Sunday, December 25, 2011

Demolition Day!

I remember the first thing I did when we got the keys to our current house-- also a major fixer-upper, if you remember-- was to come in with pliers and remove carpet tacks from the stairs.  It seemed carpet tacks, nails, and staples literally grew out our floors and doorways for the next few years, as I kept on finding them, even in places I was sure I'd scoured previously.  Nevertheless, that first day, sitting on the stairs without heat or light, just plucking away with pliers, I had such a feeling of accomplishment and oneness with my new house.  Yesterday, with a whole day off (and in town to boot!), as well as the okay of our plans by both the State and the County, I packed the family up and we spent a few hours with two hammers and a crowbar.  It was magical.

Okay, so maybe, as Abby said, what we were doing was much less efficient than what our contractors could do, and they're going to be paid no matter what, but it was nice to finally get something done to our house!  We split up: Abby headed downstairs to see what she could do to/with the paneling; I took a crowbar into the kitchen and, standing on a step-ladder, tore the drywall off the kitchen ceiling; and each kid got a hammer and was told to bash wherever they wanted on the big ugly wall that separates the two parts of the Great Room.  Apart from Abby, who I think was probably the smartest of us, we all got a lot done.  For your viewing pleasure, I give you THE WAHL FAMILY'S VERY HAPPY CHRISTMAS DAY AT THE BUNGALOW!

Isaac's first taste of hammering.

So proud
Taking ownership
Lola with her hammer.

The kids with the former wall.
Trying out the ladder.

Me in the kitchen
Lola means business.

The wall starts to crumble.

Results! All we could reach with the step ladder

Looking down from the balcony

Looking towards the kitchen

Looking eastward in the Great Room

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Day 204: MoCo Approves!

Big night tonight in Silver Spring: The Montgomery County Planning Commission approved our application for an Historical Area Work Permit!  (Hooray!  And hooray for lots of capitalized words!)  Although this was not a contentious thing-- we knew we were recommended to be approved by the staff, and we were placed on the consent calendar, which means there was pretty much nothing wrong with our application-- it was still one of our last obstacles to get this darn thing moving.  And it took a grand total of about three minutes.  At 7:30 they called the meeting to order; by the time I silenced my cell phone they had introduced the agenda; by 7:33 I was walking out the door, my and four other applications approved by unanimous consent.  Not bad.

So here's where we stand right now:

  • We've got permission from both the State of Maryland and Montgomery County to go through with our plans, as modified of course;
  • We have to bring whatever architectural drawings we have to the County in the next few days to have them approved, which I'm told takes hours, not days or weeks or SIX AND A HALF MONTHS, which is how long we've owned this house without legally being able to do anything to it; and
  • Once the drawings are approved, we have to apply for building permits, just like anyone else does working on any other house.  Again, days, not weeks or HALF A YEAR.
  • Also, we just got "approved" for a six-month extension of "work" by our loan servicer.  Kind of ridiculous, if you ask me, because there was no way we were doing the whole thing in six months, but we had to put that down initially and extend after that was over.  Then they loan people were apparently going to give us shit about not having stuff done, as if we had been sitting on our butts the last six months, just paying this enormous mortgage and enjoying our shell of a home.  Weirdos.

The State did reject not only our choice of shingles, but the very thought of anything other than extreme top-of-the-line shingles or regular old cheapo Home Depot shingles, which does suck.  Apparently in the 115-year history of the house, there have only been two documented types of roofing: the original cedar shakes, which would cost upwards of $40k to install; and the current army-issued cheapos, which just look cheap.  We tried to argue that having higher quality shingles that look like cedar shakes should be good enough, but the State argued that their goal is to avoid the Disneyfication of historic areas-- only historically documented materials are allowed, and reproductions are a non-starter.  So it looks like we'll be searching for the best cheapo shingles we can buy, and dealing with it.  I'm disappointed, not only because I wanted to be able to upgrade, but because the Dutch Windmill's owners replaced their dilapidated roof with beautiful cedar shakes.  But, alas, we can't break the bank on roofing.  Maybe when I win the lottery... which I don't play...
The shingles we can't afford.
The shingles we wanted.

The shingles we'll have to get.
 Anyhow, it looks like we're now reaching the light at the end of the tunnel.  And that means, hopefully, more things to update on the blog.  We were hoping to decorate the place for the holidays, but we had to run out of town unexpectedly and only got back two days ago, so Bungalow Christmas Part One is going to have to wait until next year.  But I'm looking forward, albeit very warily, given all the crap we've had to deal with just in the red tape, to getting moving.

