Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Refreshing Refurbishment

Let's face it, there's nothing refreshing about refurbishment while you're doing it.  What was I thinking?  Who came up with that title anyway?  It's more like hell while you're doing it.  But it is very refreshing once it's done, it's a brand new home zone.  One sweet sumptuous retreat.  A pleasingly unique boutique.  A new pastel of your favorite vision of paradise, or Shangri-la, even if it's just new lino in the hall bathroom.

Getting from point A to B was a home making marathon, or a really mean spirited musical ballet, depending on what's playing on the music box.  I mean, everything being done had to be choreographed according to who, what, when, where and pant size.  And then there was the massive parade of must be dones before we moved in.  Maybe those are the same things.  Or was that the sub-contractors in tights with tool belts and steel-toed boots, working to some rhythm of La Boheme that had to be choreographed?   Or maybe it could have been "La Bayadere Remodelair", or "Midsummer's Night Dream Paint Job", or "Don Quixote, Designer to the Stars".

As I have mentioned in previous posts, we recently bought our current home via a short sale coming up on two years.  It's been a whirlwind.  And I just got back from the Doc and am supposed to be sidelined for six weeks.  It's wood bucking and splitting time.  I've got about six cords of wood that need to be all that plus get stacked for winter.  Not sure how this is gonna work, but I'm thinking an improvised plastic bag tied up over the boot.  Or a noose around the neck.  Whichever is less painful.

I've got an Achilles tendon problem with my right leg, it has been a problem for over four months, ever since I hurt my back working on Chicken Fantasia Land.  This homesteading stuff is not for the faint of heart, or weak of spirit.  Or older of body apparently.

So I am in this knee high strap on boot thing, a Cam-Cast I believe it's called, which isn't sensual by any stretch of a tendon and essentially doesn't allow any achilles tendon stretching either.  I think.  I have been over-stretching it daily, I mean, we're on a hill here.  And I got big doins.   Up and down.  Side and out.  

                                                                    Das Boot

So, before I went off on my ranting whine, we bought this place on a short sale two years ago.  As a short sale goes, the house was not in terrible condition.  It had suffered pretty severe obsolescence, the previous homeowner was going through a divorce as well as having an upside down mortgage situation type thing.  I can see that after a while there would be less reason to continue to keep things up around the old ranch.

He left it probably as clean as he could, at least there was no debris.  Some of these places these days ARE TRASHED, with truck loads of garbage that needs to be hauled away before you can even see the floor. Or the front door for that matter.

We had done several walk throughs prior to close of escrow, and we also had all the appropriate inspections done as well.  The septic needed some work, but other than that there were no other potential MAJOR issues.  The well (for water) was fine and except for a couple of small hiccups and burps the electrical and plumbing was in good shape and up to code.  (The roof was in bad condition, but that was taken into consideration when making the offer.  We now have a new Lifetime comp roof along with new Leafguard rain gutters.  We get tons of leaves and pine needles around here and those gutters are the best you can get.  I'll never have to clean rain gutters again as long as we live here!)

The main issue with the house we had to contend with was aesthetics, which is fine and dandily daunting enough when taken into largesse.  We love the layout and the "bones" of the house (for the most part), but there were color and date issues abounding.

All the existing wall to wall carpet had to go and all the existing wallpaper had to disappear, to begin with.  And there was a lot of both.  Fixtures.  Appliances.  A tile floor.  A million other assorted odds and ends.  And then paint.  Top to bottom.  Every room, closet, nook and derriere.  We had a projected move in date less than two months away with twenty-five family members descending for Christmas seven days later.  Crazy?  Just a little.

On my mark, get set...Fortunately, we had done all this before.  Not all at one time, but in stages.  We've done some remodeling on every home we've ever owned, just not on such a massive scale and all at once.

My wife is an excellent interior decorator and has many fantastic ideas.  I gave up the interior decorating thing early on in our marriage, once I knew she had great taste and it wasn't all going to be unicorns and cowboys.  Or velvet nudes of penguins.  I was into rustic jungle paisley when we first met, so it was easy to slide into the contemporary sort of shabby chic she does so well.  Yeah, she's got good taste.

With her on the front line I took on the role of "Underbelly Guy" long ago.  I can do a fair amount of a lot of things around a house, not on par with my brother, who is a whiz at everything construction.  Or Bill O'Rielly, who is just a wizz.  I can get most things done with a B rating, sometimes flirting with an A-. 

