In the Zone VIII: A Prairie Home Commotion

Given that three months have passed since my last post, it would be reasonable for you to have assumed we’ve been hard at work finishing all the projects that had to be postponed due to the foundation issues. Likewise, it would be reasonable for you to expect some stunning photos of a house freshly painted, and replete with new and glorious windows, swank and savvily furnished outdoor spaces, and killer landscaping.

Reasonable, yes. Correct? No.

Turns out that, just as the pandemic taught many of us that a 40-hour work week was not necessarily what had been keeping us from exercising more, having a garden, or getting stuff done around the house, having a huge and expensive project looming over your head is not what was keeping the Jarhead and me from exercising more, having a garden, or getting stuff done around the house. Because three months after the foundation work was finished, here we are with the same old siding and windows, and ho-hum outdoor space and landscaping.

Well, whooda thunk it?

To be fair, there were a few surprises that forced additional delays. Then again, at this point, you’d have been more surprised if there had NOT been any surprises. Amiright?

For example, we were chagrinned though not shocked to discover that the geniuses who put this place together opted not to insulate or install a proper vapor barrier between the studs and the siding. Thus, before the Jarhead could replace the siding (after the moat around the frost wall was filled in) he first had to purchase and install insulation and a proper vapor barrier. As of now the insulation and vapor barrier are in; the siding is currently waiting to have its fling.

We were also chagrinned but not shocked—thankfully—when the wiring to the sunroom was cut a few times in the course of digging down to the foundation. Thus, before the windows can be replaced, the concrete floor can be poured, and the stairs from there to the main floor can be built, the walls have to be opened up, the wiring has to be stripped out and rerun, and the walls have to be patched and/or replaced. Fun, fun, fun.

Meanwhile, we already knew the geniuses who put this place together had failed also to properly support the tub in the master bathroom. We had waited to address this issue until the slope in the floor was corrected because we didn’t know what impact lifting the floor would have on the tub and didn’t want to have to do it twice. Thus, before the Jarhead could close up the crawlspace, he first had to get some concrete, haul out his trusty concrete mixer, and pour a footing to make sure that tub won’t fall through the floor the first time someone tries to use it. To some of you this may not sound all that hard or time consuming, so let me draw you a picture: the man had to mix and pour a concrete footing in a crawlspace that was less than 30 inches from top to bottom.  

Along the way, we were further chagrinned and quite surprised to find evidence that an animal (most likely a small mammal, thank goodness, and not a giant snake or spider) had taken to spending time in that crawlspace. Thus, before the Jarhead could close it up, he had to set up a live trap and his trusty game cam and…wait.

After two days, when nothing appeared on the cam nor in the trap, we decided it was reasonable to conclude that the animal had moved on. And by we, I mean HE. Because I was not convinced.

Because that crawlspace, you see, could still be accessed from the mechanical room. And that mechanical room, you see, is where we keep our meat freezer. Along with our coolers, paint, painting supplies, furnace, water heater, and water softener.

In other words, once the opening at one end of the house was closed up, any critter that might be frequenting the crawlspace at Chez Diersen (be it a small mammal, giant snake or giant spider) would have nowhere to go other than that mechanical room. In other words, never again was I going to be able to set foot in the mechanical room. At least not comfortably.

As it turns out, the Jarhead was perfectly fine with that. He said he would be happy to get meat in and out of the freezer. Said he would be happy to get out and put away the coolers, paint and/or painting supplies whenever I needed. He was already responsible for changing the furnace filter, putting salt in the water softener, and alternately smacking and/or removing the batteries from the carbon monoxide alarm whenever it made annoying sounds. He didn’t mind adding a couple more items to his list of tasks.

The offer, while generous, was also somewhat disturbing. If he was so confident no critter would come running out from the crawlspace, climb my ample physique, scare me to death and consume my ample remains, why would he offer to take over all those tasks? Sure, on its face it sounds like he’s merely trying to accommodate me and my perfectly rational fears; but what if he’s actually afraid some critter WILL come running out of the crawlspace, climb my ample physique, scare me to death, consume my ample remains, and force him to admit he was wrong?

Despite the Jarhead’s generous and confusing offer, I can’t always wait for him to be home/awake to get things out of the mechanical room. And since it takes longer to find and put on steel-toed boots and arm myself to the teeth than it does to open a door, race down three steps, dash the twenty feet or so to the freezer, snatch out something for dinner, dash the twenty feet or so back to the stairs and race back up the stairs and shut the door again—all while holding my bladder and resisting the urge to scream—I usually opt for the latter. Usually.

Plus, the dude is kind of busy, what with his day job and every household project seeming to beget two or three more household projects. Like the 43 trees he had to plant after we had the scrub along the road taken down. And the patio surround he had to rebuild after the new patio was poured. And the rock border he had to put down after I took out the flower bed because I couldn’t lift the paving bricks or the bags of river rock.

With all of that on his plate, it seems the least I can do is not make him thaw the meat for his dinner.

Anyway, so we still have a boat load of work to do—much of it before the snow flies. That is, if we don’t want to have snow heaped inside the sunroom this winter.

And by we, again, I mean he. Because I’m useless at construction.

