Friday, November 11, 2011

Remodeling the House - A survival guide

How to live through a house remodeling project.

Step one. Flee the house.

If step one is not possible, gird yourself for pain. Not just regular pain, but unrelenting, seemingly unending pain.

You go into it absolutely certain you know what to expect. Sure, you innocently think, they are going to put up some new walls, knock into my old ones and join the two in a new and harmonious space.  Riiiiiight.

The first clue that this might be a bit more than you expected is when they dig a giant pit and it rains. I didn’t make room in my brain for a swimming pool, but I had one. Thankfully all the ground in Blaine is sandy soil and the water drained away. Remind yourself not to think about the dumb guy in the Bible who built his house upon the sand and the rains came tumbling down. Then they pour concrete into the hole and make it pretty. And the rains come tumbling down. Now I have a concrete pool. No really, I don’t want a pool. So we wait out the water, depending on evaporation to rescue us. Days pass. We now have a floor on top of the newly dry concrete hole. And the rains come – we are starting to feel Noah-ish. Our wonderful contractor had come back on his own time to put the world’s biggest tarp over our semi dry new floor to protect it. However, the rain overcame the tarp and made it into a giant plastic funnel that was neatly slanted to run the water into the now covered concrete hole AND our basement. We now have water in our dryer vent and in the cat litter. I gotta say, scoopable cat litter is only a boon when there is not a flood in your house. One possible use for wet scoopable cat litter is to cement the ark we are now trying to convert the house into. Seriously, has the Army Corps of Engineers looked into this stuff?!?!?! It’s like some kind of super-material.

We have the world’s best contractor, so please note that the things that happened were not his fault, but rather the capricious nature of remodeling.

In all our newlywed brilliance, we decided to tackle the porch remodel this year as well. Because we are idiots. Well okay, it actually turned out okay, thanks to the brilliant work of my husband’s brother and  a week’s worth of back-breaking labor. We now have a mostly done porch connected to our mostly done remodeled house. Mostly done.

There were three weeks of brutal temperatures this summer. The first was during the porch remodel.  You know, the one we decided to do ourselves. If you have not read my rant against the ravages of summertime, please do so now. We will wait… now you understand how I feel about that lovely season (bleck). The second wave of disgustingly hot weather was the two weeks we were without air conditioning. Now for most people this is just something you endure and then you move on to the cooler days of autumn. I am not most people. I tried, I really did. I tried not to sweat like a glass of ice tea in the noonday sun, I was not successful. It was the closest I have come to wanting to murder the chipper contractor guys that came to the house every day. They seemed not to understand the nature of the atrocity they were perpetrating on me… I digress. We eventually got our air back and I moved back home from hiding out in cool dark places like Golum in Lord of the Rings.

The next overly dramatic moment comes when you realize that they really meant it when they said they were going to unhook your appliances… All of them.  No running water on the main floor and no stove. We moved all the food and the refrigerator into the office. We have been living in there for three months. At the beginning, it all seems worth it because you know what is coming; a lovely home. Two weeks into microwave cooking and eating the garbage they serve at fast food restaurants, you begin to have strange dreams. I had several that involved me in a gingham apron with a spatula in hand, flipping burgers over a hot stove…and this was NOT a nightmare. I actually WANTED the apron and I would have worn it if I could have had my stove back. Betty Crocker fantasies aside, I never want to eat out again. At least not at any restaurant that is a bargain. 

There was of course one near tragedy, I think these are a prerequisite for remodeling. Our house was created in 1961, apparently it was a good year for house building because our house has “good bones”. One of those bones is a truss that runs lengthwise across the house and because of previous codes, it is a very long truss. My husband and I were sitting in our half done, soon to be kitchen, and we happened to look up at the truss – you know, the one holding the whole house up? And there, beautifully spaced, were 3 perfect holes drilled into our main truss in a vertical line. It was basically a perforation in the truss, so it would know where to collapse the house. Sort of a “tear along the dotted line” kinda thing.

