As with any build like this, it’s not 100% done. But, the basement is “done enough”, meaning it’s fit for a human. Here’s some pics:
As with any build like this, it’s not 100% done. But, the basement is “done enough”, meaning it’s fit for a human. Here’s some pics:
After finishing the deck last summer, we took the year off to just settle in.
But now, we need to get back in the game and finish off the last bits of the house, namely the basement.
So, we’ve been diligently putting our spare time after work and on weekends to the big list of all the things to get done. Flooring, cabinets, trim, outlets, lights, shower tile, shelves, doors, and the list goes on.
Here’s a pic of Meadow helping me oil the trim. In the background you can see the almost finished cabinets, and on the ground the flooring our superpal Jay helped us get in. More pics in the gallery.
And the winner is…. Safeco.
Being under-insured at the time of the fire, rebuilding the house was no simple task. If this ever happens to you, I hope you’ll be able to simply sit on your (rental) couch and just answer questions from an interior designer and architect about where you want your bathroom, what colors, which light fixtures, etc. In our case, we had to do as much of the work ourselves that we could, to keep from incurring debilitating debt. The loss of home and property is lame, but having to do much of the rebuild work yourself (while still holding down full-time jobs), is even lamer.
Now that we’re back on our feet with a mostly-done house, we went to refinance and had to decide about insurance. I decided to shop around. But I soon found out that if you’ve suffered such a loss, it’s not easy to just switch carriers. After two years of working closely with the snakey bureaucracy of the insurance company it wasn’t altogether surprising to discover that many insurers wouldn’t cover us because we’ve had a recent loss. That’s right: USAA, Geico, State Farm — all declined our business because we’d had a recent payout on our policy.
Safeco has a similar condition, but in our case it didn’t totally apply (the fire started in our neighbor’s house, not ours). So rather than stumble through online quote generators I worked with Juneau’s oldest insurance agency, Shattuck and Grummett. Turns out, our lovely agent was not only familiar with our story, but she uses it when working with customers as a cautionary tale. We’re happy that our experience is benefitting others, but even happier that the agent was able to work with a Safeco underwriter to get us properly insured.
And not only did we get insured, we got *fully* insured. Instead of the measly $169,000 that the old house was covered for, our new one has $468,000 of coverage. And the best part: it costs the same as Allstate!
So, my advice for Southeast Alaskan homeowners or new home builders:
1) Make sure you’re insured for not just the appraisal cost of your home, but for 20% over what a trusted contractor tells you it would take to rebuild. Down south the rule of thumb is something like $180 per square foot. In Juneau I suggest you use $230 per square foot.
2) Work with Shattuck and Grummett.
It’s fitting yet odd that it would so happen that the day we completed rebuilding the house is exactly two years after it burned down. This time two-years ago I was standing in the parking lot watching this:
Today is much different. We’re sitting on the deck of our new house enjoying a glass of bubbly. Tomorrow we’ll apply for a permanent occupancy certificate, lock-in an interest rate on our refinance, and start the ball rolling on closing out our claim with the insurance company.
From five different kinds of paint, to cedar shingles and 12-foot planks, to cement board, Tyvek, rainscreen, cedar and Azek trim of varying sizes, and plenty of time — siding the house has been quite the saga.
But now it’s all done.
This puts us firmly into the final stretch. Our next major hurdle before refinance is building the deck and a proper front door entry (because apparently a stump isn’t up to code).
Now that we’re moved in, we can’t rest on our laurels (which, I hear, aren’t even really that comfortable anyway). The big ole loan we took out to get to this point has come due and the bank wants us to either pay it off or refinance it into a new mortgage. We’re shooting for the latter but first need to finish the siding and the deck.
Our original plan was to side the house like it was before the fire, using cedar shingles.
I suppose we were so driven and determined in the months following the fire, while we were planning the new house, that no one tried to talk us out of something so labor intensive.
Cedar shingles are about the size of a really tall paperback book. They’re tapered to one end, and when installed overlap each other like a suit of armor.
Each one is painted by hand. First, with a good coat of stinky oil-based primer and then with the lovely latex-based Rose Lyrical, aka Ashes of Rose, aka Pink. We bought a whole pallet of shingles (thousands) and Laura and her Team Of Awesome powered through priming and pinkifying them all.
Here’s some of them drying:
Since the latex-based paint doesn’t require a respirator, Meadow was eager to dig in on some pink too.
At some point our homage to the original was outweighed by reality and we realized that siding the *entire* house in shingles was out of the question.
So, for the “non-visible” façades, we went with “Hardie panel” — easy to paint, easy to install, and made of cement so doesn’t burn very well (also of note: the walls facing the tiny walkway between houses has about 5″ inches of drywall).
