In the Zone

In case no one has told you, there is a difference between living in a construction zone and working in a construction zone. Just like there’s a difference between living in a hospital and working in a hospital. Even if it’s an excellent hospital, it’s a pretty stark contrast. Like the difference between living in a hotel and working in a hotel. Except in reverse. Or so I imagine.

In any case, you tend to hope it’s temporary.

The living in a construction zone part, I mean. And probably the living in a hospital part, too. Okay, some folks might not want to live in a hotel long term either. Or work long term in any of those places for that matter. But for now, let’s all try to stay on topic.

The goal, in any case, is not to let your construction zone become a war zone. It may look like one sometimes. Okay, a lot of the time. Especially around demo time. And when you discover that your main sewer drain (or sugar pipe, as the plumbers so delightfully called it) consists of flexible PVC rather than rigid PVC pipe. And when you discover that said pipe was installed at a negative slope. And when you have to cut a 12-inch wide, 40-foot trench through your mint condition 1990s beige ceramic tile living room floor so the plumbers can dig down under the slab foundation and install a new one. Ka-ching!

But if you’re like me and the Jarhead, you try your best not to come to blows with each other. Or your contractors. Especially the ones with solid skills and reasonable rates. And the ones who show up. Because the last thing you need when you’re up to you’re a$$ in concrete dust is for someone with a solid work ethic to decide he/she has better things to do than fix or install your plumbing, wiring, flooring, or foundation in exchange for your hard-earned money.

That can happen even when you haven’t exchanged some choice words. But at least if you haven’t argued with someone a day or three before they disappear, you can reasonably assume the problem is with their character and not your attitude. But lose your cool in front of the wrong person and suddenly you’re a difficult customer. And like the wife and kids Bruce Springsteen left in Baltimore, Jack (when he went out for a ride and he never went back) you won’t know how long to wait before you can lay claim to their tools. Or wait for their invoice, look for their replacement, or have them declared dead.

It isn’t merely fear of someone walking off the job that keeps things civilized. Nor is it just my sweet, accommodating nature. Although fear is a good motivator and my sunny disposition well established, the reason I like to keep things amicable relates to personal safety. It may sound a bit self-interested, but I can see no point to rocking the boat when there are literally dozens of sharp objects and blunt instruments—plus electrical cords, nail guns and other power tools—all within arm’s reach (or a short walk or a flight of stairs) of someone who has only a passing financial interest in my continued existence. And let’s not forget the multitude of tripping hazards, ladders, and other obstacles that the homicidally inclined could use to make manslaughter look like an accident, or the abundance of vacant land, plastic sheeting, shovels, pick, and ready-mix concrete that would help someone cover their tracks if they should opt to take the tampering with a corpse route instead.

Sorry to veer off track again. It’s been a long year.

So, to catch you up, in May of 2019—just as we were knee-deep in our Craftsman renovation—we bought another project house. I mentioned it a few posts ago in Mill Street Blues: Love It or List it, Too but that was two years ago, so you are to be forgiven if you’re lost. Feel free to check it out. I’m happy to wait.

At the time, we still had much to do at Mill Street, but we figured a good deal was a good deal. So we bought it with a view to starting work once the Craftsman was sold. It was a solid plan. But then, we all know what they say about best laid plans.

Anyway, demo was completed by September of 2019, and the furnace was installed in time for the team to work without freezing to death two months later. Everything looked like it was going to come together nicely.

But then the only toilet in the house—in the only bathroom that we hadn’t demolished—wouldn’t flush. And wouldn’t stop running. And there was a strange smell.

That’s when we discovered the bad drain. And that the drains were vented into the attic. And that there was almost no insulation in the attic. And literally none in some of the attic. And that the rafters weren’t actually rafters, and the items that were supposed to be serving as rafters weren’t going to serve us much longer.

Which meant, we had a lot more work to do before we could close up the walls and ceilings and put things back together. But we had to heat the place if we didn’t want our fancy new water lines to freeze. And we had to heat the place if we didn’t want our contractors to freeze.  So, for the entire winter we ran the furnace and held our breath as dollar after dollar wafted into our attic and melted the snow from our fancy new roof.

While the guys worked on that, we worked on getting Mill Street finished so we could put it on the market the minute the new money pit was habitable. (Define habitable, you might be thinking. But we’re not going to go there. At least not today.) Our hope was to list Mill Street by May of 2020. Spoiler alert: We missed that mark by several miles.

On the upside (and there is always an upside if you look hard enough and/or drink plenty of wine, beer, scotch or vodka):

  • We had plenty of time to devote to the work. We were three months into the Covid-19 pandemic when May 2020 came, remember. And working on a seemingly endless list of household projects is a good way to keep busy when you can’t go anywhere or see anyone.
  • I never liked that blasted living room floor anyway. It was in great shape, but the beige ceramic tile didn’t offer enough contrast to the floor-to-ceiling knotty pine walls, or the wall-to-wall knotty pine ceilings to really do them justice. We had only decided to keep it because it was in pristine condition, and it seemed capricious and wasteful to spend money to replace it. So when the news came that we had to cut a trench through the floor and put down another one, I wasn’t the least bit heartbroken. At least not until we got the plumber’s estimate. Thank goodness Wisconsin allows stores to sell alcohol via online pickup.
  • We now have a brand new, dark gray slate-look ceramic tile floor, which contrasts nicely with the knotty pine walls and ceilings and matches the living room furniture and black baseboards.

So all’s well that ends well. Right?

Define, end.