Doni’s Old House Remodel – Week 2: Surprises

doni in ripped out kitchen

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.

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

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

Gosh. Where did those two weeks go?

Kenny is an expert driver of the massive trucks that delivered and picked upthe 30-yard drop box that we totally filled. By the way, I know it looks like there's green stuff poking out of the top, but what you're seeing are trees in the distance. I swear, my drop box was completely flat on top, just as it's supposed to be.

Kenny is an expert driver of this massive truck that delivered and picked up the 30-yard drop box that we crammed full of remodeling debris. By the way, I know it looks like there's green stuff poking out of the top, but what you're seeing are trees in the distance. I swear, my drop box was completely flat on top, just as it's supposed to be.

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.

Dead rat, or something else?

Dead rat, or something else?

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.

This is one of two charred boards in space heater wall. Surprise!

This is one of two charred boards in space heater wall. Surprise!

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.

"Do not get your heart set on saving the wood floors because we have to cut into them to do repairs under the house," were very sad words for Doni to hear.

"Do not get your heart set on saving the wood floors because we have to cut into them to do repairs under the house," were very sad words for Doni to hear.

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.

This bedroom floor is 3/4 of an inch thick, unlike the living room and dining room, which is 1/2 inch thick.

This bedroom floor is 3/4 of an inch thick, unlike the living room and dining room, which are 1/2 inch thick.

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.

Here's the back bedroom floor before Corey sanded it.

Here's the back bedroom floor before Corey sanded it.

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!

Corey Bunton sanding the back bedroom floor.

Corey Bunton sanding the back bedroom floor.

He even pieced together some salvaged pieces of wood from the kitchen and used them for that bedroom's closet floor.

Wood from the kitchen was salvaged to make the back bedroom closet floor.

Corey used this rented sander on back bedroom; the only floor with the original wood floor. Notice the pieced closet floor from kitchen wood scraps.

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.

Corey sweeps between sanding layers.

Corey sweeps between sanding layers.

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.

Doni's yard is a rock garden.

Doni's back yard is a rock garden.

Surprise No. 6: By then, I may have fallen so out of love with baking that I might just buy some coffee cakes.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as 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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58 Responses

  1. Beverly Stafford says:

    Never in this life would THE Doni Chamberlain purchase coffee cakes.  You would buy a solar oven and bake them in your rock-garden back yard first.  All that you are facing with this remodel makes what I plan to do in our house look like play time.  Perhaps by September when Joe arrives, your new/old house will no longer resemble the Winchester Mystery House.

    • Yeah, I know.  Right now it’s hard for me to imagine buying a coffee cake. But give me a couple of months and I could change my mind.

      I can see the changes day by day, slowly, incrementally, and that makes me happy.

  2. conservative says:

    Conventional kitchen cabinets waste money and aren’t practical.  A restaurant kitchen does it differently.  I did a great kitchen ten years ago.  Instead of base cabinets on one wall, I used carts on wheels and covered with butcher block.  So easy to find things.  I used open shelves instead of some upper cabinets.  Opening and shutting doors looking for an item is a pain.

    • I agree with you about restaurant kitchens, and if I knew I’d be in this house for the rest of my life, I’d do exactly as you suggest. But I have to think of the future, and regular folks who might not appreciate stainless carts on wheels and open stainless shelving. Now, when I do the little guest house, that’s a whole other project.

      And I also agree with you about opening and shutting cabinet doors. That’s why I will only have doors on upper cabinets. Everything else is drawers.

    • Tim says:

      If you ever plan on selling/renting, be aware that some FHA/HUD inspectors may frown on cabinets with no doors:

      “All cabinets and equipment provided shall be designed and installed to prevent contamination by insects, rodents, other vermin, splash, dust and overhead leakage.”

      • Really?!! This is the kind of thing that drives me crazy!

        But for what it’s worth, I only have one little cabinet sans doors. I guess if it’s an issue down the road I can slap on a pair of tiny doors.

  3. Tim says:

    Looks like progress.

