Demolition (Week 2, sort of)

Not too much to report this week, because we had a slight setback. There was some kitchen demolition on Monday and Tuesday last week, to the point that now there are several small holes in the outside of the house that lead directly inside. Since we can’t access the kitchen any more, these holes allow us to get a peek at what is going on inside.


Our refrigerator (in the dining room) is on the other side of the green board.


It appears that we had a little bit of insulation in the kitchen over there in the corner. Not sure it was doing us much good.

The pantry doors I spent so much time on are in the dumpster. All the cabinets and most of the drywall are gone, and the laundry room window is boarded up. We haven’t heard too many squirrel sounds, but I’d think it would be a pretty enticing hideout for our furry friends. When sticking the camera through one of the holes, Amanda unintentionally captured at least one soon-to-be-displaced resident:


We’ve heard these creatures called different names, but we refer to them as camel crickets. They are regulars at the Pink House.

The toilet is in the back yard (drained enough so it won’t freeze and burst, we’re told), and the bathroom sink is in the mudroom, waiting for work in the closet under the stairs to be finished (see last paragraph below) so it can be stashed there while the mudroom is demolished.


Here is a blurry picture of our toilet, wrapped in plastic, sitting in our backyard.

The setback was on Tuesday. We got a note from the contractor saying that City Hall had called and said to stop work on the demolition. The City had somehow issued the permit without actually reviewing it fully; it had only been reviewed by engineering and not building or zoning officials. The contractor had to return the permit, and we are currently waiting for it to be re-issued (with a promise that they will review it as quickly as possible since they screwed up). I guess this is an example of easy come, easy go, since it took an amazingly swift 1.5 days for the permit to be “issued” the first time. It is also a real disappointment for me, since I know several people in this particular city department and want to trust in its general competence.

So, not much has happened since then. Which is too bad, because on Wednesday we were expecting to have them cut a new doorway into the closet under our stairs. The closet contains our electrical panel, so we need to have access to it, but its current access point will be blocked by demolition. (We need access to it because we routinely trip breakers, especially now that there’s way too much plugged into two outlets in the ditchen.) It also happens to be our largest remaining storage area that is not the attic. And because there’s lead paint on the area to be cut, the work required that we move most of the stuff out of that storage area. Which Amanda had done. Before we got the “stop work” news. So a lot of the junk that was piled up in that closet is now piled up in the living room, for a week or so instead of for a day or so.


Before cleaning it out.

The pause in the work is frustrating. It would have been a little less frustrating if the work had stopped before the washer and dryer were gone and before they disconnected the downstairs heat in anticipation of removing the intake, which is located in that closet. Hopefully they will be back in the next day or two and can resume tearing things apart.

Demolition (Week 1)

We did a couple of things in preparation for the work to start in earnest last week. Amanda removed the tile backsplash from the half bathroom, less than one year after installing it. We plan to reuse it in the new half bathroom. I removed some of the kitchen floor, searching for any old hardwood floors underneath. We found some older tiles, but were not able to discover any old wood that we could save.

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Another important thing we did before the kitchen would be gone was to have one last dance party. I’m not entirely sure how they got started, but for a while, we were having regular dance parties after dinner. Jonah came to the realization last week that we would no longer get to have dance parties in that kitchen. So we squeezed in one more.

The first day the workers came, we were told to write on the walls and indicate anything we wanted them to save. I dutifully went around with a permanent marker, noting lots of items we wanted to keep. So much of the electrical was brand new from our projects last year that it would be a shame to lose it.


The house is still half-naked, but now it’s starting to lose some of its insides too. I came home from work Friday to find the old kitchen sealed off from the rest of the house.


If we wanted to get in, we’d have to move the fridge, remove the plastic, and blast through the boarded-up passageway.

No walls have been demolished yet, but the appliances are out and some of the kitchen cabinets are in the dumpster.


Our old kitchen sink and part of the counter we put in are now set up in the dining room (along with the refrigerator and shelves forming a makeshift pantry), which Amanda has now christened the ditchen. It’s a little cramped in there, but this morning, I was able to eat breakfast and operate the toaster oven without leaving my chair. “Cozy,” a real-estate agent would call it.


