Weeks 26 and 27 – What We Did

Our main focus for the past couple of weeks has been the electrical work. My dad (and mom) have been over several times lately to help with this. I bought a lot of stuff in preparation for it, but have made at least five additional trips to Lowe’s for more packs of wire and various other electrical items. I’m getting to know the electrical aisles of the store pretty well.


The first day my dad came to work on the electrical, we made a lot of progress in our new master bedroom. We mounted lots of work boxes, drilled a lot of holes, and ran lots of wires throughout the room.


Peter and I have been working on the electrical slowly, in between the times my dad comes over. We have learned a lot, and we spend most of our evenings after the kids are asleep either working on whatever can be done without hammering and drilling or just thinking things through. We realized that you have to think things through before you do it, or else you might end up having to redo some parts. Electrical codes have apparently changed since the last time my dad did any major electrical work, so we are rerouting some wires to adhere to the code (we are such rule-followers).

I figured out how to mount our recessed can light fixtures and have managed to attach 11 of them so far. Once you get the hang of it, the actual mounting part is pretty quick, after you get the thinking part out of the way. Since I have done them all so far, Peter has decided he is scared of them, so I will continue mounting the rest. Peter has wired them together, though.


We did a little bit of unexpected electrical as well. We had seen that there were some of the original knob-and-tube wires in our new master bathroom wall where it meets the old part of the house. We thought they continued down into the wall and were attached to something, but Peter pulled on them and discovered they had been cut. They didn’t have any wire nuts on them, though, so we assumed they did not have electricity running to them. Luckily, we used our voltage tester and not our fingers to find out that they were actually live. We capped them right away and then set out to solve the mystery.


Knob-and-tube wiring

We had a hunch that the wires used to feed our old kitchen light and were mistakenly left live and uncapped after the demolition. Peter deduced that the wires might originate from our dining room light. We did a little investigating and determined that this was probably true.



We determined that the best course of action was to (turn off the power to the circuit and) cut the dusty old wires that were feeding the dining room light. When we turned the power back on, our suspicions about the random wire were confirmed, as it no longer had power. We figured we would just go ahead and run new wiring to the dining room light. Luckily, we were able to feed it in the space between the ceiling and the upstairs floor from an adjacent room that has no drywall yet. We went without a dining room light for a few days, until my dad came over again, and we had him hook up the new wiring. We had always planned to replace our original knob-and-tube wiring, so this just got rid of a little bit more.


Part of the brilliance of the knob-and-tube system was that the hot and neutral wires were insulated but also separated by air. No such benefit if the wires are touching each other… let alone be twisted together.

Electrical work can be messy. When we are done making a mess, we bring in our clean-up crew.


If we’re being honest, they aren’t especially helpful at cleaning up. But they’re especially cute.

Weeks 26 and 27 – What They Did

We are getting a little behind on these updates, but that’s because we are finally at the point where we can start doing some work ourselves (mostly electrical, right now), so most of our free time has been devoted to that.


What our back yard generally looks like – good thing it’s not any smaller.

Here’s a little recap of what our workers did in the last couple of weeks. They put up a significant amount of siding. When we were choosing our siding, our contractor automatically selected a primed Hardiboard that would need to be painted. We knew that Hardiboard came prepainted and asked about getting one of those instead. He said that it would cost a little more, but that it was fine, he just didn’t really like any of the colors. We decided it was worth paying a little bit more and settling for one of the 20 color options so that we wouldn’t have to pay someone to paint it later. We went with the color Boothbay Blue, which is kind of a grayish blue (have no fear, the original part of the house is still pink).


They also framed the stairs from our new kitchen to our new basement. They put some temporary treads on them so that we can actually use them. This is incredibly helpful. It’s amazing how much easier it is to get to the basement and back yard when we can simply walk down the stairs instead of having to go out the front door and walk around the house.



Thanks for making them level, Bobby!


Yay for stairs!

They did a little bit of interior framing. They had forgotten to add a half-wall when they did interior framing in the kitchen. This will be behind our main kitchen sink and will support the lower cabinets and our raised bar.


