Thursday, June 29, 2006

Home Improvement Hell

This post is not exactly on point for a parenting journal, but Madison and Ava live here too, so they can claim ownership of their own little piece of Home Improvement Hell. True, they are not sufficiently acquainted with the term "hemorrhaging cash" - Madison's big monetary ask this week was to be able to bring a third dollar to camp so she could buy some kind of ice cream she had her eye on in addition to the bottle of water we have drilled into her head as being absolutely necessary and essential to sustaining life - but they are enduring some of what we're going through, even if only by extension, so let's move forward.

As is clear from a previous post, we've begun the process of remodeling our kitchen. What was not at all clear to us when we began this work was how painful and expensive it would become. That "We Turned Our Kitchen Into This" post and photo, which shocked many people for its stark brutality, was just the beginning.

Our first jarring discovery in this tortuous process was the fact that our previous contractor, Sloth, was not only the slowest-moving creature on the planet, he also - we're now told - had not the slightest idea how to install a boiler. Unfortunately, he failed to mention this fact when we hired him, at considerable expense, to replace a boiler that was in our basement and working properly.

Some context here is helpful.

When we moved into this house it was nearly 60 years old and still heated by the original and massively inefficient gas boiler. As Sloth was framing out the basement, and preparing to connect thousands of dollars of radiant heating equipment to Big Bessie, the thought emerged that maybe it was time to take the old girl out of service. She'd given enough, lovingly heated this home for decades, it was time to ask Sloth to smash her to bits and carry her out, piece by piece, so he could then install a much smaller, more energy efficient counterpart for ours and future generations.

We had to admit it seemed to be a bad sign when this one-day job took the better part of a week, but this is Sloth we're talking about so we made our allowances and, ultimately, the task was completed.

As I've mentioned, we are using a different contractor on the kitchen job, one who is a little more expensive but has these interesting things called licenses and insurance. His subcontractors have licenses and insurance, too, and when his plumber hit our house - about two days into the kitchen remodel - the fun really began.

"I don't know who put in this boiler," he said, just a little too happy with himself and his findings for his audience, "but this guy didn't have a clue. Total amateur hour... guy didn't have a clue. This is a mess, an absolute mess."

[OK, in hindsight we probably should have questioned why this piece of critical and gravity-sensitive equipment was installed upside down. We didn't.]

The new guy then proceeded to tick off about ten code violations and safety hazards that any sane person - especially one entrusted with the health and well-being of children - would want immediately rectified. This was the first vein that opened.

Total cost of necessary repairs to make the boiler safe and up to code: $2,500.

[What does a properly installed boiler look like? Apparently not this.]

We're chasing after Sloth for this money but he has proved to be surprisingly nimble and fleet-of-foot when contacted and pressed for a reasonable and justified financial consideration.


[Postscript on this... here's what the thing was supposed to look like, following the repair work, which was just completed. Image instills a bit more confidence that the heart of your home's heating system might actually work for a while.

And Sloth actually did come through with $3,000 in cash to fund the boiler repairs and some other unfinished work associated with the basement remodel. He delivered the cash payments in three $1,000 installments, all presented to me in small bills on our front stoop early in the morning. So in addition to securing some modest reparations I got the added benefit of learning what it must feel like to be a drug dealer.]

The next little bit of fun we experienced occurred after the kitchen demo, when we realized that the girls' bathtub had been leaking into the old kitchen ceiling and soffit for, well, a while. The plumber fixed the collar under the bathtub drain pipe, we thought that would take care of the problem. Oh no, the meter is still running on this little set-back, and in the process of examining the situation we discovered ancient and frequently repatched leaks behind the shower wall that houses the spigots and controls.

Total cost of necessary repairs: approximately $600 so far and counting.

["The walls in the 53rd Precinct were bleeding..." Honey, I forget, did they mention the disintegrating and chronically-repaired interior bathroom wall in the real estate listing?]

And after all that, just when we thought maybe we'd catch some kind of a break, we discovered just yesterday that our bathroom is leaking as well, under the shower, in four places that will require some form of drastic repair procedure or - better yet - an immediate renovation.

Total cost of necessary repairs: absolutely no idea.

[Gee, is that water leaking through the shower in our bathroom and through the floorboards into the first-floor ceiling? In the immortal words of Dickie Dunn, yeah, that pretty much captures the spirit of the thing.]

Finding a new and obscenely expensive problem every time you turn around: priceless!


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