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Introducing our house and associated renovations.

Posted 02-25-2011 at 12:02 PM by WillK

In the course of discussing specific issues in my project, often the topic prompts peripheral information or questions to come up. That being the case, I decided it was time to start a web log of my project as a means of giving a broad overview of the grand scheme as well as the particulars of the project as it progresses. Thanks for visiting, and feel free to add comments, suggestions or any questions if you find perhaps you are doing or have done something similar.

First a little background on me. I am a mechanical engineer working in the automotive industry with about 10 year’s professional experience. I've also been an automotive restoration hobbyist since being a teenager, so I've developed a strong mechanical aptitude. I am married nearly 10 years with 2 children aged 4 (girl) and 5 (boy).

We bought our house in August 2010 and moved in a week before Thanksgiving. In the mean time, we had moved from Indiana (where we had lived for 3 years prior) to a house my parents were getting ready to sell. Before that, we had a house near where we live now but had to move out due to a job change.

Being that our house in Indiana had lost some value due to numerous foreclosures with which it had to compete in the housing market, we had to do a short sale. We did sell quickly and our shortage was less than 10% of the price, but in terms of getting financing it doesn't matter if you're $5 short or $500,000 short, it becomes a barrier to financing another purchase.

So we looked at some houses that were in a low price range but in decent suburbs. We found a house listed at a low price, and it was an estate so it did not come with the entanglements of the seller having a mortgage to pay off. We ordered an inspection, and with the issues that were found, it was clear that this would be a house that would be difficult for prospective buyers to finance, so we were able to reduce the price and purchase on land contract - and we would be able to own the house free and clear in less than 5 years.

I had the experience to know that whatever you learn about a house before you buy it, you will find more later on. At the price we bought the house, we knew that even if we were to buy an empty lot we would be spending more. Still, with land contract our only financing option, we were also in a situation where complete demolition wouldn't be an option because our land contract obligates us to not reduce the value of the property. There also is the fact that building a new house would be too much money spent too fast.

The house was originally built in 1917; the seller was the son of the previous owner who had bought the house in 1973. Assets for the house are newer windows, a fenced (although small) back yard and a detached 2 car garage with workshop. The house construction is primarily balloon framed, although the last 10 feet of it had been added apparently at some later point in time and were constructed differently than the main house, and even later a mud room had been added to the back of that. The mud room was constructed on slab on grade. The remainder of the house was over a dirt crawlspace and supported by columns of cement blocks and/or other materials. A few of those columns were even stacked on top of footings. Most are not.

So the initial plan was to start with the most immediate needs, which would be in no particular order:

1) Replace the roof
2) Rewire knob and tube wiring
3) Fix a gas leak noticed during inspection
4) Insulate
5) Reinforce the foundation structure

Longer term goals would also involve more projects:
1) Renovate the kitchen
2) Renovate the bathroom
3) Repave the driveway
4) Rebuild the second floor to increase living space and have a second full bathroom

After the purchase offer was agreed to, planning began for renovations. It was decided that the roof needed to be done first. A 30 yard dumpster was rented for disposal of roofing materials along with other things left by the seller (mattresses and furniture). Along with this, we threw in material from gutting the second floor.

After tearing down lath and plaster on the second floor, it was found that along with the cellulose insulation in the ceiling, extensive birds nest had occupied the attic space. All of this was sitting on, around and over the knob and tube wiring. Various wiring had been spliced into the knob and tube wiring including extensive use of lamp cord. All wiring on the second floor was removed.

Also, the rafters over the dormers had seriously sagged. In fact, moisture damage had deteriorated the rafters to the point where they crumbled from being pulled on by hand. It is likely the deterioration was from humidity trapped from inadequate ventilation, what little ventilation was present was obstructed by bird nests. Original plank sheathing was cracked and rotted, and subsequent 3/4" OSB was supported by boards over the old sheathing at the middle, suggesting that the rafters had rotted before a previous re-roofing job. All roof structure over the dormers was removed and rebuilt.

So through September and October I was able to complete the tear-off and replacement of roofing shingles, installation of new vinyl siding on the dormers and internal gutting of the second floor. With cold weather coming, I determined the gas leak was in the branch supplying the hot water heater, so I disconnected the pipe and installed a shutoff so gas could be turned on to supply the furnace to prevent water pipe freezing.

As a matter of principle, I am pulling all permits where required by the locality. Unfortunately, they tend to require permits to a greater extent than the average locality and their fees are higher than I'm used to. This in particular affected my plans to rewire the house, and I scaled back my plans. The reduced plan is to rewire the second floor and kitchen, this eliminates 95% of the knob and tube wiring and 100% of the lamp cord. Unfortunately I am left with no electricity in the garage for the time being.

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