I think it high time for an update on our house projects. Get ready for a long, but hopefully entertaining, blog post. We’ve been living in the house 7 weeks now and there have been many highs and lows. Although most people will tell you not to live in your house during a renovation, we actually prefer it. We lived in our apartment for the first month that we owned the home and the multiple trips back and forth were frustrating and unproductive. Even though we must deal with dust, clutter, and a somewhat chaotic living situation, we appreciate that we can get to work whenever we want and that we have all our tools on hand.
My first priority and requirement to buying and living in this house was that we re-do the bathroom. Currently this is the only bathroom in the house and will likely be so for a while. In it’s former state, the bathroom was cramped, old, ugly and really not a usable space. I’m told that bathroom and kitchen renovations are the hardest and most labor intensive. And now I know this to be true. However, as you will see by the ‘before’ pictures a total re-haul was needed, especially with a baby on the way and many future houseguests. Our plans included moving the south wall 15 inches to get a bit more space, removing all the old tile and plaster and lath, upgrading the electrical, adding lighting, and replacing the toilet and sink fixtures.
To start we had to draw up and submit a plan for our bathroom to the city to obtain a permit for work. We additionally needed a plumbing and electrical permit. And I really understand now why people don’t apply for permits. The process is outrageously expensive, cumbersome, and beyond frustrating.
Luckily our plans passed with relative ease (and a shockingly hefty price tag…grrr), but with eager excitement we were able to get to work on demolition, ripping tiles off the walls – so fun and satisfying! However, we soon stopped work because in old homes you need to worry about things like asbestos, lead based paint, etc. We decided to first have our house tested for asbestos as we knew from our inspection that several materials in the house likely contained it. Namely the ceiling tiles, vinyl flooring, tape around the vent ducts and possibly the plaster walls (all the walls in the house are plaster and lath covered by wood paneling). Just the cost of testing materials for asbestos makes you want to cry and that doesn’t include the money you’ll then need to spend on any abatement. Luckily the plaster and ceiling tiles did not contain asbestos but the vent tape in the heating ducts did. If you aren’t planning to disturb any asbestos containing material it doesn’t necessarily have to be removed, but essential to our bathroom remodel was removing the vent that came up through the wall we wanted to demolish. We decided to have all the ductwork removed so that we wouldn’t run into the same problem in the future and it made the best financial sense (not to mention peace of mind). So problem number one, no ductwork meant no heat. And of course the coldest temps we have had thus far this winter happened the same week we removed the ductwork! Those were cold and trying times living off the heat generated by a couple of space heaters.
Our plan was to install baseboard heaters to get us through this winter and give us more time to decide what to do for future heating/cooling. Baseboard heaters tie into the electrical system. Problem number two, the electrical system in our house is old, definitely not to code, and unable to handle the amps required by modern homes. We intended to have my brother in-law come out just after Christmas to help re-wire the house and update the electrical. Midwest weather disagreed and his flight was cancelled. Space heaters it was for a couple more weeks.
Now is when I must give so much credit to my incredibly creative, skilled, and brilliant husband. I have been continually impressed by his determination, hard work, and ability to learn new and complex skills. In order to relocate the location of the sink and bring the plumbing up to code he had to completely re-do the plumbing. I was amazed as he figured out a new system, cut and soldered the pipes, and had to find creative solutions to marry new and old to bring everything up to code. Another problem that presented itself was that we were without running water or a toilet the first 2 days we lived in the house due to needing to have the water off for the plumbing work. Oh joy. I actually spent those first 2 days in a hotel with my dad while Justin stayed at the house with the dogs and used the bathroom at the nearby grocery store or Home Depot. Hah! After some hilarious experiences with accidentally spraying ourselves with water from uncapped pipes, we were able to install our new toilet and turn the water back on.
Did I mention I got sick with a cold during all this and felt so miserable I began to doubt why we ever wanted a fixer-upper? Another problem we had was that although we had purchased a beautiful brand new washer and dryer set, it couldn’t be installed due to the layout of the space. Another thing that would have to wait until my brother-in-law could come out to help with the electrical. This led me to my first experience at a Laundromat – I’ve lived a sheltered life. 🙂 Another story for a different time but as Justin says, “renovations are hard on princesses.” So true. But really renovations are hard on anyone.
For Justin having to do most of the work all on his own after work and on weekends, we are making good progress. My brother-in-law was able to come out the first week of January and updated much of the wiring and allowing us to install the baseboard heaters. Poor guy got zapped a time or two trying to figure out the crazy system that was in the home. From what I gather, all the outlets were on only 2 circuits. Hence why you couldn’t have a space heater and a blow dryer going at the same time. This process revealed another job to be done with the location of the city’s electricity meter, which we are now in the time intensive process of getting relocated.
One project begets another and the bathroom has come along much slower than intended as we’ve had to turn our attention to other things. Up until a little over a week ago we were relying on taking baths instead of showers because we hadn’t tiled yet and a leak related to the bathtub drain had to be repaired and old pipes replaced. In a productive last few weeks we installed a new window and vent, got drywall up and mudded, and tiled/grouted the floor and shower. Next up will be to finish the walls (sanding and painting), putting in bead board along the walls, and finally installing the sink. Plus Justin is making all the custom craftsman style baseboards, window and door trim. Progress, as we gradually gain back some of the comforts of “home.”
Are you still reading? I know, a long-winded post this has been. But I wanted to share one last story that inspired the title of this post and helps me to stay positive about the whole renovation process. It was 9 PM on a Saturday night and we were eager to start hanging some drywall in the bathroom. Justin took the measurements and cut the drywall (coating the kitchen in a fine layer of dust because this is the only space we had to do it) and we precariously balanced on stepstools and the edge of the tub trying to push this heavy piece of drywall into place on the ceiling. The damn thing was so heavy and awkward and after probably 30 minutes of trying to shimmy it into place didn’t fit. Plus we realized that a different piece needed to be cut and installed first. So Justin measured and cut another piece – probably the most difficult piece because it had to be cut around the vent and recessed lights. Still with hope in our hearts, we attempted to push this piece up into place. Didn’t fit – not even close. After much trimming, cussing, and trembling arms, we got the stupid thing in place… 3 hours after we started the ordeal we had one piece of drywall hung. And it wasn’t pretty. We’d damaged a couple of the corners and had some major gapping. But I didn’t care. We had done it, and I decided that if those corners and gaps don’t repair well that those imperfections will always be reminder to me of this season in our lives – making our house a home, together. Saturday night date nights certainly look differently than they used to but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Besides I really like baths, they’re so relaxing!