Gingerbread Diaries | Episode 2.1 No Drippy!

The Gingerbread Diaries

It’s somewhat fitting (if a little frustrating) that we begin our second year of home repairs with more plumbing issues. But that’s the way it goes, and it actually turned out better than it could have.

(Direct link for the feed readers: Gingerbread Diaries 2.1: No Drippy!)

The worst-case scenario in this situation involved cutting a large chunk out of the ceiling. The upside is that it would have forced the issue on redoing the back hallway (which sorely needs it). To refresh your memory, this is the part of the house that used to be porch and was later enclosed. It’s pretty obvious that most of the issues with this particular add-on are from shoddy work when it was enclosed. Most of the issues wouldn’t have been very big while it was still breezeway or what have you, but the exterior that’s now interior has some severe, long-term water damage that will require new drywall at the very least, and possibly more once we actually open up the walls.

And when we tackle the drywall on the bathroom side of the hall, then we might as well deal with the water damage in the bathroom, as well (that was due to the roof, roof, not roof but window casing ridiculousness). But my plan is to do more than just replace the ceiling and drywall in there, I want to completely overhaul that room. It happens to be the worst laid out bathroom I’ve ever seen, but it can be improved it we rearrange the fixtures to better use the small space (approx. 5.5’x9′) and it won’t even be horrific as far as the plumbing is concerned because I can reuse the hot and cold lines that currently run to the sink for the tub.


For the visual learners among us (myself included).

What’s not pictured is a window  in the center of the exterior wall. Yes, a window on a ground-floor bathroom that looks into the shower. The reset will put the window in line with the door for natural light (said window currently being blocked by a shower curtain) and a more appropriate placement.

Sure, it’ll mean moving the door as well as the pipes, but the current state of the downstairs bathroom door shows that it was, at some former time, forcibly opened. We can only presume that one of the patients of the personal care home that was found themselves on the wrong side of the door one way or another. But replacing it will not be much of a hardship. I think one of the upstairs closet doors is the right side, should we want to keep to the current diminutive stature (that is, barely 2′ wide and short enough that our tall guests have to duck).

Getting back to the point, I’m glad it wasn’t a worst case scenario for many reasons. Pretty high up on that list is the prospect of our annual Halloween party and not wanting the guest bath under construction with such a deadline looming. So the back hall and downstairs bath will continue in their functional if not optimal conditions while I work on a new project which just presented itself. (Hint: follow me on instagram to see what I’m up to over the next month.)

3 Things I Wish I Knew To Ask For, Contractor Edition

The Gingerbread Diaries

To say that buying a house is a learning experience is an understatement. Pair a home purchase with am immediate renovation and you’ve got education out the wazoo! As much as I like to learn things, and as often as not I tend to learn them the hard way, here are three things I wish I knew to ask of our contractor before we got started.

Maybe it will help someone else getting their school of hard knocks degree in contractor negotiations.

1. Where will they pee?

Yes, it sounds funny that this is the first question I wish I’d known to ask, but it’s indicative of all those little considerations that just don’t occur to you until after the fact. This particular one (of asking the contractor to include a Port-o-Let in their estimate) was suggested by an article on Houzz after our renovations had ended and I really wish I’d read it 6 months sooner.

I remember thinking, after discovering the busted pipe a few days after closing (that Todd was able to fix, thankfully) that we needed to make sure it was safe to leave the water on while the workers were here so that they’d have access to the facilities and to water and whatnot. It was a kind thought, and I give myself credit for that, but I regretted it soon.

The first week the work crew was in they used up almost all the paper goods we’d bought right after closing. That amounted to a case of paper towels and a a large package of toilet paper, and left trash everywhere. And if that wasn’t enough, they also helped themselves to a pair of work gloves Todd had left out on our makeshift dining room table, ruining said gloves by using them to remove the old roof, and sopping up who knows what with one of the bath towels I’d brought up, leaving it crumpled and soaking wet (and filthy) and thrown into the closet under the stairs. Had we put off our next trip up by a week, May’s heat and humidity would have rendered that a mess of mold and mildew right behind our downstairs a/c filter.

