Fifteen people came to the Sullivan House over the weekend and catapulted us forward. The house I found at 11 AM Saturday morning was not the same house I left at 8 PM Sunday night. It was transformed from looking a broken building to a home that was being redecorated. The amount of work that was done was amazing.
The Sullivan House has matching, original handcrafted wood trim around every door and window in the entire house. The wood is gorgeous, and it’s a very bold and wide trim. In fact, I’m resolved to removing the paint from every inch of it in the entire house because it’s a crime for it to be covered.
In the renovated kitchen and bathroom, we need new trim to replace pieces that were lost, broken, or no longer cut correctly from before the renovation. We have sources for trim, of course, but it will be a poor substitute for the original. In the kitchen, especially, it will stick out like a sore thumb against the originally-trimmed windows. Getting it professionally custom cut seems prohibitively expensive.
Does anyone out there have the ability to either produce custom cut trim or produce router bits for custom patterns? Of course, if someone has the actual rotary tool for producing custom trim (I’m forgetting the name presently) that would be amazing. Additionally, if anyone has skill at identifying and matching wood types, I’d appreciate help with that as well.
I met our contractor Andy at the house this morning and we talked strategies and solutions for a lot of issues throughout the house. Smoothing walls, minor electrical fixes, appliance and cabinet installation, and door placements were some of the many things that came up. I notice a water leak in the upstairs near the rear chimney, and a litany of smaller issues.
I had an agent from American Metal Roofs come out and check out the Sullivan House. I’ve been interested in metal roofs for a while now. My uncle originally mentioned them to me after discussing them with my cousin, who’s an architect. They are essentially permanent insofar as they’ll never need to be replaced again in my lifetime, and they absorb far less heat. You can also get them in various styles, like vintage shake shingles to match the original style of my house, and they look damn good.
As the months drone on, with some weekends bringing big improvements and some none at all, we find ourselves in a rut. “Going to the house” becomes something of a chore. It’s just a thing we do, as the passions fade and the work never seems to end.
Some days, we go to the house and do almost nothing at all except walk around looking for something to do. The most miniscule things derail us: Oh, a wire didn’t get run, oh a tool was lost, oh we didn’t buy a tool we needed, oh we’re waiting for this… or that… or this…
Since this project began, one thing has been consistent: The times we really got a ton of work done were the times we were motivated and kickstarted by friends and family; when people show up to help, things really move quickly.
The rut manifested as the house becoming a job, or a “project”, in our minds. Other than ploddingly slow progress on the bathroom and kitchen, it still hasn’t felt like much more than a big job site. The things we do are things that don’t accelerate the move-in date. We repair walls. We move stuff from one room to another in a large-scale game of musical chairs. We do landscaping. We run network cables. We’re not contractors, and our expertise isn’t in things like HVAC systems and electrical.
What we needed was a morale boost.
What we needed was a party. Continue reading
Some friends showed up for the weekend, our contractor Andy returned from his trip to the motherland, and suddenly we’re back to ludicrous speed at the Sullivan House. We’re aiming to have the kitchen and bathroom functional by Memorial Day weekend, and we’re well on our way. Check out the renovation log for what we’ve done the last couple weeks.
The last of the “junk” left by the previous owner exited the house yesterday, which felt like a big milestone. We’re getting ready to put up the kitchen ceiling, and the bathroom is almost ready for that magical moment we install a working toilet in the house. My current project is clearing the main room and office to prep for painting. As usual, we’re figuring it out as we go.
Two rooms have sold in the second & final round of sponsorships, but there’s still quite a few spaces available if you want your name to forever grace the halls of our new community headquarters.
My uncle visited again last week. It was his first time in the house since just before I bought it, and he was duly impressed with the improvements that had been made. It made me remember what things were like that day back in January, and it made me feel a little better about our progress. We’ve really done a lot in three months, but it never feels like enough when considering how much is left to do.
These days, a lot of things are moving between the two houses. Outdoor furniture and supplies head downtown, and left-behind junk for our impending yard sale heads to the suburbs. We typically only get to work on the house on the weekend, but it’s usually for 4-8 hour stretches when we do.
So how’s the Sullivan House coming along? Here’s a quick run down of what remaining tasks we currently know about. Before we can move in:
- Bathroom needs tiling, painting, appliances and fixtures installed, and radiator adjusted and installed.
- Kitchen needs tiling, painting, countertops, sink & cabinet & appliances installation, radiator installation (including re-running cut copper lines), a gas line for the stove, and ceiling & light installation.
- Ground floor needs more electrical ground (office, dining room) and CAT-6 runs
- Exterior requires repairs to the fascia and sophets, new rain gutters, and a ton of primer and paint.
- Chimneys need repairs, liners, and a new damper.
- Boiler / water heater needs to be installed.
- Basement and carriage house need to be further emptied of junk while we have the dumpster.
Other than that, we have a litany of other tasks ahead that are not necessarily going to be finished before we move in:
I am so very tired right now, but it’s time to write again. I’ve been quiet here for six weeks and now I have a lot to say.
