Massive Undertaking = Overwhelm

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Massive Undertaking = Overwhelm

Have you ever had great ideas, and then when they start coming to reality, you wonder if you have it in you to actually do it?  That’s exactly where I was nearly 3 years ago.   (I can’t believe it’s been that long!)

It was February 14, 2007 when we left Cape Cod after loading a semi tractor trailer to the brim with my parent’s belongings and headed South.  Oh, and there was a major winter storm starting, too.   It was cold, icy, and visibility was very low.  We didn’t make it very far that night…we got to Rhode Island and spent the night there.  The next morning we continued, and before we were out of CT, we had to replace the 2 front tires on the car…another delay.  I wondered if we were ever going to make it out of New England!

We made it to PA that night, and learned that Interstate 81 was closed due to the storm and all the ice.  To make a long story short, it took us nearly a week to arrive in SC.

I was so excited and to be perfectly honest, as nervous about what I was undertaking as I was excited.  I was purchasing my dream home:  a 1920’s farm house fixer upper that had lots of potential.  It just needed some tender loving care and lots of paint.  🙂  At least that’s what I thought.  Oh, there were plans to put in appliances in the kitchen and tile the kitchen floor, replace light fixtures throughout, etc.  I had finally been given the chance to do what I’ve always dreamed of doing; renovate an older home.

I had the permission of the owner of the house to set up portable storage units in the driveway prior to closing.  So the first order was to get the truck unloaded and the contents loaded into the 5 units.  The closest unit to the house would hold the things I would need for the renovation; tools and supplies I already had on hand.  Each unit had a specific purpose.  I had a plan to attack this project with all I had within me.

2 days before closing, I had the new HVAC unit installed.  We had some heavy rain the day before, and there was 2 feet of water in the basement.  Not a great situation for the guys installing the unit, for sure!  They got it done, though!  At least that’s what I thought.   (More about that in another post.)

My parents and I were staying in a nearby hotel that had a restaurant nearby.  I spent most of my time either at the house or at the local Home Depot or Lowe’s picking out the supplies and tools I didn’t have that I thought I would need.  Some of those tools have been the best investment I could have made.  For example:  a tool called a “Wonder Bar”.  I bought a large one and a small one.  Do you know I still use them?  They were a great investment.

I was in touch with a contractor recommended by my real estate agent who was going to get started on my project.  I was waiting for his estimate.  When the heating system was installed, it was discovered that all of the copper pipe and much of the wiring in the basement had been cut out and stolen.  So they needed to be replaced.  I had my handy “to do” list of all I wanted to have done.

I waited 2 weeks for the contractor to call me back.  He never did, so I found another contractor through an agency.  After working for me for about 10 days, and lots of “add ons”, he finally told me that I should have hired him to do just a small part of the project through the agency, and then hired him individually to do the rest of the work.  He said it would have saved me a lot of money, and he could have given me a better price.  Yeah, thanks.

My closing contract stated I needed to have the house livable within 30 days.  So I was under a time crunch.  I closed on March 7, so we had until April 6 to have the house renovated to the point we could live in it.  Right after closing, I moved out of the hotel and into the house.  That was a little strange, to say the least.  As it turned out, I wasn’t the only resident in the house.

Being a farmhouse, I suppose it stands to reason there would be rodents.  I awoke at around 4am one morning to the sound of something HUGE chewing it’s way through a plastic container on my dresser.  No, I did not go look to see what it was.  I didn’t want to come face to face with it.  It was across the room, and was far more interested in what was in that container than I was at 4am.  It would not be bothering me.  I went back to sleep.

One of the first things I had done after closing was to have a security system installed.  My mom has Alzheimer’s, and so I wanted chimes on the outside doors of the house so I could hear when one of them was opened.  (People with Alzheimer’s have a tendency to wander.)  It also made me feel better about being in a strange place that I wasn’t totally familiar with yet.

My days began early and ended late.  I spent a lot of time ripping up the carpet that was in nearly every room of the house.  Then pulling up the tack strips, and then pulling up the padding that was stapled to the hardwood floors.  Yep, that Wonder Bar was a wonderful little tool.  I ordered a dumpster to put the debris into.  It didn’t take long to fill it up, either!

