Friday, June 29, 2012

The Baltimore Animal House

BOOK REVIEW
From Animal House To Our House:  A Love Story

  
On May 10th, I heard Ron Tanner speak about his new book at the Charleston County Public Library.  This is one stop of his 66-City Tour telling America about his house renovation adventure(s).  I really enjoyed it.  I love hearing the experiences of other renovators and was immediately intrigued because Ron's 4,500 SF brownstone was an extremely run-down property that had been condemned.  Tanner is not a house flipper or general contractor.  He's a writer who bought a dilapidated fraternity house to get the girl.

Ronald does not shy away from the personal or intimate details that help the reader understand how he got in over his head with the Delta Upsilon House (DUH) and Ron has a self-deprecating sense of humor that shines through in each chapter that makes it easier to laugh while reading about him injured and bleeding or yelling and cursing in helpless frustration.  

However, it's fair (and perhaps obvious) to say that I especially liked From Animal House To Our House because I could relate in both general and specific ways; renovation blunders, craziness with contractors, burning the candle at both ends, bank loan deadlines, predictions of unavoidable failure from visitors, throwing out a back while trying to tie a shoe, heartwarming pet stories in the midst of the rehab, realization that some renovation tasks are a lot harder to complete than expected (while others are the opposite), and on and on.

If you're rehabbing a house, loved the movie The Money Pit, enjoy reading my posts, are an aspiring home renovator, pet lover, hopeless romantic, adventurer, or wanderluster, I think you'll enjoy From Animal House To Our House as much as me. 





Tuesday, June 26, 2012

More About the Roof

In Step 13 (Dig Into the Foundation, Structural Work, and Roof) I explained how the sequencing on my projects varies.  Sometimes I’ve completed the roof (including new shingles) in the initial weeks of the project and other properties have been dry at the start, but needed a new roof before it was time to sell.  And more than once, I’ve had leaks when I took over, but the roof didn't get completely re-done until somewhere in the middle of the project.  

A good roof is important and warrants more discussion. 

The Hurricane House
The Hurricane House was unique (with regard to the roofing scope) because I waited several months before I finished the roof.  Ideally, I would have laid the shingles after the framers were done, but I was too busy and the work had to wait.  I paid the crew to cover the roof with tar paper, but that was it. 

I’ve written before that I enjoy every phase of renovating a run-down home.  However, removing old shingles (that may come in the form of multiple layers) is definitely an exception.   Laying shingles is fun.  Tearing off old shingles…not so much.  On The Hurricane House, I subbed out (subcontracted/hired a subcontractor) the demolition and re-framing which included scraping off the old shingles, collecting them from the ground below, and throwing them in the dumpster. 

And finally, here’s another thing I no longer love about renovating old homes; carrying bundles of shingles from the ground level, up the ladder, and to the ridge.  I’ve had my fill of this drill as well so on The Hurricane House I paid for a roof top delivery. 

The north end of The Hurricane House, Topless
The north end of The Hurricane House at completion

I have roofed dozens of houses.  I’ve done it alone, on a crew, or as part of a volunteer group (like a Habitat for Humanity project or a mission effort).  The Hurricane House was a small ranch with two hipped ends.  The only ridge was at the top, there were no valleys, and it was covered by a large live oak tree so the majority of the roof was blanketed in shade.  This was an easy job I knew I'd enjoy knocking out myself...as soon as I had time.  So when I had a few days, I laid the shingles and enjoyed it as much as expected. 

The Hurricane House - Back view after the new roof.
The Hurricane House - Back view at completion.
This is not one of my renovation projects, but the Midwestern home we grew up in and one of the only photos we have of me in action on the roof (early 90's).

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Step 15 - Non-Structural Framing

After I have the windows and exteriors doors installed on the perimeter, I start to get ready for the plumbing, electrical, and HVAC (heating air conditioning and ventilation) rough-in stage on the inside of the house.  I consider this non-structural framing wrap-up in four ways; interior openings, deadwood, knee walls, and blocking.  

