Oh, Calamity!

The Gingerbread Diaries

Or, in other words, a belated house update. (Was it Trixie Belden who said “Oh, calamity” when things went wrong?)

So the other thing, besides the issue of gaping holes in the house during the coldest month of the year (and, yes, the heating bill was shockingly high this month), that can upset a winter remodeling project is the increased chance of seasonal illness. I figured there was a good chance one of us would come down with something during the project, I just didn’t expect us to both get sick at the same time. With slightly different strains of the flu/cold/upper respiratory mess that’s going around.

The good news is that we’re both on the mend and that progress only slightly slowed during our respective downtimes. I cannot take any credit for that, though, since I spent the past Friday through Monday basically holding down the couch while Todd missed hardly any work and kept chipping away at the plumbing and flooring projects.

The really excellent news is that, by 11pm last night, things were looking decidedly up!

Hardie Backer is down!

Hardie Backer is down!

Let’s back up a bit…

Week 5

(Direct link for the feed readers: Episode 2.7: Downstairs Bath Renovation, Week 5)

At the beginning of the fifth weekend it became clear that there really was no way to leave the toilet in place and do the room in pieces as I’d originally hoped. Le sigh. So we ripped out the rest of the floor (it went so much quicker than the first half), got it leveled out, and by the end of the day Sunday we’d cut and put down the other half of the new subfloor.

The neighbor was out on his porch Sunday afternoon as we were getting ready to cut the plywood and remarked “This is how you spend Valentine’s Day?” Yes, yes it is (was).

And the obligatory juvenile joke I couldn’t help making (but not meaning): At least the floor got laid!

Moving on…

It was the Tuesday night after that Todd suddenly came down with that deep-chest, rumbly, can’t stop it once it starts coughing. Just absolutely out of the blue. Unfortunately Wednesdays are must-work days for both of us (pesky co-workers wanting to get paid every week, sheesh!) so he had to go in for at least half a day and the same on Thursday. By Friday, though, he was doing loads better. Still coughing and easily tired, but as wuick as the worst came it went.

Not so for me. On Thursday afternoon I started feeling a little feverish at my desk and it just kept going downhill from there. Unlike Todd’s chest cold/flu/something, mine stayed up in my head (in the sinus region, not my imagination) and I battled chills for over an hour that night before finally settling down. I was shaking so bad that I could have charged a quarter a minute (Magic Fingers reference anyone?).

Fortunately for me, I was between deadlines and things had been kinda slow at work so I called in sick Friday and floated between fever dreams and listlessness for the next 3 days. And since the fever reared it’s ugly head again after an exploratory trip to the grocery store Sunday afternoon, I stayed home Monday, too. (Otherwise I could have ended up on the wrong side of my boss’s very lovely wife, had I still been contagious and gotten him sick!)

Week 6

(Direct link for the feed readers: Episode 2.8 Downstairs Bath Reno, Week 6)

My “lost weekend” kicked off Month 2 of the renovation project, and Todd kept chipping away at the work to be done. With the subfloor in place and the plumbing mostly roughed-in (we still have to make the spaces for the tub drain, etc.) Todd got started dry-fitting the Hardie Backer into the room. It’s gridded, so the easiest way to shape and section it is by scoring along the cut lines and either bending it to snap or hammering out the voids. Slow work, but worth it.

On Sunday he drove to Tallahassee and back twice to rent (then return) the tool he needed to remove the cast iron vent pipe (aka the last of the old fittings from the room). It’s a ratcheting chain gizmo that you’ll see in action on the video that we tried to find for the previous plumbing repairs but had no luck with. Turns out Home Depot rents this $500 tool for only $30 a day and Todd had the old pipe sectioned and sorted in a few hours. Not too shabby, even with the half tank of gas added in.

Which brings us to last night.

Over dinner I asked if he had brought work home or was planning to work in the bathroom. I didn’t mind either way (dude works hard in all respects, I’m certainly not going to push him harder, especially when he’s still recovering, too!), but I did point out that if we didn’t put the Hardie Backer down until Friday night, we wouldn’t be able to tile until Sunday (it requires 24 hours for the mortar to cure), and if we waited until Saturday it would be next week before we could start on finishing the floor. And the longer the floor took, the longer it would be before we could install the new commode. We’d managed okay with only the one bathroom over the last 2 weeks, but we both agree that it’ll be nice to regain the second set of fixtures.

Again, not pushing, just discussing our options.

