Category Archives: house renovations

House: the toilet floor

Our builder came around yesterday and fixed the toilet floor – just under $800, all up, and he told us that both the floorboards and the bearers underneath were completely rotted. That part of the house is on a concrete slab foundation; god only knows how and when and why water was getting in, or whatever it was that makes floorboards rot, but I’m very glad it’s fixed now.

… though the new patch of sturdy floor does make the rest of the house seem very wonky in comparison.

I had a bit of a whine to my dad on the phone on Tuesday, all about how I feel like we’ve achieved NOTHING and progress is so slow and horrible and my house is crappy and WOE. WOE. He very kindly made comforting noises at me and then said we should get a pot of paint and do the fronts of the kitchen cupboards over summer if we want to make the house feel a little bit more Ours without spending too much money.

And I know intellectually that we really haven’t lived here very long at all – less than 10 months – and when I list all the things we’ve done, it’s actually quite respectable. I keep looking round the garden and thinking it’s terrible, but I’ve almost entirely forgotten how overgrown and neglected it was when we bought the place. And although we’re frankly awful at mowing the lawns, we’ve actually done a damned good job of the destructive part of gardening: the removal of the Hedge was a massive task conducted with an axe and a pair of long-handled shears, and we’ve trimmed the trees on the south lawn and removed that whole patch by the shed. As for the inside of the house: it’s been winter and cold, and while we’ve been kind of slack at home repair ourselves, we have spent about $8K on the place so far, what with all the window repairs and the toilet floor and all the little tradespeople callouts and minor improvements.

Ugh. I really want to get something concrete done over the summer; I think probably sanding and painting the sunroom windowframes (currently Zombie Snot Green) shiny white, and then rehanging the (still decent) curtains on repaired curtain rails, becuase that’s a reasonably small project that will still be a distinct improvement. IDK.

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House and garden: a productive day

For a number of reasons that do not need exploring at this moment, the house has been really quite untidy for the last little while. But we’d arranged to have friends of Field’s mum round this afternoon to take away all the firewood under the house (the fireplace in the living room has a bookcase and the TV in front of it. We have priorities), and Friends Of One’s Mother obviously need to see a tidy house – one that does not have fifteen craft projects piled up in front of the couch, or drifts of hair on the carpet.

So we spent the morning cleaning, and now the house looks about as ship-shape as it ever does (which is not to say we’re suddenly living the minimalist dream: we have far too many books and teapots for that).

Work on the windows is officially complete, and I am really really pleased at the lack of drafts in my bedroom, not to mention the simple joy in being able to safely open all the windows in the rest of the house. And the bathroom window no longer needs a hairtie on a screw to keep it shut.

As for the garden: Field’s mum’s friends did come round with their trailer, and took away all the firewood. They also chainsawed a couple of stumps and took those away, so the garden is looking very very bare but (dare I say it) good – or at least in a good place to start work in the spring. Field also pulled a whole bunch of rotting cardboard out from the crawlspace under the living room (why, previous residents, WHY?), so we can get a plumber in at some point soon to see if he can discover a reason for the inexplicable damp spot on the living room carpet (it’s definitely not coming from the ceiling).

I also removed the annoying carpet rug from under my desk and we’ve stashed it in the broom closet pending the next run to the Salvation Army – it’s been bugging me for months – and we’ve got quite a lot of washing done. There are chickpeas slowly cooking on the stove, and sometime in the next hour we’ll go and start dealing to the pumpkin so we can have pumpkin and chickpea soup. \o/ winter.

House: windows

Our windows are very nearly all repaired. I’m fairly sure the only ones to go are my south-facing window (small, drafty) and one of the ones in the sunroom (north-facing, large, drafty). Our builder has reused hardware where that’s been possible – that’s what we’d asked for – and having gone to Bunnings for screws and draft-stoppers this afternoon I’m very glad we made that decision because window latches are surprisingly expensive.

Most excitingly, this is the new toilet window:

From Synced online

I get a happy little thrill every time I look at it. I never got around to taking a photo of what used to be there, but suffice to say it was a sheet of glass slightly too big for the hole, so that from the outside you could see the bottom of the internal windowframe through it. It didn’t open, which is a slight deficiency in a toilet window, in my opinion, and had clearly been installed by someone On The Cheap.

And here is a photo of the living room, missing the windowsill and the gib, and with the new shiny (non-rotting) framing in place.

Note the plug on the bottom, and how it’s coming up through the floor, because:

It’s still coming up through the floor with our new shiny windowsill and gib installed, because our builder is Not An Electrician and That’s Where The Wires Were. This is actually all good from my point of view – we didn’t ask him to move it, and it would’ve cost more, but it does make me giggle a bit.

So: everything is coming up Less Drafty in the home of Field and Hazel.

