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Winner Best Literary Fiction Blog - 2008
Shortlisted for Best Literary Fiction Blog - 2009, 2010
Longlisted for Best Literary Fiction Blog - 2011 Shortlisted Best Written Book Blog - 2010

House Remodel

2005

before-remodel0001.JPG Before The Remodel - Rear View

Over a year ago my husband, Kip, and I decided to remodel our home. The house was built in the early 1980’s and as far as we can tell no one had ever done anything to it since that time. The kitchen appliances are originals; the carpet is orange shag.

The winning feature of the house is its location. It sits on a half acre of wooded lot at 3400 feet with a nice view of the valley. The neighborhood is quiet. The dogs romp in a fenced backyard.

We hired a designer, met with him several times, and had plans drawn up. The remodel would be huge: a 300 square foot addition, new roof, 12′ ceilings in the “great room,” a new back deck and front porch, a brand new kitchen and hardwood floors throughout. I envisioned the beauty of our new space and grew eager to start.

But, getting a design is a far cry from actually beginning a remodel. We needed bids on trusses and the roof. The county demanded an engineering report. All the minutiae took time. A lot of time. By the time we’d finally written the last check to get the building permit, the summer had slipped into the short days of fall and the rain had started. We postponed our remodel, choosing to wait until drier weather to begin.

Just yesterday we got a call from our contractor. He was up to his eyeballs in another project. He was very sorry, but he wouldn’t be able to start our project in May. He gave us the name and number of another contractor. Here we go again…

***

Cabinets

A spring breeze blew through the pine trees yesterday and the sun rose in a clear blue sky. Kip and I decided to take a trip into town (a 30 minute drive down the mountain) and run a few errands; we thought going to Home Depot might be fun.

The Day-of-the-Remodel will be here soon. We have sketched it out, gone through the plans a million times, fretted, hemmed, hawed, talked about it until we have covered each potential issue at least three dozen times. Our latest topic of conversation is kitchen cabinets.

It is not enough anymore to just decide on a color scheme. The decisions to be made when selecting cabinets for one’s kitchen are vast and occasionally confusing. Should we use pine or birch or cherry or hickory? Do we want the wood to be natural or stained? Should we have painted cabinets since the flooring will be wood? What depth do we need? What kind of features? Should all the drawers pullout, and if they do which drawers should have four pullouts; which should have two? What style do we like…Square? Shaker? Bead board? Cathedral? Do we want glass insets? What kind? How many? What types of door pulls would look the best?

Each question spawns more questions. We have collected a pile of cabinet catalogs that is truly impressive.

So yesterday we went to Home Depot in the hopes that we could narrow our choices; make some decisions.

Home Depot is an immense store with ceilings that tower overhead and aisles that stretch for what seems like miles. The kitchen center looks friendly enough. There are little miniature kitchens set up with helpful placards explaining the maker, type of wood, and cost breakdowns. But within a very short time we felt overwhelmed.

“This style is nice,” Kip said, running a hand over a hickory cabinet that glowed in the fluorescents.

“But they don’t use solid insets,” I said.

And that is the problem with cabinets. What one company offers in one area, they don’t offer in another. If we found a style we liked, it didn’t come in a wood type we wanted. After an hour my mind was spinning.

“I’m tired,” Kip said.

We headed out to the parking lot, into the bright sunshine.

“What should we have for dinner?” I asked.

“Drumsticks,” Kip said.

At least we made one decision yesterday.

***

Chipping Concrete

I had trouble sleeping last night; tossed and turned from two o’clock until about 4 o’clock. The extreme home makeover is getting closer and there are plenty of details to think about, worry about, ponder.

We met with the new contractor last night, pointed out some mistakes on the drawings, talked about the details. We ironed out what we would handle: the cabinets, counters, floors, rock facing and hearth.

“I’ll give you direction,” the contractor assured me.

Good thing, since the whole process is like Greek to me.

“You’re going to stay here while we do this?” He asked.

