Wednesday, April 19, 2006


I haven't been posting as much, but things are moving forward quite well on the 2nd floor project.

We have selected a contractor and that is Miro from Miro Home Improvement Inc. He seems very honest and reliable and he re-worked his price with our changes and he's within our budget. He wants to handle the demolition and when we told him his quote for demo was $3K higher than the demo companies, he was able to adjust his pricing.

We've also selected an electrican and made a decision about what to do with the wiring for the building. We are going to get a third panel for the common areas, which will give us the flexibility to move upstairs to the 2nd floor should we decide to. This will take away quite a bit of usage from the 100 amp panel on the first floor (electric dryer main culprit), which will enable us to keep the 100 amp service on our floor and not upgrade to 200 amps. We are going to put 100 amps upstairs and then 100 amps for the common area panel. We will also be getting 3 new meters and new service into the building- alot of stuff!

In case anyone doesn't know how it works with owner occupied two-flats, the city is concerned about owners being sneaky and putting common area wiring on the rental unit and making the tenants pay for the building lighting. In our building we pay for everything, but some people can be very sneaky and pull things like this. The city frowns upon that and we were concerned they might make us put a third panel in anyway.

We also got a letter from our structural engineer verifying that the roof is supported by clear spanning joists from masonary wall to masonary wall. Every other joist, there is a vertical 2X4 connecting the roof to the 2nd floor ceiling joists. This is good news because it technically is not a load bearing wall and this means we can move it with little trouble making the bedroom larger.

Steve has his appointment with the city the first week in May to go over our plans and get the "easy" permits with electrical. Since we are not touching the plumbing or structure of the building, we qualify for an "Easy permit." If we were doing the plumbing etc... it could take up to 3 months to get permits.

So after all the trials and tribulations, we are making decisions and on budget- things are OK.

The tenants are scheduled to move end of May, and since I feel like hissing like a feral cat every time I think about them, that's a good thing. Oh, and I got a raise at work that starts June 1st. Provided the tenants leave as promised, June looks to be a good month here at the homestead!

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Happy Easter...zzzz..zzzz

Just wanted to check in as I haven't posted this week. I had to "step away from the computer" as having started two other local blogs, I got blogged out. But I have decided to stick only with my houseblog for the summer and stay out of neighborhood activism in blogland for a while. It's just too much for me right now. Plus it's getting so nice out, I want to be gardening rather than at the computer so much.

Steve and I planted our annuals and two upright compact boxwoods to frame the stairway leading up to our front door yesterday. And I planted the cannas. But no photos because I lent my camera to my Mom for her visit to see my little nephew in CT.

Happy Easter! I'm going to lie down now and rest my weary self.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Suspense in renovation

Yesterday was the BIG day. Steve went upstairs to the 2nd floor apartment and cut a hole in the ceiling. We need to find out how the roof is being supported so we can address the issue of moving a wall to make one of the bedrooms larger.

The photos at left are of the space between the 2nd floor and the roof, which probably hasn't been opened up since the house was built. There was old-style cottony insulation there that you can see in the photos.

Put simply we need to know if there are ceiling beams that support the roof or if the vertical wall we want to move supports the roof before we move a wall.

We still don't won't know for sure what we have to do until we get word from our Structural Engineer. We emailed him photos yesterday.

We are going to move the wall either way, but one way will require a special permit and plans drawn up by the SE that must be approved by the city. The other way requires plans but no permit. We're talking about a difference of about $3000.00, which is alot when you are on a tight budget.

We've been told that typically it can take 3 months to get approval on these kinds of plans, unless you pay for an expeditor, which is about $1000. 00. So, cross your fingers for us that we won't have to go that route.

Here's a handy tip for anyone who has to cut a hole in a ceiling to see what's up there. Steve stapled a clear plastic bag to the ceiling around the area and then used a blade to start the hole and a sawzall to finish it. Because of the bag, the mess was pretty well contained.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Deal..... or no Deal?

We like that show here at our house. At first we thought is was dumb but then it's really the perfect mindless entertainment after lots of project planning and quote analysis- really.

Which brings us to our current dilemna: selecting a contractor. I am going to give a brief outline of all three contractors we've met with and gotten quotes etc... I think I know who we should select, but I am interested to hear your opinions of course. All checked out OK on the Better Business Bureau website. All spent about 2 hours+ going over the project with us at our home. They are listed in the order in which we met with them.

This person will handle rough framing, drywall, and finish carpentry for the project only.

