1.29.2009

Demolition Continues

The demolition continued today with a jackhammer removing the slab of cement which was the back porch. Of course this started during naptime on the day that Jim was home with our sick 2 year old! Fortunately we move on Tuesday so the noise issue will be pretty much eliminated... except that we'll probably still hear them because in a bizarre turn of events we are now renting a house across the street for the next 6 months!! A very long story that you readers won't care about but the moral of the story is to explore all of your rental options in your neighborhood before venturing outside of it!

Tomorrow the jackhammers return for another day of removing the rest of the back porch, rear sidewalk and exterior basement stairs.

Monday the backhoes and dump trucks come in and start digging our foundation. Our backyard is not large so space will be at a premium and the unneeded dirt will be trucked out as the hole is dug. Keep your fingers crossed for a dry week.
Check back next week for some pictures of progress!

1.27.2009

It's snowing!

The Washington Metro area is getting its first measurable snowfall in probably 2 years today. 2-4 inches of snow and ice is predicted to fall by noon tomorrow. Fantastic timing, of course. When I left the house this morning at 8:15, there was no sign of activity in the backyard so perhaps today and tomorrow will be lost causes. We do, however, have a new dumpster ready to be filled. Hopefully there will be something in it by the time we get home tonight.

The plan had been to start digging the foundation this week but that may be pushed back by a day or two as a result of this snow. The workers are currently working 6 days per week so they will likely catch up if they fall behind.

One more week until we move. We are not packed or ready to move but hopefully it will all come together this weekend. We have a lot of the extraneous stuff packed but now I have the stuff we actually use left to go.

I am basically selling our kitchen appliances out from under us because I want them out of there before they are damaged and not able to be sold. So far, the dishwasher and microwave are sold and our 3 year old stove should be gone by the end of the week. Everyone has agreed not to pick them up until next Sunday though. I didn't really plan on cooking after that point anyway!

1.25.2009

Weather

Well, of course, now that we have our permits the weather decides to take a turn for the colder and possibly some snow this week. Of course, I have a firm belief that predicting the weather is far from a science because it is so inaccurate. Let's hope that holds true this week. Precipitation of some sort is predicted for every day this week - generally snow showers. Fortunately, Jim C. (builder) says this is not a problem and we can still move forward with the demolition and hopefully start digging later this week. The dumpster will be changed out tomorrow and the large machinery will be here early this week. The neighborhood kids will love that!

The demolition so far has gone very smoothly. I think the porch will be gone completely tomorrow. They have been able to salvage a lot of the bricks from the garage whic match our house perfectly. It's labor intensive but ultimately will be worth it because those bricks don't have to be hauled away and disposed of, and we'll have a perfect match to our existing house on our foundation. Turns out the porch bricks are different from the garage which confirmed our suspicions that the porch was not original to the house. Those bricks are going in the dumpster unfortunately.

We are still packing and working on selling pretty much everything from our kitchen, including the sink! We sold our kitchen cart today and we're working on selling the appliances so hopefully they can be removed next week. We may try to reuse our base cabinets in the basement but that will depend on how easily they are removed.

Hopefully we'll have some pictures of a hole in the ground by the end of the week.

1.24.2009

Exterior Design Decisions (and more demo!)

So, demolition is well on its way. Our back porch is pretty much gone and the garage is about three-quarters gone. If the workers continue until 5, I would imagine it will be pretty much completely gone. Next week, the heavy machinery comes in to pull out our exterior basement stairs and start digging for the foundation. A big week here!

So, even though the project has started, the decision-making has only just begun as well. For a long time (even before we owned this house) we had hoped to install fake slate recycled rubber shingles instead of asphalt. After a lot of soul-searching and budget crunching, it just did not make sense to spend an extra $10,000 on that. So, we have decided on architectural asphalt. Our builder is bringing samples over next week so we can make a decision and he can get it ordered. The shingles go on pretty much right after the framing.

Windows are another thing that needs to be decided short-term. We know that we want Andersen 400 series windows. We have Andersen Renewal windows (installed 2 years ago by The Window Place) in the old part of the house so we want the new windows to match as closely as possible and you cannot beat the great classic look combined with the no-maintenance clad Andersen windows. They really fit our house and our budget. We did remind our builder that we have white interiors and sandtone exterior. This would have been a horrible mistake had we not specified this in advance. It's important to note that Andersen window orders must be placed at least 4 weeks in advance of when you think you may need them. It's okay if they sit in a warehouse before they are installed but you do not want to be waiting for windows.

