'This Old Crack House' #39: Gentleman start your skill saws...Let the remodeling begin....

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Blog entry by Dusty posted 05-07-2007 11:44 PM 2699 reads 0 times favorited 16 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 38: This Old Crack House...The house had all the curb appeal of a tent city Part 39 of 'This Old Crack House' series Part 40: Sale or no Sale? »

I went to work right away on the basement. The most logical place to start was the basement as I had already gutted it out replacing the plumbing and substantial sections of the cement floor. All the windows were replaced with glass block and I cut a hole in the wall and installed a outside egress window. This would make an allowance for a future legal bedroom and gave me the flexibility of either renting it out as a duplex or an apartment.

I had to find a way to incorporate a laundry room that would serve both floors in the event I, or the expected buyer, would be able to use without having to enter the private apartment. This could be accomplished by installing a separate door going into the upstairs kitchen and building a separate laundry room in the basement.

One major challenge would be to find space for a functional kitchen. I had roughed in a new ¾ bathroom and would need to design around this. I solved this by taking what was the old hallway and converting that space into a small but fully functional kitchen, using an partment-sized stove, refrigerator, and dishwasher. It amounts to a full kitchen but uses specially designed and smaller size appliances.

The funny thing is they get the same price for these appliances as they do standard size.

Why wasn’t I surprised?

For the first time since I started this project, I felt some relief and satisfaction in designing, building the kitchen, bath and what would amount to a full mother-in-law apartment. It was about time. I had previously been so discouraged and felt so overwhelmed by this project. I had wanted to quit and walk away so many times, but I had no choice; I had to finish the project. Designing and building the new kitchen gave me much needed mental relief. It was the break that I needed. I began to have some fun; it was a foreign feeling. Framing, insulating, and roughing in the electrical was a piece of cake because I had gutted everything to the bare block walls and was able to start over from scratch.

Although it still took a fair share of time, I felt well within my comfort zone. I no longer felt helpless. It was a real boost to my mental wellbeing. I so needed this change after what seemed like endless problems and surprises. It is amazing what effect building something can have on you mentally.

I quickly roughed everything in and was ready for a rough in inspection. This inspection was a breeze. It passed and I was on to the next phase of the construction.

Because the plan was to sell the house and there was absolutely no wiggle-room in my budget, I had limited choices in the construction of the kitchen. After careful consideration and planning, I decided I would just buy the basic box cabinets at a local big box lumber yard. I would then doctor them up with trim, hardware and other extra touches.

As much as it pained me to do this, it would solve the two problems that I faced; budget and time constraints.

The biggest consideration was my budget, or more appropriately, lack of any real budget. Not far behind this in importance was the reality of a ticking clock that reminded me of the accruing interest costs of this project. The cash was going only one way – out. I needed to finish this project as soon as possible and get the house sold and the mortgage paid off. I could see the vultures already gathering on the horizon.

I decided to build the counter-top on site. I had planed to make the counter-top over-sized to serve as a table or serving area in the small quarters, which would become an apartment.
There were several other challenges such as ceiling height, relocating the existing electrical, plumbing, and duct work. All of these were easily remedied with only a minimum amount of effort or creativity.

Finally, I felt like I was making some progress. I keep looking over my shoulder waiting for the other shoe to fall. Things seemed to be going too smoothly.

Oh how things can and did change quickly.

My next task was the main floor kitchen. Besides having to replace all the electrical, plumbing, floor, and cabinets, it was necessary for me to remove two of the existing north kitchen windows. I had to frame up the old window opening and have the outside opening filled with stucco. The bad news was, this was going to cost almost a grand. I had not planed on this and to add fuel to the fire, the contractor was booked out for a month. This was one trade I couldn’t do because because I lacked the experience and didn’t have any of the tools to do the job.

So much for things going smoothly.

I could only do what I could do. Frame up everything and prepare the opening, so that when the contractor could come by and do the job, it was ready. This I did .

I also decided that, as long as I had to hire a contractor to come in to apply stucco to the old window opening, it would be a good time to replace the oversize bathroom window. The window was literally three feet from the neighbor’s front door allowing a full pictorial view of all that was going on in the bathroom if the shades weren’t closed.

