Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Step 31 - Plumbing and Electrical Trim-Out

As the interior painting is wrapping up, I start getting ready for the plumber and the electrician by purchasing the fixtures, trim, and parts that I supply.

For the plumbing contractor I get the sinks, faucets, tubs (if not already installed), toilets, the things people will see when the house is finished (See Step 17 - Plumbing Rough-In.)  As I've written before, the plumber can/will do this for me and make this part of their scope, but I don't want/need them to shop for me.  They don't know my taste and they won't be in a position to snatch up a sale item they see that's similar (but maybe not exact) to what I specified.  I buy what's needed and deliver it to each room so it's ready to go on the scheduled start day for trim-out.  The plumber appreciates this, but it also allows me to double check myself and make sure I've got everything I'm responsible for. 

I get ready for the electrician in the same way; by getting the light fixtures, ceiling fans, light bulbs, smoke alarms, door bell, etc.  This contractor supplies the light switches, receptacles, cover trim plates, disconnects boxes, and everything to do with the breaker box (See Step 19 - Elec. R/I).  Same as with the plumbing crew; I stage everything for the electrical contractor in each room since I'm the one who knows where things are supposed to go, not them.      

And finally, there are a few things that the plumber and electrician will need to work together on at trim-out time.  I supply these things too; the water heater, the garbage disposal, and the dishwasher are three examples.  This is another reason that I like to schedule these two tradespeople to do their final bit of work simultaneously if possible.  These items/appliances need water and electricity to work and unless the house is a micro-cottage, there will be plenty of room for them both at the same time. Even if they're a day or two apart, things will be fresh in their minds if you have to get them on the phone together to share information.  However, when possible have these two trades trim-out at the end of the job at the same time. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Pig's Ear Insurance: What's Livability Got To Do With It?

What do Tina Turner's legs, Troy Polamalu's hair, and Bruce Springsteen's vocal cords all have in common with the properties I buy to renovate?  They're all insured by  Lloyd's of London in the United Kingdom.  People sometimes think I'm kidding when I share this, but it's true.  Some things that need to be insured are unique, requiring special insurance, and my Pig's Ears (aka extremely run down properties) fall into this group. 

As I was getting ready to close on my current project (The Country Victorian) I realized that I've never written about insurance in any of my previous posts.  Protecting your investment (no matter how much the people around you question it's value) is essential.  Although Step 1 is to take lots of pictures and video before you start working, securing insurance before you take ownership is a must and might seem a little trickier than expected.

A DIYer should not be surprised when the high profile insurance companies are wishy-washy about getting behind your renovation dream with a policy.  From my experience, the more commercials an insurance company has on television, the less likely they'll be to sell you coverage before you start hammering nails.  They'll be more inclined to explain that they can cover your property after you're all finished, but until then they'll basically advise you that they have nothing to offer.  It some times comes down to livability with them needing you to have two of the three systems (plumbing, electrical, HVAC) in working order to get a minimum policy.   This is not a dead end though.  There are independent insurance companies that will write up a policy and can provide needed peace of mind where the big advertisers fall short.  So for the last ten years, Lloyd's of London has been one of the first players on board with me.  I get connected with them by a local agent and since I've stopped living in these houses during the rehab, they insure me with what is called a Vacant Dwelling Policy. 

Also, remember to think in terms of replacement value as you start to make your calls.  You're going to have to pull out the value of the land and think about how much the building(s) is/are worth.  The insurance companies will gladly cover you for an amount that includes the land, but you're not going to get that money if the place burns to the ground so there's no reason to spend money on what you think the entire property is worth.  Focus on the structure(s).

And finally, don't be too surprised if a rogue agent representing a well known company tries to sell you a policy with a subtle expectation that you misrepresent your circumstances/plans to renovate the house.  I've had some agents want me to say I'm living there when I'm not or claim that I'm renting it out so they can sell me a tenant occupied policy.  I don't ever do this.  It's a recipe for problems because it would get really hairy if something happened and I needed the policy.  Don't fudge on the facts.  Tell the truth and shop around until you find a company that will write some insurance that will cover you.  You may have to work the phone for an hour or so and maybe spend a few more dollars, but for me, it's just the best way to go.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

A Business Lesson From Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson

It's hard to go a day without seeing at least one of the bearded faces from Duck Dynasty.  I haven't watched every season, but I've seen enough episodes to have a favorite; it's the one where the guys have a doughnut eating contest, Si wins, has the winning raffle ticket for the camper, and wakes up out in the woods.

My sister gave me Phil's book Happy, Happy, Happy: My Life and Legacy As the Duck Commander for my birthday this past summer and I wanted to share one specific story from it that may be eye-opening for some DIY home renovators.

