Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The wrecking ball pays a visit! Destruction begins!

Well, the day is finally here. Okay, a couple days ago they tore off the trellis to our deck. But that was just foreplay. Today they finally started ripping up the house. I thought this day would never come!

We stopped by the house after work and were treated to rubble in the front yard, caution tape on the side deck and bare wood framing on the back of the house! They are tearing away the stucco adjacent to where the new foundation will be built. I suspect that tomorrow they will tear off the deck.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

We FINALLY get our demolition permit!

Nothing new happened at the house today, but our contractor reported that we were FINALLY issued our demolition permit! Woo-hoo! Our building permit should be ready in a few days.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Constructions BEGINS! Oh wait... maybe not yet.

Today we went to the house first thing in the morning and were delighted to see three trucks in front of our house. We even saw lumber!! Mike was going to have his guys dismantling our kiwi plan that had entwined itself around our deck (which was to be removed to make room for house), while he went to pull the demolition permit from the city. We moved a few more leftover things from the yard into the garage, and left hopeful that by tonight there would be some actual demolition.

A little later in the day, Mike called to say that the city had told him that more trees needed to be protected -- trees that sat behind the part of the deck which was to remain (hard to see how they'd get chain-link fence there).

When we stopped by the house after work, there was more chain-link fencing up and some caution tape around the deck. So it looks like we should (crossing fingers) have our demolition permit tomorrow and real destruction can begin.

Today they just managed to say goodbye to the kiwi -- we no longer have kiwi or a trellis on the deck. I think that's good progress!


While we were at the house we saw our next-door neighbors (who had been gone on the weekend so we didn't get a chance to talk with them then). We had a lovely chat and explained a little bit about the project. They might take some of the stuff we're taking out, as our houses are of a similar era and some of the things in our house might fit nicely in theirs. Of course by the time we finished talking it was getting very dark and oh yeah, we don't have electricity, so we'll have to continue the discussion tomorrow!

First get together at the scraper!

On Sunday night I had some friends from work over to the scraper to eat some pizza and watch a movie. I figured it would be easy, because you just order out for pizza. We soon figured out all the things we hadn't moved from our house: a corkscrew for the two bottles of wine that people brought. Uh, more than two plates (fortunately Kurt was able to retrieve the Chinet from our house before guests arrived... those will come in handy, but I guess we'll have to make a Costco run to have a steady supply!). Maybe some glasses or cups? Good thing we bought canned sodas!

Oh yeah. Chairs. You need more than four chairs if you have eight people. So we used the piano bench, Coda's kennel, the office chair and that seemed to do the trick. Must remember to get a few folding chairs!

All in all we had a great time, and it was a nice way to finish off the weekend. We wound up all being too tired to watch a movie, so everyone went home relatively early so we could collapse.

Moving out is more work than I thought!

We spent all weekend cleaning stuff out of the rooms that are going to be renovated. On Friday I thought we were almost done; on Sunday I couldn't believe how long it took! The last bits of what has to be moved out are the hardest, because you can't really get help to decide what to keep and what to throw away. Kurt's brother said, just get some plastic storage bins, dump everything in there, stack 'em up and deal with it later. But I was determined to get rid of as much stuff as possible. In the end, I probably did fill a few cardboard boxes with stuff I'm going to get rid of later. My eBay pile at the scraper has also grown considerably (so look for some new auctions soon... once I get some energy back!).

While I decided things and packed/recycled/tossed out stuff, Kurt did recycling runs and other necessary errands. We did find one outlet in the house that actually still had power, so we hooked up our little portable stereo to power, and rocked out while we were packin'. It certainly made the time go by quicker!

Sunday, we started dismantling things as well. The closet organizers and the track lighting will all be salvaged and given away or sold. There are a bunch of other things that I'm certain someone could find a good use for but I'm not sure how to match up the person with the thing (craigslist, I suppose). Hardwood floors, wrought-iron railings, etc. Hopefully we'll find a way to recycle what we're taking out of the house.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Scraper versus Our House -- A Comparison

Kurt, being the funny guy he is, decided to compare the rental house we're living in (aka "the scraper" since it's scheduled to be demolished) versus our house. Here is his comparison. (Scroll down as there is something funky with the tables...)

