Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Not For The Faint of Heart

I keep waiting for a fun moment (and one which isn't overwhelmed by one sort of stress or another) to tell you about how fantastically my reno is coming along. I've decided I might as well just get on with it, cuz the fun part has yet to materialize.

If you follow me on Instagram (and you should, cuz I take lots of photos), you've seen a few pics. BTW, that's as close to my house as I've got, in real life, in months. Sure, Scott's there daily because, apparently it doesn't matter how much you spend on a reno, you end up managing the job. Seriously, and sadly, I have yet to encounter a person in construction who didn't disappoint me in some way or another. (Wait - I had an awesome plasterer who used to be in this band. I loved him and now he's retired.) The construction industry is profoundly broken in Toronto. I'm not quibbling about the quality of work, but if I told you how much we're spending - and how much we're doing - and how FREAKIN' engaged we are (and I don't mean like evil micro managers, I mean, you give us a job and we meet, nay exceed, your needs and direction), you'd be on my side.

I don't do things badly. Allow me to clarify: I do things as well as is possible within the realm of my abilities, which are not negligible. And, if I'm paying you almost twice the amount that my original fucking house cost, I expect the same of you.

Fortunately, I'm never doing anything construction-related again, after this (although Scott has some exotic pipe dream about creating a studio on the laneway). He can have that studio as soon as I forget about, and pay off, this reno. No prob. What's keeping me going is that, once this is done - and done well - I can revel eternally in the dinner party stories it's going to net. I can see myself moving from that phase of life in which I advise about the miseries of parenting into the one in which I warn everyone, dramatically, to just go buy a luxury condo.

So far, we've eaten into our healthy contingency fund with gusto having discovered 3 unanticipated issues. Two are foundation-related (and we knew this would be the source of any serious trouble that might arise) and one has to do with the fact that my house was apparently being held up by toothpicks and newspaper. As you can imagine, none of these issues has been a cheap fix. When it comes to the foundation (and the load-bearing beams), one does not fuck around. I was so hoping I might, at some point in my ownership of this second child home, be able to throw all the money at the fun stuff. Ah, dreams.

In truth, were I to do all of the things I really want to do (in the price point of my choice) - without increasing my non-basement square footage by one cubic inch - I'd be on the hook for 800K. Maybe more. And that's just an insane amount of money to throw at a wood-frame row house that's 120 years old - on top of all of the other renos I've done, that is, and the original cost of the home (which was, mercifully, reasonable for its day). To clarify: My budget is NOT 800K.

I also feel the need to clarify that, despite my modern-style crassness on the money-talk front (and I'm one of those people who tells it like it is, if not in great detail on the internet), I am not a woman of unlimited means. No doubt, I have a good career and I've made some sensible investments, but I will be paying this off without a trust fund. To wit: I'm starting to reconsider that whole climbing up the executive ladder thing... I know that the likelihood is high I will see ROI and, yet, it is to be confirmed.

The other day, as my husband spoke with our neighbours about the latest way in which we would be utterly responsibly, directly improving the value of their home, he almost started to cry. Every time the phone rings, every time the rain starts - and it's fucking epic, like we've never seen before - we wonder what's coming next.

Of course, all of the other stressors of life - our work, parenting a challenging near-adult, pain (in my case), being displaced - don't really improve the situation.

I wish I could show you my new window design, with excitement - because Scott and I designed it ourselves and it's really fucking chic - but I'm too absorbed in the dirt to go there. And today I learned that we probably can't order the windows (that take months to arrive) until the framing is up (which should have been well before now) because, given the nature of the design, said windows might not fit perfectly otherwise.

We don't even have footings in the ground.

It costs 5K a month to live elsewhere, while I continue to pay all of the bills that go with my regular life and home, and every time we come across a challenge, the clock on our return is reset.

Our one non-negotiable, the deciding factor in our choice of builders, was: Get this done on time. If we need to spend more, we'll consider it. If you need answers from us, just call. We are decisive, we are responsive, we are knowledgeable and we do research. We have a fucking structural engineer and architect on speed-dial. We will not hold this up. We are motivated.

Not that anyone will admit this to us, but at this point, I'm pretty sure the duration of this project may expand by 50%. And, while I can't blame the builders for the act of God that is weather, I can blame them for losing my crew (over the 6 weeks it rained least this season) because they didn't have the wherewithal to make a decision that would have kept the train on track.

