Finishing Finish Work

It's been nearly a month. The contracts are signed, the deposit is made, the forms are filled out. There's no stopping the fast train to solar.

I emailed just yesterday to check on the status of the project... and we're waiting on final approval of our first rebate. It could be tomorrow, it could be a couple weeks, I was told. After that, we'll be notified and probably scheduled.

In the mean time, we're laying low. That's right... we're not starting anything huge. Mike hopes to wrap up the skid steere before we get our first snow. I have a small to-do list that I'd like us to start pecking away at after that's done. I see this down time as an opportunity to finish off some of that little finish work that we've never finished.

For example, last weekend Mike found the screws to the doorbell buttons in the garage and finally screwed those in. How many years have they been just loose next to the doors now?

Then there's window bottoms - I think we have at least 4 windows that are trimmed out... but we neglected to purchase and install the bottom piece. Oversight.

And what about the mudroom bead board/chair rail? We have a ton of bead board in the basement. We used to have similar bead board up in the mudroom, but then had to take it down when the house was lifted... and it got moldy and ruined. That was 8 years ago or so... and we haven't replaced it yet.

What about the basement closet doors that are still unstained?

What about our bedroom closet that is not trimmed out?

The attic crawl space, which has no doors. We had to stuff a box and some pillows in there to keep the cats out.

I could go on for days. Just let me walk around and I'll find a slew of other items.

Oh, and the fact that there's no threshold between the kitchen and living room?

Baseboard heater end caps?! Anyone?! I doubt that'll ever get done. We've tried again and again to find ones that fit without luck.

Did I mention we have a hot water tank downstairs that is as of yet uninstalled?

Ok, I'd better stop now before I get overwhelmed.

Falling for New Projects

Wednesday, July 24th. And I quote, "Now for a much deserved break from the house..." 
And for once, we pretty much made good on that promise.

Summer Report
As you may recall, we had been feverishly completing exterior siding and stair railing updates in preparation for a lucrative refi in the early summer months. I'm happy to report that we completed that refi and are now saving about $300 per month. Woo-to-da-hoo

As to how we've been spending our summer vacation - let me just say that it's been a whirlwind of kids' activities, weddings, get-togethers, mechanical side-jobs, Fridays off, and so much more. I can't say it was boring - Oh no. It was never boring.

So, where does that leave things today, at the start of the fall season?!

Fall Fall FALL
Hey, we're installing SOLAR!

What?! You just drop that bomb here on the blog after nothing all summer long? Pretty much. The solar ball started rolling some time ago and continued to gain speed through the entire summer. At this point, we're flying like you wouldn't believe.

It all went down like this...

I saw a lawn sign (of all things) advertising SolarizeMass.com. Curious, since two of our neighbors already have solar, I visited the site and contacted someone for more information. Some time later I received a response and an initial proposal based on Google Earth photos of our house. Looked promising... very promising. We went ahead and scheduled a site evaluation.

The site evaluators looked at the main house as well as the garage, took some measurements, and some time after that, I had another more official proposal that was even more promising. Panels on the garage and house would cover all of our usage and pay for themselves in under 4 years. Federal and state rebates would save us around 40-50% off the total cost of the project... then, there's the electricity you sell back to the grid... and the fact that the electric bill would be pretty much gone. (Nevermind, my extreme hatred of NStar. Besides having the #1 worst customer service on the planet, did you know they've decided to blanket Cape Cod with toxic herbicides, the effects of which could poison people and animals as well as damage our fragile aquifer?! All of which could be avoided by the simple and safe method employed for years to control excess vegetation: MOWING.)

Anyway - Solar! It's a no-brainer. To finance the project, we're in the process of getting a home improvement loan product specially designed for Eco-Improvement Initiatives. It requires no home equity and all the interest is tax deductible. Rates are fairly good, and although we're getting a longer term then we might like, we need the flexibility of a lower payment right now. When we can pay more, we will - that's the plan. Plus, once the rebates come in, we have the opportunity to re-amortize the loan for an even lower payment.

Double no-brainer. And did I mention that the entire system is warrantied for 25 years? At which point, I'm just the technology will be such that we'll be ready to upgrade anyway. And the roof, which is relatively new now, will be ready for a re-do too. Very little maintenance... snow is supposed to slide right off. And they can install the whole thing in a day. A day!