They also framed the mechanical room where it meets the rest of the basement. They still need to frame the rest of the mechanical room where it meets the cellar.


If you look closely in some of the basement pictures, you can see the blue foam board. On top of some of that are wood furring strips. They are adding those so that we can put drywall over the concrete blocks and have a finished basement room.

The other thing they worked on during these couple of weeks was some of the fascia and soffits outside. These are some of the finishing touches, and they seal up holes that have been making our house drafty, so we appreciate them.


Weeks 24 and 25 – Breaking Through

We had been looking forward to the “breaking through” process for a while before it happened. After a number of delays, they were finally ready to connect the new addition to the rest of the house by tearing down some walls.


Before: dining room.

They put plastic over the door to each room that they wouldn’t be doing any work in, to keep the dust and lead paint out. They put plastic on all of the exposed floors and the stairs, and they created a plastic wall in the dining room to protect the stuff we had shoved over to the side of the room.


Before: coming upstairs.

We were sad not to be there and see what was happening inside our house, but the carpenter took some pictures for us to see some of the progress along the way (thanks, Aaron!). We came by the house on the weekend, after they had done a week of work, and checked out how things were coming along. It was amazing to see the walls opened up and to be able to check out the new space.


During: from the new kitchen, looking into the dining room. (Photo credit: Aaron Lamb)


During: Dining room, looking into the new kitchen.


During: coming upstairs. (Photo credit: Aaron Lamb)


During: In the new bedroom, looking into the hallway. (Photo credit: Aaron Lamb)

Everything seemed to go smoothly with adding new headers (supports over windows and doors) in various places and then tearing down the wall between the dining room and the new kitchen, making a doorway from the dining room to the new laundry room, tearing down the wall at the top of the stairs into our new master bedroom, and adding a new window at the top of the stairs. It would have been nice if they had found a treasure chest full of gold and jewels stashed away in one of the walls, but alas, no such luck.


After: dining room, looking into the new kitchen.


After: master bedroom, looking toward new closet and bathroom.

We moved back in after being gone for 13 nights and were really excited to see the new space with all of the plastic removed. The boys had not been in at all since we left. Jonah’s first response included the phrase “holy guacamole!” Micah was asleep in the car when we got home, and then he slept on my shoulder for a while longer. When he did wake up, I happened to be standing in front of our refrigerator. He lifted his head off of my shoulder, saw the refrigerator, and said “it’s ours?” “Yes, sweetie. It’s ours. We’re home.”


This was waiting for us when we got home. We were told it was a gift from the contractor: an Easter llama. It is simultaneously strange and awesome.

Two Weeks at My Parents’ House

We finally made it to the point of connecting the old house with the new addition. This meant tearing down the walls between the two parts. This is exciting, but messy. We knew there was lead paint in the walls being torn down, which meant they had to cover everything in plastic, and we couldn’t be there during this process. They told us to plan on being out of our house for two weeks. Two weeks is kind of a long time. In my whole life, I don’t think I have ever been away from home for two consecutive weeks. My parents were kind enough to let us stay with them.



There’s always something exciting going on there.

We are incredibly grateful for this. Nowhere else would have worked as well. A hotel would have been really expensive and would have gotten old pretty fast. We were able to take over the upstairs of my parents’ house, which has its own washer and dryer. I put Micah back in cloth diapers during those two weeks, since I could do laundry regularly. (I was probably more excited about that than I should have been.) I had also been saving up some laundry to wash while we would be staying there. In total, I washed exactly 20 loads of laundry during our time there (6 of the loads were cloth diapers).



In addition to being able to do laundry, I was able to cook food I haven’t been able to make in a long time (because my parents are fancy and have a working KITCHEN!). In the first couple of days, I boiled water four times (making something each time, not just doing it for the sake of doing it). After not being able to boil water for six months, it was pretty awesome. It’s amazing how much easier it is to make food with a kitchen than without one. The boys were able to get in on the baking action a couple of times.