The majority of the cost for the contractor was the one time trip charge, set up charge, and minimum service call charge. The actual repair and additional material needed to complete the repairs was insignificant. However, it was the time to do this. I would just have to find some other area to cut in the already skinny budget. It seemed all of the decisions that I made involved cutting or giving something up. There weren’t many options. I would have to cut something else out later. Although I knew something else would have to give, I was also well aware that several of these compromises might come home to haunt me at a later point.

I remember thinking how fun this would be when that day arrived. However, the only choice I had, was to make what I felt was the best expenditures of the limited funds I had and move on. I could not look back.

One of the coping mechanisms I had adopted was to make a deal with myself that, once I had made a decision, I would carry through with it and never look back. This worked for me; it was one of the few successes I had, so I stayed with that plan.

I removed the bathroom window and replaced it with a smaller, proper, bathroom window. After framing in the new twenty-four inch square slider, I found the sliding window was defective. If I didn’t lock it in place it just fell out of the track. Not only was this annoying, it wouldn’t pass code and I wouldn’t accept anything less than the job done right and window properly installed. It didn’t matter at this point that the window was defective and would delay the contractor, so I just moved on to the next project knowing full well that I would need to return to this problem and fix it.

I had been mulling over ways to make the existing kitchen functional. The limited space really hampered my options. In addition to being a very long and narrow room, the kitchen had two door openings which further limited my options and chewed up precious space. One absolute was to gain addition cupboard space and some counter top surface. The previous kitchen had only one six foot cupboard. There was a small table-nook, but for all practical purposes, this was almost worthless. It would barely seat two people, let alone provide table-space for dishes.

I thought long and hard to come up with affordable solutions that would not only make this a functional room but add to the resale value of the house. I finally decided on a two part solution. I would take out the small built-in bench in the nook area and remove the double window that was centered on the table-bench. I would install a full view door leading out to a new deck that I would build. This would create natural light in a small kitchen that had the only windows removed to create more cupboard and counter top space. It also would allow additional dining area and another eating alternative, a very attractive amenity that would add to the overall appeal of the house without the cost that an addition would cost. In short, it was a poor man’s addition that had appeal to a wide range of prospective purchasers.

To do this project, the estimated cost for materials, including a new full-view door, steps, and deck footings was $3200.00. I felt that this was money well spent to gain a fourteen by sixteen foot deck with direct kitchen access.

There was only one problem, the building code was clear about minimum property line set-backs. The house had already encroached on the minimum. It also was clear about the requirements for attaching a deck to the house. In order to get around all of these requirements, I had to build two decks. The first was a landing that leads to a deck. I had to maintain the same height to eliminate any tripping hazards and to comply with the setback requirements, I had to offset the deck.

It seemed that here was always a new challenge, but I was up for them. I even began to enjoy the project. However, this would be short lived. I was not prepared for the next major setback that completely caught me off guard.

It would be a very personal and painful loss.

Copyright… all rights reserved D.Jerzak 05/01/07

-- Dusty

16 comments so far

View Greg3G's profile


815 posts in 4112 days

#1 posted 05-08-2007 12:18 AM

What an Epic journey…it doesn’t seem like 39 episodes. This is quite a journey.

BTW…don’t forget to tell us what was wrong with the window. My wife thinks you put it in upside down : ) I told it wasn’t possible.

-- Greg - Charles Town, WV

View Diane's profile


546 posts in 4150 days

#2 posted 05-08-2007 12:30 AM

This is getting very exciting now that the house is starting to look like a house again and beginning to look like it will be a comfy home. I can’t wait for the rest of the story. This deck is beautiful.


View Karson's profile


35125 posts in 4427 days

#3 posted 05-08-2007 12:41 AM

Are we on the downhill slop with only a few uphill spots Dusty.

We’ve been crying for so long. It would be good to smile.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware soon moving to Virginia †

View Don's profile


2603 posts in 4204 days

#4 posted 05-08-2007 12:48 AM

And what about David? Does he come back into the story?

-- CanuckDon "I just love small wooden boxes!"

