I’m going to sleep on it…

Six weeks ago, I was on a wild tear to get the master bathroom, at long last, updated to the point where it was a functional space for something beyond walking through to get to my closet and an out of the way corner to keep Hershel’s litter box. Getting proposals back that saw my own preliminary cost estimate bested by about 50% has given me a moment of pause… not because I want a real functioning master bathroom any less, but because it is only one item on my list of things to do.

The others, in no particular order of importance are: 1) Patch and reseal the asphalt driveway; 2) Repair or replace leaking gutters; 3) Replace 21 year old air conditioning condenser unit; 4) Replace kitchen counter tops; 5) Be prepared to replace all major kitchen and laundry appliances since every one of them is now well past the point of economical repair; 6) More bookcases (because we always need more bookcases here). There are, of course, other more minor items that need continuous repair and replacement as needed.

Before the cost run ups associated with the Great Plague, the price of a new bathroom would have been an all cash operation. Funding was saved and earmarked. Now, it would mean pulling a loan to cover the unanticipated increase in cost. Doing the bathroom now means sucking all the oxygen out of the room – and being unable to address any of the other projects without further borrowing or kicking them years into the future in order to reestablish a sufficient cash reserve.

I’m going to take the weekend to sleep on it. The most likely solution feels like taking on some of the smaller projects while stashing away more cash to get the bathroom done right. That’s all hoping, of course, that rampaging inflation doesn’t completely throttle the value of the dollar and that at some point the COVID premium on construction supplies and labor moderates back towards historical levels. Those are two significant “maybes’ that there is no way to control for other than sucking it up and paying the bill now.

So yeah, tell me more about this joy of home ownership, won’t you?

Personal power…

I’m sure I say this early every summer, when the Mid-Atlantic is thrashed by heavy rain, high winds, but my god do I love my generator. The lights go out, I count to ten or maybe twelve, and everything turns back on. It’s the briefest possible interruption short of devising a truly uninterruptible power supply for the entire house.

Being able to power everything from lights, pumps, furnace, AC, stove, clothes dryer, sun lamps, and every other bit of electronics in the house almost simultaneously, there’s no question the thing is oversized for what I really “need.” If pressed, I might have to pick two between running the air conditioning flat out, cooking a full dinner, and doing laundry. I’m sure I could have made due with something smaller or more efficient, but given the difference in price point, picking limited circuits instead of running it all felt like a bad trade off. The freedom to not have to pick is, in a word, delightful in that it lets you just get on with the day instead of adding additional layers of complication.

Scratching together the cash to get it installed when I was house poor was a bugger. The thing’s got a bit of a never-ending logistics tail in demanding regular maintenance. But in a week where trees kept falling across the power lines here in Elk Neck, I was reminded at least three times that peace of mind and a steady supply of electricity has been worth every penny.

Good as they may be at getting issues resolved relatively quickly, at this point I think I’d be hard pressed to go back to living solely at the mercy of the power company’s service restoration timetables.

Pity the poor designer…

At long last, after excavating the back yard, taking down a bunch of trees, replacing the furnace, and taking on innumerable other small tasks here at Fortress Jeff, I’m finally ready to start the wheels in motion to renovate the master bathroom.

It feels strange saying that. Six years ago, I almost took a pass on this place because the bathroom was so underwhelming. If I remember correctly, I had the place written into my house-hunting notes as “revenge of the tub” because it was the second house I looked at that was otherwise very nice, but had only a giant damned bathtub in the master bathroom.

I don’t have anything against enormous bathtubs in theory. In practice, though, they’re not my thing. I had a massive jetted tub in my house in Memphis and I filled it a grand total of one time in the three years I lived there. The only thing I’ve used the one in this bathroom for is for bathing dogs – and it wasn’t particularly useful for that. As far as the way I live is concerned, a giant tub is the quintessential waste of space – and represents money better spent on heated floors and, perhaps, a monstrous shower.

“But,” some will say, “A freakishly large bathtub will improve your resale value.” Maybe that’s true, but I’m the poor dumb bastard that will be living here for the next 15 years. Putting the room together to suit my reality makes far more sense than trying to project what some notional person a decade and a half from now might want to see. 

