Saturday, December 5, 2009

This Old House

We built our home in the late 80's, so it’s not that old. But some poor design, some poor installation, some cheap materials, and some neglect contributed to some much needed repairs.  Other than painting, we had not done much on exterior repairs. I targeted the fall of 2009 to put in a very focused effort on doing house repairs. It would be like my own series of “This Old House”.

The work started in mid September right after my last summer camping trip. I put the camper away and put on my tool belt for the next 8 weeks.

Episode 1 – The Window Sills

The biggest problem needing to be addressed was several rotted window sills. The windows we have are a good name brand. They’re all wood with energy efficient sashes and wooden storm inserts. I kept up with the painting, but the exterior sills and trim are made with finger jointed pine vs. solid wood pieces. The fingered jointed wood rotted easily once water got into the joints. Also, the house has very small overhangs and no gutters, which doesn’t allow rain and snow to shed off the roof and away from the house.

I planned to replace three of the sills on my own and hire a contractor to replace seven sills on the 2nd floor. The budget: $1,350. The timeframe: one week

The results – The first contractor I contacted seemed really interested in doing the work and was very familiar with the problems I was having with my brand of windows. He came right over within 2 hours of my call, gave me a rough price per window, and then never showed up or returned any of my calls. Luckily I hadn’t given him any money. The next guy I contacted was a local home improvement contractor who was eager for the work. He was very responsive and could start my work in about a week.  He gave me a good estimate for the work (about half of what I estimated it would take), had good references, so we signed a contract for him to repair the seven windows.

My three sills turned into four and I ended up replacing all the trim on the four windows. The contractor finished his seven windows after 3 weeks vs. the 1 week he had estimated. Weather and waiting for materials caused most of his delay. I also help him rebuild a few of the windows that needed more internal repairs.  Together, we rebuilt a total of eleven windows.

I also found nine storm windows that had rotted pieces. I bought three new storm windows. I ended up rebuilding six of the storm windows, taking them apart and fabricating new parts in my shop. This saved me about $1,000. I had to replace and/or refinish eight interior window sills and also did this work in the shop.

I also had to replace eleven clapboards. The actual costs: $2,184. The timeframe: three weeks.

Episode 2 – Interior Painting

While taking the windows out of the front guest room for repair, I noticed that the 22 year old paint in the room was really marked up and dingy. So, I took a week-end and repainted the ceiling and walls, giving it a new color, put up some new art work we had laying around, did a major clean-out of the room. The costs: $52. The timeframe: 2 days. 

The same thing happened in one of the upstairs bedrooms. While taking the interior trim off the windows, I noticed that the 22 year old wall paper was falling off in several places. Anne and I have been wanting to do over this room for some time. I started pulling off some of the wall paper and couldn't stop. I ended up ripping it all off and took another week-end to paint the ceiling and walls and did another major room cleaning. The costs: $31. The timeframe: 2 days

And the same thing happened in the upstairs bathroom.  I decided to scrape, clean, and sand the ceiling and walls to remove mildew and flaking paint.  Then applied some new paint.  This was a little more involved and took about a week.  The costs:  $53.

Episode 3 - The Garage

The paint of the garage had been showing signs of peeling fading, and cracking.  I also had a section of damaged trim on one of the garage doors from a squirrel attack.  (When Anne went to Maine for 4-5 weeks this summer to care for her Mom, I stopped feeding the birds and, coincidently, the squirrels.  The squirrels got really pissed and one night knawed away several inches of a 1x5 piece of trim to get into the garage and eat the sunflower seeds.)  I really really hate to scrape and paint, so I slowly undertook this work scraping and washing a section at a time when there wasn't something more interesting to do.  Over the course of 8 weeks I got it all done.  I had all the paint left over from last year when I hired my son, Liam, to paint the house.  I enlisted the help of my youngest son, Cavin, who helped with some of the scraping and painting.  I had to buy a new trim board, but that was it for expenses.  Also, bought more BB's for the BB gun to "deal" with the squirrels.

Episode 4 – The Bay Window (part 1)

The next planned action was to address the rotted wood on the bump-out bay window on the rear of the house. The window had rotted sills, rotted trim, and a rotted sash. This would be the last remaining window in the house that needed repair and the last planned repair.

I sat down with the contractor who did the window sills and we priced out putting a new window in vs. re-builiding the existing one. The re-build was much less expensive. So we signed another contract to take out the bay window unit, re-build it, replace all the rotted trim and support, and put it back in. The budget: $2,300. The timeframe: one week

Before taking the window out, we found some of the window supports were rotted. We also found a major water problem with rain collecting and running behind the clapboards surrounding the window. We found more rotted clapboards, more rotted trim, some rotted structure supports, and rotted shiething.

The source of the water was a rotted clapboard and window sill on the second floor. Also the drip edge on the roof above the window was allowing water from the roof to run down the clapboards vs. falling away from the house. The drip edge on this part of the roof was never installed properly when we built the house. I decided we needed to replace the drip end and put up a gutter on the back of the house to solve the water problem around the bay window. The contractor agreed to do this work for $1,500 and would do it prior to taking out the bay window.