It was a small but shattering sound heard as my goodwill towards the work crew evaporated.

Lesson learned: hide everything you don’t want them touching. Which we did in a giant storage tote tucked into one of the downstairs closets.

2. Who will actually be on-site?

This doesn’t mean I expect to vet the work crew before agreeing to the bid–that’s a lot to ask even of the most corporate outfits. No, I mean who’s actually going to be on-site and in charge during the day-to-day of the project. It never occurred to me (that’s a theme, here) that the contractor I made all these arrangements with might leave someone else in charge of the work being done on the biggest single purchase of my life. Especially not when this is, ostensibly, a one-man-and-his-crew operation and not some big corporate contractor.

But that’s exactly what happened, at least in certain instances that I can be sure of. Overall, I’m left to wonder how often the man I trusted my home to was really there.

The first inkling we had was when we discovered the house key sitting on the top ledge of our front door. Apparently no one person could be bothered to be in charge of our key, so they just left it “hidden” for whoever showed up first the next day. Another time we found the key in the lock on the back door when we came home (after we’d already moved all our stuff in). To say I was not pleased was an understatement, but at least they were making sure the doors were actually closed and locked (more than once in the early days I came home to find doors yawning open).

But the most damning evidence came at the end of the job, when they started to work on the exterior. They’d removed the loose materials and the first coat of our chosen color (Del Coronado Peach, from Valspar’s National Trust for Historic Preservation color line) was going up! Only problem was, it looked like crap.

Not the color (though haters of our peachy-pink might disagree), the surface. They put the first coat of paint on (no primer, by the way) and that same afternoon Todd went by and the paint was already bubbling, peeling, and showing every single rough edge where the still-adhered previous paint was firmly stuck. When I voiced my concern our contractor explained that it was just the first coat and that once 3-4 were on, none of that would be a problem.

House Photos 017

Ignore the purple-look in this picture, trick of the light or something. But it’s a great example of the insta-peel paint feature we didn’t ask for!

House Photos 009 House Photos 011

So then I sent these pictures of what we were seeing on the front of the house, to be very specific of what we saw as the problem. That’s when he replied, “oh, I wasn’t actually there, yes, we’ll make it right” and they spent the next week prepping the entire exterior, feathering out the edges of the well-adhered paint and sanding the bare clapboards, like they needed to do in the first place. And when the weather cleared (barely) enough for them to start painting again? A coat of primer was also used.

Now, some of this might have been unfortunate timing: we’d had to push back the closing so many times and then wait on the last-minute update to the contractor’s license before permits could be pulled and work could begin. I fully acknowledge that the more than 2-month delay made it necessary for our contractor to split his time between our job and whatever came up in the mean time, but I still think it’s a question I should have asked.

3. Can I get that in writing?

And by “that” I mean the warranty–not just the contractor’s guarantee of their labor but, and perhaps more importantly, the materials warranty on something like your roofing shingles. According to my contractor, he (verbally) guarantees his labor for 2 years. Okay, so for the first two years if something goes wrong I can call him and he’ll deal with it. Sounds good (and this conversation was had when I’d already had to do just that, the week after we moved in). The shingles he put on our roof, though, they come with a 20 year manufacturing defect warranty. Now, a lot can happen in 20 years. Our contractor may have picked up stakes and moved away (or worse) by the time something comes to light with the shingles. Could there be a recall down the line? How would I know?

These days when you buy electronics or appliances, there’s a little warranty card and lots of legalese in the packaging. That plus your receipt can help you out of jam should something go wrong sooner than normal usage would allow. But a roof? I didn’t purchase the materials outright so that’s not much help, and aside from the conversation we had while he was back up on my roof, I’ve got nothing to go on. As much as it pained me to contact him (dislike of confrontation and/or rocking the boat, I admit it), I did put on my big-girl pants and email him a request for something in writing. We’ll see what becomes of that.