We are also making decisions on siding. We are going to use Hardie cement board siding but there are many options to consider include width of the boards, trim boards, and pre-painted (or unpainted). Samples of those will be here this week too. We are hoping to find a pre-painted color that we like so that we can avoid the additional cost of painting the exterior as well, and we get a better warranty on the finish.

It's amazing how you start to get used to the sound of hammer drills!

1.23.2009

Construction has begun!

Construction has officially begun on our 1800 square foot plus garage addition. Permit is hanging in the dining room window (a beautiful sight!), and the sound of hammer drills fills the air. I never thought I would like those sounds so much. Our surveyor is also here staking out the area for digging.

I have to say I will certainly be ready to move out of here in a week and a half. It would be very difficult to live through this, and I give those who do a LOT of credit. I think Angus (our dog) will be happiest to move out though!

New "Construction" slideshow is posted on the left side. The Before Pictures are still there if you are interested in seeing interior pictures. We'll take more after our stuff is out of here.

1.22.2009

We have our building permit!

I am happy to report that our building permit was approved today and things are going full steam ahead. We have the dumpster in the driveway and I was never so happy to see a dumpster filling up. The roofs of the garage and back proch came off today. A new construction slideshow will be posted tomorrow and we'll track the progress in photographs for the next few months. Check back often!

1.21.2009

Still waiting...

Starting to wonder if we'll even have permits by the time we move out the first week of February. Also wondering if dragging my 5.5 month pregnant body and hungry 2 year old to the inspections office on Friday might help move things along?? Let's hope it doesn't come to that.

1.19.2009

Hopefully this is the week!

Hopefully this is the week for permits and the beginning of major work on the house! Kaye (architect) thinks we'll get the permits this week. Arlington County actually has a site where you can track the status of your permits. This only makes me slightly crazier because I can constantly check it all the time. Not that anything has been happening since Friday, nor will anything happen before Wednesday. The County is shut down today and tomorrow.

We do, however, have a port-o-potty in our driveway! Never thought I would be so happy to see one. Happy to say that I won't have to use it - it was about 25 degrees here today!

In the mean time, we are moving things around in our house and packing up the things that we are taking with us and the things need to be protected but which are staying here. We have designated our spare bedroom for storage both now and after we move. We'll have one corner of stuff to take with us. It's hard to think about being really organized with this move because we are taking our most valuable stuff and the stuff we need, but knowing that we can get the rest of our stuff when we need it, makes it a lot easier to make those choices.

Hopefully we'll have some construction news and photos this week. I plan to choose a location for all photo-taking tomorrow.

1.14.2009

Small Progress But More Waiting

Although we're still waiting for our permits, we are much closer. They plans were refiled today so hopefully it will only be a day or two until we get the permits so long as the plan reviewer is satisfied.

We've also learned the value of great neighbors. There was an issue with the corners of property line according to our plat from when we bought the house. Jim went to the County offices to see if he could get a copy of the original plat but it was in very bad condition since it dates back to the early 20th century! So, we had to ask our neighbors for copies of their plats. We now have 3 out of the 4 plats which is great. The 4th is on its way so we should have them all by the end of the week. Fortunately we have incredibly helpful neighbors and they were happy to help - 2 even found their plats for us late last night (thanks Aaron and Mike)! Once we have those we'll be able to move forward. The main reason that we need a highly accurate survey is that we want to put our garage as far back on our property line as allowed by the County (1 foot from the back and side). We don't want to cross that line nor do we want to put the garage any further into our yard than necessary (it's going to small enough as it is!). This all requires a very accurate survey. So, barring any major issues, that should be done by this weekend as well and we'll be ready to pour the slab for the garage with the floor of the basement hopefully in the next 3 weeks or so.

Of course though, we'll probably get our permit this week but the temperatures are going to dip into the teens (really cold for DC) so work may not be able to start in earnest. Jim Cole's sign went up in the yard today, and he took down our garage door and garage door opener in preparation for tearing down the garage very soon. I'll be sure to post pictures once we get started - any day now...

1.12.2009

Finding Patience - Building Permits

We are still waiting for our building permits from Arlington County. Seems that we were not very lucky with our draw of reviewers and she keeps asking questions which are clearly answered in our very detailed architectural plans. She is even questioning our engineer's analysis. So, our fantastic architect, Kaye Orr, is going to meet with this woman tomorrow and see if she can get all of her questions answered and assure her that everything is in order. In times like this, I wish we lived in a place where you can draw your ideas on a cocktail napkin and get a permit (yes, these places still exist). Hopefully we'll get a permit by Wednesday and our garage and back porch will come down this week.

