Sunday, August 19, 2007

Inspection fun

We had a fire inspector and a city inspector out this past week, and I'm starting to get a little disheartened about everything we need to do.. I understand conceptually why they want us to do things now - once the foundation work is done, there isn't anything else we'll need to go through the planning office for. If they want us to change out the ugly windows or bring the back deck up to modern code, the only leverage they have is this one big permit we're trying to get for the foundation. We have every intention of getting rid of the ugly windows (that no one but us can see anyway because they're in the back of the house!), and I would love to someday build a new, pretty deck like we built at our old house.. but they have no way of knowing that. And, dealing with the public at large, I imagine that the "just trust us, we'll do it right" line could only end badly.
But still.. we're just trying to fix up our house to make it a nice, safe place and trying to do it the correct, legal way is frustratingly difficult.

So, back to the inspectors..

The fire inspector came and looked and said he was fine with it as-is. No problem, he says. Then the city inspector arrived.

It's too close to the property line.
Which we knew was one of the big issues. Modern codes call for a much bigger setback than what we have. Because the back deck is the entire width of the house, and the house itself is too close to the property line, we expected this to be a discussion point. We were hoping that the deck was built early enough, and would be subject to the codes in effect at the time of its construction, that we wouldn't have to cut it back by 6 feet.
What I didn't know, was that it was a fire issue. So we were given a choice: Either cut it back 6' or build a one hour firewall on the outside edge. (I'll mention here in the most respectful way possible that the fire inspector didn't seem to mind.. and that the entire house which is sided with wood goes right up to the property line.. but the inspector didn't seem to care, so now it just seems like whining)
So, we don't have all the specifics of the firewall (how tall it needs to be, how far it needs to come out, what possible materials other than sheetrock would be acceptable..), that will all be in the inspector's official writeup. Which we haven't gotten yet. But the inspector seemed confused by why we didn't want to just cut it back. "Because we thought it was part of the house when we bought it. It's a nice, sunny place to sit. And we like it," apparently wasn't a convincing reason.

The rise of the stairs varies by more than the acceptable limit
The biggest problem here is that the concrete footing, which is formed into the first stair is WAY too high now that we've pulled out all the weeds and trash from the yard. The plan was to have that repoured with the main foundation, which it's attached to. But if we need to bring the stairs entirely up to code before we can do the foundation, then we'll have to pour all that separately (ask me how much I love mixing concrete.. go on, ask me!) and then have the foundation tied to it. Possible, sure.. but definitely less efficient and more difficult than just doing the foundation first and pouring all the concrete at once.

At this point in the discussion, the point were I was explaining how we definitely were going to repour the footing when we did the foundation, the inspector got all distracted by the crumbling foundation underneath the rotting sillplate and said "wow, you guys need to redo that foundation."

I almost screamed.

Instead, I said "Yes. I know. That's what we're trying to do. That's how this whole discussion of the back porch came up.. we're trying to get the permits to do the foundation, but now it seems that we need to bring this deck up to modern code before that will be possible. Which is frustrating"
To which he replied "hmm.. well, you'll need to get a permit before you can start the work on the porch."

The handrails have issues.
This was the other thing we knew we'd probably have to deal with. The ballisters under the handrail are too far apart, . We need to close up the gaps between them. Also, the height of the handrail varies substantially from the top, where it's taller than the minimum 36" it needs to be, to the bottom, where it's about 3" too short.

Everything else was pretty good. The railing around the porch was fine, except the bottom board needs to be raised by about an inch. The gap between the bottom two is just slightly more than is ok, and the bottom one is sitting right on the deck, which would trap water.. that'll be an hour or two of work, so it's not a big deal.
And all the framing was fine. Each joist has adequate support, and the sizing and spacing was fine.

So now we wait for the official report. Which I still hope (because my annoying optimism apparently has no bounds) will say something to the effect of: The deck was built early enough that the only thing you need to worry about are correcting the rise of those bottom 2 steps.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Serves no purpose whatsoever, except to make me smile!

I've been talking about doing this since we first moved in, but I finally found the Fairy Doors I was looking for! The lovely Henrietta is showing us the scale of the doors, which are covering the rat holes in the entryway baseboard.

As you can see, we have room for a whole block of doors to cover all the holes in this baseboard, but I didn't want to get too carried away ;)

Most of the doors I found online are wood (like the one at the end), but I like them a little more ornate, like these concrete ones.

These are intended to go outside, up against a tree.. the bottom of this last one isn't quite flat. Once we get our tools back from storage the door will spend some quality time with the grinder.

