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. 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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