A Trip to the Strange World of IKEA

We aren’t ready to purchase our kitchen cabinets yet, but we wanted to fine tune our kitchen design and see the cabinets in person. We are planning to buy IKEA cabinets and install them ourselves. Of course, the installation will be frustrating, but who doesn’t love some extra frustration between spouses?

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We didn’t plan to spend 5 hours in the store. It just sort of happened. Maybe it was because we left the boys with my parents. For future reference, we noted that IKEA has a supervised play area where they will let you leave your children for an hour for free.

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We probably spent an hour of the day eating. First, we had second breakfast. It was only 99 cents (so how could we go wrong?), it was enough to split, and they had free coffee, which is the only kind I drink.

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Okay, the cinnamon bun cost extra, but the plate of food was only $.99.

For lunch, I somehow missed ordering Swedish meatballs and ended up with salmon and funny potato cakes and salad and dessert (Amanda got chicken fingers). Still cheap, except the dessert.

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On our way back to the car, we got soft-serve ice cream cones, buy-one-get-one-free (not pictured).

Oh, and they have a tiny mini Swedish grocery mart too, which we didn’t realize at first. Many of the same food oddities they sell in the cafe are available in frozen form, but we didn’t buy any. About half of them seemed to involve lingonberries, and roughly the other half were comprised of various varieties of herring.

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Another 2 hours were spent sitting at a computer fiddling with our kitchen design. I guess that’s what we came there to do, but I had brought with me the mostly mistaken notion that by visiting the actual store, we would get some actual help / advice from actual salespeople. Instead, the store extends the self-service mantra to kitchen design by way of a large bank of computers, each of which is pointed at the same somewhat glitchy 3D design website you can access from the comfort of your own home.

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The view from our workstation.

Our home computer is 7 years old, so there were definite advantages to using the newer in-store models. And it was nice to be able to jump up and go look at something in person when we had a question. Is the bottom drawer of a three-drawer front panel the same height as the bottom drawer of a two-drawer front panel? (Yes.) How big is a microwave? (We brought a tape measure and they provide paper ones.) What would it really look like to have the refrigerator between two tall cabinets? (Not bad, if there’s enough width.)

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Sample kitchen.

We did manage to have a couple brief conversations with one salesman. We had built up a long list of questions, so once we had him there, we were barreling through them. After answering two or three, he walked away, leaving us wondering what we had said wrong. To his credit, he came back a few moments later and said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t ask if you had any more questions,” and then he patiently answered the rest of them.

When it was time to eat lunch, we tried to print some views of our design, along with a shopping list. (One of the nice features of the 3D site is that, if you can get it to stop putting cabinets in sideways, it will print you a list of every door panel, screw, and widget that you need to purchase in order to assemble your masterpiece.) But nothing came out of the printer. We eventually found our helpful salesman and caused him to be even more harried by forcing him to remove the printer and shake it.

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I think he was this close to reenacting the printer scene (warning: language).

I guess we spent the rest of the time looking around, mostly at kitchens but also at other mock rooms. And, of course, despite not having the boys along (or perhaps because they weren’t there), we spent some time looking at toys. How can you go wrong with a wooden train set for ten dollars?

Ridiculously cheap food, an hour of free childcare, slow-close drawers, classic toys, and a maze-like environment (look for the signed shortcuts if you go!)… Our overall impression of Ikea is that it is a somewhat weird place. But so is the Pink House.

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Don’t pee in the display potties!

Waste Is a Terrible Thing To Mind

My dad knows how to do a lot of things and did all of our plumbing for us when we put in our half bathroom. In order to make the best use of his time, though, we decided we shouldn’t rely on his expertise for everything (electrical, plumbing, and HVAC). We took plumbing off his plate.

There are two separate parts to plumbing: the waste lines and the supply lines. As one might assume, the waste lines are what carry away the waste water, and the supply lines supply the fixtures with water. Several people told us that installing supply lines is much easier than waste lines. We decided we would give the supply lines a try ourselves and only hired a plumber to do the waste lines.

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I put notes everywhere about what we wanted done. I’m guessing a real general contractor would have had plans for the plumber or something professional like that.

