Happy Anniversary, Pink House!

Dear Pink House,

Today marks two years since we bought you. What a crazy two years it has been. When we decided to buy you, we planned to add on a bedroom, but we never dreamed we would be tearing part of you off first. We’ve been through a lot together during this time: carving out a new half bathroom, tearing off that new half bathroom along with the kitchen, a break-in, lots of construction noises, greatly expanding our debt, the sleep deprivation that comes with parenthood, lack of central heat and air conditioning, and lots of mosquitos. We’ve had a lot of good times, too: learning about you and learning about construction, birthday parties and gatherings, becoming reasonably good at parallel parking, and most of all enjoying your location and the ability to walk so many places.

I think it’s that last part that we were really looking for when we picked you. We wanted to be in a neighborhood where our kids could walk to school, we could walk downtown, and we could feel more connected to the community around us. We found that in you. It’s true what they say that when you’re looking for a house, what really matters is location, location, location. That is obviously the case here, since we have put a lot of money and time into making you the perfect house for us, when you were already in the perfect location (Peter would like to point out that this location was considered far from perfect, in fact downright dangerous, not that long ago). It would have been easy to find a cheaper house that already had the 3 bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms we were wanting, but it wouldn’t have been here.

You have required so much more effort than we ever thought you would, but in the end I think it will be worth it. It helps that you’re really cute. (Coincidentally, this sounds very similar to something we say frequently about Micah.) This past winter, when we were in the middle of construction and it was cold and we didn’t have a kitchen or a washer and dryer, I unwrapped a Dove Promise and found this message inside: “You are exactly where you are supposed to be.” I have kept that wrapper because I feel like it is absolutely true for us. Pink House, I think we were meant to be.

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I eat a lot of chocolate.

We have loved watching you change and grow over these past two years. There is still a lot of work to be done, though, so it’s a good thing we’re planning to keep you for a while.

Happy anniversary!

Joist Repair

Let me tell you a little bit about our side trip into the exciting world of joist repair. We weren’t planning to go down this rabbit hole, but…

As you may recall, we’re doing the electrical work ourselves, with leadership from Amanda’s dad. One of the first circuits we ran, we needed to drill through eight joists above the first floor to get to the electrical panel from upstairs. Pretty much immediately after we had run the wires, we learned of our mistake. Not by anything giving way or collapsing or anything, but by finding and closely reading the instructions on “allowable hole placement” from the joist manufacturer (our contractor had sent it to us earlier that day, but we hadn’t looked at it yet). Guess where we had drilled for the wires? Not in an allowable location.

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Oops.

The joists are like wooden I-beams, with a thin web (the vertical part of the I) made of very dense plywood and a wooden flange on the top and bottom (the horizontal parts of the I). For the most part, they span from one exterior wall to the other, although some span only midway to a structural wall. In the middle of any span, you can put some pretty large holes in the web – large enough to run a toilet drain line, for example. But near those load-bearing walls, or bearing points, there aren’t many locations where holes are allowed. And right over the exterior wall, you’re not supposed to put any holes.

Our holes were right over the wall.

What followed was a process of contacting the joist manufacturer and taking measurements of span length for each joist and precisely how high above the bottom flange each hole was located. I was impressed with their customer service: they plugged our specific numbers into their engineering models. Ultimately, they recommended repairing 7 of the 8 joists by attaching additional boards to the face of the joist in the area of each hole. We could have notched the repair boards to keep the wires where they were, but we chose instead to pull the wires out and relocate them past the repairs.

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This was not as easy as it sounds, but it was made a bit easier by getting to borrow our contractor’s table saw, nail gun, and air compressor (we were glad we squeezed this project in during the last weekend before they were done and took their tools with them). Each of the 7 repaired joists required 24 nails, and neither of us can swing a hammer particularly well, especially when the hammer must be swung in a confined space, at an awkward angle, overhead. Plus, the nail gun was way more fun.

Thankfully, in our basement was some leftover rim board (a wide board about an inch thick typically used at the ends of joists to transfer the load to the wall). There turned out to be just enough for us to use. We bought some plywood and set to work cutting everything to the appropriate size. Each repair needed two pieces of plywood, glued together, that would fit inside the flange of the joist, and a piece of rim board, glued to the plywood, that would cover the plywood and attach to the flange.

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Exhibit A

Amanda glued together the 7 sets of wood that we needed, and I nailed them in place. It took several hours, and some of the repairs turned out a little better than others. But we got it done.

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We also borrowed their ladder. And a couple clamps.

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OK, this one only has 22 nails. Still, can you imagine hammering all those in?

