An Endless Renovation

I’ve written previously about some of the changes and challenges we experienced during my two year absence from this space. Today, we will go into more detail on the life lived between posts. There were three major challenges we got through during this two year period. This article reviews the first of those; our new home renovations did not go as planned. 

The home renovation is the most familiar, as the project was well underway when I last updated in the spring of 2021. The renovation began with demo in November 2020, shortly after Thanksgiving. We expected the process would take 8-12 weeks. Hubris and prior good fortune led us to believe that we were capable of acting as the general contractor, where we would select and manage each of the specialty trades required for our project. In reality, our project scope was more significant than we’d thought. We considered it to be a kitchen and bath renovation. To start, our home inspection discovered a foundation repair was needed. In addition to those areas, we also refinished the wood floors throughout, had the electrical system re-wired, installed central air conditioning, replaced every light fixture and all of the old plumbing pipe, painted the entire home (which included wallpaper removal and drywall repairs). We even replaced all of the baseboard trim and heating vents. We went further and replaced the windows and the exterior doors. We also had asbestos insulation in our attic, which we had abated and replaced with spray foam. Suffice it to say, we got as close as possible to a full gut renovation. 

All of these projects were completed within the first year we owned the home. In addition, we had plenty of DIY tasks, such as putting up shelves, choosing decor, and installing curtains and blinds. Looking back, the timing for all of the projects wasn’t unreasonable. That said, our contractors were difficult to manage. They showed up occasionally and wouldn’t get much done when they were here. During late 2020 and the first months of 2021, Mr. Vine was not able to get away from his office to keep close tabs on things. The situation improved when we moved into the temporary space and I could check the status daily. 

We also changed tactics. Ultimately, we fired our plumber and replaced him with someone more expensive, yet more reliable. We tried to fire our electrician, but couldn’t get a replacement to take the job. Desperate, I resorted to daily calls and texts to hound the electrician about the incomplete project. Our painting contractors were the same. They only seemed to work while I was at the house and would only show up when they requested another check. Finally, we refused to make any additional payments until the work was completed. 

Renovating the house was exhausting, expensive and stressful. By mid April 2021, the plumbing was hooked up and electrical was working in part of the house. Mr. Vine deemed the house “livable” and we moved out of the Airbnb apartment. Reflecting, it is no surprise that this is when my updates stopped. 

Our living situation during those first weeks in the house was sad to the point of comical. The house is small–less than 800 square feet. We have two bedrooms, a relatively open kitchen and living space, in addition to the bathroom. Between the painting and electrical work in progress, we had to confine ourselves primarily to the smaller of the two bedrooms. The cover photo for this article shows that bedroom, about two months before we moved into it. We laid our king-sized mattress on the floor. We set up a kitchen cart in one corner as a combination makeshift standing desk for me and dresser. A litter box in one area for the cats rounded out our setup. The cats, for the record, are frenemies on their best day. The close quarters might have been hardest on them. We didn’t have a single mirror in the house. I cannot recall if the bathroom had working lights (it has a glass block window, which fortunately allows natural light). To cheer myself up, I often said this was preparation for boat life someday. 

Beyond that, we didn’t have much of a kitchen. Our running water consisted of the tub/shower faucet and the filtered water from our refrigerator. The cabinets and appliances were in, but not the counters or plumbing. In my personal journal, I wrote that we set up the Nespresso machine on a cabinet crosspiece. We used disposable plates and cups for weeks on end. My office provided free lunch and I would go in for food, as well as respite from the construction noise and mess. Dining in restaurants was still not happening with any regularity at that time, and we’d only just received our second vaccine doses. We got creative about meals. I discovered that microwavable sausage, egg and cheese croissants from the grocery store are almost as good as a fast food favorite. Lasagna in its own bakeable tray was a lovely treat. I staunchly refused to do dishes in the bathtub.   

Somehow, we survived. Twenty-four days after we moved in, the plumber and electrician finished their work. That meant the house was fully functional at last. We moved furniture over the next couple of weeks and finally emptied our storage unit by the end of June. The last bits of painting, kitchen wall tile and other miscellaneous projects trickled in across the next several months. By September, the cosmetic changes were largely completed. 

During the autumn, we unpacked. Towards the end of the year, we briefly went back to temporary living arrangements for a couple of weeks during the asbestos removal and insulation replacement. We were able to park both vehicles in the garage before the first snowfall of the midwestern winter. All interior house projects were finished before the calendar turned to 2022.

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