Sunday, January 29, 2012

Step 1 - Pictures, Pictures, Pictures!

Whether you're fixing up a classic car or an old boat, on a mission to shed a few unwanted or unneeded pounds, embarking on a landscaping project in the backyard, or renovating an old house, take pictures.  Their value to you in the future may be difficult to qualify at the beginning, but you'll be glad you gave this step some priority from the start.  A picture is worth a thousand words. Modern use of this adage started in the 1920's before we had so much access to cameras and digital technology that make it easier than ever to document things with a photo.  I'd like to encourage you to keep this in mind before you start, heed the words ingrained into our psyches in the late 1980's by Nike, and Just Do It; take those pictures.

I'll admit that I haven't always done this.  I've been completely through the demolition of more than one of my Pig's Ear renovations and suddenly thought, 'Did I take pictures before I started?  I really hope I did.'   Then, later on when I checked my collection of photos I was disappointed to realize I had not remembered my own advice.  The times this has happened is a tough moment, not simply because I know better, but because the proof of what I had started with is gone. 

There are a few reasons beyond pride-fulness for taking pictures.  Sure you'll want to show others what you did, but you'll want and need them for yourself as well.  I use the word need because you will.  Anything eating up your time and requiring effort and attention will have at least one moment (if not many) when you pause to ask yourself what you're really doing and why you're doing it.  The pictures will help you regain your focus because they'll make it clear how far you've already come. 

So click away, delete diligently as needed, and come up with a system of organizing the photos early on and along the way and you won't have to be concerned about taking too many.  I promise you, no matter what big project or goal you've taken on, you'll be glad you took plenty of pictures.

Before - With the gray color, the smoke stain from the fire, and the dark blue trim (that looks almost black) this picture is dark.  However, it still conveys plenty about what I started with.
During - It's plain to see that progress had been made, but also obvious that I still had work to do.
After - People will see how things look when you're done, but with the final pictures you'll be able to show them in the future if/when you move, or thousands of miles away as they review your achievement on-line.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Appreciation for the Radio

There are days on my projects when I have tradesmen and contractors working on various scopes of the renovation work.  On these days I'm engulfed by the sounds typical on any construction site; hammers pounding nails, saws cutting material, drills boring holes, and maybe operators with noisy equipment working on the exterior.

However, there are also plenty of days when I'm working alone like a one man band.  After years of building I easily gravitate toward the Whatever It Takes mindset.  I never hesitate to grab my tools and get to work when I need to.  The scopes I've completed for each of my Pig's Ears has varied.  Sometimes I do a lot of framing, sometimes I do just a little.  And that's how it's also been for the landscaping, insulation, drywall, siding, exterior trim, demolition, flooring, concrete work, and masonry; my involvement has fluctuated with each house.  I've painting everything on some houses, but other times I've dished the work off to a painter or subcontractor.  The same goes for the work up on the roof.  I really enjoy laying shingles, but every time I start carrying them up to the ridge or tearing old ones off I hear the voice in my head saying, 'This is the last time.'  I've plumbed an entire house by myself and done the majority of the electrical (under the guidance of a licensed electrician.)  Now I've never done the HVAC work or tried to stretch out carpet; those have consistently been areas that I've handled by writing a check.  I've done all my own door and window work and all the fine carpentry.  I did a few of my own garage doors years ago, but now I find someone to do that too.  And finally, more times than not, I've bought and placed the appliances where they belonged in the kitchen. 

With all that said, when I'm working alone on the job I prefer to have a radio on and most of the time it's tuned in to sports talk.  One of my favorites is Mike and Mike in the Morning on ESPN Radio featuring Mike Greenburg and Mike Golic.  I'm also a big fan of The Dan Patrick Show (see Tebow). After DP I'll tune in to The Jim Rome Show aka The Jungle.  Finally, I usually switch over to National Public Radio (NPR) during the mid afternoon.