    Planning departments don’t seem to appreciate that the problem isn’t the nominal fee or an unwillingness to do things to code, it’s the confusion when staffperson A says one thing and B says another and the inevitable delays waiting for approval and inspection.  A 10% return in 90 days is a 47% annualized ROI.  If it takes 180 days, that plummets to 21%.  I can’t help but wonder how much staff time is wasted by inspectors driving all around town looking at water heater stands & straps when they could have reached the same conclusion, without getting out of their chair, by opening an email with 5 attached photographs.

    I hope that whatever you lose by being so public & having to permit EVERYthing, you gain in the city cooperating more rapidly than otherwise due to them being in the spotlight too.

    • Yes, I wish planning departments would be more home-owner/home-contractor friendly. The red tape, the paperwork, the long lists of requirements, the long waits … all contribute to those folks who throw up their hands and say forget it, I’ll just do it without a permit. Of course, in the long run it would be better, and safer, if permits and some oversight were involved, but I can understand the home-owner’s perspective perfectly.

    • Joanne Lobeski Snyder says:

      Great point Tim.  Every other house on that street  doesn’t “come up to code” which would never be a problem unless an disgruntled neighbor or ex-spouse  wants to file an anonymous complaint with the planning department about a code violation.


  4. cheyenne says:

    This reminds me of a great campaign slogan issued years ago by Maurice Johannessen that looks like it still applies.  “Make getting on welfare as hard to do as getting a building permit”.


    • Oh, I remember that slogan well.

      What cracks me up – not in a ha-ha way – about the permit process is that in my home’s case, the actual work will cost hundreds to actually do, while the permits and drawings and professional fees will run into the thousands. I confess to having a few moments when I questioned whether it was worth it; whether I should have just left things alone and lived with the boxed-in kitchen.

      I think it will be worth it. (She says now. Ask me in a few weeks.)

  5. conservative says:

    I know several people who did major projects without required permits.  One a licensed contractor, one a real estate agent.  When you put in solar decades later, the inspector notices the non-permitted work and it costs at least 3 times more to do the get “as built” permits.  Sometimes they make the owner pull off sheetrock or siding so they can inspect the structure.   Did the shear panel follow the required nailing schedule?  The only way to see is remove the siding.  When you die, and we all will, the property changes title and the assessor may discover unpermitted work.  My friend has his house in his trust and thinks his daughter will keep the house in the trust when she inherits it.  That only postpones paying for the permits until she goes to sell.

    In many places, you don’t need a permit to remove a non-load bearing wall.  With any permit, the city or county gets to inspect and look for unpermitted work.  The issue may be the wiring and outlets in the wall and not the structural question.

    • Common Sense says:

      Of all the people that should know that a Permit is the Right thing to do….a Contractor….Licensed no doubt and a Real Estate Agent!…..Why in Tarnation would two people in the “know” do that? You are absolutely correct conservative….passing the home along to a daughter or son will only delay the inevitable!

      So what permits would be required on a typical remodel? Electrical work? Plumbing? Would replacing just an AC be a must get permit trigger?

      • Tim says:

        Depends on the city.  Here are the common ones for Redding:

        # Changing a water heater.

        # Adding or changing a wood or gas fireplace.

        # Adding or changing a wood stove or a gas insert.

        # Replacing a roof (including roofing over an existing roof).

        # Adding electrical circuits.

        # Adding or changing heating and air conditioning units.

        # Constructing a patio cover or car port.

        # Constructing an accessory building over 120 square feet.

        # Adding a room.

        # Converting a garage to living space.

        # Installing a swimming pool (including above-ground)

        # Constructing a deck.

        # Adding a window or changing the dimensions of a window.


        Redding fee schedule:

        Other cities may require permits for installing a new lawn sprinkler system, replacing windows with the same size, adding insulation, etc.

        • Funny, Tim, but I actually looked up this list last night online.

          Question, when it comes to adding windows, would I need a permit if I’m swapping out an old window for a new one that’s exactly the same size? A friend wants to know.

          • Tim says:

            Since the city’s FAQ says “Adding a window or changing the dimensions of a window,” I’d say new energy efficient windows, of the same size, shouldn’t require a permit (and I wouldn’t go out of my way to find evidence to the contrary).  I’ve replaced a dozen or so on property in Redding and never had an issue.