The Scraper Our House
Central A/C rickety old fan

Front door works perfectly
pretend you’re the cops and kick it in

Garage fits two cars
one car on a good day
Ice in fridge door ice blocked up in freezer
Country club neighborhood suburban subdivision
Beautiful oak tree spurge
Wildlife rats
Separate freezer freezer bags
Duxiana bed concrete-slab French bed
Parking for guests nosebleeds and heart attacks from Himalayan altitude
Hot tub mosquitos

I think he's a little biased, but really, what can you do?

J number

What, you ask, is a J number? Mainly, it's a number we need for our demolition permit. It stands for "Job number", which is how the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) keeps track of your project. We had to have samples of the floors and walls sent somewhere for examination for asbestos (and thank goodness there was none found). Then, our contractor faxed a form to the BAAQMD and we were supposed to get the J number indicating we were good to go with the demolition in three days. Well, three days made Wednesday, but we still didn't have a J number.

So, I called the BAAQMD and they called me back a couple hours later. They didn't know anything about the project! So I got the guy's name and number, called our contractor, who refaxed the information to him and we had the J number right away! (Turned out that the application had originally been faxed to the wrong number, but don't ask, don't tell!)

So now we have everything ready for the demo permit. De-struction starts Monday. This weekend we'll go and pull all the stuff we want to save from the house (cabinets, track lighting, etc.) Don't need to worry about electricity being on, since there is none!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Stumbling in the dark.

We stopped at (the old) home on the way to our rental to bring some more stuff to the new house. Imagine our surprise when we found out we didn't have electricity! It's amazing the things you need electricity for... running the reefer, the sprinklers. Oh yeah, and the lights. We had to clean out our fridges and freezers in a hurry. We thought about tossing some of the old stuff down the garbage disposal. But wait! We don't have electricity! So we brought all the stuff in the refrigerator to the new house to sort through and toss out.

Hopefully this is a temporary glitch, as otherwise, no more automatic sprinklers, which means more expense to replace the landscaping when this whole project is done. I think it would be ironic if the very trees the city insists that we put fencing around to protect die because we can't water them (because we don't have electricity).

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

New house!

Yesterday we spent our first night at the new house. We came home to find the bed made, which was really a little bit spooky! I finally realized that the cleaners that our landlord had hired must have come again... I suppose it was nice to have a freshly made bed, even if it will never get made again!

During the day Kurt had to go to PG&E and get our demolition permit signed -- they had to verify that they had turned off the gas. Later that day he made some copies of our plans to leave for our contractor to take to the city.

After work we went to our old house to pack up some stuff and take advantage of the last bit of DSL. We moved all the computer equipment to the new house, but DSL wasn't yet hooked up. A night without internet! It was very discombobulating.

We left early for work since there was no way to compute from home. We left our demo permit and the plans for Mike. After work, when we stopped by the house, he had put the tree protection up. We're just waiting for one thing -- the Environmental Quality "J" number -- before the demolition permit will be issued. Mike expected to get that today or tomorrow and will then take everything down to the city.

Cable, phone and DSL were all supposed to be installed today. Since cable was already working, I just left a note on the door and we didn't bother showing for the appointment. Phone and DSL didn't require us to be there. Unfortunately, our ISP didn't realize that we have a filter at the phone junction box and not on each phone jack, so we don't have the appropriate filters. But, who needs a phone anyway? We unplugged all the phones and installed our DSL and now we're back in business! It's amazing how dependent we both are on the internet.
Coda had her best friend Roxie stay over tonight. This really is a great house for dogs. Big open carpeted spaces and long hallways make for lots of great games of chase. We have Roxie for two days, so the two dogs should wear each other out.

Monday, August 21, 2006

No more hot water!

PG & E showed up this morning and is pulling the meter. I'm about to take the last hot shower in this house for 9 months...