I've listened to some of these radio hosts for years and over time I've grown to feel as if I know them.  In a small way, they've filled the void that exists by not having co-workers.  Furthermore, when something good happens in their careers or their families I know about it and am happy for them and when they share some bad news I empathize.  I talk about them to my wife when I get home the same way I'd tell her about someone in the office or another person on my crew.  And, like a spouse gradually gets to know co-workers my wife has learned about these sports talk guys through me.  I can't tell you the number of times she's interrupted me for quick clarification at the beginning of a Mike and Mike story with something like, "Now are you talking about the little guy or the one who used to play football?"  By way of the public air waves they've been a part of most of the Pig's Ears I've rehabbed.

Listening to the sports talk has become a part of what I do.  I don't always have it and when it's not available I find myself missing it.  So, if you work in circumstances that surround you with co-workers, enjoy and get to know them.  However, if you're working alone like me and you feel the need for some company, don't forget about the radio.

On one project I sanded and refinished the wood floors myself.  I enjoyed doing it, learned some things, but since then I've found a contractor that specialized in this type of work to handle this for me. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Detached Garage at the Bungalow

Everyone who’s ever gone through a renovation project knows that you need space to operate.  I’m talking about a garage, carport, barn, shed, or basement.  Now with minimal thought you probably understand what I’m getting at: you need a place for supplies, tools, material, and equipment to keep them secure (so they don't walk off) and protected from the weather.  In addition to that you want to keep your environment somewhat organized and who wants to waste a bunch of time moving things around.  The value of this type of extra space on a renovation project may be immeasurable.  If you’re renovating a home and you don’t have this type of area to utilize, you’ll wish countless times that you had it.  Furthermore, if you do have this extra square footage to make use of, you’ll probably take it for granted.  I’ve learned this lesson the hard way and the Detached Garage at the Bungalow exemplifies how my approach has shifted slightly over the years.  For the reasons described above, I put this sub-project at the top of my list and at the front of my schedule before everything else. 

Before - The roof leaked badly and the place was jammed full of junk.   

Let me say that it’s easy to demo an old building and start over from scratch.  However, it can also be wasteful (haste makes waste).   In rebuilding the Detached Garage at the Bungalow, I wanted to save and reuse what had value and rid the property of what was not useful or simply beyond repair.  This is not all about saving trees and doing what's best for the environment.  Although that's really important, there's practical wisdom behind this approach (which I'll write about in better detail another time).  Anyway, what I started with was, in essence, a crudely built pole barn that sloped slightly from front to back.  I took everything down to the concrete slab and the nine wooden posts that made up the most integral part of the framing system.  From there I rebuilt it to something useful and of value.    

During - It was a great little project... like working inside even though I was outside.
I did all the work myself because I could, I wanted to, and I knew I’d really enjoy taking it on and knocking it all out.  The framing, roofing, fiber cement siding, vinyl soffitt, painting - that's all me.  However, I did pay someone to install the garage doors.  When I look back and remember this little sub-project, the thing I’ll remember most is the site where I was working because for me it was idyllic.  I wasn’t on the beach, next to a peaceful lake, or on the top of a mountain, but I was tucked back behind The Bungalow in a densely populated neighborhood in our city engulfed in nature.  I was surrounded by people, traffic, and the busy world but alone in a setting that was dominated by grand trees, colorful birds, and active squirrels.  And because of the canopy of trees forty or fifty feet overhead it felt like I was working inside even though I was outdoors.  It was great and I totally loved it. 

After - I made good use of this 500+ sqft. area from the beginning of the project to the end.

So, if you’re a home renovator and you have room to work from, appreciate it.  If you’re in the market for a project house, keep the need for spare space in mind from the start.  And, as always, don’t be too quick to pass up on those Pig’s Ears you come across.  Look at the pictures of the Detached Garage.  This thing was a wreck.  But after I was finished… 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Tim Tebow is Fascinating Us Because He’s Doing the Impossible

In the wake of Denver’s playoff win in overtime this past weekend versus the widely popular Pittsburgh Steelers, it feels like everyone is talking about the Bronco's quarterback Tim Tebow.  I was an athlete growing up and in college, have always been a big sports fan, and love watching football.  Furthermore, I feel that if the Tim Tebow storyline get's my wife more interested in the sport then, as Martha Stewart says, it's a good thing.  We’ve been talking about him for months in our family, so it seems appropriate to share some thoughts here.

