Home Improvements

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Okay, so our $40k renovation is complete. Work was actually completed last weekend but we didn’t get a chance to start moving stuff back in until this weeked.

Thankfully, I took a few quick photos before we junked it up any…

Now I was going to do the full progression of images from start to finish (if you want to see those, just check the archives) but the before, gutted, and after photos are the most impressive so here goes:

Living Room:

This is the room that started it all. (Click on that link to see some of the room at it’s worst…) We parially gutted it ourselves years ago thinking, well, I don’t really know what we were thinking!? Basically, it became apparent pretty quickly that we were in over our heads. It looks pretty nice now though…


This is the room we watched TV in and that Duncan primarily used as a play room. Well, we’ll still be watching tv in this room but *all* of the furniture is gone. Even the TV. The new stuff isn’t in yet, but in a few weeks, well, the room and all of its contents will be brand new.

Dining Room:

This isn’t the dining room anymore. It wasn’t really much of a dining room before either but now it houses our computers and my collection of upright arcade games. I’m typing this post from this room right now. It’s awesome.


Now I know that most people don’t think much of their stairs when it comes to remodelling but this is the crown jewel for us. No, it’s nothing fancy in the final after shot but compared to what it used to be (a stair case hidden in a closet), well, I almost can’t believe that this is the same house.

So that’s it. We’re done for at least the next 12, if not 24 months when it comes to remodelling…

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Bruce SpringsteenIt’s been a busy week and I wish I’d had the time to do individual posts about these but, well, you know how it goes.

First off, on Tuesday, my 401k balance finally hit the six figure mark.

While this doesn’t really mean anything, it’s exciting sorta like when your odometer hits a nice round number. I didn’t write down what song was playing on the radio at the time, but you know what I mean…

When my old VW Jetta hit the 100k mile mark, Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire” was playing on the radio. I’m not really a fan of the song or even Bruce.

And the very next time I started the car after surpassing 100k miles, well, it didn’t start. Spent three days stranded in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

I blame Bruce Springsteen.

The next thing is that we received the final invoice from the contractor working on the house. The original quote back in May was $33487.70.

Total damage now that they’re within hours of completion (just some paint touch-ups left) is $39212.72.

At first I was floored. But then, after taking a closer look at the breakdown, well, I really can’t complain. Sure, it’s cost us nearly $40k for this renovation but I don’t feel ripped off.

I do, however, feel broke.

Even with a six-figure retirement balance.

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Eight years ago today I signed my name on around 100 documents and grimaced my way through sitting far too close to a lawyer with the worst breath imaginable.

It was almost like the OJ-trial at the closing with my lawyer coming in all close to whisper what each form was about as if the standard forms were some sort of secret or something…

It was the one time in my life that I truly wished for a Tic-Tac. For someone else.

Anyway, I tried to dig up a few pictures of what the house looked like back in 2002, you know, to show off some of the progress, but apparently they were all on that hard drive that went belly-up back in 2007.

Someday I’ll send it in to a data recovery company. Someday. Like when they won’t charge me $1k+ for a 50% recovery rate.

So a lot has changed since I moved into the old musty thing. Best of all, it doesn’t smell like an old lady anymore. Not anywhere. The latest renovation has finally, finally, finally cleared the faint odor of Charlie perfume, cedar, and whatever can take credit for that familiar “grandma’s house” smell.

It’s all gone – replaced by the smell of wood and paint fumes. Mmmmmm…

Over the 8 years, I’d had a lot of work done and, yes, there’s still a ton left to do. No doubt about that but things have definitely been accelerateing in frequency and cost over the past few years.

Starting from the beginning, with-in days of moving in, I had an electrician come in and wire an outlet in my computer room. He charged an outrageous $500 fee.

Little did I know — this tiny project would cause endless anxiety and have far greater costs over the long haul.

The first big upgrade made was the jump from 60-amp to 200-amp service in early 2003. When I first moved in, if I turned on the television and the vacuum at the same time, I’d end up having to venture down into the dark basement to screw in a new fuse.

Yep — you read that right. I had to “screw” in a new fuse. Probably twice a week — any time I did laundry.

I think it cost me around $1500 to upgrade to 200-amp service and have the new panel with circuit breakers put in. I also had a new wire run to the dryer cause, well, it had its own circuit now. Based on what I know now — I got a great deal on that upgrade.

The next fall, just after I’d had my oil tank filled up, the furnace died. Right then and there I replaced the old coal furnance (since converted to oil) with a brand new natural gas one. Including that wasted oil fill-up, the cost was right around the $5000 mark.

After that initial blast of renovation activity, I took a long break — 2004 was the first year that I put nothing into the house. I think we painted a room ourselves — that was it. More of the same in 2005 and most of 2006.

In my head, I was saving up for a new roof — and I even had a few contractors come over — but in reality I was just spinning my wheels.

