The last project of 2022 (probably)…

I started 2022 with a long list of projects that needed doing. Some were minor and I managed to knock them off one by one as the months crept past. Others – some electrical work, replacing the well filters, the gut and redo on my bathroom, and maintenance on the exterior trim work – were all things I opted to farm out to more competent hands.

The painters, at long last, were here yesterday. It wasn’t a particularly big project, but it involved a level of detailed effort and agility atop a ladder that I’m decidedly not able to deliver. Still, it was badly in need of doing. All the front windows needed recalked, the steel lentils above each window and the garage doors needed to be scraped, primed, and repainted, a deeply weathered wooden door frame needed a bit of patching and a fresh coat of paint, and lastly the iron pipe that keeps the generator fueled was beginning to wear through its original battleship gray.

I’m working from the assumption that all of those bits, except for the last one, probably haven’t been looked after since the house was built in 2000. The previous owners gave it good bones, but as they aged, it was obvious basic maintenance was let go. I’m told that’s something that tends to happen with older home owners. God preserve me from living through such a fate.

I’ve slowly worked through taking the multitude of deferred maintenance problems in hand. It was an impressively long list that included fixing the entire drainage scheme for the back yard, bricking up an undrained window well, replacing the furnace, clearing the shrubbery that at one time grew in the gutters, and a whole host of other smaller efforts. It’s taken the better part of eight years, but I’m pretty much done with the things that were on my original list. 

Aside from keeping up with the preventative maintenance now that it’s caught up, there’s the large and growing list of new projects that I want to take on. The air conditioning condenser unit is 22 years old. The carpet in the master bedroom and sunroom is warn and approaching tatty. The kitchen could use a bit of a refresh. Before long the roof will reach the end of its service life. Those are just the known projects. Rumsfeld’s unknown unknowns are always lurking out there waiting to spring a surprise bit of home repair on me when they’re least expected or wanted.

I haven’t formally decided what’s next. If I can keep the air conditioner blowing through one more season, I’d like to take on some worrisome limbs that overhang the house and trees that have grown a bit too close. That’s probably the top of my wish list for 2023. Well, that, or really getting someone in here who can diagnose why my gutters suck and giving me a plan to fix them once and for all. 

As it turns out, the vast array of projects as a homeowner never actually ends, you just decide at some point to take a break. That’s absolutely where I am now.

Finally filtered…

After weeks of screwing around with companies that apparently weren’t interested in doing business, the large regional plumbing operation I hired last week to put in the new well filter arrived as scheduled this afternoon and did, in fact, install the spin down filter I ordered. After testing, the consensus was that the only thing that needed taken out of the water here was the fine sand that’s endemic to wells in this area. Blame that on having built the homestead here high atop ancient sand and sediment washed down the primordial Susquehanna River when the last glaciers retreated and helped form the Eastern Shore and Chesapeake Bay.

Since they were here and had some time to kill, the two guys doing all the work also drained off the water heater, which has been a settling pond for sand laden water for the last two months. There was some add on fee for that, of course, but given how much sand has been caught in my poor simple Brita filter, getting most of that mess away from the heating element feels like money well spent. As they say, preventative maintenance is almost always more cost effective than emergency maintenance.

My new favorite plumbers weren’t the cheapest by a long shot. From start to finish they answered the phone when I called, arrived when they were scheduled, and did the work they said they were going to do. If that’s not service worth paying for, I guess I don’t know what is.

At the very least, it’s one more thing off my long and growing list of things that need doing around here. My fingers are firmly crossed in hopes this is the start of a trend.

The problem with shopping small…

Social media is full of posts about how we all need to carry our commerce out with small businesses, that they’re very important, and that they support the local community. All those things are possibly true, but at the same time I’ve been doing my level best to hire various small, local plumbing outfits for a job for the last six weeks. Some don’t pick up their phone. Others don’t return calls once they’ve talked to you or just don’t show up when they’re scheduled. One even when so far as drawing up the plans and then disappeared. 

By comparison, I called one of the big regional plumbing operations at 9:00 this morning and at approximately 10:45 I had in my hand three separate proposed set ups, had made a selection, confirmed the parts order, and scheduled the installation time for next week.

