pretty, but it’s necessary. It’s no exaggeration when I say that by the time I’m done with this remodel, this house will be nearly good as new.

Back to the insurance issue. I was referred (thank you Tyler Jardine) to Brent Darting of Summit Partners Insurance Services. Brent returned my call that same day to chat about my situation. We’ve had a few conversations already. I like and trust Brent.  It’s funny, with my old insurance company – gosh, nearly forgot its name – I didn’t have an agent, per se, or if I did, I didn’t know it. Everything was just done via mail, and my automatic payment. If I did need to speak with someone, I only ever reached a receptionist, never an agent. Having Brent Darting as my insurance agent feels more personal. Things look promising.

Meanwhile, my right-hand handyman Corey has completed floor installation in the two remaining bedrooms. He already sanded and finished the Douglas fir floors on the back bedroom, the only one in the house with salvaged original floors.

I surprise myself how much joy I feel to have bedrooms with floors. Oh, the things I used to take for granted; homes with floors, running water and rat-free ducts, for example.

Corey installs floors in Doni’s new/old house bedrooms.

I may have bedroom floors, but at the moment there are no interior doors. My plan was to salvage and restore these 80-year-old solid-wood painted beauties, remove and save the vintage hardware, lightly sand the doors and then repaint them all white and pretty. I was confident that part would go quickly, just like on those HGTV shows, where an entire home remodel can be done in five days for $35,000. Lately, when I watch those shows, I literally yell at the TV, ala Kathy Bates’ character in “Misery”.

That’s not right! They can’t do that! 

It makes me a little crazy.

Old doors await help.

Where was I? Oh yes. When will I learn that in the construction world, everything takes at least twice as long and costs twice as much as I expected?

To speed up the door-refinishing project, I hired Corey’s friend, Dawn. First she removed the hardware, which was no small feat considering every door was completely coated in many, many, many coats of paint – probably at least one coat every 10 years, which is a staggering amount of paint, considering the house was built in 1938. Hardware removal – hinges, door knobs, door-knob face plates and door-lock plates and many screws – took one entire day.

Dawn removes and saves the hardware from the old doors.

We used the hardware-in-a-crock-pot trick suggested by designer and flooring expert Kelley Franks of  Flooring America of Redding.  I bought a big crock pot at People of Progress for the job. Each night Dawn puts a load of hardware in the water-filled crock, turns it on low and lets it simmer.

Kelley Franks, Redding flooring expert, shared this tip for removing paint from old hardware: a simmering water bath inside a crock pot.

You can see how the hardware is turning out in the photo below. I love the Art Deco look of these doorknob plates. I’m not sure of the metal, but I do know it’s magnetic, but the finish looks like brass, which is not magnetic. I’m assuming it’s brass plated. I’m going to carefully polish it, hit it with a light spray of varnish and leave it alone.

After an over-night soak in a crock pot filled with water, the paint releases easily from the hardware.

While the hardware was a success, my plan to lightly sand and paint the doors didn’t go as well.  Dawn discovered that there are so many coats of paint that it’s impossible to “just lightly sand” – because it exposes yet more layers of paint, which tend to peel like plastic. It’s like peeling off a bad sunburn; once you start, you don’t know where to stop. 

In my dreams, there is a vat – like a massive crock pot – where heavily painted doors can be immersed, and the doors emerge paint-free and clean.

In reality, we’ll use some caustic stripping goop to lift the paint, all the way down to bare wood. I will not be painting these doors. As you can see by the color where the old hardware was, in the beginning, the doors were unpainted. So the doors will be natural, with unpainted hardware. I think it will look beautiful, and plus, it honors and brings to life the old doors and their original gorgeous hardware.

Things are moving fast. The last of the flooring will be delivered Wednesday; bamboo for the living room, hallway and dining room; vinyl for the kitchen, laundry room and one bathroom.

I’ve purchased not one, but two home security systems.