Halfway through the autobiography the Duck Dynasty patriarch tells of the early days starting Duck Commander.  He received a $25,000, interest free loan from a businessman at his church.  This was his start up money and at the top of his list was a lathe to create the duck call barrels.  He shopped around and located the equipment he needed in Arkansas.  The man asked him how much he had to spend and Phil told him...twenty five thousand dollars.  At the time it seemed like a blessing because the seller advised him that the lathe he was selling was priced at $24,985.  In hind sight it may have been a tongue in cheek figure, but Phil didn't get the joke and paid the price.  Later he realized that the big tool was really worth only $5,000 and the bearded duck hunter writes that it took the family nearly a decade to recover from this con.

If you've read many of my posts you know what I'd have told him: "Get at least three prices on things when you don't know the value."  Three is good, four is better, and five is ideal.  It would have taken some time and effort for Mr. Phil to find two or three other lathes up for sale, but it would've been time well spent.  This is easy for me to say, but I will also credit this mindfulness to a large company I worked for that helped me learn this before I was out working for myself. 

Comparable scenarios happen all the time in the home renovation world.  The greener you look, the more tempted the wrong contractor will be to try to sucker you in to paying too much.  It's real simple.  They ask you something like, "How much do you have to spend?"  And you naively answer the question.  Then oftentimes they try to do you the way that guy did Phil and if you're not careful you'll be into an agreement for something very close to the number you shared or something much higher than you should pay... which to me is just as bad.  This is not the way it should work though.  You simply tell them what you want and they give you a number.  Then, you repeat the same basic scope description (apples to apples) to comparable tradespeople and wait for them to tell you what it will cost in the form of a written quote or bid.  Be straight up with them about what type of work you want them to quote and expect them to be straight forward with you in return.  Ignore any assurances that "Everyone will do the work for some similar price," or "No one will do it cheaper," and push ahead to get more prices. 

Also, I'm ready to haggle at a flea market, in a pawn shop for used tools, or when I'm buying a car, but with contractors quoting me for work, I don't go that route.  Construction renovating is a team effort and I don't do my teammates that way.  I ask them to just give me their best price from the beginning so they can "still make money."  Then I let them take it from there to get as tight as they can with their figures.  I review the bids and choose the best contractor for the job.  Sometimes it's the low number, but not always.  (For more on this topic see Push Hard to Get Quotes.)

So if you want to be happy, happy, happy, don't tell everyone at the poker table what cards you're holding and don't tell bidding contractors how much money you have to spend.  Be ready when they ask, but keep your budget details to yourself.    

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Trentovation of The Country Victorian

If you want to make God laugh,
tell Him about all your big plans.

So I was ready to start our family home project out in Dorchester County, but that's not going to be happening just yet... and that's alright.  I have something equally as challenging and exciting on my schedule as we head into 2014 and I'm ready to get started.  It's a 107 year old house that has it's share of issues, but has a lot of great things going for it and an amazing amount of potential.
The 1906 part of this country house originally totaled about 550 square feet with two rooms, a long hallway from front to back, and a large porch.  Previous owners added 850 sqft. to the back, a side porch that's been enclosed, and an octagon room on the corner 
that creates a Victorian feel.  It has an attached garage that was added in the mid seventies as well as a detached garage under a big old live oak tree in the back yard.  It's a half acre lot with two grand magnolias and at least a dozen flowering crepe myrtles.

The Country Victorian
The total square footage comes to around 1,600 sqft. w/ the garages giving me more than 700 sqft. of space that I'll thankfully make use of during the project.  (For more on working space see The Detached Garage at the Bungalow). 

Right now, it's a three bedroom, two bath home that has the kitchen and dining in the back while the living area is up front.  My plans are centered around relocating the kitchen to the front of the house and opening things up to make the original part of the home an open, larger feeling living space. 

If I'm being brutally honest, my biggest challenge for this project will be juggling contractors, tradespeople, and my own tasks on-site with everything that I need to do for my family at home... and that's also not something I should get too worked up over.  Back when I started, before I had a family, I was really only thinking about jumping back and forth between work on the inside and tasks on the outside, depending on the time of day and weather.  However, as a family man I have to juggle the usual work on my Pig's Ear with getting kids to and from school, child care when they're out of school, yard work, house work, sports practices, games, medical appointments plus all my other family responsibilities that are interwoven with my wife's job.  It's all sort of insane sometimes.

Since the kids have gotten older, it's become more practical to have them on site with me for a couple hours.  It's hard to express how much I really enjoy having them off in a clean corner playing games on their devices, watching a video, or coloring while I work.  It's an extra challenge, but I like having them there happily hanging out while I do some of the same tasks I've done hundreds of times in the past while alone.  They're safe and content while I'm feeling good about making progress on the job.  Maybe I have to bribe them with some ice cream or other treats, but they're typically on-board for short stints.

The next biggest thing I'll be dealing with on the renovation side is the floor system which is rotten and decaying due to moisture/ventilation issues and some termite activity.  I honestly don't know what I'm going to find when I start digging into this thing.  From the outside, it's clear that the house is structurally sound, but walking inside and crawling underneath in the crawl space makes it obvious why no one else wanted to buy this place.  It needs serious work and someone like me with experience taking on old houses that have been through multiple additions.