While replacing the drip edge and removing a few courses of shingles, the contractor noticed that the shingles on the dormer roof were very weathered, brittle, and cracked. While they were a 30 year shingle, the low pitch of the dormer roof and poor insulation (addressed earlier this year) allowed snow and ice dams to build up on this section of the roof causing damage to the shingles. Plus they had 22 yrs on them. While we were fixing the drip edge, it made sense to have the contractor replace all the shingles on the dormer. While he was up on the roof, the contractor also noticed that the ridge vents had developed cracks in them, the joints were coming un-done, and they were coming un-nailed. As part of the re-shingling project, I decided to have him replace the ridge vents to avoid a problem. His estimate to do the additional roofing was very high. I challenged his numbers and found he had calculated the shingles wrong and priced them way too high. I called another building supply and got the shingles for a much cheaper price. Saved myself over $600 by challenging his numbers. The cost for this work would be $2,650.

The contractor stripped the dormer roof the next day. He installed a temporary cover on the dormer roof, by just temporarily tacking down some ice and water barrier material that he would use under the shingles. The next day it rained and we didn’t have any leaks until the wind came up in the afternoon and blew off the barrier material he had tacked down. The first sign of trouble was my son coming down stairs and telling me he had water dripping down inside one of his windows. Next we had water coming in his closet and in through the bath room fixtures. I immediately called the contractor, who came right over and put a huge tarp over the dormer. He agreed to dry out and/or replace any wet or damaged insulation. Luckily none of the ceilings or walls were damaged. I was pretty rattled by this and wanted to get the dormer re-shingled asap since we had good weather forecasted for the next 2 days before more rain would arrive. The contractor assured me he could easily finish the roof in the next 2 days. The next day the contractor didn’t show up until 11:40 am and only worked until 2:40 am. I asked if he could finish the roof in the next day and he assured me he could and that he’d be on site first thing with help. Well, the next day came and no contractor showed up. At 10:00 am I called his cell and got no answer. So, I drove to his home, which is about 4 miles away, to see if I could track him down. I found him at home drinking coffee and watching cartoons with his young daughter!  Had all I could do to not blow a gaskget. I asked if he was going to work on my roof today and he assured me he would be right over. I told him I was very concerned with his ability to get the job done before the next rain and that I was prepared to file a claim against his insurance policy to dry out my attic and file a claim against his license with the state to get someone else to finish the job, if he didn’t get it done. That was all the spark needed to light a flame under his rear-end. He showed up within the hr with 2 helpers and got most the roof shingling done, working until it was dark out.  He showed up early the day and finished all the roofing.

Episode 5 - The Bay Window (part 2)

Now that all the water problems were solved we could focus on the bay window.  The plan was to take the complete window unit out and have the contractor rebuild it in his shop.  This was suppose to take a couple of days.  The window came out on a Tuesday and a temporary cover was put over the rough opening.  After a week, I called to see when we could expect the window to be put back in.  I got a list of excuses; the contractor's sister had a stroke and was in the hospital, he needed to order a special router bit to rebuild the sash, and there was more rot on the window than he had expected.  Ok, so I asked when he would start working on replacing the supports and he assured me he would be onsite the next day and assured me he had all the material for fix the supports.  The next day came and no contractor.  So I called him and left a message that he needed to show up on the next day or I would initiate action with the state to file a claim against him.  That seemed to work as he called back and apologized for not showing up and told me he had just picked up the material to fix the supports (which on the previous day he told me he already had) and would be onsite on Thursday morning.  Well, he showed up at 11:00 am the next day and worked till 5:30 pm.  He got the support structure fixed and put the bay window unit back in.

 He assured me he'd be back the next day to finish the last trim and clapbaord work.  Well, Friday came, and while it rained a little in the morning, the contractor was a no show.  I called him a left a message that I was leaving for Maine on the next Tuesday morning and would be gone for about a week.  Monday came and no contractor, so I called him at 10:00 am and he told me he was on his way over (he lives about 4 miles away).  He showed up an hour later and finished most of the window trim, but ran out of material.  I helped him out by priming the wood parts and re-insulating the windows.  He promised me he would be onsite "first thing" on Tuesday morning to finish everything before I left for Maine.  He arrived a little after 10:00 am and did get most of the work done by 12:30 pm.  I reluctantly paid him and was glad to be done with him.  I ended up sanding, caulking, and puttying the window unit to get it ready for painting (something he should have done).

 The total cost for all of this work (that started with the bay window): $6,450. The time frame: four weeks.

Episode 6 - The Summary

What started out to be about 2-3 weeks of work ended up being more like 9 weeks.  From a budget perspective, I had planned to spend around $6,000 on the repairs.  The actual costs for all the work and materials that I purchased was $8,900.  For all that, I got following work done;

- 11 windows rebuilt
- 9 storm windows fixed,
- a new dormer roof,
- new ridge vents,
- a new facia board, drip edge, and gutter on the dormer
- bay window unit re-built,
- 3 rooms cleaned out and repainted
- garage painted and trim fixed.

It felt good to get this all done and knowing that I won't have to deal with it for another 20 years.

I also learned that I could be in the home improvement business, if I wanted.  Having learned the basics in high school and from building furniture as a hobby for 30 years, I was fortunate to be able to do alot of the work myself.  I also found I do better quality work and have a better work ethic than the local competition.  There may be a J Dawg Home Repair Service start up.

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