Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Lead Clearance Test--Surprising and Scary

We bought this place from the City of Covington and by and large they've been great to work with, with some individuals going far and above the call of duty on our behalf. Sometimes, there are annoying requirements. One of which was the requirement to test for lead paint. Now, in theory, this is a great policy. DIY renovators are exposed to WAY too much lead.

The thing is, I took my lead course and I'm a certifiable lead-safe worker. I know there was going to be lead paint and I took steps to minimize my exposure. But I still had to cough up a pretty penny to get the place tested. That's money that could have gone to pay for some of the thousands of $'s of lumber that went up on these walls. Oh well...

Anyway, since there was an extensive lead test done, there has to be a "lead clearance test" done to demonstrate that lead remediation done or at least good cleaning practices were used during and after the project. Now, since the walls were furred, foamed, and drywalled, we didn't need to worry about them. And, since the interior walls, and the lead paint encrusted bead board stair enclosures were removed and replaced, we didn't need to worry about them. AND, since the floors had been covered with OSB, and swept and HEPA Vacuumed (both before and after OSB went down) several times, and since all the windows and doors had been replaced, we didn't need to worry about them. We don't even need a clearance test, Right?

Wrong. A lead clearance test is required even though there isn't any lead painted surfaces left in the house and haven't been for months and months and that all surfaces are now new. No certificate of occupancy will be issued without one. No COO, no refi. No COO, no CARD loan/grant.

So, a lead clearance test was scheduled.

Here's where it gets interesting. Our tester shows up and walks through the house. She notes that we've not put down carpet. She asked us if we had cleaned the window sills (no, they are new lumber and just painted and actually not really "sills"). She asked us if we had cleaned the window troughs (yes, yesterday). She looked at us and said, "You don't want me to test today"


Everything is NEW. There's no lead here! Not so fast. "This is an old neighborhood and our testing is very sensitive." There's a good chance that there's enough lead present to fail a test. She advised getting carpet down. Make sure every sill or subsill has been painted. Clean all window troughs and sills immediately before the scheduled test.

Fine. Whatever. Rush job on the carpet. We were lucky to find some carpet we really rather liked that could be installed fast. That of course blew the budget there by about $2k.

But we got it in. The outfit was McCall's and they were pretty darned good and professional. I just wish we'd had time to shop this the way we wanted to.

So, we got the carpet in and we HEPA vacuumed the entire place, cleaned sills and troughs per instruction, and had the lead test done. Basically, they test the floors and sills of the rooms that are likely to have children playing or eating in them.

Now, we passed but here's the kicker, one of our sills (brand new, where we replaced the door with a window) and one of our troughs were at about 35% of maximum tolerance. That's on a new sill and a new window trough that been cleaned within 2 hours of the test! There should be NO lead paint. The thing is, on a windy day, you're going to get lead dust from your neighbors. Plan on it. If you want to pass a lead clearance test, make sure you clean right before the scheduled test. Also, when you wipe your troughs, wipe the bottom of the sash well too.

Also, as a matter of course, when you open windows in the spring and summer, give the troughs and sills a quick suck with the HEPA vac and wipe them down with a good detergent. Also, encourage your neighbors to paint any deteriorated windows or exterior wall or trim to stabilize them.

Next up, Making the Ikea Kitchen!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Catching Up: Tile

A lot has happened and we're playing catch up.

The DW is a tiling queen. That's all there is to it. I was good for prepping for grout and cleaning up afterward.

This first picture is the guest bath floor. What you can't see is that the room is not particularly square.

What to do about it? Well, don't use these:

They give one a false sense of "squareness" and aren't really very necessary for the floor. In fact, what one can do is gently adjust for "non-square" rooms by squeezing or stretching the gaps between the tiles ever so slightly. Over 8 tiles, 1/8" adds up (to an inch).

Speaking of "not square" of the bathrooms is pretty badly wracked. That leaves us with a dilemma; how do we line up the tiles so that they look good and so that they don't highlight our wall problems? Well, DW was all over it. As you can see in the pic below, she lined the tiles up on the corner of the wall that you see as you come in. There's a long line of tile from door to window that really needs to be straight and also dead ahead of you is the cross angle. Fortunately, those two walls intersect in a nearly perfect square.

So far, so good. Looks pretty straight and square in and out and left to right. Most other problems will be behind the door or under trim.