Bathroom in the Octagon
I'm going to go a different
way with this space.
My wife is predicting that this will be my best Pig's Ear yet.  I can see the potential and appreciate her optimism.  However, I may lose my mind before I get to the finish line on this one.   The Country Victorian will be more challenging than all the others in some unique ways.   It's going to stretch me to my limits physically, mentally, and financially.  As I've said before, I'm not a house flipper.  This is not going to be a 30 or 60 day deal.  I'll be digging in with everything I have, juggling life and work until I get my Certificate of Occupancy.  I don't really use the word rehab as much as renovate.  With this one involving all the juggling as it draws upon all the experience I've gained through past projects, it's going to be more than my typical renovation - this one is going to be a full on Trentovation. 


Monday, November 11, 2013

Step 30 - Interior Caulking & Painting

Caulking and painting on the inside follows Step 29 - Interior Trim.  My budget and schedule determines weather I do this scope myself or if I sub it out.  No two jobs are alike for me in any way and Step 30 is the same...sometimes I paint a little and sometimes a lot.

After years working with experienced painters I've learned enough that I can fake it as a painter when necessary.  I can save you a lot of time by passing on what I've learned pretty quickly and you can use these tips as a good starting point if you're new to home renovating.

Acrylic Latex Caulk Plus Silicone
White 10.1oz. cartridge

Caulking - Less Is More
Caulk makes the paint job look perfect.  I'm not a master carpenter, but caulk can make me look much more skilled than I actually am.  That's just the way it is.  I always use the DAP Alex Plus shown on the right.  I keep a wet rag hanging over my shoulder as I go and I just do small amounts (not more than 20 ounces) at a time.  You have to be ready to get a little messy when you caulk.  You're going to need to use your finger to push the caulk into the joints and smooth things out before it dries.  The caulk will dry fast enough that you need to keep falling back so it doesn't start to set before you have a chance to neaten it up.

As a rule, I juggle the caulking and painting in Step 30 so I'm working an area I caulked earlier (and preferably the day before) so it's totally dry when I hit the area with the paint. 

Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3
Primer - Sealer - Stain Killer
Painting - Keep it Simple
I've tried sprayers, rollers, and countless gadgets to help me paint, but I've grown to not make it harder than it needs to be.  I use only a few different sized brushes, painter's tape, and a standard sized roller.  I prefer Zinsser 1-2-3 for primer and for a lot of my white trim.  Like the Alex Caulk, the Z123 is Interior/Exterior and water based...so it's practical.  You may find or have something else you prefer, but if you're looking for a starting point for painting raw wood white, grab up a gallon of the paint shown to the left and get to work.  For me, it's the stuff. 

I always keep the interior wall colors simple - nothing too bright or exotic.  This creates the look I'm after and I find it to be more practical than lots of colors.  With white trim, I like to do a soft beige on the walls and I'm in the habit of using ceiling paint for the closets, pantry, and laundry room. Painters charge more when you use an array of colors and I get why because it adds time and cost in the form of wasted paint. 

Also, as far as paint finish, I use satin.  Eggshell shows marks too easily and glossy is hard to touch up in small sections.  As far as paint manufacturers go, I use Sherman Williams more than anything else.   I have an account there and they give me a little discount, but they have locations all over plus they have a great product and service that I've found, matches their reputation.     

Finally, a paint contractor stressed to me how important clean up is early on in my career.  This advice has served me well.  So in Step 30, I'm in the habit of rinsing out the caulking rag frequently and cleaning my paint brushes and roller tray right after I'm done.  Just get into a groove of keeping your paint gear clean and this will save you a lot of time and money over the course of your rehab.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Over-the-Rhine - Part 2

Over-the-Rhine - Part 1 (October 7, 2013)

In the summer of 1989, I lived on West McMicken Avenue in Cincinnati.  W.Mc. is a main street through the Over-the-Rhine district until it crosses Vine Street and becomes East McMicken.  I lived on the fringe of this part of the city where this street intersects West McMillan Street that leads up to the University of Cincinnati. 

I lived in a house with other male college students on summer break so I was both fearless and somewhat clueless about living in this sketchy part of town.  The rent was cheap and that was significant.  There was a local bar across the street named The Play Pen that the police visited often in the late hours and although my roommates heard gunshots in the evenings, I never did. 

These were the streets I was running.  Not too dangerous during the day
and it's easy to see that this area had potential.
In those days, I was a college rugby player.  I spent hours in the morning running the streets of the OTR and Clifton while I listened to my R.E.M. and Echo and the Bunnymen cassettes on my Walkman.  Even back then I had goals and dreams of buying and renovating run down properties so I saw the entire Over-the-Rhine part of the city as a neighborhood with tremendous potential.  Not only were these blocks loaded with solid, well-built brick buildings, but this area had unique history that included a time when Central Parkway was the Miami & Erie Canal that ran from the Ohio River up to the Great Lakes. 