Oh yes…for better or worse, we’ll be here when the walls are down and the roof is off; sloughing through the dust and debris. I suppose we can sit in patio chairs and watch the stars from the middle of our living room. There is a silver lining to every difficult moment, after all.

“I didn’t sleep well last night,” I told Kip this morning.

“Gee, I did,” he said.

That’s why I married him: the calm in the storm. I think I’ll need that come June.

***

We removed the four stumps from the front yard the other day. Last summer, we took down the cedars that towered in front of the house; we had no choice since they sat where the new porch will eventually reside. I have been dreading the stump removal; perhaps because of the horror tales I have been told about giant root masses and tap roots and craters that appear where once there was a yard. So it was with some anxiety that Kip and I called the stump removal guy and made an appointment.

He arrived in a backhoe, creaking and blasting his way up our driveway and into the front yard.. I watched with some dismay as the blacktop of the driveway buckled and crumbled beneath the back-hoe’s tires.

The first stump did not come out easy. The backhoe dug around the edges, eating away huge chunks of earth. The roots of the former tree snapped beneath the backhoe’s jaws. Thirty minutes later, the stump was finally yanked from its resting place, a giant gnarled mess of roots and dirt.

Two and a half hours later, all four stumps lay like wounded monsters at the edge of the driveway. A crater gaped.

“Don’t worry,” the stump man yelled over the roar of the machine’s engine. “I’ll fill it in.”

And he did.

The stumps are gone; and in their place is a mass of dirt, and mud, and rock…and a crumpled driveway.

“This is just the beginning,” Kip said.

***

I am beginning to think that I am living the old television show Candid Camera. There must be someone out there, setting up scenarios (ill humored, I might add) so they can film my astonished face and frustrated reactions.

I spoke with our contractor yesterday (did I mention this is the second contractor we have had?). Back in February, when our former contractor decided that after stringing us along for a year and a half that he was no longer able to take the job (too busy, can’t find subs, yadda yadda yadda), we met with a new guy. We’ve met with him several times. We’ve discussed start dates and time lines. We’ve talked money. We’ve agreed to take on some of the subs ourselves. Less than a month ago, I looked our contractor in the eye and said, “You can do this right?” And he looked right back at me and said, “Yes.”

The start date was supposed to be June. Then it got moved to July. Now apparently nothing can happen until August.

“Be straight with me,” I said over the phone yesterday. “This will happen this summer, right?”

“I think so. But, have you gotten any other bids from any other contractors?”

Ummmmmm, why would I? Didn’t we have a firm commitment from you? I wanted to shout.

The bottom line is that here it is already June. The remodel and new house construction business is booming due to the nice jump in real estate prices and the gains in home equity. All the contractors around here have their jobs lined up for the summer and fall. Finding a new contractor now would be like fishing in a dry creek bed. Not going to happen.

So, I hung up the phone and looked at Kip. We ranted a bit and then handed it over to God. Afterall, there is not much else we can do. August is only two months away. Keep your fingers crossed.

***

Here we are…mid-August and it looks like the remodel may actually happen. We met with our contractor two weeks ago; the sticker shock was not so bad and our contractor told us he’d be out in two weeks to begin digging the footings.

Just yesterday, I looked at Kip and said, “It’s been two weeks.” Kip shrugged.

Then later in the day we got a phone call. “Hey, it’s Mark,” the contractor said. He wanted to stop by and drop off some tools and materials. When we got home from a day a search and rescue training, sure enough the stuff was piled neatly by the fence.

Hope springs eternal.

***

The hot water heater died this week. We had known it would need replacement, but hoped it would hold out until at least next summer. Instead, the propane company spent two days at our house installing a new tankless heater that is about the size of a bread box, but costs substantially more.

I celebrated my 45th birthday on Friday by ripping out the deck on the back of the house. Kip and I were joined by our friend, Katy, and we spent about three hours with a chain and come along dragging the deck (mostly intact) up the back hill. The stumps provided some resistance to the task, but nothing that a lever and fulcrum couldn’t solve.