The only wrench in the works is trees. Or, I should say, the only wrench in the works was trees. Everyone agreed that with it's expansive roof space and easily accessible attic, the garage was an idea place for solar panels. Problemo - it was shaded. Solutiono - remove trees.

That area on the hill next to the garage was a problemo for us anyway. Dense trees, vines, poison ivy, prickers, and other invasive plant species were abundant, making the area completely un-useable. The shade was nice, with large overhanging maples, but it contributed to the growth of all these ground covering fringe plants. Mike had been talking about clearing out the area for ages, but being a tree lover, shade lover, I was skeptical.

But this project was just too good to pass up. A couple weekends ago, Mike cut and chipped trees. So many trees, I was nervous that it was too many in fact. The hill is looking much different now. And with trees and vegetation cut down on the hill, we now can get a better view of our side yard structure. It's lumpy at best, with a weird up-slope. This looks like a job for... du du duhhh - Super Skid Steer!

But what you also have to know is that the skid steer is another project that Mike began over the summer, in preparation for another hard winter, if we happen to have one. A work-horse for us for nearly 8 years now, the little John Deere skid steer has been on its way out for quite a while now. Motor - done. Toast. Mike found himself a new one, a diesel, and has been working on the change-over whenever he has time.

So - no grading and smoothing until that's completed.

The solar folks came back to the house and visited us again to check on our tree-removal progress. They use a nifty meter to measure sun exposure on the garage roof, a meter which also shows which trees are shading us. Turns out, there were a few more that needed to come down to get the most out of our proposed system. These were marked just last night and Mike will get to them.... when he gets to them.

Once we have our funding, which should be sometime next week, we will continue to move forward and hopefully set an installation date for sometime in December.

Stairs - They Just Happened All of a Sudden

Hello crazy kids. I can't even describe to you the last nearly-two months. You would have to have lived through it to totally appreciate the insanity of it all.

Back at the end of May (like, seriously?) we completed siding on the last un-sided side of the house along with singling on the back, the re-installation of windows, the installation of an octagonal window, and the painting of much trim work outside. It was all a maximum effort put forth to get the biggest appraisal value possible as part of a refi effort.

Well, I'm happy to report that the appraiser came and the value of the house turned out to be very favorable. But our initial elation turned sour when the underwriter came back and told us they wanted a railing on the stairs before they would close the loan.

Mike, already exhausted from his exterior efforts, was not happy. But rather then put up something half-ass and temporary to satisfy the loan folks, he decided that he wanted to do it up right.

The stairs from the first floor to the second have always caused us issue. They were temporary to begin with, I spilled paint on the treads that could not be cleaned off, every step squeaked - loudly, and to top it all off, we had all the materials to create a railing - the railing, the post, the balusters - everything already purchased years ago and just sitting in the basement.

"We just need to do it," Mike said. "And then it'll be done."
I couldn't argue. The trouble was, it needed to be done in about two weeks... counting the 4th of July holiday. (Which bought us a few extra and much-needed days.)

The day after we heard from the mortgage company, we were ripping off the old stairs. The first step, (ha ha, thus begins the stair-themed puns) was to take off everything so that the treads could be sanded and re-stained and the risers could be painted. (They were previously just clear-coated, which didn't work well for us. They showed scuff marks like crazy and couldn't be cleaned.)

Risers Off

Since we still needed to access the upstairs, the next step needed to be done quickly. (And yes, on a couple of occasions, we just had to plop the treads on just so we could oh-so carefully walk upstairs.) Second Step - trim. Once all the treads were off, Mike and I carefully marked and cut a piece of wood for the wall-side trim. Some tricky cuts and angles there... Tense moments, for sure.

Third Step, eliminate the squeak by building stronger stairs. Mike cut treads out of pine board to underlay the oak ones and caulked/nailed them in.

Pine Underlayment

Mike also cut a hole in the bottom one for our railing post - already in stock - and installed it in place. Walking those stairs without squeak for the first time was amazing... so quiet! The increased height of the pine boards also made for a more natural stepping height, especially at the top of the stairs, where stepping from the old landing to the second floor had previously been an unnaturally larger step.

Step 4: Exterior Trim - more measuring, marking, and cutting. And, while all this building was going on, Mike and I were simultaneously painting and staining treads and risers. Within a couple of days, they were also all ready to be put on... Or at least ready to be tested and tweaked. Most of the risers needed to be trimmed due to the newly decreased, trimmed-out length requirements.