View Dusty's profile


785 posts in 4183 days

#5 posted 05-08-2007 02:46 AM


I confess to a very embarrassing mistake. You owe your very smart and alert wife an apology. Not only was it possible, I did install the window wrong side up. (see picture above of first installation)

Too add insult to injury I went back to where I bought it from (after removing it from the rough opening) and told them I had a defective window and asked if could they please replace it as soon as possible, because I had a stucco contractor coming by any day to finish the rough opening. The woman at the help desk said, ” if you show me what is wrong with it I would be glad to replace it”.

With a slight taint of exasperation in my voice, while reaching over to stand the window up I pointed out how the window fell out of the track all the while telling her and demonstrating how it was defective.

I finished my verbal demonstration and description of the defective window.

I awaited her response.

As she turned the window to the proper position she said, ” perhaps sir you would like to take one of our home improvement beginner classes, I am sure you would find them very helpful. We offer several time choices and they are free of charge.”


I had it coming.

I have never forgot that lesson.

Please pass me a piece of humble crow pie.

Make that a double slice.

(see below for proper installation)

-- Dusty

View Dusty's profile


785 posts in 4183 days

#6 posted 05-08-2007 02:49 AM


Stay tuned! This story is a long ways from being done.

I will say that there is better days ahead.

And some tears yet.

In fact several .

-- Dusty

View Dusty's profile


785 posts in 4183 days

#7 posted 05-08-2007 02:52 AM


David never did recover from his injurys he sustained from his work accident. He spent well over a year in recovery and never returned to work and was forced to retire.

He makes a return but in a different role.

Stay tuned.

-- Dusty

View Jeff's profile


1010 posts in 4121 days

#8 posted 05-08-2007 04:22 AM

Thanks for the installment Dusty. It’s good to hear that you were getting some joy out of the project for a while however short-lived it may have been. That’s too bad about David. Can’t wait to hear about his return though.

-- Jeff, St. Paul, MN

View PanamaJack's profile


4483 posts in 4104 days

#9 posted 05-08-2007 05:16 AM

What a vast improvement already Dusty. Great story line to follow this epic journey. Fantastic work, please keep us all informed.

I worked in the lumber business for a long while. You are not the first to install something wrong. I had a customer who couldn’t believe that his new and very expensive wood patio door was so hard to open. He could not understand why it leaked so when it rained. I got the local sales rep. to go with me to a job site ever thirty miles from my workplace only to tell the customer that the sill goes on the the bottom, next to the concrete! He was stepping up over 8 inches high to get into the house.

-- Carpe Lignum; Tornare Lignum (Seize the wood, to Turn the wood)

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 4341 days

#10 posted 05-08-2007 05:37 AM

...and this turns into a masterpiece!

View scottb's profile


3648 posts in 4354 days

#11 posted 05-08-2007 05:47 AM

nice to see things (at least some things) falling right into place.

-- I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. - Van Gogh -- --

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4187 days

#12 posted 05-08-2007 12:21 PM

the light is shining…. phew.
I’m afraid to hear about what the next “cloud” is that blocks the light :(

I hope we don’t have to wait toooooooo long !

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

View Greg3G's profile


815 posts in 4112 days

#13 posted 05-09-2007 02:11 AM

OH DUSTY! we are both eating the same pie! We couldn’t help but laugh, but my wife had her own zinger….”I told you so.” followed shortly by “you should listen to me more.” This is great….now she thinks she’s the next JoJo (From Hometime fame) Want some catsup with your’s, I prefer Frank’s Hot Sauce. Thanks for the revelation, its been a tough week and its only Tuesday….cheered me up to no end.

BTW….have you decided on a publisher yet?

-- Greg - Charles Town, WV

View Dusty's profile


785 posts in 4183 days

#14 posted 05-09-2007 02:33 AM


I saw that “I told you so coming” so being prepared I have been wearing head protection (aka hard hat) all week.

The hard hat could also be mistaken for a cone or dunce cap. They are very similar.

As far as deciding on a publisher… yea right… the only thing I could publish is “how not to do remodeling” and have a special chapter devoted to “how to install a window and when it doesn’t fit rip it out and return it blame it on being defective”

I think I will call it “window installing for dummies – 101 ways to screw it up and blame some one else” or “glass side up for short”

-- Dusty

View Sawdust2's profile


1466 posts in 4114 days

#15 posted 05-09-2007 05:03 AM

Another 90 degree turn to this story.

-- No piece is cut too short. It was meant for a smaller project.

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