We generally try to avoid doing extra work, so we were careful not to put any more holes in the restricted areas. Although it was pretty fun to use the nail gun.

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We also used our own new ladder. Levitation would be helpful in construction.

While we had the nail gun out, and since I had gotten the hang of using it and hadn’t been injured, we added some 2×4’s in a few places. We needed an extra board in our master bathroom so that we could nail the electrical boxes for a light and outlet in the center of the vanity. We also added some boards across our master closet in the spot where we will be mounting a rail for our closet system (if we ever get to that point). We figured we might as well add some extra support there, before there is drywall, to increase our confidence that our clothes will not come crashing down sometime in the future.

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Digression: As part of the emerging “sharing economy,” I think libraries should have nail guns and air compressors that patrons could check out. Books are great and all, but I won’t have time to read anything until this house gets finished. Librarians, develop some tool libraries so your citizens don’t have to buy hugely expensive tools that they would only use a couple days a year and have nowhere to store anyway. (Apologies if you run a tool-rental business, but your prices are also expensive.)

Staying Dry

One of the biggest sighs of relief you breathe during a construction project is when the new roof is finished. Especially if the roof sheathing leaked like a sieve back in March the night it was installed and stubbornly refused to stop leaking completely, no matter how much re-taping was done, and even more especially if the leak was over the old part of the house and you had to climb up in the attic with water dripping at machine-gun speed (okay, once I watch the video, I see that it wasn’t really that fast, but it felt like it) in close proximity to the old knob-and-tube wires and wiggle a blue baby bathtub and an orange beach bucket and several flimsy Gladware containers into place under the eaves and trudge up and down that rickety attic stair several times in the middle of the night to empty them.

Just ignore the screaming baby in the background; that’s what I always do.

The design of the roof at this point works great for a metal roof but is trouble for just about anything else: a lot of water drains to one area (the contractor was calling it a bathtub), the slope is minimal, and there are a lot of weird angles that the Zip sheathing tape might not cover completely, especially where it meets the old metal.

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Photo credit: Aaron Lamb

The roof sheathing was installed on a Friday that was bone-dry until just after the contractors went home (a prime example of the Construction Corollary of Murphy’s Law). We tried to contain the drips in the attic, but as the evening wore on, the rain and the drips came faster and furiouser, and climbing up in the attic every couple hours to dump these containers without spilling them was similar to but a little worse than getting up every couple hours to soothe a baby.

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To their credit, our contractors came on Saturday morning as soon as we alerted them to the problem and went at it with more tape (Thanks Jeffrey and Aaron!). It was better, but still not great the next time it rained. They gave it a few more shots over the next week, and the dripping was slowed but didn’t stop until they stretched a tarp over the whole area. Even then, we had some occasional drips above our bedroom.

Yay tarp!

Yay tarp!

So it was quite a sigh of relief when the roofers came in April. We had a new metal roof put on the addition, and because of the “bathtub,” part of the old metal roof had to be replaced as well.

The "bathtub"

The “bathtub” with its new roof

The roofing contractor was here for a week, and it was a messy week. They seemed to do good work, but they weren’t as neat as our framing contractors. Call us spoiled, but we thought it was weird that the roofers left sharp metal curls in the front yard every evening, left piles of nails on the scaffolding to be blown off by the wind, blocked the sidewalk with their stuff, used a leaf blower to clear the roof of debris (sending it to the ground in every direction), and piled their tools and took their lunch breaks in the neighbor’s front yard.

Roofer shadow on the neighbor's house.

Roofer shadow on the neighbor’s house.

It was also a loud week. The process of tearing off old metal roofing makes it sound (and feel, literally, as in you can feel the vibrations) like your house is under attack. Coincidentally, a roof replacement project at my office started the same week ours did at home, so I couldn’t get away from the noise. Luckily, ours was a “small but complicated” job, according to our contractor, so it didn’t take forever, while the scaffolding at work is just coming down today.

It’s not nearly as dramatic in the video as it was in real life. Maybe turn your sound all the way up and connect a big subwoofer to get close to the full experience.

The process of hiring a roofer wasn’t awful but took longer than we hoped. (Our contractor was impressed that we got it done as quickly as we did, though.) The company we chose was able to start sooner than the other one we were considering, but maybe if they had been even quicker, we wouldn’t have ended up with this big splotchy ugliness on the ceiling of our current bedroom:

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We are excited to have a metal roof, and hope not to deal with the new metal again for about 100 years. The rest of the old metal will need to be replaced at some point in the nearer future. For now, we are enjoying listening to the sound of the rain fall on the roof (and not through the roof).

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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.