Even if we had wanted to give up, we hadn’t quite figured out how to.
Publish date:
April 2, 2013
home, renovation

Whether we were lingering dangerously close to losing our minds or not, (we were, I think, for the record) we had to keep moving forward with the house. We were nearly five full-time months into the renovation. We had also already laid out a handsome sum in renovation cost, which was enough to keep me around (heart churning, burning and panting).

And this is what we had to show for it:

OK, maybe that’s a bit harsh. The money was spent on items like:

  • new roof
  • new energy-efficient windows
  • new exterior doors & locks
  • new basement floor
  • framing
  • an obscene amount of dump fees
  • demo fees
  • restoring old brick where needed
  • half of the HVAC system
  • lots of lumber
  • lots of tools (D has his stolen from a studio he was building a couple years back)

When we started spending money, I was given the advice to track everything, which I did. So I know exactly, to the cents, how much money we’ve spent at Home Depot in the past year, for example. I have every single receipt for anything ever bought, down to the littlest pack of screws. It kind of makes me want to puke.

Money aside, we were feeling personally less than stellar. The weather had at least started to break and warmer days were more frequent. Which was awesome since we still didn’t have heat, running water or electricity in the house. The bitter cold kind of augments these things; likewise, the sun made them seem not soooo bad.

And even if we had wanted to give up, we hadn’t quite figured out how to. Trust, there were conversations giddy with imaging getting this place off our backs. But how? This house had our names all over it, our monies all eaten in it, and we had already paid the damn taxes. The tremendous amount of work still that still needed to unimaginable and really, things just started getting really fucking expensive.

Would we really have ditched the dump if we could have? D probably would have. But he was literally there all day erryday. I was clean-up night shift and weekender. That is to say, it was easier for me to remain optimistic. I was always sure we were just around the corner from completion. We still haven’t quite rounded that bend, though.

Even now, it’s hard to justify exactly what we’ve done. I mean, I dig it a lot. But was a long, slow burn. Not to get stuck on that record again, but COME ON. A quickly growing money tally and 5 months got me a bedroom that looked like this:

Right, so we found out we had 90 days to make this place a livable home. D was all hell no. I was more like the wimpy kid in the fight with delusions of grandeur. It didn’t really matter to me if I thought it was possible or not, because the alternative, that is, NOT getting it done, wasn’t an option. There was no way I was going to look for another rental, move all our crap again.

Just kidding. I did look for a rental again, but no one wanted to do a month-to-month lease and obvs I wasn’t going to sign on for a year when I had a whole flipping house to move into.

Even though I was spooked by the basement, I reasoned we could move our stuff in and sleep down here if we HAD to.

We needed to get a mega move-on with our impending deadline. With everything torn apart, we had to turn to the heavy-hitting items: electricity and plumbing (we had our heating already started). I searched the hell out of Google for local LICENSED companies to give us estimates. I then sniffed them out on sites like Yelp and the BBB.

I didn’t find the BBB that helpful, by the way. Maybe it’s just me? It was a dealbreaker if I found complaints; also, if their receptionist was rude or put me on hold for more than 10 minutes when I called (this happened surprisingly a lot).

For each job, we had 3-5 estimates done. It was helpful in making sure we got the best price for starts. We found that most companies came in around the same price. When someone was several thousand higher than all the others, it was easy to see how we could end up overpaying for a job.

Otherwise, it was pretty cut and dry, so I won’t get into it much except to say: negotiate. It’s not something I’m really good at, but D luckily handled it. We never haggled anything really dramatic, but I’d say in general, we lowered all estimates by about $500, which adds up when you have multiple jobs going on.

I was pained over the electricity and plumbing debacles. These are the killers of home renovation. They will eat your entire wallet with your fingers still attached. It will hurt. But you have to do it anyway, because duh, electricity and running water.

One smidge of a plus side for us was that since our house was literally torn open, it was a lot easier for these guys to do their job, which factored into price. That is to say, they didn’t have to wiggle wires behind walls and that sort of jazz because we had none. It took us several weeks to actually settle on electricians and plumbers though, which was a pain, because at this point, we had like 50 days til move-in.

