Adding to…

It’s been three years since I made my mark on the sales contract taking ownership of Fortress Jeff. The first two years in residence has largely been about taking away – taking away overgrown shrubbery, cutting down encroaching trees, eliminating the basement waterfall, and dismantling the massively over engineered wheelchair ramp in the garage. It was and continues to be a litany of projects left behind by the previous owner who had really “aged out” of an active interest in home maintenance and improvement.

I like to think now that I’m starting the 3rd year, I’m finally reaching the point of adding too the place rather than just taking away. We’ve already tackled the living room, water heater, and furnace. The air conditioning will be next most likely based on age. Most prominently, there’s the long awaited and sought after master bathroom renovation that I’ve wanted from Day 1. Then new carpet for the bedrooms. Kitchen appliances, countertops, washer and dryer all make the list too. By the time that list runs out, the 30-year shingles will probably be reaching the end of their service life.

The think that no one ever tells you about home ownership is that there’s always something lurking in the background waiting to suck giant wads of cash out of your wallet. Still, if you’re doing it right, the place is a home in addition to being “just a roof over your head.” Hard earned experience tells me that’s one of those intangibles that can’t necessarily be measured directly in dollars and cents.

Just in case…

If you live long enough you’re sure to noice there are moments where you repeat habits and patterns of past generations. Resist as much as you want and there are some elements of your parent’s personality that are sure to come through lound and clear despite all protestations to the contrary. As much as the big story today should be that Fortress Jeff is now manufacturing hot air six percent more efficiently than I was when the day started that is, in fact, not the big story… even if the projected savings on electrical and propane changes alone would have rated a mention here.

I’m writing here tonight not to sing the glory of high efficiency HVAC systems, but because I caught myself squarely in the midst of following my father’s footsteps. You see, when I walked through to the kitchen to brew up another coffee, I noticed the demolished remains of the old furnace laying on the driveway. Next to the shredded metal carcass of the furnace was a stack of 3-inch PVC pipe, the former intake and exhaust, that had been cut into neat eight foot lengths ready for disposal. Being my father’s son, of course, I couldn’t let perfectly good PVC pipe get thrown away.

Despite the fact that I have never in almost 40 years had a situation where I though, damn I wish I had a 16 foot length of 3-inch PVC pipe handy, I went out to the driveway and toted the two lengths that were clean cut and without joints back into the garage and leaned them in the corner. I laid them up “just in case,” against a day that when I need just exactly 8 or 16 feet of pipe to take on some project here at the house.

These lengths of pipe join sections of trex and 1×2 that came off the access ramp that use to be in the garage, several coffee cans of mismatched screws, nails, bolts, and nuts, a few smallish squares of drywall, and some leftover tile that matches my kitchen floor. All of it is material in waiting – most likely for a project or requirement that will never come – but ready just in case.

What Annoys Jeff this Week? The

1. Water and ice. I had to pull the refrigerator out for the first time since I moved in to Fortress Jeff. It’s a nice enough refrigerator and it came with the house, but I’ve always been a little annoyed that it didn’t have an ice maker – or better yet, water and ice through the door. After almost three years of living here I’ve now officially discovered that the place is actually plumbed for a refrigerator that could make all the cold water and ice I could ever want. And now I’m even more annoyed by the people who made the conscious decision not to buy a fridge that takes advantage of it. Seriously. Who does that?

2. Republicans. I remember when one of the central planks of the Republican Party was controlling the deficit and reducing the national debt. The “budget bill” now before Congress is something that would make any decent Reagan-era Republican choke. I miss real Republicans.

3. Democrats. I remember when one of the central planks of the Democratic Party platform was building up social programs that benefited America’s most needy citizens. Based on the fight being put up in the House of Representatives, the Democratic Party now seems more concerned with securing rights for foreign nationals who are in the country illegally than they are taking care of business for actual United States citizens. I miss real Democrats.

Momentary inconvenience…

As I was sitting at my desk this morning going through the usual early Saturday routine of paying bills and administering the other minutia that goes along with running the household, the power cut out briefly. Looking out the window towards the woods, annoyed, I counted the seconds – fifteen of them before the genny cranked over and sent it’s homemade electricity surging down the wire and taking life from the 19th century to the 21st in a matter of no more than 30 seconds. From time to time I regret purchasing a big ticket item that isn’t strictly a need, but I can tell you true that I’ll always consider the cash sunk into that generator money well spent.

It’s probably a good day when the most annoying part of a power failure is having to turn the coffee maker back on and wait for the cable modem to reset. Momentary inconveniences though they are, I suspect I’ll be spending some time this weekend looking at battery backup options for some of those “key systems.” Because once you’ve eliminated the big inconveniences, the small ones somehow become even more obnoxious.

This (not particularly) old house…

A couple of weeks ago, I posted an open call for readers to “Ask Me Anything.” One reader asked what projects I’d tackled around the house since moving in. This post is my best effort at describing what was, what’s been done, and where we’re going in the future.