But...there's a problem. If those important lines are maintained square and straight as they were, well, when the tiles get back to the bathtub, there's 1 1/2" of extra space at one end of the tub. See below.

So, how does DW address that? Marble trim legerdemain. She cuts a section out the tiles to allow for the special "trim", fiddle with the sizes of the joints to allow for that 1 1/2" gap, and create an optical illusion of the tile getting smaller as it extends away along the tub.

As you can see, there's hardly a noticeable sign of that unsightly uneven gap.

Absolutely amazing.

This of course means that there's going to have to be more of that marble trim utilized in the tub surround, but that's another story.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Over Budget Analysis

So, we're way over budget. I knew we would be and planned for it. We blew out that plan to. It's not the end of the world, but in a different environment, it could be.

So, I'm going over every deviation from budget that I can think of and determine if it was worth it or not. If it was utterly unavoidable, it was worth it. With some luck, this will give others an idea of how things go and how to plan their budgets and back-up plans accordingly.

So, here are the over-budget items that I can round up.

Roof: $1000 over budget, primarily for box gutter work. Unavoidable. We did get a great deal on a metal roof, however. Thousands cheaper than expected. Still over budget, but a bright spot.

Drainage: $500 over budget. Clogged drain dumping 2000 gallons of roof water into the basement. Unavoidable.

Demo: $300 over budget. Extra dumpster. Unavoidable.

Chimney removal: $200 over budget. Unplanned, but worth it.

Two months extra rent and utilities: $2100. Due to delays in demo and finding a roofer and getting the roof on. Avoidable. I should have been on the roofer issue much sooner and much harder. The same with Demo.

Financing Charges: $500 (estimated). Many expenses were floated on credit cards or on account for various periods over the 13 months of work. Partially Avoidable, but not entirely.

Mortgage: $2500. This wasn't forgotten about, but it ended up being paid out of the reno budget without a line. This doesn't include the 2 month overage accounted for above. It would have been worse, but for several months we were only paying for the purchase price due to using city money. Unavoidable, but make this a hard line item on the budget with a contingency for delays.

Fence: $300 over budget. Avoidable, but perhaps worth it for a better looking fence.

Stair case widening: $800. So VERY, VERY worth it. It made the 3rd floor usable.

Doors: $600 over. Partially unavoidable. Still, it would have been nice to find an old door or to have built one ourselves to save $300, net. If you have a non standard (say 34") door to replace, start looking at the reclamation centers or start building one right away.

Lumber: $1500 estimated over. Partially unavoidable, but we could could have gotten as much or more stiffening of the joists with cross braces and blocking, all for a couple hundred less. We used almost every bit of 2x4.

Tools: Total Estimated $685 over budget. Extra ladder $60, hammer drill $100, new drill $45, saw blades and drill bits $125, Jigsaw $30, extra nails and screws $75, router $100, router bits $80, tape measures $20 (don't ask), miscellaneous tool stuff $50. Mostly Unavoidable.

HVAC: $4000. We knew we were low-balling the HVAC estimate in our budget. Part of that $4k is utterly unavoidable. The jury is still out on whether it was worth it. We'll have to see the utility bills. I suspect it will be, but that's still uncertain. Probably worth it.

Insulation: $1900. I budgetted $4000 for DIY TigerFoam, and I'm pretty sure I was "light" by at least $1000, assuming no mistakes in application. I got got more foam, all the labor and all the risk taken by Priority One. Totally worth it. I'm not at all certain that I wouldn't have gone that much over budget doing it myself.

Transoms: $150 off budget. I didn't budget for these at all, but for the money, we got two double-paned low-e, argon-filled transoms, that are way efficient and that look better than any alternative. Totally worth it and maybe unavoidable.

WallBoard: $400 over budget. I could have gotten it for less, but this got it to the site, fast, and right where it needed to be when it needed to be there. Plus I under estimated mud and corner bead by a bit. Not too far off and unavoidable.

Drywaller: $2600 over budget. That's just my fault. I didn't do proper research and misjudged the cost of a drywall job of this magnitude and complexity. I took the low bid and got a great guy but I was still way, WAY off. Unavoidable, but let that be a lesson. My one and only budget screw up cost the most.

Bulbs: $150 off budget. I never thought about it. We got them cheap but we've got a blue million can lights, including some smaller sexy ones that take more expensive bulbs. It's not a ton of money, but it's another $100+ number over budget.

