Friday, March 28, 2014

Please Pardon Our Progress

Weather, work, and sleep got in the way of the porch demo until today, and weather cut the workday short today, but Dylan made a fair amount of progress on the porch demo.

The "skylight" is much larger now.

So is the pile of debris I need to scoop up and throw away.  

People are starting to drive by slowly and stare...and not in a good way.  In a way that says plainly, "What the hell is she doing now?!" and "Look at that mess!"  I'm giving serious consideration to making one of those COMING SOON signs like at commercial construction sites, or at least a PLEASE PARDON OUR MESS PROGRESS sign, so that folks know the house isn't always going to look so ugly.  

Monday, March 24, 2014

Continue On

Sunday afternoon while I was sleeping, the Codes Inspector left me another voicemail.  This one was much nicer than the first one.

"You are correct that since you have an approved Certificate of Appropriateness you may demo your porch.  Once you have it demo'd, then provide measurements and a framing plan and your building permit should be approved.  Continue on!"

I should not have called her back.  I should've just let it go.  The Dalai Lama would've just let it go.  But I am not the Dalai Lama.

I called her back.  I said, "I knew I was right.  I knew that all I needed in order to tear off the porch was a COA, and I knew that I didn't need a building permit until I actually started building.  You should have checked to see if I had a COA before you called me.  You shouldn't assume that people are doing something wrong, especially not people who live in a Historic District and are restoring their homes.  I had a very bad winter, which you know nothing about, so you don't know how much I looked forward to working on my house again this spring.  You also didn't know how angry your voicemail made me [although I bet she did, since I was speaking through gritted teeth at the time] and how much it really set me back emotionally. You really pulled the rug out from under me, and you should apologize."

And after a bit of bickering, she did.  Without admitting she was wrong, exactly, but I'll take it.

Dylan and his ax will be back Wednesday or Thursday, unless it snows.

Saturday, March 22, 2014


The day I look most forward to all winter long is the day that I start work again on the outside of the house. On that first day, it seems like all my big plans and dreams might actually happen, like anything is possible, and the year stretches out ahead of me full of potential.  Remember that feeling of the first day of summer break from school when you were a little kid?  That's how this feels.  This year, I feel even more like that because of the crappy fall and winter I had after I broke my collarbone. 

This year will be the year I finish the outside of the house.  I can feel it.  Light at the end of the tunnel.

Thursday I practically ran outside to start taking apart the porch.  In almost no time at all Dylan (my son) and I had the screen panels down and I was knocking them apart in the front yard so I can re-use the lumber. Now I have a nice pile of 2 x 4's and another nice pile of 1 x whatevers to use for something else. We're working really short days (like three hours) starting out because the impingement in my shoulder joint still isn't completely healed and I don't want to overdo it and end up having surgery to fix it.

So, at the end of the that first day, we had removed all the screen panels 

and Dylan had pulled down a little bit of the plywood ceiling.

That's much less than he intended to pull down, but whoever built this porch must've had a new nail gun that they were really happy to play with, because they put nails every inch or so all along every joist.  That means that even after Dylan gets one edge of the plywood loose, all those nails keep him from getting enough leverage to pull down the whole sheet.

Friday afternoon Dylan came over again, this time with an ax.  
This is his self-portrait, taken on the roof of my house.

That ax is serious business.  

He hacked away at the roof, occasionally looking over the edge to check his progress.

(Which, of course, is dangerous and a good way to end up pitching off the roof headfirst, so don't ever do that, y'all.)

By the end of the day a big swath of plywood was gone.

I was happy with our progress so far and looking forward to Saturday when, weather allowing, Dylan would tear down more of the porch.  We have a good system going--he tears it down and I clean it up.

And then I checked my voicemail.  I had a nasty message from the Codes Inspector.  She informed me that she needs to speak with me about my front porch.  She explained, as if I'm a not-very-bright child, that I live in a Historic District and I must obtain a Certificate of Appropriateness from the Historic Preservation Commission before beginning any exterior work on my house.  She said that I can't do anything without a building permit which she must issue.  She rattled off a list of things that I must include with my building permit application:  a site plan, a detailed framing plan, an explanation of how I plan to attach the porch to the house, exact dimensions of the porch.  (Emphasis hers.)

And I am livid.  LIVID.  (Emphasis mine.)