It wasn’t until December of 2006 that the roof project actually got off the ground for real. Total cost — including the removal of a chimney and porch was $12000.

Yep, now we’re talking about some serious money…

In 2007, we did the siding project with those horrible contractors that just went on and on and on and on. Total cost on that, including a new porch and some exterior doors, was in the vicinity of $25000.

We spent 2008 on the sideline, you know, pretty much broke.

In 2009, we had those huge trees taken down. Total damage there was only $2750. If you haven’t seen it, you should check out the video.

Also in 2009, we were finally able to un-do the unfortunate homeowners insurance situation that the very first project put us in.

Yep — it took 7 years to “fix” what that contractor initiated. Ugh. Makes me angry just thinking about it.

In 2010, we re-financed to lower the mortage bill to less than $500 per month and we’re in the final stages of our interior remodel that’ll probably top out at around $36000.

While it troubles me some that I’m averaging putting over $10k worth of work into the house each year, I still wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Like I said just a few months ago — this money pit was a great purchase.

I think I’ll still feel the same way in another 8 years…

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Things have slowed down some on the renovation front. I gave an abbreviated update a couple of weeks ago with an updated view of our floor — thanks for the comments — but didn’t post shots of every room since it didn’t really appear that any progress had been made.

But since the last full update, well, things definitely look different! The floors are installed, they’ve been stained, the trim is probably around 90% complete, and the stairs, well, for the first time since I’ve lived in the house, they don’t squeak.

Yep — midnight snack runs are possible without waking everyone up.

Here’s the progression…

Living Room:

I wish I’d taken a photo before the guys put the paper on the floor — it kinda takes away from the room.

The floor colour is growing on me, though, and I’d have to agree with D’s comment about dark floors making ceilings appear higher. Thankfully we’re not one of those houses with cramped 7-foot ceilings anyway, but it really does make things feel taller.

I’d also have to agree with Ms Money Savvy’s belief that darker floors look more sophisticated. She’s right — I knew that I didn’t want that generic blond colour that you see in all of the McMansions but I didn’t really know what look I wanted. Now I do — sophisticated.


So, you see the darker wall over there? That’s where the tv will likely end up. We’d really like to start moving on getting some furniture back in there but, as you can see, there are still a lot of “raw” materials for the still incomplete stairway taking up space.

Dining Room:

Well, this isn’t goint to be the dining room when it’s all said and done. The arcade games and all of our computer equipment will be in here. It might start to get a little cramped but, man, it’ll be soooooooooo much nicer than our current digs. It’ll also free-up a ton of space upstairs.


Just look at the first photo of the stairs and then the last. I mean, sure, they’re not even close to complete yet but that’s a HUGE improvement. No more warped wood paneling. No more worn-bare shag carpet. No more crumbling plaster falling from the ceiling.

Best of all — it’s not dark and narrow anymore.

Biggest change over the past couple of weeks on the stairway — other than it having been completely rebuilt — is that the triangular stair towards the bottom is gone.

Apparently steps like that are no longer up to code so it’s a full size landing down there. In addition, they added one more step that extends out in to living room.

Hopefully this is the home stretch. Just a few more paint touch-ups, the landing at the top of the stairs, a bit more trim, and a few doors left to be hung and we’ll be done.

I can’t wait to have a couch again.

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Okay, so we’ve hit a bump in the road on the renovation process.

When compared to all of our other previous home improvements — I kinda knew it was bound to happen sooner or later. Things were coasting along far too nicely…

We had the new floors sanded, stained, and poly-whatevered this week. It looks alright, I think…

The problem is that the flooring dudes were sub-contracted out and compared to the real in-house guys that our contractor has used for everything else so far, well, they don’t stack up.

They suck, actually.

So much so that the dry wall guys will probably need to come back in… And then painters will need to come back in again too because of how sloppy these morons were with the stain.

They have so much to touch up — after they’d already finished a job well done that, well, I feel sorry for them.

Worse, is that I think it sucks that our nice and solid brand new walls with a single coat of paint on them are going to end up looking like, well, repeatedly painted walls less than one month into their lifespan. So much for nice sharp corners. Sorry — that just sucks.

They even got stain on our nice new white lightswitches… I mean, seriously, why are so many contractors like this?

Further, guess where all of that remaining hardwood flooring that I’m guessing will be used for the staircase ended up? Well, they put that out on the front porch. Not sure if you’d heard but there’s this hurricane named Earl approaching and, well, our floor is outside.

Now I know that hardwood is supposed to be strong or whatever and I don’t really think we’re going to see much of a hurricane in my neck of the woods anyway but I’m also pretty certain that the flooring we’ve had installed isn’t “all-weather” flooring.

Is it my responsibility to move it back into the house myself?

I don’t think so.

If I don’t move it back in, will it make the cost of my project go up?


It’s a crappy situation.