Since the major events of St. Patrick’s weekend, progress has been significantly slower on Avery Street. I’ve been swamped at work and met someone special in February, so I’ve been pretty limited with how much time I spent at the house. We put in a big effort every Saturday, but otherwise I’m usually restricted to coordinating work and purchases. Brian’s been awesome about scheduling & meeting our myriad experts (heating specialists, chimney sweeps, electrician, and plasterer) these last few weeks. It’s been our contractor Andy who’s probably putting in the most time, but he just left for a three week trip home to England. Luckily, just as he left the rest of us sprung back into action!
The past week brought days of heavy rain in Detroit. It was gloomy and dark, and the cold came back.
This was a perfect opportunity to test out all the basement foundation repairs we made earlier in the month, though, so it’s not all bad. After two straight days of downpour, I went into the basement with bated breath.
Every area that we patched was dry.
Very soon after we closed on the house, my old friend Josh from Coca-Cola reached out to me and said he’d be happy to send the work crew along some VitaminWater and SmartWater to help keep us hydrated.
Little did I know he’d be sending cases of it out.
Thanks to the awesome sponsorship, all of our friends during the huge Icrontic week-long renovation adventure had drinks at the ready. And hey, since this March has been the freakiest hottest Michigan March I’ve ever lived through so far, they needed it.
We had bottles of VitaminWater Zero in three different flavors and SmartWater. Luckily, the fridge works so they were cold and available whenever anyone needed one. Our contractors and friends were all appreciative of Josh’s generosity.
Thank you Coca-Cola and Glaceau for the awesome sponsorship. Our house now contains a little piece of love from you guys!
This past week has been a blur, and it almost defies explanation to people who don’t know us or our friends yet.
The best way to say it is this:
The Icrontic community is the greatest group of friends that have ever formed up around a website.
One of the nice things about our other gig, Icrontic, is that it puts us in touch with a lot of high-tech companies. I usually go to the Consumer Electronics Show every January to cover it for the community as a member of the press.
This year, I got to take a good look at a very intriguing product called the Power2U by Newer Technology. The Power2U immediately struck my eye as something intensely useful for the modern homeowner: It’s a standard 15amp UL Listed power outlet, but it also has two 5V USB charging ports built in. That means you don’t need to take up outlets with wall-warts to charge your USB-based devices.
Remember back when we were testing the plumbing in the bathroom and said that the only “good” option was to raise the bathtub four inches?
Scratch that. We found a better option; we’ve re-designed the entire bathroom layout.
Our contractor, Andy, cursed and muttered under his breath, and had a few choice names for us (undoubtedly in cockney slang that we wouldn’t understand anyway), and then with a grin, shrugged and tore into re-plumbing the entire bathroom drainage system.
It took him a couple of hard days, but now we have an ideal bathroom layout.
We had an extremely productive weekend at the Sullivan house. Our friend Eric Ryder came to help and we got two solid days of work done. A lot of progress was made on the basement (with still a ton left to do), the kitchen was stripped down the rest of the way, all four floors of the back staircase was cleaned, we replaced the security floodlights in the backyard, and more.
Another friend Ryan Perry came by to help Saturday, and together we engineered a way to get the two broken 400-pound radiators down to the first floor. It required a a 10 foot 2×8 board, a 4 foot 4×4 board, and a lot of grunting, but we got them down with only trivial damage to the front staircase and a pinched finger. That no one broken a bone or tore anything is a miracle.
This has been one of the warmest Michigan winters I can ever recall, but the days are still short, the nights still long, and the pace still slow.
Things are progressing, albeit slowly. We’re finding a new work/life/renovation balance; having this giant new project has understandably thrown us all for a bit of a loop and we’re all discovering a new rhythm.
Our electrician is still working on the upstairs outlets. I’m not extremely thrilled with the compromise that has to be made (essentially, we could either take walls down and make new runs or run external wire harnesses that look more appropriate for a corporate cubicle wall than a Victorian home). The cheap option had to win out; our renovation budget is not unlimited. For now, we’ll have to deal with ugly wiring in our bedrooms until such time as we can revisit the idea of doing electrical properly. Think 5+ years.
I can’t tell you what a relief it is to have power on at the house.
It took a dozen calls to DTE and two weeks, but electricity has been restored to the house. In the meantime, we were burglarized twice, I lost entire days of work due to being restricted to daylight hours at the house, and there was precious few repairs we could do. The house was cold and dark most of the time.
We had our third breakin this week. At this point, the intruder didn’t even take anything. After some walking around and some basic investigation, this is what I surmise:
The intruder hopped the wooden fence in the backyard. Footprints didn’t come from the alley, they came from the east, along Calumet. The entry point is the same point that it has been which tells me that this is probably the same person doing the intrusion.
Only one footprint (a left footprint) led from the fence in back up to the brick porch. This means that the jumper possibly twisted an ankle and hopped up to the brick wall.