After removal of the deck, we spent another two hours digging holes along the sewer line and marking them with stakes and green flagging. I cringed a little when I saw how close the new footings are located to the septic line.

“We’ll probably have to re-route that a little,” Kip said. Cha-ching…more money!

The contractor arrives this morning. We hope he will begin to dig the footings. I guess it’s time to pack up the kitchen, living room and dining room. Demolition creeps closer.

***

Septic Line

My arms tremble. Sweat pours down my face and back. My breath comes in short gasps. Digging a trench to expose a septic line is no fun.

Yesterday we found out that two of the new footings for the back of the house are slated to go right smack dab in the middle of the septic line.

“Let me know when you’ve dug it up and I’ll send out the plumber to figure out how we’re going to reroute things,” Mark (the contractor) said.

Kip and I dug about half of it up yesterday afternoon, with the sun targeted on our backs. I finished the job this morning. The dogs kept me company…occasionally giving my face a lick or dropping a toy into the trench.

“I’d love to play with you,” I told them. “But, I’m digging this trench right now.” I tried to convince them to help me, but they only like to dig holes in the garden or under the deck.

At any rate, the task is complete. Wednesday the plumber arrives.

***

Pouring Concrete

String lines, checking for square, more holes, moving a propane line; moving a septic line…our days have been filled with a flurry of activity. Both Kip and I missed sleep and ended up sick with pneumonia. Friday the concrete truck arrived to pour fifteen yards of concrete for the footings. The cold morning air nipped my cheeks and the adrenaline of the workers was palpable.

“Big day, big day,” our contractor said, moving nimbly from footing to footing.

The hose snaked from the truck and bulged like an anaconda digesting its food. The men wrestled with it. Concrete glubbed from the hose.

“Mud looks good,” one of the men hollered.

The whole process ate up much of the morning.

I fed the crew cheeseburgers and corn on the cob, watermelon and chips. They forced down an ice cream sandwich for dessert.

“You’re killing us,” Steve gasped, holding his belly.

Kip and I joined them after lunch to pull nails and boards and scrape excess concrete from the edges of the footings. We worked hard, but jokes warmed the air and a feeling of comradarie grew. At the end of the day, the outline of our new porch and the leading edge of the addition stood out against the red of the earth.

“Can you see it?” Kip asked.

His arm slipped across my shoulders. I nuzzled against his warmth.

“It’s going to be beautiful,” I said.

***

Garage Demolition

Winter came early to Northern California this year. Rain pelted the windows and poured down the gutters through most of December. The concrete ledge that Kip chipped out in the back yard to allow the septic line to be re-routed proved to be a dam of some sort…not the ledge holding the deck. After several hours of digging a ditch to divert water around the side of the house, Kip saved the basement from becoming a sludgy, mud-filled pool for Argus. If the rain ever stops, we will install something more permanent…like a French drain.

Despite the cold constant rain and short bleak days, the work on the house has continued. We now have the skeleton of a landing in the garage, sans stairs. Choosing the paint for this structure proved interesting since we want it to match the exterior paint colors. Who would have thought there could be so many shades of gray? And I am here to tell you that paint chips under florescent lighting do not look the same as a wall of paint in the gray light of a winter day. It took some doing, but we finally found the exact blue gray shade we envisioned many months ago.

More exciting than the garage landing, the addition to the existing guest bathroom (soon to be laundry room) is taking form. Just last week Mother Nature rewarded our patience with a rare blue sky day. Sunshine leaked through the pines and warmed the chill air while the workmen heaved giant headers into place and set the sub-floor. Kip and I tore into dry wall and stripped the walls down to the studs. Our new windows, wrapped in plastic, sat in the garage. Sometime this week, weather permitting, the siding goes up and we will have the shell of a new room.