There’s more to this story, of course (isn’t there always), and I’m almost ready to tell it. Almost. This first year of home ownership has not been the easiest. Every time we think we’re finally past the triage stage, something else comes up. We knew it was going to be a long term project and that we weren’t in a hurry, but, well…

That’s a story for another post.

HOI, What Is It Good For?

The Gingerbread Diaries

Obviously home owners insurance is one of those items you hope you never have to use. Right up there with car insurance, health insurance, and any other insurance you can think of. Lately, though, HOI has only been good for a headache or three.

You may remember that whole ordeal we had just getting insurance to buy the house. That business with needing the insurance before we can buy the house, but needing a new roof before we could get insurance, but needing to buy the house before we could replace the roof? Yeah, that. Having jumped that hurdle and completed the required renovations, the idea was we’d get a better policy. A non-state-sponsored policy.

That was the theory and in July we managed to make it into a reality by switching from GUA to AMS. The policy was a bit more expensive, but we were happier with the replacement value for the contents option, so that’s what we went with. Now, you’d think it’d be a matter of a phone call or two and a sign here or there, but–once again–nothing is ever that simple.

The original policy had been paid as part of our closing costs but the bank, in a fit of oopsy-daisy, paid it again when they got their copy of the policy. So, despite paying twice for what was ultimately 2.5 months of coverage, somehow our refund check from GUA was only a little over $200? Nope! So after some back and forth with the agent who went back and forth with GUA, two more checks were cut, one day apart. One arrived within 2 days, the other, for some inexplicable reason, took 2 weeks to even be mailed.

Meanwhile, the bank had paid for the new policy out of our escrow funds and that account was officially overdrawn. As soon as the refund came it it would be, more or less, put to rights, but seeing that negative was never a comfortable thing.

So that was July and August. Everything’s good, now, right?

Silly homeowners…

A couple of weeks ago we received the first property tax bill and, since that’s being paid out of the escrow account, too, the bank needed it more than we did. Thankfully, it’s a simple matter to call them up and confirm the numbers–you don’t even have to scan the bill. Unfortunately, any changes to any of the expected outlays from an escrow account prompts an escrow analysis to be run, and, once again, our balance was coming up short in the end result. But how? Or, well, how can it be THAT much off to where our monthly payments would go up $50-75 when the difference in the two policies was less than $200 a year? And, for what it’s worth, the tax bill was lower than their estimate.

The more we looked into it, the more I started to notice a few things:

  • First of all, for some unknown reason every transaction–be it coming in or going out–is termed a payment. That doesn’t help make things very clear.
  • Both the outlay of the $777 for the duplicate insurance payment and the refund check for $777 that I deposited directly into the escrow account were both “positives”

Now, I’m used to double-entry bookkeeping with its debits and credits. I suppose there are other ways to go about it, but after 18 years of that I can’t fathom why anyone would use it, especially not a mortgage company! Anyway, I questioned, my accomplice on the other end of the line agreed that something didn’t look right–it was there but it wasn’t necessarily in the right place. Supposedly a fix is being worked on, but those take a week or so and I have yet to see it show up in the transaction ledger. After that we can ask for an escrow analysis to see if/how much we’re going to be short for the year. If we don’t call, they automatically do an analysis at every mortgage anniversary (so for us it would be in April) and then 2 months later our mortgage payment will adjust up or down as needed.

Of course, there’s nothing that says you have to pay for your taxes or home owners insurance out of the escrow account. The alternative is to pay those lump-sum bills as they come due. For most people those large payments throughout the year isn’t always convenient, so the escrow account serves a useful purpose and that’s why we opted for it. But the lesson we’ve learned is not to change policies in the middle of the mortgage year.