But since we were plunking down over 15 grand for these things, it was important to take our time and make sure we felt comfortable with who we hired.

But it’s not all rain and drowning worms. Hiring a real live company pretty much rules for this kind of work. They get permits for you, so you’re not meeting some weirdo on a sketch corner. They’re licensed, which means their work (should have) guarantees and warranties blah blah. Also, they move damn quick. The companies we hired each brought a team of three people, which meant noticeable progress was being made every day they were there.

Yeah, they were ALL with us.

In keeping with our dream of making this house as efficient as possible, we did pay more for certain items than we would have if we went with less efficient items. It was kind of blowhole to choose to pay more when we already felt the bills slipping through our fingers.

I’m not an uber green person really, but it’s something I’m thoughtfully working toward (if you can help me understand sodium lauryl sulfate and whether I need to stop buying products containing it or not, I will love you). I think the environment is all kinds of trampled and here I was building a house, and fuck it, we were up for spending money on things that’d help with efficiency and sad Mother Earth. We decided that we’d spend now and cheap out later if we had to in order to swing it.

That is to say, having a high efficiency heating system now meant we might have to skip our dream kitchen, BUT, a kitchen you can always redo later. Redoing a heating system once a house is already put together is a lot harder and more expensive. Also, ther are certain tax breaks/credits you can get for installing high efficiency items in your home (do it!). This doesn’t quite cover the cost difference, but it does help.

In keeping with our harebrained renovation, we did hit a glitch with the plumbers. While putting in some water lines, we came to the sad, sad realization that our main water line, which is a copper pipe that runs underground from the street to our house, was busted and needed to be replaced.

Most homes in Philadelphia are right on the sidewalk, so this means ripping up a bit of sidewalk and replacing a four-foot pipe. Remember how tap-dancey I was about having a front yard and some damn 40 foot privacy from the sidewalk. That meant we had 40 feet of yard to dig up and replace piping. Which was estimated to run an extra five grand. So not cool.

AND THEN, because people I tell you, a roller coaster, we decided to get one other estimate for the replacement job. And it turned out those folks had some sweet tool that allowed them to only dig down into our sidewalk and then shoot the pipe through without digging up the entire front yard, cutting the cost in half. Which is like a bargain, until I’m reminded we never thought we had to do this in the first place, so it’s all extra cost in the ever-crumbling budget.

After that was fixed, the plumbers finished up, for real.

Except when they went to test that, they found the main sewer pipe, which drags all the dirty water out of the house and underground to the street, WAS CRACKED TOO! And it was a Friday. So all weekend we worried over what they’d tell us Monday. We were super afraid that we’d have to dig up the front yard after all to replace this second pipe. And then Monday came and one of the plumbers had brainstormed a plan to the tune of $100. I think he commiserated because he was home renovating too, bless his hawt.

Instead of all the drama of replacing the cracked pipe, it turned out it was actually 1 inch larger than the average main sewer pipe. So they just shot a new one through it. That’s making it sound super simple, but really all I focused on was $100 fix. Yes, please.

See, all that drama for some underground pipes that no one will ever see (EVER), but are essential to a home so you can’t really ignore them. These are the things that happen in home renovations that HGTV seem to either never encounter, or slickly leave out.

And I don’t blame them. Who wants to hear about stupid water pipes? (Sorry I just made you read about them). I mean, I just want to pick out paint and old bureaus to sit chicly around my house, too. I don’t want to deal with sewer pipes. And yet, after I was done with that, I agonized over insulation. I KNOW. Snooze fest. Except not.

I’ve referred to this house as a baby before. I realize in that scenario this is like me talking excessively about dirty diapers. And still I cannot stop myself. But see, after we got insulation sorted, it meant we could finally close up the house and put in WALLS. I’ve never really thought much about a wall before, until I had a whole house without any. Then they suddenly felt like something to lust after.

And since we had about a month til move in, walls needed to go up fast so we could get on to other things, like a toilet. We weren’t shooting too high for move-in, just some uber basics. Because, can you really ask guests to just use a bucket when visiting? Me thinks not.