Tuesday, January 27, 2009

After careful consideration and some number-crunching...

Well, I ran the numbers yesterday, and pored over what we could and could not do. Barring the electrician walking in and saying that his work would cost us a billion dollars, we should be able to squeak by and get the family room in presentably decent-looking shape for this party.

So I just went to the ol' HD and placed a large lumber order, for a load of studs, top plates, bottom plates (pressure-treated), insulation and plastic sheeting. It will be delivered on Saturday, and my cousin-in-law will begin work on it Sunday (prior to the Super Bowl). Thankfully, because of those beautiful Chase Rewards points, almost half of the total cost was covered by gift cards, which I had redeemed the points for about a month ago in anticipation of this. Of course, though, with work starting Sunday, that means I'll have to stop and get a few cases of beer too (the "unbudgeted" cost of this remodel!) on Saturday, since I'm traveling tomorrow through Friday for work.

It may take a little finagling of finances, and creative use of sales, promotions and "no interest till..." credit card use, but I think we'll be able to get the basics taken care of before the party. And that's good. That's the goal. After the party, though, things will go "on hold" until things lighten up around here.

I can't say we've "survived the scare" if you want to call it that, because it's in no way close to over, economically speaking. But, barring any insanity in the near term, we should be able to do what we hoped, which was have the walls and ceiling done by the party at the end of February.

Let's cross our fingers!

Monday, January 26, 2009

An economic standstill...

Our basement remodel is now currently in jeopardy of being put partially on hold...well, it's definitely going to be on hold after my son's birthday party, but now, there's a question of how we'll afford to get what we need done by the party.

You see, the economy hath taken a bite outta my ass. No, I didn't lose my job -- for which I am eternally grateful, particularly today, a day in which tens of thousands of people were laid off in the U.S. I've been there before -- would prefer to not go back, particularly not at this stage.

No, instead, my coworkers and I were forced to take a very significant pay cut...(which came on the heels of layoffs last week, mind you). So significant is this cut that we're going to have to rein in the spending. And my wife and I are not big spenders to begin with, so it's not like we can just skip the caviar or the $500 bottles of wine.

This is going to make life a bit trickier over the next months/year(s), particularly with so many things needing to be done around here. Sure, nothing's outright falling apart (knock on wood), but there are plenty of things that could be done to make simple things work better.

I need to talk with my cousin-in-law, the electrician and others to see what we can do about this basement family room -- now even more realistically speaking than before.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Step one: Completed...

drain tile
Originally uploaded by southsideandy
I only took one picture of the drain tile and pit installation, because I've been too busy otherwise. Here it is.

Suffice to say, aforementioned Contractor B, whom I now feel comfortable giving a public recommendation, was magnificent. The crew from A Better Crawlspace was great. They got in, got the work done and got out in about 6 hours. The foreman was excellent, excellent, excellent. I am typically a curious homeowner when it comes to work being done. Not because I don't trust the contractor, but because I want to learn and understand what is going on. That said, I'm not a hawk either. I think I went down there only about 4 times just to check on progress, understand what they were doing and whatnot. I also teased them about how good their lunch smelled. :)

We got the drain tile installed along the perimeter wall of the family room, into the front "cold storage" room under the front porch and stairs (where the real water problem was), and into a sump pit, which they dug and installed. No pump (probably won't be needed), but I have the option of patching a sump pump into the tile system later if needed.

They cleaned up as much as they could (which was a lot), and all that was left for me to do was to shopvac the floor to get whatever extraneous dust was left. I also mopped and soaked down a path to and from the laundry room, so we don't drag dust through the house.

Now, the next steps are to finish what is left of demolition on the walls, get the plumber out to finish his little bit of work and reconvene with my cousin-in-law about getting the walls framed and up. Followed by insulation and drywall...all by Feb. 28. This is a good start.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

That was fast...

So, Thursday, we fielded three estimates from basement waterproofers, and let me tell you, the three estimates we got couldn't have been more scattered about the universe than they were.

Contractor A, the contractor I'd call the "Big Dogs"...high reputation according to both Angie's List and BBB, but looked to be more on the expensive side, came first. The guy was nice (though I could see how The Box House could have found him to be condescending :) ) and explained everything they'd do for us. They would patch the 5 cracks and install a full drain tile system with a cleanout (because they'd use rigid pipe for the drain tile, not flexible). They came in at the high end, but under $8,000.

