Light It Up, Up, Up! Light It Up, Up, Up! (But please, not on Fire!)

Speaking of things at Berrybrier that were in obvious need of immediate attention, during my first walk through the electrical at this place scared me! I went into the purchase of the house knowing that I would be dumping several grand (not a small number!) into updating the dangerous wiring! I snapped this picture with my phone at the initial walk through in order to have photographic evidence of my nightmares. I don’t know exactly what’s going on in this picture, but from what I can tell, there are three fuse boxes here and there are not enough fuses to power this house.

Berrybrier | Basement Wiring

I became quite acquainted with these fuse boxes as between refinishing the floors in the kitchen and the roof/dormer addition we blew a fuse every few days before the electricians could get in here. I also found out that the oven was on the same fuse as the dryer so the two could not be run at the same time! Needless to say, this wiring was very concerning!

The other terrifying thing with the electrical was the hot mess that was the exposed wiring in the basement. Things were spliced together all over the place by some previous DIY-er without much thought to safety or fire prevention. I had dreams of plugging in a vacuum and burning the house down, which just really makes you feel at home in a new place.

Berrybrier | Electrical

You could tell at some point, a previous owner had updated the knob and tube wiring to a modified mid-century DIY version of wiring. I couldn’t tell if that was reassuring or concerning when the electricians told me that. What I did know is I needed to get things rewired around here asap!

The thing about updating electrical is in order to pull the permit, the city gets to force you to do a few other updates as well. But they sure don’t pay for those additional requirements! One of the things they required as part of the electrical permit was updating and moving the electrical meter to bring it closer to the front of the house. Originally the meter was on the driveway side of the house near the between the master bedroom and bathroom windows. Since the electrical came from a pole on the street though, the wires had to snake along the entire edge of the house under the eaves. It looked about as lovely as the spliced wires in the basement, though the electricians assured me it was far more safe. Which was not reassuring at all, really.

Berrybrier | Electrical Meter Original

With the bathroom demo’ed, the electricians were able to come in and whip up brand new wiring in there as well as cleaning up everything in the basement and installing the new electrical meter. Moving the wires from the street was the first thing they tackled, it was a big change! Since the wires came from the pole on the opposite side of the house from the driveway, they originally snaked across the entire house before they could creep along the eaves. It was not my favorite look.

Berrybrier | Electrical Pole

The city, however, authorized new wiring that would come from the wires that snake through the big walnut tree by the end of the driveway. This meant it could be far more streamlined with a straight shot to the driveway! They added a new pole that jutted through the new roof and installed a new meter. One unfortunate thing about this new location is how dang close the meter is to the front door. Now it’s one of the first things you see on the house and it’s not a location I could dictate at all. This shot below was nabbed before the city came to change the wires to the new entry point, but you can see the new wiring. Now although there are no more wires running along the eaves, in order to get the entry to the circuit box squared away they had to run a conduit pipe halfway down the house. This is because the front half of the house only has a crawl space (no full basement).

Berrybrier | Dormer

Electrical is time consuming too! The guys came out for 3 full days plus one half day to get this all worked out. They updated me daily on all the terrifying discoveries they made – like the wiring to the garage was through a 1950’s extension cord hidden in the poured concrete behind the house and spliced into other interior wiring (AHHHH!!!). My team was super nice, but it took more handholding than I would have thought. In an ideal world, I would have been there to answer questions and generally more available to the electricians. It all worked out in the end, but it could have saved me some hole patching. Ha!

Now, electrical work is not all that pretty or exciting; it’s one of those hidden things that makes your house tick though! The final product cost me a pretty penny, so appreciate some afters okay?! First, check out how light and bright my basement is with some cheap lights picked up at the Restore! It’s so bright, my picture turned out truly horrendous from the blow out.

Berrybrier | Basement Light.jpg

This is a huge improvement over the dark dismal space the basement started out as when I bought the house though! Let’s start a competition for worst photo in this post, shall we? Entering this guy below — which while blurry and taken on an iPhone — shows how dark it was in this space before. The only lights were pull-cord, single bulbs scattered haphazardly throughout. You had to walk halfway down the stairs just to get to the first pull cord light! Now you flip a switch at the top of the stairs and a small sconce and the three big lights above come on, lighting up the whole space!

Berrybrier | Basement Before.jpg

And that crazy batch of wires above? That area is totally cleaned up now! There’s still an electrical box here, but the wires and crazy fuse box on fuse box are gone! The wire in this picture is actually cable wiring that’s been cut and needs to be removed (again on my to-do list).

