Thursday, April 30, 2015

Step 33 - Door Hardware, Mirrors, Bathroom Accessories, Shelving, & Cabinet Knobs

You don’t really have to wait until the plumbing, electrical, and HVAC are complete in order to start Step 33.  However, it’s a lot easier and you’ll have a better chance of doing things right the first time if you just plan to dig into all these important little things after the systems trades have passed their inspections.  You can set up lights with extension cords running to your temp pole and you can guess where some plumbing and electrical fixtures are going to go (while you either sweat in the heat or shiver in the cold) if you like, but it always makes sense for me to be prudently patient and just wait. 

Door Hardware - I like to get into a groove with these and go room-by-room with all my hand tools, a bucket to sit on, and a trash bag.  This hardware doesn’t usually all go in smoothly.  Some of the sets will, but others will require some careful adjusting so the doors open and shut properly.  If they all go in without any problems or issues, you may have accidentally slipped into The Twilight Zone so proceed with caution.

Mirrors/Medicine Cabinets – Not too much to say about bathroom mirrors.  You’ll really need light fixtures to be installed before you can place these where you need/want them.  Basic safety and the possibility of seven years of bad luck are your biggest concerns with this; if necessary, plan ahead to have an extra set of hands around to help with a large mirror.  Also, I’m a big fan of medicine cabinets.  You don’t really think about them until you’re living in the house, but if/when you remember to install them, you’ll really appreciate having them. 

Bathroom accessories -  If you’ve never hung towel bars, TP holders, and rope hooks, I’ll encourage you to take your time and use the templates that the manufacturer will include in the box.  And make sure you use some sort of level.  A torpedo or 2’ level will work a lot better than a Carpenter's four footer.   

Shelving – Now here’s an example of something that really needs to wait until power is on to the house.  Most closets won’t have windows and you need adequate light to hang shelves in closets.  Pantry shelves in the kitchen and coat or linen closets in a hallway may be a different story,  but you'll be better off to have electricity so you can see.  And just like door hardware, I like to go closet-by-closet and do all of these at once.  The rubber covered white shelving from the box stores works great for most projects, but sometimes, for a higher-end home, wood shelving is a better choice because the wire shelves can look cheap and out of place in a home where everything else costs a little more. 

Cabinet Knobs -  You know the Carpenter's Rule = Measure Twice, Cut Once.  Well here's another; The Cabinet Installer's Rule = Measure Three Times, Drill One Hole.  I just made that one up myself.  Be really careful with the placement and drilling of holes for the knobs in your kitchen and bathroom doors/drawers.  Here's another suggestion:  Start in the bathroom.  If you mess up there, it will be less noticeable and you really want to know what you're doing when you get to the kitchen.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

“What’s the most difficult part … ?”

Over the years of renovating really bad houses, people have asked me often how I go about it; buying, working through each phase, and then selling.  It’s not rocket science, but it can be tricky when you’ve never done it before.  Another question that people sometimes ask me goes something like, “What’s the hardest part about fixing up a place like this?”  People want to know.  Is it nasty bathrooms or kitchens?  Is it the neighbors?  Snakes?  Dead animals that I’ve had to deal with?  Finding contractors?  Inspectors?  What’s the thing… the one challenge or issue that consistently has to be overcome on all of these pig’s ears.

It took me a few years and multiple properties to really know how to answer, but I did figure it out.  Finding the right property is the hardest part about what I do.  I look at hundreds of properties, do dozens of drive-bys, have a bunch of walk-thrus/showings, and typically make multiple offers before I actually take ownership of the right one.   There are a lot of house flipping and home renovation shows on television that show how exciting and do-able it is and in some ways it seems as if there are now even more people out there trying to find homes to fix up.  That competition may add to the challenge of the property search, but there are a lot of things that make it easier to find the right project.  It’s definitely better than it used to be in many respects. 

When I started doing this, everything was different; classified ads and For Sale signs were where the search started.  I still look for the realtor signs in front yards, but the classifieds is not too useful to me anymore.  The computer helps so much now.  It’s amazing the amount of information you can get in your living room, not to mention away from home on your mobile phone, laptop, or tablet.  You still get the best feel for an area by driving and looking or getting out and walking around, but everything is on-line now in a way that helps you do your homework even before you call to get inside a potential project house. 

Take advantage of all the on-line resources and don’t be overwhelmed by all the info.  Enjoy it.  There are so many ways to get smart on a prospective property.  Be thankful there’s so much information out there.  And I’m talking free, public info.  You don’t have to subscribe to something or pay to have someone do your research.

The real estate sites are a great place to start.  Carolina One here in the Lowcountry is an example of one of the best sites I've found.  It's extremely user friendly.  Also, county governments have property records on-line now.  They’re all different, but not too hard to get a feel for once you get logged in and start figuring them out.  Google Maps is really useful as well and seems to be getting better all the time.  You get the street view and the satellite look for a bird's eye view.  You get a great overhead shot of the property you’re interested in and everything around the house.  You can do your due diligence so much easier now which makes the search more productive.  Finding the right property is still the toughest part of what I do, but I love it too and it's part of the fun.

One suggestion to remember (comparable to the advice you'd give a young person entering the dating world):  Don't fall in love with the first or second house you see.  Finding the right property can be a long process.  It can take weeks, months, and maybe longer.  Getting hung up on one property too soon is easy to do.  Try to avoid this little pitfall and keep your business hat on without too much emotion until you own the house.  That's when the real work and the love begins.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Step 32 - HVAC Start-Up

For this guy, HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) start-up comes after the electrician and plumbing crews have trimmed out (See Step 31).  As the homeowner/general contractor I may need to facilitate a little dialogue between these different crews, maybe even get them on the phone together if someone’s not on site, but for the most part I just let the heating and air team in the house and stay out of their way.  They’ll know what to do and all I might do is slow them down by asking too many questions while they work. 

