Thursday, April 24, 2008

First Impressions

I have noticed a trend in the reactions we get when people see our house for the first time. They either love it or are appalled by it. For instance, when the assessor came to look yesterday, she was horrified enough to drop the tax value down $60,000 dollars. Apparently they have a remodeling formula they use that is pretty accurate in estimating value. She didn't think it would work in our case. Ouch.

I think their reactions are based on two factors: their ability to visualize the finished project and their experiences/feelings about old houses. For instance, those who appreciate old house charm seem to love it and brush off its flaws as "old house quirks." One of my friends told me her boyfriend's old place had the same floors in the same condition. Kevin's uncle shrugged off our electrical issues. Our parents think our freak-outs when things don't go as planned are laughable.

I tend to take house reactions pretty seriously for some reason. I think it's because I want reassurance that we aren't crazy. Some days when I wake up and go down to the front closet to find clothes, turn on the camping light we shower by, and blow dry my hair in the hall, I feel a little crazy. Then a friend or family member swoops in and recalls their wiring experience, and I feel a little better. So if you ever see our house, go easy on me. Laugh behind my back. And please, make sure when your jaw drops you have a ready excuse.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

crazy folk.

When we received our county tax statement, the value of our house was 50,000 more than we paid for it and had it appraised at. So I called and complained. The woman at the assessor's office sent me a form the next day, which I filled out. Yesterday, we got a call; someone is coming to look at our home to reassess! Which has most likely dropped in value since we bought it. Did I mention the hole in the floor covered with planks? Or all the holes in the walls from the electrical? The floors?

You know, considering our end goal is to improve upon the house, we're not doing too well. Is it normal to buy a house and make it worth less than what you paid? I mean, who does that?

Friday, April 18, 2008

More lessons learned

Push button switches are cool. Or at least that's what we thought when we saw them during the showing. There were three in the house, all on the same wall. We figured they must have skipped that wall during the electrical updating. No big problem, Kevin took home electrics in high school, he could fix it. Except, that wasn't the only thing. There was the fact that the foyer light was operated with a pull chain. That most of the light fixtures seemed original to the house's first wiring.

Hmmm.... The house has new electrical, right?

Well, no, not exactly. What it has is a new circuit box updated to 100 amp. There is a little Romex in the basement, but other than that, our wiring could serve as a museum exhibit: Wiring Throughout the Ages. There's a little of everything, mostly knob and tube. Scary.

Now, the thing about rewiring is, once you get going, it's hard to stop. everything is connected. So what began as an upper floor rewire soon became an upper-floor-and-most-of-the-main-floor rewire.

Our house is a weird design for a bungalow, which I attribute to it being relatively early on the scene. It was built in 1907. It has an upper floor with three bedrooms and a hallway. All of the bedrooms have slanty ceilings. The bathroom is downstairs, off the "hallway of doors" characteristic of bungalows. We have an eat-in kitchen, living room, dining room and huge foyer. The stairs are not hidden, but a fixture of the foyer. Anyway, the reason this is significant for the electrical is that we have scads of crawlspaces. Five, to be exact. Which makes rewiring a lot easier. We really only had to cut out a section of ceiling in the main floor hall, and everything else was accessed through crawl spaces.

Along the way, we've found some questionable wiring practices. My favorites:

Though we are not doing the bathroom or kitchen rewire yet (we're waiting until we remodel), we found this gem while removing our old stove. The wood paneling is the wall, gray linoleum the floor. That pipe is the gas to the stove. That snakey thing is Romex wire, coming up from the hole for the gas, and going into an unused outlet. From there it goes up through the wall to a light fixture with an outlet on it where the stove was plugged in. Real safe.

Next we have wiring installed under the quarter round in the master bedroom...

and a nail going right through the wire.

We are sooo close to being ready for the rough-in inspection, and I think after this weekend, we can start the fun stuff (new fixtures!). Until then, we have three working outlets in the house, and a lot of extension cords. Wish us luck.


We researched extensively on home restoration. We read other blogs, heard others' tales of misery and woe. Our house wouldn't be like that-- it would be easy. The same family had lived there for 5o years. They bought it when their first son was a month old, and went on to raise four children in it's 1100 square feet. It had been loved, not abused. Yes there were problems, but they all seemed straightforward, like cracked plaster and an ugly kitchen. Things we could easily fix.

We've grown a lot since then.

Picture us, two young twenty-somethings and their mixed-breed dog, turning the key in the lock of their very first home. We go inside, dance around, open every cupboard, window, door and appliance. The dog runs in circles, creating dangerous levels of static electricity from the carpet. The carpet. That was our first project. There were hardwood floors underneath, which meant it had to go. We pulled up a corner in the foyer. Guess what we found?

That would be vinyl flooring. Covering the entire main floor of our house. The hardwood floors were under it. Now, what gives this particular event a major twist is the fact that most vinyl flooring from that era contained asbestos. Because we're cheap, we didn't pay to get it tested, but because we're cautious, treated it like it was hazardous. This meant quarintine. We bought respirators, sealed off the rest of the house, sealed off the vents, turned off the heat, and started working.

The Minnesota Department of Health has a great website on do-it-yourself asbestos removal. The key is a lot of water, because it's only dangerous when particles float into the air. To get water, we had to decontaminate (strip down to nothing) in the back porch and trudge into the basement to fill 5 gallon pails. It was below zero, so we had to work until the flooring was gone so we could turn on the heat. It took thirteen hours. Want to see the floors we found underneath?

Like I said, we've grown a lot.