It seems that the key here is to have an architect and builder ready to work with the County, as ours are. If you are interviewing architects and builders, be sure to ask them about their experience and relationships with the County personnel who work in the building permit department. We were just unlucky in this one (possibly because we submitted in December after some attrition in the department). I'm trying to stay positive about it and hope that we can get the permit this week and get things underway.

Please keep us in your thoughts tomorrow so that maybe we can break ground this week!

1.10.2009

Changing the Way We Entertain

I should be getting ready for the 60+ people who are coming to our house tonight for our last party in our "old house". We entertain frequently - usually 2-3 large parties per year, and then fairly frequent dinner parties or just neighborhood BBQs on our patio. Yesterday I walked up and down my basement stairs no fewer than 10 times bringing things up for the party and taking unneeded things downstairs (out of sight, out of mind). Although I am sure I will continue to store some less-used items in our basement, I am hoping there will not be too much of that type of thing clogging up our new space. Our new kitchen should have ample cabinet space and, if it doesn't, I really will get rid of some things that we don't use or need.

At most of our indoor parties, people generally congregate in the dining room (near the food and drink) and the tiny kitchen (which has been known to hold 8-10 chatting guests). All of the coats and purses need to be thrown in a spare bedroom.

As we are finalizing the tiny details of our addition, I am thinking about how this could change in our new house. A real coat closet on the first floor will serve us well. A place for wet umbrellas near the side door would be helpful. A place to set out a full bar area other than on the dining room table (maybe the kitchen island?) would make a big difference.

Next Fall we plan to have a Pre-Holiday, Post-Construction party. Of course this could slip until after the holidays if we just aren't up to the task, but I am looking forward to everyone seeing the changes in both our house and our parties!

1.09.2009

Changing Parts of our Existing House During Renovation

Because we've lived in our house for 6.5 years, we are fully aware of the short-comings of our existing house which cannot be changed by simply adding a big box on the back. First, our dining room is just a couple of feet too short. With furniture on 3 walls (buffet, china cabinet, and liquor cabinet), it is difficult to center our table where it should be. Second, our closets on the second floor are ridiculously small. The closet in our bedroom is so small that you cannot get a hanger in the closet in the regular way so we had to put bars two bars for my husband going perpendicular to the doorway on one side and shelves for sweaters and t-shirts on the other. I think it's a rather ingenious solution (it was my idea after all!) but it's still a ridiculously small closet.

Finally, our upstairs floors have never been refinished since we moved in. In fact, we only ripped the carpet out a year or so ago, since it was practically new when we moved in. (Note: If I could do it again, I would have ripped out ALL the carpet before we moved in and had all of the floors refinished then - lesson learned!). Finally, our upstairs hall bathroom needs a new floor and possibly a vanity.

So, when we entered into this renovation adventure, our intent was to change all of these things. Since we needed to get the floors refinished upstairs, it made sense to adjust the closets at this point since there will be floor exposed and changed. Most of the patching will be in the new closets, but still it makes the most sense to do the floors all at once (yet another reason to move out!). Fixing the closets for long-term use is also important. We have one daughter (and we don't know the sex of baby-to-be), so we KNOW she'll likely have a lot of clothes that will need to be hung out.

As I said in a previous post about moving our stairs, a major bonus of this project is that our oddly L-shaped tiny bedroom (about 8 x 11) will become a real bedroom about 11x12 in the end, so there will be significant floor patching in that room which will warrant floor refinishing.

As for the upstairs bathroom, during our interviews with contractors, several said it may be impossible to just replace the floor because the old tile can be very brittle and the tile walls could be cracked in the process. If that happened, then that would mean gutting the bathroom. Since this is a totally separate project which would not affect anything else in the house, we decided to put this off. Our bathroom is totally usable and not in horrible condition by any means (although it needs new paint or re-wallpapering) so it can definitely be put off for a later date. If anyone has successfully replaced a tile floor but not the walls on a 70 year old house, I would love to hear about it!

So, we are moving forward with most of the changes that we want to make. The hall bathroom can wait but since it won't detract from the house as it is, we'll just wait.
As you consider your addition, look closely at the parts of your existing house which you would like to change and consider including those in the project. In our case, the additional cost was minimal but the long-term benefits are huge.

