Sunday, April 28, 2013


Builder, Architect & Us
One of the most productive ways to move things along was to have the architect, the builder and us sitting around a table with a couple of beers going over plans, throwing in ideas and discussing costs. We did this a couple of times and it worked really well. It wasn’t long before we had our plans almost finalized.

I write almost finalized because this is where the building inspector enters the picture.
When having the survey done, we found that our house foundation was actually over the setback to the neighbor’s by 18 inches. That meant that our second floor wall change was also 18” over the line.

So the building inspector, who has a great reputation for fairness, required that we go before the Zoning Board of Appeals for a building variance. Now I know some will say, “but it was only 18 inches!” That’s where the fairness comes in. If you let one go for 18 inches, then the next is for two feet and so on. I appreciate that fairness and off to the ZBA we went.

Wouldn’t you know it, the night that we were scheduled for our “easy” variance, there was an issue before the ZBA where a number of attorneys were arguing the pros and cons of granting a particular request for a variance and more importantly what the word “shall” meant. Interesting stuff if you like law or zoning, but that night being a bit selfish we only wanted to talk about ours. About two hours into the “shall” hearing the ZBA recognized they weren’t going to get to the other five hearings behind it and rescheduled us and the others. Credit to the ZBA as they scheduled a meeting outside of their normal schedule to accommodate the folks that were seeking the variances.
The next time we went back, after a round of questions and me assuring the ZBA that the only change was to the second floor not to the foundation, our variance was granted.

This process added about 45 days to our timeline but it couldn’t be helped. When it comes to building you just have to accept that you must comply with the building requirements. It is what it is.
We were now into spring. And no shovels in the ground yet.

While we were working with the architect and builder we had the lot surveyed and staked out. We needed to have this done in order to know where the house sat on the property. Most towns have setback requirements where your house has to be so many feet away from property lines and streets. We needed to know where ours were.
We drove by our house the night that the surveyor had been out. As part of the process, the surveyor put stakes in the ground with small strips of orange surveyor tape nailed to the tops. We were surprised when we found that first bound was right next to the neighbor’s driveway. Fully three feet closer than where we thought our line went. But the other property line was even more of a surprise. Along the back of the property was a stand about 50 feet long of over grown forsythias which we thought was our property line. When we drove by, we saw that the property stake was easily ten feet behind the bushes. In the middle of the neighbor’s side yard. Our jaws dropped. We thought oh crap, we’re going to upset our neighbor’s before we even move in. Not believing what we saw, we drove around the block, and yup, the stake was still in the same spot. We drove off thinking this will not be good. Our neighbor’s yard is not where they thought it was. And there stood those stakes with the little orange flags standing their ground like some medieval army ready to go to war.

Great. Our neighbors are going to hate us. And we haven’t even moved in. Wait until they find out we’re going to be digging it all up.



Saturday, April 27, 2013


Hiring an Architect
The next item on our list was to hire an architect. We asked around for recommendations and started working with a really good one. (I may add names later, but for now will leave them off). He first went over to the house and measured and listened to an overview of our ideas. After a series of meetings and discussions about bedrooms and bathrooms and a kitchen and so on (he was more patient than I could have ever been) he drew up some draft plans. And then we made changes and he drew up new plans. Once we were happy with the draft, and truth be told we were very happy, the architect suggested that we go builder shopping. The idea was to obtain some preliminary costs to ensure we weren’t out of our budget. It was a good idea. One thing I learned is while architects can give you ball park numbers, only a builder can give you more exacting numbers. They are out in the field and are quoting numbers all day long.

And this is where we learned that like other building terms, double doors, double windows, double sinks, double mirrors we now had, double costs.
The magical morphing building costs wand gets waved again.

Hiring a Builder
Now that our plans were well along the way, it was time to find out what it was going to cost to do all of this. Admittedly, the plans morphed as well. We decided to move the kitchen next to the new garage and change some rooms around. We asked friends for recommendations for builders. Boy did we get some opinions. It seems that customers can have a love hate relationship with their builder. We found folks either loved or hated their builder. And builders can range from those that do general maintenance to framing only to those that will build a house from the ground up. We settled on three and had them give us prices based on the preliminary drawings. I would have to say that all three were great and having to choose one was not easy. Our decision was based on relevant experience, company size, availability, and of course price being a major factor.  By now though, the price (and the project) had doubled over what we had planned when we first were considering buying.

Funny how that happens.

Friday, April 26, 2013


Early Plans
Before we bought the house we knew it needed a lot of work. Could we alter it the way we wanted and more importantly, could we afford it? So before making an offer we brought in a local contractor and ran our ideas by him. Our thoughts were pretty straight forward. Could we build a garage on the side and turn the old garage in the back into a family room. “Sure” was the answer. Could it be done for a reasonable (a/k/a affordable) price? “Don’t see any problem with that” was the response. And with that we entered the magical world of morphing building costs.
We, like any good couple, looked at our finances, the costs of building, the potential for the house and where it was located and decided it was perfect. Our offer was accepted, we signed, purchased and away we went. The house was ours.