That said, the garden is doing better than ever this year. The key, apparently, is actually planting it and weeding it. Thanks to this new strategy, we’ve been able to grow something besides cucumbers and tomatoes—including potatoes, zucchini, jalapenos and watermelon. We also started an asparagus nursery, which is going strong, and the winter squash vines look very promising.

And it turns out that the freshly filled in berm around the bedroom foundation was the perfect place for this year’s basil and cilantro. It may make for a strange looking border, but I needed a spot for the herbs, and putting shrubs there would have meant more money and more work for the Jarhead. Plus, I kind of like the idea of edible landscaping.

I know. Basil may not be everyone’s first idea of edible landscaping, but this is Wisconsin, so for now it’s all we got.

In the Zone VII: Under the Gun

You’d be surprised at how time seems to crawl by when you’re trying to find someone to rebuild your foundation when your house is literally sinking under your feet and your door frames, window trim, and walls are visibly splitting at the seams. Even when the cost of your project has the potential to exceed what you paid for the property itself (or 1.5 years of tuition at Harvard or roughly .0002% of what Elon Musk shelled out for Twitter, depending on your frame of reference) there is so much competition for contractors’ time and talent nowadays, you’re lucky to get one to pick up the phone and tell you to piss off, much less listen to your voicemail, return your call or email, or submit a proposal.

Case in point: When I started calling foundation folks at the end of summer 2021 in hopes of setting something up to commence in the spring or summer of 2022, one guy said they’re only doing new construction for the time being, while another said they’re only doing poured foundations. Just our luck we needed a block foundation for an existing home. On the bright side, I thought, if we wait long enough, the house will eventually collapse into a heap, at which point we’ll be looking at new construction with a poured foundation.

Still, one of them was kind enough to refer me to two companies that build block foundations and, of course, I reached out to them both right away. One of them ignored my calls and emails, as well as the note I left on their Facebook page. Now that’s what I call a trifecta. The second called me a week after I left a voice mail and said they’d be out within 2 weeks but didn’t come. Five weeks later, naively hoping they had simply lost my contact information, I called again. To my surprise, they answered on the second ring and told me we were next on their list for an estimate but six months later they still haven’t showed up.

I doubt it’s anything personal. I’m sure it’s just the current market. Though I’m also sure there are some out there who will blame Antifa.

By March of 2022, just as we were on the brink of despair (and, frankly, wondering if we should move all of our household goods to a storage locker and appeal to the goddess Tempestas to send a devastating tornado) the Jarhead came upon a truck owned by a business that specialized in basement and crawlspace repair.

“Check it out,” he said, more or less, as he read the content on their webpage later that day. “These guys will dig a moat around the house, jack up the sagging walls and joists, rip out the old foundation, pour new footings, install some new support beams if we need them, AND build us a nice new block frost wall.”

Ok, but will they return my calls?

Cynical? Maybe.

Because even if I hadn’t already been burned, it sounded a bit too good to be true. Especially when “Joe” returned the Jarhead’s call within 24 hours. I mean, who does that? In 2022 no less?? No one. Literally. NO. ONE.

Was this a scam? Or was it something even more sinister? Like sexism.

Had all those other folks ignored little old me because they assumed a woman wouldn’t have the money to pay for a new foundation? Did they think a woman wouldn’t know a crack from a hole in the ground?

So in addition to being somewhat suspicious I was also hypothetically outraged. But I knew better than to complain. At least out loud. And definitely not in print. At least not until the work was well underway. Even I know better than that.

A-N-Y-W-A-Y within a week we had an appointment. (What?) Within another week we had an estimate. (Are you KIDDING me??) And within two weeks we had a contract and a list of tasks we had get done before the foundation crews could break ground in four weeks (CREWS? As in more than one?? Is this a fairy tale???)

Meanwhile, you’d be surprised at how quickly time speeds by when you have only four weeks in which to get a house ready to have its foundation replaced—especially when those four weeks span the entire month of April, the temperature keep dipping below freezing, and it won’t stop effing snowing. Because it’s Wisconsin.

Despite these challenges, we managed to tear off the decks on the south and west sides of the house. This was a mixed blessing to me since less than a year ago I had power-washed and painted the one to the west. The Jarhead had tried to con me into power-washing and painting the one on the south side back then too, but I somehow managed to have other more pressing chores to do. Thank heaven for small favors.

(Below are two images of the west side of the house. On the left is how it looked when we first bought it. We took out the window in the corner when we had to rebuild that wall due to its bad foundation. The image on the right shows yard with the deck removed so we can replace the rest of the foundation.)

(Below are two images of the south end of the home before (left) and after (right) the deck was removed.)

We also managed to get the windows, doors, stairs, hot tub, decking, and wiring out of the sunroom. The hot tub wasn’t working anyway, and the floor beneath it was plywood over dirt, which tells you there is more concrete in our future.

We also got the front patio slab broken up and hauled away, and the area prepped and framed so the crew could pour us a bigger and properly pitched one. We also got the bottom rows of siding off the house, and the well, septic tank and drain field marked to reduce the likelihood of anyone driving over them with a backhoe, dump truck, or skid steer.

Of course, by ‘we’ I mean the Jarhead, since I have arthritic hands, zero upper body strength, and lack the ability to operate a tractor, a sledge hammer or a cement saw. I did keep him fed and watered, though, and gave him lots of praise, reminders, and opportunities for conversation and headshaking.

Hey, we all need to do our part.