Friday, August 17, 2007

More Plans for the bottom floor.

Hello All,
Thought we would share with you the plans for the bottom floor of the house. If we can ever get the dang permits to start the job.
This first diagram is what the city calls a plot plan. It shows the footprint of your house in relation to your lot and your neighbors houses. The city of Alameda is pretty finicky about their plot plans but this one made them happy...well except for we made the lines too thin-I'm not allowed to show up there anymore with lines this thin....WE HAVE BEEN WARNED!!!!!

Here's a diagram of what was the existing first floor layout. All those transverse walls don't exist anymore. They came down when we did the gutting of that floor. We also removed the bathroom fixtures too.
That little chunked out area at the back of the house is what's causing all of our problems. That 15 by 6' area is what's triggering all of this major design review nonsense...I tell ya I'm getting super, super tired of it....

Here's what our proposed new downstairs will look like. We are going to a 9' rough ceiling everywhere down there. That way we don't have to do inset beams where we want to remove load bearing walls. With the beams below the joists we will have a lot more space to run heating and plumbing ducts and what not.
We are really looking forward to all the new shop space. With this setup we can build crazy metal art that's at least 8' by 7' and still get it out of the garage door. Its not shown in this diagram but in the bottom right corner will be where our spiral staircase we go.
Also that tiny bathroom will not be so tiny. We are going to push the wall out that the sinks on a couple of feet so it won't be so cramped. We like this setup because we have a bath and bedroom on the bottom floor for guests. And when we have outdoor parties we will have a bath on the same floor so folks don't have to trek upstairs to pee. Or when we are in the shop working we will not have to trek upstairs to pee either!!!

Monday, August 13, 2007

We're a Nuisance!

Permit Update
Dan has been spending every spare minute he's not at work down at the planning office trying to get things sorted out for the foundation permits. We're still hung up on the deck/landing in the back. The city is going to make us get the back deck 'amnestied.' That means we get to pay all the fees that would be due if we built the deck today, plus some penalty fees, and some fee fees, and some fees on the fees. To prove when the deck was built, we had to go get letters from neighbors stating when they remembered it being built. This week an inspector from the city will come by and inspect the deck and tell us how screwed we are. He can just sign off on it as-is (not very likely), tell us to upgrade a couple of things, or (this is my favorite) make us tear the whole thing out and turn it into basically a back stair/landing only. Funny thing was, EVERY person we talked to said the same thing: "The city built that deck!" But there's apparently no record of that, and since Leroy isn't around to testify (and the shady contractor who built it didn't leave his card: want an illegal deck? just call me!!), this is what we have to do. It's been a nice excuse to chat with the neighbors, and everyone has stories about our house, and especially about Leroy.

Tales of Leroy
Our next-door neighbor called up a friend on the city council because he thought it was silly for us to be jumping through all these hoops when all anyone wanted was for us to fix up this house.. his friend didn't have much info on the deck, but she brought by these 2 old articles from The Alameda Journal! The 2nd one isn't dated, but seems to have been from the week after the 1st.

The saddest part of the condition of the house is that poor Leroy lived like that for so long, rats and rotting food and all. We love how the building inspector in the article notes the "powerful stench" from a lack of sanitation and decomposing food. And that "debris was piled more than five feet high on all three floors of the house." But Leroy apparently was very active.. he went to the senior center for lunch every day, and in the evenings would "hit the bars, talking up the ladies." Although the house is legally a triplex, he lived here alone for 30 years after his wife died.

In addition to all the stuff in the house, Leroy filled the block with classic cars. Neighbors say you could always tell which cars were his, because "they looked like they were held together with chewing gum," and they were filled to brim with stuff. A couple people told us they thought he had only one battery for his dozen cars, and would walk down the street, battery in hand, when he wanted to drive a different car!

Another tale we heard of Leroy, was that about 10 or 15 years ago a "friend" of his kidnapped him, and was holding him hostage in exchange for Leroy signing over the house! And a couple people told us of a different time when a "big guy" sat out on the porch for a couple days because he thought the house was going to be his. The police had to escort the guy off the premises. Apparently in the past, three different people thought that they were going to con-vince Leroy to sign the house over to them. It's kinda crappy all these local people who were trying to take advantage of the poor old guy. It makes us wonder if there are still some shady characters lurking about with a grudge against us or the house because they think that the place should be theirs.

Everyone in the neighborhood has a story about the house, and about Leroy. And everyone is excited that we're living here and working on fixing it up. Now if we could just get started, everyone would be happy!