While that might not seem super-relevant to the insurance headache (considering that’s a bank headache), but it’s worth knowing because, well, we almost had to change insurers again. And with our escrow still in shambles it was not the way I wanted to go!

Last Friday night (thank goodness after our friends had left for the evening otherwise this would have put a serious damper on the fun!) we got a little “love letter” from AMS. And it certainly wasn’t a pledge of devotion for choosing them to insure our home. Nope, they were cancelling our policy because of

uneven and loose brick walkway in the back

Now, it’s true that the bricks that edged the concrete slab our back steps rest on were both loose and uneven. The mortar had long since given up the ghost. And I get that an insurance company could see it as a hazard. But, folks, we’re talking about 44 bricks that were going to cost us our insurance. Doesn’t that seem like overkill to you?

That's a walkway?! Generous...

That’s a walkway?! Generous…

There’s also a chance they could be talking about the area on the other side of our girl. I suppose it could be called a walkway IF you wanted to walk from our grill into the side of our house. But, sure, we’ll include those in the clean-up on a better safe than sorry level.

Closer to being an actual walkway, sure, but to where?!

Closer to being an actual walkway, sure, but to where?!

In total, I removed 180ish bricks from the side of our home in the hopes that it would untwist AMS’s knickers.

This part took about 20 minutes to remove.

This part took about 20 minutes to remove.

While this part took a little longer (some of the bricks were actually covered with dirt and had to be uncovered before being dug out).

While this part took a little longer (some of the bricks were actually covered with dirt and had to be uncovered before being dug out).

Thankfully, this worked. While some Facebook friends suggested finding other coverage, the age of our house makes the pickings pretty slim to begin with. It’d have been the height of irony to go through all of that and end up right back where we started with the state-run policy.

Here’s the scoop, though, on that whole cancel first, ask questions never habit. Apparently an insurance company has 60 days to cancel new business or else they’re stuck insuring the property until renewal. Our AMS policy began July 18. I received the cancellation notice on September 19. There’s that 60 days! But we’re back in good standing so, at least until next summer, we’re covered.

It’s my own fault, of course. I’d just told a friend earlier that night that I thought we were finally done with the “triage” portion of old-house ownership. Hah!

For those new to homeownership or considering buying an old house like we did? Consider this yet another cautionary tale courtesy of Todd and I bumbling our way throught this odd little adventure. And the next time we learn something the hard way, I’ll be sure to share.

#36 Carpentry | I Get Weak: Shoring Up a Slacking Leg

64 Arts

When you’ve been living with hand-me-down furniture and mismatched this and that, the first bits you buy yourself–even if they come from IKEA’s flat-pack heaven–can mean a lot. So it was that many years ago (at least 6–I don’t really feel like digging through my file boxes to find the receipts, so go with me on this one) I got my first glimpse at an IKEA and decided to snap up a table and chair set for my dining room at a really good price.

Jokkmokk table and chair set

image via

It survived the trip home from Atlanta, me putting it together all on my own (I also bought a spunky orange tool set on that trip–smart!), 2 moves and many parties. And after all of that it’s still going strong.

Well, all but one of the 4 chairs.

Broken chair leg


It was just before the holidays got into full swing when Todd leaned back in his chair to hear an unfortunate cracking sound. Thankfully he did not end up sprawled on the floor–the crack had formed along the back/leg right where it angled in to meet the seat. By the time the holidays were over the crack had gone clear through the wood and it was in need of some serious repair.

Now, with most chairs this one long piece would be separate bits and we could just replace the one board and be done with it. Not so much with this piece, so we did the next best thing:

Gorilla Wood Glue

Our glue of choice, hoping the super-tough hold does

Half of having furniture–wooden or otherwise–is taking care of it when (or before) it breaks. To heal busted wood you need two things.

  1. Something to knit the fibers back together.
  2. Pressure to hold the fibers in place until such time as they’re strong again.