Exterior Lighting: $260 off budget. That was for motion detectors and wall lighting, plus some expensive bulbs. I totally forgot about this necessary expense. Partially Unavoidable, but I could have used cheaper fixtures. I just didn't want to look at them for the next 10 years.

Carpet: $2000 over budget. I had $5000 down in the Bank's estimate, but I figured we'd get it in for $3k. Nope. Due to the rush, we spent $5,000 on the dim. I'm happy with it, and I like the install, and the bottom line is that we had to get it in fast.

Windows: $500 over budget. This includes replacing a pane at the bottom of the stairs with tempered glass and putting in some hopper windows. I had hoped to re-work the windows myself and put in some nice wood ones in front, but time precluded that, so I just put in all new vinyls. I don't love them, but they're warm and efficient. Also, they came in almost $1,000 less than the bank estimate. Just more than mine. Unavoidable in the real world.

Tiling expense: $0. I was going to note $75 overage on grout and mastic that I didn't expect. Then I looked at our budget. We're net $1000 under bank budget, including an unbudgeted tub surround and almost $100 under my lowest DIY estimate. I'll shut up about that.

Floor refinishing: $200 over "budget". This was for labor and materials but considering that we did this ourselves and only pulled in help to prep and clean up, and that the bank budget was $1500 more, I have to say, "Worth it".

Theft: $240 off Budget. We lost and had to replace two sawzalls one cheap and one very used and old, two sets of work lights, and one compressor. Unavoidable. Plan for it. I did not includ the 50 or so CD's and player that were stolen off site.

Gasoline: at least $375 off Budget. I just stopped yesterday and thought, "How many trips to Home Depot, alone, have we made?" Many of them in the Denali, and many at $4 gas. I have a pretty tight estimate on that, but then there are all the little stop and go trips that we never used to take, including from home to site every day, runs to grab lunch, hit the small hardware store. Most of those with a cold engine and rotten fuel efficiency. Unavoidable, but we should have planned for it.

Re-financing: $1000 off budget. This is only partially forseeable. I didn't account for the rate lock we did, but that came out of the reno-cash. So did some closing costs. None were crazy. But they were off budget. We'll be doing another re-fi too but that's money not yet spent. Unavoidable.

Total over budget:

That is above contingencies and doesn't include some things that we just forgot about or can't easily quantify (e.g. how many Monster drinks did we buy the drywallers? How many lunches, sodas, waters, and bags of ice did we buy for contractors?). It's not an insignificant amount, though it can get folded back into the proper cost of the house during the next refinancing and fortunately, it won't alter the end result for us due to lower rates.

Still, this ought to be very instructive. It's easy to go WAY over budget. Little things add up, but so do big things. Try to plan down to the last nail. I thought it was trivial but it's really not. Where we did that (the kitchen), we actually came in UNDER budget. Don't forget the "cost of carry" and other financing expenses. They're slowly bleeding you on one of these projects and they're easy to over look. Plan on a few thousand dollars worth of "emergency" purchases. You're going to have them, including hiring labor to help get a project done on time, or buying a tool to save you days of work.

Another tip is to keep a separate account for project expenses and do not co-mingle ordinary and reno expenses. If it's not on the budget, it shouldn't come out of that account. That way, when you start going over budget you can readily see how far off you are and make what corrections you can. Keep a running tally of credit card expenses. It's bet to start with a "clean" card to facilitate this and it's best to only put reno expenses on it. If you don't have a great rate on the card, pay it off as soon as is practical. By using the card only for reno expenses, you can quickly see where you stand. You should have a spread sheet set up with your budget anyway, and as you spend on a project, you should add those expenses up and compare to the budget. It's time consuming, and it will likely fall by the way side if you get under the gun, but if you can do it, it'll help you stay on track.

One last tip that I think makes some sense is to set up an account or debit card with some splurge or "off-budget" money. You should stay on budget and not waste precious resources, sure, but you don't want the renovation project to be a joyless exercise in sharpening the pencil and crunching the numbers. You should make sure that you can buy those things that will really give you some pleasure or that really make the renovation work elegantly.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Green? Long-term vs. Up-front Costs

Some might take a look at our building choices (light metal roof, super efficient windows, super efficient HVAC, spray foam) and think we've gone "green". The thing is, I don't believe in fashionable environmentalism. I just don't. Talking "Green" makes me green, if you know what I mean. That doesn't mean that I don't care. I've been an outdoorsman for my entire life. I firmly believe in responsible stewardship of our land, air, and water. I even more firmly believe in EFFICIENCY that is consistent with such. Economic reality should dovetail into environmentalism. If it doesn't then it's just a fashionable bit of onanism. I'm not sure most folks get that.