Stairs with Exterior Trim and Treads Back On
Treads and Risers, Painted and Stained, Not Nailed On Yet
Step 5: Paint the trim. It's self explanatory. Trim was painted in the same color as the risers... which, by the way, I somehow screwed up on. I have no clue what color white that is, but it's not the white I thought it was. I thought this was the antique white you see in the wall stripes.

*No, that's not wallpaper, that's paint. Yes, I painted perfect stripes on my hallway. How? Painters tape. Painted one color, let set. Marked plumb points at top and bottom of the wall, taped from point to point with 2" tape for a nice straight line. Put a small piece of tape next to ceiling to floor line of tape to gauge distance. Marked for next piece of tape. And so on and so forth until the whole wall was taped. Then, I painted the next color - two coats. I removed the tape immediately after the second coat, pulling slowly and evenly to prevent drips and marks. Came out beautifully! Most people think it's wall paper.

*Note - I ended up painting after failing horribly at trying to put up wallpaper. That stuff sucks!

Trim Painted
 Once the trim was painted, all the risers and treads were nailed on for good.

Step 6: Fix the landing. Mike cut and stained oak boards for the top landing, further evening out the landing to 2nd floor step height. It feels like a natural step now! (Although for a while it was a little weird... we both kept high stepping like idiots! We were both too used to the old, too-high step.)

Step 7: Install railings. Yes, railings. Just to be safe, in addition to the hallway-side railing, which would die out into the stairway ceiling halfway up, we purchased a cheapo wood rail for the wall-side. No one would be able to say we didn't have a railing on this set of stairs!

Step 8: Install balusters. This was a painstaking process, but didn't take Mike too long once he did a couple of them. Measure, cut, install, repeat - all the way up to the ceiling, where the railing and balusters die out. They look beautiful - and we had plenty in our basement stock to do the job, plus a few extras.

After those were up, the final step was to stain all remaining wood pieces, the two railings and the post. Those were all stained in place. A little stinky for my liking, but at least we could open all the windows and fan it out.


All Railed Out

And it was done in the knick of time! Mike finished on a Sunday. The following day, the appraiser came back out, photographed the improvement, and made his report to the mortgage company.

Of course, we're still waiting to close due to some other technicalities... but luckily, it's not on us. It's all on their side. (Phew) 

Now for a much deserved break from the house - although, the lawn needs to be mowed, weeds need to be whacked.... A break is never really a break.

Calling It Done

Here we are, just about 10 days since we last chatted. And what a 10 days. The evening of my last post, I returned home to find the guys knee deep in side-siding. Even with only a couple hours of work-after-work, they managed to complete the right side siding up to the bottom of the windows.

Going Up the Side

Going Up the Side - Close Up
That Sunday, we all really got down to business. I finally made good on all my promises and started painting all the trim work along with the nasty 'ol blue basement door. (Man is it hard to change dark blue to white! Especially on old wood... old wood that you didn't bother scraping or priming first. Yes, I know. Bad bad bad. But this door's not for keeps, so why should I spend forever on it?)

The Door Color Previously Known as Blue

White Trim!
While I was busy painting trim during baby nap times, the guys worked on the siding. With rain coming in for the evening, it was a do-or-die scenario, and they were determined to get it done for good! Luckily, the clap boards go up so much faster then shingles. Despite numerous interruptions, they made it to the top in the nick of time, just before the sun set and the rain set in. (You can see it's drizzly even in this photo.)

All The Way Up

What a Different Rear View!
Scaffolding mess aside... what a view. I mean, striking really. This day was a long time coming and we're so proud to have finally accomplished the exterior. A big thanks to everyone - and I mean everyone - who helped. We couldn't have done it in such a short time without help.

Octagonal Love
And I just love this window... have I mentioned that yet?

Back Done

Status report - all went as it should have Wednesday and the tippidy top of the back of the house is finished and shingled. We'll need some trim along the top - but it's a small matter. I'm hoping to be able to do some trim painting tonight.

Last night Mike really did a super clean up job. Better then usual! See in this wide shot how those pieces of plywood are underneath the scaffolding? Though Mike put those there originally to help protect the new grass we just planted, they also worked to contain the mess. Mike simply went out there, swept the plywood, and even used a dust broom and pan to gather up all the nails and other small bits.

