And So It Begins!

The Gingerbread Diaries

Our first room renovation has finally gotten off the ground!

Friday night, after chattering to Todd over dinner about where I though we might start, I noticed he wasn’t exactly jumping for joy at the prospect of a weekend spent tearing down walls.

Jenn: Am I being annoying?
Todd: No, not really.
Jenn: Am I micro-managing?
Todd: Maybe a little.
Jenn: Is that annoying??
Todd: Maybe a little.

In his defense, I was trying to put together a week-by-week plan to make sure we could meet our proposed deadline. It went something like this:

  • Week 1: Take the room down to studs
  • Week 2: Build new wall*
  • Week 3: Electrical and plumbing**
  • Week 4: Drywall and painting***
  • Week 5: Sink/commode-side tiling****
  • Week 6: Sink/commode installation; tub-side tiling
  • Week 7: Install tub
  • Week 8: Finishing touches

But he must have gotten into the spirit of the project because he got up and wiggled some loose clapboards out of the way, just to see what things looked like inside the walls. And on Saturday afternoon we started working on the wall in earnest. Before I get to the what all those asterisks mean, here, have a video!

(Direct link for the feed readers: Gingerbread Diaries 2.3: Downstairs Bath Renovation, Week 1)

*A New Wall, Where Once Was Hall

So, my big idea a few weeks ago was that we could put a pocket door for the bathroom and it would a) be cool, because pocket doors are automatically cool, and b) save some usable space in the hallway since that door is usually half-open, unless the room is occupied. I have Yellow Brick Home to thank for that mini-epiphany–they were talking about an impending barn door project, I believe, which led me on a short path to pocket doors. Then I had the idea that we could gain a little more elbow room in the bathroom by bumping out the wall to where the pipe chase extended. It’s only about 6-8″ so it won’t impact the hallway in any huge way but I think those 6 inches will make a big difference for anyone washing their hands at the new sink.

This does mean, however, that we have to build in support for this wall by adding joists under the house. Thankfully this part of the house is 3-4 feet off the ground, so Todd’ll have room to work under there no problem, but we do have to cut into the existing floor to make it happen, so, yeah. That won’t be happening on a week night, it’s definitely a start early Saturday morning sort of project.

**Electrical and Plumbing in Stages

Everything in the room is moving, so almost all the supporting elements need to move, too. There’s an air vent under where the tub will go that will be re-routed to under the window, and an electrical outlet just above it that will move over to the new wall, under the light switch and next to the sink. I think. Then, of course, there’s the plumbing lines that all have to be moved.

Which ties into…

***Piece-meal Drywall and Painting

One thing we learned when we opened up the ceiling is that we do have room to raise the ceiling, at least on the hall-side, and slope it towards the exterior wall. This will make it feel less cave-like. There’s one pipe in the way, a big cast iron deal, that is the current commode’s vent. Because it’ll need to stay where it is (same with the vertical stack behind the current commode) until the new toilet is in place, that means the ceiling will need to be done later than the rest of (most of) the drywall. This is an inconvenience I can live with in exchange for higher ceilings.

Here’s a question–would you do the drywall and painting before you tile, or after? I think before, that way you’re not slopping paint over freshly laid tile and grout and have to be less careful. Not to mention this would also be before the fixtures go in and less funny angles to work in and around. Todd says it’s usually done the other way around. I suppose it doesn’t matter tremendously, since we’ll be doing things in a somewhat wonky order, anyway.

****Tiling Half the Room at a Time

Now, my one requirement for this project is that the room remain essentially functional for as long as possible. Which means that I don’t want the current toilet removed before the new one is installed. This is why half the room will be completed (walls, tiles, etc.) before the other half. Normally I’d want to be as efficient as possible, knocking all the drywall out at once, all the tile, all the painting. This is also a nod to Murphy’s Law, and a hedge against unforeseen delays, etc. I’d rather have guests using a half-finished bathroom downstairs than make them go upstairs, should we not make our deadline.

Ideally we’ll be able to work on smaller projects or tasks during the week, but I don’t want to depend on that too much since I know how our evening hours often find us drained or trying to take care of normal day-to-day stuff. And there are a few things that I can take care of on my own like fixing the window (more on that, later) and repainting the tub and painting and so forth when the time comes. At this stage of the game, though, it’s mostly Todd’s department since we’re dealing with structural stuff that I’m not as familiar with.

As far as budget goes, if you read the earlier post on the bathroom plans, I guesstimated about $2000 for the whole room, and we’re right around $400 spent so far. (Though that does include the reciprocating saw and blades, something that’ll be in use for far more than this one use, so give or take ~$100.) Still plenty left for drywall, tile, paint, and fixtures (and who knows what else).


A not-so-glamour shot of the wall-less bathroom after Sunday’s efforts.