Berrybrier | Old Wire Location

All the wires that were spliced together all terrifying and dangerous in the basement ceiling are now rewired and organized too. The ceiling is looking much more colorful and much safer now!

Berrybrier | Basement Wires

All these wires lead to the best part of the electrical work too! Look at this new circuit box, y’all! Not only is it labeled, but if something blows, I just have to flip a switch rather than going all the way to the store and buying a new fuse. It’s so amazing to have this and to be able to confidently turn off the electrical if I need to replace a light fixture or update an outlet. It’s a huge relief and it has a much larger capacity! No fuses have been blown since the electrical was upgraded.

Berrybrier | Circuit Box

Speaking of safety, the last upgrade at Berrybrier was adding a grounding wire to the house! Yup, nothing was grounded before. Yikes! Now this copper wire goes from the circuit box through the ceiling to the ground outside. It’s a vast improvement for safety!

Berrybrier | Basement Ground Wire

At this point, anyone reading this who’s had to do any electrical work before is counting the numbers in there head. Yes, this cost thousands of dollars, but this was money well spent, that I allotted for this even before deciding to purchase. There is nothing scarier than fire hazards in the home and old houses go up like kindling. The peace of mind I now have is priceless! But the electrical work was not at all! I spent about $8,500 on this project. This included:

  • updating and cleaning up all the dangerous basement wiring
  • adding new GFCI outlet, sconce, ceiling fan to bathroom
  • moving city electrical meter and rewiring all house electrical to new location
  • adding a new 200amp circuit breaker
  • adding new fan boxes in the upstairs bedrooms
  • replacing outlets in the upstairs bedrooms
  • installation of grounding
  • installing new grounded 30amp circuit for dryer
  • adding a sconce and 3 new light fixtures in basement, removing old fixtures
  • disconnecting power to garage and removing wiring between house and garage
  • adding a whole house surge protector
  • installing a dedicated grounded outlet for the fridge
  • Adding two outlets and an overhead light to the new dormer
  • adding new ceiling fixture at the top of the stair well with a switch be the bedrooms and a remote switch at the bottom of the stairs
  • Plus $200 – $300 in electrical permits pulled from the city

It did not include the installation of any of the fixtures which would have been another $1000 dollars, a bullet I wouldn’t have wanted to take even if it was $250. I don’t mind installing new lights, the electricians were shocked by that! They were also nervous about the liability of me installing my own fixtures, so definitely discuss this at length with your electrician before they start (I did not and it was confusing). Berrybrier isn’t burning down anytime soon though! This place is no longer a fire hazard! Which is a good thing since I came home last week to my sister blowtorch in hand toasting homemade marshmallow fluff on a s’mores cake she made! That’s enough fire danger for me!

 

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New Roof For Berrybrier + a Dormer!

Even before I bought Berrybrier, I knew the house needed a new roof. The listing actually mentioned this and – despite not seeing any leaks after a strong rain during escrow – it clearly needed to go. It was a hot mess of a roof in a city where waterproofed roofs are pretty dang critical. This was no DIY project my friends. It was time to bring in the professionals!Berrybrier | Roof.jpg

Although it’s not currently in vogue, I knew I wanted to replace the roof with another light colored shingle roof. The Portland summer sun is hot, hot, hot! When it bakes down on the house the upper floor becomes an oven of trapped heat. The lower level of the house manages to stay cool if it’s just a single hot day or even two hot days in a row, but any more than that and the house gets sweltering. A light colored roof can do wonders in keeping a house cooler. I picked Owen’s Corning’s Sierra Grey which I knew would go well with the exterior paint color I had in mind.

There was one other thing that I wanted to do when I replaced the roof though: add a dormer. The layout of the upstairs bedrooms with the stairwell made the house a perfect candidate for a dormer right at the top of the stairs. You see, when you walk up the stairs at Berrybrier there’s a large landing between the two bedrooms and across the landing from the stairs is a little door to a storage space. You can see the little crawl space door at the top here.

DSC_0287

Well a simple dormer added at the location of this crawl space could launch a huge amount of potential for Berrybrier. Adding a room in this space with a window would also allow more light into the stairwell. The future potential though is huge. A bathroom at this location would not only add incredible convenience to the upper floor bedrooms, but it would also turn this house into a 3 bedroom 2.5 bathroom house effectively doubling its value from my purchase price. Equity, baby! It’s important!Berrybrier | Crawl Space

I went about interviewing roofers shortly after I bought the house and trying to draw up plans for a dormer to get approved by the city development department. That was stressful! And then there was the whole manner of finding someone who could build the dormer too. A couple weeks into my search I mentioned my need for a roofer to Erik from next door who – of course – had a guy. A few days later Rigo was at my house and he said he could build the dormer too. Woohoo!