There are days on my renovation projects when I have contractors buzzing around the job site.  However, there are also times when I’m in the house or on the property working alone.  When no one else is around, I usually have a radio on and 90% of the time it’s tuned to a sports radio station.  This week on the Dan Patrick Show they were talking about Tim Tebow and were speculating about why people are so obsessed with him regarding the success he’s been having on the football field.  I think there are several reasons, but I believe that the root of his popularity is in the fact that he is doing things that other people have said could not be done.

As I have mentioned before (It's Possible), Blood, Sweat, and Pig’s Ears is all about doing the impossible.  That’s what the saying you can’t turn a pig’s ear into a silk purse means.  It’s a negative estimation, a prediction of impending failure.  Of all the things I’ve heard people say about the former University of Florida quarterback, I haven’t heard anyone describe him as a Pig’s Ear.  There seems to be no doubt that he’s a fine young man, an excellent role model for today’s young people, and like Katy Perry’s parents many view him as the ideal husband for their daughters.  However, what the experts said is that he wouldn’t be able to do what he’s done.  They said he couldn’t play quarterback in the NFL.  I heard them say regularly that he'd be able to play H-back or maybe tight end and they all agreed that he’d be an asset to any team because of his character and his leadership abilities.  However, over and over again they said that defenses would figure him out and that because of his throwing motion he would not be able to do what he just did this season. 
I don’t think that people are wrapped up in the Tim Tebow story solely because of his religious faith and ever-present convictions.  Although a huge percentage of his fan base is keyed in on his Christianity, I believe that he is also widely popular because he is doing what so many people (most especially the experts) said could not be done. 

Keep it up Tim.  Since my Cincinnati Bengals got knocked out last weekend by the Texans, I’m now pulling even more for the Broncos.  I may not be cheering as loudly as my wife, but I’m certainly enjoying your success as much as she is and am looking forward to watching you take on the Patriots this Saturday.    

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Hurricane House

Hurricane Hugo hit the South Carolina coast on September 21, 1989.  The storm slammed into Isle of Palms northeast of Charleston before progressing northwest into the inland counties of the Carolinas.  The home shown below was in Berkeley County.  The owners covered the roof with a tarp, but the damage was never repaired and it was condemned in the Fall of 2005 by local building officials.

The Hurricane House - Before
The Hurricane House - After

The tree that had done the most damage was still in the yard when I bought The Hurricane House in 2006.  The oak had been cut into segments with a chain saw, but had never been hauled away.  This exemplified what I started with.  It wasn't as if the property had been frozen in time for 16 years, but it was obvious that everything had changed with Hugo before Mother Nature and time tag-teamed the brick ranch to a deteriorated condition that many believed was beyond repair.  

The building official who had condemned the property told me emphatically that it could not be saved.  I had contemplated taking the house down and replacing it with a new home, but when I heard this negative prediction one thought instantly sprang to life in my mind; Now it's on.  His arrogant pessimism really stirred me up and I was determined to save The Hurricane House and prove that guy wrong.  Although the property had a long list of issues, I knew there were options to deal with them other than complete demolition.  The town rep. had not been on the roof and hadn't crawled under the home to examine the structural integrity of the framing.  Perhaps he'd never renovated a condemned home before.  I had and I was confident I could resurrect this Pig's Ear.     

When I bought The Hurricane House, it was the worst property in the neighborhood.  When I finished it in 2008, it was certainly worthy of being called a Silk Purse.      

Living Room looking into Kitchen - During
Living Room looking into Kitchen - After