And I promise, if we all take sledgehammers over to the house this weekend as a Christmas present to ourselves, I'll definitely take pictures. :)

Friday, December 9, 2011

Just Push Pause

So our shingle choice is not good enough for Maryland.  Or rather, it's too good; it "promotes a false sense of history" by making it seem that there had been slate on the roof before, when it had just been wood shingles.  I completely understand that.  (Really, I do!)  But the problem is they want us to replace the current shingles "in kind," which means exactly.  The current shingles are pretty much Army surplus shingles from 1989, and look like the cheapest thing on the market.  The ones we bought, slate-color notwithstanding, are really nice, quality shingles.  (Who'd have thought this would be an issue?  Gregory actually wants to spend money on this, and the State wants him to tone it down!) 

Unfortunately, I have a big mouth, and when I got the news about the shingles I was also dealing with the fact that our renters' rent check bounced, and therefore our mortgage was (I thought, incorrectly) not paid.  And the kids were at the dinner table and the microwave was beeping and Abby was out for the night.  So I may have left an annoying voicemail message at poor Amy with MHT's office.  Later on, I emailed her apologetically, asking what we could do to get the shingles replaced without doing it in kind.  Haven't heard anything back from her in three days, which is unlike her.  Hopefully I haven't pissed her off...

A shot of the Bungalow from way back when, complete with
what we believe to be the original cedar-shake roofing.
 So today, what we are going to do is email her all the different shingle types we like, and ask her to tell us which would be acceptable.  Cedar shakes, fancy-pants shingles like the ones we picked out, and one other kind (I forget the third, a la Rick Perry), and none of them will resemble slate.  In fact, all of them will resemble what we believe were the original shingles on the house, dark brown cedar shakes, as seen in the attached photo.  We'll be in South Carolina for the next week, but hopefully during that time we'll get the approval and can start working, because the only things standing in our way now are the approval, actually buying the shingles (which we can do from SC), and getting the building permit from Montgomery County.  That last part is something Rory was going to do on Wednesday.  No word from him on how that went yet, or on how long it might take for them to respond, but hopefully we're very close.  So for now, it's not a "stop" or a "play" for progress-- it's a "pause."  And I just hope it won't be on pause long enough for the video to stop altogether and revert to whatever's on channel 3.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

On the Cusp

The silver lining mentioned the other day has proven to exist, and, lo and behold, we are on the cusp of being able to begin work!  Montgomery County's Planning Department deemed our roof to be not of an historic nature, so even though we do have to deal with a two-week delay in having them consider our application, the roof no longer has to be part of the application at all.  In other words: we can just go to the permits office and get a permit to work on the roof, without any further ado from the County.  Huzzah!  I've submitted the specs for our shingles to Amy with MHT, who assured me the turnaround would be "faster than the full EC review," so our fingers are crossed that in the next few days Rory'll be able to start assembling the forces to tear the old roofing off. (Note to Tim, my contractor cousin: I made a mistake and we'll actually be reusing the same porch shingles that are on there now, but thanks for the heads up!)

I'm still miffed at the permits office, but their director did reply to my email saying she was looking into how the application fell between the cracks, and that's all I can really hope for.  Even if they had Rick Perryd the situation with an "oops," they wouldn't have been able to include us on the December 7 agenda, since Maryland Open Meetings Laws require one-week notice of all stuff like this, and the agenda had already been sent out to the local papers.  Oh well.  This might actually allow us to start the roof a bit earlier than we would have anyhow.  (I'm just hoping that the County's determination that the roof is not historic will not prevent them from reimbursing us when it comes time to show them our finished product.  My feeling is we're still fine on that.)

Isaac & my parents with Justice, by the Italian Villa
As an aside, I failed to mention the other day that another of our neighbors has begun construction on their home.  The Swiss Chalet-- the house that initially brought us to look at Forest Glen-- now has work humming along.  When I went by with my parents on Monday, we saw all the old windows had been removed, all the decrepit railings were gone, and I think there was even new siding, although I'm not sure.  Jealous they got a jump on us, but glad for them just the same.

Leo, Isaac, and Theo
My parents coming by was an interesting event.  We had one full day together post-Thanksgiving, so I was able to show them the place for the first time, Isaac in tow.  You could tell they were thinking "Gregory & Abby are (still?) nuts," but I think it was with more appreciation for our nuttiness than the last time around, when we bought our current house.  (I think the neighborhood maybe makes up for it?)  Don't worry, Mom & Dad, this place will be great when we are finished.  That said, the Beltway was louder than it ever was before, which was a bit annoying.  Sure, it was Monday rush hour, but I kept on glaring at the road as if to request it shut up for a few moments while my parents were here...  You might say that was futile, but remember, I am the king of anthropomorphism, so you never know.  Anyhow, I think they really enjoyed the grounds, and hopefully are giving us the benefit of the doubt on the house-- at least for now!

Great Room sans lions
It was also the first time I saw the house without the lions in it, which was cool, since I could walk around unimpeded in my own living room for the first time.  The lions are on their pedestals next to the house, with a sign noting they need to be repaired, and people shouldn't sit on them.  (You never saw the pics of my kids sitting on them.)  (Honest, Bonnie, that was before we knew they were made of zinc!)