“I got your water hooked up again,” the contractor told me when I got home Friday. He continued: “Well, I had it hooked up a couple times before, but this time it’s not leaking.”

The first of many hiccups is that we can’t find our sink strainers/stoppers. Last I saw them, they were sitting on the counter in the old kitchen. We assume they are still there, but we can’t get to them (see above). Not a big deal, but we had to wash dishes in one of the pink hospital tubs, probably the one I washed dishes in at the hospital almost five years ago after Jonah’s birth. There was also a leak from the kitchen sink drain (the J-trap, which as far as I can tell is equivalent to a P-trap, which my middle-school brain thinks is one of the funniest plumbing terms there is).

The shed is full, and the living room is recovering from being a disaster area. We are excited to see the changes that this week holds!


The Half-Naked Pink House

The asbestos removal crew came on Wednesday and spent about six hours removing the pink asbestos shingles from the part of the house that will be demolished. It was rather loud.



We knew the awning over the side stoop would eventually be part of the demolition, but the asbestos crew ended up removing it on Wednesday in order to get to all of the shingles they needed to remove. Now we can take it to the metal recycling center and make a few cents.


They were dressed in full body suits to protect themselves from the asbestos.

After they left I went outside to see what the house looked like without the pink shingles. We assumed we might find the original siding underneath the asbestos. It appears that the house was wrapped in black paper before they re-sided it, but it does seem to have the original siding underneath that. Peter decided that the house looks half-naked right now.


The white trim really pops now!

We had been assuming that there wasn’t any insulation in the walls of the back of the house. Based on the picture below, I would say we were wrong. There is at least some. We are hoping no small animals decide to take up residence in the wall in the next week or so while the house sits like this before the kitchen comes down.


From the way the old siding is cut, it looks like these two windows may have replaced a single lower one.

As an added bonus, the crew ended up clearing the alley behind our house so that they could back their van up to our yard. Prior to this, one could only get a vehicle as far as the house two doors down from us. I don’t think our contractor had been planning to clear the alley, but since these guys did it, it will make jobs easier for future workers.


Jonah asked me to take this picture of him with the house. He was a bee.


I Saw the Sign

We have a sign in our yard! This means we’re getting close to construction. We met with our contractor and architect last week and signed the construction contract. There were a few modifications they had to make to the final plans, but those were delivered to our house this morning. Peter is taking the plans to City Hall today to apply for all of our permits.

You might notice that our sidewalk says “Things that can go in our hive Bees Wasps Yellow Jackets and other things that has a stinger.” If you happen to be one of those things, you are welcome to come visit!

It sounds like someone will be here tomorrow morning to start taking the asbestos shingles off the part of the house that is being demolished (these have to be taken off by someone who is certified in the proper disposal of asbestos, not just part of the demolition). After that there are a couple of things that can be done inside the house to prepare, like creating a new door to the closet under the stairs and setting up a temporary kitchen in our dining room. Hopefully we will have our approved permits by then and demolition will start in a week or two! As of right now, the calendar for construction shows the contractor’s part being done by early January, at which point we will take over.

We have been working on cleaning stuff out of the cellar and small attic that are part of the demolition. We will definitely get some good use out of the shed during these few months. I’m not entirely sure how we will fit everything that is currently in our kitchen, laundry room, half bathroom, and mud room in the other parts of our house, but I’m sure we will figure it out. We are not planning to hang onto the washer, dryer, or stove during construction, so that will help a little bit. If anyone in the area needs oldish, but still working appliances, let us know!

The Next Big Thing, Update

We settled on some floor plans for the addition.

This happened months ago, but we’re finally getting close to having a construction contract, so let’s discuss. Originally, we wanted to keep the existing footprint of the house and add a “cozy” (some would say “cramped”) master bedroom and bathroom on top of the kitchen. We mentioned to the designers that we’d be open to expanding the footprint into the back yard by a couple feet if that would make things fit better. Our back yard is not big, so if the house grows, there’s a real impact on the yard – which is why we weren’t interested in an option presented by another designer to simply build a one-story master suite in the back yard, past the kitchen.

