Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Chipping Away

There's been alot going on, but first I'll start with the mini-jackhammer fiasco. It was a bit heavy, but easy enough to use. The problem is it didn't break up the cement like the contractor said it does for him. Perhaps the rental has lost its oomph? The subfloor was too brittle and dry to use the jackhammer vertically and used horizontally under the wire mesh the concrete was just too thick for the vibration to break it up.

"If things go wrong, don't go with them." ~Roger Babson~

So, off to Home Depot to buy a heavier sledgehammer and a digger bar about 7' long. The method that seems to work is to hit each tile with the sledgehammer, cracking it, then to shove the digger bar underneath as far as possible and wedge it upward. This lifts the metal mesh, breaks up the concrete and the tile. My brother seems to have more power in working the sledgehammer as lifting up on the digger bar bothers his back whereas it doesn't bother mine. Oh! Did I mention that we finished the bathroom in short order? And that now I have the 1st floor entry, kitchen and back entry to do? And I'm sure you're wondering how the subfloor could survive a blow from the sledgehammer and not the jackhammer. The concrete was absorbing most of the shock leaving the subfloor intact. This photo shows the subfloor, tar paper, the wire mesh lifted up from it and the thickness of the cement with a 1/4" crosscut section of tile with cement attached at the top.

"Adversity causes some men to break; others to break records." ~William A. Ward~

And still others to break even more cement! It's a bit daunting but I know I can do this now that I know the method. I can make progress until I tire, then sweep, clean up and let my muscles recover and/or go work on the popcorn ceiling until I can handle working on the cement again. I won't need to hire a personal trainer at the gym after all of this!

"Enjoy life. Treat it as an adventure. Care passionately about the outcome, but keep it in perspective. Things are seldom as bleak as they seem when they are going wrong - or as good as they seem when they are going well. Lighten up. You'll live longer." ~Unknown~

Scraping the popcorn off the ceiling is a cinch compared to the tile problem, so it's a joy to actually accomplish something without going beyond my current capabilities. I have finished the upstairs hall and two of the three bedrooms. The method that works best is to use a 1/2 gallon garden mister (one you pump), spray a section of the ceiling with water, wait a couple of minutes and then use a wide plaster scraper to remove it. At the proper angle it comes right off so it doesn't take long at all. Clean up is what takes a while.

So! All in all progress is being made. I'll keep chipping away at my little corner of the world, slowly improving it, and in the end we'll see what we're able to make of it!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Limits to Our Abilities?

Having spent the weekend removing ceramic tiles, on Tuesday I finally met with a contractor who will assist me with the electrical and plumbing modifications. Since he was there, and I figured that he must have done this himself, I asked him if the method I was using to remove the ceramic tile was the easiest way. He promptly showed me how to use the back end of a framing hammer to get under the tile and then pull them off, however, he was stymied as to why it was so difficult to get the hammer under the tile to begin with. What looked like DuroRock board that most ceramic tile is adhered to turned out to be 1" of cement with a metal mesh backing. NOW we got a problem ... and he recommended I rent a mini jackhammer and use it horizontally running between the subfloor and the wire mesh under the cement to break it up. I promptly went to the local rental center and made a reservation to rent one from Saturday night until Monday morning. It costs $62.00/day to rent. Of course to buy it costs $1,000.00, so the rental looks pretty good!

"It is our duty as men and women to proceed as though limits to our abilities do not exist."
~ Pierre Teilhard de Chardin ~

That project is halted until Sunday, so today I take on removing the popcorn ceiling. I already tried by dry scraping, but I remember from HGTV that you can spray it with water first, which turns it into goop, which then can be scraped off fairly easily. Sounds messy to me, but I'll go with a positive attitude and ready to make progress!

"Our belief at the beginning of a doubtful undertaking is the one thing that ensures the successful outcome of our venture."
~ William James ~

I was also able to get a toilet running in the house which is a blessing. The sink is another thing though and will require some plumbing so handwipes will have to do for now. Working in the house is much more comfortable now!

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Work Will Teach You

It's been a while, so I will start off with a quote that sets the tone of what I am encountering...

"The true test of character is not how much we know how to do but how we behave when we don't know what to do." ~ John Holt ~

My instincts tell me to start at the top and work down, however, the final bit of demo that needs to be done is removing the ceramic tile in the bathroom and the front & back entries (because it is so slippery when wet and some are cracked). So, "to finish the demo" won out and I started on the bathroom - a small enough room I surmised. In my mind I envisioned chipping it off with a chisel and a hammer and each 2"x2" square would just pop off at the least prompting . . . which turned out to be impossibly unrealistic!

"To the man who has only a hammer in his toolkit every problem looks like a nail." ~Abraham Maslow~

So, off to Home Depot I went and bought a tool specifically designed to pry off ceramic tiles (it might have worked had the installer not used so much cement) and my brother brought over a sledge hammer and a pick axe. The sledge hammer just bounced off the surface for four or five blows and then finally crumbled a small area into dust. My muscle endurance will not improve rapidly enough for me to use that method (maybe later). The pick axe puts out an amazing array of sparks at each strike and requires as many blows to chip off a small portion. So, that was relegated to the realm of the sledge hammer. What works? The plain old hammer after all. Without the chisel of course. Just double hand the hammer and apply each hit at a slant a couple inches from the edge and smash them off! This required another trip to Home Depot (also useful for the functioning restroom, which my house has not as yet) to buy safety glasses, work gloves, knee pads and face mask for the dust and flying debris. (Water tastes awful when you've been breathing in dust...).

So, now I'm making progress and I celebrate each row as it's swept up and thrown into the bin. Did I consider hiring out? Sure! I'm human ... But this house is mine to renovate. My intention was to do as much of it myself as is legally possible (electrical and plumbing mandate certified tradesmen). But I intended that all the rest was mine ...

