Some Background on our Project

October 3rd, 2007 by Peter Schmelzer

Here is some background from my perspective to bring you up to speed on our thinking regarding this project, which will follow in subsequent posts. Also, I think it may be interesting to note the differences and similarities in our thought patterns and design thinking, and how we work together to solve challenges.

We have lived in this house for almost nine years. Our youngest child is now 8. We are blessed with two sons, a daughter and a three bedroom house. As the kids approach the teens, their space needs have grown with them. The two boys have been successfully sharing a room, but their sleep patterns and tidiness habits have diverged in recent years.

A home office is needed for the sorting of mail, organization of school work, paying bills and keeping up with our personal filing. At times, the space will serve as a second VIVUS office; for example, when a child is home sick from school. Such a space will free up vast quantities of kitchen countertop for its intended purpose. (That could use some work, but will have to wait for another time…)

When I visited my parents a couple of months ago, I was shocked to find out they pay about half as much as we do for energy costs. Yes, there are only two of them, but their house is twice the size of ours and lies further north! This steeled our resolve to improve the energy efficiency of our house. Since then, I’ve cut holes in the walls to find about 1″ of insulation in the walls; definitely room for improvement. We’ve had ice dams each year that we’ve lived here, too, that are both irksome and damaging. More room for improvement.

Several rooms of our house have been calling for remodeling for some time: the upstairs bathroom, the stairway, and the upper hall. Each of these spaces has a 5-foot kneewall, meaning that the ceiling height at the outside wall is 5’0″, from which it slopes up to a flat ceiling at about 8’0″. I stand about 6’2″ tall, so that makes a two-foot area next to the walls unusable for me; no shower, no toilet, no mirror, no way.

Then there were the squirrels, stupefied by chewing on the lead flashing of our plumbing vents. I don’t know why, but they chewed a hole in each of the flashings, letting rain into our attic. Adding this to previous leaks through the years, the gypsum board ceiling was starting to sag, showing its supporting nails like innie belly buttons. We patched the roof with a growing sense of applying band-aids when surgery was necessary.

Our windows are single-pane double-hungs with combination storms. Few of them lock because they don’t close properly. I suspect that is from when the foundation was replaced in the late 60’s; something must have gone awry. Needless to say, they don’t seal well unless caulked shut for the winter, which we have done for the past few years. Really saves on the heating bill, I must say, but I wonder how I’m supposed to follow the instructions on the removable caulk. It tells me to seal all the windows while using the caulk in a well-ventilated space.

And, our heating system is nearing the end of its life. The supply and return ductwork do not meet current standards, nor do they properly heat nor cool the place. At 20 years of service, the furnace gave up the ghost this spring as the heating season ended, now sporting a cracked heat exchanger which renders it unusable for heating. Cheaper to replace the unit than to repair it.

So, like most older homes (this one is half 1905 and half 1967) we have some liabilities to clean up. However, the house has many assests as well. The foundation is concrete block and in good shape (although completely uninsulated). The structure is sound and straight. We have remodeled the kitchen and dining room already and we like them. Our lot is in a great location and features mature trees, significant limestone retaining walls, lots of plantings, and it sports a two-car garage, which is somewhat rare in town. We like our neighborhood and have developed friendships that would be tough to leave behind.

Now the time is right. The house needs attention. We have developed a design we can agree upon. The bank will give us a loan. And the project appears to be in our budget ballpark. Stay tuned.

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