The Canal that established the southern border of the Over-the-Rhine
before the Subway Tunnels and Central Parkway.
So as I ran those streets and trained for my sport, I fell in love with the Over-the-Rhine.  Now, years later I'm sad that we didn't get together.  I never got my chance to take on an old building in the OTR, but I enjoy checking in on the area from my home in South Carolina.  I'm excited that things are happening up there.  I'm happy for this special district and glad for Cincinnati.  Although I'm sorry to be missing out on the OTR revitalization, I'm excited to see it happening and envious of the developers, investors, and contractors that are there making it happen without me.

Over-the-Rhine today
My dreams have lead me away from The Queen City.  I'm reading the news of the progress happening in the OTR and now looking forward to the day I can visit to see how the area has been rediscovered.  And maybe, I'll be able to share this special neighborhood with my family someday down the road, and we can walk the streets admiring the architecture after lunch at the new Over-the-Rhine Skyline Chili.  I love and miss Cincinnati.


Monday, October 7, 2013

Over-the-Rhine - Part 1

As much as I love resurrecting an old house, I am equally passionate about saving old buildings of any type.  Embracing the structures that have stood the test of time has value.  Look at Fenway Park in Boston.  People travel to the northeast every season to see the city, sure, but they also want to watch the Red Sox play in their aged venue.  To many, being there, in that old place, is more significant than what's happening on the field. 

I feel the same about old schools, hospitals, churches, warehouses, and most anything that was built well and has withstood time and the wrath of Mother Nature.  The way I size these things up, if it's been around longer than me, than it needs to be rehabbed if possible.  There's so much history and character in our old buildings.  Tearing them down for something new and modern is cheaper and easier, but not always better.  It seems that the older I get, the more I say this, and the stronger my feelings become. 

I live outside of Charleston, South Carolina.  One of the things that factored into my relocation decision years back was that they appreciate old buildings here like I do.  People visit historic places like Charleston, Fenway, Savannah, Georgia, and the French Quarter of New Orleans because of their age and history.  Looking at my opinion while factoring in tourist dollars helps to make my point; it is worth it to save old buildings...spending money to make money.

A great picture of the front entrance of Fenway Park (by Gary Paul Smith)
Gary's Ballpark Blog
Charleston, South Carolina

Savannah, Georgia
The French Quarter of New Orleans
The Over-the-Rhine district of Cincinnati is special to me.  It's not as well known as the areas mentioned above, but I hope that in my lifetime it will be appreciated for what it was, what it is, and what it can be.

The Over-the-Rhine district of Cincinnati

Jump to Over-the-Rhine - Part 2 (October 23, 2013)

History of The Over-the-Rhine



Saturday, September 28, 2013

Our Family Home Project

I haven't been renovating anything recently, but have been focused on building a new home instead.  I love both new construction and rehabbing, but custom homebuilding differs enough from renovating that I've been feeling the new house is outside the scope of BSAPE.  However, my family and I are excited about what I've been digging into, so I wanted to bridge the gap between The Duplex and my next renovation by talking about Our Family Home Project to be built in Dorchester County, South Carolina. 

Although this is a new house, we've made a solid effort to have it appear like an older country home with it's accompanying barn.  The lot is on a prominent corner in the heart of a planned development and the side elevation will be just as impactful as the front view, if not more.  We'll have four bedrooms and three & one half baths.  The house is 2,118 sqft. with the heated and cooled space over the combination garage/carport being another 513 sqft.

Our detached garage is intended to resemble an old tobacco barn that has been converted into a finished living space.  The apartment here has a bedroom, bathroom, living room with efficient kitchen, as well as a small closet designated for a stackable washer/dryer.  This could be used as an in-law suite, a home office space, on-site caregiver quarters, an income producing rental unit, or just a place for visiting guests.  Also, my family has roots in the Pennsylvania Dutch part of the country and the barn signs will be meaningful to my family, but also a detail that'll add some color to our small outbuilding.   

I would like to conclude with a note of thanks to our architect Trevor McNeil Draper.  He took on our project with the thoughtful diligence we needed with experience and professionalism that allowed us to cruise through the developer's approval process.           

Monday, April 29, 2013

Squeaky the Cat

When I was in college I volunteered for a student run experiment that tested and showed how our senses of smell can trigger memories.  In my freshman year, some upper class girls had me smelling perfume and cologne samples while they simultaneously showed me pictures or words.  In round two of these tests, the visual cues disappeared and the young women asked me what I could recall with each scent card.  I remember they were excitedly impressed with the results I helped them compile with each of my correct answers.  I wasn't 100% accurate, but I think I did pretty well and was amazed at how memory is impacted by smell.

Fast forward to 2013.  I'm at home this weekend painting the front door when I start thinking about my old cat Squeaky.  Although he's still alive and well cared for, we've been separated for close to a decade and it was strange.  It took a while to make the connection.

Squeaky loved playing with the lizards he'd spot on the job  site. 
However, the lizards weren't in to it like he was.  This one day, he ripped off
a lizard's tail.  (When this happens, it's like with a snake and the tail still has 
life and moves.)  Squeaky wasn't sure whether he should play with the
moving tail or the lizard who was trying to escape to safety, so he took
them both on and kept bouncing back and forth until the tail stopped.

