list of tasks.

We all have to-do lists, whether they be mental, or formally written out. Mine is about 10 pages long, and some days it doesn’t feel like I get to cross off a single thing.  No matter how hard we work, the list never ever gets any shorter (One item on my “to do” list: read the book “Getting Things Done”).  So I thought it might be a good idea to set aside the “to do” list for a minute, and focus on what we have done with this broken down piece of property: a sort of anti-to-do list that I may choose to consult whenever I start feeling like we’re lazy and not getting anything done.  The list grows almost every week, in both subtle and highly visible ways. And while there is still a long road ahead of us, we’re really trying to enjoy the ride. It is very satisfying to see things improve, to learn a ton as we’re doing it, to know that we’re doing it right, and to know that we’re building ourselves a silk purse out of a sow’s ear with very little debt.  It is tempting to focus on the finish line, and wonder “when will we ever be done with this project,” but when those thoughts start to creep in, I try to remind myself that we’re living in a comfortable (and virtually free) mini-house, and that for us, this is a much better alternative to spending 30 years paying off a mortgage.

So here’s my semi-informal list. I’ll try to keep it somewhat updated.  The list is more or less in chronological order, though the chronology is no doubt not completely precise. (Oh, and if you’re considering buying a “cheap” little nightmare of your own, you might want to consult this list and remind yourself that every single items represents many days of work by multiple individuals– we couldn’t have accomplished this with just our own 4 hands. I recommend building your own house if you’ve got the skill, time/ patience, & physical/emotional resources, but I don’t recommend entering into it lightly.  It’s sort of like a marriage in that respect.)


-Cleaned up dump, which was the entire property. (Summer 2007 but ongoing)

– Ripped off fiberglass roof of ugly back porch.

-Demolished entire greenhouse  & removed the greenhouse foundation.   Concrete was sent off to be recycled, and some ended up filling in holes in the in-law’s road. (Fall2007)

-Dismantled front porch, as the porch’s foundation/ structure was rotting away, and the porch roof was hanging precariously off the house. (Fall 2007, blog post here.)

-Poured new concrete piers for front porch & replaced porch floor with new Douglas Fir boards. Included endless sanding of porch floor boards. (Fall 2007)

-Did a shitload of work on rehabbing front porch columns, including replacing parts that were beyond repair.  Sanded, filled in holes, primed, & painted. Put columns back on the porch so that it would no longer have to be held up by temporary bracing. (Fall 2007)

-Finished porch floor with SoyGuard, which didn’t work at all. Sanded it all off and used Thomson’s Waterseal.  (Note, that only lasted about a year before it started looking pretty shabby. Summer 2010, we used a stain which looks like it will last a bit longer, and definitely looks great.)

-Interior: Ripped down false ceilings & bathroom fixtures. (Fall 2007)

-Ripped down plaster, hauled it all out to the dump trailer in buckets, and took loads of plaster to the dump. Chipped plaster off the chimney. (Fall/Winter 2007)

-Removed endless lath, and de-nailed much of it, since I plan to SOMEDAY make a laminated table top out of it. (The rest of the lath has been keeping us warm for several winters.) (Fall/Winter 2007)

-Cleaned out miscellaneous plaster on the 2nd floor, lowered it out a window in buckets, and hauled it to the dump. Vacuumed 100 years of gross dirt out of ceiling rafters (collar ties), so that we wouldn’t always have 100 year-old dirt falling on us from above. (Fall/Winter 2007)

– Installed Vermont Castings stove, after installing stovepipe. (Christmas 2007)

-Ripped out endless paneling.

-Removed nearly all the plumbing.

-Ripped out back bedroom floor & floor joists, which were mostly rotten. (Feb/Mar 2008)

-Removed hardwood T&G flooring from 3 rooms, de-nailed and stacked in garage. (The stack has since been laboriously moved at least once. Our hope is to re-use the flooring in the upstairs, but that is going to prove to be extremely labor-intensive, which should come as no surprise.) (Feb/Mar 2008)

-Jacked up central structural wall and put blocks underneath.

-Removed & burned entire floor structure of the downstairs (old house). It was winter when we did this, so as we ripped out the rotten floor joists, we  cut them up and shoved them into the woodstove to keep us warm during the de-construction process. (Jan/Feb 2008)

-Propped up the entire house with a conglomeration of beams, columns, & hydraulic jacks in order to create a clear floor area to pour a new concrete floor. (Mar 2008)

-Spent endless time with our handy laser level, and cut off the bottom of every stud (they were all rotten). (Mar 2008)

-Inserted new pressure-treated bottom plate (box beam), and laboriously mortared between the new bottom plate/beam and the field stone foundation. (Mar 2008)

-Partially ripped down the kitchen addition, and built a new kitchen around the existing structure (using the old structure as scaffolding/ support to build the new structure. Slapped sheathing on the structure, and some roofing paper, and then abandoned the entire project for a depressingly long time, to deal with other issues.  We did this project under the guidance of our friend, Curt. (Apr 2008, blog post here.)

