Baby, It’s Cold INSIDE

The Gingerbread Diaries

Things have been a mite chilly at the Gingerbread Dollhouse lately, though it wasn’t exactly a huge problem until this weekend.

It started just before Thanksgiving when we noticed that the downstairs heater didn’t seem to be doing much. Turns out it wasn’t doing anything–no heat or even air of any kind. There was a slight cold snap, we tried to call someone to come out, but it was the holiday week and nothing happened. Things warmed up, and it was put on the back burner. Meanwhile, we enjoyed the lowest utility bills we’ve seen in ages.

Sure, there was that one morning I was working on a blog post before work and I kept making typos because my fingertips were numb, but it usually wasn’t that bad.

And then there was a pretty nasty set of temperatures predicted for the end of last week–lows in the 30s and highs in the 40s, freeze warning weather. And we were still sans a functioning furnace.

Todd finally found someone to come out and take a look and it turns out the inducer motor was completely rusted out. And, of course, it wasn’t a part they had in stock so it was doubtful they could get it in before the first of the week. Fortunately, there must have been one nearby because on Friday afternoon there was a tap at the door (sending Duncan into a frenzy) and a stranger telling me he’d fixed the furnace and we could turn it back on.

Let me just point out that people in Thomasville are awfully trusting. I’m not sure that any service person in Tallahassee would have left without me signing something and leaving the bill, much less without collecting payment. But no, I didn’t even get his name. They hadn’t even called Todd to say they’d be coming back out that day.

The point is moot, however, since the furnace isn’t exactly fixed. They may have replaced the rusted motor, but no amount of cajoling could elicit anything more than cold air from the vents Friday night.

Fortunately the upstairs furnace has kept working, so it was slightly warmer upstairs when we went to bed. Saturday morning there was a very noticeable 10 degree difference between upstairs and down, and Todd went out and picked up some space heaters to get us through the weekend. Those and warm socks and blankets made the weekend bearable.

Hopefully, they’ll be able to come back out today and troubleshoot the remaining issue. Chances are it’s something simple–we reset to breaker and did what we thought to do, but there could be a reset button hiding somewhere (like the issue with the water heater from way back)–and we’ll feel silly for not realizing it. As long as we get the heat back on before the next set of cold night. it’s okay with me.

Hope your weekend was warmer than mine!


We Have a Door!

The Gingerbread Diaries

It doesn’t have a wall, yet, but that’s just details.


Considering how many doors we’ve removed in this house, you’d think adding one back wouldn’t exactly make me jump for joy, but this one’s different. This one, the pocket door we bought last week, is replacing one of the largest eyesores in the house, one we see every day when we walk in the back door.

So, yeah, it’s a big deal.

(Direct link for the feed readers: Gingerbread Diaries 2.4: Downstairs Bath Renovation, Week 2)

When I said that I thought we’d done most of the demo last weekend? Yeah, so not the case. We’d done the impressive part, but the fiddly bits of getting the small sections of the hallway that will become the bathroom took almost as much time and effort to remove as the entire interior wall structure! So, yeah, the devil’s in the details and all that.

Then we had to do something that you can’t even see: install the new joist. That meant cutting away a 10″ or so strip between the old bathroom wall and where the new one will be. And while Todd was getting ready to do that, we found this:

That would be, starting from the upper right corner, the original porch flooring, the old pressboard and vinyl tile that were to be removed during the renovation, and the new concrete board the contractor placed on top of all that mess. Not pictured is the new vinyl flooring they put in (it's folded back).

That would be, starting from the upper right corner, the original porch flooring, the old pressboard and vinyl tile that were to be removed during the renovation, and the new concrete board the contractor placed on top of all that mess. Not pictured is the new vinyl flooring they put in (it’s folded back).

