110 Years of Dirt

At 3pm yesterday Husband declared it was time to remove the layers of kitchen ceiling in preparation for the installation of the new tin ceiling. Old house renovations are like Gordian knots: you pull one thread and it looses all kinds of other tasks that are interrelated and sometimes unexpected and almost always mean more work.

Case in point. Although a multitude of more pressing jobs trump the installation of the tin ceiling, we have an almost-full dumpster sitting in the lane. One of our overall strategies is to get as much junk and old materials out of the house so that we don’t have to keep renting a dumpster every time we work on a job. So out came a non-load-bearing (closet) wall in the master bedroom, and a major clean-out of the top and bottom of the carriage house, basement, and unfinished attic space ensued. Just a wafer-thin bit of room in the dumpster remained for the old kitchen ceiling.

We started in the bright afternoon sunlight, tearing off the multitude of layers and do-it yourself fixes that have occurred over the years. The first layer of drywall came off okay; we worked from the exposed hole in the centre of the room where we discovered a leak from the upstairs bathroom a few weeks ago. Out came the pot lights and the pendants with no issues. As we began stripping a very thin veneer of t&g pine, the dirt showers began. I rushed to install some 6 mil on the doorway to the pantry and to the dining room, but it was akin to closing the barn door with the cows already out. The sunlight streaming through the windows revealed the powdery cover on the floors and everything in between. Crikey. This would mean washing every dish in the floor-to-ceiling open shelving in the dining room and dusting/mopping every surface in the family room, not to mention vacuuming up the stairs. This would never happen in a client’s project; I wonder why we put up with our own foolishness with our own?

As the original board sheathing was worked free of the floor joists one hundred and ten years of dirt, insulation, old bathroom tiles, pipe bits and other various debris cascaded onto the kitchen floor. Rolling clouds of dust floated out the open door. But we were both surprised by the lack of mouse poop, considering we are a popular autumn B&B for the rodent set.

As darkness fell it became obvious we needed a Plan B. It had to be 6:00pm, the family was unfed and we still had a few hours of work to complete. With only two of the four kids at home, I walked down the street to my neighbour’s and asked for a big favour: would she take my kids and feed them dinner and keep any eye on them for the next few hours? (She said yes). I grabbed the portable electric light from the workshop and hung it off the key rack, wiped a dusty knife across my pants and we devoured hunks of fresh olive bread spread with wild boar pate, washing it down with cold cider. Another sexy Saturday night in the Rapids.

Husband continued whacking away at the ceiling as I wheeled loads of debris to the dumpster. We switched positions as I shop vac’d every nook and cranny in the ceiling joists and picked out the last of the plaster at the wall intersections. Just before nine I recovered the kids and sent them off packing to bed. By ten the tarps were gone, the kitchen was vacuumed and I was physically spent. The follow-on cleaning would have to wait, probably for several days.

“I didn’t think it would take that long,” commented Husband as we slowly climbed the dusty stairs. I was reminded of the first commandment of project management: estimate a project, then double the time and double the cost and you have a pretty good picture of what you are in for.
And next time, I would add, remember to start early.

Zen Zapped by Hydro One

There’s nothing like waking up to perfect blue sky and plenty of sunshine, strapping on the toolbelt and heading outside to find my zen. A little hammering, a little head-scratching and soon a big fat smile on my face reflected the pleasure of working on the energy retrofit of our Old Gal.
Husband showed up about an hour into my contentment, bearing news from Hydro One. Since I don’t fancy electrocution, we need to schedule a disconnect/connect of service in order to work within ten feet of their connection point on the front face of the house. There’s plenty of work to complete the front face (and all other sides), to get old materials off and to install the housewrap, insulation, strapping and new pine siding and trim. And then there is the complexity of the old and new window work to come.

What did I want first, he offered, the good news or the bad news? I felt my big fat smile slide right off my face.

According to our electrical contractor, Hydro One offers customers one complimentary disconnect/connect per calendar year. That means that they, in conjunction with your own electrical contractor and at your own cost (@$300), will disconnect your electrical service and reconnect it when you tell them to do so. You can ask them for a reconnect later that day, a week later or three months on. It really depends on what your tolerance is for no power to your house and how long it takes to defrost that side of beef in your freezer. With a family of six, power required to run our well pump, septic system, UV water treatment system and furnace, two people that work from home, and the aforementioned beef, our tolerance is one working day.

If I bring two guys in to work with me, assuming an early morning disconnect, we could reasonably strip the face of the house, remove the storms, pull off all the trim boards, replace/repair any punky sheathing boards, prep the surface for house wrap, flash and seal everything, wrap the face, install the board insulation, strap the face, install a stand-off post for the electrical mast, and have the reconnect done at the end of the day. All is good, so far, and I certainly don’t begrudge my electrician his fees.

But good quickly turns bad. I am not installing the siding and the rebuilt/refinished windows until the Spring for reasons of weather, schedule and budget. If Hydro One performs another disconnect/connect in the Spring, it will cost me $1,000 in addition to my electrical contractor’s fees. Option B, at $1,200 (plus own contractor fees), offers a ‘temporary wrap’ of the connecting point so that becomes safe to work around and therefore does not require a disconnect/connect.

Choice (anti-Zen) expletives followed by immature foot-stamping on my part, mistakenly understood to be directed at innocent messenger.
Either way, if we require two disconnects within one calendar year, we could be forking over nearly fifteen hundred bucks. Ironically, this will more than wipe out any savings from decreased energy bills that we might realize from the energy retrofit in at least the first two years. And because Hydro One is a monopoly we really have no choice.

Wouldn’t it make sense to waive all fees for residential energy retrofit projects? Couldn’t common sense prevail on a case-by-case basis, particularly when we’ve never called Hydro One in thirteen years of home ownership?

On that cliffhanger, this beautiful Thanksgiving long weekend comes to a close and I am tired. The irritating e-mails and follow-up phone calls can wait ‘till the morning and my frustration has drained through the keyboard to the page. My shoulder muscles relax as the lightness of sleep descends. I smile as my zen, in spite of myself, so quietly returns.

Shop Class 101: Kindergarten Redux

I remember clearly my very first shop project in Advanced Housing at Algonquin College. We were tasked with building a preacher’s block and it was a pass/fail assignment. Sawing, planing, chisel work, and sanding were all to be accomplished without the aid of power anything. After several classes my block looked unmistakably sad. It was irregularly shaped and the many gaps were crammed with a mixture of glue and sawdust in a shabby attempt to make them appear more wood-like. I smelled a pity pass. I felt frustrated, sweaty and a bit panicked. What the hell, I wondered, had I gotten myself into?

But I took that preacher’s block home and called my four kids over. “Look”, I said. “This is my first project and I think it was the worst one in my class.” It reminded me of the ashtray I made for my mother in kindergarten and I suddenly felt a lot of empathy for the eight little hands around me whose growing skills don’t always match their vision. “But I’m learning something new and it will take time, patience and a lot of practice to get good at it. I know it doesn’t seem like it, but big people can’t do everything.”

I admit I’m still a little light on the patience thing but it has been an incredible rush to watch my skills improve as I repeatedly tried and messed up and tried yet again. Now I’m just that much quicker and, most importantly, can brainstorm the workarounds when things don’t go according to plan. I keep my wonky preacher’s block in plain view to remind me of the beauty of being in the game, of putting myself out there and the pure pleasure and freedom found in the act of learning. An invaluable bit of knowledge, I’d say, for a classic Type A who always expects her skills to match her vision.

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