Renovating the 2nd House, Part III

Click to read Part 1 and Part 2 of this renovation.

This part involves much of what we hired a contractor to do.  I’ll say upfront that we weren’t happy with him.  He was expensive, used our garage to store materials instead of bringing a trailer, and was on-site an average of an hour each day, leaving us to manage the two weirdos that were his crew (one was a flat-earther, the other was creepy right from the start and ended up in prison for crimes against children that I shall not mention).  We were so jaded by the time it was all over that we couldn’t wait to sell the house and move on with our lives.

But first, let’s talk about the outbuildings.  The barn had seen better days.  Rats had chewed holes in the siding, and a lean-to that was erected from pallets was causing water to pool up and rot issues along the trim.  There was an ugly chain-link fence surrounding part of it; I put a “free if you remove it” ad in Craiglist, and a bunch of hippies happily took the fence, pallets, and an old rusted metal shed somewhere else on the property.  We ran some rope from our old truck around the two decent lean-to supports and pulled it down, then cleaned up all the hay and trash underneath, and the grass grew back beautifully like it had been there all along.  Then I pressure-washed the old cedar shakes and patched in new wood where it had rotted (a very basic patch job, but hey, it’s a barn), and caulked and painted the trim to match the colors we decided to use on the house.

rehabbed barn
Thank goodness for the hippies.

Then there was this fiasco.  This was The Artist’s “photo lab:”

abandoned building
“Photo Lab” because there was a dark room in the back with a sink that drained straight into the ground through PVC pipe.

Not even the fire department would burn it down for practice.  It had water and electric run to the building, so we wanted to make use of that, but Mother Nature had her claws deep in this thing.  The hippies took one look at it and said, “Score!”  They took pretty much all the framing, trusses, and some of the roofing, and my husband and I were left hauling the rest to the dump every Saturday over the next three months.  You would not believe how many chocolate milk cartons we found underneath that thing!  And rat carcasses.  Rats must love chocolate milk.  We had the water and electric tied off and ended up marketing it as an additional building site for a guesthouse, art studio, or stables.

And the garage!  Yes, this was technically an outbuilding because it was not attached to the house; a giant 20×40 rotted wood deck stood between the house and the garage.

open garage
Did I mention the garage was “open”? And notice the complete absence of landscaping.

Before I go into the construction process, let’s take a look at the kitchen.  You may recall from Parts 1 & 2 that you never saw a kitchen.  That’s because it was the absolute worst room in the house and needed a complete gut job!

ugly kitchen
First of all: UGLY. Second of all: none of this makes any sense. That’s how I know the architect was a single man. ; )
claustrophobic kitchen
I’ve combined two pictures here in an effort to show a panorama of the kitchen; you can see how narrow the walkways were, less than 30″!

You may barely be able to see it in the pictures, but there are wood countertops with stick legs in the very back – this was the only place where one could eat a meal.  There was no dining room or even space for a small table in this thing.  The dysfunctional layout made it easy to determine where the addition would go and what it would consist of.  Our objective was to connect the garage and home with a mudroom and add a desperately needed laundry room, dining room, and office.  Here we go!

Needless to say, the first thing that had to happen was getting rid of that deck and the breezeway roof.  Because the addition was funded through our rehab mortgage, we went through four contractors before finding one who would play game with the bank, and by that point, winter was settling in.  And because our contractor was so expensive, there were several projects we were forced to complete ourselves to be within budget and get the renovation done at all, including tearing out the deck.

removing rotten deck
My husband, hating life.

Construction doesn’t wait for the sun to come out, and even though we were sore for a few days, the foundation was poured on schedule.

installing foundation
The ladders are how we got in and out of the house for the next couple weeks until the decking was installed at the front door.

While the contractor’s crew handled the outside, we worked on making the kitchen less disgusting.  We had an electrician move some wires and put in recessed lighting and then hired someone to repair the ceilings from where we removed the beams.  We also had to hire a plumber because the beams had a vent line in it for the kitchen sink, which he ran through the crawl space.  Of course, everything was costing more money than we had planned, which convinced my husband to keep the fridge and dishwasher, but we learned shortly after closing that the oven had a broken seal.  Running a gas line to the kitchen was one more expense, but since we wanted to build for the high-end buyer, we felt a gas range was necessary.

remodeling kitchen
Left: those cabinets were stinky and in there so good! Right: kitchen looking better already!

