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2018Feb28


As you may (or may not) know, safety is the first thing to address when it comes to maintaining and/or remodeling a structure. While it is fun to make the inside of your house reflect your personality (which could include following fashion trends), it is imperative that your house be livable first.

Those of you who have been following this real-time greenovation already know that most everything we’ve done has been about structural integrity… this project is a continuation on that theme.

I have ranted before (and will surely rant again) about how the previous owner did many things that appeared to be structurally sound practices and which were, in fact, not. I cannot stress enough how important it is when purchasing a house that you have an experienced expert do inspections that includes looking into the places you wouldn’t suspect you would need to look so that you know ahead of time what you are in for repair-wise later on.

History Concerning the North Porch (Fall 2017)

If the inspector we hired had actually BEEN an expert at what he said he was, we would have known about more than the cosmetic problems with the north porch; which also happens to be the side that faces the street and is, therefore, the front door location.

What we knew about the porch was:

  • The ceiling material was a flexible plastic product that was discolored and had gaps that allowed wasps to build nests behind it.
  • The electric outlet was switched. Meaning to use the outlet, you had to turn on the porch light and lighted post.
  • The flooring was made of tongue and groove paneling (yes, like you normally find on walls).
  • There was already some rot in the flooring near the outside edge (which was unfaced ends of the boards).
  • There was no guttering so the water from the roof came down all along the edge in large quantities creating puddles and splashing up at the flooring edge and the skirting.
  • The skirting was the same material as the flooring along the north edges and a plastic lattice material was used on the east and west sides. The skirting was rotting and in need of painting. Mice and other small animals would have no problems accessing the area underneath the porch.
  • The railing for the stairs moved when you grasped them.

Because we knew about these things, the porch was slated for remodel from the very beginning… but it was not high on the list because other things were more pressing. After a few years, it became apparent that the problems were getting worse more quickly than we had anticipated and for the last couple of years, we have avoided using the porch and blocked off everything except the path up the stairs to the front door for fear of falling through the floor. That path had the least weathering and was more stable (thankfully). It had become a true eyesore and it was embarrassing besides being dangerous.

What we discovered about the porch upon deconstruction (in preparation for the remodel) was:

  • The concrete deck blocks were not placed under the posts that supported the roof which resulted in sagging of the roof over the porch.
  • The flooring was wall paneling that had been reclaimed and flipped over leaving the finished side downward and many, MANY finishing staples in the boards.
  • The flooring was secured in some places by nails and other places by screws.
  • Mice made multiple openings into the house from underneath the flooring.
  • The reason the path in front of the door was stable was due to the original step supports being left in place.

The goals for the new porch:

  • Be structural sound.
  • Support the roof.
  • Wrap-around steps.
  • No animal access underneath.
  • Aesthetically pleasing.

Finding and Choosing a Contractor (Fall 2017)

This remodel was more than the hubby and I could do ourselves because of the structural issues and thus began my search for a contractor.

I had recently been immersed into the world of aging parents needing to be uprooted from their home of 56 years to an assisted living facility and all that entails. For once, I was not at the leading edge of something because my parents successfully lived in their home until all of us kids became senior citizens ourselves. Most of our friends had already dealt with these issues, the world at large had discovered the need for places where elderly people could live comfortably and relatively independently, and a new niche in construction had arisen so senior citizens could Age in Place.

With this knowledge, I evaluated our home and was happy to note that Aging in Place construction/remodeling is very similar (or even a subset) of Universal Design. That means our home already has many positive Aging in Place aspects because Sustainable Building using Universal Design had been a driving force in the selection of the house and continues to be part of the entire Greenovation.

I also compared the costs of remodeling to Age in Place with the price of assisted living facilities and deduced that it is cost-effective to make the changes necessary to stay in my home for as long as possible.

Armed with this information, I started doing internet searches for contractors who focus on Aging in Place and found that there are few in the Kansas City area who use that phrase. One happens to be a local business in Blue Springs, which is relatively close to my location.