-Hauled 20-ish yards of road base via wheelbarrow into the old house in order to bring up the level of the floor (in preparation for pouring a new concrete floor in the old portion of the house).  (Jun/Jul 2008, blog post here.)

-Used the family Bobcat to dig up & pry out the last remaining bits of the old greenhouse foundation.  Then dug a huge trench down the length of the property to get a new sewer line out the alley. Simultaneously upgraded some of the other infrastructure on the property.  Threaded the trench around obstacles such as trees, buildings, rose bushes, fences, and any other obstacle you can think of. Removed old infrastructure, bedded new pipe, and filled in the entire trench. This project, while only occupying one bullet point on this list, actually took months of work, and entailed quite a lot of volunteer labor. (Sep/Oct/Nov 2008, blog post here.)

-Laboriously leveled & compacted the 20-ish yards of road base that had previously been hauled into the old house via wheelbarrows. (Jul 2008)

-Dug trenches around the entire perimeter of the floor to insert a radon vent. (Aug 2008)

-Sewed miles of geo textile fabric into a tube to surround the perforated pipe for a radon vent in the old house. (Aug 2008)

-Inserted radon vent into trenches, and covered it over. (Aug 2008)

-Laid heavy plastic over the entire floor, laid down 3″ of foam (2″ of coffee cup foam & 1″ of XPS.) Taped lots of joints. (Aug 2008)

-Laid down radiant tubes to be encased in the future concrete floor. (Aug 2008)

-Did 2 separate concrete pours for the new floor in the old portion of the house, with the help of our friend, Dick, who did the skilled concrete finishing. We provided the grunt labor, and wrote the checks.  We got the concrete into the house by removing a window and running the concrete in on a conveyor. (Sept/Oct 2008, blog post here.)

-Abandoned the house renovation project in order to renovate a small building in the back yard to create a mini-house / apartment, since we saw the writing on the wall and realized that we were never going to get the “big” house finished, so maybe we ought to delay the completion date even more by entering into yet another, separate renovation project.  This project entailed replacing the windows & doors in the building, building a new floor structure over the old, upgrading plumbing & electrical, building nice kitchen shelving, and about a million other things that I’m not thinking of at the moment. (Nov-Jan 08/09)

-Did very little construction work during the summer of 2009, because we were extremely busy with work in the business that enables us to pay our bills.

-Ripped down a (estimated) 50+ year old, sorry-looking fence and removed associated near-fence clutter, such as a coal shed, and lots of other crap. Augered holes for new fence posts, installed metal posts, poured concrete.  Had our metal-worker friend weld metal frames to the posts.  Cut & sanded hundreds of pieces of reclaimed lumber for the fence. Screwed the boards to the metal frames. (Sept/Oct 2009)

-Installed PV system on the fence. Got an inspection. Got a nice check from the utility. (Nov 2009, blog post here)  Got to watch our system make more power than we use. (ongoing)

-Shored up 2nd floor by sistering the existing 2×6 second floor joists with new 2x10s.  Built new structural wall under new sisters.  Did a bunch of other interior framing, mostly for structural reasons. The end result was the definition of most of the spaces / rooms in the old portion of the house. (May 2010)

-Tore some ancient (and failing) wood shingles off the porch roof. Free-cycled the wood shingles to some lucky soul who will use them to stay warm(er) this winter. Rebuilt much of the porch roof structure, as necessary (because we didn’t see ourselves entering that particular cavity again anytime soon.) Added structure so that someday we can hang a porch swing and actually enjoy some leisure time.  Vacuumed 100 years of dirt & filth out of the space under the roof. Stapled the sagging porch ceiling back up to the structure.  Put OSB over the existing skip sheathing. Tar paper.  Put on the new roofing & the majority of trim pieces. (June 2010)

-Cut a big damn hole in the south roof and built a dormer on the 2nd floor so that we’d have room for a decent bathroom on the 2nd floor (someday).  Other 2nd floor framing happened as a result of this project because it was necessary for structural reasons. (May 2010, blog post here)

-Ripped 3 layers of shingles off the southeast portion  of the old house. Pulled endless nails on the skip sheathing.  Filled the dump trailer with old shingles. Got very dirty. Slept well, even though our house had yet another huge hole in the roof. (June 2010)

-Framed in a new skylight in that portion of the roof, which involved violating one of our 2×4 (!) rafters. Installed 2 layers of rigid foam over the existing skip sheathing. Installed a layer of OSB, then some crappy tar paper, which didn’t last a week in the weather. A few days later we put on the actual metal roofing, which was the easiest part of the whole process, even though getting 20 foot long sheets up a narrow alley and onto a 12/12 pitched roof wasn’t really all the easy. (June 2010)


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