1.07.2009

Paying for Your Addition - Options

Of course, the most ideal and fiscally responsible thing to do when adding to your house is to have cash or liquid assets on hand to be able to pay for your addition. Today, this is a rare occurrence and most people do not have this type of cash on hand. If you are lucky enough to have significant equity in your house, you may be able to take that equity out and use it to add to your house. Finally, if you don't have enough equity but will have at least 20% equity when you're done (based on the final product's appraisal), you may be able to get a construction loan. Different lenders offer different types of construction loans. Some allow you to pay interest only during construction, some allow you to only pay on what money you have used so far during construction, some allow you to (or require you to) lock in your final rate at the beginning. The general premise is that you are borrowing money based on the future value of your finished home. So, you can roll in your existing mortgage with your new loan and have one loan (or a combination of loans) when you are done.

If you are already heavily into planning your addition, hopefully you have already researched some financing options. A good first step is to talk to your financial advisor and see if he/she has any ideas for how to finance your house. We then spoke to several banks, both local and national, about their products. We have been Wells Fargo customers for years but their construction loan program was really substandard and didn't even really make sense. Many large banks have become particularly wary of construction loans because of their relatively high default rate. Don't think for a minute that customer loyalty is going to mean anything to one of these large banks - it really doesn't, especially during a credit crunch.

We found the best products with the most competitive rates were offered through smaller local mortgage companies and were generally found through mortgage brokers. We found a small local mortgage lender who had a product which seems like it will work for us. One thing to be wary of is what your final product will look like. Many large banks lock you into your final loan (which rolls together your existing mortgage and the money you used for your addition). You can always refinance when you're done but ideally, when you start, you want to know that you have something that you can live with at the end.

My husband called about 5 mortgage brokers with varying degrees of success. We did learn a lot from these phone calls so they were worth it. We ultimately found our lender through a recommendation from a friend.

Also, do not underestimate how long this process will take. We should probably have started working our loan in October but we waited until mid-November. Our closing is now next week (second week of January). We only found our lender in mid-December so plan for 4-6 weeks at least. Then you will get your first check (or "draw") a few days later. You also need to have your building permit in hand to get your first check.

You should work on a draw schedule with your builder when you sign your contract. Our builder is flexible on the draw schedule so he is fine with us condensing the payments so that we can have fewer draws (and pay fewer fees to the lender - about $150 per draw for inspection and processing). I'm sure I'll have a lot more to say about draws as the process moves along.

So, keep your fingers crossed that our permits and our closing both come through next week...

1.06.2009

Reusing Brick

In the Washington, D.C. close-in suburbs, the majority of older houses are brick which presents some challenges for major exterior renovations. When adding to a brick house, you have to consider whether you want to continue the brick or whether you want to side the addition, or put a new finish on the entire house such siding or stucco. Another option is to side the addition and paint the rest of the brick to match the siding. Brick has a lot of advantages - basically maintenance free, has a classic look, and is incredibly strong. Our house has "brick and block" walls which means that the walls are cement blocks with bricks on the outside which are connected to the blocks every few layers. Our walls are approximately 9" thick!

We are planning to take a hybrid approach and will put siding on our addition but brick the foundation to tie in the old house with the new addition. Our foundation comes up quite a bit in the back because of the slight slope of our yard so it will be clearly visible in the back of the house. We've opted to try to reuse the brick from our garage and back porch (more pictures just uploaded to the "Before Pictures"). Although this is more labor-intensive because the mortar has to be removed from the brick before it can be used, it can ultimately save you money because you do not have to buy new brick and you do not have to dispose of the old brick. Also, depending on how old your brick is, it may be hard to even find new brick that matches, not just because of color but because of older bricks are generally smaller than bricks currently on the market. It's also a much "greener" approach to building which we fully support (we plan to incorporate some other green elements in our renovation).


Our builder took a hunk of brick out of the back of our garage over the weekend (as seen on the picture at the right) so that he can work with his brick-layer to match the mortar and examine the brick. Jim the builder (as opposed to Jim the husband) thinks that the brick can be reused because the mortar seems to come off easy enough and the bricks are hard enough. Fortunately we have a lot of brick to work with from both our garage and our brick back porch (photo above) which has to come off to accommodate our addition.

1.05.2009

Keeping Classic Details and Character

When we bought our house, we felt fortunate that our house retained many of its original details - hardwood floors (protected by carpeting), original moulding, original kitchen, and no strange reconfigurations to the floor plan. When we were shopping for houses, we saw many houses which had undergone horrific "remodels" in the 1970s where all the molding was removed or horrible kitchen renovations complete with wood-grain formica cabinets and rust-colored countertops. So, although our house needed some cosmetic upgrades, we at least didn't have to undo anything that had been done previously. The majority of our work was painting, floor refinishing, and landscaping but nothing too serious. We also knew from the beginning that if we were going to stay in this house long-term, we would have to add on and do a major renovation. As a result, we only did a minor kitchen renovation (painted walls and cabinets, vinyl black and white tile, and new appliances) to make it livable.