      • Yes, in addition to wanting to do this right, I am well aware that down the road, when it’s time to sell the house, if I didn’t get permits it would come back to bite me.


  6. CoachBob says:

    CAUTION: Don’t use that toilet!

    • Aside from the fact that it’s sitting in the middle of the bedroom, is there any other reason why?

      • Ginny says:

        Doni, probably because it uses more water.  That would be my guess..

        Love you are doing another home.  You did such a beautiful job on the last one.

        Only good vibes and luck and a few prayers for you!  ;o)

  7. And here I am, hemming and hawing about MAYBE, possibly painting and adding hardware to my kitchen cabinets…but if seems like SO much work  🙂 …. A little perspective and inspiration with my morning coffee – thanks, m’dear!  And getting your son home to help is sheer brilliance – a nice win-win for you both.

    • Well, in all fairness to you, I’m hiring out just about everything. Painting a kitchen and adding hardware would be some work, if you’re doing it.

      And you are correct about Joe coming home. I should have stated the obvious, which is flying Joe home to do the cabinets is a TOTAL win-win! I get to see my kid, and he gets to help me with my house. He’s a very handy guy (and I miss him).

  8. conservative says:

    Under prop 13, the assessed value of that house is the sales price.  With improvements which add $50,000 to the market value, the city may be able to increase the assessed value because of the permitted and inspected work.

  9. Hey, guys, I’m off to work out and will reply to comments when I can. But just fyi, I added more pix and another surprise to the list that I’d forgotten.

    Have a great day. Stay cool.

  10. Randall Smith says:

    Good luck Doni!  Inspections and permits do protect you and the property.  In five years, the summer of frustration will seem like childbirth, painful, but worth it.

  11. A. Jacoby says:

    Love Randall Smith’s comment about childbirth. I’ve done some remodeling in my time, but nothing, I repeat, NOTHING compared to your project!! WHEW!!! I get checking account cramps just contemplating it.

    • Yes, this is painfully expensive, especially since I haven’t done anything – other than have Corey sand the floors – that’s cosmetic. It’s money thrown at stuff that doesn’t show: under the house, in the attic … I’m trying to hang onto every dime I have so I have some left over for pretty stuff, too.

  12. Karen Calanchini says:

    Doni, you are aperfect example of a can do gal. Can’t wait to see what you do with the rock garden.

    • Thanks. The poor yard is so sad. I can outlines of where gardens were planted. Now, everything is dead, with the exception of a huge mulberry tree, which I’m watering faithfully. Friend landscape designer Karen McGrath was in town recently and did a quick walk-through assessment of my plant situation, and it’s pretty pathetic back there. I’m open to suggestions.

      Gotta run and meet the wood-floor guy.



      • Terry says:

        I am loving your columns. What an inspiration you are, Doni. (I feel the same as you do about rats. Great choice to replace the ducking.)  Your new home is going to be so beautiful.

        One “cautionary tale”: One thing I discovered about mulberry trees–they have Huge roots.  In my ignorance, I lost a patio to mulberry roots breaking it up—shallow watering from the sprinkler system instead of deep watering had made the roots too close to the surface of the lawn. We finally had the tree removed when I realized it was starting to crack the corner of the house, and I was scared for the concrete foundation. I am so ignorant about trees….

        Once again, congratulations on your new house- you are so talented to take a house and remodel it to beauty- by Christmas it will be a showpiece!  Have fun with Joe, and “Way to go”,  Doni!

        • Terry says:

          ducting- Not ducking. Darn you, Auocorrect! 🙂

        • Thanks, Terry. I hear you about the mulberry tree. I’m hoping it’s far enough from the house that it won’t be an issue. I’ll show more photos of the yard later, but the tree is actually up a step to a higher level.

