I Bought A Total Dungheap of A House: Home Renovations Make You Crazy

I try to warn you so hard.
Publish date:
November 14, 2012
home, renovations

We spent a cold, laborious winter tearing down the house to brick. By spring, it finally started to feel, much like the small blooms bursting up from the hard earth, that our house was shifting from sick flower to hopeful bud. The windows were a relief and definitely morale boosting; they were a sign things could start to look not only decent, but dare I say it, pretty?

Naturally, this was our goal all along. But remember what we started with?

We'd gotten ourselves into a real shitshow; it was hard to imagine it’d ever end. It felt like we were on some awful merry-go-round made of Home Depot receipts that we’d never get off. It’d be nice, or at least polite, to pretend we remained optimistic and just dug our heels in all good and hardy. But really, it was wearing us down and testing our character. And there was nothing to do but return to the house every day and carry on.

But the windows, they were a certain victory. They were wholly useful for allowing us to stream in light while working (we still didn’t have electricity in the house) without letting in all the cold. We still opted to board them up at the end of every day because, same as letting us see out, it let others see in. We weren’t leaving heaps of tools in the house, but it seemed best to try and prevent theft, or at least make it really difficult for any would-be thieves. We also finally put up a real locking door, as opposed to using the padlock that came on the original busted-up front door, AND we got a motion light. Big moves ya’ll.

After the windows were in and the house seemed better sealed up, we turned to consider the heating system (the thrill, twists and turns of this tale, I know). Call us crazy (really go ahead), but we had considered the old radiators in the house a bonus. We liked this water-based, clean heat, as it’s friendlier to allergy nerds such as myself. Plus, we were pretty pumped at the prospect of painting them shiny and candy-coated like 1950’s hot rod radiators.

And then, because we can’t really leave well enough alone, we started debating putting in an AC system. D was pretty against it, solely financially speaking. I hemmed and hawed that the investment would be worth it. For starts, it’d be a helluva lot cheaper to do it now while the walls were open (read: non-existent), but even still, it was not a cheap project to heap onto our plate. The system would run over five grand (reality check: seven grand when said and done).

Then we remembered how soul-suckingly hot and humid Philadelphia summers can be. And how they make D’s body essentially crumble and flare his symptoms. And they just make me miserable, though I don't have an excuse for it, unless hair frizz drama counts.

The thing about AC systems is that they use the same ductwork that a new heating system would, rendering our glorious candy-coated (in our minds only) radiators useless. Also, we had no idea the last time the radiators actually worked and what sort of restoration they’d require (not to mention how expensive that could potentially be).

BUT PEOPLE, this bit had a happy ending. We found an HVAC duo (fully licensed & insured, for all you Holmes-lovers) and they killed in. Within two days, they had ductwork thrown up all over. I know it’s like, eh, ductwork whatever, yawn, but progress is progress and we were willing to tip our hats to any that came our way. Plus, they got their own REAL permits, so that felt pretty fuckin' swell.

Of course, then we realized we had six 400-600-pound radiators to get rid of. So that was fun. We thought we’d at least score some loot from all the metal in them. Then we realized we’d get SEVEN CENTS a pound. To lug and unload a 600-pound radiator, we stood to earn a whopping $42. This probably goes without saying, but, no, it wasn’t worth the logistics and potential back break. We called around to several recycling companies before we found one (the only one) willing to come and take them away. That pretty much ruled because otherwise they’d still be sitting around the house today.

You might recall the whole black market permit debacle we found ourselves in because we had already paid an electrician-plumber-in-one (TADA), only to find he wasn’t licensed and made us get funky (OK FAKE) permits.

He’d been poking around the house a couple days here and there, throwing up a few temporary lights so we could see at night, putting in a new sewer pipe, and putting in a new circuit box in the basement. But we needed movement. We had lined him up for the work months ahead of time and we were ready for him to run through the house like a cheetah in the grasslands. He had a clean palette to work from, as all the old copper piping had been cut out. He began by running some water lines for the bathroom.

Then we hit a mega speed bump. When he was supposed to show up, he didn’t. Excuses kept coming through and, feeling stuck, we obliged them. Then he showed up midday and only worked a few hours. Then he didn’t return the next day, or the next. He didn’t totally drop off. D could still get in touch with him over the phone, but we couldn’t force him to show up and actually do work.

After waiting a couple weeks for him to come through and start to put a dent into the work, we finally cut ties and told him not to bother coming back. We were pissed, but also felt kind of bad. We may be total suckers, but we wondered if his blowing us off was really just him being overwhelmed at the work. It was pretty extreme conditions and though he signed up for it, maybe his skill wasn’t up to snuff and he didn’t know how to back out of it.

For instance, when he cut the hole for the toilet, it was way off center and D had to keep going over it with him. Was he trying to fake it until he made it? Maybe. But I don’t know, maybe he had a gaggle of grandkids to feed or something, you know? Can’t hate.

Although, if I were to see him again, I’d ask for our car stereo back. YEAH, that happened.

He was all bummed out one afternoon because his car had been broken into and his stereo system had been stolen. We had one and agreed to sell him it way cheap. He was so amped for it, D pretty much removed it on the spot and gave it to him. Payment would follow. But you know how that goes. Which is to say, it never did. And we still have an old 88 Baby B with no stereo.

The stereo was new, also. Come to think of it, that car's been sitting with a mechanic for over six months now, so I guess the stereo isn’t the biggest problem. BUT also, again, see, home renovation makes you crazy. Crazy enough that you forget you even have an old car rotting away at a mechanic's shop, despite the fact you pay the obligatory insurance on it every month.

I try to warn you so hard.

During this time, when we were still reaching for housing basics like running water and electricity, we found out the house we’d been renting, which was for sale, was under agreement. We now had an official deadline to move: 90 days. If we’d been scrambling before, we were now in overdrive.