The vertical geometry of the new house gave Laura some room for design, so she decided to do a horizontal belly-band all around the house, and use a different color for siding below. We also used a different style of siding for this: long cedar planks with a taper about the same as the shingles.
These long boards not only take less time to paint and install than shingles — they take 10X less time.
Here’s Rob and Tyler going at it.
Siding the house isn’t just a matter of selecting a siding and putting it on. It’s a system of materials that work together to make an impenetrable barrier that moisture/air can escape from.
The first layer of the armor is an inch of plywood attached to the framing. On top of that is Tyvek HomeWrap, which I think of as a Goretex rain coat. On top of the Tyvek is Home Slicker Rainscreen, which is basically a heavy plastic mesh that creates an air gap between the cedar and the Tyvek so moisture and air have a channel to drain/evaporate.
After weeks of shingle priming and painting, the weather cleared and installation began. As luck would have it, we ran out. All that work got us enough shingles to cover only the main floor.
We won’t be buying and painstakingly painting more shingles for the upper level. Instead we’ll use the long cedar planks like below the belly-band, only in pink instead of plum.
So what did we spend mother’s day weekend doing? You got it!
Stay tuned a couple weeks we should have the whole house sided and will get to start on the deck, and then after that: refinance.
Moving was chaos. I was out of town the entire week preceding our big date so wasn’t much help packing. Laura and her awesome friends (Sarah, Jill, Jorden, Linda) made some serious magic happen by getting so much stuff boxed up (and in many cases: labeled!). Even so, when the movers showed up Monday morning we still had a few piles of truly random household goods.
We were able to get a little extra time, since the moving truck couldn’t make it up the icy hill. We finished packing while they went and got a more manageable (smaller) vehicle. They may have ended up with a knife in a gun fight, but these two amazing dudes from Reliable Transfer dug in, made plenty of trips (it’s a four block drive), and got the job done.
By the end of the day we were moved in and that night we slept in our new digs for the first time.
Everything from the Blue House was moved except bikes, strollers, a couple pieces of smokey antique furniture, and some outdoor gear. With no garage at the new place and a basement dedicated to construction and shingle painting, we’re a bit short on storage. Four days after the move, most of our “stuff” was still bagged, boxed, and buried. In fact, that night when the power went out all around town we didn’t even bother trying to dig around for candles.
On top of the chaos of boxed/bagged belongings, is a stream of all new sights, sounds, temperatures, textures, tastes, light switch locations, appliance buttons, door handles, etc. Even though we knew the layout of the house and have been in here working for so many months, the feeling of living in it is something new and unfamiliar. I look forward to the days when I can walk around in the pitch black without stubbing my face on a wall or falling down stairs.
The house is brand new, and since we’re on a tight budget it’s not 100% complete. Still a good amount of labor to be done, and still plenty of drywall and construction dust being found in nooks and crannies. I think I can taste the gypsum in the air. We’re spending our free time finding those nooks and adding finishing touches to make it more livable: installing towel bars and toilet paper dispensers in the bathrooms; sanding and oiling wood trim; putting up shower rods and curtains; adjusting cabinet doors; etc.
And then there’s a few/typical bumps in the road. For example first run of the dishwasher found the drain hose not fully connected and the sink cabinet filling with water. So guess who got to crawl in there and fix ‘er up? This guy (me).
For Laura and I, we know it’s *our* home so the feelings of unfamiliarity aren’t too scary, especially as we imprint the structure with our essence and get to know the place.
For Meadow, it’s different. After the fire we were able to frame our situation as an adventure. She took to the adventure and enjoyed living in the Rainforest Cottage for a week, then Baranof Hotel for 10 days (she still calls it “our hotel”). This same momentum carried her into the Yellow House and made a reprise when we had to up and move to the Blue House. But as she’s aged she’s gained more awareness. She was against leaving the Blue House, but warmed up to the idea when saw her new room:
Mommy did a great job making Meadow’s new room a perfect 4yo girl’s sanctuary. Nevertheless, a week after moving in, Meadow asked me: “when are we going to move again?”
But overall, the daze of moving is wearing off and we’re starting to settle in. Indeed, I’ve already fallen in love with a few aspects. Here they are, in no particular order:
Yes I’m biased since I did the electrical myself, and yes there’s a few adjustments I’ll be making. But overall I love where we put lights, switches, outlets, etc. I’m also confident in my work. When you have precious cargo you happily triple check all your connections. In fact, when the inspectors came through they found a few plumbing issues the plumbers had to come back to fix, but they found only one minor electrical issue (made me add an outlet at the end of a kitchen cabinet).
Today the city inspector returned, checked a few things off his list, and gave us the official green light for “temporary” occupancy. So we’re not only moved in, but we’re authorized to do so.
For permanent occupancy, we now just need to finish siding the house and install an entry/deck.