Sunday, August 20, 2006


Yesterday the movers came bright and early at 8:30 AM. Our landlord had recommended a company called Oasis, and we were able to set the move up with them very quickly. They sent three guys and an 18 foot truck that couldn't fit down the driveway. Unfortunately, we still had our cars in the driveway, so they stayed there during the course of the move and the movers worked around them.

It took them about two hours to move the furniture out of our house, and an hour to move them into the new house. The new house wasn't quite as big as I remembered, and our furniture just fit. The bed fit perfectly in the new bedroom. It took three guys to move our TV (oof!).. I'm really glad we had them do it! The entire cost, including tip, was about $300 -- well worth the money.

In the afternoon, we walked downtown for lunch with Kurt's brother and sister-in-law, who were down visiting from Washington state. More packing afterwards, and then we got ready for Kurt's big 50th birthday bash at a local restaurant. Our friend Cyndi ordered a fabulous cake in the shape of a grand piano -- complete with 88 keys and music! The dinner was Spanish fare, and was quite delicious. We got home by 10 and were quite exhausted.

Today we woke up bright and early and resumed packing. Kurt's brother Mark is a contractor, and he and Kurt installed a deadbolt lock on the door to one of the rooms that is not being modified so that we could store our stuff in a slightly more secure room. In the meantime, Marilyn shredded stuff to be shredded, and I packed.

We moved more of our stuff over to the rental, and we are now almost ready for the demolition crew to come. We ran out of boxes, so tomorrow evening, after we get some more boxes, we'll pack up the remaining stuff, and we should be ready to move over to the rental house. Tomorrow they disconnect the hot water at our house, so it will be our last shower here for a while.

Friday, August 18, 2006


Today we got the asbestos report back, and no asbestos was found! So, we should be able to get our J number from the Environmental Safety group early next week. With the gas turned off on Monday and signatures on Tuesday, we should be able to start construction on Wednesday or Thursday. It's so exciting!

My friends Phil and Helen came over this evening after work to help pack. Kurt brought home a big pile o' pizza, and we chowed down before packing up the house. The main objective tonight was to get any furniture cleared out that is to be moved to the rental place. Helen and Phil packed lots of boxes full of stuff that was sitting in bookshelves and other places that had to be cleared out. In fact, we ran out of boxes. Since much of the stuff in boxes is staying, we'll reuse any boxes that transport stuff to the rental to pack up the remaining things. But we are getting close to being done.

As I sit here writing this, I've done my bit... Kurt is still working on his desk, however. His job was the office, and a big job that is!

Once all the furniture goes to the rental house, we will finish packing the house. We are also going to start dismantling anything we want to save to sell or donate. I'm going to see whether habitat for humanity wants some of our cabinets and windows (we had just replaced two last year.. it seems a shame to throw them out!).

Movers come tomorrow at 8:30 so I guess I better go to bed!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Things are looking up?

Today was thankfully a good day! I needed one of those...

This morning, the cable/DSL guy came to replicate our DSL in our 2nd bedroom and to hook up the cable in the master bedroom (of our house). This was a leftover from when we thought we'd be living in the house during the remodel, but since we thought this would be useful to have in any case, we kept the appt. DSL was hooked up fine; cable was not -- turns out during our previous remodel, they never bothered to string the cable through from the mbr to the cable hookup in the garage. That goes on the list for when the rest of the house gets done!

Our new landlord came by to give us the key to our rental and to pick up the all important check and contract. The movers confirmed that they'll move our furniture on Saturday. PG & E called to schedule our gas meter disconnect for Monday (I must say, they were extremely helpful!). Insurance agent said our possessions in the rental would be covered under our homeowners' insurance, so no new insurance needed. Garbage, water, and PG&E in the rental taken care of. DSL will be hooked up in the rental on Tuesday, as will cable. So basically, we're all set! Now we just have to finish packing! (We've done very little packing since the weekend, and there still is a lot to do.)

Sooooooooo, all in all it was a good day! Our architect had to make an unexpected trip down to the building department to sign some forms he forgot to sign. True demolition should start on Wednesday if everything continues to go smoothly! Woo-hoo!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Kurt's bday present -- we get to keep our electricity!

