As the days lengthen, the household is beginning to shake itself loose from four months of winter inaction and beginning to lay out the list of things that need done as spring arrives.
This week, I’ve got a repair scheduled for a garage door that’s badly needed adjustment for months. I’ve also made calls to get the yearly generator service put on the books and to get a date for the spring mulching, two other annual expenses I’m perfectly happy to incur. Sure, I could do both of those things myself, but once I figure in the value of my own time (and half a dozen trips to Lowe’s), letting the professionals handle it in 1/3 of the time just makes sense.
Still to come projects are having the windows recalked and the angle iron lintels and a few other bits of trim scraped and repainted. I’ll farm those out too. I’m too old and too fat to fall off ladders. Heading out to pick up a new battery for the lawn tractor is at least one item on the list I’m competent to manage without direct supervision. Judging by how green some parts of the yard have started looking, we’re nearly to the time of year where being able to cut and trim is important. That also means “summarizing” the snowblower and de-winterizing my venerable Echo string trimmer. By the time that gets done and the garage is reset for warm weather operations, it’ll be time to clear off a winter’s worth of grime from the back porch and get the planters ready for a bit of color.
That leaves the wildcard… the master bathroom renovation that I expected to start around the end of January is still pending. There was a 16-week lead time just for the damned vanity, but now we’re past the half-year mark from the date I signed off on the final plan. With a third of the price already paid out to purchase supplies, I feel like I’ve been reasonably patient to this point, but now I just want to get things started so it might actually end someday… though I’ll admit the heated floor felt like a much more reasonable expense in the fall than it does with summer just over the horizon.
I just made my bi-weekly call to the contractor to check in and remind them I’m still here. I’m not sure it does any good, but it makes me feel slightly better in hoping I won’t be marking a one-year anniversary of starting the design/build process before demo even starts… though I won’t pretend that it’s outside the realm of what’s possible at this point.
It turns out any house can be a money pit if you’re obsessive enough about things being just so.
1. Low bidder hard and software. About once a week my laptop does some kind of update that makes it functionally useless. Sometimes it takes fifteen minutes sometimes it takes three hours. There’s no way to tell in advance on which day it will happen or how long it will take. Each and every day I log in to my beloved low bidder piece of absolute trash laptop is like a game of low-stakes Russian roulette. I mean it begs the question of why these updates don’t run overnight, or during non-working hours when normal people are least likely to need to use their computer. Then again, the answer to that question would inevitably be stupid and unsatisfying so I won’t bother asking.
2. All the things. Somehow, all the things conspired to happen this week. Final approval of the new bathroom, diagnosing well problems, learning I needed a new washing machine, estimates coming in for a bit of driveway repair and maintenance, and wondering why the gutter people didn’t show up. There are many moving parts to keeping this household up and running and I suppose I let some of them slip a bit over the last few months – I’ll blame subconsciously trying to maximize the last bit of time I had with a sickly dog for that. Still. This week has been a lot.
3. Malaise. It’s the time of year. For most of my adult life I’ve found myself “enjoying” a minor funk as the days start getting shorter and fall comes on. It’s nowhere near debilitating and only lasts a couple of weeks before the keel evens out, but while I’m getting back to equilibrium, it’s a whole lot of demotivational… so I suppose if I seem a little more aggravated than usual, we’ll all know why.
It’s going to be a busy and unavoidably expensive week.
Tuesday: Should be appliance repair day. Hopefully they can tell me why the washing machine is throwing periodic errors and if it’s reasonably economical to repair. Otherwise, I’ll have to add appliance shopping to the list of things to do that I don’t want to do.
Wednesday: The bank has, at long last, funded my bathroom renovation loan. All that’s left to do is sign the paper work and hand over a ponderously large down payment for the work… and then we can get properly started in approximately 3-4 months… assuming the backlog in materials doesn’t get any worse.
Thursday: The last estimate on repairing and resurfacing the driveway… and shortly thereafter cutting another unpleasantly large check.
It’s fun that no matter when I start planning for projects they all eventually seem to tend towards a bottleneck.
Perhaps the one true up side of the parade of home repair projects over the last 18 months has been that I’ve mostly been here. Whether it’s getting estimates or needing to let people in to do the actual work, it’s all been sorted with minimal time off required. I’m very much going to miss that part when we get back to the new, new, new normal.
The saga of why my well has gone wonky and what’s to be done about it continues.
I’ve learned a few new things over the last couple of days though. Or instance, the homestead sits on three distinct layers of sand/gravel, sand/clay, and sand. The well goes 195 feet down through them to the final sand layer. That’s not overly surprising. If I remember my long-ago undergraduate geography class, the whole of the Eastern Shore is a sand berm pushed up at the end of the last ice age by the proto-Susquehanna River as the ice melted.
Knowing that, having a bit of extra sediment coming through is fairly easily explained – by someone who knows more about hydraulics than I do. The most likely cause, according to the well company, is a slight shift in how water is flowing through the aquifer coupled with a 20-year buildup of sediment in the bottom of the well. The proposed solution: Raise the depth of the pump a bit. Sounds reasonable to me.