For now, I’m gathering up the list of contractors I’ll ask for proposals and putting together a list of what I’d like to get out of this project. I feel like I have a solid grip on the big bits, but as I troll around online it seems inevitable that the fit and finish will give me no end to trouble. I almost feel bad for whatever poor designer I ends up working with me to sort out the details.

That trouble notwithstanding, I’ll be extraordinarily pleased to finally be able to take a shower every morning without schlepping down the hall. 

Revenge of the deferred maintenance…

I’ve spent most of the last year deferring things that would bring people through the door. Part of that is just my natural disinclination to have people wandering around the house, but mostly it was part of my personal plague protection scheme. You can’t catch the bug if no one gets closer to you than the end of the driveway. 

It means now that I’ve had all my shots, it’s time to start working through the backlog. Sigh.

A few weeks ago, I anted up for the whole house power wash. The siding has never looked better and the moss colony that had taken root on the roof seems to (temporarily at least) be a thing of the past. It would have taken me a three-day weekend and probably resulted in me falling off the damned roof. It took them about three hours.

Today, Stanley Steemer crawled through the house finding every HVAC distribution and return vent to price out what the damage is going to be to get the whole system cleaned next week. After six years, it’s probably well past time for that regardless of what it ends up costing.

After that it’s a call to my go-to landscape company to schedule us in for spring mulching. That’s another project that takes me two days followed by weeks of nursing a sore back, but the professionals get finished in a handful of hours. 

There was a time I wanted to do all the work myself. I think it’s safe to say we’re well past that now and moving swiftly into an age where I’m perfectly happy hiring the work done and clawing back as much of my time as reasonably possible. 

We’ll see how I feel about that in a few weeks when I put out the call for bids on the long-delayed master bathroom renovation. Sure, there’s no way in hell I could do that work myself, but paying for it is going to be an agony.

Becoming those people…

Six years ago today the spot where I’m sitting to write this was covered by a stack of boxes freshly hauled inside by three guys from Allied Van Lines. If you find yourself in a position to move your entire household after the age of about 30, I promise you hiring the job out is absolutely worth the money. You’ll have plenty of time to throw out your back moving furniture into just the right spot or lugging boxes once they’re already in the house. Moving is chaotic enough without personally schlepping every item you own in from the curb.

For most of these last six years, every spring has involved a minor crusade against the green algae that appears inevitably on the north and east sides of the house. Usually, it was a minor annoyance that could be beaten back with a good scrub brush, a hose, a few helpful chemicals, and half an afternoon of concerted effort. It’s not the kind of yard work that’s particularly fun, but necessary for the sake of keeping up appearances.

Over the last year or two, the algae has been creeping higher than can comfortably be reached, even with a ladder. Worse yet, the roof is now showing undeniable signs that good growth of moss is starting to take hold. I love my woods full of old oaks and poplar, but this is one of the inevitable inconveniences – and not one of those that can be remedied by ignoring it until it goes away on its own. 

I’ve long since gotten too old and fat to risk falling off my own roof… a result that feels almost inevitable if I were fool enough to take on the job myself. Since I’m going to have the roof done, I might as well let them take on the gutters while there here. The fascia and soffit are filthy too. The algae needs taken care of. Since there’s a spot of it up towards the gable end, they might as well deal with that while the equipment’s already going to be here.

Yeah. I’ve apparently become one of those people… but at least the exterior of the old place will look better than it has since I took over the management here. Even if that means I’ve got to pay someone to scrub the place from roof peak to foundation.

The plastic doohickey…

I inherited all the major appliances here when I bought the house. They’re all 20 years old and serviceable, so I haven’t been in a wild rush to replace anything. That said, though, I’ve hated the refrigerator from the day I moved in. The damned thing looks huge, but interior space is cut up and awkward. There have always been drawers that never seemed to sit level, shelves that were supposed to slide but didn’t, and an inexplicable missing piece of glass shelving that I replaced early on with a thick piece of plexiglass (because I’m too cheap to pay Maytag prices for a panel of tempered glass). 

The whole contraption went to pieces last week. The crisper drawers wouldn’t push in all the way, two shelves were wildly askew, and you could forget about anything sitting level. It was at some point during the great unpacking of the fridge that I discovered there was very clearly a missing piece somewhere in the middle of the mess. Whatever this missing bit was, it was obviously the lynchpin on which all of the slides and drawers depended to operate correctly.

