Room for Improvement

One of the downsides of buying “fixer-upper” houses is that they require a lot of work.  Over the years my husband has become adept at hanging dry wall, replacing basic plumbing fixtures, doing light carpentry, etc.  My job is usually painting and assisting, although once I surprised him by widening a doorway with my trusty crowbar.  (Sadly, my husband wasn’t impressed.)   But some jobs require a professional, and that’s when things get a little tricky.

The problem is while I love home improvement projects once they are finished, I hate the process of actually having the work done.  It’s not fun having to live with the noise and dust of demolition, and I’m not a fan of having workers in my house, no matter how nice or professional they are.  It never fails that if I get up extra early to be showered and dressed before the crew arrives, they don’t show up until around ten in the morning.  But if I dare to venture down into the kitchen to get my early morning Diet Coke, three carpenters are sure to come in the back door, calling out a cheerful “hello” while pretending not to notice I’m still in my pajamas.  You get to know the people who work in your house, but we don’t need to know each other quite that well.

Our latest project was supposed to be tearing out the carpet in the small family room off our kitchen, leveling a small section of the floor and laying down a new laminate floor.  What it turned into was the complete demolition of the entire floor (you could see the slab the room sits on), redoing most of the joists and then laying a new sub floor, laminate floor, baseboards and thresholds.  They also repaired some hidden holes in the exterior walls (we were wondering how a chipmunk got in our house).

None of this was easy.  I know because I could hear the workers complaining as they struggled to remove wood that was rock hard and nailed in with what seemed to be a thousand nails per square foot.  And just to make things extra fun, the nails were so old that the heads often came off when they were trying to pry them out.  I thought the worst was over when they began laying the new floor, but soon discovered that involved using the loudest nail gun I’ve ever heard.  And of course the sound of it terrified our dog Finn, who promptly took refuge on our antique and recently-refinished dining room table.

The project is just about complete as I write this, and the new floor really does look good.  It’s nice to know that the chipmunk entrance is now blocked off and new insulation has been installed.  A few hours with a good vacuum and a few dozen dust cloths should clean up the last of the mess, and then we get the fun job of moving our heavy furniture back into the room and finally placing my Christmas decorations where they belong.

Right now I’m swearing we’ll never tackle another home-improvement project, but I know that isn’t true.  Time has a way of making bad memories fade away, and eventually we’ll add that dormer to our bedroom I’ve been wanting for years.  All I ask is when that day comes, please ignore my whining and complaining.  Because no one likes to be reminded they really should have known better….

73 thoughts on “Room for Improvement

  1. As I sit here reading your tale Ann, I am chuckling. In my former work life, I was a construction project manager for a major Canadian bank. Watching what my renos put other people through, I vowed I would never do this to myself. That was until I got to my current age and came home from a trip to discover a leak from the upstairs bathroom. We are almost through that process, but many of the little niggling things you detail also happened here. A blog will be forthcoming. Oh, and there will always be a next reno. Seems we forget the problems after a bit. Cheers. Allan

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    • I’m sorry to hear about the leak! Some house projects have to be done, whether we want to our not, and yours sounds like one of them. I look forward to reading about it! And you’re right, there’s always another reno on the horizon.

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  2. Look on the positive side Ann- at least you could still live in the house while that project was happening. Inconvenient yes, but it didn’t require a long relocation or needing to go without things like heat or water or a roof 😉 I’d be careful going outside for awhile- that chipmunk may just be waiting in a bush to get some sort of revenge for taking away his access door.

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    • Yes, we were very lucky that it was the sort of project we could live through. Having to move out during a reno gets really expensive! And yeah, I’m on the lookout for that chipmunk….he’s gonna be mad!

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  3. oh my poor Finn and Ann … so glad it’s good results!

    I’m to have my floor laminated at some stage as mine was damaged by a leaking roof replaced before I moved in but they didn’t bother to replace the water damaged carpet 😦 With our tradies super busy from all the flood damage here it could take ages before my work starts but when I hear of whole families spontaneously bursting into tears upon the floor teams arrival I can wait …

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    • You’re very sensible to wait until the trades are less busy, and kind to put the needs of those whose houses were severely damaged by floods first! Sometimes, we just have to wait to do our projects, and that’s okay. The people who can’t wait have to be taken care of first!

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  4. I’ve never owned a home, and never will. I must say — if I did have a house and the money to renovate it, I’d not care a whit how much dust or chaos there was. I’m sure I’d count it as aggravation now and then, but still: it would be wonderful to have a chance to ‘re-feather’ my little nest!

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    • There are ups and downs to the process for sure! I didn’t think I’d mind it until I lived through it either, but the dust (think decades old insulation, sawdust and good old fashioned dirt all mixed together and all over your house…..I closed the blinds the first night and an avalanche of grit rained down on my head) does bother me. It doesn’t help that I’m allergic to it either. But you’re right, having a house and the means to fix it up is a good thing, and I need to bear that in mind!