So I called her back and left her a voicemail of my own in which I told her that I do in fact already have a Certificate of Appropriateness, that as I explained on my application to HPC I won't know the exact dimensions of the new porch until I remove the existing one and reveal the ghost marks of the original porch, that I would be happy to provide her approximate dimensions based on the location of the original half-posts, and that she should call me back to clarify what she means by the "anything" that I can't do without a permit, because although I don't wish to get crossways with her, I do intend to work on my house.

That voicemail of hers knocked me sideways.  It took away every bit of the happiness and enthusiasm I had for this project.  I'm angry at her for that.  I'm angry at her assumption that I don't know anything about living in a historic district when I've lived in this house for over seven years and this is my fourth appearance before HPC.  I'm worried that she will levy fines against me.  I'm confused as to why I need a building permit to tear down something (shouldn't that be, if anything, a demolition permit?) and thought that the approval of HPC to remove the porch was all I needed to go forward with that part of the project.  I had anticipated needing a building permit, but thought I could wait on that until we removed the existing porch and knew the dimensions of the new porch.  It's difficult to provide a detailed framing plan when you don't even know the size of the thing you're framing.

So for now, the porch project is on hold.  I'll keep y'all posted.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Bing, Bam, Boom!

So Tuesday night I went before the Historic Preservation Commission to ask permission to demolish the existing front porch on my house and build a new one that looks more like the original porch.

Actually, I went to the Planning & Zoning meeting and sat there for five minutes wondering why I didn't recognize anyone and why a lawyerly-looking dude was there with manila folders and a sheaf of papers.  Oops.  Wrong room.  

After I ran up a flight of steps and burst through the door of a room that was waaay smaller than I expected, I went before the HPC.  They asked me first where I live--which in my small town means not what your street address is, but who you live next door to. Once we had that figured out, they asked me what I planned to do.  I told them pretty much what I'd written on my application:

My house is a contributing structure to the Old Neighborhoods National Register Historic District and is a Queen Anne cottage constructed about 1887.  What I'm asking permission to do is to remove the existing porch, which is not original to the house, and build a new porch which would be nearly identical to the original porch.  The current porch has a flat roof and the porch extends past the front and side walls of the house. No part of this porch is original to the house.  I'm requesting permission to demolish only the porch structure and roof, not the concrete slab. 
The original porch had a hipped (mansard) roof and was somewhat smaller than the present one.  I would like to build the new porch to look as much like this one as is possible, in particular the slightly smaller dimensions and the hipped roof.  In the photo [the 1947 photo of the porch] there doesn't appear to be a porch post in the middle of the span, but I would put one there for added support.  There are three porch posts at the corner of the porch and balusters and railing only on the east side.  I would like to duplicate all this. There are ghost marks on the house which show the location of the original half-posts and I expect that when I remove the existing porch, there will also be ghost marks of the original roof line of the porch so that I can re-create the dimensions of the original porch.  Thanks for your time and consideration.

Then one of the Commission members spoke up and said some stuff that I'm a little reluctant to tell you because it sounds kinda like bragging, but then I decided that he said it, not me, so it's okay.  He said, "I live two houses down from her, and this house has undergone quite a transformation.  It used to have brown shingles on it and she removed those and is painting it.  She's quite industrious.  My wife and I hear her scraping away at the old paint.  This seems like a worthwhile venture to me.  I move that we approve it." 

And then someone seconded his motion, the commission president said all in favor say aye, and my porch project was unanimously approved.  Bing, bam, boom!


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Goldilocks and the Three Porches

Everybody knows the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  Well, I'm kinda like Goldilocks.  Except that what has to be just right isn't my porridge or my bed, it's my front porch.

When I bought the house my front porch looked like this:

Too dark.  

Also, too dingy, too closed-in, too big.  And those fake wrought iron posts had to go. Yuck.

So then in 2009, Mare and I did this:

My favorite post about that project is right here.  

Better.  Okay, much better.  

Lighter.  More open, nicer posts, prettier.  But still not exactly right.  Too big.  The roof's too flat.  I wasn't sure screening it in was the right thing to do.  

So after I get the approval of the Historic Preservation Commission, after I tear off the existing porch, and after the weather breaks and Mare actually shows up to help me, we'll build the third porch.  It will look something like this:

(Thanks to Dylan for the Photoshop job.)  