Contractor B, whom I called on Wednesday on The Box House's recommendation, and they squeezed me in, came second. The owner of the business actually came out, and he said he didn't think I needed to drain tile the family room, because the cracks in the foundation and the floor would have leaked already if exterior drainage was a problem. He said he would patch the cracks, but he wanted to get to the real problem in the cold-storage room under the front porch, where the water was coming from. With my permission (and me standing right there), he got down on the floor and started tearing out the rotted peg board and insulation on the wall. We found, stunning to both of us, that the area where the water was coming in was about a 10-inch-wide brick column in the foundation. The rest of the foundation is concrete but for this part. Has anybody ever heard of or seen this before? It's original, not a patch job. But it's obviously where the water is seeping in.
In the spring, he said, we'd have to dig up the outside and concrete patch over that, which is an easy and inexpensive fix. So Contractor B said, for future concerns, if you want, we can put a drain tile in, but you won't need a sump pump, given the small amount of water you need. But, if you're looking for peace of mind, then we can do that. So he would put in a drain tile and sump pit and patch 5 cracks for just over half of Contractor A's price.

Contractor C came in and appeared hurried. To me, HE seemed a lot more condescending, although knowledgeable as all heck. He said he would not install a drain tile, that the problems are completely related to cracks, and that he would patch the cracks at just under $2,000. He was in and out much faster than the other two guys.

We ended up choosing Contractor B, mostly because of purely dumb luck. Yes, we probably don't need a full-fledged drain tile and sump pump system as of now. But, we're planning on staying in this house for a long time, and if we're sinking money into finishing this basement the way we want to, we want at least the infrastructure to be in place, God forbid water becomes an issue. With a perforated sump pit, what little water we get will collect in the pit and drain out through the ground below. Water table doesn't appear to be a problem here (or else the cracks would have leaked), and I'll just have to check the pit during a few rains to get an idea for what we're looking at. If I notice that the pit is getting more and more full every time it rains or thaws or whatever, then I can get a sump pump installed. But if it never looks threatening, this will make me feel a hell of a lot better about my investment. We're not rich, so it's not like we can just throw money around at this stuff, but I'd rather throw the money at it now than have things ruined in the future.

Anyway, the dumb luck here is that it turns out, this bitterly cold weather had caused Contractor B to cancel a ton of work yesterday (Friday). He said to me Thursday he could knock off what amounted to 20% of the cost if we could have them come in yesterday (again, one day after the estimate) and do the work. The reason being? Because of the bitterly cold weather, all concrete deliveries had been canceled -- makes sense...something about working with concrete in below-zero temperatures doesn't really compute, you know? So his crews were without work, and thus he was without revenue. Again, makes sense. I said, heck yeah, let's do it, he sent the contract and I signed it. The Box House has a great picture and diagram of exactly what they're doing in this post from last week.

Of course, I got the call early in the a.m. Friday saying that it was too cold for his guys to even be out, and that if it was OK, today (Saturday) would be fine with them, at the same price.

So they're here today, digging up the floor, hand-mixing concrete to cover up the drain tile, and generally making me feel a whole lot better about this project's ability to get finished. Of course, they blew a fuse in the first 10 minutes of work, highlighting the need for me to get the electrician out here, but that's a project for another (upcoming) day. :)

I feel better about our ability to get this project done by my son's birthday party February 28. :) Hopefully that feeling will continue!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Moving right along...

On to the basement!

My cousin-in-law, a carpenter, came by this past weekend to talk family room renovation. Our deadline is Feb. 28, which is my son's first birthday party. We want to invite folks over, and thus need a ceiling and walls drywalled, sanded, painted. So, we need to finish demo (which my brothers helped tremendously to make a huge dent in on Sunday), bleach up the walls to clean them (tiny bit of mold splotches here and there), and then, most importantly, get a drainage system/sump installed.

We had some seepage in the super-fast thaw and rainstorm last month. So, we'll need to get some cracks patched too. And this spring, I'll have to solidify and rework a few of the downspouts, no doubt.

So Thursday, I've got two companies coming out to give me estimates. The third one I called, unfortunately, can't even visit for an estimate until Feb. 4, which simply wouldn't give enough time, I don't think, to get all the electrical, framing, drywalling and such done. So, I'm hoping this won't be a brutal, terrible cost. Until this seepage started happening last year, I was willing to roll the dice (stupidly) and not get this system installed, so, in a sense, this is an unexpected expense.

On the flip side, a drain tile setup will allow us to install a floating engineered hardwood floor as originally hoped, rather than a stone tile floor. I would be OK with either, honestly, but I like the wood floor look (sound and feel) better.

I'm also curious to see what they say when I tell them that the back half of the basement is finished, and as such, inaccessible for a drain tile installation...don't know if they can do it in one room only, or if it's ineffective or what. But I guess I'll see soon enough...

