Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Dinosaur in the back yard

We signed a change order for some roof work (we have rotten rafters) the back wall reconstruction because it was weaker than anticipated and requires more than just point-up but actual brick replacement.

On the topic of brick point up, Eric has done a ton of research on the proper mortar to use when pointing up 100-year old bricks. Apparently type "O" has the proper PSI such that water will weep through the mortar and not the bricks, which would evenually destroy the bricks. Unfortunately, Jerry always use S, so he had to scrape 0.75"-1.0" of mortar out and replace with O, which doesn't come premixed, but it's been a learning experience for all and Jerry has been very accommodating.

Construction continues to progress. Jerry worked every day over the Thanksgiving weekend and dug out the basement, creating 7 dumpsters full of dirt, that sat in the back yard under a blue tarp for approximately 2 days. It looked like we had a dead dinosaur in the back yard it was so big! The basement ceiling height is currently 9'!! Granted we have to add back plumbing, slab, sump pump and the ceiling system, but it's looking impressive.

We're both uneasy about the state of the back of the house because it's wide open and we still don't have permits and haven't settled on windows & doors (that's what I should be doing now instead of blogging). We want anodized aluminum for a modern look but obviously white vinyl is most economical!

Terra becomes an aunt! 11/25/08


At 8am the morning after Eric's notorious annual Halloween party, at after he'd been sleeping for about 3 hours, Terra met Jerry out front of our new house to sign the contract and give him the down payment. I also posted the "demo of interior space up to 5,000sf" permit we bought online for $33 - who knew that was so easy? We still don't have the official permits!

We had agreed beforehand to select Jerry and get started today. However, Eric's head hurt too much to get up and move his tools out just yet. We thought Jerry was going to just cap off the utilities but it turns out that he immediately went to town demo'ing the interior of the house. Eric's tools were buried in the rubble, as was the little glass bottle found in the basement crawl space from an old pharmacy on R St. NW. We became a little concerned about Jerry's communication but overall still happy to finally be making some progress (by the due date of our 3rd mortgage payment).
As it turned out, the water damage was extensive and many of our joists were rotten out (one of the few things we hadn't anticipated having to replace in the house). Jerry willingly began replacing the joists for no additional cost. However, we immediately noticed that the joists were not being pocketed far enough into the brick walls (3" is code) so many had to be redone. Jerry also cut an off-center hole for our eventual juliet balcony on the 2nd floor, began reframing the stairs not to code or plans (they need to be 36" wide from the finished wall, not 33"), and demanded another payment before the contract pre-requisites had been met. AAAHHHHHH, we're in over our heads!

We stuck to our guns and demanded correction of these issues before payment. I also hung up on Jerry one day for being mean to me and told Eric we had to fire him.

But, things have been going better since then. During our contract negotiations, Jerry stated once, "I already know this contract is going to be under a microscope and I'm ok with that." We've really put that statement to the test, and we're maybe 1/2 way through now. Jerry is not used to working for an architect who knows code, and Eric expects a commercial-quality contractor of a residential one, when they are not nearly as sophisticated, despite the fact that their profit margins are also about double!

Marie Reed Clean-Up 10/26/08

Being good neighbors to be (really Eric has been a neighbor for 5+ years now but we seem to be more accepted now that we "own" rather than "rent"), we participated in the Marie-Reed park clean-up and pot-luck with our neighbors. We sponsored a tree, Eric made stencils for checkerboards on the tables and we got to meet more neighbors. In fact, Eric got roped into helping until sundown... and we don't even have any kids to enjoy it. But, it's a great amenity for the street and it's nice for the kids who go to school at Marie Reed.


We went back and forth with the 2 least expensive contractors. They both seemed pretty credible. Jerry was a 2nd generation contractor with 20+ years of experience. Still he couldn't provide much in terms of references for a project similar in size and scope to ours. He was definitely the most proactive and attentive. Sandro was Peruvian. Eric had a bit of language barrier with him, but we did get to see his in-progress work in NE, DC and his finished work in Arlington and it was great. At one point we had a handshake deal with Sandro and he was supposed to send us a contract the next day. However, about a week later, he arrived with a contract reflecting a price increased by $70,000! That was a bad day... and it turned us off to Sandro but we decided to embark on what we call in the development work, "VE" or Value Engineering. We simplified the basement entrance, turned the back basement exit into a mere fire escape, and removed underpinning from the plans (taking our finished ceiling height from 8'0" to 7'8"). However, we also added separate metering of utilities, just because we thought it would give us the most flexibility.

It's well into October and we're still waiting for our original permits, but we've changed all of the plans now! Still, people are advising us to push the original drawings through and then submit amendments. Apparently the structural review office is down to 1 man who does all permit review and also covers phone and filing. And the whole office is undergoing training which is killing their productivity. Meanwhile, the interest is ticking away at about $100/day.


After closing on 7/18/08, we interviewed and collected bids from 8 contractors. They came in $60,000-$140,000 more than anticipated - yikes! This is mostly because of the basement apartment we knew we needed to have to afford our monthly mortgage payment. But these contractors have also been spoiled by the hot market and huge profits. We decided to postpone the selection of a contractor and in the meantime focus on drawings and permits. Really, Eric did that, working til 11 or 12pm every night, while I surfed the web for finishes, but we're really not anywhere close to needing to select finishes yet.

We wanted a very open floorplan. Afterall, the house is about 15'x45' and it feels really small with all of the plaster walls currently in place. We're re-organizing the entire 2nd floor. The bathroom is tiny and in an awkward place and 2 of the 3 rooms are smallish with poor natural light. We planned an open "cocaine" lounge space (named for the decor, not the activity) at the top of the steps (that could be turned into a room someday), 2 good sized bedrooms, and a modest bath. Someday (before kids) we want to add a 3rd floor to the house for our master suite. Zoning allows it, structurally it should be ok, but don't ask me where the $ will come from!

We submitted for permits on 9/8/08. We also hired an expeditor for $300. Then we waited, and waited, and waited. The fact the we had underpinning in the basement plans put us immediately in the slow pile!

It takes some vision

Location, location, location... 2300 Ontario is in between the fun, eclectic neighborhoods of Adams Morgan and U Street.

The house itself takes some vision.

The first bank would not finance it with conventional financing because of extensive water damage, potentially indicating underlying structural damage. Still, we thought the price left us some room for unknowns.