The first thing we did was to have a plumber in and drain all of the pipes and winterize the house.  Our intent was to have plans drawn up and begin work as soon as possible. So there was no need to waste money on heat. This turned out to be a great idea. What we didn’t know at the time was that the house would not only sit empty for the winter of 2011 but a year, and a winter season later, it was still empty. Still unworked on.

We didn’t deserve to have so much fun.

Sunday, April 21, 2013


Our First week – You can’t Make this Stuff Up

Days after we closed on the house, Abby hired a company to install an invisible fence at our new house  to keep “her” dogs in the yard.

When an employee showed up to install it and he came into the house, Abby said, “You smell like gas”. “Ya”, he replied. “I spilled a can of gas inside my van.” Abby asked him how he was going to clean it up. Employee: “I’ll open the windows and let it evaporate”.

So he went outside and opened up the back of his truck to begin work. When he did, he found that his gloves were wet so he decided to take a cigarette lighter to them to “dry them off”. He must have had a small amount of fuel on his clothes because as he lit the lighter, his coat started on fire. Abby yelled “You’re on fire”. He looks down and realizes his coat is burning and then looks up to see that the gloves have turned into a ball of flame as well. I think it must have been at this point that he realized that the gloves were also on fire because, yes, you guessed it; they were wet because they were soaked in gas.

So he throws the gloves and manages to brush the fire away on his clothes. When he looks up, (this is the “Oh crap” moment) he realizes that the flaming gloves landed in the back of the van. Where the gas had spilled…

The fire department came and went into immediate action. The police blocked the street off in front of the house. It didn’t take long to knock the fire down. I dashed over from work and we were standing there wondering what the neighbors must be thinking of their “new” neighbors. First week in the neighborhood and we have a van burning in the driveway and the street blocked off. Great.

The owner came immediately and couldn’t have been better. While it was difficult for us it was even more difficult for him. He was so customer service oriented that when we’re done with construction, we’re going to have them finish the installation.

Fortunately, no one was hurt. The van was destroyed and the equipment inside was a total loss. Only the wires on our house were destroyed and a few plants singed along with a big mess to clean up. But, I don’t think this is going to go down as this employee’s best day at work.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Flashback – December 2011
I need to spend some time flashing back over the past year and a half because where we are today is not where we thought we would be when we bought this house in December 2011.
We loved the neighborhood where the house was located. It was close to town, it had a fantastic area to walk round and the water was only a short walk in a couple of different directions. Location, location, location.

The house was built in the early thirties and was made up of a living room with a fireplace with old, worn out, wall to wall carpeting. We sensed that it covered a beautiful hardwood floor. Off of the living room was an outdoor screen room on the north side of the house. On the other side in front, it had a small dining room (I think it was also used as a bedroom) and behind it in the back of the house was a room that could be a bedroom or an office. The kitchen, which was on the north side of the house, was a tight galley kitchen with the stove next to the refrigerator on an inside wall without any outside venting. The breakfast area was tiny and not a place I wanted to start the day in because it was like being in a closet. The cabinets throughout the kitchen looked like they were last replaced when Eisenhower was president. I kid you not.
There was a set of winding, narrow stairs from the kitchen up to the second floor. The two bedrooms on the second floor were made slightly larger with doggy dormers in the front and a half dormer in the back.

The first floor bathroom had a tub but the room was so small that the door banged into the sink when opened. The upstairs bathroom was even smaller with the world’s smallest and darkest shower that I had ever seen. Think of a telephone booth. Now reduce it by half.
Every room had probably not been painted in over twenty years. And they needed it.

The cellar had a low ceiling, with a sort of built in room and a work area. It was dark and like any old, dark cellar a bit creepy. Interestingly though, when they built the cellar, the area under the breakfast area was formed in making a closet area. I declared that it would be my wine cellar. For those ten dollar bottles of wine. Oddly and unfortunately, it did not have an outside entrance. Because I like to do wood working, every time I looked at a house, one of my acceptability tests was could I get a full sheet of plywood in the cellar? I don’t build boats or cabinets and I often don’t use full sheets of plywood for anything, but you never know when I “might” want to start.

The lot outside the house was full of stands of trees that shadowed the south side of the house. They hadn’t been well cared for in years. The garage, which was attached to the house behind the kitchen, had a drive way that cut the yard in half. It was a bad design and any outdoor entertaining was going to be difficult. Food would have to be brought down the stairs from the kitchen, out the door and across the driveway. Not a great design.

The outside of the house had old shingles with tons of heavy, aged gray paint coating them. The roof shingles were in half way decent shape with a few years left on them.

I’m sure the house and yard was perfect for the elderly couple that lived there before us. It fit them and their needs. However, we needed to know that we could make it ours and make it fit our needs. So before buying it we noodled around some ideas that started with basic painting and perhaps new cabinets. They were great ideas, but like any home project, it magically morphed into something much bigger. Enter the contractor.

And then the fun began.

