Renovating the Vacation House—Part 2


The second secret of renovation. Unplanned events will ruin your budget. It was around this time that what the inspector didn’t inspect or tell me about rose up to bite me. I arrived one day in that rainy spring, drove onto the driveway, opened the gate, and discovered sinkholes in the gravel drive above the creek. Large sink holes.  Big enough for a person to drop through into the black void below.  I examined them. If I was careful, maybe I could drive the car across and miss the holes. I put my foot next to one. It held. I looked down and my mind turned it into a black hole sucking in anything that touched its edge. But I could see the creek next to the drive and knew it was maybe 6 feet down. This was not a celestial vortex, merely a sink hole.

I contemplated backing my car and making a run for it. I’ve seen cop shows where, during the high speed chase, one car jumps over a large obstacle in the road. Surely with sufficient momentum I could jump the holes. Then I thought about what was even more likely to happen to me. Insufficient momentum would leave my car stuck in the holes 67 miles from home. I envisioned the wrecker pulling my car out with broken tie rod ends or some other major problem. And even if I did somehow make it across the creek, would that crossing enlarge the sinkholes and leave me trapped on the other side? And if they didn’t enlarge, would my car get stuck on the way out when I was tired with night approaching? And what would my husband say? I was afraid he would say that the whole thing had been a mistake. So I left my car at the end of the drive and, in multiple trips, carried my paint cans and lamps on foot up to the cabin for my day’s work.

When I left that day, I stopped at Shelley’s Nursery, a local nursery and landscape business and asked if they could repair the culvert damage. They could and would but they couldn’t get to it until summer when the creek was down to a manageable level and it would cost more than any single item or job I had planned. There was nothing else to do. I put my contractor on hold, put large deliveries on hold, and I tore things apart and ripped out carpet and painted and installed a security system and took care of all of the small things I could. I carried lamps and tables up the hill and carried trash back down. At least I had one working toilet and one working sink (not in the same room as the toilet) and a refrigerator and microwave. It was late July before the culvert was repaired and September before my contractor could get in and finish. I did tell my husband about the culvert the first time he saw the place in November. “How much did it cost?” he asked. “You don’t want to know,” I said. And he said nothing in response so I knew he really did not want to know.

That was the standard for all our renovation conversations. I would tell him about some problem and he would ask, “how much did it cost?” I would say, “you don’t want to know.” And there it would end.

Again, in September I experienced  “first picked bad contractor” rule all over again. My personal warning is that when I start “helping” the contractor by telling them things they ought to already know, I have picked a bad one. I have one other indicator. When the contractor tells me he doesn’t like what he’s doing, I know there is a problem. If I had more sense, perhaps I would have fired the contractor right away for knowing less than I do and hating what he was doing. But somehow compassion (if that’s what it was) won out and I let the contractor continue even after I discovered that he couldn’t figure out how to attach a drain pipe, didn’t know that bathroom circuit breakers aren’t rated for enough amps to run  power tools, couldn’t correctly identify hot and cold water lines, didn’t know how to control drywall dust, failed to answer phone calls, told me he hates working inside, and then walks off with the keys never to be seen again or heard from again.

My second contractor was competent albeit a little forgetful. But’s that’s OK because he laid the laminate floor competently, fixed my electrical problems and told me he wouldn’t do something I asked because it was unsafe and would lead to long-term problems. He was clean, competent and told me more than I needed to know. This is a contactor I can trust. And because he lives in the neighborhood, he tells me things about the area that I would not have learned otherwise. I expect to be able to provide him with many projects over the years to come.

Did you think I was finished with renovations when the floors were in and everything worked? I don’t think renovations ever cease! The word renovation means renew. So from the basics to make the cabin habitable to those less basic things which make it comfortable, they all bring newness to it. I try to make it better than new. This year the floors, next year the roof, and who knows what might be in store for the future!

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