Look, I’m not saying you shouldn’t support small business. Where you spend your money is a deeply personal decision. That said, I’m absolutely finished bending over backwards and practically begging them to take my money. If getting a decent level of service means dealing strictly with the big players – and paying the corresponding premium – that’s what it’s going to have to be from here on out.

My apologies to small business owners out there, who I’m sure work very hard, but honestly getting quality work done in a timely manner is far more important to me than either where the guy who owns the company lives or getting the rock bottom price. That won’t win me any friends from the Main Street Business Association, but I’m over here trying to run a household. I have neither the time not inclination to go on playing championship phone tag with companies that don’t seem to want to be bothered. 

The Bathroom Report: Day 96

Yesterday I got a fancy yellow sticker from the county building inspector signifying that the job is complete.

I’m not entirely sure what he inspected. He certainly didn’t turn any nobs or flip any switches. He didn’t go to the basement to check anything. But he was here and I have a sticker and I guess that’s the important part.

We may be finished in the eyes of the county, but there remains a small hitch. The shower floor – all 35 square feet of it – was carefully sloped in the general direction of the drain. It was almost bang on except for the part where the lip of the drain grate is approximately 1/16th of an inch higher than the surrounding tile. The end result is a shallow puddle of water that collects around the drain and then sits there for 18-24 hours. How long it stays there seems to depend largely on the relative humidity in the house more than anything else. In any case, it feels like a long-term invitation to mold issues and grout problems if it’s allowed to continue year after year.

After giving it a look over, the builder agrees that it needs to be addressed, so at some point in the near future I’ll have another appointment with the tile guy who can hopefully resolve the issue with a combination of dremeling and  building up grout immediately surrounding the drain to bring things flush. After that, this project should be well and truly complete.

Until then, the saga continues.

The Bathroom Report: Day 89

The Before (c. 2000)

The contractors arrived as scheduled at 8:30 this morning and set to work hanging the last of the hardware and caulking every fixture. After about 30 minutes the lead man for the day poked his head into the office and inquired where he could find the mirrors that they were supposed to hang. 

That’s a problem only in the sense that the last time the mirror frames were discussed, they were being delivered to the shop that was supposed to put the glass in them. That was near on six weeks ago and I haven’t given them another thought – in the assumption that they were being stored by the contractor temporarily with the rest of the hardware that was going in today. 

In any case, the mirrors weren’t here. And they weren’t in the small stack of stuff the contractors brought with them. And that triggered a flurry of texts between the contractors and their home office while they, I presume, tried to figure out where the missing mirrors actually were. 

In the end, the lost was found… after someone from the office stopped by the glass shop and took an unplanned 45-minute drive up from Middletown to the Elk Neck. There was a bit of additional delay as they then had to schlep over to Lowe’s since no one along the line had realized they’d also need mounting hardware. 

As I’m writing this, the contractors have departed for what, hopefully, will be the last time. The hardware is hung. The mirrors are up. Everything that was supposed to be caulked has been treated to a generous helping of silicone. After that gets 24 hours to dry, it looks like I’ll have a fully functional, dedicated master bathroom for the first time since 2011, when I ran screaming from Tennessee. All that’s left is moving all the bits and pieces from the guest bath over into the new space. I expect I’ll be taking a middle of the day shower tomorrow just because. 

The After (c. 2022)

I won’t pretend to be surprised that this project ended with one last stick in the spokes. I signed the contract on this effort back on September 9, 2021. Thanks to COVID related backorders and labor shortages, work didn’t kick off until May 25th, 2022. Here we are on August 19th, struggling right to the end. Except it’s not the end, of course. Not really. There’s still final plumbing inspection to go through next week and final, final inspection on a date yet to be determined. On and on it goes.

Even with the time involved and the absurd expense, I don’t regret the decision to tear this bathroom back to the studs and cause it to be built back to suit my needs. The final product is near enough to what I wanted to not quibble over one or two minor points of detail. It has, however, been the most significant home improvement project I’ve ever signed off on and it has been an eye-opening experience in a multitude of ways.