After inspecting the roof, Rigo was able to tell me that it had the original cedar shingle roof below two layers of asphalt shingles. This meant, I needed a complete tear off of all three layers of roofing and a new layer of plywood sheathing before the new roof went on. Of course, this is about triple the work of adding a new asphalt single roof and thus about triple the cost. Oh the joys of homeownership!

Berrybrier | Roof Shot

Off to the computer I went drawing up plans for a dormer addition. It took me about a week of a couple hours work after my 9-5 job to complete the plans. I was able to go to the Portland Development Bureau’s homeowners’ night and get my drawings looked at after working hours. It’s a busy Thursday night at homeowners’ night and after waiting two hours I thought I would have to go home without a permit. Luckily, they squeezed me in right at the end and approved my plans quite quickly! Even better, Rigo and his crew were able to start work the same week I finally got permits for the addition of the dormer!

The first thing they did was rip off the entire roof! It was the very bitter end of last September at this point, but 2017 was a hot, dry summer and we managed to avoid any rain. I know, hard to believe it’s Portland, right? They spent about just a couple of days with a crew of 4 or 5 guys to rip off all three layers of roofing. The sheathing then took another couple of days. They layered waterproofing over the sheathing very quickly. They split the roof side by side and did demo, sheathing, and waterproofing on one side before moving to the other. This kept an assurance that just in case it did rain my house wouldn’t end up flooded! I wish I’d gotten a picture of this crazytown Frankenstein roof, but the guys did it so quickly while I was at work a basically blinked and missed it!

They did all of this work on the roof in the existing plane of the roof before on Saturday October 7th in the morning a crew showed up and cut a GINORMOUS hole in my roof! It was amazing to watch them just take a bunch of saws and just go at it! Here’s all the guys smiling once the hole was complete and they were ready to start the next phase of work.

Berrybrier | Whole in the Roof

Within just a few days, they’d built the shell of the dormer and completed the roof! I was amazed that just four days later the dormer went from a dream and a hole to an entire new room! From the outside, it looked like it belonged. I wanted an addition that looked intentional, like it could have existed from the beginning and this one had that vibe. Sure, it was only a shell that first week – just enough to keep the water out – but it felt right!

One thing I wasn’t in love with though? The dark black roof vents on the opposite side of the roof. They looked jarring against the light grey shingles and stood out way too much for my liking. I asked Rigo about them and he was quick to let me know they also made light grey ones (like were on the old roof) and he could switch them out in a couple of weeks. Yay!Berrybrier | Black Vents

Back to the dormer though! A quick couple days later and the dormer was sided and trimmed out to match the house. The guys finished up work on the interior of the dormer, adding appropriate studs and structural elements. The only remaining item was the window… which was on back order until November of course! Brrrrr! The weather was starting to get cold now and there was still a gaping hole in my house! A normal person would have selected a different window that was more readily available. But not me! See those green aluminum exterior wood interior windows? I was duplicating that in the dormer, no matter what!

Berrybrier | Dormer.jpg

This was a long phase of a crazy looking house, but wrapping up the new roof was a huge relief, despite the $12 grand now missing from my bank account, I felt like I’d really gained a sense of security knowing water wasn’t going to start pouring in one way or another. The dormer came in a 4k plus an almost $500 window. Both were huge investments in the house, the dormer obviously was an optional add, but the pricing felt right and the timing was good to ensure everything was waterproofed together.

Waiting on the window proved to be the most difficult thing due to the weather. The house was freezing! I slept in my sleeping bag in order to stay warm. The house felt like a stranger at this point because so much was going on. See that picture above? The windows were all taped off for painting, the new electrical meter and service had been rewired by the city, everything was happening all at once and boy did I have a thousand things to do! More on that soon…

Let there be light!

Happy autumn, ya’ll! The recent turning of weather is making me nauseous as I try to figure out how to schedule the exterior painting of my house and finishing up the dormer. So much to do! So little time! Seriously, I’m not ready for winter! I’m still hoping to break out those breezy summer dresses and dig up bricks to lay out a patio in my backyard. BUT, reality sinks in and I realize a lot will need to wait until next spring. The exterior paint, however, needs to get a move on!