The plumbers thought it would take about two days to do the job. It took three and a half. Jonah was super excited to have them here. I think he was expecting them to be like our carpenters had been, happy to listen to him talk for a little bit. They weren’t quite as enthusiastic as he was hoping, but they did seem amused when he excitedly told them, “I love the pipes you put in! They’re so squiggly!”

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Squiggly pipes.

The afternoon of the first day, they were met with a roadblock. They couldn’t put in a waste line for the master toilet because there was a joist right underneath where it needed to go. Their supervisor came and looked at it and spent an hour on the phone with a plumbing supply house discussing various options and different types of toilets that might be able to be installed in a slightly different position. None of those would work, though, and they determined that the only option would be for us to “head off the joist” (or “header off the joist,” depending on who you ask). When they left that day, they said to call them when we had it done and they would come back to finish.

The area in question.

The area in question: Before.

Our contractor was already done with their part, but we weren’t confident in our ability to take on the task of cutting out part of the joist without making the floor above collapse. We emailed the contractor to see if they could do it. They said that they would. We were expecting to have to pay them more money, but they did it as “warranty work.” Yay!

The next week, our lead carpenter came and spent a morning heading off the joist. This basically meant cutting out the piece of joist that was in the way, and creating a box around that area to support the rest of the joist. I’m really glad that we had a skilled carpenter do that instead of attempting it ourselves.

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During.

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After.

We let the plumber know that the joist work was completed and they said they would come the next week. They were delayed for various reasons and finally came back almost two weeks after the first day they worked. There was only one plumber this time and it took him another two and a half days to finish. They will have to come back again to charge the system before our rough-in inspection from the city, and then again to connect a few things after the inspection.

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Waste lines.

After watching the plumber work on the waste lines, I was glad that we didn’t try to take on that task ourselves. Installing waste lines seems to require a lot more knowledge than Peter and I have about such things, so it was $3500 well spent. It’s neat to see all of the pipes, and I feel like I understand more about plumbing and plumbing vents now that I can see the pipes and how they are all connected. Not that I am offering to help with anyone’s plumbing projects.

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Vent pipes in the ceiling.

If you come over, Jonah would be happy to give you a tour of the new pipes (although some of his initial excitement has worn off). He will likely point out the “big, scary pipe” (the 4-inch one) and tell you that the reason it is so big is because it has to be big enough for poop. So if you don’t want to hear about that, don’t mention the pipes.

Being a General Contractor

If I told you that I am a general contractor, you probably wouldn’t believe me. It’s true that I am not a licensed general contractor, but for our big addition project, Peter and I are technically the general contractor. We ended up in this position mostly because we wanted to do some of the work ourselves. Our (licensed) contractor was concerned about how to have a contract with us in which they would do some of the work and then we would do some of the work and then they would do more work after we were done with our part. So we all decided that the best route would be for the two of us to be the general contractor.

Dictionary.com defines a general contractor as “a person who contracts for and assumes responsibility for completing a construction project and hires, supervises, and pays all subcontractors.” This is what we’ve been doing. We hired our contractor (technically as a subcontractor, since we’re the contractor) to build the structure, and that’s where our contract with them ended. Then it’s up to us to finish the job. We have hired ourselves for some parts and will continue to do so: electrical, part of the plumbing, HVAC, insulation, interior painting, flooring, and maybe a few other things. We used professional subcontractors for the roof, gutters, and part of the plumbing, and intend to hire someone for the drywall and the doors/trim. Our contractor adds a 20% fee to all costs they incur, including the cost of any subcontractors, so by coordinating the subcontractors ourselves, we save that 20%.

Despite not always knowing quite what we’re doing, it’s a nice arrangement, because we have more control over each step of the process and can move at our own pace. On the parts that we are doing ourselves, we have been able to make changes along the way. For example, we decided to move the refrigerator over, so we’ll just rearrange some outlets we put in without having to call an electrician to come back (and pay more money).

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Sorry outlets, you have to move.