Am I being catastrophist? Oh, my friends, you do not even know the depths of my catastrophism. It's an art-form. I mean, I'm a lady with an anxiety disorder and a heart condition. I'm not in a happy place right now and I'm ok with that.

Am I being unfair to the builders? On reflection - and you know that's my thing - I believe that I am NOT being unfair. But you'll never know. No question, I do righteous indignation like no one you've ever met especially once I've decided you're an idiot. But before I'm unfair, I'm strategic. I'm not short-sighted enough to risk my relationships when things are in play. I mean, I'm a negotiator in my day job. I got this.

So the project marches on. I'm exceedingly grateful to say that, 3 days ago, when the latest crisis occurred, the firm did what we hired them to do. They kept us informed, honestly - and Scott and the architect created a path forward in two hours. (Why the builders didn't come to us with a solution is another story, but I'm not going to waste my time on that disappointment.) I'm also grateful to say that they've made some extremely impressive headway on the foundation (and they're doing good work). Maybe we've forged a new relationship. I'm willing to accept that possibility with gratitude, even if my trust and respect is eroded.

When I had a kid, and I realized that it was way more stressful that I ever could have envisioned, I knew I would never do it again. I understood that I was not suited to it, despite my love for my child (which I feel is obligatory to say, though I sense it should stand to reason).

If you were to ask me - and trust me, everyone does - do I wish I hadn't undertaken this? Do I wish I'd sold my house and moved elsewhere and left all this bullshit to someone else? I can't say my answer is yes.

I am not having fun. I am a bitch much of the time and I'm frequently freaked out. But some part of me knows I can do this. I do believe, fundamentally, that this project is going to work out - if not on the smooth trajectory of my choice. I do believe, deep in my heart, that I will make this home beautiful because I've put my stake in the game - and frankly, because I am an artist and technician at my core. Plus I've got fucking good taste. So, on with the show.


  1. Having nearly been broken by bastarding gardeners doing a project that is infinitesimally small compared to this reno, I cannot begin to imagine the stress this is putting you under. You must be about ready to implode. I'm trying to convince hubby to lift the roof on the garage which houses our ensuite. He's not playing ball. I think he might have some sense! All I can say is that it's better than doing it piecemeal as we're having to do. Having floors and foundations that hold up is a Very Good Thing. And once it's never have to do it again. Or move. In the meantime, good wine is your friend.

    1. Every reno is allowed to stress out the home/garden owner as much as it must so I completely empathize with your situation and can imagine how you're losing your mind. I know you can't imagine it right now, but in a couple of weeks your gorgeous house is going to have an awesome garden and I want to see photos!!! Also - I hear you on the wine.

  2. I used to think I could handle a renovation on my own little place just fine. I have, after all, project managed the conversion of a commercial office space into a medical clinic, on time and on budget. Your post makes clear that renovating your own home while working full-time at another job is another matter.

    I can believe 800k would be the cost for your ideal reno. It's not an outlandish number in an expensive metropolitan area. In the San Francisco Bay Area, similar amounts get sucked out of homeowners all the time. HOWEVER, it is a big life event to spend those bucks.

    Please make self-care a priority.

    1. I also think, to some extent, when you do your job it's your job. You (hopefully) leave it when you go home. But when it's your home somehow, even if you're not living there, it hits hard. And really, there aren't enough hours in the day! I am making self-care a priority and thank you for the reminder. Check back in a few days to hear more about that. :-)

  3. *Insert sad face here*

    As I sit here in my smallest bedroom - (aka office slash closet) next to my exposed bathroom shower & pipes through the wall, I feel your reno pain.

    The rain has been so bad to you this year that I expect to see more rain every time I see your new Instagram post. :( Your reno is being a complete pain in the butt to you - I'm so sorry.
    I hope you never have a day where you regret what you're doing. It WILL be amazing & it can't rain every day!

    1. I know that, of all people who can relate to my challenges, you are at the top of the list! Thank you for your comment Liz. I often think of the work that you and your husband are undertaking - with total awe and respect. You're doing the hard work - living in a renovation space that will continue to be a work in progress for some time. But man, when you've finished that home it's going to be ALL you. You can take every bit of credit and you will understand that home as no one ever will, not even the original builders. xoxo