Personally, though it hasn’t been rained on (yet), I still think the integrity of the unused floor boards has been compromised already. That really sucks.

We emailed the contractor already to let him know the remaining supplies are on the front porch — and he just emailed us back (for real — just now) to let us know to bring it back in. I’m sure he’s thinking “wtf?” right about know… Might even be calling the flooring guys to say it outloud…

I guess I’m glad that’s solved.

I’m also thankful that everyone else left to come back in has been here before — we’ve met all of them and you know what? They’ve done a great job. I’m just angry for them since these bozos just made their jobs a little more difficult…

Anyway, enough of the rant…and on to the floors!

(click here for more of the “before” photos from all of the rooms…)

We went with a dark stain, obviously.

I know, I know, some of you are probably thinking, “Dude, it looked better before you stained it — you ruined your brand new floor” and to a certain degree, I know where you’re coming from.

I liked the natural look too.

My wife said it would show dirt more easily.

She’s right and then I started to think that it’d look like a basketball court and, trust me, I hate basketball so we couldn’t have that.

Dark was the way to go. We settled on “Dark Walnut”. I think I’d have preferred an even darker stain — I didn’t expect the grain to pop as much as it did — but this looks pretty good. Again, not what I pictured but pretty darned good.

It doesn’t clash with the colours we’ve selected for the walls (though I suppose we could totally alter the colours now) and it’s not that standard generic blond colour that you see in all of the McMansions still being built during this apparent housing slump.

We’re fortunate enough to be able to totally customize the interior of our house right now so we’re not going to make generic and bland decisions. Thin strip hardwood flooring in a dark colour is definitely not a common sight…

That said, do you think it’s too dark?

Some people think that dark colours make rooms look smaller but I don’t know if I agree… I mean, rooms in a 125+ year old house are pretty small as it is — I’m not sure the floor colour is going to trick anyone into thinking otherwise…

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So, this week the painters came in and put on a few more coats and the flooring was partially installed. The dining room shots are also the first photos that offer a glimpse of the window trim that was put in place late last week too.

Things are definitely coming together in a hurry now. Here’s the progression…

Living Room:


Dining Room:


So, what’s left? Well, the light fixtures still need to be installed, the floors still need to be sanded and stained, the door and baseboard trim has to go in, a new door to the basement needs to be hung, and then one more coat of paint will be applied the walls to even things up.

Then they’ll tackle the stairs. You might have noticed that I didn’t post an updated picture of the stairs… That’s because there hasn’t been much progress on that front.

I don’t know how they’re going to do it (they’re going to eliminate that odd triangular step near the bottom and rebuild on top of the existing staircase or something) but apparently they’ve got a plan and based on what we’ve seen so far, I think we’ll be pleased.

And, for once, I don’t think we’ll be feeling shame when we open the door on Halloween this year…

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Same idea as last time — you know, repeats from the last few photo posts followed by what it looks like now…

Living Room:


Dining Room:


So, basically, since the last update, the electrical has gone in, the drywall went up, and a quick primer coat was sprayed on.

The big changes for us as that we have outlets all over the place. I mean, everywhere. Two of these rooms originally only had one outlet!?

Now, imagine how many hoops we had to jump through and how many daisy-chained surge protectors and extension cords we had to finagle in the family room to be able to plug in two lamps, a tv, the cable box, the Wii, the DVD player, the VCR, a vacuum, and in the winter, a Christmas tree too?

We’re in heaven… We also have an outrageous number of surge protectors going unused…

We have light switches too — the neat dimmer kind, even! Before this, we were using ceiling mounted pull chain fixtures, you know, like people use in unfinished basements. It was rough.

And, while it may seem like nothing, a working doorbell and a new touchscreen thermostat (remember this one?) have really brought us up to, well, modern times.

Sadly, our first visitor since having a working doorbell knocked on the door. How he missed the brand new button (that even lights up) is beyond me…

This past Friday,we had all of the window trim fabricated in the front yard and put up and the oak flooring was delivered too. Neither are in the photos as I took the most recent shots on Thursday night.

This Monday the painting crew will be back in to, I’m assuming, finish most of the painting so it’s looking to be a pretty busy week…and enough of a change to justify updated photos! I’m still a little confused on how they’re going to do the stairs but that’s their problem, not mine…

Anyway, looking at the original photos, well, it’s obvious to me that the current unfinished state is still superior to what the place looked like just a couple of months ago…

Now if we could only afford new furniture too…

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Over the past week, our major renovation has gotten underway.

The original “before” post is here with all kinds of commentary but for today’s post, well, I’ll hold the commentary.

It’s just gonna photos…

You know, repeats from the original post followed by what it looks like now…

Living Room:


Dining Room:



Sorry they’re not all from the same vantage point but, I assure you, they’re the same rooms…

Besides, this way you’ll get a better “feel” for my house and how I live and, really, that’s why you’re really looking at these photos anyway…

Can You Dig It?


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