Interior Openings.  Doorways need to be framed for doors/frames (that will be installed after drywall.)  Rough/in dimensions of 2 inches greater on width and 2 1/2" taller than the door height work fine.  This means, if you're planning on installing a 32" x 80" door, make sure the opening is 34" wide x 82 1/2" from the floor to the bottom of the door header.  Openings within interior walls (that will merely be wrapped in drywall and painted) need to be made level and straight in Step 15.

Deadwood is another non-structural framing requirement before drywall.  Deadwood is just blocking at corners for drywall.  A lot of sheetrock hangers will walk the job before they start and point out spots where deadwood installation has been overlooked, others will put it in for you when you forget (without a second thought), while some drywall crews will do any missed areas for you but then try to charge you extra for it at invoice time.The first thing that falls into the non-structural framing category is pertaining to interior openings.  

Deadwood - This was in a new home, but the role it serves in a rehab is the same.  The drywall needs solid material behind it in every corner condition.

Step 15 is also when I hammer in any knee walls which are short, half-walls.  This wall could be part of a bathroom plan beside the water closet, in the kitchen next to where the range is headed, or some other spot that calls for a wall just a few feet high.

And finally, this is the time when I'd install blocking in the walls.  Although there’s always interior opening work and deadwood, and sometimes a knee wall (if not several), but blocking is not an absolute on my renovations.  Blocking is typically put in by the super-proactive builders/renovators.  It can be helpful in walls when it comes time to install cabinets, grab bars, shelving, and any other heavy things that will be hanging from the walls.  However, as I said, blocking is more in the optional category for me and I usually don't think much about it because cabinets and shelving can be installed without it and I've never installed grab bars in my homes.

In reality, everything here can be done after the plumber, electrician, and comfort control crews are done, but I always do it before these subcontractors come in.  I don't like to call these busy tradesmen back to move their work and there's a chance that could happen if I put off this work until later.  These contractors will move their pipes, wires, and duct work and it may not cost anything, but they won't like redoing what they've done right the first time.  And, the renovator may find themselves paying later in the form of a favor.  I want my contractors owing me favors rather than the other way around, so I try to avoid unnecessary oversights when I can.  That's why having the non-structural framing in place after I have the exterior doors and windows done is the next thing on my interior list.  

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

From Cocky Ghostbuster to Tired Forrest Gump

Before the Financial Crisis and this real estate cool down, it had become routine for me to be feeling pretty triumphant as I left a closing after selling one of my resurrected properties...like Bill Murray and the Ghostbusting team shown below.

 

However, The Bungalow with it's Detached Garage and The Duplex have been different.  I bought it all as one property at the start of 2008.  Two Pig's Ears, one gigantic sow, and the worst property on the street by far.  You know what they say, "Go big or go home."  Well, I did just that.  In the worst economy since The Great Depression, I subdivided the land...so I owned the two worst properties on the street.  (see Subdividing the Bungalow and The Duplex).

While trying to be a husband, father, and step-father, I juggled; stacks of water, electric, insurance, and tax bills, credit card and credit line payments, and the schedules/needs of contractors, tradespeople, inspectors, and vendors.  And on top of those usual challenges, I also had to deal with drug dealers infiltrating part of the property, someone trying to steal a pricey air conditioner for copper, the loss of a new friend in the neighborhood who was cheering me on until he went to be with The Lord, the eviction of a pair of Waffle House waitresses who weren't paying rent, and an irritating medical issue that's too personal to share (but pretty funny for everyone else when I do).  Then to add to my neurosis, I was borderline OCD about keeping twelve different doors closed and locked when I wasn't there.  (See It's An Adventure.)  So I signed my name over and over again today and then let out a sigh while my daughter sat next to me at the conference table with her coloring book and crayons. 

I came, I saw, I finished my mission.  I don't feel like the Ghostbusters.  I feel more like  a worn-out Forrest Gump and I'm glad I have a Jenny of my own to give me a comforting hug and tell me she's proud of me even though I have nothing to show for it but my pictures, lessons learned, and some stories.