We spent January and February scrambling to get the house buttoned up enough to meet the requirements of temporary occupancy.
Our contractor’s finishing guys installed the vanities, appliances, finished the flooring, thresholds, cabinets, and trim. They got all the doorknobs installed, closet hardware, and did a great job. Alaska Renovators FTW!
Laura and crew did a ton of sanding and oiling to make all the doors, trim, handrails nice n smooth. The oil turns the fir trim from a light blonde to a smooth dusty blonde.
I wired up the stove, disposal, dishwasher and made sure they work. Same for the boiler and hot water heater. So now we’ve got heated floors, hot water in all the faucets. With the help of some pals I trimmed out all the light fixtures, switches, outlets, and got all the smoke alarms networked and beeping appropriately.
The house is now livable. It’s covered in saw/drywall dust and plenty of construction mayhem, but functional.
We thought we got everything done, and just in time for the city inspectors to come out during the last week in February. They found a few items for us to change. Most items we need to fix are in the unfinished basement, but a couple are in the main living areas. Once we finish these, we’ll get our temporary occupancy certificate which will last until the weather clears and we’re able to finish siding the exterior and install a deck.
At the same time Allstate has made it quite clear they’re done paying our rent. So, come March 1st, we’ll be moving out of the Blue House. The only wrinkle is that we have to move out on Monday, the last day of February, but won’t be able to get the remaining work done, and re-inspected, before then. Technically we need that certificate before moving in, but we’re in a pickle, have no choice, and figure the city wouldn’t be so lame as to fine us.
So, onward and upward it is!
This weekend marks the culmination of over 1.5 years of effort since the fire. For all the chaos our family’s been through, we’re enduring just one more weekend of it while we pack, clean, move, clean, unpack, and move another step towards getting back to normal.
In our last post we showed you the below-belly-band siding that was all painted. Here it is installed:
The exterior is pretty much buttoned up for the winter. We’ll have to wait for the ground to thaw to finish the siding and build a deck and fence.
Inside, Austyn Schmidt, known as one of the best mudding / taping / wall-finishers in town, has finished our top two floors. Muddy tape, more mud, more mud, a little sanding, a coat of primer and a coat of finish for the “lids” and shabam we’ve got our canvas.
Laura’s been settling the colors out over the last few weeks and tonight she got to put the first coat on the kitchen. The kitchen color is called “caliente”. The unpainted parts in the pic below will be covered by cabinets. This weekend we’ll be trying to get the rest of the house interior painted (if you want to join the fun, drop me a line).
The last few weeks have been a whirlwind of activity. Does this mean we’re on schedule? No. But it does mean that we’re not grossly over schedule as seems to have been the case all too often over the last year and a half. So, by only being off schedule we’re feeling pretty good.
We hoped we’d be in by the end of January, but now we’re looking at end of February as a realistic occupancy date. I sent the insurance company a list of tasks that got delayed along the way, and they concurred construction in Southeast Alaska is notoriously slow (and that we still have a boatload of stuff to do).
So, we’ve had a whirlwind holiday season, to match the whirlwind year. But we still made time to have fun. On Christmas Eve we had a picnic at the house:
While enjoying some holiday cheer as a family we also moved the house along at a respectable clip. As I mentioned the walls are taped and prepped for paint. The basement is sheetrocked. The kitchen cabinets are delivered. The flooring (marmoleum for the baths and engineered “wood” for the living room, kitchen, and bedrooms) is on the boat (yes pretty much everything we buy comes via barge). Appliances are all arrived in Juneau and Sears is eager for us to get them out of their warehouse. Clawfoot tub has made it to town and will be delivered to the house in a few days along with seven interior doors.
The plywood sheet and trusty ole combination padlock serving as a front door is replaced with an actual front door. I installed a fancy doorknob of Laura’s selection. It even locks with a key!
But that’s not all, for we also accomplished a milestone we’ve been chasing for months on top of months on top of months.
Our Old Years Resolution was to get this particular task done and sent off before the end of 2010. In between Christmas and New Years we put our noses to the LCD and hammered out the final details. Why this took us so long, I don’t know. There’s a strange psychology (eg: easy procrastination) around making a list of all belongings destroyed in the fire. And after working all day at one job, then working on the house for a few hours into the evening, the last thing we want to do is come home and type out more of the dreaded list.
But that’s exactly what we did and on New Year’s Eve, around 10PM, we sent the rest of our Contents List to Allstate. Now the ball is in their court. They’ll take a while to enter all the items into their depreciation estimation software and then in a couple/few months we’ll find out what they think all our possessions were worth.
Next up? Cabinets install, painting, flooring, boiler installation, mud/tape the basement, and then all the fixtures and a myriad of finish work details. We’re getting close!