Aside from that, today has been an errands kind of day – Bunnings, the library, the butchers, and the supermarket. I’ve got a pot of beef stock simmering away on the stove, and tonight we’ll make some kind of soup with it and then watch Grand Designs on TV while hemming things and/or knitting. Possibly with a crochet rug over our laps.

House and garden: June update

Winter has hit with a bang, and I’ve been reminded of all of the disadvantages of living in an uninsulated shack on the side of a hill in Tawa. There’s one main disadvantage: it’s bloody freezing. (The three minute trip onto the train platform in the mornings is still a big plus, though.)

On the gardening front, we got in people to drag away all of the hedge, mow the lawns (which had gotten very overgrown), and de-weed all the cracks in the concrete, and it looks AMAZING. Like, still really bare and shitty, but so so so much better than it was when we moved in. There’s all this room now, and we can start planning how we want to lay things out in the spring. The day before the gardeners turned up, we went round and trimmed all the trees and shrubs on the south side of the house, and now that bit of garden almost looks properly tended (it isn’t, but it’ll get there).

So far we’ve decided on a lemon tree in the far corner where the hedge was, and either a mandarin tree or a lemonade tree between the lemon tree and the compost bin. I’m going to stick in some alstromeria behind the rose we planted last summer (the rose is going to take years before it becomes established enough to eat out the alstromeria space, and in the meantime they’re my very favourite cut flower). We’re going to put in a hydrangea on the north-east corner of the section, where it can grow to a reasonable size and not get in anyone’s way, and we’ll also find space for some purple daisies and some lavender. I’m not sure what else we’ll get done this coming spring: more veges, almost certainly, but I think good gardens take time to plan.

Housewise, the builder has started work just today on fixing all our windows. We went ahead with it based on the time & materials estimate he gave us with quite a big contingency fund – because this house is old and shitty and who knows what anyone would find? – and we’ve already hit a snag. Part of the job is to replace the ridiculous cracked/broken/stupidly wide windowsill beneath the MASSIVE lounge windows (seriously, these windows are about 6’6″ tall, the entire width of the living room, and go round the corner of the room for another couple of feet) with one that is not cracked, broken, or stupidly wide. When he took off the old windowsill, naturally he found wood rot. So I came home today to discover no gib underneath the lounge windows, and that about half the framing there has been replaced. On the one hand: more money. On the other hand: not having wood rot is A Good Thing. Also, that bit of old plasterboard was really shit and full of holes, and now it’s going to have nice new gib which Field and I can practice plastering and painting on during the summer (and possibly paint ridiculous things on). He comes back on Tuesday.

House and garden: pile o’leaves

In the two weeks since the Hedge came down, Field and I have done precisely nothing about the great pile of dead greenery on the lawn. It’s not that neither of us have wanted to, but there’s been lots else happening.

First there was a fuse drama – it turns out the plugs in the kitchen will not support a dryer, a dehumidifier, a washing machine, and a kettle and toaster all running at the same time. We did try replacing the fuse – they’re the old style where you have to turn off the mains, pull out the fuse, and replace the fuse wire – several times on the first evening, but we apparently had too-thin fuse wire (which is better than the opposite, for sure). This was fixed the next day by a trip to Bunnings, where we also bought a curry plant and some borage, as yet unplanted and still sitting in their cardboard box from two weekends ago.

And we got more paving stones to edge the garden with, which does somehow make it look more finished even though we haven’t mown the lawn for about six weeks and it looks vaguely disgraceful in our middle-class suburban neighbourhood.

On the home front, our builder came back with a quote to get the windows fixed and we’ve accepted that, so hopefully work will start soonish and we’ll have airtight windows for the winter (I am REALLY looking forward to this). After that, we’re weighing up seeing how much it’ll cost to get all the cracks in the stucco repaired versus getting the rewiring done; it’s probably smart to do the stucco repairs before the rewiring, seeing as that’ll make the house properly watertight (we hope).

Meanwhile, I have learned to make stock, half-made a sloppy at-home cardigan, plotted out a couple of knitting projects, and read a bunch of trashy young adult supernatural romances. The summer duvet has come off my bed and been replaced by my winter one, and on some nights I’m needing a blanket too. Winter is coming, and it brings with it casseroles and stews and soups and roasts and sticky puddings, all of which make delightful next-day work lunches.

Garden: the hedge is dead/long live the hedge

Field and I got the rest of the hedge down this morning. It was the most difficult part, and it’d been leaning precariously over the fence and onto the roof of the neighbour’s shed since the weekend (not the best way to introduce yourself to the neighbourhood), and now it’s gone.