Today Kurt turned 50. I made him warm toast with butter, just like he wanted, so his day would start off right.

Mike Cole, our contractor came by first thing, and we gave him the official signed contract. I guess now we're really committed (or maybe we should be!). After he met with us, he went down to talk to the city again, and they relented and gave us our electricity back. Hallelujah! We don't have to disconnect it (and we don't have to pay to have a temporary power pole dragged in, which would just be, well, stupid). We still do have to disconnect our gas, however.

I called PG&E to disconnect gas. I'm still waiting for the call back.

I got a new phone # from PacBell, and ordered our DSL moved. By next Wednesday, we should be all set up in the rental house. I ordered call forwarding to send our calls from our regular # to our new #. We'll disconnect the new # when we leave. I'm not sure whether I'll even bother with cable. We'll live the life of esthetes. As long as we have our internet, we're fine. That seems to be the only really essential utility (well, that, electricity, since batteries don't run forever, and of course, hot water).

It was another horrible horrible day at work. The stress of the remodel and this unexpected move is becoming almost too much to bear. Isn't remodeling fun?

Well tomorrow is another day, and I will need to bother PG&E until they call me back, and will need to take care of the garbage in the new place as well. Someone is coming tomorrow to add a DSL line to a different room in our old house (on the offchance we ever need to use it) and to fix the cable in our master bedroom in our old house. We'd ordered this up when we thought we were going to be living here, but since it would be useful to have this now anyway, we decided to keep the appointment.

I'm hoping tomorrow is just ever-so-slightly less stressful!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Movin' on out

Today was a very very stressful day. It was a stressful work day to begin with, which didn't help. Despite the fact that I had cleared my schedule so I could really make progress on a big project, I didn't anticipate the hitch that would come in the remodel. Our contractor called to say he had failed to make progress with the city on allowing us to live at our house during the remodel. Sigh. I called the city, and talked to Curt, the same guy I had spoken with last Friday, and really he wouldn't budge. Basically we are going to have to get a demolition permit before work can start, which means that PG&E will have to take out the gas and electric meters, and we'll have to install a temporary power pole to power the site. So cost goes up some more, as we'll have to pay for the extra utilities. But worse than that, we have to find another place to live, something which we really weren't prepared to do at this stage of the game.

One of my colleagues at work had mentioned that she knew of a place that had just become available as a short-term rental. It's a house about a mile from our house that is slated to be torn down. It's owned by a developer and he is awaiting permits. We know how that goes! So he is offering it for rent at a below-market rate for the flexible period he's going to be renting it for. We made arrangements to go see the house this evening, and it's a 2500 sqft one-story house on half an acre on a fairly quiet street. It's really way too big for what we need, but the price was right, and hopefully we only need it for a couple of months. I'm hoping we can move back into our house after the major part of construction is done. So amazingly, we rented the house. I guess that's what you'd call serendipity!

I have to say that I'm still not too thrilled that we have to actually move out of the house, but we'll make it work somehow. It's going to be strange rattling around in a 2500 square foot house with very little furniture. We really don't want to move too many things over because we don't want to have to move them back!

Now we have to get all our utilities connected at the new house, and get everything we're going to move, moved over. I'll do that tomorrow, I guess. At this moment in time, I'm just worn out.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Carpeting the garage

Today we had to go to work. I was really surprised at how exhausted I was. Man oh man. I guess we really did do a lot of work yesterday.

Oh, I failed to mention that last Friday, when we had to drop some forms off at the building department, I casually asked when we could expect to get our permit. One thing led to another, and they informed us that we needed to fill out a demolition permit, and by the way, we had to get the utility company to remove the gas meter. "But how are we going to shower if we don't have hot water?" I asked incredulously. "Oh, you can't live there during the remodel!" they said. "WHAT!?!?" I exclaimed! At that point I thought to myself "back away from the counter... pretend like you never heard anything and let Mike deal with it." I'm still waiting in a state of plausible denial, having not heard anything more. (Kurt thinks we can rent a shower from our next-door neighbors if worse comes to worst... we'll see! Hopefully none of it will come to pass.)