Side Thoughts

This week, for those of us that live in the Boston area, has been very emotional. And in reality, I’m sure for all of America. While many think of Easter as heralding in spring, those of us around Boston know that spring has truly arrived when we have the Boston Marathon. More often than not the sun is shining and we can ditch our coats and bask in the warm sun that we missed all winter long.
This marathon, after the tough winter with the blizzard that dumped a pile of snow on us, was more than welcomed. I’ve been able to watch the marathon from a couple of vantage points in the early stages and it is so impressive to watch the runners, thousands of them, go by. Some fast. Some, not so fast. Thousands of spectators line the entire route, cheering on folks that they have no idea who they are but do it any ways because it’s cool to watch. It brings the many communities along the way, and their residents, out of their houses and into the streets. Many families get together and have their first cook out (its Patriot’s Day so many have the day off) of the season. It is just such a great tme.

 At any rate, the events of this past Monday and the past week as a whole were disturbing and horrible. I had a friend running to raise money for cancer and another friend near the finish line rooting for folks that she knew. Fortunately, all are ok. And I am thankful.
New Englanders are known for being a bit reserved and not overly emotional (unless it comes to sports of course). We don’t make friends easy and are wary at first of folks that seem to want to hang out with us. Often you have to be an acquaintance for a few years before you’re really accepted into a circle of friends. But they are all lifelong friendships.

Last Monday, those that lost their lives and those that were injured, were friends of all of us. Even if we didn’t know them. We were all hurt to see the outcome and wondered how could somebody take such a beautiful day and senselessly turn it into a day of pain and destruction.
But this is New England. We’ll get back on our feet, dust off, mourn those we've lost and help those in need. Because they are our friends. And we’ll all be watching the runners next year.
Because that’s who we are.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

As I impress myself by actually spending the time writing this morning when I have so many other things to do on this gray spring day (like having more coffee), I’m thinking back to when we first looked at this house and what made us buy it.

We both had our own houses that we bought after our divorces in the towns that we lived in and wanted to stay in our areas because our children were still in school. That was seven or so years ago.
My “I’m going through a divorce house” at first felt a little like a prison (truthfully, a lot like a prison.) that I had been ostracized to when I first divorced. It turns out it wasn’t so much the house that made me feel that way but instead it was the depression that I felt with the breakup of my marriage. I softened the depression with a little wine. OK, maybe not always a little. I became a connoisseur of 10 dollar bottles of wines and sometimes splurged on the twelve dollar bottles. Along the way I had bought some wine glasses to make up for the ones left behind and the coffee mug I was using  and found that after one glass, I would have another and when that one was gone I would eye the bottle and figure it was only a half a glass more so what the heck, I would finish the bottle. I came to appreciate my wine glass purchase.

But I digress; this is about building a home. Not drinking wine. No wait, yup building a home and drinking wine (or beer or whatever) goes hand in hand. You do one, you’ll need the other.
So back to digressing. I came to love the house that I lived in. I made it mine. It was my bachelor pad with lousy hand me down furniture or better yet, furniture my Ex didn’t want and neither did the Salvation Army. My bed was a mattress on a frame and nothing more than cheap mini blinds were on the windows until a passing through girlfriend put up curtains in the living room. It had an above ground pool that after cutting the grass in my large yard with a push mower I would cool off in thinking “life is good”. I turned a negative into a positive. I worked hard to make it my home with lots of improvements which I may write about later. It was cathartic and a good way to distract me from life’s woes. Along with the wine.

So long after Abby and I met and became engaged, I started to look for a house in the town she was living in. My children were now grown and out of school and out on their own (more or less. Less if they needed money.). And so were hers. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t want to live in her very cool bungalow; I wanted something that she and I could start together. So here we are.
After sporadically looking and knowing that the market was horrible for selling (I’ll be whining forever about the beating I took when I sold my former house) we started to look more serioulsy. We went through a number of homes until we found this one. I wasn’t really interested in it but Abby was (and she’ll tell you it was me not her.).

It was built in the early thirties and the current owners had lived in it for over fifty years. And it needed work. A lot of work. So much so that I commented to the selling realtor that I appreciated how the current owners kept it in era of the Eisenhower Administration. I’m not sure that she found that funny.
We bought it anyways.

That was a year and a half ago. How time flies when you’re having fun.



Sunday, April 7, 2013

So I’ve decided to start a blog about the house that my soon to be wife and I are building in RI.  I’ve called it the Impatient Home Builder because patience unfortunately is not one of my finer points. I’m hopeful that by the time we are done with this project that I’ll be a more patient man. However, I wouldn’t put my money on it.
My better half and I have both have experience with home construction from prior lives where we have completely remodeled homes from redoing kitchens to complete additions. But now that we’re starting a new life together, building a new home from the ground up will be a first for us. Kind of like our life to come.

So this will be interesting, a bit daunting and a good test of our humor. And certainly a good test of my patience.
Over time, as I write this I’ll jump back and forth from past events to current events in order to provide the reader with some prospective of what we have gone through in order to get to this new home.

If you have questions or comments about any part of this project please send them on. And if you get impatient about the lack of updates, you’ve come to the right place.