So, as my adorable wife compiled a truck load of paint chips, fixture and cabinet hardware flyers along with about five thousand decorating magazines I began the demo.  She also began a weekly Sunday morning pilgrimage to Home Depot, which became our 2nd church of choice for a few months..  We also became online members of so that we could have some trusted recommendations of a wide variety of home improvement purchases at our finger tips.

The first thing to come out was the carpeting.  Then the padding.  Then all them randomly whacked staples until I got a beautiful, ice skatingly perfectly level plywood sub-floor.  Then I ripped up all the cheap baseboard and piled all that up on the front deck for a bonfire later.  But not on the front deck.  The bonfire that is.

Meanwhile a professional painter was beginning on the kitchen while all the other commotion was going on.  My wife likes bright, and that meant paint the cabinets, which were of good quality and in good condition.  They just needed a face lift.  I paint pretty good, but I'd rather hire that out.  That's a fine, oil base spray after a ton of prep.  We used Chris Sgambati Painting in Grass Valley, and they did a FABULOUS job.  Here's a before:

And an after:

Also in this picture are new appliance additions.  The oven to the front left, dishwasher on the very far right, and new light fixtures on the ceiling.  There's new cabinet hardware, which adds up when you're replacing a kitchen full.  That butcher block island was a garage sale find by my sister.  A deal and steal and it works perfectly for our needs.

And then there's "Hal", the most massive microwave we've ever owned, front and center there.  It talks to you.  Can you hear him?  I can.  He can take your temperature.  Give you a bath.  Massage your temples if you have a headache.

You could fit an entire housing project in Hal's bowels, or maybe a half a moose.  You could probably get a half a moose in there.  Maybe.  If you cut it up and stuff.  Got rid of the antler.  That would help a lot.

The place did not have a built-in microwave, so another one of those quick choreographed things for me to do was tear out that little cabinet directly over the range.  Once that was out, the painters were turned loose in there.  Well, I also had to remove another cabinet to the left of the main fridge so we could add a mini "wine" fridge.  THEN the painters were turned loose while I ambled elsewhere.

Another initial project was removing built-in book cases from the living room.  Some folks might like 'em, and we do too, only not in the living room.  One now sits in the sun room, actually right on the other side of the wall from where it was brutally removed.  The other is in the garage.  This action brought us a "cleaner" environment as well as a few more square feet.

The photo below shows one book case.  The other was to the left of the french doors, which are directly to the left of the bookcase below. 

They came off the wall pretty easily.  Things usually do if you have a big enough hammer and use enough C-4.

Our living and sun room furniture is currently a mish-mash from several different rooms that were purchased for an entirely different house many miles and several moons ago.  Until my wife gets a total "feel" for what the room requires, we've got a carnival of colors and vast array of styles.  A splash of unique Shabby Chic.   A little Classic Medieval Contemporary Norwegian Funk.  A little Neo-Classical Traditional Eclectic Swedish Art Deco.  A little Retro Goth.  A little Jetsons.  It works..for now.  

After the carpets and baseboard were removed, I spent a day mini-jack-hammering tile out of the garage entry/utility/hall/foyer type area.  Only about 250 square feet of it, but it killed me.

The last (and only major) time I jack hammered anything was a driveway at the last house we owned.  I did that a day after donating blood.  You know, after they tell you that you should avoid strenuous exercise for 72 hours.  There's a reason for that.  Stamina lasts for oh, a millisecond or so.  Then it's just real tough to trudge through anything.  But there was a timing issue and it had to be done.  The jack hammer thing that is.

My son in law and I chopped down a tree with an axe a couple hours after donating blood one time.  It was a lumberjack challenge thing.  My chain saw was in the shop and he wanted to be a lumberjack.  We hacked and we hewed and we huffed and we puffed but we got it in the end.

Part of the tile came up like butter, but the other 245 square feet of it was inches at a time.  Hours.  It took me hours to tear it all up!  It makes me tired just thinking about the physical exertion, the clouds of dust, the freaking loudness of a jackhammer in an enclosed space.  Even with ear protection x2, foam in and headband out.  It was way louder than the front row at a Stones show or an indoor alcohol fuel infested tractor pull..

Next on the demo adgenda was the existing wallpaper, which had to go one way or another.  Back in my impetuous beer drinking youth I once helped a friend remove wallpaper from a small home he was renting.  Seven layers worth.  A lot of work for a rental, but he did stay there for five years.  Some guys played billiards when they drank beer, we removed wallpaper.  What were we thinking?  There was probably weed involved too.  As a bribe you know.  As a matter of fact, I'm sure of it.

