Part 3 of the construction project

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We easily passed our insulation inspection as well as the re-inspection for the rough-in failures and now onto the next major project: drywall. We ordered the 12-ft long drywall because we were told that the best jobs went with the minimum number of vertical seams (the horizontal seams are beveled allowing a cleaner finish) and were just barely able to get the stacks loaded into the house without carrying them. Tony, the Home Depot deliveryman, was incredibly patient and worked the stacks in little by little until we could get them on the pallet jack so we could maneuver them into the house. It started to sleet while we were doing this, but it didn’t amount to much. Not much room left in the house with all that drywall! We had purchased a drywall lift that had the reach necessary to get to the 10 ft ceilings and we were optimistic that we could put up the drywall in a month or so and get the mudding done in another month or so. We started with the bathroom because it was small and in any case we wouldn’t be able to use the drywall lift there anyway. After a great deal of struggling we managed to get the drywall installed. However, the mudding (I was actually trying to use plaster rather than the typical mud) was going very rough and I was quite unhappy with the results. We decided to take a stab at installing the drywall in the rec. room (previously the lab, I have given up hope of using the building as a workshop/lab) and see how it went. It was a lot more work than I had anticipated, even with the lift, as pressing the insulation back up in the attic was quite difficult. After a lot of grunting and groaning (and my typical cursing) we only had a little corner done. Eliz talked me into getting a quote for hanging and mudding the drywall. We got a Mr. Harpine to give us a quote and he said that due to the housing slowdown in general and the fact that it was early spring (the traditional slow time for drywallers) he would basically just charge the labor for the folks doing the actual work. The quote was quite reasonable, though Mr. Harpine was clever enough to break down the quote into pieces (we could only do half the house at a time because of all the junk we had already, and he also split out the hanging from the mudding) so the quote looked even lower than it was. We decided that we had to go with him just to save our sanity. They quickly got half the place finished (it took about two weeks as the main ingredient in mudding is patience waiting for it to dry completely) and we rushed around to get the junk moved around so they could do the other half. That turned out to be an expensive experience as I wound up getting a sinus infection that basically had me bedridden for two weeks (which happened to coincide with the start of a new job; I missed several of my last days at NIH and nearly the first two weeks at FINRA). However, we were quite pleased that the job was done and decided to get the place primed and painted now that it was relatively simple to do.

We bought a spray painter as it seemed like it would be the fastest way to cover the walls, but the masking of the windows and floors, coupled with the extensive cleanup, meant that we probably could have done the painting with a roller in the same amount of total time. A note to those of you considering spray painting: make sure you have swept up all the dust and dirt on the floor else it will wind up on your walls! Also, there is a trick to prepping the walls that I forgot about. If you have gloss or semi-gloss paint (not as important for flat), the patches of the wall that got mudded will telegraph very clearly through the primer and paint and be very visible when the light shines against the wall/ceiling. Supposedly if you use a very dilute mixture of drywall mud and roll it on the walls/ceiling (thin enough that you don’t need to sand afterward), when it comes time to putting on the glossy paint you won’t have the patchiness because the paper surface of the drywall has been covered uniformly. Got to remember to do that next time!

We were able to get the walls primed and painted in a couple of weekends and started on the tiling. I have done tiling before and didn’t expect there to be any issues, but there was so much tiling that I wound up getting blisters on my knees even with the knee pads! It took two weekends to get it all done (laying and grouting). Now, instead of probably not being finished even hanging the drywall before going for a nearly month-long trip to the Philippines, we had the place drywalled, painted and tile laid instead and were ready to start on the kitchen. We were feeling quite pleased with ourselves at that point and were anticipating being finished enough for the final inspection soon after we got back at the end of July.

Alas, that was not to be the case. There were many many many little jobs that all had to be done before we were ready for the final inspection. We had to finish the siding and sofit on the rear of the house (that side gets very little weather and coupled with the 4ft overhang was basically untouched after all this time). We had to finish the gutters (started the fall after we got started, but never completed since then), install the interior doors, fabricate covers for the electric panels and tankless hot water heaters, install the kitchen cabinets and appliances, move the water pressure tank inside, install the baseboard heaters, grade around the house, install the hardwood floors, carpet the bedrooms, complete the bathrooms, etc., etc., etc. Each individual task was rather discreet and appeared simple and quick, but it seemed that each job also required a trip (or more) to Home Depot or Lowes and each trip was generally at least 3 hours gone, often from the middle of the day, so each individual small task often wound up taking two or more weekends.

