Monday, May 26, 2008

When the roofer says he's done and the City says no.

A long long time ago in a post far far away, (it was back in early Feb 08) we wrote that we had hired a roofer, BenchMark. Since then we've had our problems with them, mainly that they came and started work on the boxgutters, only to leave them unfinished for two months, which let water and snow our into the house, all the way through the attic, down to the first floor.

At one point we has a 1" ice skating arena on the second floor. That's when the 'water feature' was built to shunt the rainwater out of the second floor window. So that at least stopped the damage from continuing.

Then one sunny day, in late April, they came to not only finish the boxgutters, but to remove the old metal roof and install a new one. It was a one day job that took three. Like I cared that it took 3x as long, I had already waited ten weeks, I could wait another two days. I was finally getting a roof and was thrilled about it.

But by the end of the third day, we still didn't have a downspout at the front of the house. The Duke Energy folks came by the previous week and took it down because we called and said it was too close to the power lines coming into the house. Instead of moving the lines, they took the easy way out and took down our downspout. It was promptly stolen as scrap.

The contract with Benchmark said, in relation to the boxgutters:

"Re-construct sections of gutter on rear of main section of roof and shed roof. Includes removal of remaining gutter, wood framing new gutter, and lining gutter with metal and/or rubber as needed. Install new round downspouts and tie into existing drain locations. Paint wood on all new gutters in customer's choice of color. New gutter will be similar in fashion to existing gutter,but may not match exactly."Price: $1,800.00 - One Thousand Eight Hundred"Install new round downspoutS and tie into existing drain locationS." Plural. Does ANYONE believe that they weren't supposed to install a downspout at the front of the house as well as at the back? To this day, they are still insisting that it was not in the contract, and they are not responsible for a front downspout. They DID come and install one though, even through they say they didn't have to. So we now have a downspout, but it leaks from the first bend near the boxgutter, much like it did before when it wasn't there. Of course now it's dripping on the paint and eventually will wear it away and cause damage if it's not repaired. In the larger picture, you can actually see the water dripping off of the downspout bend.

Benchmark claims they didn't need to install it and so they apparently don't care if the downspout leaks. Oh, yeah, and it's not round, it's that rectangular waffled tin.

Oh yeah, and they installed the rear downspout into a clogged storm drain, which then flooded our basement with rain water, to which Bert the Plumber, red cape and all, came to the rescue.
I love Bert. Don't tell my husband, ok?

Then there was the Box gutter or wading pool matter where the brand new boxgutter was clogged right after the boxgutter was finished and the down spout connector had to be cut out and we bought a new strainer that actually did work.

And then there's the flashing. "Factory drip edge"? No, not quite. Looks like a professional job, no? Well the City of Covington Housing Department doesn't think their work is done, and according to the contact Benchmark signed with the City the City isn't releasing funds until they give their approval of Benchmark's work.
Well, Benchmark agreed that they didn't install the factory drip edge and graciously deducted $144 from the invoice.

Anyone think I can get someone to fix all this stuff for $144?

So here's where we stand now: We have a new roof that (so far) doesn't leak, and looks good. The front downspout leaks, the flashing and the trim look like hell, and we even have a new nest of baby birds living under the roofline where the flashing isn't attached to the roof. And the boxgutters are severely warped (mainly because they used 1/4" plywood on the undersides of the boxgutters that sat out exposed to the rain and snow for 2 months.

When we called the boxgutter subcontractor that works for Benchmark to see how we could get the warped boards replaced, (btw, he's understandably upset that he hasn't been paid for his work... by Benchmark) well, he decided to threaten to 'rip his work off of our house' if he's not paid. Niiiiice.

Benchmark has claimed that their work is finished and they are demanding payment in full (minus the $144). They have even threatened to put a lien on our home.

Considering that we've found a local contractor who has agreed to fix the entire mess for $460, you'd think that Benchmark would be willing so subtract that amount from the invoice, and send us a bill for the remainder (we already paid them $2000) in the amount of $3690, and let the City of Covington pass judgment on someone else's work instead.

Well, that's what we told Benchmark, and considering I don't think I want a roofing contractor I can't trust not to destroy his work (instead of repair it) working on my house, I hope they decide to take the easy way out and send us an amended invoice.

