Adventures in Old Home Living

By on 8 June, 2011 in City Living with 0 Comments

On occasion, I hear a story so vivid that I know I cannot retell it as well as the person who “lived it.”  This week I invited clients Matt Sendak and Hilary Funk to share their recent adventures in old home ownership, as retold by Hil.

Read and enjoy!

— Sandra


“Honey, the air conditioning is broken.”

He put his head in his hands and actually sighed. “Ok.”

When you live in an old house, there are things you just don’t say — things like, “I’m glad we got a new hot water heater,” or, “I was sure replacing the Insinkerator would be harder than that.”

You don’t say these things because it would be tempting the Old House Gods into giving you something else that needs fixing. Something bigger. Something that requires permits perhaps, or a HAZMAT team. So when you finally do say something, you make it count.

“I mean, the air conditioning is actually broken. Like, dead,” I said. “It’s time.”

Time to replace the circa-1958 Carrier Weathermaker furnace and air conditioner (replete with myriad “upgrades” from 50 years of service) which sat, a Goliath hiding in its own closet, in the middle of our small Cloverdale-Idlewild home.

The hulk measured about 6 feet wide, 5 feet tall and 4 feet deep. When the heater fired on, it sounded like a jet on afterburner. When the a/c ran constantly in our hottest summers, the best it could do was coax the inside temperature about 15 degrees lower than outside. The system was pathetic and we’d lived with it for six years – because the owner of an old house with an ancient HVAC system just wouldn’t say, “Man, it’s hot in here.”

Hans Heating and Air came out and gave us a project price for the removal of the old system and installation of an entirely new one, including all new ductwork and a thorough return cleaning.  Importantly, they promised to make us whole if they accidentally knocked out a wall or collapsed a ceiling or created a rift in the space-time continuum. It would all be made right before they left.  Frankly, that promise was reason enough not to get too persnickety about a couple hundred dollars of negotiation headroom.

It took a crew of three nearly five hours to cut the monster out of the house. They started with screwdrivers, eventually resorting to a torch, having given up on brute force for more sophisticated methods.  The front yard – their dumping ground – looked like a space ship had crashed on it.

That night we admired the absence of the Weathermaker and our temporary boost in square-footage. Once they put in the new system, we still had enough new space to add sturdy storage shelving. Oh, and we learned what a digital thermostat was. Did you know that you can program those things? Amazing!

More recently, my husband came inside and said, “We lost some shingles in that hail storm.” Both of us held our breath.

The roof hadn’t been a problem for us, but it was certainly past its warranty, if it ever had one. And now we’d actually gotten hail and wind damage so most of the replacement cost could likely be covered by insurance. We chose upgraded architectural shingles (shouldering the cost of the upgrade) and the contractor said the work would take one day.

One? Well, they started at 7 a.m. and were cleaning up in the dark 13 hours later. While I had been around all day and taken photos of their progress, I didn’t get a look at the finished product until the morning. What a difference!

Whenever we need something done in this house there’s always that moment of hoping that’s all that will need to be done as they open walls or rip off old roofing. Turns out that when they stripped our roof that day, we were in luck. Despite a few minor repairs, this old roof has been holding up very well since 1938.  Sometimes the old house gods can smile on us, too.

But you still won’t catch us complaining about painted-shut windows or having to water our foundation when summer drought plays havoc with our prairie soil. Nope. Never.

Lessons learned:

* Selecting a reputable contractor is critical – both of these projects would (could?) have been nightmares if the crews had disappeared for a day, or cut down because of other “priorities.”

* The make-me-whole commitment is an absolute requirement for us when we deal with contractors. We are not particularly interested in having to call out seven different trades to get a water heater installed.

* Both of the contractors that we used on these projects did terrific work – Hans Heating and Air (for the HVAC) and Whirley and Whirley Construction (for the roof).

* Treasure when a contractor goes to the trouble to actually clean up after themselves – particularly in a roof replacement. There are horror stories about losing tires and shoes to roofing nails after a slapdash cleanup.

We don’t choose to live in old houses because of ease-of-maintenance.

We put up with the maintenance to hold onto the character of a great neighborhood.


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