Anyone who has ever owned a house knows that home ownership isn’t so much a state of being as a state of doing. Over and above the normal cleaning tasks, there is, literally, always something that needs some kind of attention – a leaking toilet, an overflowing gutter, filters to clean, driveway cracks to patch, trim to touch up, brush to haul away, or mulch to lay down… and that’s just the basic upkeep work that goes in to keeping a house from falling down around your ears. Sure, I know that people can go months or even years without doing any of that stuff but in addition to a place to live, home is an investment and it’s one I’d like to make sure pays off when it’s time to hang up the for sale sign.

I’ve been in this new house of mine for a little over two years now, which means I’ve lived with it long enough to have found a number of its personality quirks. Some of those quirks are tolerable – like the section of kitchen floor that’s just enough out of level that it will try to trip you if you are tempted to shuffle your feet instead of picking them up when you step. The basement window that let in a small flood every time it rained for more than 15 minutes was one of those that was less quirky and more demanding of an immediate fix. Mercifully that hole in the ground is now relatively dry and my paranoia about returning home after a rainstorm to find an indoor swimming pool has begun to recede. In the garage, I’ve removed the wheelchair ramp that occupied an entire bay when I moved in. That space is now occupied with set of steps cannibalized from parts of the ramp, a proper work bench, a bit of shelving, and a Jeep.

The work that never ends continues outside, where so far I’ve pulled out or cut down two score trees and shrubs of varying sizes, stabilized a muddy mess of a hillside that washed across the driveway in the slightest fall of rain, and filled in a badly designed flower bed with sod. As far as I can tell, most of this work is in compensation for 5-7 years of maintenance deferred by the previous homeowner. Adding a permanent generator sized to meet all possible power needs of the homestead was a personal priority of mine that felt like an extravagance… right up until the point where the power was out for the better part of 24 hours this past winter. After that, being assured that life can continue uninterrupted by weather or falling trees has come to feel like something essential. The last (I hope) significant outdoor project was adding a “rustic” fire ring in the back yard… since “burning brush” is frowned upon by the local home owners association, but having a fire pit is not. Two birds with one stone, that.

I’m sure there will be more to do, because there always is. I can’t even blame the honey do list on anyone else since mine is entirely self-generated. I want to move a few light switches and add a few electrical outlets, which (probably) I can do on my own. Unfortunately I’m also reaching the point where many of the things I want to do are beyond my level of technical skill and expertise. The master bath is badly in need of a walls-in renovation. Four rooms and a hallway need new carpet. I despise the laminate counter top in the kitchen. Seriously. That was a crap place to cheap out on the original build back in 2000. There’s also a 10×8 foot alcove in the living room that’s crying out to be floor-ceiling book shelves.

So the list of things to do never really gets any shorter with me adding one or two new things for every one that gets ticked off. I figure that at the rate I’m going, by the time I’m ready to sell the place off in eighteen years I’ll just have finished up everything I wanted to do with it.

A happy place to hide…

Last year on this day I wrote that I was amazed a year had gone by and that “feels like there’s been some part of the place under construction for most of that time; not to mention an ever-lengthening list of projects yet to come.” As much as I would love to say that the second anniversary of buying Fortress Jeff finds that to be less true, of course it isn’t. The place is still a near constant construction zone (though fortunately this year’s efforts have been less dramatic) and the project list has only continued to grow.

It’s taken a while to get to a place where it feels like I’m not walking into someone else’s house that just happens to have all of my stuff in it… but I’m pretty much there now. Except, of course, for the occasional discoveries of little things that leave me wondering the logic behind why things were done a certain way when they built the place (like mystery light switches) and the perplexing rational behind not putting this place on a full basement.

All things considered I think I can be happy hiding from people here for a good long while.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Doing it on the cheap. I’m assuming that the plastic mailbox pedestal you’ve installed proudly in the front yard is supposed to look like stone. I’m sure you’re trying hard to ape the style of the big houses up the hill. I’m sure someone in your house, maybe even you, thought it looked good. That assessment was incorrect. It’s tacky as hell.

2. Jet noise. Local news out of Anne Arundel County reports that residents near Baltimore-Washington International Airport are upset because they’re hearing jet noise. Let’s recap: 1) You bought a house near the airport; 2) Now you’re upset that airports are noisy and want the county to make the FAA do something about it. In summation: You’re an idiot.

3. Wind and the failure to plan for it. Every trash can in the neighborhood blew over last night. Since the weather reports were all calling for a dramatic change in weather following a fast moving system of thunder storms, high wind overnight shouldn’t have come as a surprise. But it did, because of course it did. Now, those overturned 60-gallon rolling trash barrels have spewed paper products and plastic bottles into every gutter and wood line, leaving our little corner of the county looking like some kind of 3rd world shithole. Somehow I don’t expect the doctors, lawyers, or Indian chiefs in my hood will bother themselves it make it right. All for the want of a few $2 bungee cords.