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    • Yes, that’s why we haven’t redone our kitchen, although it needs it. It’s not just the cost, it’s the fact that our kitchen sits smack in the middle of our house, so working on it would really disrupt our lives, much more than the family room. So we’ve chosen just to live with it, as is!

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  5. I sing with you that the work is done (almost). My dad once said that living in the house when work is being done to it takes off half your life. I agree. However happy I am with the result of home renovations, I happier to see the last of the work crew.

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    • Yes! That is exactly how I feel! The work crew was actually very nice and considerate, but I was still so happy when they left for good this afternoon. And now we’re putting our room back together, and I really do appreciate the new (and finally level) floor!

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    • Yes, that’s the hard decision: do you save money by doing the work yourself, or save your backs by paying someone else, which is always rather expensive…if you can even find someone to do it! We’ve done a bit of both over the years. But either way, we rest for a bit between projects, to let our stress levels go down and our bank account recover!

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    • Thank you, Mimi! When we were young, hiring someone else to do the work wasn’t an alternative, so we learned to do a whole lot by ourselves. We were also lucky to have some handy friends who were willing to teach us. That made a huge difference!

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    • Ha! I don’t think I have that in me just now, even if we did have the construction crew lined up. But I suspect that when we do get around to that project, there will be a blog post about it…and then I’m counting on you all to pretend you’d didn’t read this post.

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    • Yes, a necessary evil describes it perfectly. And not because the workmen are mean, ours were quite nice. It’s just hard to feel comfortable in your house when a project is going on and people are banging on walls, ripping up floors, etc. I’m glad it’s over!

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  6. Smiling as I read this Ann but I can relate. Even though it’s been a while since we’ve done home renovations and extensions the memories remain. And more recently we’ve been helping Doug’s sister with carpentry, laying skirting boards and painting. But yep, when others are involved it’s always a disruption, but worth it in the end! Enjoy!

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    • Thank you! Now that it is done we’re actually sort of enjoying putting the room back together (although we haven’t moved my big, heavy desk yet….) I actually enjoy painting, but I know many people don’t. Thanks for the comment, Miriam, and I hope your sister-in-law’s project goes well!

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  7. We had our house “refreshed” right before COVID and the crew almost became family. They came first thing in the morning and we had a few surprise Saturday work days. The crew had their lunch hour on our front porch and even served my husband tacos. It was almost sad to see them go.

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    • That sounds like a very nice scenario! Our old handyman, Mike, was like that…he became a friend. Sadly, he passed away a few years ago and we really miss him. The workmen on our family room project were actually very nice, but they found several unforeseen problems that had to be dealt with, so that made it sort of stressful.

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  8. You speak for all people who have done remodeling projects! The older houses have good bones, so usually it is worth it in the end, but so hard during the process. I remember when we did a big kitchen/living room remodel that I was surprised how frustrating it was that the counter where I usually set my purse down was gone! and every time you went from the “kitchen” to the front hall, you had to go through a plastic curtain. I hope your project is finished soon so you can relax in the new space for the holidays.

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    • That’s a good point, Meg! I really think it is the disruption of our normal routines that bothers me the most. We couldn’t access our back yard from the family room door while they were here, so letting our dog out meant putting a leash on him, going out the front door and leading him around the house to the back yard. It was a pain, especially in the rain! It was the little things like that which became hard to cope with.

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  9. I am glad you can now get ready for Christmas!!! When you have all of your furnishings in place, it will be wonderful. In order to sell my mother’s house, we needed to do quite a bit of work beforehand. It does take a lot of work to get the job done. In the end, it is very rewarding. If you don’t do some improvements, things can really go into disarray. I want to wish you a beautiful Christmas and many blessings in the New Year!

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    • You’re so right, Linda! Houses require continual updating, or they begin to deteriorate. It’s just part of the package of being a home owner and I think we need to accept that. At some point we would like to move, so if we don’t fix things now, we’ll just have to when we put it on the market anyway, so there’s no point in putting it off. And yes, I’m so happy to get the last of my Christmas decorations up!! I hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas and a terrific new year too!

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  10. My ex-husband was a contractor. OMG, I will never forget the stress of him doing our home improvements for the rest of my life. The projects went unfinished for far longer than most. Just remembering, gives me chills!
    But I am very happy for you, Ann. It sounds like once this is over you will really enjoy the results!

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    • I know what you mean, Judy! My bother-in-law is a carpenter, and it’s always hard for him to find time to work on his own house, because the clients needed to come first. Living through renovations is so hard, and my guess is it’s even harder if your contractor is also you husband. Luckily, we are very pleased with the results and now it all seems worth it. When I wrote the post, they are still finishing up, and so I was still a bit stressed out!

