Eight years ago, I bought a house. It wasn’t the first time I’d done that, but it was certainly the nicest of the bunch. Don’t get me wrong, the condo/bunker in St. Mary’s County had a certain charm and the Memphis house had the virtue of being absolutely new, but this place has the combination of interior space, sufficient distance from the neighbors, and geography that the others lacked.
How that happened all of eight years ago, I’m not entirely sure. It feels like it’s been about eight weeks – or maybe eight months if I’m feeling particularly generous. It’s not until I add up the projects – backyard drainage, the generator, tree removals, sod, a new furnace, and most recently the bathroom renovation. Thinking back on all of those, it absolutely feels like eight years have slid past.
I’ve reached a happy point where there are still projects that need doing – new carpet, interior repaint, a new roof, replacing the air conditioning condenser, and a bit more tree removal – but even without these things, the place is comfortable. Unsurprisingly, I’ll take comfortable over new and flashy every single time.
Despite what has felt like a never-ending litany of repairs and improvements, I’ve developed a real affection for the place. The longer I’m here, the more I realize how lucky I was to find it at the right time and for a greatly negotiable price. It might not be capital “H” Home, but it certainly feels like a strong lowercase home for sure.
I’ve been fighting with the gutters on this house since more or less the first weekend I moved in. One of the very first things that needed doing was clearing out a 10- or 12-foot segment that wasn’t so much a tool for draining water as it was a prelude to a roof garden. Living in a house surrounded on three sides by 80-foot oaks, you learn to accept keeping gutters clean is a never-ending bit of work. For me it has meant twice a year professional cleanings and periodic unclogging as needed in between.
The place came pre-installed with basic plastic gutter guards. By the time I took up residence, some were broken or missing or warped out of shape and making nuisances of themselves. At best they were a 50% solution, but I limped along with them, replacing individual pieces as needed. This year, during various high wind and heavy rain events, it seems whole sections of the rainwater management system have just given up the ghost. This past Sunday I had water pouring over the top of the gutters in at least three spots. That’s not ideal.
Hiring someone to, at a minimum, install a new set of metal leaf guards was near the top of next year’s home improvement list. Given that the existing gutters were clogged Sunday evening about 36 hours after I had cleaned them out and verified that they were running properly, getting resolution on this is now formally a “this year” problem. Getting through what’s left of the fall and then a long, cold winter with the current set up feels untenable.
So, instead of schlepping up the ladder and replacing another series of broken or mutilated bits of plastic, I’ve done what I do best – I hired a professional to rip it all down, give me brand spanking new larger gutters and cap them with perforated metal covers. It wasn’t a planned expense for this year, but getting it done right instead of applying another patch to patched patches is probably the better use of time and money. Sure, it’ll still need some periodic maintenance, but I’m cautiously optimistic that this could be the beginning of the end of seven years of gutter related bullshit.
I should file this solidly under “the joy of home ownership.”
Two weeks ago, the plumbers that installed the works for my new bathroom were back to correct the mysterious problem of the shower handle that wouldn’t stay attached no matter how much or often the set screw was tightened down. To my mind it still feels flimsy, but to their credit it has stayed attached after their visit. If it breaks again, I’ll surely just call my own choice of plumbers to get after it rather than the guys who are subcontracted to the builder who did the renovation work.
The repair work for the handle involved some disassembly, a lot of fiddling around with the valve and stem, and reassembly to something that gave all appearances of working correctly.
About a day after that work was done, however, I noticed a steady, slow drip from the shower head. I’m not saying the two are necessarily connected, but one started immediately after the other was “fixed,” so I do have my suspicions.
I notified the plumbers that there was an issue a week ago today. So far it’s been radio silence. I just assume that’s going to mean yet another round of getting the prime contractor involved (again) in order to get anything done and the glaciated pace of everything involved in the last half of putting this bathroom together. I suspect the only reason he’s even remotely interested is his tile guy remains on the hook to come in and tweak a little bit of slope around the shower drain… which can’t happen until the steady trickle of water is stopped and they’ve got a nice dry floor to work with.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
So, the last week wasn’t great times. Personally and professionally there were a lot of moving parts that never quite meshed among themselves or with each other.
Monday and Tuesday I worked from home and all was well, or at least it was well until the storms rolled through, trees fell over, and grid power crapped out and took my access to the internet along with it. No internet means no working from home. Which was a problem because Wednesday was a day where the general contractor was making a big push to get a lot of work done and I needed to be home. Chalk it up to an unplanned day off while the bathroom contractors did their work using generator power. At least someone was getting some work done.
By Thursday morning power and internet were back, but I couldn’t log in to my work computer. After six hours of sitting around waiting for the help desk to get back to me, I was duly informed of the reason why I couldn’t sign in. It seems I was delinquent at completing mandatory annual cyber security training and had been unceremoniously expelled from the network until I took the class, sent in my certificate, and genuflected six times in the direction of the IT office.
Under normal circumstances none of those things would be more than an inconvenience, but there’s a catch. Because of course there’s a catch. Because of reasons, this training can’t be completed from a personal computer. I had to be on the official network, which means I had to schlep in to the office and use someone else’s machine. That’s great, of course, except last week was a steady parade of general contractors and painters trying to wrap up my bathroom remodel. They had full days scheduled on Friday and Monday. With so many more or less unknown elements coming and going at different hours, leaving the house for any length of time just wasn’t something I was willing to do.