Having been thus enlightened, it’ll be a good long while before I want to set off on another quest like this… which is exactly why I’m trying not to think about eventually needing to change up the other bathroom so that there’s at least one bathtub in the house… and that the kitchen really could be freshened up with new countertops and flooring. The list is never ending, but I expect after this year of improving interior fit and finish, the next little while will be occupied by taking a hard look at upgrading the now 22-year-old cooling system and starting to plan for a new roof. 

The joy of home ownership continues.

The Bathroom Report: Day 82

We held the “pre-completion” conference on Tuesday afternoon. It basically consisted of the project manager stopping by so I could point at the things I had already told them via email last week. The net result is that I once again confirmed that the toilet paper holder, towel rod, and mirrors need to be installed. The backsplash, top of the shower tile, and shower dress plates all need to have silicone caulk applied. Finally, I confirmed again that the hand-held shower leaks at the supply tie in. I’ve lost track if this is the second or third week of repeating these few items.

The PM took his notes and pictures back to the office to confer with the scheduler, and theoretically work up a final schedule to finish off this project. The plumber, to his credit, was here the very next day and checked his items off the list. That just leaves the guy who does the silicone and hangs the hardware.

You wouldn’t think knocking off what’s maybe an hour’s work would drag into the 3rd or 4th week, but here we are. I’ll concede that calling it a 30-day project was probably over optimistic at the start, but the fact that we’re now running hard towards day 90 feels awfully excessive. With a little more project management, this effort could have been done, finished, and over in sixty days even allowing for the two week delay caused by the county’s johnny-on-the-spot inspection regime.

As of early this afternoon, the contractor says they’ll have the work finished next Friday morning, so we’ll give it another seven days from here. Maybe I’ll be able to report the mission accomplished next week when I post the update for Project Day 89. Even then it’ll have an asterisk because being well and truly “accomplished” will also depend entirely on the final county inspection.

If it feels like I’ve completely lost patience with this project, rest assured it’s because I have.

The Bathroom Report: Day 75

When I started this series of posts back in May, I really wouldn’t have guessed I’d still be writing them 75 days later… and yet here we are. If some past weeks went forward in leaps and bounds, progress now feels like it’s measured in fractions of an inch.

I did get to commemorate the 75th day of bathroom remodeling by seeing the last “major” item knocked off the list of things that still need installed. The 4’ x 4’ piece of glass that should, theoretically, keep most of the shower spray contained inside the shower got dropped into place around 8:45 this morning. After a 24-hour waiting period for the silicone to set, the house will have a working master shower for the first time in its 22-year history. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a hell of a big upgrade from the super-sized, dust collecting tub the last guy thought should dominate the room.

It’s still not quite a fully functional bathroom yet, though. The prime contractor needs to come back to put in a towel bar and toilet paper holder. Two mirrors still need to be hung. There’s a fair amount of caulking that still needs done on the vanity and shower fixtures. The hand-held shower’s connection to the supply line still needs tinkered with to stop a rather annoying “belch” of water from coming out of the joint when the diverter is cut over from the hand held back to the main.

Maybe, if I’m lucky, it means just one more visit from the contractor and this endeavor will be finished. I suppose I could spend every day hectoring them about getting the last of the work scheduled, but since I’m holding the last quarter payment until work is finished and accepted, I suppose they’ll be calling me sooner rather than later.

The Bathroom Report: Day 68

There is nothing significant to report. The project remains at a pause pending a few final bits and bobs. The mirrors, a towel rack, and the toilet paper holder remain uninstalled. The connection for the handheld shower head has an odd leak/surge when the diverter is closed. Last, but certainly not least, the 4’x4′ piece of glass that I’ll need in order to keep the rest of the room dry while the shower is running remains “ordered.”

We’re over the projected timeline by a factor of 2.25 now. At least the project managed to stay on budget.

As a direct result of this little bathroom project of mine, I’ve really begun to question my long held dream of having the final homestead built from the ground up. The level of aggravation this one room has caused makes me question whether I could get through a new house build without having a stroke and heart attack simultaneously.