More great news - last night our neighbor dropped by. He and our carpenter are going to come by tonight and begin installing the siding on the right side of the house. This is an unexpected offer, but we'll take it! Mike prepared all the tools they'll need, since he'll be taking our son to the circus tonight and can't help out. Then, Sunday, they'll be back again to help Mike complete the job.

A little trim paint (which I have not gotten to yet) and a little more clean up... call it done. And they haven't even called me about the appraisal yet. In fact, I'm getting a little annoyed at my refi gal. I've called her and left messages - she is not getting back to me and I want to get her all these documents ASAP so we can close on time. I don't think she's put in for the appraisal yet either since my card hasn't been charged. If she makes us miss our rate-lock closing date, I'm going to be rip-shiz.

Anyhoo, good thoughts for the weekend.

One last note of note... after this is through, we're taking a break. Yes. Us! Taking a break! We are not starting on anything new and huge in terms of home improvement after this is done. Instead, we are looking to get everything paid off for what we have done thus far while making this a fun family summer. Beach - boat - playgrounds - maybe a BBQ or two. I think the two of us can afford a vacation.

Keeping Up With The Us's

No, seriously, you can't keep up with us. Don't even try. We're in a time warp mach 7 warp speed 10 black hole cheetah jet plane race car rocket ship... thing. It's fast.

Yesterday, while Mike and I were working, the guys were back at our house... well, working. (Strange to leave people at our house working while we're not there. I know normal people do this all the time.)

By the time we got home, there was a ton accomplished.

Stripping at the tippidy top of the house was completed. The right side upstairs window was removed. Plywood was installed. TyVek was stapled. The window was re-installed. And shingling continued - now up to the half-way point of the upstairs window.

On the side of the house, the mess is gone! Unfortunately, Mike forgot that the dump is closed on Tuesday. But our guy went there anyway with a truckload to get rid of... and paid $40 to dump it. Gulp. Our dump sticker is only $30 for the year and that covers all construction debris free of charge. Ugh! What's done was done and the good news is, it's all gone now at least.

Inside, the octagonal window is in! And oh my god do I love it! I look out of it and I see the beautiful japanese maple we planted a few short years ago and I can imagine what it will be to look out and see the tree, large and beautiful over the side yard. I love love love love it.

Today, the guys were due back over to finish off that tippidy top portion of shingling. And then we're done with the guys. Mike is going to do the siding on the right side of the house himself over the weekend. If I can manage to escape outside, I may try and do some of the trim painting.

Manic Monday

The insane plan that I outlined yesterday worked only partially. (What do you expect? It was insane.) Kudos to the guys for putting forth a great effort and accomplishing all that they did!

Here's the wide shot - as you can see, that living room window is back in place and shingles are up all the way past the top of that window.

The very tippidy top near the roof has yet to be completed. 

The other side is where things get interesting. As you can see, the entire thing has been stripped. What you can't see? We avoided a HUGE step in the process... The plywood! We assumed that like the rest of the house, this side's original barn board exterior (that had been covered first by shingles and then blue cement board siding over that) would be in such poor condition that it would need to be re-covered with plywood. Like the house's back side, adding plywood would mean removing the two windows you see pictured and re-installing them post-plywood. Pain-in-the-butt.

Removing and re-installing those two windows would also have screwed up the interior window trim, which would have to be thrown out and re-done as well to accommodate a new plus-plywood depth.

Luckily, this is the one and only side that the barn board was in good enough condition not to require plywood. The guys stripped it down and stapled up the Tyvek.

Also what you can't see, the octagonal window hole has been cut on the outside side. The guys had to move a stud and make several pain-in-the-butt changes to get it to fit where we wanted it to fit. Inside, the drywall is the only thing left that needs to be cut before the window can be actually installed.

Before Shot - Window to go above that table

Window Ready to Go
Mike is at work today, but his guys are back at our house to work on that tippidy top portion. Mike picked up some more shingles at the DeepHo last night... gulp. I know this little spending spree is almost over - and we'll be able to return a heck of a lot of plywood that was meant for that other side. I'm looking forward to having it done and taking a much-deserved break to catch up financially, mentally, physically.... I know Mike is too.