Seriously, folks. What the ever-lovin’ hell was that contractor thinking?! Yes, I told him I would be replacing the floor **covering** in the next two years (so I didn’t want to pay a lot for the material we’d be ripping out) but I didn’t realize that translated to half-assing the whole thing?! No wonder the back door wouldn’t open after they installed the new floor! So aggravating.

It was (and is) irritating, but it’s not the end of the world. Todd was planning to replace the sub-floor anyway, apparently (I thought we’d only have to patch where plumbing had been, though hindsight shows a full new floor is the better route even then). We also had to have a conversation about just how far to build the floor up, then–to be level at it’s current height or to build it up to meet the level of the dining room. The hall is the part in play, since it’s something like 20° off from one side to the other, and I don’t mind a slight step down between the hall and bathroom, but Todd ultimately decided that he’d rather do two layers of plywood subfloor for added strength as well as to bring it up to approximately the right level, and go from there. It’s a small room, the extra materials aren’t going to kill the budget, and it’s probably the best solution in the long run.


But before we could get the joist in we needed to make a Lowe’s run for longer nails. We were able to borrow a truck from Todd’s office and picked up the dryall for the new wall and plywood for the floor (which are both chilling on the front porch for now) along with the nails, ear protection for me, the 2x2s to (I believe) reset the hall ceiling, etc. that we had to cut into and a shop-vac. We’re now closing in on $700 of the budget spent, including the tools, so that’s not too bad.

Now, I hate vacuums with a passion, but I wanted the shop-vac because sweeping was just not cutting it for the debris we were creating and my ancient vacuum would not have been able to hack it. Not that I’ve actually used Robbie the ShopVac yet (it reminds me of Robbie the Robot and I like to name things; like the puppies on the Puppy Cam on Animal Planet Live we kept checking in on between tasks last weekend; they were ardorable), but Todd has and it definitely does its job. Just like the reciprocating saw, that thing has been put through its paces and is making life so much easier!

Saturday evening felt a lot like when we first bought the house: construction debris in the back hall, a trip to Lowes, and a swing through a drive-thru because we’d skipped lunch. Unlike those early days, though, we couldn’t pack up and head back to a separate house in another state when we were through, but that’s not such a bad thing.

Sunday’s big job was installing the new wall framing. It looks deceptively simple, folks. And I know the saying goes “measure twice, cut once” but it’s really somewhere along the lines of measure half a dozen times, cut it, try to install it and find that it’s still just a hair off, and while we’re at it let’s review the way we were going to install this framing in general. But my incessant question-asking actually helped because we figured out a better way to deal with the studs and the brace along the top and all was well.

Unlike last week we (and by we, I mean Todd) actually made some evening progress during the week. We had to re-position the pocket door studs (which necessitated trip #3 to Lowe’s–it’s officially a project by Todd’s standards, now–for more screws) after placing them at the wrong intervals the first time and then we could finally remove the rest of the wall framing from the old bathroom wall. Last night Todd got in there, even though he got home 2 hours later than he’d planned, and ripped out the old ceiling beams and, folks, we’re talking major transformation here.


The old ceiling met the wall just above the window (below the 2×4) and extended straight across. We’re regaining only about 4″ on the window wall but on the door wall we’re talking several feet. This room will no longer feel like a hovel and it’ll actually fit in with the rest of the house! It’s a small thing, folks, but this feels super big to us.

Because that last bit was going on right up to 10 o’clock last night, the video won’t be posted to our YouTube channel until this weekend so I can include the full week’s progress. Make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss it!

This week coming up we’ll tackle the floor, place the drywall for the hall-side of the new wall, and work on electrical and plumbing. I hope. That’s the plan, at any rate!

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!

Blood From a Stone, Funds From an Escrow Account–Same Difference?

The Gingerbread Diaries

“The time has come,” the Dollhouse said, “to talk of many things…

Like, namely, when’re we gonna get the contractor paid for the roof?!”

Good question, Dollhouse, good question indeed. Who knew our house was a fan of Alice in Wonderland?