Spring can’t be too far off, I think. My tulips hide beneath their blanket of dirt, but the days are getting just a little bit longer. One morning I will wake to birdsong and sunshine and the real work on the house will begin.

***

2006

Demolition 1 Demolition 2 Demolition 3 Demolition 4

Winter dragged on forever this year. Rain fell all through December and January and most of February; then blizzards raged from February and into March, followed by thunderstorms, hail and more rain. Kip and I watched the weather channel as though it were the best viewing on television. I grumbled about the dirt which ballooned from the carpet whenever the dogs played and complained about the lack of kitchen space. Both of us prayed for sunshine.

Two weeks ago, we got our wish and the demolition began. We donned masks and heavy leather gloves. I welded the sledge hammer and whacked down the divider between the kitchen and living room with three or four hits. Then we began on the orange shag. We peeled it’s rotten edges from the floor and exclaimed over the dirt beneath it. No wonder we both suffered from allergies all winter! It ripped away in huge squares that we dragged outside and heaved into the front yard.

“It’s gone!” I yelled. And Kip and I jumped and did a high five in the middle of the living room.

We pulled nails and felled the ugly cabinets; heaved the counter tops (which were mostly particle board) from their bearings and dragged everything out of the house.

Next came the dry wall. A couple of smacks with the sledge, and I pulled huge sheets from the walls. The ceiling fell shortly thereafter. I crawled up the ladder, took aim with my sledge and yelled, “Incoming!” As the ceiling crashed into the living room space.

“Remind me never to piss you off when you’re holding that thing,” Kip said, arching an eyebrow at me.

The dumpster arrived several days into our demolition. A huge green box that thumped onto the driveway and gaped at us.

This past weekend, Kip began scraping shingles from the roof. We gazed up at the darkening sky, thick thunderheads gathering in the west. “Maybe you should leave some of those on,” I cautioned.

The rain returned Saturday night, pattering the tarps Kip had spread and finding the seams where it could drip into our demolished kitchen and living room. We stayed dry in our two room space because those shingles still clung to the roof. It’s still raining; but the weather channel promises sunshine by Tuesday afternoon.

I’m counting on it.

***

First Truss Hoisting Trusses Priming BeamsTrusses - Back View

Knock down my walls, take off my roof, mess with my leach field, relegate me to the garage to cook meals…but, I’m a woman and I get a little cranky when I lose phone service.

Yesterday morning the phone worked fine. By mid-afternoon the dial tone had vanished. With all the banging, sawing, pounding…trusses coming off the roof, walls being ripped from their moorings…was it really a surprise? No. But I frowned and pouted anyway.

The line coming into the house worked. The phone company would gladly come out, for a charge, and locate and fix the internal problem. But in 3 weeks or so, the electrician will replace the whole shebang. My choices: 1. Pay to have the problem resolved right now, or 2. Hang my phone line out the window and plug into the external box… live without answering machines or faxes; plug and unplug from phone to computer to gain Internet access.

So this morning, I type from the office amidst an array of wires, the cool morning breeze blowing on my face. Less than fifty feet away, my former living room, kitchen and dining room is open to the California sun like a giant porch without rails. We’re in it now. There’s no going back.

***

Where Do I Wash My Dishes? Need you Ask? Temporary “Kitchen” (aka: The Garage)

I have a friend who scoops up spiders, moths, and other insects found in her home and sets them free outside. She believes all living things have a purpose. I need to call her and ask her what ants do for the planet.

We removed the roof from our house and tore down the entire middle section. Apparently roof shingles are a great place for ants to set up a colony. A conservative estimate of their number would be about a billion. These are the tiny, Argentine ants that terrorize pantries and kitchens; and file in vast numbers up walls, through cracks and along counter tops. I didn’t start to get really concerned until I walked into our guest bedroom (now office) and noticed the carpet moving like an undulating wave of orange shag, whose center seemed to be the cat feeding station. I admit, I screamed. Perhaps I got a little hysterical. At any rate, my reaction caused Kip to bolt from his slumber and appear disheveled and grouchy in the doorway.