Monday, August 6, 2007

Out With The Old, In With The New

Engineer that is...

So this weekend has brought some interesting developments...our original engineer walked off the job on Sunday with a pissy-huffy voice mail to me... Least now I didn't have to fire him....

To Recap,

Back on the week of 5/4/07 this guy came to the house, 'listened' to what I wanted took measurements and was off. Two weeks later, plans materialized but they were completely wrong...he didn't check with me to make sure we were on the same page about what I wanted done...this is something that would re-appear over and over again for us...He took two months to do what he originally promised would take 2 weeks...and, guess what, the plans still were not right!!

The city plan-check engineer reviewed his plans and I had two other engineers peer-review them. They all said the same thing: unneeded, unnecessary structural steel bracing when standard engineered lumber would work just fine. When our engineer got the comments back from the city's plan checker he just gave up, threw in the towel - said he couldn't do it. This is after I offered to do all the actual cad drawing for him and all he would have to do is redraw some of the details... he just couldn't/wouldn't do it. So to re-recap: two months behind schedule and he backs out. That's just so super...

Not to self (and all of you) don't use an engineer who draws by hand-they don't like to do rewrites; don't use an engineer who does not have a history with the building dept. you are submitting to; and most importantly of all, don't use an engineer who lives 3hrs away!!! Get one whose office is in the community you are building in. At least you have a close by brick and mortar type place to go and drop off plans and speak to someone.

Looks like the new plan is going to be to drop the floor level on the bottom floor another foot for a 9' rough. That way we don't have to inset any of the beams and we will still have plenty of headroom-and it will feel less like a basement appt. with their lowish ceilings.

This brings a new complication in that we are going to have to have a sloped driveway with drainage constructed because the top-of-slab (tos) is going to be ~2' below sidewalk level. That means the driveway is going to have to slope 2' in 12' which isn't bad at all. The city is going to require more plans for this....yay more work for me...This also means a new garage door. I am hoping to convince the planning dept to add this to my current design review. I want to use one of those roll-back garage doors that look like carriage doors from the outside. It will keep the look of the original door but give us more functionality.

Annnnd the zoning-planning desk won't approve my new foundation till I get the back deck (which was built without permits) retroactively approved by the building dept...thats so super....

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Permit Update

First off I have to ask

Wyoming and Mississippi why do you hate us so?

We have readers in every state in the union besides you guys? Because we are both dorks Irene has Google analytics tracking the blog site and it has this super cool map view where you can see where everyone is checking your site from. It shows people checking the site pretty regularly from everywhere besides wyoming and mississippi (I'm not even going to capitalize them!). Nobody from either of those states has ever, ever looked at out blog!! What, you don't like old houses? You don't like people fixing up their own houses? Sheesh.

Permit Updates:
Got a nice call from my planner with the city today. He looked thru our packet and he said it all looked pretty good except that I forgot to note a the window in the dormer on the third floor on the window schedule (even though we are only working on the bottom floor). He said that he was going to notify the neighbors and start the 10 day notification period tomorrow! That's like super awesome fast. Usually they take 30 days just to tell you if your packet is okay. He did it in exactly a week!! They must like us...

The building permits is another story....still have not heard back from the engineer yet as to what he wants to do about the plan checkers comments. I'm just about done with this guy and interviewed two new SE's today...They were honest and said that it would probably be faster and cheaper for me to get the original guy to finish instead of them having to start basically from scratch...this situation is causing much angst for me as I don't want to fire him but dang I don't feel like he's giving me much choice...

Need Contractor Recommendations
If you live in the area or know someone who does and who could recommend a quality contractor to us for the following trades please let me know.

  1. We need an electrician to upgrade the main panel from 100 to 200amps. I'll do all the interior wiring myself but I am scared to mess with the service entrance.
  2. We need a quality roofer. Right after the foundation is done we want to get the roof redone before the rains come at the end of October. This job is going to be a complete tear off and they are probably going to have to fix some framing issues.
  3. We need an HVAC contractor. We would really love to get a quality installation done of a gas forced air heating system before it gets too cold.
  4. Insulation Contractor: We really want to do a closed cell spray foam insulation deal in the attic after the roof is fixed.
  5. Plumber: We want to install a Rinnai gas tankless water heater. Unfortunately Rinnai won't honor the warranty unless a licensed plumber installs it...super lame. We need to find a plumber who has installed several as they are unique and require special knowledge.

Now before y'all think we are selling out and paying people to do the work instead of doing the work ourselves just hold on. This is our dream list but honestly we will probably do everything on it ourselves besides the roofing and service upgrade.