I contacted them and had a lovely conversation with the woman who is their Financial Concierge. She and I later had a phone meeting in which we discussed what kind of grants and other financial help is available for Aging in Place upgrades in the home. She spurred me into action regarding financing (something I always dread because we generally make enough money to live on [and therefore too much to qualify for assistance] while not enough to pay for major improvements) and after some frustrating encounters with my mortgage company, etc. I learned from my hubby that we would be able to borrow enough from our 401k to make at least a few of the major improvements (and eliminate our debt beyond our house payment… which was necessary so we would be able to pay back the 401k). This may be too much information to be sharing, but I think it is important to say it because there must be other people who are in a similar situation and you need to know that it IS possible to work these things to your benefit within legal means. Luckily for us, we borrowed before the latest stock market “check” and so sold high and are paying ourselves back with interest… meaning we did not fare as badly as we would have if we had not borrowed against our retirement funds when we did. We will be scrimping for the next 5 years (the length of the loan) and at the end of that time we will also have a nice amount of equity in the mortgage since we did not refinance it to get the money for the improvements. AND we will have enhanced the value of the house besides.

I was so impressed with the Financial Concierge that I asked her to have someone come out to evaluate what they think we need to Age in Place and provide a quote. Their representative came out and confirmed things I already knew about the house… which is good because they know at least as much about it as I do. We discussed my goals and he gave me some off the top of his head dollar amounts for the various things I’d like to have done by them. Those construction jobs being: replace the north porch, put in a ramp on the south porch and remodel the master bathroom.

We made an appointment for him to bring out his Structural Engineer so they would be able to pin down the costs more precisely. The engineer was very helpful and answered many of my questions about the north porch. It turned out the engineer would also be the construction foreman (it would be his crew doing the work). After getting the quotes for the three (3) projects, the hubby and I decided to hire this company to replace the north porch and decide later on the other projects once we had a chance to see how things went on the first project.

At this point, construction is construction is construction. There is a crew, there is a foreman, there is a mess, and ultimately there is a finished product. On this job, the hubby and I elected to do as much of the deconstruction as we could ourselves in addition to disposing of the waste materials ourselves to save some money (less man-hours by the crew and no dumpster cost). This is something you have to have a mutual agreement about with the contractor up front before work starts. I also asked for blueprints up front so there would be no confusion about the construction and the results. (Unfortunately, these were never created on this job and, as you may surmise, it caused problems.)


Construction Photos (Fall 2017)

I didn't take many photos during deconstruction and you'll notice that it is truly deconstruction as opposed to demolition.

We don't mind the work it takes to avoid sending materials to a dump.

These photos show the hubby prying up the flooring.

What you don't see is pictures of both of us prying out the nails, staples, screws, etc.

The tools we used for deconstruction were:

  • Electric Saw
  • Pry bars (3 different kinds/sizes to deal with the variety of metal attachments)
  • Claw hammer
  • Heavy duty pliers with wire cutter
  • Bucket to hold metal pieces
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Burn barrels

You may be asking about burning the wood...

Generally, burning releases toxins into the air and the issues related to that as compared to dumping the toxins in a landfill pretty much make them equal. However, HOW you burn makes a big difference.

We used 2 burn barrels with small holes drilled around the bottoms so there is a nice chimney effect pulling air in around the bottom helping to achieve a complete burn (leaving minimal residue).

The barrels help to keep the fire hot so that there is mostly flame and minimal smoke. Reducing the smoke reduces the particulates going into the air.

Because we did not know what kind of finishing products were used on the flooring, it was important to tend the fire from a distance as much as possible. You don't want to breathe in volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Some close up interaction is inevitable... using a mask is recommended.

You'll notice that there is burnt grass around one of the barrels. That is because it is our older barrel (rarely used) that has rusted a great deal from years outside sitting on the ground.

Once the grass around it was burnt, there was very little chance of a grass fire starting from the embers at the bottom that might slip outside of the barrel.

East from the door, showing the support beams. These will be removed by the construction crew and salvaged for use elsewhere on the farm.
West from the door, showing the support beams. These will be removed by the construction crew and salvaged for use elsewhere on the farm.
The east side from a different angle. Note the hand rail pulled away from the steps..
The west side from a different angle.
The first order of business was removing the railings. These are being donated to Habitat for Humanity's ReStore.

Next the construction crew moved to supporting the roof before removing the rest of the posts that will go with the railing.

There ended up being five (5) support beams until the new piers and posts were in place.

Usually, electricity is brought with the crew via a generator. We let them plug into our electricity.

Support beam at the top.
Support beam at the bottom.
I was excited to see the peir footings being dug out.

I was NOT happy that the dirt removed was just left around the construction area.