The manuals for all these appliances are long gone, but thanks to the power of the interwebs, I was able to pull up some schematics and identify the missing bit through the process of elimination. So, after ordering up a $26 plastic doohickey, a couple of days shipping time, and once again pulling 75% of my refrigerated items out of the refrigerator, it’s all now working the way it should have done from the beginning. Reaching in for George’s spring mix is no longer an exercise in playing early morning Jenga, so that’s a thing I’ve got going for me now.

Mostly, the saga of the refrigerator leaves me wondering how the geriatrics I bought the house from lost both the oversized glass shelf and this particular bit of plastic in the first place. Alas, that will remain an unsolved mystery unless the ghost of the previous lady of the house starts leaving me spectral clues as to what tragedy befell them here.

Library….

Sometimes the most dangerous thing I can tell you is “I’ve got a plan.”

I’ve always wanted a library of my own. A place just for books. Space, money, and the knowledge that I’d be moving again soon always conspired to make it impractical. Now that I’ve settled in to a house I plan on being in for the next 15 years, that calculus changed a little.

I’ve got the old bookcases rearranged and freed up space for two new additions.  I’ve also stumbled into the first of what I’m assuming will be multiple problems as the room comes together.

It started life as a dining room and has doors on two walls and a triple window on another wall. Proper built ins would be better, but I’m going to want to sell this place one day. As much as I’d like to imagine otherwise, an operational dining room is likely to be a better highlight than a full library for the average buyer. Sure, I’d like to imagine selling the place someday who shares my slavish love of books, but I’m a practical home seller with far more concern about ending up with the biggest pile of cash possible once all the paperwork is signed.

Since doing the full conversion is out, I’ve accepted the idea that IKEA makes serviceable shelving at a price that’s not cripplingly expensive. My room will hold a lot of their units, but being fixed width, there will be some gaps and a bit of downright weird spacing. Add in the just confirmed fact that the floor is half an inch out of level in places and some of the things I need to do to make the shelves look level is downright wonky. This room seems determined to teach me the art of the compromise.

Before I started the “great rejigger” of furniture this week, I thought I’d be able to squeeze a good comfy reading chair into the corner of the room that gets the best evening light in the summer. A quick look now with everything in place shows that was a pipe dream. So the options are either keep the shelf space as planned and lose the corner with the good light, lose the shelf space completely to keep the good light, or shoehorn the bookcase back into the plan on one of the “short” walls to keep both self space and the ideal spot for reading. Right now, the leading contender is adding the chair and skipping the extra shelf. Books and direct sunlight are poison, anyway, so I’d probably be doing my future self a favor.

The next time I move there’s going to be a room designed specifically for this, but even making do with slightly odd spacing and what fits where, I think this new incarnation of the old room will be well enjoyed when it’s finished. Come to think if it, I’m pretty pleased as it’s sitting now at a touch less than half the final plan. So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.

Taking care of #2…

There are whole books written about the “joy of home ownership.” Depending on the day you ask me, I’ll probably question whether the person talking about that has actually ever owned a home. The joy of having a roof over your head is surely tempered by the random bullshit of air conditioner repairs, flooded basements, trees falling, clogged drains, and the myriad other everyday problems that come along with owning a house. More than once I’ve thought wistfully about the ease of apartment living. File a work order with the office and things got fixed – eventually – although the “eventually” added its own degree of aggravation.

Today’s adventure in home ownership is the semi-regular pumping of the septic tank. It’s a necessity, of course, but there’s something disheartening about paying good money to haul your own feces out of a hole in the back yard. Then again, it may be best not to spend much time pondering on the fact that there is, in fact, a hole filled with feces in your back yard to begin with. Probably something that’s not worth dwelling on until it’s absolutely necessary.

Whether you’ve running your own waste disposal site or you’re on town water and sewer, you end up paying for the ability to poop indoors one way or another. If you’re lucky the basic maintenance won’t lead to needing to throw even more money literally down the sewer. The number of basic home maintenance projects I’ve undertaken that haven’t resulted in sprawling mission creep you can probably count on one hand.

I’ll be the first to admit that indoor plumbing is one of the most undercelebrated features of the modern world, but making sure it all stays in working order feels like the polar opposite of the joy of home ownership. 