Contractor #1 Miro
Referred to us by our favorite electrician. He is a young guy who learned the business from his Dad. He brought numerous photos of jobs and they were mainly kitchens and baths and the work was good. According to him he has done 4 jobs similar in nature to ours. He ALWAYS answers his phone when we call. He took us to see a few of his projects on a Sunday afternoon. We thought the work was of acceptable quality. He did not provide a formal quote but gave us a breakdown, but will let us write a contract and buy all materials. His quote was in the middle price-wise.

Contractor #2 Dan
We found him on Angie's List. He is a bit older but his business is relatively new-7 years. He said he's done one job like ours. His website shows a good caliber of work, but we want to see something in person. We spoke to a current client of his who raved about him (he combined a 2BD and 1BD condo into one in a lakefront high-rise for her). She asked me to call her back this week to schedule seeing the work. He runs his business out of his home and gave us a P.O. box when we asked for a business address-maybe a misunderstanding. He never answers his phone and it takes a long time for him to call us back. Sent us a pretty detailed quote on letterhead although he bid on items we did not request. His price was significantly lower and therefore tempting, but the communication issues are a concern for us.

Contractor #3 Marian
Also found on Angie's List. Had strong feelings against us refinishing the tub and was for redoing plumbing. Replacing the tub and plumbing isn't in our budget. Experienced. Knowledgable. Came with a laptop with many photos and left a CD with tons of projects (95% kitchens & baths)- all look good. His quote consisted of some bare bones info emailed to us with quite a few typos and many questions for us to follow up on. We have yet to address it. He called to follow up and said, "I want you to talk to me before you make a decision." We will honor that request certainly. His prices are the highest and we aren't sure why. We discussed doing no-permits with him so we would think the prices would be lower...

Here are the main things we are considering:
1. Honesty
2. Trust
3. Communication
4. Experience
and finally....
5. Can we work with this person?

Other general questions that we ask:
1. Have they worked on old homes? Someone could be quite competent at new construction but putting things back together in an old home involves a different skill set.
2. Do they have a business license? Are they insured?

Sunday, April 02, 2006

The Care of Trees

This is kind of a nice segway after yesterday's April Fool's post. In case anyone doesn't know me that well- I am all about plants, trees and birds. A regular snow white some might say-- only I can't sing.

Last weekend we had a great company come out and look at our Picea Orientalis that we planted about 3 years ago. It had been growing well and we had dotted every "i" and crossed every "t" as far as looking after this tree. In case some of you don't know, last year was a very very bad drought in Illinois including the Chicago area. I've seen many a sad unwatered pine tree around the area dead as a doornail.

We watered this tree religiously and also treated it with WiltPruf every summer and winter. Below is a shot of the tree last summer. The photo to the left was just taken.

Sometime around late December, we noticed it had browned a bit (see above)and it didn't look so hot. My Dad suggested we call The Care of Trees and get an evaluation. A Certified Arborist and very nice and knowledgable guy named Allen came out and evaluated all of our trees. He told us that sometimes you can do everything right for a tree, but it's still "up to the tree." Sounds kind of like us humans doesn't it? It made us feel better of course, because we were worried we'd made some mistake that caused the browning.

He told us our tree would probably recover and we did not need to prune the dead ends, they will just drop off and be replaced by new growth. Pine trees are very succeptible to browning in winter because they don't harden off and go dormant. The winds and dry air can cause this.

Allen also told us about an organization we might be interested in looking into. They are called Tree Keepers and they offer a certification class for learning more about trees and soil etc... This is something I'd like to consider doing down the road.

I just thought I'd share this resource. We all know what an incredible presence and old tree is and how long it takes to replace them. I suspect that many of you valuing older homes would be on the same page with regard to old trees as well. How many of you remember climbing trees in your youth? I could tell you a story about me getting stuck in a tree, but I'll save that for another day.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Taking a break

Today Steve & I decided to take a break and go do something fun. The place we're going doesn't have a website so I can't show it to you, but I'll show you some photos of what we are looking for.

We decided that since we are always so busy with the house, one way we could save some time is if we get rid of all our plants and replace them with artificial ones. Good idea, right?

So, off we go to the Silk Plant Factory! The ficus pictured at left was priced online at a whopping $446.00! Who would have thought artificial plants would be so expensive?

Silk Plant Factory has ficus trees on sale for $399.88. We really can't afford them right now, so maybe we'll just get some ideas for today.

I found out they even make some plants called Preserved "Once Live" Foliage. Maybe we could use those in the yard and then we wouldn't have to water. More time saved! I have to admit, I had no idea such an option existed.

I can't wait to breathe in all that fresh air with all those plants in the factory. I'll let you know how it goes.