And by “gone” I mean “in a giant pile covering about half the back lawn”; we’ve called to get a quote on having the lot of it mulched by professionals, because fuck that shit. There are a few branches that probably can’t be mulched, plus the remains of another shrub we removed a month or so ago, and those we want taken off the property.

Meanwhile, tonight there are apples stewing on the stovetop, and roast vegetables roasting in the oven; we’re having roast vege salad for dinner, and all the salad greens and the herbs have come out of our garden. And we used our Genesis Energy Brownie Points (worst reward point scheme name EVER omg) to get the Tui Guide to Fruit Trees in New Zealand, which arrived today and is an interesting read.

We’ve got a pear tree, of course, which fruits pretty heavily but is probably in need of some fertiliser, and what Field strongly suspects is a feijoa; and we’re planning to get a lemon tree and another citrus, probably a lime. I’m also considering strawberries, once we’re a bit more organised; we probably want a couple of planter boxes or at least some old tyres for that, though. Maybe also a currant bush, since it looks as though they’d grow well here and they are very tasty.

The mint has started flowering, just a little, and the oregano is spreading nicely. The sage isn’t massive yet, but I think it’ll get there, and the rosemary is now of a size where I feel no compunction at chucking a small handful into anything appropriate I’m cooking. I should probably check on the tarragon. Of the more exotic stuff, the dragonbalm and what I think is the borage is trucking along, and the chamomile is beginning to spread a bit; I’m not expecting any of these things to really explode until the spring.

We’ve eaten some of the pak choi and of course heaps of the lettuce-y things, and I think that’s probably a lesson: plant lots of leafy salad greens, because being able to walk out and pick precisely the amount I need for a sandwich is a treat not to be sneezed at, and probably less of the stuff that goes in Actual Dinner Cooking, because I’m lazy. This might change once the garden’s more established, but I think for next spring I’ll be aiming to plant more lettuce and less chard.

House-wise, a builder came round last weekend to quote on sorting out all the windowframes, and we should get an idea of what that’ll cost us in the next few days. If we go ahead with that – and we almost certainly will, because none of the windows in my room close properly and it’s beginning to get chilly at night – that’ll be the first major expense. After that, we’ll be saving like mad things so we can rewire, hopefully by the time Winter 2013 rolls around.

Tomorrow we are making yet another trip to Bunnings, this time for drillbits. I think there’s something else on the list too, but I can’t remember what it is.

house: plumbing, part i

… I had not entirely realised just how much noise the constant running of the leaky toilet was making until it had been fixed. 15 minutes ago. My house is SILENT. This is AWESOME.

Also getting fixed today:
– the pipe that drains the wastewater from the shower, which was, like, not attached
– the thermostat on the hot water tank (WAY too hot)
– the leaky showerhead

And I’ve asked about:
– why the hot water pressure in the shower is SO SHIT (apparently because we’re on low pressure hot water, and changing it would mean re-plumbing everything? IDK.)
– how I find out whether we can have gas hot water (find out if there are connections on the street, get gas company to put a pipe and meter in, then get infinity hot water installed and everything re-plumbed. BIG JOB, apparently)

We can’t have the cold tap on the washing machine fixed today, because neither I nor the plumber can find the water mains (I would be entirely unsurprised if nobody has touched a single bit of plumbing in this house for 15 years. It’s probably under a bush somewhere, who the fuck knows). So the plumber will ring the council; the council will come out and find it and spray around it with spraypaint; and then the plumber will come back and fix our washing machine tap. This is frustrating (I’m back at work next week, so things’ll be that much harder to arrange; I’ve used up all of my Need Random Time Off To Deal With Things goodwill at work over this whole house-buying experience) but, y’know, not the fault of me or the plumber, so. Because the mains can’t be turned off, we also can’t get the leak on the roof fixed (it’s leaking on to the roof, not through it, thank fuck).

The plumber has gone off to get some gear – replacement showerhead, replacement trap for the shower – and then is coming back to sort out things.

House: all the tradespeople ever OMG

We moved in a week ago, and since then I have been occupied by organising tradespeople – one each working day this week. We’ve had the cat door installed, and one of the cats left through it a couple of days ago and has not been seen since (this happened the last time we moved too, so I’m not very concerned yet); the locksmith came to change all the locks because we were provided with one key for the back door when we took possession (all the keys to the front doors having been lost somewhere in the mists of time); and today the electrician came.

And we need to rewire.

This is not exactly a surprise: all the powerpoints here are ANCIENT and the lights are on pull-cord switches because we could afford Tawa or wall switches but not both. Nevertheless, it’s a bit disconcerting to hear an electrician tell you that the main fuse is corroding.

So I’m pretty sure that’s going to be the Big Project for this year, as soon as we can get the money together.