I am used to people putting a tarp or piece of plywood next to where they are digging to collect that beautiful dirt and then move it out of the way. That also makes it easily available to put it where you want it after construction is complete.

 

This method left the dirt to be trod on and packed down. It also created hills that changed the level of the ground so that the hubby had to dig it out (at the request of the contractor) before they could start puting in the stringers for the stairs.

We also allowed the crew to use our hose and field hydrant to access the water needed to mix the concrete.

The technique used was very interesting. Basically they dumped a bag of Quickrete into the hole, poured in part of the bucket of water, let it percolate down through the powder and did that again and again until the correct amount of concrete was created in the hole.

I thought they would put the posts into the mixture. I was mistaken. Once each pier cured (overnight), they attached a bracket to secure the new post. That means the post is not subjected to the rot problems of being set in the ground.
The old beam was removed and a piece of cedar was placed against the concrete, new holes drilled and the new beam attached to the foundation sandwiching that piece of cedar.

You can see the bracket for the bottom of the post best in this picture.

 

Secure and angled so the floor is not quite level but goes ever so slightly downward as it travels away from the house.

The supports are moved, the new posts are in place. I was surprised to see the crew had angled the posts closest to us so the face was in line with the angle of the roof. I had assumed they would be parallel to the front of the house.

Couldn't really do anything about it at that point... hoped it would not cause any problems.

It did end up being a problem when it came to putting in handrails for the stairs at those locations. (Just one of the problems the crew created for themselves because there were no blueprints with instructions for them to follow.)

Note that the floor joists now extend from the house to the north edge. This is to accomodate the flooring running parallel to the front of the house.

These next series of phots document the mouse holes we discovered which were the entry points into the house.

We had been getting mice in the basement and couldn't find the entrance(s) until the remodel.

This first one is under the window to the right (west) of the front door. It appears to be in the concrete and may have been a water access point that was moved during a previous renovation... and not blocked up.

You can see the blown-in cellulose insulation that we put into the floor in this location several years ago. No doubt some of it was blown through the hole at the time of installation... and some was dug out by mice (although that should have killed them because it is treated with borax).

Here that hole is with the debris removed.
And here it is with steel wool shoved into the hole to plug it up.
Another hole was found on the left (east) side into the wall at just below floor level.
Here is the hole with the first round of steel wool shoved into it to plug it.
Here is the same hole completely filled with steel wool
And finally, this hold is on the right (west) side going into the wall from under the flooring of the porch.
Cleaned out and filled with steel wool.

The same location, but from the north side of the wall -- the second entrance to the same hole.

Again, filled with steel wool.

This hole we knew about. We had filled it with steel wool and then put expansion foam into the area. We asked the construction crew to NOT remove it... but they did. So we had to deal with it a second time.

I don't have any additional photos of the construction of the porch for you to see. I took many during the construction, but that was because I had to document the various problems the crew created and provide them to the project manager and construction foreman so they could be corrected. There is a photo of the finished product below and also photos of the waste that was salvaged.


My Opinion/Review (Fall 2017)

You may be wondering at this point why I have not told you the name of the business and people with whom I dealt or maybe you have figured it out: I was not so pleased with them. Here is the review they asked me to provide; I think it will tell you all you need to know:

Please rate your overall experience with working with us: 2 stars out of 5

Some aspects (like *Financial Concierge* helping figure out financing) would get 5 stars, but you want overall so because communication was TERRIBLE and resulted in problems with construction which were "corrected" with additional problems. It's a good thing I am familiar with construction because there was no quality control without me doing it.

Please describe why you chose us.

I was excited to find a construction company with a focus on Aging in Place and was impressed after speaking with *Financial Concierge*. I have several projects (but can't do them all at once) and decided to give them a try.

What areas could we have improved on to make your experience more enjoyable?

Communication, communication, communication! There does not appear to be any attempt to communicate in-house about the status of the project. I made sure to document everything and ended up communicating via email so there would be a paper trail. The project manager NEVER visited the job site after the initial contact to sell me their services and bringing out their engineer to quote the projects... EVEN when we expected him to visit on the final day to hear the checklist of what was left to finish the job.

What did you enjoy the most about working with us on the project?

Not much. The *Financial Concierge* was pleasant.

How would you describe your overall experience working with us?

I would describe my overall experience working with *Name Withheld* as one that I do not want to repeat and would not recommend them to anyone.

