Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Tearing Down the House

We are in the midst of renovations. Anyone who has been through renovations will understand how this all unfolded after losing several shingles in a storm. Anyone who has been through renovations with a spouse will also understand how renovations bring to the forefront marital and familial conflicts -- and accords -- over what a home should look like.

Tim and I bought our house 17 years ago – at which time the home inspector told us we had 10 more years left on the roof. So we knew we were on borrowed time. Then, a few shingles began to break away with each storm. They were brittle to the touch and broke easily when retrieved from the front lawn, or worse, the neighbor’s front lawn. Our roof problem was becoming hard to hide or ignore.

Then came the severe spring storms that struck hard in Westchester County generally – and on our roof in particular -- recently. We could no longer delay getting a new roof. Why had we waited so long? There are several answers. Fear may have been one of the main reasons. Fear of the mess and upheaval that a new roof would entail. Fear of how much it would cost. Fear that there would be conflict over how best to do it. (Tim and I both have very strong design opinions.) There were other related reasons: the house had three layers of roof: the first cedar shake roof from 1921 (the underside of which one could see in the un-insulated attic), the second dark green asphalt roof; and the last speckled green and gray asphalt roof, probably dating from the late 60s. This meant that we had to shovel off all three layers and start over again according to the City Building Code. (Indeed, I believe the new code only allows two layers of roofing before it has to be ripped off – good for roofers; not so good for homeowners.) Tim has always wanted a very light colored roof – like those seen in Florida – to deflect the heat. I always thought they were inappropriate in the Northeast. I have always wanted a slate roof -- but I knew that would be out of our budget.

Another reason we waited so long is that we had always hoped to raise the dormer to the attic, along with insulating, so that we might use all of that untapped real estate – used now only for storing projects we had hoped to complete but long since abandoned; college and high school memorabilia; and “valuable” things set aside for prosperity. (Having spent time up there recently, I realize that my idea of “value” has changed over the years. I also realize that I don’t have as much time for “projects” as I once thought I did.) So, re-roofing meant not only putting on a new roof, but making other improvements at the same time.

And, once we have the carpenters coming. . . .

Closets are so scarce in our home. People just didn’t own many things, it seems, in the 1920s. As a family in the third millennium A.D., we have always needed more closet space. Or, at least I have. My clothes have been spread throughout all three bedrooms in the house: dresses in Trent's room; suits in Michela's room; and casual clothes in our room. I dreamed of a large walk-in closet where I could keep all my clothes together. I thought one would fit nicely where our upstairs terrace stood. I rationalized: we rarely use the terrace. (The terrace is accessed from Michela and Maya’s room and Michela has never been keen on my plan to “steal” her terrace.) We had also talked about taking Trent’s closet, which backed our room, in order to have another large closet along one wall of the master bedroom. (We are equal opportunity thiefs; Trent is equally unhappy about our stealing his closet and making his room smaller by building one in the corner.)

And, we need to knock a hole in the wall and put in French doors to the deck that Tim has been building for years now. Why not do that at the same time we put on the new roof as well?

And so, here we are. Thick in the middle of renovations. No room has been spared. To start, we had to go all through the house and take down the paintings so that plaster and saw dust didn’t wind up coating the surfaces. In our house, that was a day’s work in and of itself. Maybe because my mother didn’t like us to hang things on her walls because she wanted to keep the plaster intact. Or maybe because I can’t stand the idea of empty space. Or maybe we just enjoy a lot of artwork on our walls. For whatever the reason, in our house, we have numerous paintings on every horizontal surface. Bedrooms, hallways, living room, dining room, office, bathrooms, staircases. They all had paintings that had to be removed and bagged for protection during renovations. Then they all had to be placed somewhere where the contractors wouldn’t put a hammer through the canvasses and where Maya wouldn’t ride her toy train. After that, contractors’ paper had to be taped down on the floors to protect the wooden floors from damage. (The guys Tim works with are VERY careful. But still, damage to floors is hard to avoid during construction.) Lastly, plastic had to be draped over everything to protect it from plaster and saw dust. In fact, we never did put plastic over our bed and I swear that I have woken with plaster dust between my teeth and on my tongue many mornings now.

Choosing and purchasing materials is one aspect of renovations that I hope not to go through again for a long time. Tim and I finally did settle on a 50 year architectural roofing tile that reflects the sun to keep heating costs down. (I didn’t know why we chose 50 year shingles when we will be dead by then. Maybe Tim is optimistic about our longevity? I figured we could get the 30 year shingles and leave the kids with the problem.) I chose the color from among the colors that Tim approved: a light gray with green specks. It has turned out very nicely, even if some portions remain to be completed.

There were architectural materials we did agree needed to date to the 1920s in order to be in keeping with the rest of the house. We had purchased vintage French exterior doors at auction many years ago to put in the dining room, so they waited in the garage to be installed. We agreed that the walk-in closet needed a vintage French door to allow the light to come into the bedroom from the closet. Accordingly, I drove to Harlem to Demolition Depot and paid $325 (bargained down) for a used French door from the 1920s to fit the space. (I’m sure I had seen many on street corners being thrown out in the past years that I never picked up because I never knew I would need one.) We used the tall, vintage, double cabinet doors that I had scavenged from my friend’s apartment renovations for Trent’s closet doors. And we took the windows from the dining room to put in the raised dormer. We would use the vintage outdoor light fixtures from Fort Dix that we purchased at a tag sale to light the terrace and the deck. The terrace would get terra cotta tiles, like my grandmother’s terrace in Italy. And the old copper gutters would be replaced with new copper ones, which would age to a nice green patina over time. We agreed to hire a man to skim plaster over the sheetrock inside so that the new walls would match the old plaster ones and wouldn’t look so straight and naked. And we would have men skim stucco on the new outside walls to match the original tudor stucco.

Suffice to say, we have survived most of the decisions and much of the destruction. I now know more about construction and renovating than any woman should. (I won’t even get into the finer details of insulation: fiber glass versus shredded jeans?) I will just be glad when this is all over.

And we finally have the new roof that we have needed for so long. . . .

1 comment:

  1. That was one really nasty roof problem. When we had our house renovated after it got ruined by a storm, the roofing (BC contractors replaced them) was also our top priority. We realized that it's gonna cost us more in the long run if we don't provide ourselves with the best possible roofing for our house. More storms will come, so we have to have supreme protection from leaks and other damages. The roofing contractors (Vancouver-based) helped us achieve that, so now we're not anxious anymore.