Saying Goodbye

A couple of weeks ago, we knew that our workers were getting close to done and would be packing up soon. I was caught off guard by how sad this made me. Don’t get me wrong; I am super excited that they are done and we are moving forward with this project. I am glad that it will be quieter in our house now (just a little quieter, though – the kids are pretty loud too). I am glad that I can go into all the parts of my house and not worry about being in the way of construction. But I am unexpectedly sad.

I am not the only sad one. When our porta-potty was removed, Jonah literally cried. He asked, through his tears, “Will we ever see it again?” I assured him that he would see other porta-potties, but maybe not that specific one.

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Having the workers here had become so much a part of our routine that I am having to adjust my thinking. They were often arriving in the morning when I was taking Jonah to school, and they were usually headed to lunch when I would get back home from picking him up. They usually got back from lunch just as I was putting Micah down for his nap (bad timing). In the first few days after they were gone, I kept catching myself thinking “the workers will be here soon” or “it might rain tomorrow; I wonder if the workers won’t come.” I have to get used to a “new normal” now that they are gone.

When my dad was here right after they had left, he commented on how long they had been here, and that it must feel like losing a family member. It does feel a little bit like that. How do you say goodbye to people who are not really your close friends or family, but who have been in your life for seven months, and whom you have seen day after day — and then suddenly they are gone? They were just here to do a job, but they were always nice and often took the time to listen to Jonah ramble on about dinosaurs or trains or Legos or bees or his sidewalk chalk drawings (you get the idea).

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So thanks for a job well done, Alloy.

(I wrote the first draft of this post a couple of days after they were gone. It’s been two weeks now, and I am mostly adjusted to them not being here.)

Weeks 28, 29, and 30 – They’re Done!

Our workers spent most of weeks 28 and 29 putting up siding. For any neighbors watching the progress, this was probably noticeable and maybe even entertaining, but from inside, it was mostly loud. Siding doesn’t really enhance your living experience when you’re waiting for the inside of your house to be livable.

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The soffits and such (trim pieces that enclosed the areas where the walls and ceilings come together) were nice to get in place, since they helped keep hot weather, cold weather, and birds out.

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That’s not a pet bird in there.

The siding looks good, though. We have three different kinds in addition to the Pink: a few imitation asbestos shingle tiles (really fiber cement, but they look just like the ugly old pink ones, only they’re not pink); fiber cement panels (big and flat, in the “transition” zone on one side of the house where old meets new); and the blue fiber cement lap siding. Part of why it was slow was that they followed the grade along the bottom of the siding, so each piece had to be cut just right, which took a while. But the result is that the outside of the house looks practically finished now, with the exception of some trim paint, while the inside is completely the opposite.

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This is the only area that has all four types of siding.

Speaking of inside, the many interior framing tasks that remained, mostly small, added up to a good bit of work:

  • Added some support for our existing second-story landing at the top of the stairs (where they had uncovered the amusing framing during demolition).
  • Prepped the concrete block walls in the basement, which included adding rigid foam board insulation and thin vertical strips of plywood; these are called furring strips and will allow drywall to be attached. They also had to add thicker furring strips to the upper (framed) halves of the basement walls, above the block, so the drywall wouldn’t have a one-inch shelf at the top of the blocks.

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  • Added a “strongback” (a beam to stiffen a structure, in this case the floor) to address deflection in the dining room floor, which is most noticeable when Jonah gets excited and jumps (this happens many times a day).
  • Put in several nailers — boards at wall and ceiling corners to nail drywall to where the framing itself didn’t reach.
  • Built a wall between the basement and cellar and framed the doorway. We have had an old door sitting in our yard for over a year now, and it is destined to be here, but apparently installing it wasn’t included in what we were having the contractor do. They were doing exterior doors but not interior… to me, a door between a finished basement and a vented dirt crawl space is an exterior door, but I guess it’s interior to the pros. Whatever, we’ll have fun trying to mount it.

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Week 30 was three days of wrapping things up, cleaning up, and packing up all of their stuff (it was a lot of stuff).

Well, most of their stuff. They left behind these cool fold-up sunglasses.

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It was a little bit anticlimactic at the end. They were just done. They gave us our key back, and that was it. I felt like we should have had a ribbon cutting ceremony or something. Then again, those ceremonies usually happen when everything is finished, and we are a long way from that point.

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Note the door in the bottom left of the picture – just waiting.

We’re hoping we can finish up the rest of the work in less time than the contractor’s part took. For various reasons, what they said would be a 3- to 4-month job ended up taking 7. In their defense, it’s really just one vertical line different (3-4 versus 3+4). Our goal is to be done by the end of the calendar year so that we can take advantage of the city’s tax abatement program.

Amanda took a daily photo of the exterior during demolition and construction. For the time-lapse video below, she cut out shots where nothing had visibly changed.

A Few Safety Measures

We have done a few things lately to make our house a little bit safer for the boys.

Soon after we moved back in from my parents’ house, we realized that there were lots of nails sticking through the Zip sheathing — with the pointy ends on the inside of the house. We discovered this when Micah was playing up against the sheathing and backed his head into one of the nails. He was fine (although rather upset), but we decided it was in everyone’s best interest to avoid this happening again. We had some spare pieces of insulating foam board, so we broke them up into lots of little pieces and put them on all of the nails that came through within reach of the boys.

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Kinda reminds you of a guy who nicked his face shaving (a lot) and put little pieces of toilet paper on each bleeding spot.

Another task was making a gate at the top of the newly built stairs to the basement so that we could go downstairs easily, the workers could come upstairs easily, and our children could do neither. While we were at my parents’ house, the workers had put plywood up around the stairwell so that no one would accidentally fall down to the basement. This was great since we like keeping people safe and dislike it when people (especially our children) fall 10 feet down onto concrete.

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Once the stairs were built, though, we wanted to be able to access them, so Peter used an idea my mom had and cut the piece of plywood that blocked the top of the stairs. He attached hinges on one side so that it could swing open like a gate. Then he attached a slide latch on the basement side of the plywood, far enough down that the kids could not reach over the plywood and open the latch.

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Poor man’s gate featuring brushed-nickel hinges

Finally, I made a makeshift lock, out of the boys’ reach, for our new exterior kitchen door. Since our kitchen door leads outside to a 10-foot drop, and the workers hadn’t built a guardrail across the outside of it yet, and since Jonah can both reach and operate the handle and deadbolt, we decided it was best to do something to prevent the kids from opening the door. One of my parents suggested simply screwing a board on across the door. I kept it loose enough so that it can be turned away from the door to allow us to open it.

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Now we just have to make sure Jonah doesn’t drag a stool or a chair over to open this lock.

Bonus picture of the cute reasons we are trying to keep things safe around here.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Investigating.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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Thanks for making them level, Bobby!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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During: Dining room, looking into the new kitchen.

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

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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.

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After: dining room, looking into the new kitchen.

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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.”

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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!