I had a project due for Helmar that I needed to get written up (another reason I wasn’t pushing), so I went to my desk to do that and was only semi-surprised when Todd came down in work clothes and started prepping the floor and mortar.

Basic steps to laying down Hardie backer (aka cement board)

  • Sweep subfloor clean
  • Wipe subfloor with a damp sponge
  • Mix mortar to peanut butter consistency and let sit for 10 minutes (okay, do this first so you can do the other two steps while the mortar sets up)
  • Apply mortar with a 1/4″ notched trowel to subfloor in 3’x5′ (ish) sections, laying each board as you go (and try not to work yourself into a corner)
  • Leave 1/8″ gap between pieces of cement board
  • Screw down cement board at 8″ intervals (a 52 sq ft room will take more than 200 screws!)
  • Fill seams with mortar and reinforce with mesh tape (just like drywall seams).

Once I finished with my Helmar project I really wanted to play in the mud mortar–it looked like fun! So I grabbed the trowel and started on a second patch while Todd was situating the first larger board. Then I went upstairs and put on work jeans because, yeah, doing that in a skirt wasn’t really the best idea.

Troweling mortar is a lot like icing a really big cake. I loved it. Tiling tools could take some pointers from cake decorators, though. I was this close to sacrificing one of my offset spatulas to the cause while doing the seam filling and taping–the putty knife I was using got the job done but was not ideal.

The plan for this weekend is that Todd will work on the supply lines, etc. for the plumbing while I set the tile on Saturday. Sunday we’ll grout and maybe by Monday we can install the new toilet and sink. That would be pretty fabulous!

The Roof That Started It All

The Gingerbread Diaries

It’s gone, y’all! And replaced with spiffy new shingles all since last week’s update (apparently our contractor decided to fast-track it and I don’t blame him–more on why in a minute).

First things first: no video this update since we didn’t actually go up to the Dollhouse last weekend. We had friends coming over at 2pm on Saturday so it would have meant doing what we could up there Friday night and hustling it back down here first thing in the morning: not exactly a good payoff for the time spent there and back. It was awfully nice to sleep in on Saturday morning, though, not to mention have a nice, relaxed date night on Friday, too!

Bye-bye old shingles and tin! (Todd was nice enough to go snap pictures of each day's progress, this was just Day 1)

Bye-bye old shingles and tin! (Todd was nice enough to go snap pictures of each day’s progress, this was just Day 1)

And since they started replacing the roof on Wednesday, it was just as well we opted not to go up since there were building materials and debris in various places: no sense tripping over all that just for a couple hours work (on the #$%^&* hot water heater).

To refresh your memory (or explain for those of you not with us from the beginning):

  • The roof was the first thing that tipped us over into Renovation Loan territory;
  • In part because under the deteriorating shingles/tin (different parts of the house) were the original (?) wood shake/shingles;
  • Which meant that in addition to pulling all that up to begin with they were going to have to re-deck the entire roof before they could put new shingles on!
  • The extra work and supplies that entailed pretty much doubled the cost of what a roof in that area would cost under normal circumstances.

Of course, that was just the tip of the iceberg as far as this house’s issues went, but it still represents half the total renovation costs that were worked into our mortgage. Because of the various twists and turns we traveled through during the loan process that ended up with us going the standard 203(k) route, that meant our contractor couldn’t get any funds up front, only once work had been completed. As part of our 203(k) structure there are a total of 3 disbursements (i.e. draws against the renovation escrow account) factored in: 2 mid-project and 1 at the end. Each of these draws can only be made on the work that’s completed (not even for supplies purchased: they have to be installed on the house to count). And then the bank keeps back 10% of each draw until the final inspection is complete and they verify that no liens have been placed upon the property before paying out that final bit. So, you know, the contractor is motivated to get. stuff. done!

So yesterday they put in for the first draw based on the roof work. This meant that our HUD Consultant had to ride up there (and, yes, mileage fees are tacked onto the inspection fees by the HUD-C, and all that’s figured into the total cost of renovation) to verify the work being drawn upon was complete and take pictures to show the bank as proof, etc. Well, the roof wasn’t quite finished when Mr. A got there, so he adjusted the draw form to be 95% of the total roof quote, even though they probably would have it finished by the end of the day, it only counts if he sees it at his appointment. One draw down, 2 more (and another 5 weeks or so of work, though maybe not even that long if they can keep up this pace) to go!

Now, just because we didn’t go up to the Dollhouse last weekend doesn’t mean we did nothing as far as the house went: I was doing research!

(What, doesn’t everyone find that exclamation point-exciting?)