While tearing down the walls we learned a few things:

  • The braintrust that built this room appears to have used floorboards for the walls. We thought it was beadboard, but that was just the “creative” spacing of the floor planks. It also meant that instead of removing panels, the walls came down one stubborn board at a time.
  • There’s evidence of fire damage in some of the studs and braces. Now, we know the upstairs caught fire in 1939, and the abundance of square nails in the framing leads us to believe this room might have been enclosed before the fire and suffered some damage during it. Whether it was a bathroom back then or not is anyone’s guess.
  • There’s a good chance that every time I ask Todd “Would you normally use <insert material or technique>?” Todd’s answer is going to be “If you’re going cheap.” This was the case for only putting a vapor-barrier on half the ceiling (of course the half that didn’t have the leak!), using quarter-round in front of the exiting baseboards (our stellar contractor’s option), and using larger quarter-round to “fill” an interior corner, among other things.This room was definitely the best first room to tackle in many regards!
  • We really need a shop-vac! (And a second pry-bar would have come in handy; you might notice in the video we keep trading the hammer and pry-bar depending on what section of wall we’re working on.) Dust masks are a must on this sort of project and my gel knee pads saved me when I was crawling around removing quarter round and baseboards. I have a feeling they’ll be a lifesaver when it comes time to tile!

That’s our progress so far! The next update (I hope to be able to do these weekly as the project continues) will include framing the new wall and installing the pocket door.

The Saga of the Roof

The Gingerbread Diaries

Alrighty then, let’s tell this tale!

But first I want to point out that, despite everything you’re about to read, I do not regret making the choices we did (i.e., our contractor) because, ultimately, those decisions allowed us to own the Gingerbread Dollhouse. At the time the decision had to be made we were working with limited options, the thinning patience of the sellers, and a narrow window of what the bank would agree to. We made it work because we had to. And we will still make it work.

We clear? Okay. Remember (or be aware, for those new to the Dollhouse stories), we closed April 14, 2014, we had to wait until early May on a revised contractor license (individual vs company name on the license) before the permits could be pulled, and the roof was the first thing done on the house. We moved in the last weekend of June, just prior to the hottest July on record.

So, how on earth did it get to the point where I was sending this email in November?

Nov 24, 2014

To: L***, S*****

Unfortunately this weekend’s rain proved, once again, too much for whatever part of our roof is allowing water into the house. The leak was, thankfully, not severe, but even one drop in my hallway is one drop too many, and there was more than that yesterday afternoon/evening.

To reiterate, as of the completion of the contracted renovations in July (the roof having been installed in May), I have had to call L*** to report leaks on the following occasions:

July 12
August 6
August 30
September 3
October 14 (contacted S***** first)
November 24

6 leaks in 6 months is ridiculous. I think another pair of eyes (S*****) needs to assess this issue so that an actual solution can be found, not a temporary patch. A roof is expected to last decades, not mere months, and I am rapidly losing patience with this situation.

It started 2 weeks after we moved in when a bit of a storm rolled through. I was shocked to find water inside instead of out!


Please forgive the typos…

And, to his credit, he came out on a Sunday afternoon with his son and his ladder and they climbed up there are pronounced the problem to be some caulk that had shrunk as it cured and left some gaps. No problem to fix, they said.

It was on this visit that I asked about the warranty (I have yet to receive anything in writing on either his labor warranty or the shingles).

The next time it rained I kept nervously checking the hallway and downstairs bathroom, the two places prone to let the water in, and nothing happened. Okay, I thought, last time was just a blip, it’s all good.

You didn't think it'd be that simple, right?

You didn’t think it’d be that simple, right?

This was our dance: the every-other-rain tango. There’d be water in the house, I’d text, he’d come out, target something else, it’d hold for one storm, then we’d do it all again. The third time it happened I was losing my patience. We wanted to be able to move forward with house repairs, to replace that nasty used-to-be-outside-now-it’s-inside wall that has seen so very much water damage over the years, but how can you do that if the water is just going to keep coming in.

Scraps gets feisty!

Scraps gets feisty!

I’ve tried transferring the video mentioned in the text but it appears locked on my phone for the time being. Here is a still, though, that shows what we were seeing when we crawled shoulder-up into the “attic” above the back hall. (And when I say we, I absolutely mean Todd as the combination of a ladder and a damp, dark, cramped space is a combination I have no intention of putting myself into. My phone is my periscope.)

The problem child of the Gingerbread Dollhouse.

The problem child of the Gingerbread Dollhouse.

From what we could tell, the flashing (that, for those unawares, exists to channel water that might slip under a shingle or two along a joist and out, or something like that) ends at this supporting wooden pillar. Wherever the water was coming from (because it’s also true that water will find the path of least resistance, so it doesn’t have to be coming from directly above when it has a nice alley to travel down) if was getting into our hallway and bathroom here.