The net result between weather and home improvement was burning off three unplanned days of vacation time last week. Adding another 24 hours to the 64 hours of leave I’ve already burned this year to mostly hang out at the house while other people do work. It doesn’t feel like a great way to take the lion’s share of your yearly vacation days.
Yes, I still have a mountain of combined annual and sick leave on the books. If I don’t take any more vacation time, other than what’s already have scheduled, I’ll still carry over the maximum amount allowed, but also means facing the next five months with no impromptu days off. That feels… stifling. I have grave doubts about whether I’ll be able to pull it off no matter how my good intentions.
It’s been a busy week even by comparison to the last few busy weeks.
Because a lot of the ceiling had to come down to accommodate new infrastructure, a metric shit ton of insulation had come down too. The week started with blowing new insulation back into the attic. After that, the designer stopped by to pick paint and look at my unexpectedly mismatched vanity top. The consensus there was to stand pat until the paint is on the walls and fixtures are in before making a final decision. I think we’re all being overly optimistic by hoping that the paint will pull everything together, but I’ve never had a particular eye for color so I’m satisfied to just let the process work through to its logical conclusion.
If it turns out we do need to bring in a substitution, it won’t be the end of the world. Remove two fixtures, replace the existing top with a darker stone, reattach the fixtures, and get on with life. Easy to say, of course, before I have to cut another check for it. In the worst case, I’ll keep the current top stashed in the basement until the time comes to renovate the guest bathroom. That’ll have to be done eventually anyway since it seems some people are fussy about having at least one bathtub in in house. The current number of tubs here is zero and it suits me fine. Maybe it’ll be odd to have dual sinks in a guest bath, but bugger it. I’ve already paid for the damned thing.
The painter has been here for the last two days throwing his own proprietary variant of Lowes’ “Realest Greige” onto the bathroom walls giving the closet a nice coat of contractor standard white. One wall in the bedroom needed repainted due to several spots that had to be cut and patched. Doing one out of four walls wasn’t ideal, but the bedroom is probably the next room on my project list. It needs new carpet and could stand a full paintjob – both of which I was putting off until after the dust and dirt of ripping out and replacing the adjoining bathroom was behind me.
Final hook ups for plumbing and electrical are scheduled for Monday. I’ll be glad to have the giant box o’ toilet finally out of the laundry room. It’s been there for over two months now.
Even after all this, there are some punch list items left to do. The mirrors need to be hung. The towel bar and toilet paper holder need to be mounted. A final bead of caulk needs to be run around the top of the shower tile now that the ceiling is painted. With the paint done I can reinstall the blinds and recycle a valance to hide those mechanicals at least temporarily. I’ve also got a small set of shelves I’ll be pressing into service as storage until I stumble across a more permeant storage piece. The shower glass, of course, remains on backorder. But other than that, this project is done.
So, you see, “done” is a matter of degree.
I suspect I’ll jump the gun and start moving back into the bedroom over the weekend. The temptation to sleep in my own bed after two months across the hall is just too strong to be foiled by whatever additional dirt and grime the electricians and plumbers might kick up next week. How that goes will depend entirely on giving everything a good cleaning. Even with everything swaddled in plastic, tarps, and drop cloths, construction dust seems to be inescapable. Once I get it to a serviceable level of clean, I’m inclined to go ahead and hire someone to really give the whole place a going over from top to bottom. I’ve done a reasonable job to keep the mess from spreading to the rest of the house, but really getting things back up to standard is going to take a level of effort.
That’s it. That’s the update. The end is tantalizingly close and still feels incredibly far away.
After nearly two full months, I can honestly say I haven’t loved my time in the guest room. I’m sure the bed is perfectly serviceable for a weekend visit or maybe even for a week or two. Because we all light up the front of our houses like good suburbanites, there’s also way too much ambient light bleeding in the front windows. I tend to prefer near total darkness for sleep. I’m sure that’s something I could correct with updated curtains, but I’m determined to ride this out as a temporary expedient that doesn’t require the addition of blackout shades.
I won’t pretend this temporary relocation has been all bad, though. What I have enjoyed is sleeping in part of the library. The guest bedroom, you see, does double duty as the holding area for my to-be-read nonfiction pile. It’s a few hundred books I want to read coving just about all the high points – and many of the low ones – of western civilization. There are absolute shit tons of wisdom stacked in those volumes. I know it won’t transfer by osmosis, but having it that close at hand through the night is somehow comforting.
I suppose this means there will be bookshelves making their way to the master bedroom sooner or later. It won’t happen immediately, because I don’t even want to think of laying in bookcases until I can arrange to have the carpet replaced. Believe me when I say that’s the kind of thing you want to consider in advance before picking a new spot to accumulate a few hundred pounds of paper and glue and binding. You don’t really want to spend your time moving stacks and stacks of books more than once if there’s any reasonable way to avoid it.
So, that’s now another couple of projects tagged on to a list of things to do that never seems to get shorted. Must be one of those joys of home ownership I keep hearing about.