It's been a learning experience, folks, and I hope you've learned as much as we have about Benchmark Roofing.

Class dismissed.

How to know when NOT to hire a house painter

1. "What color are you wanting to paint it?" Should not be the first question he asks. The color should be the most irrelevant question this man ever has to ask. I'll have it painted neon yellow if I want, all In need to know is CAN he apply the paint in a manner consistent with the "inside the lines" genre of house painting.

2. When you tell him that the West wall is to remain unpainted brick, and that you only want the front, the East side and the back painted, and you want it painted in three colors, if he looks at you, cocks his head and says, "You want me to paint each side a different color?"please, for all that is good in the world, do not hire him.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Putting up a fence and a gate

Now that we have the tree down, we've started planning for the new gate.

The old chain link fence is godawful and partially down due to the tree coming down anyway, so now's a good a time as ever.

We're looking at stock fencing from Home Depot, and it looks like we're going to need about 20 sections and a gate for the off street parking area.

The gate is what we've mainly been contemplating.... how to open and close it. My idea is a set of 2 rollers on the back side of the moving gate, and runners on the stable side upon which the rollers will glide. (see image) Hubby's idea is building a tall gate
overhang over the top of the gate opening from which the gate would hang, like a barn door.

I thought that could be a problem if taller delivery trucks wanted access, but we'll see. It may just come down to ease of building and cost.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Basement Access

Our old basement door, the original left to us when we bought the house, had been apparently ripped apart so many times from those lovely independent copper entrepreneurs, that we really couldn't say we had any security whatsoever.

In fact, when our work lights were stolen (see previous post) we believe the basement was the access point for the little dirty b@stages. Well, no more.

First of all I want to say that we bought a Gordon Basement Door from Home Depot. We thought of getting a Bilko basement door, but they didn't have our awkward opening size, and their doors would have taken up more space in the walkway than we could afford. Our plan is to have a minimum of 36" clearance to move furniture past the door with a dolly.

We picked up the basement door from Home Depot after waiting 2 weeks for its arrival (had to place the order in advance and it cost $350) and were so excited to get it that we zipped it over to the house, unpacked it and found it horribly dented. This was more troubling than it sounds because the damn thing was VERY heavy and we had already lifted it over the fence... and bruised some toes in the process.

So we took it back to Home Depot.
We ordered another one. We waited 2 1/2 weeks.
When it arrived, we weren't taking any chances. We opened it on the spot.

It was damaged as well. Bent and crushed. I have to say that the Home Depot manager (Ron Peery) was very helpful. He came up with the idea of trying to piece together one working basement door out of 2 dented shipments, but to no avail. Nice thinking, though.

So we ordered another one. The third one.
We waited 2 weeks, got the call that the order was in from Home Depot and tiredly dragged our butts down to the Florence Home Depot to pick up what we had hoped would be the last basement door pickup.

Guess what?

Yeah, it was dented. The good news was that we were able to piece together one working door from three scratch and dent deliveries. We took FrankenDoor home, re-primed the scratched pieces, and set it in the basement hoping someone would steal it. Apparently the word is out on Gordon; no one wanted it.

Of course, the weather in January was relatively warm when we first placed our order for the door. We could have had the whole thing set up back in January if we hadn't had to wait another month for a working set of pieces. By the time we got the FrankenDoor home, it was too cold to have concrete set up properly. We had to wait months.

The moral of the story: Gordon basement doors suck. Buy a Bilko Door if you can, or seal the whole up with a ton of concrete, but avoid the Gordon Doors like the plague. If I even *meet* someone named Gordon, he'd better duck.

Ok, so FrankenDoor is sitting in the basement and we're waiting for good weather to build a base for the door. Hubby wanted a large 3-sided concrete slab to set it on and I most definately did not. (Say, when's the last time someone came across a mound of cement and said, 'Oooooh, that's Niiiiiice'?)

Then I saw a neighbor's basement door set on some old river stones. Some attractive river stones. I showed the setup to the Hubby, and we agreed it would work great. So We went to a Cincinnati Stone Center (in the rain) and picked up $60 worth of stone and a bag of cement and headed to the site.

$60 worth of rocks weighs quite a bit, you know?