What was the least enjoyable part of working with us on the project?

There were several things that were least enjoyable about working with *Name Withheld* on this project. I was unhappy that no drawings were provided even though requested. Not having even rudimentary drawings caused the crew to make decisions that created problems and in fixing the problems created new problems. Also, prior discussion about reducing costs via sweat equity and disposing of waste was not considered when payment was requested and I had to fight for that and also for the amount of reduction agreed upon by the construction company for fixing one of the problems ourselves. Finally, that the project scope/quote appeared to be intentionally vague so *Name Withheld* will have met the requirements regardless of quality.

*****

Yes, I should have gotten additional quotes. Yes, I should have asked for references and called them (although, these days the only references you get are people who will give a glowing response… I’m sure they won’t be using me as a reference).

The porch is definitely structurally sound. Between the piers they used for the roof support posts and the piers for each set of stringers... nothing is going to shift that thing easily.

A reminder of what the porch looked like before (freshly painted).

It wasn't that it was all that bad... it just felt restricting and closed off to me.

The new porch is open and inviting, in my opinion. I (and our guests) don't have to go down the stairs at the walkway, instead the wrap around stairs allow access for any point in the north yard. And there are still handrails for anyone who feels they need them.

As you can see from the photo, the resulting porch is what I wanted. To his credit, the construction foreman DID make sure that everything was to my satisfaction in the end… as well it should be since we were paying for it.

Originally, there were to be handrails down the steps from the front two (2) posts, but because of the way the posts were angled and the way the crew created the wrap around stairs, it was not possible.

One thing I asked for from the start was for the resulting stairs to land where the brick walkway starts. It did not and so we agreed to solve the problem ourselves by putting paving stones along the edge of the walk to cover the gap four (4) inch gap.

The other thing that is not completed is the dirt work around the stairs... which we were told the crew would not be doing AFTER construction had begun. Because the crew had left the dirt from the piers on the construction site, the measurement to the ground from the floor changed which caused problems with the stringers and, long story short, the stairs do not come down to the level of the walkway and those paving stones also create an additional step so that the bottom step from the walkway is not two (2) inches higher than it should be. The rest of the first step height is being fixed by adding dirt and compacting it to the appropriate height. I will then plant high-traffic grass along the edge.

We knew all along that we would be finishing the ceiling of the porch ourselves and also be putting the guttering on ourselves. I'll update with photos when we get those things finished.

The Waste and the Salvage (Fall 2017)

FYI -- Construction crews don't normally see any difference between salvage and waste. So everything they pulled off, cut off or messed up went into one, big pile.

I separated that pile into:

  • Trash (paper wrappers, lunch debris, etc.)
  • Wood that needed to be de-nailed
  • Wood that had to be disposed of
  • Wood that could be used somewhere on the farm

You shouldn't burn pressure treated lumber... but we ended up with 2 burn barrels worth of it and using a hot fire like before, it was burned.

Construction crews also do not seem to care about efficient use of wood. Plus, there were many angles because of the wrap around nature of the stairs (and the manner in which they constructed them... on the fly because of no blueprints).

The result was LOTS and LOTS of triangular shaped pieces of wood. Being a creative person, I salvaged these to make artsy fartsy stuff with. Photos to come when the projects are done.

Here is you see the old concrete deck blocks will be used elsewhere on the farm and more of those odd shapes that I can use creatively.

Also, one of the wide boards had a BEAUTIFUL flaw that caused it to separate into 3 separate pieces. Another opportunity to creae something artsy. (It is lying flat by the concrete foundation of the house at the back of the photo.)

The rest of the pressure treated wood to salvage.
The pile of regular lumber to be denailed and the old stairs etc. beyond to the right.
The hubby beginning the job of denailing. All that metal removed during deconstruction and denailing is stored in the garage until we make a trip to the metal recycler. We will get some cash from that metal.

This is how I am storing the small pieces until I can use them... those are the barrels I bought for storing chicken seed in. There are long, wide boards behind them and to the right on the piece of concrete.

Once those barrels are empty, I will be grading and laying gravel in that location and turning those barrels into rain barrels for watering the raised bed gardens.

The really LONG wood both treated and not treated is stored in a corner of the garage out of the way.
The long regular lumber is stored by the garage door so it is handy.

And this is the end of the story about replacing the north porch.


 


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