Years ago, I bought an old farm house in Dennis, MA. Mind you, this wasn't a nice old farm house, it was just old. I got it for a good price because it needed tons of work and I stupidly thought that I could do a lot of the work myself and save a fortune. Let me explain how my renovation project worked out.
The downstairs had a kitchen, a dining room, a living room, a room with no heat we called the “cold room”, two bedrooms and a bathroom. Upstairs there were two bedrooms and a large sort of living room area. The upstairs had never been finished so it was perfect for me. There were only bare studs and no insulation. Here was my plan. I would put in the insulation myself. I could have an electrician add some outlets since there weren't any. Finally, I could learn how to sheetrock, do the trim work, have a plumber add heat, do the painting and lay a new carpet. Simple, right?
Well, before I got started, I had a friend who was a builder come over to give me some advice. He took one long look and told me I couldn't finish the upstairs because the foundation wouldn't take the weight. What? His observation was right on the money because we dug under the side of the house to discover that there was no foundation. What they had done was to put a pile of rocks in each corner and then lay wood timber from stone pile to stone pile with most of it just resting on the dirt. They then built the house on top of this not-really-a-foundation foundation. Before I could do anything to the house, I had to put in a real foundation. Since the house had no basement and I had to go down at least four feet for a proper foundation, I decided to excavate another few feet and put in a full basement.
The crew arrived the following week to get started. They ran steel I-beams underneath the house to support it while they took a small bulldozer and excavated underneath my home that now seemed to just float in the air. When they came to the chimney in the center of the house, they decided they needed to remove the chimney and build a new one later on. They were going to do this by knocking out the bottom of the chimney and then just let the whole thing drop down into the now excavated basement. Well, that was the plan.
They told us we could live in the house while this work was going on with no problem. So there we were sitting in the living room when the main contractor came running into the house with a sledge hammer. “Everyone get out of the house and I mean right now!” he yelled. Out we ran and we could hear him behind us taking out a wall in the living room. Apparently, when they knocked out the bottom of the chimney and the rest of it began to fall into the basement, it got hung up on some of the joists holding up the house. He had to take out a wall to get to the chimney and then break up the chimney with his sledge hammer so it didn't take the whole house with it when it fell. Crisis solved. Well . . . that was fun.
In any event, I now have a new basement and I'm starting to feel cocky. Time to start on the upstairs. Electric in and plumbing in. Rolls of new insulation just waiting for me to stick in the walls and ceiling. Now, I had never done insulation and no one told me that it would be a good idea to wear a long sleeve shirt, long pants, gloves and perhaps a mask. Later that night, I found out why. My skin was loaded with tiny fiberglass slivers that itched like crazy. No amount of showering would help and I suffered for days until all the little bits worked themselves out.
Time for sheetrock. I quickly discovered that I had a bit of talent with sheetrock. I could cut it, hang it and when it came to taping the seams I was an amateur Picasso. Man, could I sling the mud. Hardly any sanding when I was done either. Hey, I'm a handy man!
Well, that may have been a bit of an overstatement. I'm not good at trim work. I apparently have an inbred inability to measure properly and measuring is a requirement of good trim work. No problem, I can fill in with wood putty and sand it down. It sort of worked.
Painting is like golf. It's easy to do but very hard to do well. I don't have the patience to paint well. The window panes had paint all around the edges. I spent a huge amount of time with a razor blade just scraping the paint off the window. Paint is also messy. At least it is for me. The Lovely Louise won't let me paint anymore and I hate to admit it, but she's right.
At last the upstairs is liveable and I can put the girls up there without killing them and I suppose that's a good thing. In my next blog, I'll focus on my efforts in renovating the downstairs and it starts to really get fun.
Stay tuned . . .