All three trades (plumbing, electrical, and heating/cooling) can be there at the same time in order to meet schedule demands, but it usually makes sense for the elec. and plumber to get a head start.  The electrician will run power to any HVAC unit(s) and if the equipment is gas powered, that gas line work will be completed by the plumber.  The HVAC team can’t finish their part without the other two. 

The heating and air crew will have some trim out of their own; vent covers for registers, return air grille(s) and filter(s) as well as installation of thermostat(s).  These activities are not going to take a lot of time.  They’re important and will help make each room look complete, but they’ll be done quickly.  The HVAC contractor could easily knock this all out while he’s waiting for the plumber or electrician to tie up any loose ends before he confirms that their unit is ready to heat and cool the house.  Then, be around and ready to ask questions about operating the unit after they have everything in working order. 

Finally, be ready to write a check once the crew passes any required inspections.   Larger companies will probably give you thirty days to pay, but smaller operators will need to be paid as soon as they're finished.   And when you hand over the payment, this is the time to accept paperwork such as the owner's manual and warranty certificate's.  Make sure the technician has filled in any model and serial number info. then fill out your part and mail it in.  

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Fighting For Kids by Jane Watt

I’m mindful about staying on topic as I blog.  Clearly, BSAPE is about home renovating and construction, but as I’ve said before it’s about doing the impossible.  My pig’s ears have been seemingly daunting endeavors, at least to others observing, but to me they were just projects, fun challenges, and in most cases they’ve been worthwhile missions.  I sure never felt like I was heading down a road that was a waste of my time, but at the end of many projects, it's seemed to those watching as if I'd done something beyond possible.
Enough about me.  Let’s talk about author Jane Watt who is the Board Chairperson at the Marco Island Academy in South Florida.  Jane and the folks she was leading persevered through some unimaginable craziness and did what some dared to say could ‘never’ be done.  They did the impossible.
I just finished her book Fighting For Kids:  Battles to Create a Public Charter School and it's an amazing story.  Jane initially went to a meeting years ago to find out how she could maybe stuff some envelopes and help the area start a new school.  However, she quickly found herself in more of a leadership role at the forefront of this quest.  This grass roots effort grew into an ugly battle, and then something of a war with Jane as the general for the rebels.  It got dirty and complicated and she and her troops kept finding a way to navigate the turbulent waters and push on.
Chapter by chapter it’s obvious to how tuned-in Jane is to all of those who made the victory possible; talented, resilient, and committed people who helped her fight for the kids in their district.  However, it seems to me that Jane has been the steady constant, who was there from the beginning, who weathered the rejections, attacks, and endless nonsense that culminated in well deserved success for the children and the school.

I don’t want to say too much more because you have to read the book for yourselves.  Fighting For Kids is more than about education and charter schools; it’s an American story with Jane, the wife and mother next door, refusing to back down from a colossal challenge while struggling, sacrificing, and working tirelessly to try to make things better for the next generation.

You may also like It's Possible (Oct. 4, 2011)
or Taking On Risky Challenges Is The American Way (April 26, 2014)

Friday, April 3, 2015


I’ve been snorkeling a few times.  I enjoyed it.  I was able to swim in the clear waters of the Caribbean and once got to spend a few hours diving the underwater terrain of the Great Barrier Reef.   Awesome!

In those moments I was mindful of the special circumstances I found myself in, but looking back now, it happened way too fast in many ways.  I was surrounded by colorful flora and fauna and off the coast of Australia there were the amazing coral polyps.  I grew up in the Midwest where we did our swimming in lakes, creeks, and swimming pools.  In many ways I was raised as a landlubber so when I’m out in open water equipped with snorkeling gear, I’m thinking quite a bit about staying afloat, blowing out water, and not drowning.  However, I was sure to appreciate these extraordinary moments until eventually, I swam to the beach or climbed back into a boat and reflected within more familiar conditions as I walked, stood upright, or sat while breathing and talking comfortably.  

In some ways, I’m resurfacing now; as a blogger and as a freelance home renovator.  I’m getting back to normal after the extraordinary experience of being on camera filming the rehab of The TV House.  Like with the snorkeling, I was out of my typical circumstances and I’m just now reflecting on what happened.  Like with the underwater experiences things occurred way too fast in that it was sometimes hard to appreciate them in the moment because I was so busy thinking, describing what I was doing, and trying to not drown (so to speak)… on camera. 

In the waters around the Bahamas, I was able to swim amongst cool fish that seemed almost florescent in how brightly they stood out in the clear water.  Comparatively, I just had the pleasure of working with some amazing production people during the filming of American Rehab Charleston.  Talented, funny, and colorful themselves in the stories they brought with them and in the way they diligently and methodically work at their craft. 

At the Great Barrier Reef, I was able to see and experience something big and extraordinary, in person, in front of my own eyes.  The production side of The TV House was similar for me.  For years people have told me, “You should be on TV.  You should be on one of those home renovation shows.”  And now, I was able to do it.  It was extraordinary.  It was large and impressive to see for myself, to be in the middle of, to experience first hand.  Like being at the GBR, I wasn’t watching all the production activity on a screen or looking at it in a picture, I was there.  Also awesome!     

In resurfacing, I’m getting back to normal.  I’m writing again, which I’m finding I need to do more than I just want to do and I’m finishing The TV House, which I want and need to do.  I’m back to living and working without cameras as I reflect on my experiences filming the show.  It was hard work; crazy, hectic and dirty as construction renovations always are, but it was a tremendous experience having the production crews here, good times and great moments that I don’t want to forget about anytime soon.