          It makes me happy to think of a finished house at Christmas. 🙂

  13. conservative says:

    Many kitchen cabinet shops will spray three quick coats of lacquer.  Lacquer is for furniture.  In a kitchen, it will fail in time because of washing.  Tell the cabinet shop you want it sprayed with polyurethane.  Get it in the contract and have them give you some for touch up.  “No lacquer to be used” in the contract.   You could also have them sprayed with oil based paint.  Or sprayed with oil based primer and acrylic top coats.  I have seen seen many kitchen cabinets which needed expensive repainting after lacquer.  It just costs the cabinet shop a little more to do it right the first time.

  14. trek says:

    When submitting plans for approval COR will ask for a plot map w/ all buildings, out structures to be drawn on the parcel plan. One such home I purchased to resell after remodeling I reluctantly added a 20 year old steel shed to the site plan. You know, the one many people have in their back yards to store their lawn tools and mower in or what not. Yep, inspector wrote me up on another inspection phase of the project for not having a permit for the old tin out building. (12′ x 12′ ) It really had no value but I could keep it if I wanted to have the plans drawn along with an engineering stamp to certify the building was up to code. Or I could purchase the $125 demo permit and remove said metal building.

  15. Randall Smith says:

    There used to be a size limitation for out buildings.  I bought a Shasta Builders’ Exchange auction item.  Best investment ever.  They over built the thing under the then size limit and it was so well done!  I remain grateful.

  16. Janet Tyrrel says:

    Lovin’ your progress reports!

  17. conservative says:

    Is the assessed value changed after the project is inspected and complete?  I suspect the bump in property tax collections is just as important as permit fees for the city and county.  I guess the permit puts a value on the project, determined by the city, not the homeowner.

    The people who do projects without permit may get away with it and  save a few hundred dollars a year on property taxes.  If ta seller fails to disclose removing a non-load bearing wall and moving a few wires and outlets, the next home inspector may not be able to figure out when the work was done.  Putting up an addition, building a garage, changing an exterior door from single to double are the kind of things a building inspector can’t miss and will cause him/her to check for permits even though the work was done decades earlier.

    There are lots of people who do jobs like that for cash.

  18. Sally says:

    WOW Doni – Just reading this very entertaining column, including individual comments from well intentioned friends and workers, gives me even additional respect for your ability to take on a MASSIVE project, and make it sound almost like fun.  Thanks for sharing your story and good luck wishes for your dreams to come true!

  19. cheyenne says:

    When I bought my house in Anderson the assessed value was set by the purchase price.  All the improvements I did, which required permits, fencing a section of the yard, replacing all the windows with new different windows, installing a new AC unit, new water pump for the well, installing a stove in the fireplace(that was a major job), never changed my assessed value.  Prop 13 assessed value by price when sold.  Because I bought my house before the insane real estate price jump I paid less in property taxes on my house than others who actually bought houses that were smaller than mine but bought at higher prices.  Improvements don’t raise your assessed value which means the only extra tax money the city/county will get comes from permit fees which may be why they try to get as many permit fees that they can.

    When the SUHSD proposed a bond issue there were so many rumors circulating about how much the bond would raise property taxes that I researched the issue.  I talked to tax collectors, real estate assessors and found the actual value for a house was based on purchase price.  A bond will cause a tax on a homeowner and may actually raise or lower a home’s value but it doesn’t affect the assessed value.  After I sold my house and left property values dropped, insanely, and some homeowners were able to get their homes reappraised to reflect the lower values.  And some never appreciated Prop 13’s effect.  When I moved to other states that had yearly home appraisals there were lots of disputes, I never had any but I read about several.  You think charging for a permit is a battle, try fighting the appraisers that want to add thousands in value for some quirk they found.

    • Tim says:

      Prop 13 prevents property taxes from increasing by more than 2% per year under most cases.  California properties have generally appreciated more than 2% per year, so the effect has been to keep taxes down for long term owners.

      Your assessed values can jump more than 2% if the property changes hands (with a few exceptions for familial & joint-tenant transfers) or if “new construction” occurs, which CA defines as:

      Any substantial addition to land or improvements, including fixtures.
      Any physical alteration of any improvement, or a portion thereof, to a “like-new” condition, or to extend its economic life, or to change the way in which the improvement, or portion thereof, is used.
      Any substantial physical alteration of land which constitutes a major rehabilitation of the land or changes the manner in which it is used.
      Any substantial physical rehabilitation, renovation or modernization of any fixture that converts it to the substantial equivalent of a new fixture or any substitution of a new fixture.