Squeaky was given to me by a neighbor back in the spring of 2002.  He'd been rescued from some desserted country road and this kind-hearted neighbor decided that I needed a pet.  Squeaky was weak and was given his name by his rescuer because the pitiful sound that came out of his mouth was more like a squeak than a meow.  We didn't think he had much of a chance.  The Fire House was complete and I was busy getting the next project ready for move-in.  The puny kitten was not going to derail my daily routine so I said, "Sure, I'll take him."  Saving houses, saving strays.  I was up for the challenge. 

Squeaky perked up quickly.  He happily lapped up the milk I set out for him and a week or so later he was crunching on cat food like a pro.  At first, The Fire House seemed a little too big for him and he slept with me.  He grew healthy and strong, but didn't fall out of the habit of curling up with me each night.  His routine was consistent, unique, and undetered. He'd hop up onto the head of the bed and wake me with the pat of his paw on my cheek.  If I didn't lift up the covers, he gently scratch my face until I did.  Once he was under the sheets, he'd cozy up to me in a little ball and when he had enough comfort/warmth he'd crawl out in the middle of night and sleep on his own until morning.  This was our drill at The Fire House and this kept on after he moved with me to The Cottage... until I went away for a weekend without him.  I took Frosty, my dog, but left Squeaky (who was more mature and independent) alone to keep an eye on The Cottage.  I guess I should have sat him down for a talk.  He was not happy and that little booger peed on me in the bed two nights in a row while I was sleeping.  Squeaky immediately became an outside cat.  We were still friends, but never slept together again.  Eventually he charmed my neighbor Charlotte and she's been spoiling him ever since. 

Squeaky hanging out with Frosty.  These two were best freinds and
Squeaky would also curl up in a ball on top her when she slept.

Back to April 2013.  I'm painting the door Sunday and being flooded with thoughts of my old buddy Squeaky the Cat.  I'm wondering why until I figure it out: my drop clothe for painting.  I placed it inside the doorway to protect the wood floors.  Squeaky used it for a litter box too.  It's splattered with paint, but I've never felt a need to wash it.  It smells like Squeaky and I don't mind.  He was a good cat. 

He got P.O.'d and I got peed on, but it's all good.  Thinking of you Squeaky.  

Friday, March 15, 2013

Four Singles is a Lot Better Than One Home Run

As I have before, I'm going to rant about sports before I tie it in to the subject of buying and renovating old houses.  I'm a big sports lover and I like to have it on the radio while I'm working (see Appreciation for the Radio), but this lead-in will help me make a point about fixing up houses that are in really bad shape.

Charlie Hustle
A batter steps to the plate and hits one over the fence for a homer.  The next three batters strike out, the team grabs their gloves, and hits the field.  Consider the title of this post and understand that it would have been better if all four batters would have just hit singles.  Same score, 1-0, but then they'd have no outs, with the bases loaded.  That's better than a lead-off dinger chased with three K's by far.  Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth will be remembered as two of the best baseball players ever, but Pete Rose is right there with them.  He may have gambled away his spot in Cooperstown, but I'm a Cincinnati Reds fan, so for me, 4,256 will always be greater than 755 + 714.    

Now on to football.  I'm listening to sports radio today and they're not talking baseball, they're talking NFL, which I love.  To carry my baseball example into pro football, many of the executives and owners are all trying to hit a home run as they approach this year's draft.  They're hoping to find the next star quarterback to build their team around.  They don't want base hits.  They want the big payoff now, even if the odds are against them.  They want to swing for the fences.  

I get what their doing, but it's not a smart move.  Not in the long run.  Playing the lottery is brilliant if they pick your numbers just like drafting John Elway is a great decision if he leads you to five Super Bowls and retires after back-to-back victories in the season finale.  This helps make and break my point at the same time since the Denver Broncos didn't draft Elway, the Baltimore Colts did and Elway used his leverage as a good baseball player to inspire a trade.  Plenty of teams have put all their eggs in one basket and seen that move backfire on them.  I'm not going to list all the QB draft busts over the years, but some of the games greats flew under the radar at draft time before emerging when it counted.  If you're part of an NFL front office, you should make the most of the cream that rises to the top of your organization (Joe Montana, Brett Farve, or Tom Brady) but why put the hopes of your franchise on one guy who had a dozen great games in college? 