Basically, we’re wood doctors healing a broken bone. Instead of a plaster cast, though, we opted to use something a little different.

First we thought regular clamps would do, but the split was in a more-than-awkward spot for such a fix. Then Todd was going to use something called a pipe vise but we were short the needed pipe. What we did have was a strap usually used for tying down stuff in a trunk or truck-bed, it’s got a ratchet on it so can get very tight which is perfect for our needs.

Todd squeezing glue between the broken bits.

Todd squeezing glue between the broken bits.

First we put plenty of glue onto the break.

Tightening the ratchet strap to use as a vise.

Tightening the ratchet strap to use as a vise.

Then we secure it by tightening the strap as tight as possible to keep the glued pieces together.

Check the bottle of wood glue you’re using to see how long it’s supposed to take to dry and then leave it under pressure a little longer for safe keeping.

After that, if you want to reinforce the section with an extra screw into the wood above or below the break as insurance, it might not be a bad idea.

Ideally we would have caught it when it was just beginning to crack and fixed it then. Since we didn’t, we’ll take these steps and see what happens. Worst case scenario? I have a reason to go visit IKEA in Orlando.

At least it beats duck tape, right?

A Stitch in Time…

64 Arts

… saves a costly repair fee!

Woman has relied heretofore too entirely for her support on the needle – that one-eyed demon of destruction that slays thousands annually; that evil genius of our sex, which, in spite of all our devotion, will never make us healthy, wealthy, or wise.

–Elizabeth Cady Stanton

She may have been instrumental in securing women the right to vote, but I’ll bet even she knew how important it was to look presentable–clothes are our first bit of armor in polite society and a missing button is a target for many things.

Sewing, mending and basic repairs are, often, left these days to the dry cleaner or someone much more “crafty” than the wearer. Or, in a frightening case of predictive fiction, we’ve become like the society in Huxley’s Brave New World:

“Ending is better than mending. The more stitches, the less riches”

We toss items that merely need a quick fix, often because the knowledge of how-to is no longer second nature.

Sure, some things are definitely left to the pro’s–shoe repair is quite specialized and I’m not sure I’d trust walking on a heel held together only by Gorilla Glue (a former coworker’s answer to everything–including bullet holes in our front window).

But basic mending is simple, even if you’ve no desire to make your own clothes from scratch.

The two most common problems (and how to fix them):

  • How to replace a button (shank-style or flat). The trick with flat (2- or 4-hole) buttons is to slip a toothpick between the fabric and button before you tighten your first loop to make sure there’s enough room to maneuver when you’re getting dressed.
  • How to fix a fallen hem with a nearly invisible stitch. It’s the details that make the difference between looking hand-stitched and no one ever noticing (though, in a pinch, duck tape will get you through the day).

Now, ready to wear clothing was a real turning point for the fashion industry. Being able to buy off-the-rack meant more people had access to more styles and things could be made ahead for sale rather than custom tailored.

The down side? We don’t all look the same. One size 10 might be differently proportioned than another size 10, and let’s not even get into the fact that one store’s size isn’t necessarily the same as another’s! Tailored clothing looks better, but it can cost a fortune. Unless, that is, you know how to make simple alterations on your own.

What are the biggies to worry about? Those things that shout “bad fit!”?

  • Hems that drag the ground or puddle around your feet (even when wearing heels).
  • Shirts that ride up because they’re too snug.
  • Shirts that you swim in because they’re too big.
  • Shoulders that slope so far they show your bra strap (no, Flashdance didn’t really come back, y’all!).
  • Bulging zippers or button plackets

Some of these can be fixed with a new hem or a well-placed dart or two, others might require inserting extra fabric of there’s not enough seam to let out. In the latter case, you might want to take it to a pro–they’ll be much better at hiding inserts and such.

Fit is important–it makes us look put together instead of thrown-together and (especially us fluffy girls) can take the focus off the clothes on onto who’s wearing them.