      The BOE gives the following examples:
      New construction: a residence converted to a retail store by physically altering walls, installing counters, etc.; conversion of a garage into a living area; complete renovation of an older structure or portion thereof to make it the substantial equivalent of a new building; conversion of a single-family residence to a residence of two or more units; conversion of a portion of a warehouse to office space; conversion of an existing room to a bathroom.
      Not considered new construction: maintenance and repairs; replacement of existing kitchen or bathroom cabinets; replacement of air conditioner unit; replacement of roof.
      Note that the reassessment affects only the value of the new construction, not the entire property.  For example, say you’ve owned a modest 3 bedroom, 1 bath home for 30 years that is worth $200,000 but assessed at $100,000.  You decide to pay $25,000 to rearrange walls or make an addition for a second bathroom.  Because 3bed/2ba homes are more desireable than 3/1 homes, the market value of your home increases from $200,000 to $230,000.  Your assessed value would therefore jump $30,000 to $130,000.  You would not be reassessed at the full market value of the whole property — just on the portion of new construction.

  20. name says:

    Those backyard rocks have value!!  If you don’t believe, then go out to Axner’s and price some of the rocks they have for sale.  The prices for rocks these days are off the hook…

    Building inspectors – everyone has a story or two.  I know a guy that used to inspect construction, in another state, many years ago.  He was very good at ferreting out those that were constructing without a permit.  He would post up at the batch plant, and then simply follow a cement truck out to a job.  Many times said job did not have any permits pulled.  He wound up in some fairly sketchy situations, as this was way back in the day – people did not like him showing up on an non-permitted site.  To make matters worse, he is African-American, and most of the contractors were of a different race.  His Department was always happy, as he found many more violations than any of the other employees.  He did not inform them of his concrete truck trick until after he left…

    • name (wish I knew your real one 😉 I love rocks, especially river rocks, and I see nothing but potential with them. I’ve started a pile where a huge hedge – yes, hedge – of bamboo was (until today, when I had it removed) which is where I’ll have rocks from around the property picked up and dumped in the pile for later. (My theory is that all those rocks will help kill whatever’s left of the bamboo.)

      Interesting story about your friend the retired inspector.

  21. Renae Tolbert says:

    The most incredible woman on the planet. . . this confirms it.

  22. Steve Steve says:

    I’m amazed at what a huge challenge this has turned out to be for you.  But I like your attitude.  It is a nice problem you have.  But when you’re done with the inside and get to the outside, I’ll be your yard looks gorgeous!

    • You are right. It’s a nice problem to have. Make no mistake: I’m having fun!

      And regarding the yard, it’s on the back burner, because the house is my most pressing priority, but I find myself spending a lot of time letting my mind wander to visions of what it could be like. Right now it’s a blank dirt slate with lots of dead stuff, and I’m just keeping the mulberry tree alive, and the front lawn and front scrubs.

  23. Canda Williams says:

    Oh Doni,  You look so darn cute in that photo, I wanted to cry from missing you.  Another great update, and hey, at least this time you have an attic so you can have effective air conditioning, huh?  Hopefully the rat problem will be taken care of.  How brilliant to bring Joe out to help you.  After doing his kitchen remodel, he’s an expert for sure, and you two are such a good team for all your projects.  That one finished floor really does look beautiful!  I look forward to future remodel updates.  Love and miss you! xoxo

  24. Russell K. Hunt says:

    I tried to remodel a 1899 house  in St. Louis from Redding. Least to say the natives did their best to destroy everything. I give it to St. Louis County and wished them luck.

  25. Dawnette says:


    Doni … I am enjoying your progress reports! Such an adorable house with amazing charm!!  Let the Charm Shine! When all said and done ..There will be  That night your finally chilling  and looking at the accomplishments .. final project done and all YOUR hardwork is complete… it will be all worth it!!

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