Four base hits is better than one hit over the fence.  Having a Michael Vick, a Tim Tebow, a Denard Robinson, (and some other QB that's not a pocket passer) all on your squad for less money is better than a Ryan Leaf if he doesn't pan out or a Greg Cook if he gets hurt mid season.  Why don't the NFL executives consider putting their eggs in multiple baskets?   (See Tim Tebow + Michael Vick + Denard Robinson = the NFL's Moneyball)

Now, to the subject at the heart of BSAPE and extremely run down homes.  I'd love to hit a home run and snatch up an historic antebellum or classic Victorian to buy and renovate... a big, gorgeous half million dollar property.  Truly and with all sincerity I would, but I love to renovate and I'm not willing to spend my life waiting for the stars to align and the perfect property to materialize into my life.  I'll take on a This Old House type home when I get the chance, but until then, I'm going to keep hitting singles and along the way I'm going to keep learning and finding the best ways to do it.  I'll just keep enjoying those base hits, and maybe an occasional double.  And, I'll also be ready to trot around the bases with a grin on my face when my perfect pitch comes and I hit it over the wall.

Maybe you're holding out for a chance to transform something like this...
...into this. 

...when you could be doing this.
This is a big home run too.
I love it.  Well done.

I'm not going to encourage any one to dream small, but don't wait for a Pig's Ear that will be your dream home when you can buy and fix up something on the cheap while you're waiting.  You'll make some mistakes (See Vinny Had the Right Attitude) and be better prepared if/when your ideal home becomes available.  Consider buying a small and available house in a really great neighborhood.  If you take into account that square footage sales prices are going to influence the home's value when your done, this makes solid economic sense.  Plus, it might just be the best way to get your feet wet.

Have a great weekend.


Thursday, March 7, 2013

Step 29 - Interior Trim

When I wrote about Interior Doors (Step 28), I mentioned that each part of the pre-hung door has a purpose and these pieces are not just about aesthetics.  Interior trim is similar since there's most times a reason behind the moulding or decorative millwork.  These fine carpentry pieces were originally sealing up gaps and serving as transitional components of a home where one building material was meeting up with another - for example where brick or plaster met up with wood.  Today, when we see an unaddressed cavity inside an interior living space we recognize it as something that doesn't look good or complete, but the generations that came before us were also installing their small pieces of wood to keep bugs, other small critters, and drafty cold air outside.  I'm not saying they weren't mindful of how things looked, but they didn't weather proof, insulate, and take the same pest control measures as us and interior trim did more in the past then simply close up a gap between two different types of materials.

Also, I will point out that some of our nation's oldest, finest homes had experienced shipbuilders on their crews.  I have an opinion that these skilled tradesmen were sometimes just showing off, that some of these charming details caught on and became trendy, and I will speculate that more than a few of our interior trim preferences are rooted in influences past down to us from the homebuilders of our ancestors.

Keeping some of this in the back of your mind will help in completing this phase of the renovation or construction.

Without giving too much more of a history lesson on interior trim, I'll use chair or dado rail as an example of how some interior trim originally had a purpose.  As the name suggests it's initial intent was connected to chairs since it used to be installed to protect walls from being damaged.  However, most homeowners don't consider that and simply like how it looks.  So, as I mentioned above, interior trim doesn't always serve a purpose, but there's typically a underlying reason beyond appearance and chair rail is a perfect example.

Step 29 is the time to install base to trim out the gap where the walls and the floors meet.  With the exception of rooms with carpet (and areas with wood flooring that needs to be sanded and finished) this is also the time to install quarter round or shoe moulding. 

Casing around doors is typically done with Step 28, but this is the phase to complete any unfinished trim at doors, install window sills, any necessary casing around the windows, and the skirting that trims out the area under the sill. 

As I've said before I like to open things up and Step 29 is when these openings get trimmed out with a wooden sill, the skirting underneath that looks like the trim under the windows, and that's needed.  Interior handrails should also be installed at this stage of the interior work.

It's not uncommon for DIYers to install some trim like wainscoting and crown moulding after moving in, but if these are being installed with the rest of the interior trim during the construction of a new home or a rehab, it should be installed after cabinets, counters, and doors and before the caulking and painting.

Interior trim ties everything together and makes it look complete, but don't be surprised if it doesn't look correct and sharp until after the caulking and painting (Step 30) is done. 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Thinking of Bob Vila

I had boyhood plans to buy and fix-up old houses even before I was a teenager.  I watched This Old House on Saturday Mornings for years even while I was living in a rented apartment.  And I've been a subscription holder to This Old House Magazine for almost a decade and a half.  When I finished The Fire House, I sent thisoldhouse.com some before/after pictures and they featured my first pig's ear on their web page for a few days.  However, the cool honor didn't end there because they also sent me a box of sweet TOH swag; a sweatshirt, a coffee mug, and a couple ball caps.  Maybe my fondness for using these gifts prompted folks to bring up Bob Vila's name while they toured my projects because there was a phase in my life when it seemed like I heard his name thrown out at me quite regularly.  My visitors would say things like, "I wonder what Bob Vila would think of what you've done here?" or "I think Bob Vila would really like how you've saved this old house."     

Vila was the host of This Old House before home renovating and extreme rehabbing shows were staples on networks like the DIY and HGTV.  There's a large chunk of our population that instantly think of Vila when the subject of home improvement comes up and if there was a Mount Rushmore of Home Renovation, I think it's safe to say that Bob's face would be up there.