I removed the wallpaper in the bathrooms, all three of 'em.  I am no stranger to this, and was prepared for a tough job, but it actually came off pretty easily.  It was a huge mess of course, and the clean-up probably took more time than the actual removal.  I used one of these little gizmo's, a Zinsser scoring tool, which scores the paper first.  Then I hit it with a stripper, like Zinsser, but NOT a stripper like Carol Doda , because if she showed up nobody would get anything done.   We'd all be helping with her wheel chair and stuff.

So anyway, I let the stripper soak for a while.  I mean the warm bath water apparently really helped her aching muscles.  It also dissolved the wallpaper glue, so that most of the paper peeled off like a St Bernard after a snow bunny in a blizzard, or Carol Doda's lingerie forty-seven years ago.   It takes her a littler longer these days. 

There was also wallpaper in the hall and dining room.  Rather than removing it, I painted over it with an oil based primer, paying special attention to the edges and seams.  After that we simply painted the latex color of choice over the primed wallpaper.  A word of caution when working with that oil based stuff, have a lot of ventalition and use a good mask.  Or, if you'd rather have the circus come to town inhale freely and frequently.  What did the first painters do besides go mad?

Here's the before and after of the dining room:

That chandelier was an estate sale find by my lovely bride.  We had to reinforce the bar the electric box is on up in the attic.  Another one of those immediate unforseen yet highly important improvements.  It's now so strong monkeys can swing from it and we won't have to worry about them falling into your soup.  If you were invited over for dinner for instance.

Once the basic demo was complete I rented an airless sprayer and hit the garage, ceilings and all the closets of the entire house with a round of essential white.  I had done the basic prep the day before and spent a day on the shoot.  I was then able to stage everything in the garage and closets and continued with the preparation of the rest of the house for paint.

This included all light and electric fixture removal (including all face plates-which were replaced) and spackling all cracks, holes, crevasses and ravines.  (This of course had been part of my initial "closet" prep.)  This also meant going all around the door and window trim.  I'm a stickler for no visible lines around trim, although I do like tan lines around the trim of the feminine mystique.  I went through one hundred forty-four tubes of caulk when I did the exterior paint job on our last house.  It's a problem, I know.

Anyway, while all this demo stuff was going on my wife was running back and forth to hardware, appliance and flooring stores.  She was working as hard as I was, and that's why we make such a good team.  We went through Youngs Carpet One for our carpet and hardwood flooring.  We've known them for years, and that's how a lot of stuff gets done in a small town.  Anyway, we were on their calendar for an early December installation, which was our prime time motivator.  With the holidays coming, we didn't want to miss our install window with them.

We were also both working full time jobs throughout this fun experience, which meant every spare waking moment was spent on the refurbishment.  We were even there together painting Thanksgiving morning.

And even as I kept a steady frantic pace I realized I wasn't going to be able to get it all done.  Our painter had a couple other jobs going, but he generously was able to fit us in to basically do the finish painting throughout the interior of the house.  They did it in a couple days.  It would have taken me at least twice that, if not longer.  And  I was able to continue with other pursuits.

Throughout and during all this painting, new electric lights and mirrors were being installed in the bathrooms  and new lights and two new ceiling fans were being installed in the foyer and living room.  We also installed all the new appliances in the kitchen.

We didn't put in a new range.  It is a gas range top, and is aesthetically and functionally fine.  We will eventually replace it down the line because our current oven is kinda small.  We didn't realize this until we had to special order it.  It was either that or start replacing cabinets, which gets expensive quick.   Another one of those really tweaky things about the house.  Maybe the people that built the place never had to roast a 240 pound turkey.

So, rather than redoing all the kitchen cabinetry just to get a right size oven, we're gonna eventually tear out the existing range (and cabinet housing) and put in a free standing oven and range.  That will give us the double oven capacity we need every once in a while and not cost us too darn much money.  We'll just have to figure out what to do with all the pots and pans. 

And then there was "Hal", the largest microwave we've ever known.  He was an incredible challenge to install, even with the help of a dear friend who is also a part time electrician and general all purpose handy man.   We had to do some wrangling and dangling to get him in place, but the wall will now have to come down to get  Hal down!  Come to think of it, he's kind of integrated himself throughout the entire house now.  It's like this is his house now, and we gotta do stuff for him.  I feel like I should be living on Elm Street.  Help, somebody get me out of this sci-fi horror movie.  Whew, where were we? 