As we are preparing to do change a lot of things about our house, we are making a big effort to keep the character of the house which we love. In our plans we stipulated that all moldings in the house should be matched in the addition including baseboard, window molding, crown molding, and wood floors. We are also looking for ways to make small details like the interior door knobs match our existing original glass knobs and brass back plates. We can probably achieve this by reusing the existing closet door knobs on the main hallway doors for the bedrooms so when you look down the hall, it's not obvious which are the new rooms. Over the years, we have replaced some chipped or broken knobs by purchasing new ones on eBay or at local garage sales. We'll probably do that again if we find we need more to match, or we'll check out some local salvage places.

DC has several great local options for architectural, including Community Forklift, The Brass Knob, The Brass Knob Backdoors (for big stuff), and Habitat for Humanity ReStore. Habitat has ReStores around the country so check their website for local options. You can also Google - "architectural salvage [your city name]" and you'll probably find some good local options. Many places (including the Brass Knob) offer nationwide shipping so if you find what you need in their catalogue (or they can find it for you), you can get it sent to you. Price-wise, you'll probably do better at Community Forklift or the ReStore, or even eBay as opposed to the speciality options, but you may be more likely to find it at the speciality store. Community Forklift and ReStore also have modern items such as appliances, new hardware, and other building supplies. I'll keep you updated on our efforts to make changes in keeping with our 1940s house as we move along with the renovation.

1.04.2009

Major Cleaning Out & Packing Up

So, as we are about to embark on gaining a lot more square footage, we are also assessing what we already own and whether we really want it to be incorporated into our new space. I don't want to pack up anything that I don't want in the long-term. This weekend we sold a couch from our basement and some metal shelving units from our garage on Craigslist. I adore Craigslist for buying and for selling large items, and it's entirely free! We'll be selling a lot of other stuff in the next month or so including our kitchen appliances (not the fridge) and some miscellaneous pieces of furniture. If you can, have a major yard sale before you embark on any major renovation. Not only will it free up space for the workers, but it also feels great to make a little cash and have a little extra space.

We're also packing up anything we'll need for the next 5 months at our rental house and anything breakable. It's a good idea to take everything off the walls and take down any shelves that could fall as a result of heavy vibrations. We're only bring the bare minimum of furniture with us so our furniture from our living room, master bedroom, and my daughter's dresser as well as a twin mattress (the big crib - bed transition is going to happen at the same time!). We're bringing our dining room table but probably not our buffet or china cabinet. We'll also tie up our dining room chandelier as high as it will go and wrap it in bubble wrap to protect it from unexpected hits. We aren't taking our guest room furniture, except for a single dresser for the baby's stuff which will likely start accumulating in early April (no, we aren't going to find out the sex).

Jim also hung plastic on our screen porch so that we could store some extra non-valuable stuff out there such as yard toys, yard tools, etc. Some of this stuff will be moved to our rental in the early spring. We just need to get it out of the yard and garage for now.

I should probably be packing right now... Oh, and we are having a huge pre-construction/post-holiday party here on Saturday night with 50 of our closest friends. Yes, we're crazy but at least we don't have to worry about people spilling things on the floors!

1.03.2009

The Garage

Happy New Year!
We are back from vacation and things are getting rolling now. We expect permits by the end of next week, so we spent a good part of our weekend getting our garage cleaned out. The first step in the construction process it to tear down our garage which will give the workers room to dig out our foundation. Also, by code, we had to tear down our garage or get a waiver because it would be too close to our new addition. The current garage is a detached structure about 6 feet from our existing back porch. It's too narrow to put a car into (it was built in 1940 - so more for a Model T than an SUV), so it was really just a brick shed. Plus, we don't want to look out of our new kitchen onto a garage. So, down it comes... Hopefully the same day as we get the permits.

Here is a picture of the garage relatively cleaned out. Jim spent a good part of the day taking stuff from our garage and putting it into the second bay of our VERY generous neighbor's garage. He only has one vehicle and a very large garage so it was really nice of him to let us use the other half. We'll have to get a storage unit probably at some point in the process but at least we don't have to pay to store our garage junk!
The current plan (subject to change of course) is for our contractor to build the new garage sooner rather than later because it will provide some much needed storage space to him as well as us (for new appliances, building materials, yard items, etc.). Hopefully we won't have to impose on our neighbor for the entire building process. The garage is now almost entirely cleaned out so the only things left are a few things we'll have to take to our rental house which I think we have found (fingers crossed). We plan to move out in February.