The plumbing project has had its ups and downs. With the help of our awesome contractor/plumber/handyman Andy Davis, we’ve gotten the core plumbing runs connected. We now have modern (and more importantly, not-worth-stealing) PEX pipe runs from the basement to the first floor bathroom and kitchen. We cut off some unnecessary galvanized pipes in the basement, capped off what we don’t need for now, and generally got a grip on the cold system to the point where if we need to run some water during construction, we can do that (although the drain isn’t fixed yet: Waiting on power for that).
I really can’t believe the amount of help we’ve already had since we bought the one in Woodbridge. A dozen friends have already shown up on short notice (and on Superbowl weekend no less) to help us clear out the house. Several more have given ridiculous amounts of money to help buy materials. Thank you so much.
We’ve set up goals to sponsor each room in the house if you wanted to help out and weren’t sure how. We want to make sure everyone who gives like that is recognized. We set a goal of $10,000 total for all the rooms combined. We basically made that number up and are painfully aware that it may be crazy talk.
Of course, everything’s more complicated than we thought.
A lot of pipes were copper, and the thieves were very thorough. The bathroom was devoid of plumbing save the drain lines. “Well, it’s not the end of the world,” our contractor Andy tells us. We get an initial run up to the bathroom and the rest of the lines blocked off. Essentially, we can now fill the toilet with a hose. Ryder and I flush it for the first time (evacuating the parting gift left behind by the movers). Meanwhile, in the basement, Brian and Andy are watching the lines. A trickle of water seeps out of the floor at the sewage line.
“Andy, that’s piss.”
“I think you’re right.”
Well, it was an ordeal, but Lincoln closed on the house yesterday.
Today, we began our new life by heading over to clean up some trash and secure the premises.
We pulled up to the house and got out of the car; within seconds a bubbly older lady peeked her head out of the house across the street, and with great hope in her voice, asked, “Did you buy that house?”
When Lincoln said, “Yes”, she screamed and bounded out of her house, arms raised in jubilation, ran across the street and threw her arms around him. Mind you, this is a total stranger.
“Welcome to the neighborhood!” she bubbled. She turned and threw her arms around me.
“Hello. Thanks!” I managed, even as she squeezed the air out of my lungs.
She introduced herself as “the neighborhood’s grandmother”, told us about her family, her dogs, her cats, the neighborhood, the neighbors, and kept telling us how lovely everyone was and what a great neighborhood we chose. She is a transplant from Oregon.
She discovered from the Detroit Public Library that the house was owned originally by Daniel Sullivan and that it was built in 1899, and that the address used to be different. Apparently Detroit redid their addressing scheme in 1920-1921.
The closing is scheduled for Tuesday. Today we visited with an electrician to get some estimates of what we’re getting into. While there, we discovered that some previous tenant was clearly interested in the history of Woodbridge in general and the house itself.
Good news first: We confirmed the knob and tube electrical work is disconnected and is not what’s powering the house. There are already modern runs connected to the new circuit panel. He called an electrician to come by and get a better estimate of what changes are needed.
“I want you to be able to do this, but it will bankrupt you. It’s not that it’s a tight budget, it’s an order of magnitude more than you can afford.”
I know he’s right. My uncle has changed his plans to be in Detroit today for an hour and see the one in Woodbridge. He has a tremendous amount of experience in real estate and investing. This, he assures me, is out of my grasp. I counter with my community and friends, their offers to help. Just last night, a member of Icrontic offered to fly out with his father for a week to assist with renovations. “Even with free labor, the materials will easily exceed what you can afford, and you’ll need licensed electricians and plumbers. You’re looking at three to six months of renovation.”
Today’s visit to the one in Woodbridge was far more mundane than The Burgling, but all the more stressful because it was my first visit alone. I carried a larger sheath knife and a larger light this time, and opted to wear sneakers for running ability.
I went with the intention of replacing our haphazard barricades with sturdier fixtures, but the cold and near-dusk paranoia reduced me to another grounds inspection. I confirmed all our barricades were secure, and I added “tells” to the house to make it clear if anyone had passed thru the main hallway or either staircase. My uncle is coming to visit the house Friday, and I’d really like it if he didn’t get shot.
I visited the house again today with a friend, expecting to give a tour and measure rooms. What I got instead was a stark reminder about what it means to rehabilitate a property in Detroit. After a meal at the pub, we arrived shortly before dusk.
I knew something was wrong when I saw the broken carving. The day before, it was injured but respectably resting on the stairs. Today, it was in several pieces on the ground. A few paces away, I saw it: broken glass, and a door ajar. Someone ripped the screen from the outer door, punch a hole in the door glass, and knocked away the plank that had kept it wedged shut.
Somewhere in the house, there was a faint thud. Was it our imagination?
I have no experience in home buying, loan securing, home repairing, or home ownership. I do not have a millionaire’s resources, a rich family, or high-level connections. What I have is just enough money to buy a run-down property in Detroit. That, and a hundred awesome friends.