We live outside of historic Charleston, South Carolina and our peninsula has plenty of amazing old houses.  Along with our vintage architecture, we have a long list of great places to eat.  Hyman's is a popular seafood place on Meeting Street, it's just a block from the old market, and it's at the top of our family's list when we're in that part of town with time to sit down for lunch.  Great food, amazing service, cool atmosphere... we love Hyman's. 

Hyman's celebrates all their famous guests; they have them sign a plate that gets mounted on a wall, they put their signed picture up somewhere in the restaurant, and they attach a small placard on the table to denote where each celebrity sat for their meal.  Last weekend, we were able to squeeze in a lunch at Hyman's and our party of four sat at the Bob Vila Table.  However, if you're a big fan of The Cosby Show or The Cheetah Girls, you might refer to it as the Raven-SymonĂ© Table.  Judge Wapner was the court official who made The People's Court famous and his miniature plack was also on our table for four.  And finally, to round out this visit, we were amused to discover that the colorful sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer had also sat at our table when she ate at Hyman's. 

Can you imagine if this eclectic quartet had all sat at this table the same time?  That would be an interesting conversation.  

So when you have a chance to visit the Lowcountry of South Carolina, I'll encourage you to make time to enjoy some of our antebellum architecture and while you're here be ready to stand in line for a few minutes to eat at Hyman's (there's almost always a line). 

p.s. - try the fried flounder.  

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Welcome Back Rehab Addict

As I've written plenty of times before, I like listening to sports radio while I'm working and my preference is discussions about college and pro football over anything else. 

The completion of Super Bowl XLVII marks the end of football season and the return of the DIY network to our house.  Rehab Addict Nicole Curtis and the network that broadcasts her popular show are not two things that get considered together regularly, but around here they do because of our pay television packages.  In the fall when football starts back up, we upgrade our pay channel package to include the sports channels.  I only want ESPN and ESPN2, but I have to pay for ninety-eight other channels and to make things worse, they pull DIY from our list of options as part of this upgrade.  We still get HGTV, but Rehab Addict is really a DIY show.
If I wanted to have ESPN and DIY we'd have to jump up to an even bigger package and this doesn't make sense for our family.  It's just a waste plus a lot of what we'd get is no good for a house with small kids.  And along with this I'm not interested in writing checks for hundreds of TV channels we won't watch any more than I like wasting time or throwing away building materials that can be salvaged.  

Rehab Addict is a show I really like sitting down for.  I love the attitude of the show and the can-do spirit of NC.  Rehab Addict features my kinds of projects and the people who watch Curtis' show are the same types of DIYers that read my blog; hands-on rehabbers or people with a dream of renovating a run down home of their own.

Like Nicole C. I love the challenge of buying and resurrecting houses most others don't want and we consistently preach similar messages; we share a fondness for ignoring naysayers, we're big on salvaging and recycling things others send to the landfill, we each take pride in solving issues with our heads and stretching our dollars, and neither of us hesitates to roll up our sleeves to get down and dirty when we're the best person to knock out a task.  In addition, we each have our own time tested approaches we're proud of and comfortable with.  And, I think Nicole enjoys encouraging others to do what we do as much as me.

I really love to renovate run down homes and I feel like I get a little fix of my own each time I watch an episode of Rehab Addict.  It's great to see someone take on their projects the way I do and I especially love the moments when my wife watches along and says, "Hey, that's what you always say."  

So as much as I'm sad to see the football season end, I'm glad to have the DIY Channel back. 

Appreciation for the Radio (January 26, 2012)

Rehab Addict Nicole Curtis on DIY  (April 24, 2012)

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Pig's Ears on the Big Screen

There's something intriguing about fixing up an old house and Hollywood taps into this appeal frequently.  Our family is like the rest of our culture in how much we enjoy getting lost in a good movie and extreme renovations are part of some of my favorite films.

Think about some iconic movies where the young couple fixed up a pig's ear (extremely run-down home).  Start with the classic, It's A Wonderful Life (1946).   George and Mary honeymooned at the old Granville house before they fixed it up and raised their young family in it.   Remember how Jimmy Stewart threw a rock at one of the windows while he walked Donna Reed home?  And what about Pacific Heights (1990)?  Melanie Griffith and Matthew Modine fix up that amazing Polychrome in San Francisco before psychotic tenant Michael Keaton moves into the rental unit they need to make the payments and turns their home ownership dream into a nightmare.  Finally, don't forget the heartwarming cartoon Up (2009).  Mr. Fredricksen and his future bride met in the little run-down house as children before they fell in love, fixed it up after they got married, and spent the rest of their lives together there.  That's all part of the reason he's so attached to it and the multicolored little home is a character along with Russell and the talking dog Doug. 