I didn't make any money on this pair, but I got back what I put in.  Some may see this as a loss.  Others may look at it as a tie.  I worked pretty hard to get there and I'm glad I made it.  I think I'll see getting back to where I started as a victory and begin looking forward to the next chapter.         

Monday, June 4, 2012

Step 14 - Windows and Exterior Doors

The Bungalow - Before

After I button-up things on the roof, address any structural issues, and make certain the foundation is good to go, I start dealing with the exterior doors and windows.

Some fascia work is complete, but still a long way to go.
I never lose sight of the need for having scopes of work ready indoors and out.  That way I can keep making some sort of progress regardless of what Mother Nature is doing.  For example, if I'm working outside and it starts to rain, I always have something set-up and ready to do inside so I can keep cruising.  The windows and exterior door work are a key to being in this position because they impact the renovation on both sides of the perimeter walls. 

Exterior trim & siding work were on hold until Step 14 was done.
This condition of being prepared/ready also applies to being able to work on the interior when it's dark outside.  If my schedule allows me to be working until ten or eleven at night, I may push ahead outside until I have to scoot inside to work in front of the lights.  Again, being finished with Step 14 makes this possible.  I can always set up my lighting on the outside, but unless I have a looming deadline I'd rather not drag the lighting equipment outdoors for just two or three hours if I can avoid it.

In actuality, Steps 15 (Non-Structural Framing) and 16 (The Exterior Fa├žade) can be worked simultaneously once the exterior doors and windows are in.  In addition, keep in mind that Step 14 may include some rough framing if new openings are created for a door or window.  However, this work is just about getting new doors and windows installed where they belong; painting them comes later in the finishing stages of the project.

So, after the foundation, structural work, and roofing are finished (Step 13), focus on the things that the interior and exterior activities have in common; the windows and the doors leading to the outside.       

The Bungalow - After
See related post The Bungalow.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Separation of Church and Renovate

We all grew up learning that our nations founding fathers believed in the separation of church and state.  Some will argue that they wanted to protect the nations governance from the influence of the churches and others may believe that they wanted to keep faith and spirituality from being tainted by the dirtiness of politics.

In Step 4 - Pull Out the Valuables, I described how I go through the things left behind in the house.  Bibles might be placed into a third category; things I save and then give away.  I never throw away a Bible.  After Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, I traveled down to Pass Christian, Mississippi as part of a construction relief team.  Along with a weeks worth of clothes and some of my hand tools, I remembered to pack the stack of Bibles I'd collected from my various projects.  I enjoyed the week of volunteer work and it felt good to pass along the sacred books to those who'd lost theirs in the historic storm.  

With that said, I'd like to advise you to be wary of people who use religion to try to get your business.  This is another lesson I've learned the hard way. 

Some businesses include religious symbolism in their marketing and advertising.  This is a less than subtle effort to send a message to prospective clients that's something like:  Hey, we're religious and spiritual businesspeople.  You can trust me.  Hire our company and we'll demonstrate the values that our houses of worship stand for.  These are high standards and the people who use religion to get business are frequently not able to measure up to the level they're aligning themselves with.  They should leave faith out of their marketing approach, but they don't because they need this tactic to get business and simply put, it works.     

I don't like pointing this out, but I've been on the frustrated end of this relationship too many times to count.  Plainly put, those people usually don't perform very well.  They aren't overly concerned about deadlines, they oftentimes come up short on their part of verbal commitments, and more times than not they do their business in ways that run contradictory to what they're being taught during worship.  It's bad for their business and more significantly harms the faith, church, synagogue, or denomination they claim membership with.  

So be mindful of this and be careful.  Good contractors don't have to use their faith to get work.  If your tradespeople are rock solid spiritually, you'll likely figure it out by their actions without them making an effort to tell you.  In my eyes, reputable business people don't need to use religious symbolism on their advertisements or business cards and they don't need to have it hanging from a chain on their neck on your first meeting.  If a prospective trades-person wants to bring-up religion from the get-go, let them give you a quote, but recognize this red flag, get some more prices, and think hard of going ahead without them.  You'll be glad you did.