I pretty much gave L one more shot before I contacted S (S being the contractor of record, with L doing the actual work). He met Todd out at the house and did something (I don’t even remember what he claimed to do at this point), and told Todd that if that didn’t work, he had one more thing he could try.

Now, I ask you, how many times would you ask the same person to fix the seemingly same problem without getting results before finding another solution? The “definition of insanity” saw comes to me, you know? But since he claimed he had one more fix (which begs the question why he didn’t do that in the first place), I let him come back when, in short order, the “fix” proved useless.

It so happens that the “final” solution was to add additional flashing (this time to the exterior of the roof, because to do otherwise would require removing a bunch of the single-story roof or some such). It also happened that this was a day I was at home, sick, and trying desperately to rest on the sofa while they banged away on the roof. I didn’t even go out and say anything to them about it because I wanted my damn roof fixed and if adding a headache onto the existing aches and pains was how I was going to get it, so be it!

The "beautiful" job they did of adding in the afterthought flashing--photo by Todd this January while he was up on the roof (because you know I'm not getting out there!)

The “beautiful” job they did of adding in the afterthought flashing–photo by Todd this January while he was up on the roof (because you know I’m not getting out there!)

Too bad it didn’t work.

That’s when I called S****, asked him to take care of it, and he had a talking to with L*** as to what needed to be done. Suddenly it was all the fault of that pillar/post thing, you know, where the flashing stopped that we talked about back in August (it was mid-October, now) creating an uneven surface in the roof. If that’s so, then why in the hell didn’t they a) take care of it when they put the new roof on, or, b) fix it the last 4 times you’d been out?!

At this point I was also exploring whether we had any recourse through the bank (since they had their hands in the renovation–no go there). And getting more and more clear with L*** that I was about ready to get someone else to fix it and that, after spending more than $12K on a roof 6 months prior I was not going to be the one paying for the fix!

I have no idea what (if anything) they did in October. I remember he was trying to tell me, at some point, that it wasn’t the roof that was the problem it was the exterior of the home (he mentioned that in August, too, not that he made any move to do anything about it then, either), a matter of relative pressures, and the water was actually defying gravity and scooting up under the clapboards (up being the key word).

Now, okay, there’s actually precedent for differing pressures in and outside of the building envelope to create those kinds of situations, though the only references I’ve really been able to find were in commercial buildings, not clapboard Victorians, but whatever. My bullshit detector was pretty much pinging in the red with him by this point. I reminded him that one of the many tasks he had during the renovation was to check out and replace any bad boards on the house as part of the exterior work–he had his hands (or, well, his crew’s hands, and I’ve already theorized on that point) on every exterior inch of the house, so an error there was his responsibility to catch before now. I also questioned the premise that, if it wasn’t, in fact, the roof, then why in the hell did his previous roof “fixes” all see to work, even if only temporarily?!

Like I said, BS-meter overload.

That final email in November has them out at the house again, Thanksgiving weekend no less, patching yet another spot (oh, yes, on the roof again) and testing other areas.

The diagnosis this time? That it wasn’t the roof (then what the hell did they fix when the hose-test caused the water to come again while he was standing with his head in the attic?!), it was actually the water falling from the upstairs roof, hitting the downstairs roof, bouncing up several feet, and entering through—dun dun dun—the casing of the upstairs bathroom window! *gasp*

He caulked the window, explained that it would hold a while but not forever, and strongly suggested installing gutters.

I certainly hope he didn’t think I’d ask him to install them!

The front of the house shows no signs of renovation, the back, though, is a patchwork of rooflines and angles. This is the offending edge from whence our troubles, apparently, spring.

The front of the house shows no signs of renovation, the back, though, is a patchwork of rooflines and angles. This is the offending edge from whence our troubles, apparently, spring, and the beginning of Todd’s gutter additions on the left.

Now, it’s been several months since their last visit (November) and several months since Todd started installing the gutters (January) and I don’t want to jinx us, but since then we’ve been drip free. Being just one dude, awesome though he may be, means that pretty much one section of gutter is going up a weekend (if that). The uppermost roof-line will probably require a scissor lift or cherry picker and the aid of a brother or friend or all of the above, but so far, so dripless.

While I’ve been adamant that they would get the roof fixed one way or another, when it comes to the rest of their handiwork I’ve pretty much given up. The sections of floor they replaced were not done well. In the back hallway you can clearly see where the screws holding down the cement board are attached because they raise little tents in the vinyl flooring. There are puckers in said flooring where tubs or refrigerators sit. And there’s a section in the kitchen that is compressed or something (supposedly the stuff they used is like hardie board, but for floors) and I swear one of these days I’m going to put a high heel through the vinyl and get stuck. We’re not sure if it got crushed pre-install, or if it’s where some corners are meeting, unsupported. Either way, we’ll deal with it when we redo those areas ourselves. Because I’m bound and determined not to have that man back in or near my house!