I spend more time pondering shelving than is strictly reasonable…

I had one of those awkward moments this weekend. It was triggered by trying to add a book to the case and finding that particular shelf of one of my favorite authors was filled. That’s where I realized that the new bookshelves I bought for the dining room 18 months ago probably have no more than 18 months worth of space left on them. Same with the shelves in the living room. The non-fiction section in the office is all but full. No more than a years worth of space left there. So maybe 3 years of storage left between the lot of them. It’s likely less because if my habit of always having one fiction and one non-fiction title going simultaneously. None of this even takes into account the dearth of space now available on the recently installed “to be read” shelves.

I know it won’t seem like it, but I really have already curtailed the pace with which I’m adding new books to the collection. Sure, cutting that number to zero and de-accessioning some of what’s already there would resolve the ongoing issues with storage… but I’m trying to come up with solutions that I can actually live with, and not some kind of ridiculous, pie in the sky plan that has no hope of getting off the ground.

I’m left considering two long term options. Both involve, not surprisingly, adding extensive new shelving – either replacing and expanding what’s currently in the dining room or along the wall where my couch is currently situated. There’s enough space in either spot to buy a decade or more of storage at the rate I’ve been working through the collection in the last few years – about sixty books a year, or three individual shelves worth of reading material.

In my heart, it’s an easy decision – call a cabinetmaker and order up 70-100 linear feet of built-in shelving for the dining room. The heart’s bill could easily run to $5,000 or more to make it look good. My head, knowing that the current house is most likely temporary (although long-term temporary), would advise just laying on ten more Billy’s from Ikea – a cost that we could reasonably expect to hold under $1,000… although it would never look as nice as having the job done properly.

If you think I don’t have doodles showing the library with a few attached bedrooms and a kitchen I want to build in retirement, you likely haven’t ever heard me talk about books. I’m going to live here in this house for another 16 years, though. As much as I’d love a room filled with built-ins, what losing a dining room to gain a proper library would mean when it comes time to sell weighs on me. More shelving is going to happen, the only question really is whether I can get past my inherent reluctance to tinker permanently with bones of a house that eventually will need to appeal to more than my own sense of what goes where. Fortunately, I’ve still got a little time to consider the options.

Experiments in lawn maintenance…

About a year ago I made the decision to stop hammering the front lawn with weed killer, fertilizer, and most of the other treatment products I had been using to keep it golf course green. The studies showing that chemical treatment for lawns is a large contributor to bee and insect die off and nutrient runoff into the Chesapeake are sufficient to convince me that I could tolerate a slightly less lush look out front in exchange for not contributing unnecessarily to those issues.

I can report now that the yard definitely looks different than it did a year ago. It’s still surprisingly green, though that’s in part due to favorable sun/shade conditions and soil that holds moisture like a sponge. From the street it still looks remarkable “lawn” like – although closer inspection will show it is increasingly going over to clover with a strong presence of dandelions and other groundcover weeds mixed in during the early part of the growing season.

I’m still mowing once a week, which seems to be enough to keep the faux-lawn looking neat and tidy enough to not give off the appearance of having given up on the idea of yard maintenance. I’m helped significantly by the looks of next house up the road, the owner of which apparently does not believe in any kind of lawn care than can’t be achieved with a 42-inch riding mower. The unsurprising result is a landscape edged all over with tall weeds and “missed” patches. I’m a little surprised the HOA is letting him get away with that, really, but it provides ideal cover for launching my own experiments in lawn maintenance so I don’t complain.

I grew up in a house with a plain, old yard and it wasn’t until my adventures in west Tennessee suburbia, with our houses packed in elbow to asshole that I started to develop an obsession with a pure, emerald green lawn… ironic, perhaps, because the Bermuda grass faded to dormant brown three months out of every year.

Over the last fifteen years or so, I’ve come full circle with what elements of the landscape I choose to care about. I’ve gone from craving a proper lawn to enjoying a yard again. It’s straight bonus points that I’ve also noticed an increase in the number of bees and other pollinators I see going about their business on the property. It’s a small win, but one that both the science and I agree is worth having… now if I can just gin up the time and money to rework two large front planting beds with something the local deer are less apt to eat, we’ll be making actual progress.