Diane Lane had the starring role in Under The Tuscan Sun (2003) which is at the top of my Hollywood Pig's Ears list.  First, it's about Frances Mayes' adventure in Italy.  I also really love movies based on true stories.  And finally,the plot is structured around her enormous rehab effort.  Look at that picture in the photo to the left; plants overgrown to the point of blocking the door, peeling paint, and nothing to consider too seriously... unless you want to take a run-down home and transform it into something spectacular like Frances did.  If that's the way you think, then you don't get hung-up on the little challenges, you see the potential and all the assets of the property; the solid structure with generations of history to build upon, the architectural details ready to be restored, and the landscape that's waiting to be revitalized.  I look at that house and think, That is my kind of place.   

The Notebook (2004) is really about love in the midst of Alzheimer's disease, but this beloved film does contain an example of a pig's ear renovation.  Midway through, Ryan Golsing works tirelessly to resurrect that Antebellum mansion and this plays an integral part in the storyline because his work leads to his reunion with Rachel McAdams when she spots his photo in a local newspaper article.

When you talk about movies with rehab efforts in the plot, you can't leave out the classic, The Money Pit (1986) starring a young Tom Hanks and Shelley Long.  That big house looked like a beautiful palatial estate until they started making their minor upgrades.  That's when the fun starts... for us. 

In Mulitplicity (1996), Michael Keaton and Andie MacDowell patch things up after he finally finishes their kitchen/house remodelling project.  As a side note, I really love that apartment over the garage where he has his  clones hanging out in secret.  Who doesn't envy having space like that for in-laws and guests to have a home away from home when they come over for an extended visit?  Good stuff.

Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore don't fix up any houses in Ghost (1990), but they do up fit that loft together before they move in, so their capturing the romantic spirit I'm talking about.  People really love the idea of fixing up something and turning it into their home. 

So if that's you, get ready for an adventure like the one's shown on the big screen and mentioned above.  Unlike the films, it will take you longer than a couple hours, but it will also be a lot more meaningful and exciting.  Get ready to take plenty of pictures and video... and enjoy the ride.


Friday, January 4, 2013

Superstorm Sandy Is A Reminder That Insurance Claims Are Complicated

In 2002, I lost a detached garage to a fire when a tree near the structure was struck by lightening (see Fire #2 at The Fire House).  My insurance company concluded that I was due over $5000 for the contents lost and another $10K to rebuild (plus repair some minor damage to the house).  However, the designated dollars to repair and rebuild came with specific strings.  I received a payment for 75% up front, but would not get a full reimbursement until the construction portion was complete.

Explanatory Sections for my Four Reimbursement Checks
What I'm sharing is the bottom line of how things turned out.  The math to get to this point was full of details, deductibles, and percentages.  I've been through multiple college calculus and accounting courses. With that said, the math/computations for my claim were harder than they needed to be.  They left  me scratching my head and wondering, why? 

Once, when I was in Chinatown (New York) I watched a team of resourceful dudes working the crowd using a box as a table on a parking meter, three bottle caps, and a rubber band wound into a ball.  They were playing the shell game with anyone willing to whip out some cash for a chance to double their money.  The complicated calculations and arithmetic thrown at me by the insurance people reminded me in some ways of the mind-boggling shiftiness of those street hustlers.  The insurance company team had a solid sense of what was going on because they went through the drill regularly and I (as the policy holder making a claim) was at their mercy due to my lack of experience.

This gets me to the people of the East Coast with losses from Hurricane Sandy.  They are in the middle of a messy situation and part of the problem is the insurance companies.  If it sounds like I'm blaming the insurance industry for the problems in the aftermath of Sandy, I don't intend to.  These are not monks, nuns, and future saints, the agents and the powerful companies they represent are business people.  Businesses are focused on the bottom line and the more money they disburse to their policy holders the less they have for themselves and their shareholders.

Politicians were not involved in my garage fire, but if you've seen the news in the last two months it's obvious that they're wrapped up in Hurricane Sandy and I see this as part of the problem more than the solution.  Our Washington legislators get a lot of money for reelection campaigns from the Insurance Industry.  Once again, the insurers are just looking out for their own interests, most obviously money.  If the Insurance Industry can pass off any part of the expense to us, the American people, that's better for them.  Furthermore, do I believe the insurance industry wants to cut checks to rebuild after Sandy?  I do not.  They will because they have to, but not because they want to and when a camera is around they do it with a smile.  I think it works to their advantage to have the national reps in Washington in the picture so they can justify some postponements of claims and explain that they're waiting for the folks in D.C. to take anticipated action.  And no matter how much the taxpayers help out now, the insurance companies are still going to cover themselves by raising home insurance rates and using Superstorm Sandy as their justification.  They must have money in the vault for the next storm and they'll get it from us because they can.

I rebuilt the Hurricane House sixteen years after Hugo hit South Carolina and I'm certain that more than a few homes on the East Coast will still be in need of repair from Sandy in 2028, sixteen years after the superstorm.  It won't always be tied back to politicians and insurers, but in some cases it will. 

My garage fire claim was basic.  Replacement of a small, two-car garage, the contents, and some money for damage done to the house.  The people in the East Coast have bigger and more intricate claims and if the numbers and percentages are as twisted up as mine were, that just adds to their confusion...but that's how the shell game works.