We ended up with about a 6-foot extension into the yard. To allow for a king bed? No. For a nice airy bathroom? Nope. Closets? Nah. The extra space will help with those elements, but the reason the design grew so much was: stairs.

We had originally asked for a spiral staircase from the new kitchen to the new basement, thinking that it would save space. While that thinking was correct, our architect was also correct in pointing out that spiral stairs aren’t as functional as standard stairs. The addition will remove our existing side entrance, stoop, and steps to the back yard, and until we get a deck (a future phase), the basement exit will be our only exterior door other than the front door. Which means we might need the stairs to the basement to be full-width. We looked at several stair layout options and eventually settled on a design with two 90-degree turns that allowed for a nice refrigerator/pantry nook in the kitchen and for our new half-bath to be tastefully tucked away. To get enough vertical clearance for the stairs, the house had to grow into the back yard a little.

There are plenty of other details of the plans that we could discuss. The ones we are most excited about are:

  • Replacing the wall between the kitchen and dining room with a three-seat bar
  • Having more storage in the kitchen
  • Gaining a better view of the back yard
  • Using the new basement room as a home office, for “funny-looking train” layouts, storage, a workshop, etc.
  • Not having to put the laundry basket in the hallway in order to stand in the laundry room.
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Actually, Jonah can stand in the laundry room when the laundry basket is in there. But he can’t reach the washing machine.

Having a master suite will be particularly nice. No more walking down the hallway past the boys’ room to use the bathroom or take a shower in the morning. A closet that is wide enough for most of our clothes and deep enough for a standard clothes hanger. Endless possibilities (separate rooms for the boys, or a guest room, or an office, or a playroom…). A better view toward downtown. A view of the backyard from the second floor. Amanda made about a dozen of her own sketches of different layouts for the space, and in the end, we switched from the layout we had been using during most of the design process to a different one that allows for windows on three sides of the room.

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Amanda’s sketchy sketches.


We expect to sign a construction contract for the shell in a couple weeks: demolition, digging out the basement, masonry and concrete, framing of the new addition, windows, and siding. That should start in October, when we’ll enjoy the bounty of local restaurants (and leftovers) because we’ll have no kitchen. When that’s finished in a couple months, we’ll chip away at wiring, plumbing, drywall, floors, etc. with help from Amanda’s dad (and occasional help from a professional). Our plan is to have a second contract with the same company at the end for kitchen cabinets and interior trim.

We decided to do the middle part of the project ourselves to save money. We knew we wanted to do some parts ourselves but realized that in order to pay for the entire project, we would have to do as much by ourselves as we could. As a result, we will technically be our own contractor for those parts. We might hire people, but we’ll save the 20% management fee a contractor would charge for overseeing subcontractors.

This has all taken waaaaaaay. longer. than we thought. We took a trip to Baltimore in late July; we had originally planned for that trip to be the first week of June, by which time we had thought we’d be without a kitchen and could avoid being here for part of it. We pushed it back to July, but by the time it was clear that construction would still not be underway by the end of the summer, we just went ahead and took the vacation. Part of the delay was because the scope of the project expanded a lot beyond the original idea of just adding a third bedroom. Another reason for the delay was that every step we went through with the designer and contractor took longer than they said it would, and those delays added up quickly.

The ultimate test of whether the delays led to a perfect design should come in a year (or two, or three, depending on how we perform as a contractor), when we get to test out the finished product by living in it for years to come.

We Were Probably Overdue for a Leaky Pipe

You know it’s going to be a fun morning when your husband leaves for work, but comes back inside a minute later saying “I don’t think I’m going to work today. We have a situation in the cellar.” I imagined a couple of different possibilities before he told me what was actually happening. He said there was water leaking all over the cellar. This was obviously bad, but better than the scenarios I had quickly imagined. He took a video of the leak before shutting our water off.