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  11. That all sounds like a huge amount of upheaval, Ann. No wonder you found it so stressful. I’m glad you’re happy with the end result, though, and I expect, now that it’s all finished, the rooms will look lovely for Christmas time. I admire you for having a go at widening a doorway with a crowbar.

    I used to do all my own DIY before I acquired my disability. I couldn’t build anything or tackle the plumbing, but I was a dab hand at wallpapering, putting up new shelving, basic electrics, tiling and even a fair bit of plastering. Now, I have to have professionals in to do any work that needs doing. I hate that, not only because, as you’ve said, living amongst dust, dirt and chaos is no joke, but I find myself looking at them working and muttering under my breath, ‘I could make an equally good job of that!’

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    • That’s an impressive list of skills, Ellie! I’m sure it is frustrating not to be able to do your own projects anymore, and to have to find professionals to do everything. As for my efforts with the crowbar, the reason my husband wasn’t impressed was because he wasn’t planning to widen that doorway just yet. I misunderstood and thought it was one of the first projects we were going to do in our new house, so when we couldn’t get the box springs through the door, I just got the crow bar out and made the doorway bigger! Oh well, it was fixed and the door way was eventually removed altogether in order to open up the staircase…..

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  12. Bless you for enduring the remodel mess and upheaval, Ann! Oh, this brings back what we have gone through this past year. Our huge remodel began on Jan. 17 and wasn’t completed until September. I could relate to everything you said – the early mornings of getting ready, the noise, the unforeseen problems, the DUST!!!! I have no idea when I will be fully settled back into our main level as far as decor and so forth, but we are loving the end product, as you are. I think we’re done for awhile…a LONG while! 🙂

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  13. Poor dear Finn — Monkey would be bouncing off the walls if I had workers in the house on a regular basis. I guess “pandemic puppies” really do have some anxiety issues. Nice that you and your husband can get much of the work done yourselves, though, and I’ll bet you’re eagerly looking forward to the finished product!

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    • Yes, although the workers were very nice to Finn, he was terrified of the noise of their nail and staple guns. It was trying to say the least. The good thing is that the project is over now, and we’re enjoying our new, level floor!

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  14. I feel your pain. I’ve recently spent a silly amount of money on plumbers to do what should be simple, straightforward jobs. They’re worse than car dealer service centers, tacking on work you don’t really need for extra fees, whether you like it or not.

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    • Yeah, that’s always a problem too! We had one contractor tell us that the slab our family room sits on was cracked. And yet last week when we could actually see the slab, it was obvious it wasn’t. We were lucky that the contractor who actually did the job was honest and competent!

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  15. Our son & his young family moved in with us a year ago as they bought their own fixer-upper to fix-up! The project finished and we are so happy for them to have moved in to their lovely re-NEWed home! Some days felt longer than others during the massive project, but the joy of completion overshadows it all, doesn’t it? Thanks for the wonderful post on how quickly memories can fade. 🎄

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    • I’m so glad that your son’s house is finished and they are pleased with the results! It’s so much easier not to have to live in the house while it’s being renovated, so you were very nice to have them live with you during the process. (I bet you enjoyed having them, too!) And thanks for your kind words!

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    • I know! The problem is that houses do require a certain amount of work just to stay in good condition. So even if you resist the urge to renovate, there are always projects that need to be done. It’s a good thing we tend to forget what a pain it is in between the projects….

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  16. Ann –
    The final “nail in the coffin” on my decision to not try to continue to live in Mom’s house was this very issue! If my idiot ex had not let his alcoholism run wild before he decided to divorce, I had been considering updating and renovating it to make it more comfortable for both (or all if Mom hadn’t died) of us. He used to be good at that sort of thing but now was just too “weak” or out of shape (fat) to even attempt it anymore. That handiness is one of the very few things I miss about him, and will admit I took for granted for quite a while.

    At the moment, becoming a snowbird is looking a lot more attractive because this CA weather wimp is not enjoying these days when temps don’t go above 40! I’m looking at either Tucson or Albuquerque as a winter home. I don’t think I want to own property anywhere because I don’t want to have to maintain it. I also want to travel for as long as I can so for the near future I’m thinking about keeping small apartments in both winter and summer homes. Winter would be in the AZ or NM, I think, and summer would probably be somewhere in MI or hereabouts

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    • I’ve often thought that there’s a lot to be said for not owning a home, and for being free to move about the country to avoid weather extremes! I think you may be on to something. Personally, I’d love to avoid the allergies of late Spring and early fall, plus the extreme heat and humidity of July and the cold temps of January and February. Short term rentals sound like a great alternative! Let me know how that works out for you…..

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    • I’m not honestly sure, but I think he honestly believes it’s his “safe place.” He’s originally from Louisiana, where flooding is common. So I think he was caught in a flood at some point, because he’s not only afraid of storms, he’s afraid of any kind of rain. And that’s when he tried to jump on the table! I guess he’s seeking higher ground….. And yeah, it is kind of funny!

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