Unfortunately Georgia is still working on digitizing their property records–they’ve only got as far back as 1992 on file and since the K’s bought the Dollhouse back in 1994, I can only see who they bought it from, but not any previous transactions unless I go and camp out in the records room of the courthouse for untold hours and sift through the deed books myself! Since that will require a day off that coincides with them being open (aka not a holiday) it might be a while before that happens!

1920 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Thomasville, GA (population--including suburbs--10,000!)

1920 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Thomasville, GA (population–including suburbs–10,000!)

In the mean time, I’ve been trolling the South Georgia Newspaper archives for any mention of our street address, trying to find some history on the place. After exhausting the free archives (that end in 1922) I even paid for a membership to NewspaperArchives.com just to stay on the trail. The other resource I found was the Sanborn Fire Maps. Unfortunately the 1912 map stopped the block before ours, but the 1920 map clearly shows the Dollhouse in pretty much it’s current configuration! The only things added since then were the 2 bathrooms and, possibly, the extended back porch/utility room area (which we pretty much figured from the beginning, though the Realtor suggested the kitchen wasn’t originally attached, and that seems unlikely, now).

Through my newspaper crawl I found out the following:

  • For much of the latter half of 1889, E.M. Mallette [an obvious bigwig in the real estate market back then] was marketing an “elegant residence lot” on our street with the same lot dimensions and referencing the cross-street next to us for a whopping $400; even if this wasn’t our exact lot (the Sanborn map shows the two lots next to ours to be of approximately the same dimensions) it’s a good bet he had the selling of the original lot.
  • In October & November 1914 there was an 8-room house for rent at our address [that would square with the number of rooms the house has, not counting the bathroom additions] by a Mr. Burch; this holds with the idea that the house was built in 1910 or so, until…
  • Continued searching actually found a listing for a Lost Dog by Mr. Burch at our address in 1904! So either there was a previous home built that was torn down and replaced by the Dollhouse or the Dollhouse is older than we thought!
  • Mr. Burch, a widower twice over by then, passed away after a nasty fall in the house in December, 1941.
  • They appear to have taken in a boarder at some point or rented the place out as there are ads for a Mr. Van Dore offering to repair or tune pianos and listing the Dollhouse as his address in April, 1948. He didn’t stick around long, though, as in June of that same year he posted an ad selling his light housekeeping wares as he was leaving town.
  • As of 1949 I can see references to Mr. Burch’s daughter (a local school teacher) hosting various church functions at the Dollhouse, so either she let rooms while living there are moved in after Mr. Van Dore vacated. Either way, she appears to have stayed in the house until her own passing in 1969.

And after there the trail has gone cold. I’ve yet to come across a mention of the address past 1969 in the local papers (people started getting cagey about posting their addresses so freely, I suppose). From the K purchase I had the names of the two sisters that sold the house in 1994, but at the time of Miss Burch’s demise, one was a musician and teacher at Wesleyan College in Macon, and the other is tied to a Grant St. address from what I’ve been able to find. So there’s still a 25-year gap to fill in; but I’ll get there!

One other tidbit of information was uncovered during my search, and helps explain how the perceived-to-be-original wood shake could have survived long enough (notwithstanding the hardiness of the old-grown wood used back then, of course) to be covered with asphalt shingles somewhere in the 1970s (again, guessing on the part of the Realtor).

It didn’t!

[box type=”alert” style=”rounded” border=”full”]Roof Fire Damages Burch Residence On C— Street—
A roof fire at the residence of Mr.  Burch on East C—street fanned by a gusty wind caused serious damage to the dwelling and contents yesterday afternoon. The whole building was deluged with water and the entire roof and second story practically gutted before the blaze was brought under control. The firemen worked two or three hours mopping up and clearing out debris and ashes making sure that no hidden fire remained but at four o’clock this morning the fire broke out again and the firemen were forced to fight fire again for an hour or two before retiring to their headquarters.
–Thomasville Times Enterprise, April 1, 1939[/box]

At then end of March, 1939, the roof of the Dollhouse caught fire and destroyed the upper floor of the house. By mid-May it had been rebuilt and renovated and the family was able to move back in. My guess, then, is that they used the wood shake at that point (similar to what would have been in place before the fire), and it lasting the 30 or so years until the asphalt shingles were laid down is a far more believable timeline that it being from the original 1910 (or earlier!) build. Of course, depending on just how much of the house had to be rebuilt, it does make me wonder if the house still counts as it’s original build date–whenever that may actually be!

Good thing we like puzzles, right?