Anyway, environmentalism should make sense. You have to look both short and long term at both costs and benefits.

Short term and long term costs for our metal roof were a no-brainer. It won on the upfront without even considering that it would outlive us, let alone the cooling costs. Windows were a no-brainer because added efficiency could be had at trivial additional cost, and no matter how we sliced it, we had to replace the windows (the calculus becomes much more difficult when one has a passel of solid old windows and the time to work on them, as well-repaired old windows with interior storms can be pretty darned efficient).

I did have to do the up-front vs. monthly/lifetime cost calculation when I was figuring the costs of insulation. I figured that we could DIY bats or blown-in insulation if we framed in all of my brick walls. This would preclude insulating the stairwell wall, of course, because we couldn't give up that space without rebuilding the stairs. The cost of that is ~100 square feet of floor space (and elbow room), and probably $2500 in materials, perhaps quite a bit more. Plus our time, which was short. The efficacy of 3.5" of bat insulation against the brick walls is debatable (some say R-11), but it's got problems in our application. The stair wells are going to be major heat sinks, for one and that means that the office and living room would be cold. Further, if insulation gets moist or if there's a gap allowing air to get in there, the true R-value drops significantly. There's a chance of both in our old brick house. I've seen a lot of water find a way into our walls over the past year. It could happen again on smaller scale. So, we're not going to be able to make the place fully insulated with pink stuff regardless, and if we did, there's a good chance we'd get less than the hoped for result.

Now, a lot of folks in these 150 year old houses don't insulate the walls, and just leave them plaster on brick with an air gap and more brick. They save the floor space in these narrow homes at the expense of comfort and gas and electric. With good attic insulation and storms and plastic it's bearable and almost affordable.

If we did spray foam, we'd get far superior performance for the life of the home (never any settling, never get wet, never allow a draft through, and provide R7 per inch (that's R-11 on the walls) AND eliminate the need for venting in the attic), and save ~100 square feet of needed floor space/elbow room. Most importantly, we could insulate the stair wells, making a huge comfort difference. I figured that I could fur the walls out 1.5" and get "real world" equivalence of bats in between studs without ever having to worry about the normal failure of bats in our application. In the rafters of the attic living space, I'm confident that the 7-8" of foam that we sprayed is going to outperform any other insulation. Forever.

Now, the total cost of the foam was less than $6k and we didn't have to do any of the labor nor take any of the risks (foam is fairly expensive if you screw up the application). That's perhaps $1.5k more than DIY foam (assuming no screw-ups), $2.5k more than DIY bats and $4.5k more than leaving the walls and just insulating the attic. I know that I'll save at LEAST $100 per month over the no wall insulation application and probably $50/month over the bat solution. Plus I'll keep that elbow room. We'll also get into the house sooner, saving on rent.

I figure that the cost differential alone is conservatively made up in less (perhaps a lot less) than 5 years, assuming utility rates stay where they are. That's a pretty short pay back and it makes good sense when I get to wait for it in total comfort. By comfort, I do mean serious comfort. In real life, when we set the furnace at 60 degrees, it's about as comfortable as our current place set at 70 degrees. When we turn it down, the third floor stays toasty for hours and hours. That's the outcome I was looking for and the savings justify the cost, irrespective of the luxurious comfort.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Side Door Replacement

That's the kitchen door. You can see the refinished floors a bit in there, too. We've put it off far too long already. We need to replace it.

The thing is, it's not standard. It's a 34"x85" door, in a mortised frame in brick. Doors come in standard 82" high and 32" or 36" widths. At 32", you can't get furniture in. At 36", you can't get a pre hung door in, intact. Then we have to deal with the transom, too. This will be our main door, so we don't want to have it look too kludgy.

So, there's only one solution that we could come up with. Order a 34" slab, with glass (for light, which we need), and build an entire new frame.

This meant that we had to sawzall out the door AND transom. Then we needed to rout the 2x12 framing material to accept the door and transom, and then we needed to chisel out for the hinge plates, and then install stop and weatherstripping.

THEN, we had to make sure our measurements of the transom were correct and order double paned glass. Then hang the door and install a threshold. Then we cover the transom hole and wait for glass.

We're still shy many of our pictures so we don't have the final, but the transom also looks pretty good.