My parents live about 25 minutes from our Pink House, so we were able to maintain our regular schedules. The boys settled into a rhythm there and didn’t seem to miss home very much. Jonah says his favorite part was the Wii and the arcade. They liked getting to play in my parents’ much larger backyard, read lots of different books, play their games, and hang out with my parents. On more than one occasion, Micah just sat and put dirt in a bottle, content as could be. Jonah overcame his dislike of dogs just a little bit, as he got more comfortable with my parents’ dog, Stella.

I appreciated the chance to spend some extra time with my parents and teenage siblings. I learned that perhaps my desire to eat ice cream on most nights is hereditary, and Peter and I went out to eat by ourselves one evening, a rare event. My dad will be our electrician, HVAC technician, and construction consultant, so we were able to sit down with him and go over our plans while we were there.

It was weird to live at my parents’ house again. I hadn’t even spent the night there in three and a half years. It felt strange to drive into town almost every day, on the same road I drove as a teenager. Except now, instead of driving my parents’ 1986 Honda Accord to high school and work, I was driving our Mazda5 “microvan” with my two children in the back, taking my 5-year-old to preschool. And instead of listening to whatever music I wanted, I was listening to the CD from our church’s Vacation Bible School from last summer, over and over (and over) again. The road is mostly the same, but my life is so different. I have so many memories from my parents’ house where I lived my whole childhood and from the area in which I grew up. It was a little bit surreal to step back into that space for a couple of weeks, recognizing how much things have both changed and stayed the same.


Jonah and Micah reading together on the trundle bed on which Peter and I slept. Peter got to use Jonah’s dinosaur sheets.

I would like to take this opportunity to publicly apologize to my parents and Jacob (and Crystal for the nights you were there and my Grandma for the two nights you were there). I’m sorry that Micah interrupted your sleep with his screaming 12 of the 13 nights we were there.

Next post: what happened to our house while we were gone!

Week 23 – Getting closer

We’re edging closer to having the new part fully enclosed!  It was another productive week that included the following accomplishments. Items with more explanation below are denoted with a *.

  • More sheathing was placed on exterior walls
  • Original clapboard siding was removed where the new master bedroom attaches to the old house
  • Three windows were installed
  • Two exterior doors were installed*
  • A ledger board was added to the exterior for future attachment of a deck
  • The exterior received furring strips (thin strips of wood on which the siding gets mounted) and “furry strips” (we don’t know what these are actually called; they’re wider strips of black fuzzy fabric resembling the filter in our air cleaner)
  • Roofing contractors were consulted
  • Some exterior trim was installed on corners and around windows
  • The architect and construction manager made a rare visit to inspect things before the siding was to go up
  • Hardi-Plank siding was delivered and some was installed on the rear
  • We had a discussion/civil disagreement about siding where there was some rot*
  • Plans were made for demolition of interior walls

You can see both the furring and the “furry” strips here.

The two exterior doors were exciting because of what they represented: enclosure, security, and control. Plus, our earlier work replacing the front doorknob and deadbolt was worth it, now that we have a basement door with a matching knob and lock. The second exterior door is a “door to nowhere” that reminds me of those I saw growing up. They were in every vinyl-coated subdivision I passed: a second- or third-floor exterior door, floating in space, with nowhere to go but down for any occupants of the house who stepped outside for a breath of fresh air.


To a kid, such doors look silly, but now that I’m older, I see them as a signal of aspirations: Someday, we will add a deck here. And a signal of thinking-ahead-ness: We have a plan. Our goal is to carry out that plan before the door to nowhere gets faded and becomes a more melancholy signal of life getting in the way of the best-laid plans. 


This week’s semi-surprise came when the contractor asked us what we wanted to do with an area where water damage had rotted the framing and original clapboard siding over the years. This was on the back of the existing house along a two-foot-wide portion that sticks out too far into the side yard, meaning that both the demolished kitchen and the new kitchen addition did not and will not cover it up. When they originally took the asbestos siding off this part, I wondered what the plan would be, because that area was not to be changed other than tying in the new construction.


The area in question is under that plastic.