There is definitely some effort involved in our main task of arranging the subcontractors. When we were trying to decide on a roofer, we had two recommendations, one company that our contractor frequently uses (Roofer A), and one that my great-aunt had used and recommended (Roofer B). We contacted each of them, requesting free estimates. We also contacted a third roofer (Roofer C), but they never got back to us to schedule anything. Roofer A came after a few days and looked at it. They gave us a quote but stated that they probably wouldn’t be able to get to it for at least 6-8 weeks. They also frustrated me in my communications with them. Roofer B took a bit longer to actually come and produce a quote, and the quote was $600 more than Roofer A, but they said they could come in about 2 weeks, and they didn’t frustrate me the way Roofer A did. We were having some leaks, so we decided it was worth the extra money to get the roof sooner and went with Roofer B. I asked Roofer B if they would be willing to match the lower price of Roofer A, and they met me halfway, reducing their price by $300.

While it was hard to spend almost $12,000 on a roof, it was nice knowing that by coordinating it myself, we saved almost $2400 by not having to pay the contractor’s additional 20% fee.

Similarly, when we started looking for a plumber to install our waste lines for us, we contacted three companies to get free estimates. Plumbers A and B came and gave us estimates, but Plumber C said they didn’t do free estimates. (Apparent lesson: It seems that one must contact at least three subcontractors if one actually wants two estimates to compare.) The two quotes we received from Plumbers A and B were significantly different from each other, which made our choice easy. Plumber A was cheaper and is the one I most wanted to use anyway.

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Bonus picture from two years ago of Jonah in his new room (because this post didn’t have enough pictures).

I am definitely glad that we are acting as our own general contractor. Things would probably be moving along faster if someone else were doing it, but they would probably be annoyed at the slow pace at which we are getting our parts done. We have a goal of the end of 2015 for this project to be done, but other than that, we can continue moving at that slow pace without having to worry about anyone else.

Surprise! Here’s Your Gutter!

We knew that we wanted our new gutter and downspouts installed soon after the roof was completed, especially because of the “bathtub” part of the roof that would be spilling out a large amount of water. I met with our gutter guy to get an estimate the day after the roofers finished in late April. He pointed out that we would probably want to paint some of the trim before he put a gutter on it. Thanks. Seems obvious now, but we hadn’t thought of that.

While he put our estimate together over the next few days, we set to work figuring out how to paint some trim. That part was very stressful for Peter, and I’ll let him go into detail about it some other time. We got enough painted that we felt like it was ready for gutters toward the end of May. I called the guy to let him know, he said he was really busy, and might get to it the next week. It rained a lot that next week and he didn’t come. We assumed that because it rained a lot, he probably couldn’t do a lot of his jobs because they involve being outside on ladders. It’s sad, though, because when it rains a lot is when you really wish you had your new gutter, along with your new downspouts to channel water to pipes running under the yard.

One day in mid-June, I was out all morning. When I got home in mid-afternoon, I was surprised to see a big work van parked right in front of our house. I realized that there were people in our front yard and that their equipment was set up. Although I was not pleased that they were completely blocking the sidewalk that gets a lot of use, I was relieved to see that the van was from our gutter company and not someone who shouldn’t be there.

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It was frustrating to have to squeeze past on the sidewalk with all of my stuff and then with my two children, one of whom was asleep. Once we were safely inside, we watched out the windows as they finished up the job. They packed up their 11 ladders and went on their way. I have no idea how long they had been there, but they finished about half an hour after I got home.

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There are more ladders inside the truck!

After they were gone, I went outside and checked out our new stuff. I was happy to see that everything looked correct: three downspouts in the right places, one new gutter across the back of the house, and snow guards on the back of the roof. They theoretically put a gutter guard over the new gutter to keep out leaves, but because I am not 30 feet tall, I cannot actually see if it’s there. I’ve decided to trust that it is there.

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Snow guards – so huge sheets of snow don’t come sliding off the roof, which could rip our new gutter off and clobber anyone beneath.

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New gutter* and new downspout

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New downspout attached to the old roof’s built-in gutter

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New downspout for water from the “bathtub” area of the roof

I think they did a good job, and the price was right, but I wish they had told me they were coming. They didn’t need to get inside the house, so I guess they figured it didn’t matter if we knew they were coming, but I still think they should have given me a heads-up.

*We went with standard (“K-style”) gutters. Design/historic preservation aficionados may wonder if a half-round might have been more appropriate. To you, we say: Meh. They look cool, but this house never had half-rounds. The original part of the house still has its built-in yankee gutters, but we weren’t interested in doing that with the new roof. Part of the addition that we tore off had a K-style gutter, and the front porch does too. What’s more, K-style was way cheaper.

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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