Last year, when Peter and my dad were putting in plumbing for the half bathroom, they added a new water shutoff, right near the entrance to the cellar. It shuts off all the water to the house except for the cold water in the upstairs full bathroom. This came in very handy yesterday when Peter needed to shut the water off quickly. It saved him from crawling through the cellar to one of the farthest corners of the house where the main shutoff is. After shutting the water off, Peter was able to determine that the leak was coming from a tiny hole in a piece of Qest* water pipe. The pipe was coming out of the water heater and feeding the house with hot water. There was already an existing piece of Pex pipe in this segment that suggests this section of Qest has leaked and been repaired in the past.


We’re not positive how long the leak had been there. Peter thinks he went in the cellar on Sunday afternoon. He discovered the problem on Tuesday morning, but we think it may have started Monday evening. While in the kitchen Monday evening, I kept thinking I was hearing dripping water, but it wasn’t raining. I would turn around and look at some of our leaks in the ceiling expecting to see them dripping, but they weren’t. Overnight on Monday, Peter thought he was hearing rain, but it wasn’t raining. When I stepped into the dining room Tuesday morning and got close to the part that is directly above the water heater, I thought the floor seemed rather warm. We now know this was because hot water was spraying out several inches below there, and the water heater was probably running continuously to keep up with the constant demand for hot water. I called my parents seeking suggestions for how we should fix it. My dad happened to be home and didn’t have to go to work until the afternoon. He said he was literally about to leave to go to Lowe’s anyway and could pick up some parts and then come by and fix it. Yes, please.


Thanks, Daddy!


Peter helped.

As it turned out, he used none of the couplings he had bought and also none of the tools he brought, except his pocketknife. He just used a wrench to loosen the existing coupling, Peter’s Dremel to cut off the leaking half-inch of pipe (good thing I had just given Peter some heavy-duty cutting blades for his Dremel on our anniversary and that I was able to find them, since they weren’t with the tool), his knife to smooth the cut, and then he stuck the same old pipe back in the coupling and turned the water on. No more leak.


Good as new (old?).

It will certainly leak again, but hopefully not before we replace the water heater and all the Qest piping in a couple months. And the wet insulation and potentially rusty ductwork will all be removed with the big construction project. We are still running the dehumidifier in the cellar, trying to dry it out. All in all though, things could have been a lot worse/wet than they were. Also, thank goodness almost all of our plumbing is easily accessible in the cellar.

*Qest pipe (also known as polybutylene plumbing) has been the subject of several class-action lawsuits over the years because of its frequent leaking. Our home inspector was not kidding when he told us that it was leak-prone and that we should budget to replace it.

The shed she’d said she shed

Boring version of the title: Building a Shed, Part 2. (Part one can be found here.)

Let us begin with a story about an eye injury (thankfully, unrelated to the building of the shed).

We had set aside an entire Saturday to build the shed, and hoped to have it completed by the end of the day. Technically, it was at the very beginning of that day (like 1 AM) when Amanda somehow scratched her eyeball. She was already awake and her eye started hurting. Unable to find the eyelash she assumed was causing the excruciating pain, she had me come take a look. Nothing. She determined that if she held her eyelid up off of her eyeball, it didn’t hurt. If she kept her eye closed, the pain was tolerable, but if she blinked it was pretty bad. (Note to self: You don’t realize how often you blink until it feels like someone is stabbing your eye every time you do it.) She managed to go back to sleep and deal with the pain.

When it was still hurting at 6 AM, we figured she probably needed to be seen by a doctor. Luckily, we found an eye doctor with a 24-hour on-call doctor and Saturday hours. We talked to the doctor around 7, and she said if we could be there before they opened at 9, they could probably squeeze Amanda in. We did so, and they had us out of there before 10. I had a lovely time reading “The Birds, the Bees, and the Berenstain Bears” to Jonah and Micah in the waiting room while a woman across the room tried to pretend she wasn’t listening. The doctor said it was a corneal abrasion. She numbed it, prescribed some drops, and put a bandaid contact on it. Seriously. A bandaid contact. Who even knew such a thing existed?! Amanda’s eye was dilated the rest of the day, and she couldn’t wear her regular contacts for almost a week, but she was fine other than that.