He tried to calm me. “They’re just ants, Wendy.”

I gave him an incredulous look as I fought to drag the vacuum cleaner from it’s spot in the laundry room. “There are gazillions of them.” I protested. The cats watched from a distance, more concerned with the vacuum cleaner than the ants.

Several minutes later after a frenzied bout of cleaning, the carpet had stopped moving. I wondered if the ants could find their way out of the vacuum bag. I dragged the machine outside just in case. By then, Kip had returned to his nest of blankets and pulled a pillow over his head.

I thought of my friend and her pacifist ways, shrugged and lugged the phone book out to find a pest control company.

***

The EntryWay Mantel and Rock Finished Kitchen

Hearth

Where does time go when one is not aware of its passing? Last June seems like yesterday when the walls came tumbling down on the house and workers swarmed like bees. I remember how excited Kip and I were to finally begin our remodel. Here we are, only two short weeks away from Christmas and most of the remodel is done. Our new space is warm and inviting, filled with the things we love. Outside the rain hammers the roof and bounces off the unfinished porch. Looks like the stone guys have missed their opportunity to finish the stone work for this year. I can hardly believe we will have Christmas at our house this year (if I can ever get it decorated!).

The days click past….morning, afternoon, evening, night…almost in a blink of the eye. Routines surround us. Feed the dogs, clean the cat box, start the fire, do the dishes, make the coffee, prepare meals, go to work. Every now and then I need to stop and add up the time, see where it went, and remember to be grateful for the wonderful life I have.

Christmas

***

2007

Front of House - Not yet done Another view of Front of House

Well, it’s Spring and that means back to remodeling!! All we have left to finish is the front porch and stone work. My contractor is promising the porch will be completed by the first week in June – we’ll see! Meanwhile, Kip and I are finishing painting the trim; the rock work is almost completed; and my porch swing is sanded, primed and painted and ready to hang. I can’t wait to sit out there with my coffee in the morning and a glass of wine in the afternoon…

Stone Work Done

4 Comments

  1. mike natina mike natina
    January 15, 2009    

    wendy
    i really liked your piece “house remodel”. you are nearly as much fun to read as you are to talk with. if it ever becomes a book, or movie, please don’t leave out your and kip’s friday hospitality hour. we shared some good philosophical chat over snacks and spirits. i’m sure the rest of the world could benefit from our vast knowledge. take care
    mike

  2. January 18, 2009    

    LOL, Mike 🙂 I really should have included those Friday hamburger fests, shouldn’t I? I miss you! We should plan on a nice dinner on the porch in the Springtime…whaddya say?

  3. Christie Christie
    April 16, 2009    

    Ran across your page investigating remodeling. My husband and I are in a similar situation. Small house, nice property that we hate to give up. We have met with one contractor so far that says we should not remodel. Cheaper just to start over. We plan on meeting with more, but I wanted to know if you had any regrets. Remodeling is the way we really want to go. Please let me know.
    Thanks,
    Christie

  4. April 17, 2009    

    Hi Christie…thanks for stopping by! For us it made the most sense to remodel – and the permits were WAY cheaper for a remodel (where you leave up at least one wall) than for new construction. I know contractors are not all that fond of remodels because you never know what you are going to find when you start tearing the walls down and the floors up. Our contractor’s favorite saying was “I can’t bid what I can’t see.” We stayed in our house through this whole thing which was stressful, but that saved us money too (with new construction I guess you’d need to find a place to live while things were happening). I have no regret with our choices – we had a fantastic contractor and love the end result (although now we need to re-do bathrooms and bedrooms *laughs*). There were some frustrating delays at times, but nothing we couldn’t laugh our way through. My biggest advice is that you should make yourselves a promise that when YOU melt down, HE has to be calm…and vice versa. We promised each other that we both couldn’t have a bad day on the same day…and that worked! Good luck with whatever you decide…come back and let me know how it went!!

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