We sent a text photo to our contractor with the picture of the holes and inquired if this was some new pressure relieving technique, or was it possible that giant, junky, mutant woodpeckers had been in the house. After our contractor regained consciousness, he considered the fact that he might need to take apart the entire house (the newly remodeled part) and start over to correct the damage. We were thrilled…it would only add another couple months to the drama, opps, I mean remodel…

At this point I thought it would be fun to describe some of the more…interesting subcontractors that we have met.

Exhibit A is the electrician. For some unknown reason most of the electricians I have met are rather eccentric. Perhaps because they live on the edge of electrocution they have developed some sort of cloak of crazy. Ours was a tall blond guy who periodically popped into the house, and waving a drill around, started putting mysterious holes everywhere. I, of course, had to know. Why is my favorite question. I’m a bit like a two year old that way. Apparently the holes were used to string all the electrical through the various joists. So the next day when he came again, and again started with the holes, I was beginning to wonder if he was an escaped extra from the movie “Holes”. This time it was because the first time wasn’t good enough. Hmmmm… All this leads back to what we like to call the “perforation”. It was not giant, junky, mutant woodpeckers, it was a half- crazed, hole fetish electrician! Fortunately our magical contractor was able to fix the perforation without dismantling the entire addition. This was after several calls to the truss engineers…who knew there were truss engineers?!?

Exhibit B is the Concrete Guy. I’m not sure what it is about concrete that automatically makes these guys into curmudgeons, but if you look up the definition of curmudgeon, one of the Concrete Guys is going to be there.

First, they talk as if there is an invisible cigar poking out of one side of their mouths at all times. A toothpick is too small to be worthy of the visual. Second, for some reason they appear to have stock in Carhartt - in endless varieties. Thirdly, even if they just won the lottery, they talk to you as if someone just stole their wife, shot their dog and ate their deer limit, in other words they are crabby! This is not your ordinary crabby, this is stewed over, slow cooked, masticated, crabby.

Our particular curmudgeon wanted to know what we wanted to do with the dirt. Now this is not a question I get asked everyday, so I, of course replied, “what dirt” – did you feel the earth tremble at the thought of my gaff?  Apparently any idjit knows that there is a vast quantity of dirt that has to be done away with when the Concrete Guy gets there. Who knows where dirt goes? I certainly don’t. When I innocently and smartly said “dirt heaven?” I felt a chill go down my spine. The look he gave me made me hear that song from Redemption - the one from Appalachia. By the way, your life really does flash before your eyes when someone is going to bury you UNDER the concrete.

Exhibit C is my favorite. He is our contractor’s co-laborer. One morning I awoke to the entire house swaying as a titanic boom was repeated over and over. Naturally curious as to why our house was moving, I went downstairs and peeked around the forbidden plastic barrier. One note about this barrier. There were large swaths of plastic sheeting hanging from our ceiling at various places. It was rather fun-house-ish. There was something magical about those barriers, mystical stuff was going on back there and mysterious noises were issuing forth. Anyway, I peeked in and saw one of the young guys with a sledgehammer joyfully pounding away on some piece of the house. When I say joyfully, I mean grinning, whole body dancing, all out glee! When he paused for a moment I said “you really like your job don’t you?” He responded with “I LOVE MY JOB!” and cheerfully went back to pounding away. He was like that the whole time. Ebullient.

Our remodel just finished yesterday. The guys have all gone and I felt like I was losing part of my family as they drove away. We have lived with them for months and somehow they became part of the landscape, almost as though they built themselves into the addition and now we were less without them. I confess I’m okay that the concrete guy is not sitting on my mantel, but some of the others I would have kept.

The contractor was amazing and I highly recommend him for any project you have. Our house is Shangri-La, and the artistry put into the simplest things is incredible. Even when the project got “interesting” our guy was willing to go all the way back to square one if necessary to make it right. Integrity, It is a rare quality.

My new husband and I survived a porch remodel (ours) and a house remodel, all in the first year of marriage. Hmmmm…maybe we are idjits…