Loose Ends

Loose Ends

the creative impulse gone awry

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Things I Learned from Construction Part 1

This is only part one because, let's face it, we have a lot of work to do on the blue house and I'm sure I'll continue to learn from the process of having my house ripped apart and then (slowly) putting it back together.

As I mentioned in the last post, there was lead glazing on the tiles in the kitchen so we felt strongly about not demolishing the walls ourselves.  Josh and I are truly not fans of lead poisoning ourselves, so, professionals who knew how to deal with this stuff were definitely a must.  There was also some electrical stuff on that wall, and I'm also not a fan of electrocution, so you know.  And even though I fancy myself a bit of a smarty-pants when it comes to these things, I really wanted to make sure that our suspicions were correct that the wall was NOT load bearing.  Turns out even the pros weren't completely sure and said there was a tiny chance that once they opened up the ceiling that they would have to change plans.  Luckily everything went (mostly) as planned.

I look back now and realize that as a complete noob I set myself up for some pretty big disappointments.  My first wrong assumption was that keeping lead dust out of the non-construction portions of your house does not mean that you will keep all dust and construction mess from creeping in.  Plaster dust is a light floaty bitchy little dust and it will fly out in all directions no matter what you do.  I had a HUGE panic attack when I came home during the first afternoon of construction and there was plaster dust on every surface of the first floor and half way up the stairs to the 2nd floor.  Did I know it was just plaster dust at the time?  No, that would have been too easy.  The crazy mommy in me (we all have one lurking in there) burst forth with very little warning and no time flat I had Josh coming home from work and bringing me lead dust tests, the contractors trying to talk me off my ledge, and the children quarantined in the upstairs with whatever portable electronic devices that were charged. 

While the girls were playing upstairs, the people we hired - who were certified to work with lead - told me everything was fine, plaster dust is not lead dust, that the tiles came out in large pieces, etc.  I surface tested to be certain - the girls are just too precious to risk that kind of thing - and when it all came back negative for lead I was able to relax a little.  But not before doing enough emotional damage to make me twitchy and edgy for the duration of the project. 

I was completely unprepared for there to be dust everywhere on our first floor.  There are a few doors, to the playroom and the bathroom - I didn't even close them because I just assumed that containing lead dust meant containing *all* dust.  I didn't even remove cushions or curtains, or clean up the clutter in the living room.  I didn't even take things off of the kitchen counters!  There was dust in everything, on everything.  What a mess!  Blankets, toys, our electronics, I was cleaning for days.  I was also really embarrassed about unleashing Neurotic Mommy on the workmen - that is a side of me usually reserved only for Josh.  Hey, he gets the worst and the best, what can I say.  So I also felt really vulnerable and embarrassed by the whole experience. 

So Lesson 1: Clean everything on the level of the house where the construction is occurring and remove as much as you can from a half floor in either direction.  Close down everything you can, tape it up, cover it with sheets, or better yet move it.  You know what's more annoying that moving a bookcase full of books?  Hand dusting all of the books because they are covered with plaster dust. 


I also learned that I'm a complete mess when it comes to these things.  I wrongly assumed that I have control over the situation because I'm the one writing the checks, but these folks aren't living in your house and they only care so far as you don't complain to their boss.  It is unreasonable to assume that they will care as much about the state of your house as you do.  They do this for a living and are accustomed to the dust and mess.  I, clearly, was not. 

For Phase 2 of the Kitchen De/Construction I swung way onto the other side of the spectrum and cleaned the house to the point of my own exhaustion.  I made myself sick trying to get the house completely in shape.  Literally, sick.  I was so obsessed with getting ready for construction that I gave myself a migraine.  I have a bullet list of triggers for my migraines and I basically used it as a recipe - every single one of them.  Go me!  You know what's less fun than hand dusting a bookcase of books covered in plaster dust?  A migraine. 

So Lesson 2: Ignore Lesson 1.  Do your best and let the rest go.  You are not in control of anything, so stop kidding yourself.  What you *can* do without killing yourself is good enough.  Get those doors closed!  Toss a sheet over the TV!  Awesome!  The house is generally dusty, so you know, plaster dust just makes it slightly more colorful.  A little effort will make things easier, but too much effort will make you a neurotic mess.  Above all, you can't avoid all stress when you start tearing apart your house, even when things go "smoothly" they won't feel all that smooth at the time. 

I'm hoping that by the time we decide to demo our only full bathroom to do the repairs necessary to un-gross-ify it (technical term for the kind of OHMYGOD state our bathroom lives in) I will have this all figured out and it will go a bit more smoothly.  My other big discovery is that our contractor - because our renovations haven't required much in the way of permitting - is basically a big secretary/coordinator.  There is a rhythm to these projects, remove surfaces of walls, do things inside walls, rebuild surface of walls, put stuff on walls, etc... I think I could manage the bathroom project without the contractor.  It will certainly save us a bit of money, since I work for free.  Then again, it is pretty gross, and I'm a bit nervous about the state of the subfloor under the tub.  But that is a project for next spring (at best) so I'm doing my best to not think too much about it right now.

I can't wait to tell you all about how Phase 2 went.  The (not quite finished) results are so awesome, and we're really happy with how it's turning out.

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