I need to get cracking and get that insulation blown in the attic, and button up all the ceiling openings. I also need to settle on a company to sheet rock, tape and texture the kitchen and laundry room before Joe arrives to install the cabinets. There’s a lot of interior painting left to do, too. And I’ll wallpaper the front bathroom, assuming the wallpaper delivery isn’t stolen from the front porch before I can get to it. (No offense to my new neighborhood, but this is the new Redding.)

The duct work is done. (Thank you, Phil Carpenter AC and Heating.) The electrical work is nearly done. (Thank you, E&S Electric.)

Soon, I’ll have new insurance, and a nearly new house that’s so awesome that Safeco will beg me to come back. (But I won’t.)

COLUMN UPDATE: 6:30 a.m. Aug. 24: 

Guess what? I got up this morning, checked my phone and saw there was a voice mail from Frank at the city yesterday morning that I somehow had missed. Frank’s message said that my permit was ready for pick-up. What the what?! That’ was less than 24 hours to process and approve my permit. This has to be some kind of record.

We can start the project!

I am so happy that when I return to the city today to pick up and pay for my permit, I may hit that dark-green happy button twice; once on the way in, and once on the way out.

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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42 Responses

  1. conservative says:

    Getting leaded paint safely off those doors is a chore.  Lead in paint was banned in 1978.  Titanium began to replace lead in 1950s.

  2. Brandon says:

    I really look forward to these updates. Fun to read and see what’s happening! Brando

  3. Beverly Stafford says:

    Oh, Doin’ Doni, I sit here with mouth agape at what you’re accomplishing.  And thanks for naming names, both good and bad.  After my niece’s experience with Geico, I can’t imagine how they stay in business much less spend the millions they do on advertising.  And now we know about unSafeco.  Nice that all the good guys you’ve been working with are receiving kudos.  Joe will have his work cut out for him, but what a joy it will be to be working together again – just like with the wedding cake!

  4. OH MY GOSH! I have to do some very quick revisions on this column. I woke up this morning and checked my phone and somehow I’d missed a message from Frank at the city of Redding permit center yesterday morning. My permit is READY!!!

    If you see this message after 6:30 a.m., the column you see will reflect this new information. The folks who saw it before thought I was still waiting for the permit.

    I’m so happy!

     

     

  5. Tim says:

    Way to go CoR & Frank!

    Doni, it looks like you’ve just about got all the frustrating unseen structural work behind you — time to enjoy seeing the final visual changes fall into place.

  6. Ginny says:

    Love hearing all you are doing to your  new “old” home, Doni.  You do it with hair pulling and aplomb all at the same time!  You make your new home a thing of wonder.  Really it is is a good wonder of love and belief  the new home will meet your standards.  Always know you will make it such!

    Thank you!  ;o)))  L&GB…..

  7. Deb says:

    Love the progress, love the new insurance company, and LOVE the edited-in update!  Yay!  Go go go!

    • Yeah, the beauty of online publishing is we can revise live.  In a newspaper, the correction goes inside somewhere where most people will never see it.

      Love online! And I love that you’re here, Deb. xod

  8. Darcie says:

    WOW, such good news about the permit!  There has been so much progress in just the last five  or six days.  The bedroom floors, the doors and hinges (neat crockpot trick), the electrical,  just WOW!

  9. cheyenne says:

    Reading your house updates I can’t help but remember Tom Hanks movie “The Money Pit”.

  10. Debra Atlas says:

    Fantastic news, Doni. YEA!!

  11. Matt Grigsby says:

    I have VERY similar door hardware in my 1938 house and several years ago when my Dad stripped off the old paint and cleaned them up he told me he thought the metal was bronze (the hinges too).

    Our houses have to be cousins, I swear.  Which also means your problems are probably my problems too.  Still, it gives me hope I can remedy some of my worries, starting with the attic insulation.

    Congrats on the permits!!  WOOT!

    • Matt, I’ll have to pop over some time and we can compare house features, but if your house was built in 1938, I have no doubt they share many similarities.

      I would love to see your door hardware, in particular.