The downstairs needed to be rewired, and the contractor worked to get that done.  It seems this house was built with green wood, and when the sap dries in green wood, the wood becomes as hard as concrete.  It made it much more challenging to rewire than my contractor anticipated.  He came to really hate these walls, I think.  Between the plaster and the extremely hard wood inside the walls, I could tell he was a little more than annoyed.

I had taken all of the doors off the kitchen cabinets and was going to give them a fresh coat of paint.  The problem was, the paint was not sticking to the surface.  I finally realized I needed to strip them first, then prime them and then paint them.  That took a lot more time than I anticipated for finishing the cabinets.  All the walls in the house needed to be sprayed with primer before I could paint them.  Before they could be sprayed, the thousands (it seemed) of cracks in the walls and ceilings needed to be repaired.  That’s a very time consuming and messy project for a novice like me.  There’s a certain order to get things done, otherwise, you end up having to do some things over again.

For example:  do the floors last.  I should have left the carpet on the floors until after the painting had been completed.  They would have protected the floors from spills and sprays of paint.  Start at the ceiling and work your way down.

In the kitchen, even with the primer, the paint just wouldn’t stick.  It would peel off like a piece of a broken balloon…sometimes in large sheets!  It took several coats of primer before I could get the paint to stick.   Being a southern home, I believe a lot of frying had been done in that kitchen, and perhaps the oils were preventing the paint from sticking.

I told my contractor that I wanted to tile the kitchen floor myself, but I just needed a wet saw and a little instruction.  He loaned me his wet saw and showed me what to do, and I got to work.  I worked late one night cutting the backer board to fit and then hammering it down.   That stuff is so very heavy!  The next day he showed me how to lay the mortar and space and lay the tiles.  I did not want a checkerboard look to the floor, but rather a pattern where one row is adjacent to the next.  I started laying tile around 11am, and ran out of mortar around midnight or 1am the following morning.  Great.  I had to mix up more myself.  I hadn’t done that before.

I went outside to mix it up.  My contractor had left the mixing tool for me to use if needed.  So I poured the mortar mix in the 5 gallon bucket, added the water and turned the mixing tool on.  It about took my arm off!  I was tired and frustrated.  “I’ve got to do this!  God help me!” I cried out.  That mixing tool has a handle on the top for a reason.  That’s where your other hand is supposed to go.

I got it all mixed and then the next challenge showed up.  I could barely lift it!  It took all of my strength to lift it into the house.  I got the floor finished with the exception of about 8 or 9 tiles to go.  I was exhausted.  It was 4:30am.  I decided to finish it in the morning.

I must say, the floor looks beautiful.  It’s a great feeling when you take on something that you’ve never done, and you’re pleased with the results!  What a difference it made to the room.

On April 4, my contractor announced that he and his family were going on vacation, but he would be back to finish up.  He knew I was moving my parents into the house on April 6th, yet he did not have the bathroom downstairs finished.  Though there is a bathroom upstairs, my father is unable to climb stairs.  I had to get a portable potty for him and empty it for him every day until my contractor returned.  Oh fun.

On April 6, I moved my parents in.  The house was “livable”, but the kitchen was not done yet, the bathroom downstairs wasn’t done yet, and their bedroom and family room still needed to be finished.  I set their beds up in the living room until their space was ready.  I had a microwave set up in the laundry room, and that’s where the refrigerator was, too.  We sort of “camped out” eating microwaveable meals for a few weeks.  My parents were real troopers.  They saw me up on ladders all day long.  Painting ceilings, sanding, painting walls and trim.

My dad helped me install the shelves in the new pantry in the kitchen.  I took out a closet in the office that shares a wall with the kitchen and opened up the wall in the kitchen to make a pantry.  It was hard work getting the shelving strips screwed to the wall.  I lost about 3 or 4 drill bits in those walls alone!  But you know what?  I treasure that time working side by side with my dad helping me…he was 90 years old then!  It’s a fond memory I will always carry with me.

That’s the first 30 days in a nutshell.  It was quite an undertaking.  The days were long and exhausting.  I was overwhelmed by the enormity of the project I had taken on.  Yet, there was still something so satisfying and wonderful in the transformation process.  I loved it!



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