While I’m waiting on things the professionals have to take on, I have to keep busy myself. I’ve been working trying to refinish my kitchen floors which is taking about 53 times longer than I anticipated. So this past weekend I looked for a new project. Something quick and dirty I could knock out and actually finish. I turned again to the back of the house but didn’t make it quite so far as the yard.

That horrific deck and the roof covering it? It was coming down! Remember how bad it was? It was a deathtrap waiting to happen! Those stairs ended 4″ from the corner of the garage. Now, luckily, the actual deck roof (can we even classify that monstrosity as a roof?) had come down during the first two weeks I owned Berrybrier. It was a wonderful surprise when I came home from work to see my cousins, John and Carla, and my parents, John and Kate happy in the backyard having spend a couple hours that afternoon demoing the deck roof. They’d knocked it out and boy was it a huge change! It not only looked a thousand times better, but the amount of light that suddenly flooded the kitchen was the best part!


Yes that is a new-to-me stove as well (bought it from the neighbors who are also renovating!). Before the kitchen was so dark since the two windows were under the makeshift roof! Plus that wallpaper doesn’t help. Good thing that’s gone now too! (Add re-drywalling the kitchen to my to-do list as well…)


So when this past weekend came around, I said to my mother, “You know what would be super fun? Taking down the deck!” My mother had her doubts, she was nervous we wouldn’t like what we found. But I had a good feeling about this one. The home inspection report had called out the presence of concrete steps under the deck and a few sessions with a good flashlight and a long stick had given me the impression the steps were in good shape. Plus anything would be better than this, right?

I even convinced my mother a few weeks earlier to sawzall off a board on one side to get better access to the steps in order to take a closer look and sweep a bit with a broom. This proved the steps were in great shape to me, but my mother still had her doubts. I finally convinced her I could just pull off one board from the top and we could get a good look at things there.

Once you pull off one, what’s the harm in another? Or so I convinced my mother… and slowly, but surely we got all the deck boards pried off that first day. Now it would have been a lot easier if we could have used ¬†power tools like a sawzall, but the roofers were over and the electrical on this house isn’t a fan of power tools, let alone multiple power tools. So we worked by hand using hammers and crowbars. (And luckily the electrical is getting updated at the end of the month!) Slowly, but surely, we made progress!

Whew! Easier said than done. The work wasn’t that hard, but between the roofers air compressor and staple/nail guns and the sounds of our own hammers hitting the metal of the crowbars I got a powerful headache and my ears wouldn’t stop ringing. We took a break and I picked up some protective ear muffs at Ace Hardware before heading home. Hallelujah! They are my new favorite protective gear, even beating out hazmat suits!

Boy was it looking a million times better that first day and boy did we learn a lot! That deck, as it turns out, was not in as good of shape as I thought. Sitting on the concrete steps, moisture had filled the wood and when we pressed into it, water would actually squeeze out. It had caused the wood to rot significantly more than I anticipated. Beneath the steps, years of walking over and dust and debris had created mounds of compost that covered the concrete. Actual, really nice compost. We tossed it straight into the garden!

The next morning, my mom broke out her favorite tool: the sawzall and took off the sides of the deck. A few quick bangs with a sledgehammer and everything else was loose. Then it saw just back to the crowbar to remove a few pieces off the house and there they were: the original concrete steps!

The cute star gate used to be in function here, blocking off the backyard from the driveway. You can see the hole in the concrete next to it where the fence post used to be. I am in love with how much better this looks! The kitchen is flooded with light and now you can actually walk between the garage and the house! The best thing though? Not being directed down the stairs and into the corner of the garage! Now the flow from the house is so much more open! It allows you to walk into the garden easily and walk into the house from any side. Truly, it’s a small change, but feels transformative! I mean, the house still looks like crap since it needs paint, but it’s still a big change!

Before this view was crazy! Now it at least makes more sense. A good coat of paint will be the true life saver though.

Plus, the whole project took less than 8 hours. So thank god for that! I need more projects like that and less like my endless kitchen floor rescucitation project. This project leaves me satisfied and happy! Now they stairs will definitely need some tweaking – I’m thinking of painting next spring and trying to skim coat the top stair that’s in a bit rougher shape.

But for now, hopefully the weather will hold out long enough for this house to get painted and then I can stick my red pots on these steps and then they’ll really be popping! It’s one baby step in the right direction!