Getting clean…

Before I get into this, I want the record to show that I keep a reasonably clean and tidy home. Despite the popular perception that men can’t or won’t do the domestic work to keep a house in order – whether it’s cleaning, cooking, or doing laundry – I have, since the year of our lord two thousand, done all of those things myself. Maybe I misunderstood the assignment in interpreting what was men’s work versus women’s work. I’ve just lumped them all in the same category as cutting the grass and getting the oil changed – otherwise known as things that need to be done if you’re going to be a functioning adult.

As time has rolled on, I’ll admit I’ve farmed some of those things out. I use to change my own oil. I use to muddle my own way through appliance repairs. None of that was a point of personal pride so much as it was a function of not wanting to spend money beyond what was absolutely necessary to get the job done. Over time, promotions and time in grade accrued. Deep into middle age now, I’ve reached the inevitable conclusion that time rather than money is my most limited resource – too limited to spend hours of a Saturday and Sunday doing things I don’t particularly enjoy simply because they must be done.

With that in mind, I’ve been making a conscious effort to offload projects to professionals. The bathroom renovation has helped me build a roster of plumbers, electricians, and painters to go along with the guys who clean the gutters, handle appliance repair, and do the heavy lifting on the spring landscaping. Could I do most of those things myself? Sure. It’s just not how I want to spend an increasingly limited amount of time.

After a decade or more of threatening it, I’ve finally pulled the trigger on hiring someone to come in a couple of times a month to keep up with the deep cleaning. Running the vacuum or dusting is easy enough to manage, but there are things I loathe – like cleaning bathrooms, scrubbing floors, and wiping down baseboards. The inevitable result is those things got deferred, often repeatedly. When they did eventually get done, it was always harder and took longer than it would have otherwise. So, I’m going to see about letting someone else keep up with it for a while and decide if having perfect strangers loose in the house is the alternative I can live with or if that proves to be a bridge too far.

Wednesday afternoon, I’ll decamp temporarily from my normal telework position in the sunroom to a small desk I keep back in the tortoise room and let the cleaners have at it. After that we’ll sort out details on how often and for how long I need to plan on them being here going forward. It’s probably not the best financial decision I’ve ever made, but there’s really no telling how having a truly clean house a few times a month will improve my overall mood. This one might not stick, but I’ve absolutely reached the point where I’m more than willing to give it a try.

The Bathroom Report: Day 61

Monday was the only working day on the project this week. The electricians were here making final hook ups in the morning and the plumbers ate up the afternoon installing all the fixtures. For all practical purposes, I have a working bathroom… That I still can’t quite use yet.

The punch list I’m tracking includes hanging the mirrors, caulking the vanity top, around the top of the shower tile, and all the fixtures, installing a towel bar and toilet paper holder, and addressing an odd leak from the handheld shower that only seems to happen momentarily when the flow is diverted back to the main showerhead. There’s also the backlogged glass panel that needs to be installed before I can properly use the shower without water logging the rest of the room. None of that includes the more mundane things that need doing – like picking a trash can and replacing the builder grade shower head.

I have, at least, moved back into my own bedroom. Sleeping in your own bed after being displaced for two months is a real pleasure. With the painting down and the shelving back, I’ve even started using my master closet instead of having thing split between three other closets and one large pile in the middle of the room where George the tortoise lives. The missing seven square feet is surprisingly noticeable, but I don’t regret giving it up to get more space for the shower. I still want to rework some of that space, maybe add some stacked shelving in addition to the current long racks. There’s enough left-over parts and pieces from what needed to be removed that I can probably fashion something to suit with just one or two trips to Lowe’s. Failing that, a drive down to Ikea will get me there for a few dollars more.

With paint on the walls and all the fixtures in, I still don’t love the colors I picked out for the vanity and top. I have, however, decided they’re good enough to not be able to justify tearing things out immediately. Soon enough, the guest bath is on the list for its own upgrade, so they’ll eventually find a home across the hall when I bring in something else.

The list to drag this project, limping, across the finish line is relatively short, but since we’ve now exceeded the original project timeline by more than 100%, I’m increasingly eager to have the last bits finished off. After it being an almost completely useless room for the last seven years, I’m impatient for it to start being something to use instead of just for looking at as an ongoing curiosity.