We unloaded the rocks and set about the task of organizing them to fit under Frankie. The first thing I did was to create a frame of sorts out of 4- 2x4's cut to fit the base of the basement door frame and laid it out over the basement opening. Then, with a level, I determined the slope of the ground and determined the difference between the ground level at the house and the level at the end of the basement door to be 6". Since I needed the base under the door at the house to be strong enough to hold a swinging open door, we set the base height at approx. 4"at the house level. That meant the base at the farthest point from the house would be about 10" high, just about the height of the rest of the steps.

After I pulled out the rotten wood from the original base, I noticed a lot of bricks from the basement opening were loose. This of course, meant I pulled out the first 4 layers of brick on the wiggly side to reinforce it with concrete and restack them. That added another day to the project while that cement cured.

Then the arduous task of organizing the rocks. This took the most time of all. I'm glad we had as many rocks to choose from as we did. It wasn't easy finding the right heights, shapes and sizes to fit evenly. If you're planning on doing something like this get a brick hammer. Trust me on this.

Once we had the layout set and the 2x4 frame was level left and right as well as front and back, we realized that we had to take it all down in order to affix the concrete and actually build it. Ugh.

I took off the top layer of rock off of the preformed layout and set each one upside down on the side it came from, the top layer of rocks the farthest out. Then the second layer, upside down, but a little closer to the opening. This way I could try to reproduce the original layout with the concrete added, in reverse, starting with the first layer closest, just flipping them upside down and back into place.

It wasn't that easy to replicate, but the layout process definitely helped. Just keep that 3' level nearby. You'll need it.

I wore rubber gloves and just used my hands to sculpt the concrete mix into the stones, pushing the mix into any holes which would become the weakest parts of the structure. By the end of the second day, I had one side in place, set to cure overnight.

This is what it looked like from within the basement opening. I put the larger, squarer (is that a word?) stones on the corners, as that's where the holes to attach the door will be set.

I figured it would add to the heft of the structure.

You can also see more of the bricks I set into concrete to firm up the inside walls.

Once we had the base pretty much level, which included pulling up stones and adding concrete mix underneath some of the stones in order to get the stones to a level height, we let the concrete sit for about 45 minutes, then lightly washed off some of the loose concrete mix off of the stones until we could see mostly stone, less concrete.

Over the past few days, I'd been painting the FrankenDoor assembly a pale almond color, and letting it dry inside overnight. So when the base had cured overnight, we were finally ready to setup the door in place and check for plumb and final fit. We set on the frame, sans doors in place, and marked on the wall where the sidewalls should stand. Everything looked good.

We mixed the final bucket of concrete mix for the top setting, layered about 1" of mix along the top of the base for a good seal and set the frame where the lines indicated. We checked the diagonal measurements to make sure they matched for a good square fit, and pressed down on the assembly to squish out the excess cement. Scooping that up and smoothing out the rest took no time at all.

Then we put the doors on the hinges... well, ok we TRIED to. FrankenDoor's revenge: the sequel. On the left door there was a metal burr that stuck out, preventing me from putting the screw through the assembly and the door. We had to sand that off. On the right door, the frame of the door near the hinge was badly bent (gee, how'd we miss that?) and it wouldn't fit. We had to take it off and hammer it out. So much for the paint job.

Anyway, it fits now, it's in place and it works. I'll show a pic of the final after I get back from the site today. It was a pain in the arse, mostly due to Gorden Co. and the FrankenDoor fiasco, but I think it looks great.

The Backyard Catalpa Haiku

Tall Catalpa sways
As if life still inhabits
One chainsaw later....
Ah yes, the tree. The tree that has kept the grass from growing, the occupants from mowing, the gardener from hoeing. Alas, fair maiden, it is perished.

Or at least we're trying. The first picture is from when we first saw the house. The tree was rather imposing and about twice the height of the house at the peak. And those little sword like shells it dropped were about 3" thick on the ground. Nothing was growing in the yard. Deadsville, man. Plus, it was heaving up the patio.

We knew then that if we bought the house, the tree had to go.
Well, we bought the house so.... TIMBER!!!!!

Oddly enough, our go-to-guy, Zach, actually found a litter of kittens in a hollow part of the tree when he was taking it down. Yes, mewling fuzzy weeks-old kittens. I didn't see them , or I would have been tempted to keep them, but that's one whacked out mama cat, you know? They must've been freaked by the chainsaw too. They're being taken care of one of Zach's tenants who is a vet, I'm told.