Our house is kinda tri-level, with the main body on a foundation.  Then next to the garage and on a concrete slab is the guest room, utility annex, guest bath and pantry.  (That's the area I had to jack hammer.)  It's great in the summer because it always stays cool down there. ( I say down, it's only four steps up to the main level.)  But it also stays cool in the winter, and since there is house above it and concrete below the forced air does not have any way to get into that area.

The bathroom has a real nice ceiling heater, which many guests mistake for a fan.  It can get real hot in there real quick when its 95 degrees outside!  And then there is an electric wall heater in the bedroom.  It is now correctly installed on a "long" wall, rather than a short one.

You see, it all had to do with our guest bed, which is a real nice queen.  Not Freddie Mercury, who was a real flamboyant queen.  There was only one wall where the bed would fit, and unfortunately that was the wall the heater was installed on.  So...I took the heater off the wall (after ensuring the power was off to the dandy devil) and disconnected all the fittings.  Then, as exquisitely as possible, I cut a line in the sheet rock and removed it all about twelve inches above the floor.   This went on for about six feet along on one wall and another five or so on the other.  With the studs now open I drilled one inch holes through about all six or eight or forty-nine of them to allow for the 220 amp wire to be run.  I encountered some concrete foundation in the corner, so we had to razzle dazzle a little up and over and around to accommodate that unforeseen uncertainty.

My electric friend put all the connections together and once the wire was run and the heater connected I replaced all the removed sheet rock.  Taped.  Textured.  Painted. Giddy-up.

All this fun and frolic bled from days into weeks, with stuff slowing evolving and getting done.  I also had to spend a couple days helping on the septic system as well as sundry assorted things on the exterior, one notably was the cliff, which will be the subject of my next post.  

Once the paint was complete the new flooring was brought in.  That was a couple week project for the professionals.  The carpeting only took a couple days, but the new hardwood was about a week and a half.   And about a week after that, somewhere around December 16th we moved in.  Seven days later family descended for the holidays.  It was sheer and utter chaos, just the way I apparently thrive.  But we were in!

The baseboard came about one year later in two stages.  It's one of those things that's really missed when it's not there, but it's not really noticed that much once it's up.  The first stage was right before our second Christmas here.  I did all the downstairs (except for the utility and guest areas) as well as the upstairs landing.  A couple months later I did the guest room and utility area as well as the master bedroom.  There are only two rooms left to do, my office and my wife's library, or the other guest room. Those two will fall this winter.

Another initial priority was putting some window film on our west facing living room windows.  We fried a two thousand dollar sofa with sun damage in Monterey and I won't let that happen again.  And then when we moved some good furniture into the sun room I had to do all those windows too.  And then I weather proofed that darn room, eventually caulking and painting the tongue and groove ceiling as well as the rest of the room, which includes about eight windows.  Hell, the walls are all trim!  .  Am I a glutton or what?  But now, once my wife gets around to it, we have a just about ready room to go.  All we'll need to do is upgrade the floor.  And since it's an un-in-sulated addition (the sunroom) the flooring will be quite casual.

There will be ongoing upgrades as time moseys on, but the biggest push is through.  And the big thing that got me through this last move (five moves in five years) was that this will be the last move.  The kids will have to take all this crap out of here.  And we've got a lot of crap.  OK, probably a few good things as well.  Like my wife's porcelain and tea pot collection.  She's got to collect all these beautiful (and breakable) pieces which take up like four of the large china moving boxes when we were moving around.  I've been after her to collect stamps for years, especially because they would have all fit in a cigar box and I could have put them under the seat.

Paul Bunyan Update

Well, Paul and his Blue Ox never came by, but my brother-in-law did with his mondo wood splitter.  I was able to wrap up my cast with a plastic bag and pillow case, though by the end of my escapade they were pretty well thrashed.  Got to find something with canvass on the bottom.  Rubber clown shoes maybe.  Size 36 large.  You can see more wood pictures at Where's Paul Bunyan and his Big Blue Ox.


Mister big stuff right there up there split like a wilted twig, or a musk melon cleaved with a butter knife.  He was no match for the Troy Built Hemi.  Took the first split right in the saddle, then kept slicing around.  Some of the larger rounds from an oak cut a year and a half ago were still wet.