"We can do anything if we stick to it long enough." ~Helen Keller~

Who knows? Maybe I'll build some muscle! And, I'm already sleeping better because I'm actually tired! So, there are side benefits. I couldn't find the quote I was thinking of, but it was something like....
"Just start the work and the work will teach you."

Monday, January 12, 2009

Let There Be Water!

Actually, I was amazed that I could call the city in the morning and by the afternoon they had a technician out to the house to install the missing water meter. And, the experience was quite informative and interesting. The technician and his cohort were there before me and instead of driving off, called me to see if I was near. Then once meeting them they gave me a run-down on the previous owner of the house, my neighbor who had been considering rehabbing this house and the little old lady in the yellow house across the street. :) Ya just gotta love that Midwestern helpfulness (so much for gossip)!

Not only did I get a good people perspective, but he gave me instructions on how to de-winterize the house on my own, to turn on the water slowly and let the pipes fill up gently. Also, because I have a tuck-under garage I shouldn't leave the garage doors open for any length of time in the winter because I could freeze the pipes, and I should use pipe-wrap in the garage area which keeps the pipes slightly heated in winter to eliminate any freezing problems. The city has a camera to check the sewer line for $50.00 instead of the $200.00 someone else would charge (if I ever need it). In addition to all that he also gave me a couple of leads on great plumbers that don't charge top dollar. You can get alot of information out of people if you're the least bit inquisitive.

"Live and let live is not enough; live and help live is not too much." ~Orison Swett Marden~

It was a fruitful afternoon! The rest of it was spent shoveling the driveway as we had a good six inches of snow. I did it the good old fashioned way and really felt I accomplished something by bracing for the cold wind and getting some exercise. There is something to be said for how these seemingly mundane things actually build the spirit and make you feel good about yourself and your body when you're finished.

"Man is happy only as he finds a work worth doing - and does it well." ~ E. Merrill Root ~

I guess I'll sleep well tonight!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Stood Up!

A contractor was supposed to meet me at the house on Friday to de-winterize the water pipes and get the water running, but I missed the phone call saying that he had truck problems and was at the shop getting it fixed and maybe he would appear later but would call me first. Of course, he would not answer his phone when I tried to call him...

"Every path has its puddle." ~English Proverb ~

Later in the day I was reminded of the fact "There are no mistakes". My brother pointed out to me the fact that there was no water meter where it was supposed to be, so I'll need to call the city and have them install one on Monday. The contractor would not have been able to do his job had he come anyway!

"Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely." ~Auguste Rodin~

And, believe me, there is plenty to do! So, I busied myself with installing fire and CO1 alarms, buying fire extinguishers (homeowners insurance requires them) and even purchased a water conserving toilet which uses 1.3 gallons of water/flush compared to the 5 to 6 gallons/flush used for the average older toilet. Once I install the toilet and am satisfied with its performance for this particular brand, I will replace all the other toilets in the house. Save money - save the environment - think of the future - live in the present.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Preliminary Groundwork

Hi All!

Here's a photo of the repo. As I said, it's been vacant for a while hence the summertime photo. It was built in 1946 and remodeled in the late 1960's or early 1970's.

I would recommend that you get your insurance negotiated before your closing if you are paying cash. The insurance agent made me privy to claims on the property that gave me clues as to what to look for. For example, the previous winter $3,000 worth of water damage claim was made against the property. Ice dams in the eaves? Frozen and burst pipes? The insurance agent wasn't able to give me more information than that.

Of course, I had the inspection but because we are in the dead of winter and the house is winterized, the water could not be turned on. The inspector gave me a list of items to improve upon, many of which, gratefully, are quite minor and will eat up alot of my HGTV (Home/Garden telelvision channel) watching time. These are things like improper joist support nails, crawlspace uncovered creating a potential radon gas seepage, screens for all windows, deadlock bolts on doorways not in place... the list goes on but are fairly easily remedied.

The city inspector has a list as well and where I am this significantly impacts property sales. The city inspector double checks all property improvements against permits that have been pulled in the past. No permit, then the new owner has to pull the permit have the work checked over and possibly redone by a certified contractor and have it inspected by the city. That way the city is certain all work is done to code. The problem is a contractor must estimate the cost of bringing the property up to code (including cost of permits) and then the city requires the buyer to put that amount of money plus an additional half into an escrow account held by the city until the work is completed and inspected. One draw on the escrow money can be made in the time estimated for completion then the balance at the end. In my case, I had to put $6,000.00 into escrow ($4,000.00 in estimated repairs by the contractor plus a half more of $2,000.00). Personally, I'm not opposed to this as it ensures all the houses in this area are quality homes. But, I do see where in some cases the escrow amount can be formidable for some buyers of repos.

So, I'll leave you with a short quote: "Think big, start small." ~ Patricia Fripp ~

Have to go make some plans for improvements!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Starting Out

December 30th, 2008, I closed on a repossessed home that has been vacant most of the year; antifreeze in the pipes and frozen in this winter wonderland of the Northern Midwest. I've been pretty handy most of my life and come from a family of "fixer-uppers" and some people say I've bitten off more than I can chew, so I thought I'd blog a little about the challenges and joys that rehabbing a repo can bring...

"Before you begin a thing, remind yourself that difficulties and delays quite impossible to foresee are ahead.... You can only see one thing clearly and that is your goal. Form a mental vision of that and cling to it through thick and thin."
~ Kathleen Norris ~

Those of you who are contemplating rehabbing a repo may enjoy this journey with me. Those of you who are experienced may find this amusing though feedback and helpful suggestions are always welcome. I'll be back with you soon!