The bug and bug part intrusion, remains more of a mystery. They’re not exactly naturally occurring at depth in the water table. There’s no evidence of bugs making their way through the well cap, either. The tentative recommendation there is swapping out my current single-stage filter to a two- or three-stage set up that should capture everything down to the one-micron level. Not much should make it through that – certainly nothing large enough to identify definitively as a “bug part.”
The company I’m dealing with still wants to do a bit of homework and wait for the results of the water tests to come back, so we’re not at a point where we have a definitive plan of attack or a projected butcher’s bill for getting it done. Not that it matters all that much. It’s not like I’m going to opt to keep the bugs, regardless of the price put on making the fix.
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?
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.
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.
I can cover some basic home maintenance tasks with a degree of competence. Others – like schlepping up the ladder to clean the gutters – I’m more than happy to pawn off on the professionals. The net result is usually something done faster and with less chance of breaking other things in the process than I would be able to manage myself.
Other times, though, instinct tells me I can do a thing – often because I’ve done that thing previously. Sunday, instinct told me that it might just be better to buy a old fashioned standard toilet at Lowe’s and replace the whole 20-year old contraption instead of fiddling with repairs. Especially because the repairs were going to take proprietary parts and be a pain in the ass to complete myself. A straight up replacement would have been almost plug and play and taken no more than 45 minutes.
I ignored my instincts last weekend, ended up calling in a professional for help, and still finished off by buying and installing a brand new toilet. At least this one has reasonably accessible bits and pieces that I can (probably) deal with when the inevitable time comes.
What I learned this week – or what I re-learned for the 247th time – is that when it comes to home repairs, I should always check my first instinct and then go directly where it points. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred that’s where I’m going to end up anyway.
1. Surprise that hurricanes cause infrastructure damage. Reports this week say that “a lack of power and phone service in the areas of Florida flattened by Hurricane Michael last week was hindering efforts” to respond to and recover from the event. Well yeah. That happens in a natural disaster. That happens when one of the strongest storms to hit the United States in all of recorded history flattens everything resembling modern infrastructure that happened to be in its immediate path. FEMA, the media, local governments and anyone who knows anything about emergency preparedness has been screaming for years that people, individuals, need to do more to be ready when the unexpected happens (not that an approaching major hurricane is an “unexpected” happening here in the 21st century). If you insist on staying in or returning to what is, by its very definition, a disaster area before even basic power and communications infrastructure is available you’d damned well better be prepared to generate your own power or rely on battery backup and understand that winds that can knock down brick and mortar buildings can surely strip the bits and pieces off of a modern cell tower while it tears hard-wired communications networks asunder. Basic infrastructure like power and telephony took generations to build out. Screaming complaints that it hasn’t all been restored in a week or two is unrealistic and makes you sound like a idiot.
2. More chicken dreams. It’s not a sure thing, but I’d estimate that close to 50% of the time I eat a chicken-based dinner, I end up with wildly realistic dreams a few hours later. They’re not quite what the reading defines as “lucid” dreams and they’re not nightmares, but these chicken-fueled dreams are wildly realistic – in a Hollywood back lot kind of way. The most recent found me walking through a storefront I knew well as a kid into an interior that had hints of what “should” have been there but that was dominated by people and things that would have no business or reason for being there at all. I think I’m going to have to stop eating chicken for dinner. It’s not that I mind these dreams as I’d just rather not spend the time from 2:00-2:10 am laying awake wondering what the actual fuck is going on in my head.
3. People. Yes, people are a perennial target of my ire, but as far as I’m concerned it’s a consistent refrain because it’s so richly deserved. This week alone I’ve observed people walking out into traffic without looking, nearly sideswipe me on the highway (again without looking), (attempt to) jump into the checkout line as if there weren’t already three people standing in it, and generally moving about in the world as if oblivious to anything outside of their own arm’s reach. I really have no idea how more people aren’t apoplectically livid about their day to day interactions with people. Maybe you’re all just better adjusted than I am… or maybe you’re just too nice to say it out loud in public.
1. The speed at which you can go from hero to zero and back again. They say no one remembers all the good stuff you did past that one time you do something bad. That’s probably true enough. Good and bad, in my experience, are simply matters of perception though… and the whiplash between one person declaring you a shithead and the other proclaiming your glory is probably something I will never get use to. It’s a good thing we don’t have objective and standard measures of performance against which all things can be judged.
2. People always notice the big things. Tell people they have to work a double shift and that eight hours is as noticeable as a sore thumb. Let that same eight hours slip away in increments of 15 minutes here and 45 minutes there and no one seems to notice much. I notice, of course. I notice because I value my time more highly than just about any other commodity. If I were to start randomly showing up between 15 and 45 minutes late with no notice or explanation, it’s a fair bet suddenly that incremental time would start being important to more people than just me… and I’m feeling just passive aggressive enough to see about putting my pet theory to the test.
3. Home maintenance. I bitch a lot about home ownership. With that said, I should note that I really do love the house I’m in. What’s grating on my nerves at the moment, though is the “systems maintenance” do loop I seem to be suck in at the moment. Water heaters, gutters, HVAC, sundry other appliances all need their fair share of attention – some more than others. As with every aspect of home ownership it always boils down to a simple matter of time and/or money. As both are in somewhat short supply at the moment, I hope I can be forgiven my slightly jaundiced view on the joy of home ownership at the moment.