Something like that, but not exactly.  Ever so slightly smaller, because the original porch was 18 inches shorter on each side than the existing one.  With spandrel (small spindles) all the way around the top.  And three porch posts at the corner.  Without screen.  Maybe with steps the entire width of the porch.  (Maybe; I haven't decided yet.) 

And then, the porch will be just right.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Well, Okay

After an extraordinary amount of thought, Mare said yes to building the porch. 

Maybe "Mare said yes" is putting it a bit too strongly...What he actually said, after I asked him for about the fifth time if he was going to help me build the porch, was "Well, okay."  

That scares me just a little bit. Actually, a lot.  Enough that I said, "Are you really?  I mean, really really?" To which he replied, "Yeah, I'll help you, as long as you don't mind if a week or so goes by in between times when I can work on it."  So I went from scared to terrified.

See, here's what you need to know about Mare:  He's a genius about old houses.  I don't throw that word out there lightly.  He can take one look at a boxy, unremarkable house with vinyl siding and plastic windows and tell that it's really a pre-Civil War Greek Revival that's been remuddled.  And, given enough time and money, he can turn it back into that antebellum house with an attention to detail that would make the original builders proud.  It's nothing short of genius.  Hand in hand with that genius, though, go other things not so great:  he's undependable and difficult and easily distracted and, well, flaky.  No need to go into detail about what I mean by those words because I am certain, now that he's agreed to do this, that every one of those traits will be shown, and maddeningly so, before the porch is finished.  So why do I put up with it?  Because Mare's a genius and he works for cheap.  (When you're a flake, it's hard to command top dollar for your genius.)

So now that he's signed on to the project, albeit less than enthusiastically, I have other scary stuff to consider.  Like money, and a Certificate Of Appropriateness.  (That name still makes me giggle.)  Because I live in a National Register Historic Neighborhood, I have to obtain a Certificate of Appropriateness for any exterior work to the house.  That COA is a building permit and a seal of approval from the city's Historic Preservation Commission that the construction is appropriate for my historic house.  The Commission meets only once a month, and I can't do any work until the COA is issued.  (It would be really bad, for instance, if I demolished the existing porch and then the Commission said no to the new one.)  A big part of Mare's lack of enthusiasm, although he hasn't come right out and said so, is that he thinks I'm pushing him about a spring project when it's still winter.  I can see where he's coming from.  But because demolishing the existing porch will take awhile, as will building the new one--and more importantly, because I'd really like to be done building the porch before the simmering heat of July and August--I needed him to give me an answer now.  When I explained this to him, I saw his eyes glaze over.  Anything more than a week or so away is too far in the future to hold his interest.

And the money?  When I asked him how much he thought it would cost, Mare said, "We might be able to do it for as little as $800, but it might cost as much as $2400."  Um, that's a pretty big difference.  I made several attempts to get him to narrow that gap a bit, but he refused to do so.  So, either 800 bucks (which doesn't seem likely) or three times that.  Well, okay...

Monday, March 3, 2014

I Was Thinking

A couple of weeks ago, Mare and I went to supper at the pub and this happened.

Me:  So I was thinking...

Mare:  Uh-oh.

Me:  Stop.  This is a good thing.  I was thinking that we should rebuild my front porch--

Mare:  The front porch?!  The one we just rebuilt?!

Me:  That was five years ago.

Mare:  Okay, the one we just rebuilt five years ago.  

Me:  We didn't really rebuild  it.  That's an exaggeration.  We just replaced the porch posts.

Mare:  And ripped out the walls so it wasn't closed in.

Me:  Well, yeah...

Mare:  And screened it in.

Me:  Part of it.  Which I was never really sure about.

Mare:  So take out the screen panels. [Which is possible; he built it so the screen panels are inside the porch posts and could be removed fairly easily.]

Me:  I'd like to do more than that...

Mare:  I thought you said this was a good thing.

Me:  It is.  It totally is.  We can tear off that porch and rebuild it to the original dimensions.  It would look a lot better.

Mare:  It would be a lot of work.  The original porch had a mansard roof.

Me:  Exactly.  So this one looks weird.  It's too big.

Mare:  It kinda is...You know, I rebuilt the porch on my house down the street back to the original dimensions using the marks on the house.

Me:  And you did that on the Captain's House out south of town, too.  Same thing.

Mare:  That is an awesome porch.

Me:  It is.  My porch could be awesome too.

Mare:  I'll have to think about this...

[Insert dramatic foreshadowy music here.  Like maybe this.]