I'm also also also very curious to see what the electrician says when he sees our mess of an electrical box. That could cause an unforeseen expense too, if he says, "Holy crap...I'm going to have to just redo this whole box." He's a friend of the family too, so I can trust he won't just be saying that to make money off me. :)

And hopefully, things will go OK otherwise. Hopefully!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Can someone help me make sense of this math?

1. We used 323 therms to heat the house last December, during which time the average temperature (outside) was 26 F.
2. We used 116 therms to heat the house this past October, during which time the average temperature was 53 F.
3. We used 273 therms to heat the house this November, during which time the average temperature was 36 F.
4. We used 383 therms to heat the house this December, during which time the average temperature (outside) was 22 F.

So, is there a way to figure out, based on the above, if our stinking insulation job really paid off? Reason being, the job was completed right around Dec. 2-4-ish, when this billing cycle started. Soooooo, it goes to say that we should see the effects of the insulation on the Dec. gas bill, right?

Well, that came in at the highest amount we've ever paid for gas. But it appears that it was, on average, much colder than other months during which we had no such insulation.

Can someone tell me if I'm imagining this, or is there a way to prove, using numbers, that the insulation is helping? Please! I need to feel good about having gotten this project done (especially since every single person out there says, "Oh, you'll save XXX percent potentially off your heating bills if you get additional insulation work done").

I don't want to be a naysayer, so someone tell me that the numbers point to an improvement in our heating bill, please! :)

Monday, January 5, 2009

Either a breakthrough or impending doom...

So, Friday, my wife's cousin is coming over to talk basement family room with me. What can be done, what can he do, how much, etc.?

I recently invested in the stock market, and one of the interesting things I read, on occasion, is the reports on which companies are going to announce earnings statements in the coming period of time, and whether they predict good or bad news. I kind of feel this way about my basement right now. So, I'm selling stock in my basement...it's an IPO. Who wants in? It'll cost you about $25 a share... ;)

Anyway, I'd do it all myself, but I need some professional help, and nothing like a professional I know and trust and am half-related to now. :) The kicker is, we're having our son's first birthday party Feb. 28, and we plan to invite a decent amount of folks. So we need the basement...the entire basement, not the cordoned-off half-basement/dungeon that I created for our Halloween party. For the Halloween party, demolished walls were OK. Not so for a first birthday party.

We have several issues that need to be sorted out before walls can go up...
1. demo-ing the current furring-strip framework and odd pegboard baseboards.
2. plugging and filling the cracks in the foundation, which are not leaking and don't appear to ever have leaked, but could someday.
3. figuring out how to solve the serious seepage issue in the cold-storage room under the front porch, which then spills into the family room on its way to the drain.
4. figuring out how/when to get my other cousin in to install the fireplace.
5. figuring out how/who to get for the electrical work, whether we're talking outlets or lights.
6. getting the cable guy to come in prior to drywalling to run cable to the new TV area.
7. and, how could I forget: figuring out what this all is going to cost and how we're gonna pay for it without sucking up every inch of our life savings.

It should be a lot of fun! I certainly can't wait.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year, happy new storage...

trofast storage 1
Originally uploaded by southsideandy
Well, despite the deafening silence in response to my request for reviews on the Trofast storage system that Ikea sells a few posts ago (I was hoping somebody might have found it after Googling it or something), I decided that I'd seen enough of the pieces in the store to determine they were sturdy enough and quality enough to meet my needs.

Of course, I had to go to both the Schaumburg AND Bolingbrook Ikea stores to get everything I wanted; and I wasn't going to wait for them to get it in stock or have it shipped. Since the two stores are about 30-45 minutes apart and I was out and determined, I decided to make the drive, especially since Bolingbrook is quite far from my Northwest Side neighborhood. Having lived in The Brook for three years earlier this decade, I know just how far it is.

So I made the trek, brought these babies home and set them up in my son's room. I'm disappointed in two things, that are somewhat "trivial."

1. The selection of colors of the bins are great...across all sizes. But within the individual sizes, there are only a couple choices, and most colors are only available in one size...in other words, if you want red, you have to get the medium bins in red, or you get no red. Minor issue, but still, made the puzzle more difficult to put together.

2. The lowest part of the left piece (the three varied-height towers) was lower than the height of the right-hand piece (the three level "towers"). This was disappointing, because I was hoping for a longer plane for a seat when A.J. gets older. This will work, but still, it would have been nice for consistency's sake.

Anyway, I think this will do a good job, and what's nice is, we can add more later as he gets older, turn them into shelves or put doors on them too. It's really versatile.

So there you go...in the meantime, Happy New Year!