Apparently, and unbeknownst to us, the plan was to leave the original clapboard in place at this one location, patching any holes with clapboard removed from other areas. This would leave us with a bit of a hodgepodge: pink asbestos shingles on most of the original house, blue Hardi-Plank on the addition, and original clapboard of indeterminate color on this one narrow area. This plan proved unworkable because the clapboard, along with some of the framing beneath it, had deteriorated over the years due to water that wasn’t fully controlled at the roof. The contractor advised that we’d need to replace the rotten framing (an added cost) and asked if we wanted to put Hardi-Plank on over it or fiber-cement shingles that would look like the asbestos shingles (either option also at added cost). To their credit, they were receptive when we explained that we had never signed on to the plan to reuse the clapboard, so we’re not paying extra for the additional siding.


Week 22 – Finally Under Roof

Several milestones were achieved last week:

  1. The new roof is covered with sheathing. (Note that I didn’t say roof sheathing is complete… there are some leaks. More about that another time.)
  2. Some of the windows have been installed.
  3. The pile of lumber is no longer in the street.

You can probably guess which of these we are most excited about. Windows and roofs are great and all, but on-street parking in front of your house is unbeatable! Especially when you have two kids and no driveway. Despite some rain, the week featured five solid days of work, including a couple when workers were here past 5 (thanks, Daylight Saving Time!).


At the beginning of the week, they added more Zip sheathing to the roof, and then on Thursday they worked on the connection between the old and new roofs. This seems to be a tricky thing. We have started the process of getting roofing estimates from a couple of companies, which is apparently also a tricky thing… getting the estimates has taken a lot longer than we thought, and one company said they’re booked up for six to eight weeks. Our carpenter took some pictures of the roof for us, which was helpful to be able to understand what they are doing.

Roof 1

Old Roof, meet New Roof

They installed seven windows over the course of this week. Windows are pretty exciting because it looks so real. Now hopefully nothing breaks them before the work is done.


They started applying some tape to seal the sheathing. For the uninitiated, the Zip system takes the place of the traditional plywood and house wrap. The boards have plywood and a built-in waterproofing layer, so they save a step. Our boards also have a layer of insulation. Then they apply the tape to all of the seams to (theoretically) make it all waterproof. The roof is also Zip sheathing, but is brown instead of green and does not have the built-in insulation.


IMG_3608 Almost all ZIPped up!

Week 21 – No More View

Week 21 was another two-day work week for our house. The workers built some more scaffolding on Monday and moved the pulley over to the side of the house in order to move some lumber and Zip sheathing to the second floor.


They carried some of the lumber and boards from the pile in the street and somehow attached them to the pulley to bring them upstairs. I never saw them pull the boards up, so I’m not exactly sure how one connects a board to a rope and makes sure that it doesn’t fall on its way up.


Monday afternoon was warmish, so the boys and I played in the front yard for a little bit. It was while they were bringing boards to the back, so I told the kids they had to stay close to the porch so that they wouldn’t be in the path of the workers. Jonah came up with an idea to chalk a line on the sidewalk that he could not go past. Then he made another line for the worker not to go past and informed the carpenter of the rules. They both did a good job not crossing their lines.


Monday also brought some sadness to the house. That afternoon, the workers put plastic up over the windows on the back of the house. We assume that this was for some necessary reason related to the work and not because they were tired of being watched by small humans. It’s been very different not being able to see what they are doing. I am trying to pretend that we are living in one of those HGTV shows where they send the family away while they do the work, and then there is a big reveal when the family returns. The main difference is that we are still here and I can hear them working; I just have no idea what they are doing.


“What have they done to us?!” – Jonah upon seeing the plastic for the first time.

They also began putting the Zip sheathing on the roof this week. They only got about halfway done on Tuesday, so when it snowed again on Thursday, our future bedroom was once again covered in snow (not that we could see it, because the window is covered with plastic). We’re pretty excited about the roof though.



We went to Home Depot on Saturday and discovered that they have a kids workshop the first Saturday of every month. So the boys got to make their own bookends.


Preparing him to help around the house.