The framing for the addition was going up!

building an addition
Left: mudroom framing looking at the front door. Center: mudroom framing looking at the mandoor. Right: the shealthing goes up on the dining room and office!

And the countertops arrived the day before Thanksgiving, though we learned we couldn’t use the new gas range until the county came out and did a pressure test on the line.  Good thing we hadn’t planned on holiday company!  We ordered the walnut butcher block countertop for the island from some place out in North Carolina, I think?  Anyway, that was a mess.  It was beautiful, but arrived about a month late. which was a pain because we couldn’t install the kitchen faucet until there was a countertop.  I can’t even remember how long we managed without a kitchen sink, a month? two?  We ate a lot of Subway.

remodeling kitchen
Don’t mistake my smile for remodeling joy – it was just really nice to finally have counters!

The drywall was going up and the interior rooms were beginning to take shape.  I mentioned earlier we had agreed to do certain projects ourselves in order to make the budget; debris removal was one of those projects.  We expected the contractor to leave all house debris, but we weren’t expecting him to direct the subs to do the same, and we didn’t appreciate picking up their Coke bottles and cigarette butts either.  Ugh, “professionals.”

newly drywalled rooms
Left: the new office. Thanks for the trash, drywallers. Center: The mudroom looking into the main part of the house. Right: the NEW DINING ROOM!

Creepy Guy on the crew knew a guy who could wanted the old cedar shake siding (to sell as kindling), and he was honestly a big help with the debris clean up.  However, once we learned Creepy Guy went to prison (from reading it in the newspaper, not from disclosure by our contractor, thank you very much), we asked that his friend not come by anymore.  He was probably a nice guy, but it really rattled us.  Anyway, the fiber cement siding and roof on the addition finished things up.  The pictures below was about how things looked when the crew left for good.  You may wonder why it isn’t finished?  Because we also had to do all the exterior painting ourselves.

new addition and siding
By this time spring was approaching, and with the warmer weather, we didn’t feel as much pressure to get the outside painted right away.

We were happy the house was “done” in time for the baby, but man, we really hated having to use such an expensive builder.  All the other contractors we spoke to charged about $35/hour, and this guy charged us $45/hour for each man and then didn’t even show up himself.  We figured it was because he was from a bigger city a couple hours away where that was the going rate, and wasn’t savvy enough to realize the market was different.  Plus, he was a spec builder and rarely did any custom builds for real people.  He actually came recommended by our plumber, and the workmanship wasn’t bad, but man, this was one of those cases when you really didn’t get the quality of service you pay for.  For this reason, I really don’t recommend a rehab mortgage; it seems the only contractors willing to work with this set-up were crappy ones.

Anyway, we refinished the front door – now the mudroom door – and got to work on the interior priming and painting (also a project not included in the contractor’s service.  He couldn’t even make the trim “paint ready,” citing that his painters always do the caulking).  While I’m at it, the flooring and lighting for the office and dining room were our responsibility as well.

refinishing a wood door
One has to get creative when one doesn’t have a shop or a table saw.

If there was one thing I learned from renovating the first house, it was how to prime and paint walls.  This didn’t make it easy, especially for a pregnant woman, but I was able to get all the wall painting done before the baby arrived, and just in the nick of time, really.  Having my husband’s office done was very important as he works at home, and on days I had to run to the office, show homes, or attend an inspection, I could simply put the babe in the pack ‘n play with my husband.  And yes, during this renovation, my husband had to work from a camping chair in the hallway, from a banquet table in the living room, and even from bed a few times.  Sometimes I don’t know how we managed it.

remodeled mudroom
Left: the office, looking out over where the new deck would be built. Right: the mudroom looking toward the main house. The room on the right is the office.

We tried to match the laundry room floor tile with the current white tile in the pantry and upstairs bathroom, and this was the best we could come up with.  We bought some stock cabinets and painted them black, and made a countertop for the utility sink with left over common board.  The laundry room closet also held the new furnace.

new laundry room
It was a bit boring, but at least it was a dedicated space (remember what the laundry room looked like before?) and hidden by a pocket door.