With the rec. room and kitchen tiled we could now start to put the kitchen together. We had got the exact same cabinets when we redid our kitchen in Maryland and were quite happy with them, but it seems that the quality control at the factory went to hell and that probably explains why HD no longer carries them. It was impossible to get some of the base cabinets together and we had to use braces to keep the cabinets square. The wall cabinets went fairly well together, which was nice, but hanging them proved that most of the cabinet was going to be wasted space. I can’t even reach the top shelves of most of the cabinets, so a ladder will be a required element of the kitchen. We also decided to take advantage of the open space under the cabinets and put in our own drawers in the toe kick space, though the one under the sink proved impossible to get to go in once assembled (as I recall that was also the most unsquare when we were assembling it as well). Other than the traditional trips to HD to get needed parts, etc. the kitchen went together fairly easily and quickly.

We also decided that we needed to get the bathrooms finished and except for finding out we got the wrong type of medicine cabinet for the master bath (after, btw, planing down a quarter inch or so of the stud surrounding the opening to get it to fit) the install went pretty painless. It was nice to take showers in the house rather than the trailer, though getting used to the tankless water heaters has not been trivial.

Somewhere along this process the boss decided that the living/dining room needed to have cabinets to give it a finished look. We found that Lowes had a sale going and decided to order some base cabinets and wall cabinets with glass doors and some other cabinets to make a bit of an office. They were relatively inexpensive and were for the most part very nicely put together (one pair of cabinets, though, was assembled out of square at the factory and we are still trying to get replacements). Because they were pre-assembled they took up a lot of room and occasioned several moves and removes before we were finally able to install them.

In addition to the drywall, we also decided to get the carpet done by professionals as the labor cost to us was something trivial like $200 and they could do the three bedrooms in an hour or so. We got the inexpensive carpet they kept in stock with the rather more expensive pad and it looked pretty good and was a damn site better than walking on the concrete. With the carpet in the bedrooms done and the bathrooms in working order (and the working kitchen) we started to sleep in the house rather than the trailer. Kenny had two beds left in ‘storage’ as well as a couple of dressers, so we put them in the master bedroom and in Dondon’s bedroom both to have a place to sleep and to get them out of the way.

Laying the hardwood (engineered, glueless Brazilian Cherry with about a 3mm veneer suitable, so it claims for up to 3 refinishings) turned out to be a huge ordeal, largely because I had the bad luck to pick the wrong corner to start in. It appears that of the four possible orientations to installing the product, there is only one that is ‘correct’, though the documentation completely fails to indicate so. We were so frustrated after spending 4 or 5 hours tediously hammering (and ruining several pieces) the boards together and only getting a little bit done that we decided to return the product (we were fairly sure we could browbeat the HD manager into taking it back as we have purchased well over $60K worth of stuff from them so far on the project). While we were looking for a replacement one of the HD employees who we had talked with regarding the product was listening to our laments and assured us that he had used the exact same product and didn’t have a bit of problems. After quite a bit of back and forthing we determined that we were starting in a wrong corner and that we needed to switch corners. We were a bit dubious, but decided to give it a try as we both really liked the product and didn’t want to return it if we could make it work. Though it was a bit late, we were eager to try so immediately started in the other corner and lo and behold, the stuff went together almost painlessly. This is not to say that I didn’t have to give it a substantial whack (Eliz wasn’t able to put the stuff in because she couldn’t brace the one end with her foot while hammering the other end), but the whack was much less than before and I was able to very quickly put the stuff together. We wound up having to redo the first few feet again, again, as I had taken out the spacer at the walls as we went and that turned out to be a big mistake as the hammering on the other areas of the floor caused the initially installed floor to shift thus closing in the gap. We had to give a 3/4 inch gap on the short sides because the length was so long (over 35 feet), which meant we had to use quarter round in addition to the floor molding, but it looked OK in the end. We managed to get 2/3 of the floor done the first weekend, then moved the pile of cabinets we bought to the finished floor, then finished the last third on the next weekend.

Now that we had the floors all done (except for the carpet in the computer room; DIY squares we could do quickly but just hadn’t got around to it yet) I could install the baseboard heaters. This was well timed as it was starting to get cool. The install also pretty much went without a hitch, though I kept forgetting that after tightening the screws that mounts the heaters to the wall I needed to back them out a quarter turn and several of them make a ‘click click click’ sound as they heat up and cool down. While I do think the baseboards are quite economical compared to other ways of heating the house, January proved to be very cold with many nights in single digit temps and my experiment of leaving the thermostats set to keep the house at 70 degrees proved to be relatively expensive. In Feb we decided to put the temps on the lowest setting which keeps the house at 45 or warmer and our electric bill went from around $200 a month to something like $20. When we got in on Friday we would turn the temp in the bedroom up for the weekend, then turn it back down when we left and the rest of the house stayed around 50. Fifty is a fine temp if you are working, but if you are watching TV you slowly freeze solid, though blankets helped somewhat.