Tonight, we decided to carpet the garage. I think one of my favorite parts of remodeling is that you can destroy the part of the house that's being remodeled. It's so rare that you have an opportunity to poke holes in walls or cut stuff up. So we went downstairs with the utility knife, and cut a few choice cuts in the downstairs bedroom carpet. Kurt finished the job, moving furniture where necessary to get the carpet unloosed, and moved the carpeting outside. I vacuumed the carpeting (you're wondering why? because the furniture has to stay on the carpeting for nine months), and we rolled it up and hauled it up to the garage.

After moving the bikes out (again), it fit perfectly. We put the bikes back in and the garage is now carpeted and ready to be occupied by furniture. Heck, maybe we should just move into the garage now, it's so nice!

How to fit a whole house's worth of stuff into two rooms

Our permits are almost here. So now we need to pack up everything and move everything from our living room, dining room, family room, office and downstairs guest room and bonus room into a small little space. Mike (our contractor) told us we could use the garage (yay!), which means we don't have to rent a storage space, saving us about $300/month. Now that we're 2x over budget, every little bit helps.

I have been selling stuff that we don't need all year. Stuff that's smaller than a breadbox gets sold through eBay. Stuff that's bigger than a breadbox gets sold through Craigslist. As we get closer to D-Day, I am giving stuff away.

Last week, we had piano movers come to move the piano. I really wish I had taken pictures. They were either going to move it from the LR into one of the two rooms we'll be living in, or, if they couldn't fit it in the doorway, they were going to move it to storage. The piano movers came, and they masterfully managed to wedge it through the doorway, without scratching it, and with relatively little fuss. We were both amazed! So now the upstairs guest bedroom is partially taken up by a grand piano. (This will also be Kurt's office... that's part of the deal.)

However, now we are so close to having our permits, that it's completely scary and we're not packed. So this weekend, we started to figure out how we were going to pack everything up and fit it into the garage. To start with, the garage was a mess. We could barely fit one car in there. There was a ton of old computer equipment, lots of bike stuff, boxes, you name it. We somehow had to make a dent.

Saturday we worked around the edges. During the remodel, the double doors from our master bedroom out to the front lawn will serve as our front door. So we had to put a keyed lock on it. We found one at our local hardware/lumber store, and I installed it with no difficulty. I cleaned out the kitchen cabinets that will be taken down as part of the remodel. Fortunately we have plenty of space in the rest of the kitchen in which to store stuff. So we had no problems finding other places to put the displaced objects.

We made lots of progress on Saturday, but really, we were only working around the edges. We took a gratuitous trip to the Container Store, and dropped some stuff off at Green Citizen and at Goodwill, but really, we were only buying time before the hard work began.

Sunday morning we decided we were going to tackle the garage. Our godson, Max, who is 14, came over to help. Later in the day, our friend Phil and our friend Helen came to help. They were all invaluable. It's quite daunting to try to tackle a project of this size by yourselves, and just having a few friends over to lend a hand helps immensely!

First, we took everything out of the garage and put it in our driveway. We then swept and hosed down the garage. It was amazingly clean. Never-before-seen clean. I had separate piles on the driveway: stuff to throw away, stuff to give away, stuff to recycle, stuff to sell (not much of that at this point!). And of course stuff to put back in the garage. I decided it was time to get rid of all my car-fixin' stuff. I don't think I'll ever use a timing light in my life again. Wicker baskets that I've collected over the years? Gone. A gazillion binders, accumulated from various jobs and school? They're outta here. I mean c'mon!

We had the garage all cleaned out, and it was time to figure out how to arrange things. We hung the golf clubs up against the wall, neat as could be. We moved a big shelving unit from the kitchen into the garage, protected by some rubber matting we'd gotten to teach our dog to walk on matting during her show career (who knew it would come in handy later?). We moved the bikes back in, and left the rest of the stuff on the driveway, hoping someone would steal it so we wouldn't have to deal with it or make any more decisions!