As for the kitchen, it was pretty plain-jane for a while.  It wasn’t until nearly a year later when I managed to get the backsplash in; my husband had some time off for Christmas and was able to take over baby duty while I worked.  Let me tell you, reaching over the counterop to do a backsplash is back-breaking, and the subway tile was stressful to get level and have even grout lines.  We wanted to install floating shelves between cabinets, and boring out 12 holes through glass tile took me DAYS.  Everything I read said “go slow and keep your bit wet,” so I was holding the 5-pound drill with one hand and spray bottle with the other for what felt like forever to make one hole… and then it would crack anyway.  I think my fault was that in being careful not to press too hard, I wasn’t putting enough pressure on the glass tile, which was why it took so long, but I don’t know why they ended up cracking after the fact.  Alas, at least the brackets and the shelves covered it up.  And I called in our bathroom tile guy to make the cuts for the outlets.  He did it on the way home from another job – cost me $50 but saved me from having to buy another tool and break tiles just learning to use it.

kitchen backsplash.
You can see the red lines on the backsplash where I marked where the brackets were going and where to drill the holes.

Lastly, I feathered in hardwoods in the dining room and finally, the interior was finished!

remodeled kitchen
Thankful to have a husband who can install lighting! I know it’s not hard, but I figure he can have this one thing while I do everything else. ; )

But the outside… there was a lot to paint!  I got to work, though I wasn’t happy about it:

painting with a baby
I would have rather spent those newborn months doing something else with the baby, but at least we were together.

The rains came back, and we saw how bad the trucks and construction had ruined the lawn and gravel drive.  Plus, the digout of the addition foundation essentially tilled the soil left it subject to flooding.

flooding and weeds
While we saved up for the landscaper, a friend with a hammerdrill helped us install some dry wells along the foundation, another thing that the contractor didn’t include in his hefty price.

To make matters worse, this was about the time we got fleas.  Fleas!  They are horrible!  Our indoor cat noticed them first, but I must have brought one in on my pant leg from working around the barn or pasture or who knows.  It took us weeks to finally get rid of them (the hard way as extermination wasn’t in the budget), but landscaping/hardscaping became a fast priority.  I never realized how expensive landscapers cost!  I was able to whittle the bid in half by doing some of the “easy” work myself, but we still paid a guy nearly $4,000 to install some underground gutters that ran to daylight and lay new gravel down part of the drive.

gravel driveway
Before and after the gravel work.

And I still had to build a deck and patio and lay edging myself!

woman doing landscaping
It wasn’t the most professional landscape job, but it was something I could manage on my own, and I didn’t mind the exercise too much!

The deck may or may not have been constructed perfectly, but it was level and pressure treated.  It used up the space between the house and the garage so the addition looked more “natural.”  At first we thought we’d do a simple patio here, but we learned there was a bit of a negative slope and decided a deck would be the best way to hide this.

new deck
We used Thompson’s WaterSeal on the deck, but it came off a bit after the winter, and it didn’t restain well. We’ll try something different next time.

I lied when I said we were done with the inside.  I made a build-in bench in the mudroom by the man door.  It wasn’t the fanciest piece of carpentry, but it functioned well and looked like it fit.

built ins mudroom
I used stock 1x12s for the seats and leftover plywood for the rest. We bought some funky coat hooks at the antique store.

Here are some drone shots so you can see how the addition fit in with the existing structure when it was all finished.

drone shots of house
In the center picture, you can really notice the patch of lawn where all the construction debris was piled. We reseeded it, but the house sold before the grass grew back.

For the big reveal!

remodeled house

And would you like to know the ironic part of this whole ordeal?  After nearly three years of blood, sweat, and tears first to get the Rehab Mortgage, then to find a contractor, then to pay tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket and spend hours and hours away from my new baby, we sold the home to a couple of chain smokers who on DAY ONE walked all over the carpets with muddy shoes.  As they were moving their Goodwill furniture into the house, we overheard Mr. Buyer say that he had never even been upstairs.  Heck, if I had known they weren’t going to go upstairs or didn’t care for clean carpets, I wouldn’t have tried so hard to clean up the cat puke from them.  This house really deserved owners who would love it, but unfortunately, it seems it will be ready for another renovation in just a few years. : (

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