We had been afraid that all of this would cause us to miss out on our shed-building day, but thankfully, we were still able to work on it and weren’t delayed too much by the emergency eye appointment. In fact, Grandma and Grandpa were waiting for us when we got home from the doctor. They got to spend time with the boys, and we got to have several relatively uninterrupted hours to piece together the giant Lego project.

We started, as the instructions suggested, by dutifully laying out all the pieces and making sure everything was there. This is not a big shed (7×7), but the parts covered almost our entire yard.


Speaking of instructions, I think we made the right move by downloading them ahead of time and reading them in advance. If we had just pulled them out of the box, it would have been hard to summon the self-control needed to get through them before building the platform, let alone assembling the shed. (And if we hadn’t noticed the parts where you need a ladder outside the back wall, we might have placed it too close to the fence to get a ladder back there.) Also, Amanda’s slightly compromised vision made her less helpful at reading instructions than she would have been otherwise.

Assembly was pretty logical: floor, then walls, then doors, then roof. Then about a million screws. OK, maybe it was more like 112. By the time we had the plastic floor screwed together (and realized we didn’t have anything to anchor it to the platform with, meaning it might get blown off if we get heavy winds), it was time for a lunch break.

a floor, a fool, and poison ivy

a floor, a fool, and poison ivy

Probably due to screaming babies, I came back outside before Amanda did, and in what seemed like no time at all, I had several wall sections in place. They don’t quite snap together like Legos, but it’s close: once two adjacent sections are seated in the floor, you drop four pins through preformed holes to connect them. It was good that Amanda made it outside when she did, because some of the sections were starting to fall over before I got them secured. (Note: Best not to attempt assembly of a plastic shed when it’s windy outside.)

A room with a view (because there are no doors and there is no roof)

A room with a view (because there are no doors and there is no roof)

An even better view now that it has a gable window.

An even better view now that it has a gable window.

We summoned my dad as another helper when it was time to attach the roof beams. Made of Actual Metal rather than plastic, they are a little heavy. What’s worse is that because the rest of the shed is plastic, the walls tend to bend as you get a beam seated in its notch, which causes the beam to fall back out and hit you on the head. Hence the need for three people: two to hold the assembly in place and one to screw it together so it won’t keep falling apart.

Beam me up!

Beam me up!


This is serious work.


It is also work that made me smile for some reason, even though I didn’t know Amanda was taking this picture through the roof pieces.

We had seen in some online reviews and heard from a (rather large and presumably strong) employee at Lowe’s that the top piece of the roof was difficult to fold. This proved true. But I guess that’s the trade-off for a lightweight, waterproof design that fits in the box.

Ever try to shut your wallet with a piece of sheet metal inside? No? Well, that's what it was like to fold this roof. I'd imagine.

Ever try to shut your wallet with a gold bar inside? No? Well, that’s what it was like to fold this roof. I’d imagine.

All the pre-folding didn’t seem to matter much once we got it on top of the gables – it sprang back to its flat shape. To fix that, we had to really work to wrestle the eight roof pins into place. This might have been the most frustrating moment for me… while trying to hold the roof down, I was straining to slide this specialized pin into the roof to lock it, but the pin would either pop back out or tear the plastic or both. (Rubbermaid: This would be a great place to start if you improve the design.)

Wait, didn't I fold that thing?

Wait, didn’t I already fold that thing?

If you can't beat 'em, peer out through their roof slits, or something.

If you can’t beat ‘em, peer out through their roof slits, or something.

With all the pieces in place, the only remaining task was to attach an unholy amount of screws (seriously, the thing came with over 200 screws) to keep it all from coming apart at the slightest touch. I only ended up short two screws (plus my normal condition of having a screw loose), which isn’t bad when you consider how much brush was around for me to lose them in.

Jonah adds the finishing touch: a padlock.

First (and maybe hopefully only?) burglary attempt.

We built a shed! We’ve already put some stuff in it and will probably have it almost completely full during our big construction project. Now we just need to devise a better step situation, as it is currently a big step into it.

Photo credit: Jonah

Photo credit: Jonah