In the meantime, Helen and Max were dutifully packing up boxes. Although it's tempting to sell all the books on, it's just not that practical at this point, so they'll go into boxes.

Phil and Max tried to figure out how to dismantle the TV so it can go to Kurt's folks' house... but were unable to do so. So it remains downstairs awaiting the next attempt.

All in all, we made terrific progress! Having been counting steps for the past few months (well, my pedometer is counting them), I was amazed that I had over 15000 steps, just bustling about the house.

We made a tremendous amount of progress, but still have so much to go.

Remodel to date

Where are we so far? We started our little remodeling project a year ago, around August. We hired our architect Michael Harris, whom we had found through Pete Moffatt, a contractor whom had done a friends' house that we really liked. So in 2005, we'd selected Michael as our architect, and Pete as our contractor. Discussions began.

Pictures of our current house (and some detail as to what we want to do with it) can be found on my web site. Some pix of the exteriors are here.

Our initial budget was set as a stab in the dark. I don't really want to share the actual amount here, so it's call it $x. A year later, the actual "budget" turned out to be 2*$x. I guess that's the way it went with our last remodel, so why should we be surprised? I'll explain how we got there...

The objectives of our remodel were largely to improve the floorplan. We have a grand piano, and it fills our small living room, making it difficult to put additional furniture there. Our kitchen is a galley kitchen that's closed in because the stairway to the downstairs sits on the other side of the kitchen wall. Across from the stairway (at the top of the stairs) is the fireplace, which of course, lessens the utility of the fireplace.

I had a great idea -- let's move the staircase!! I thought originally to move it to where the fireplace was (since it was useless in its current state). In addition, we were going to expand over the deck that is adjacent to the living room/dining room, blow out the wall between the dr and office, and add a new office. Ez-pz!

Our architect came up with a bunch of stair placements, and after much discussion, we decided that moving the stairs into (what is currently) the office was the best place to put them. This required completely revamping the downstairs, moving the family room, bathroom and guest room around, but it improved the floorplan immensely. And then we could open up the kitchen to the new 800+ sqft LR/DR combo. A big improvement! We worked with Pete to decide that we could afford to move the bathroom, and moved on. Our first rough estimate was 1.25*$x. Still within the range of affordability.

Our plans went into the planning commission for approval in late January. We finally got our hearing in April (!). We had to sit through a 2+ hour planning commission meeting, where most of the four projects ahead of us were contentious. By the time they got to our project, the room had emptied out, and there was one other person besides us (the note taker?). The planning commission loved the project, suggested we needed to protect a couple of trees and shroud the outdoor lights. Then they wanted to pet the dog. Approved! Took all of five minutes.

So, we were off and running! Or so we thought.. then we got the bad news from Pete that he could no longer do the job :( He had lost a key person and wasn't able to field the necessary crew to do the job this year. So we were back to the drawing board on getting a contractor.

After interviewing five or six contractors, we chose Cole Construction, which came highly recommended by Pete. We saw two houses that Mike Cole had recently completed, and the quality of workmanship was fantastic. So we were sold. We knew that he'd come in at around the same price as Pete, and he had a slot in his schedule, so after about a week or two of discussions, we sealed the deal.

In the meantime, our plans had been submitted to the building commission. By this time, we had made the decision to use steel in the moment frame that would frame the windows. The alternative was to have 10 feet of wall, which really put a big dent into our view. So we felt the extra cost (which we figured to be $20K-$30K was worth it). Little did we know!

When all was said and done, it turned out that we had to add steel into the floor in addition to adding the moment frame. Additional requirements on the foundation led to increased cost. By the time Mike was finally able to put together an estimate, we were at 2*$x the original budget. Ouch! But by this time, I had already chosen a number of the details that were really going to make the house nice, so it was very hard to figure out what to cut. The biggest possibility was to cut the hardwood acoustic ceiling, by Decoustics. But really, that was one of the coolest features, and really was essential to acoustically dampen the room. Considering that one big reason we were doing this remodel was to better accommodate the piano, it seemed like the thing to do.

So that brings us up to the most recent week. My next post will detail fun with packing!