Other stuff we need to do is:
– getting a few minor plumbing things sorted (which is hopefully getting done tomorrow – at least, a plumber is booked, but we might get bumped for an emergency)
– getting all the windows that open rehung, and a couple of them rebuilt because they’re currently held together with braces and screws
– getting a few of the windowpanes reglazed, because they’re cracked
– getting the shed roof, door frame, and door replaced (the door frame is completely fucked; the door is in the shed but not currently attached to it; and the shed roof has visible holes)

And then we move on to exciting but non-urgent things like:
– investigating the cost/possibility of moving onto gas hot water, which would mean that the existing hot water cupboard could be turned into an awesome pantry – and that in turn would mean the existing food cupboards above the bench could be pulled out, giving us much more useable bench space
– investigating the cost/possibility of turning the existing shed (which is concrete block) into a laundry, thus meaning in time we could completely redo the kitchen and make it AWESOME
– insulating and regibbing the entire motherfucking house because, like, panels in the living room ceiling are visibly bowed from back when the roof was leaking badly
– replacing the cracked-as-all-hell concrete path/carpad outside the front door, for great justice (and also because it’s one of those things that would REALLY improve the look of the house)
– all the gardening ever

Welcome to home ownership, I guess!

house: further salutary lessons

Settlement date has been moved up from the 27th of January to the 18th, because our landlords stuffed up EPICALLY in giving us our notice period (their letter said mid-February. They meant mid-January. We found this out last Friday). Field, Nish, and I have therefore spent the last week frantically trying to rearrange our lives: not because the landlords have a leg to stand on, legally, but because we appreciate that it was an honest mistake and we are (thankfully) in a position to bring settlement forward for Field and I and therefore can not be dicks about it.

But. Ugh.

Field and I went to see the house on Monday after work, mainly to take measurements of all the rooms (mostly for the purpose of figuring out where all the bookcases will go) but also to wander round the gardens and let Field’s mum identify various shrubs and trees. There’s a pear tree, and what Field and her mum are pretty sure is a feijoa tree (which Field likes and I despise), and a winter rose; and also nettles, and many many weeds, and holly, and a bunch of overgrown things. There are also a few cracked windows which we’ll need to have replaced, and the bit of the sunroom window that opens needs completely replacing, frame and all.

We’re getting through the packing: all my fiction is boxed, along with a bunch of linen. Field and I will aim to get all the crystal done tonight, along with some more of the linen (maybe even going so far as to pack the Suitcase Of Crap We’ll Need For The First Night), and also get started on kitchenware.

… I am so so thankful that after this move I probably won’t have to do it again for at least a decade.

house: a history (and some plans)

Hi, I’m Hazel.

A few weeks ago, I purchased my first house with my friend (who I shall call Field). It’s—well. It has some issues.

The first bit of it was a three-room shack built by the owner, a plumber, in 1942. It had a kitchen, a living room, and a bedroom—no bathroom, but I sincerely doubt it had town sewerage or water for the first few years anyway. A few years later, our plumber added on a bathroom and another bedroom; and a few years after that, he turned the original kitchen into a sunroom and built another kitchen on at the back. The original section got subdivided, and the address changed when the council regraded the road it’s on now (and stuck in a council road reserve driveway).

At some point, someone added a front porch and stuccoed the place (I think the original cladding was wood panels); the roof got replaced about a year ago; and some of the wiring may have been redone relatively recently. The crawl space under the original part of the house is full of firewood and very narrow anyway; there’s no insulation in sight (or out of sight, even); the open fireplace is boarded up; some of the gibbing has holes in it from when the old roof leaked; the carpet is reasonably new but hideously stained; the garden is overgrown; and some of the windows are painted shut.

I love it.

We bought it knowing that all this was wrong with it, knowing that we’ve got several years of hard work coming—insulation! Rewiring to handle modern electrical usage! Regibbing and redecorating! Possibly ripping out and replacing the bathroom (70s!) and the kitchen (… let’s just go with old)! Transforming the garden into something pretty and useful, and reconcreting the driveway so that the rusty support structure doesn’t show. Um.

But, okay, it’s a really sweet little house and the location is better than anything else available in our price bracket, and the rooms are all of a decent if not spectacular size, and with hard work and judicious design choices I think it’ll be really comfortable to live in. At the very least, it has ALL THE CUPBOARDS IN THE WORLD. Seriously. Like, 6 or so in the hallway? I don’t even know.

Settlement is late January 2012, and we’re moving in on the 31st. First tasks are some minor plumbing fixes, getting cat doors installed, getting a sparky in to assess the wiring, and. Well. Unpacking. Drinking. More unpacking. Consoling the cats. At some point before autumn, we’ll probably have the first little bits of a garden of stuff we want to grow in, and the first Things That Must Die will be dealt with.

Watch this space!