      I hate to sound like a broken record, but if you do nothing else, please promise me you’ll see about getting your attic sucked out to remove the flammable redwood shavings. (It cost about $800 for two guys, the machine and about five HUGE bags. And then you’ll have to replace the shavings with something, although my hunch is that those redwood shavings stopped being efficient decades ago, so it would be interesting to see how much differently your house felt without anything at all in the attic.)

      I still have to insulate my attic, too. Weighing options.

       

  12. Really happy Tyler was able to help you out, Doni! Glad that all worked out well.

    • Josh, I’m sorry you and I weren’t able to work together again (remember Lincoln St.?). But I am so grateful to you and Trilogy Architecture for referring Tyler Hendrickson to me.

      Tyler was extremely easy to work with. He explained things so I could understand, and he was a positive problem-solver who was also a frequent communicator who texted and emailed often and kept me in the loop, which I really appreciated.

      I only wish I’d taken a photo of him late one night early on in the project when he was on his belly on my ripped up living room floors with the top half of his body under the house as he checked out the structural supports below. Ah, what glamorous lives you guys lead!

      Redding is lucky to have such a talented pool of  gifted architects.

       

  13. sue k says:

    Love your writing!!!!  It is so fun following your progress – AND – the permit is approved and accepted!  You are ‘sailing’.

    In regards to your doors – I thought ‘American Furniture Company’ on Twin View Blvd. had huge vats that objects could be dipped in to remove paint.  Don’t know that for a fact – but might be a possibility.

  14. Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

    I have to fix up a house in Sunset Terrace to put it on the market, including renovating a bathroom and possibly the kitchen.  This series of articles makes me feel demotivated.  Do I really want to see what’s underneath the flooring?

    :::shudders:::

    • Yes, you DO want to see what’s beneath the flooring!

      My suggestion, Steve, rip off the Band-aid. It’s better to face it now than later, when it’s worse.  Besides, if you ignore it now, and it’s discovered during a real estate inspection, you may end up paying more to fix it then than you would have if you’d shopped around for the best people and materials to get everything up to snuff on your own timeline.

      Besides, can’t you see how much fun I’m having? 🙂 Come on, join me! You’ll have a blast!

  15. Kathleen Gilman says:

    Doni, I am really enjoying your columns about your house renovations! I hope you can find that huge vat for your doors, that would be too perfect! My daughter has been going through some renovations of her own with her new/old house, and I send her your columns so she can see that it can be done. You are making such great progress!

  16. R.V. Scheide Jr. says:

    You’re indefatigable. I had to let the spell check spell that.

  17. Joanne Gifford says:

    I’m so enjoying the ups and downs of your remodeling. We that love our homes, get excited over such things.

  18. Joanne Lobeski Snyder says:

    It’s a relief to know that one can see the floor damage under a toilet (the picture your shared) and know that this isn’t the end of the world.  It can be fixed and fixed well.    I’m looking forward to each of your articles about this wonderful old house.

    We lost our home insurance with George Peterson.  One of the problems was we could only talk to a receptionist who used a computer to come up with plausible, but not certain answers.  We weren’t able to talk to an agent.  We had been with this company for over 25 years.

    • Yes, I’d rather see what’s under the floor than guess and wonder if the toilet will eventually fall through.

      I’m sorry about your experience with the same insurance company, but not surprised. I hope you found a good replacement company and an agent who’ll work with you.

      🙂

  19. Will you have an open house reveal?

  20. Love Redding’s vintage homes. Greg & I tried to place our business in the restored Victorian on South & Pine Street but the zoning was residential only 🙁 The owner Charley, had fully restored that place to 1906 and it is stunning. He retired after completing the old place because he wanted to see more original Victorians in Redding. I love that guy!

  21. Canda Williams says:

    Doni, I love hearing and seeing all the progress on your new/old home.  Your excitement definitely comes through, and your sense of humor makes the reading so much fun.  You’ve given a lot of good information to your readers.  Anewscafe is wonderful for so many reasons, and your columns are better than any HGTV show.  Congratulations on your permit, and can’t wait to see what happens next.  You and Joe will have a ball!  Love to you both. xoxo

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