Anyway, we've had an ad on craigslist for free firewood for about a week now, and most of it's gone already.

We've got three big hollowed out stump rounds reserved for a Covington City Park down the block from us (They want to use them as planters, which I thought was a very neat idea) and the rest are waiting for a good home.

In the meantime, we have the original hollowed out stump still sticking out of the ground which has made for an excellent barbeque pit fueled by scrap lumber and fresh wood.

Anyone looking for a cool clear table base?

It's pretty bad when you have to re-read your own blog to find out where you are.

Slacker. Yeah, that's me. Blog slacker.

OK, back to it. It's been a few weeks and it's time to play catch up again. I know, you missed me. ;-)

Here's where things stand now: Starting at the top (literally) the 3rd floor bathroom is mostly framed in, at least enough for the plumber to run the stack and water lines for installation.

Instead of using a framing square to square up the walls, we've moved to using nearby hardibacker board or OSB as you can see in the picture. It makes for a decent square, and it harder to move once it's on the floor than a framing square. And we're always misplacing the square and since the OSB is EVERYWHERE, so, wth.

We have also finished reinforcing the master bath tub walls on the second floor. (framing the 10' ceilings can take a bit of adjusting, but in the end, they're rather sturdy.

We've been noticing that the floor under the bathroom on this floor is still a bit more flexible than we'd like and since we'll be tiling the floors, it looks like we're definitely going to have to firm up the floor joists with blocking before we tile. Good thing that can be done a little further down the road.

Also on the 2nd floor, the office floor has been laid out and covered with OSB, and the stairs to the 3rd floor still need to be finished up and the knee wall framed in soon.

The OSB nest to the stairs in the picture is to represent where the knee wall is supposed to go. We quickly noticed how dark the stairs from the 1st to the 2nd floor were going to be, so it is our intention to cut and frame small windows in 12"x12" cuts and to wire them for lighting and place them all on a 2-way dimmer switch. It should be very cool. The other idea is to fill the cutouts with a resin epoxy, embedding the 'concealment shoes' (see previous post) in it epoxy and placing them in the cutout windows.
Also, we've discovered that we're going to need to pull down all of the plaster on the west wall (the wall underneath the stairs-- all the way from the front of the hallway down to the first floor. We've come to the conclusion that it just doesn't make any sense to spray closed cell spray foam to insulate the house, but leave an entire brick wall exposed to the elements. We already live in a similar old brick home a mile away, and I'll tell you that in the Winter, if you were to stick your tongue out and lick the wall, it would freeze to it.

So we're going to insulate the wall. But we also don't want to give up any space in the stairway or hallway, so to compensate, we'll tear down the 1" plaster, place 1" furring strips on the wall and spray the foam to a 1"height. This way, we won't lose any space, but will gain an R value of approx. 7. Beats the hell out of frozen.

We've also finished framing the vent wall for the WC on the first floor under the stairs (no picture yet)... which means our rough-rough plumbing is just about done. That's good news.

On to the HVAC!! We're supposed to be visited by our HVAC assistant this week to plot out the cuts we'll need to make in the basement ceiling joists to accommodate the venting and the returns. I'm really not so thrilled with needing to cut two joists so near to the basement wall, but I'm told 'it's done all the time'. We're waiting to be told exactly where we'll need to cut, then we're on to the HVAC installation!! Then we can get in there and start pulling wire for the electric, lighting, communications, and sound.

Things are coming along a lot faster now.

Friday, May 2, 2008

A Public Thank You

As one might guess, our days get pretty long. We take care of work/business early, then we work on the rehab until 6-8, then we go back and work some more to prepare for the next day. 14 hour days are pretty common.

So, yesterday, I had an interview to prepare for and the Missus managed to get a bathroom wall framed in on her own before I joined her--some pretty heavy work to do on your own. Anyway, we were at the site until nearly 8:00, and by the time we finished up our paying work it was after 9:00. Even as late as it was and as tired as she had to have been, my wife made us fresh fettuccine to go with a quick Bolognese I had whipped up. It made the meal and was a wonderful comfort after a hard day.

I consider myself a lucky man. A VERY lucky man.

Having a partner like her makes this project much more pleasant.

Now, back to your regularly scheduled DIY blog postings.