During the summer of 2008 I had left FINRA after just 6 weeks (the red tape was unbelievable and as a non-profit with around $4 billion in the bank they had no incentive to improve anything) with my last day just before we left for the Philippines. Quitting without a new job upset Eliz a great deal (I thought we had discussed it, but apparently she considered it a hypothetical discussion), but I as able to sign a contract to work at Fannie Mae the day before we left, so Eliz was able to have a nice relaxed vacation. Fannie paid well, but a wrinkle was that to help balance their year-end budgets all contractors were given a two week unpaid vacation over the Xmas-New Year holidays. We decided to take advantage of that and work on the house to get ready for the final inspection. We did a lot of work but I decided that we should go ahead and schedule an inspection expecting failure, but then knowing exactly what we needed to do to finish the job. That turned out to be a very fortuitous idea as not only did we not fail for things I expected, but we failed things I had no idea (for instance, the inspector was fine with the grading around the house, but on one side I had dug down too much and needed to put in a step). We were able to quickly get the missing elements competed, but then found out that we had dilly dallied too long on the septic and had to pay $350 to renew the permit just to finalize the inspection. However, we were able to pass the final inspection on December 31, though the paperwork took another week to get completed. A very happy day to help balance the rude news from Fannie that I got laid off. My supervisor had hinted that might happen on my last day (Dec. 19th), so I had already put my resume on the job boards, etc., but the holidays are a terrible time to be looking for a job as everyone is on vacation. I wasn’t terribly unhappy to be unemployed, though Eliz, who actually pays the bills, wasn’t quite so relaxed. Initially I was to get an offer in mid January with a small DoD contractor in Chantilly, but that fell through as there was something hinky with the contract. It wasn’t for several more months that I finally got another offer and will be starting with AT&T Government Solutions at the end of April. We have been getting a lot of stuff done on the house in the mean time because if I didn’t get a job we were going to have to sell it just to keep out of the poor house. In fact I had contacted our real-estate agent about meeting to discuss listing the property just hours before I got the offer from AT&T and was very happy to tell him we didn’t need to meet any longer.

To celebrate the job offer Eliz decided we needed to get a new sofa and love seat for the living room (we earlier bought an outdoor table and set of chairs for our dinning room) as she had already decided she didn’t want to use our current sofa/love seat when we moved (which, given the current economic climate, might be 2011 – 2014). With that delivered, the cabinets installed and the carpets we had earlier got from HD, the living/dining room really looked like someplace someone lived.

As spring started to sprung we (or rather Eliz) decided we needed to clear out the piles of downed trees at the creek so we could keep the area mowed so people could walk down to the creek. Whilst working there cutting up the trees our neighbor, David Uhl (he and his wife Pam (who is an excellent country and gospel singer) are transplanted locals, meaning they used to live in the city (New Jersey, I believe) and now they consider themselves locals), volunteered his backhoe to help expedite the process. Since he had earlier offered I had been thinking about borrowing it to smooth out the piles of dirt, gravel, etc. around the house and fill in some of the holes left over from the perk testing. I decided to jump at that chance and was warned that the breaks didn’t work very well. That turned out to be an understatement as basically to stop the machine when it was going down hill (simply letting off the gas was enough to stop it when it was on flat ground) I had to throw it into reverse. As some of you might imagine, this is leading to an ‘oops’… I was trying to grade around the front of the house were there was a trench left from when the pressure tank was outside and I was easing toward the house when the front wheel slipped into the trench I was trying to fill in and that gave the machine just enough momentum to slam the bucket into the front door before I could bring it to a stop. A huge dent on the door and the glass is cracked, but as far as disasters go it was relatively minor as the door still works (leaks a bit and needs some weather stripping). Eliz was very unhappy with me, though she did let me sleep in the bed that night. It took a couple of days, but I got the huge pile of dirt at the rear of the house spread around at the back of the property, filled in the various holes and smoothed out the piles around the house so it looks more like a place where people live now. Next project is to plant the fruit trees and berry bushes we bought. The place is finally starting to look nice and once we get rid of the trailer and canopy (and probably the temporary electric pole), it will really look like an amazing place even without the front porch/carport we have planned. A huge amount of work, but finally starting to feel worth it.

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