How Draws Work in a 203(k) Renovation–A Worst Case Scenario Guide

Now, if you’ll think back to when we first went down the 203(k) road (back in January), you might remember that there are several moving parts to the renovation side of the mortgage loan. It’s not just the contractor’s numbers and a bump for just-in-case, there are fees for the draw center, the inspections, and all sorts of other things. And it’s not like, once you close on the mortgage they hand you a checkbook for the renovation escrow account and say ‘Have fun, send us your receipts!’ (Would that it were that easy, seriously, this post probably wouldn’t exist if the bank actually trusted homeowners enough to do that.)

Instead, we have the contractor who has to do the work, the HUD Consultant to verify the work, and the Draw Specialist at the bank who metes out the funds like a la Scrooge McDuck (withholding 10% of each request until the bitter end just in case someone places a lien on our property in the mean time–I mean, I get it, but you have to admit it’s a fair comparison). Oh, right, and I sign all the forms for good measure, too.

The contractor’s office billed us for the roof (which was almost half of the total renovation contract) which triggered our HUD guy to schedule a time to go up and view the house. Of course, when he got up there, they weren’t quite finished and, since pictures have to be submitted to the bank with the draw request, the request was adjusted to 95% of the roof expense, to allow for the portion yet to be completed. He had the contractor initial the changes, sign the pages, and then brought the paperwork to my office before sending it up to the bank.

Had this been any other renovation project, that would have been all it took.

Since when has this process been anything other than difficult?

It seemed simple enough: the bank kicked the forms back because they were signed by Contractor L (our original guy) and not Contractor S (the one with the license that came on as supervisor). But the the HUD-C acts like he doesn’t know who this Contractor S even is, when–hello!–he had to redo the paperwork to put S’s name on the work order. Sure, that was a couple months ago, but check your notes, dude! It felt like being in my gastro’s office when he asks who’s monitoring my A1AC deficiency and I have to tell him he is! Grr!

So we forward the paperwork to Contractor S, only somewhere in the preceding 24 hours one of the forms has changed and now requires Contractor S’s signature be notarized. Now, I ask you, what contractor has time to go hunt down a notary in the middle of a project?! One that wants to get paid, obviously, but still, it meant an additional delay. Then the forms come back to me to sign and I send them up to our Draw Specialist to meet up with the photos that were already there. Of course, that wasn’t enough, the HUD forgot to date one of his signatures.

All of this started on Wednesday, and by Monday I still hadn’t received confirmation that the check had been cut. Meanwhile, Contractor L let me know that he’d done all he could until he got paid, which meant nothing was getting done on the house. Which, you know, I can’t really fault him because expenses were incurred, crews have to get paid, etc.; but I was a little peeved at the same time that the time we were ahead (thanks to the rapid turn on the roof) was being frittered away.

By Tuesday I was placing yet another request for update, which did get an eventual reply that if she had the updated signature then she could conceivably process the payment. Which was confusing since she’s replied Monday that they did receive the corrected paperwork on Friday! Turns out the Draw Specialist was out on Monday, one of her team members had replied in her stead, but since they didn’t copy her on the reply she didn’t know what was said. Even though it came from her own email address!

There was one more wrinkle about to come into play: I was leaving town Thursday night to head to Mobile for MobiCon. If the check didn’t arrive at my office early enough for me to drive it up to Thomasville (which is a 2 hour round trip) then it would be the following Tuesday before I could get it to him and he could get his crew back to work, if even then, what with the holiday and all. Thankfully the check did arrive on Thursday morning and I did spend 2 hours on the road just to get things moving again.

All in all it took over a week to fully process this first draw request and 1 week of lost work on the house. And while they say it’s random, I just got word that our project was selected for a Disbursement Quality Assurance Inspection on our HUD Consultant. What are the freaking odds?!

But, hey, at least we have a pretty new roof to keep the rain out and the floors are close to being fixed, now, too.

Back to our usual video updates next week!