goals for 2011

Well, it’s the new year, and it’s time to think about resolutions and whatnot! I’m not making resolutions, per se, but I wanted to take some time to talk a little about our house goals for this year. Not sure what we’ll actually be able to accomplish before 2012, but here is a try.

1) Fix the backyard – February/March. This is important for water drainage issues, as well as bug problems. Also, I want to put up a clothesline to dry our clothes outside this summer.

2) Save up for the foundation repairs. The quotes we got ranged from $10,000 to $18,000. We have about $5k saved right now. The cheapest price is from a company that I hesitate to trust, as it was their botched estimate that convinced us to get this house to begin with – we wouldn’t have bought had we known the full extent of the damage. The most expensive price is unfortunately the price we think would actually fix everything, and fix it right. So, we need to look over the quotes again and decide which price we want to save up for. Our decision about that will affect how long it takes to save up the money, and whether we’re able to do it in 2011 or not.

3) Fix the kitchen. My reward for saving up for the foundation is to tackle the kitchen! Even though it might not make the most sense compared to all the other problems, it does make sense to have a nice kitchen for resale value, and it also affects my daily life probably the greatest. And it’s the most exciting for me. :-) As I work hard at saving money this year, I hope to brainstorm some wonderful plans to make the best use of the space. I’ll also need to come up with a realistic budget!

In between, we hope to tackle some little things in 2011. We want to replace all the light switches and electrical outlets so that they will all match. Also, I want to replace the blinds in the bedrooms. And if I can, I’d like to get new baseboards for the main level of our house. And last but not least, we need to either clean or replace the carpet in the den because the cats have pretty much destroyed it. Not sure what exactly to do about that, but I’d love to get that room back!

Right now I’m feeling positive about everything; we’ll see how long this lasts!



First off, I’m not doing very good about keeping my kitchen clean. :-) In my defense, I probably shouldn’t have started this on a weekend. We’ve been pretty busy, so I haven’t really paid much attention to the kitchen. We did, however, finally replace the light bulbs in the kitchen – we haven’t had light in there for several days because the light bulbs blew out and both of us were too lazy to fix it. (I know, I’m just being honest here.)

Tomorrow is Monday and hopefully I can get back on track.

Last week we got the estimates for fixing our foundation and they were as discouraging as we were afraid.

Company C sent their estimate. This was the company I was most impressed with. His solution was to rebuild the footing and use piers to put the house back up to its correct height, and keep it from sinking again. This would cost $18,230. He also recommended a water-proofing system, a vapor barrier, and two sump pumps to prevent water from collecting in the crawl space and causing any further damage – that totaled about $5,000.

Company A’s estimate was a bit more palatable, but still high. They wanted to just use piers to fix the problem, which from what several of the companies we’ve had out here have said it’s not good enough. Their estimate was $10,820. However, this company was the one that missed the extent of the damage a year ago. While it was somewhat hidden by the sun porch, I don’t think it was so hidden that a professional looking for problems wouldn’t have noticed. Their $5,400 estimate was what convinced us to get the house – we would have walked away if it had been any higher. So I’m a little ticked off at this company, and not sure that I really want to work with them.

Either way, we don’t have the money right now. We are still looking at any other possibilities, but I think we might have to go the old fashioned route and save up for it. (Unknown rich relative, now is the time to make your appearance!) One of the downsides to saving up for it is that it’s going to take so long. It’s impossible to tell how much longer it will be before it gets worse, but it’s not like we’re about to fall through our floor right now. In the time it will take to save for this repair, we will have other repairs to save for too: a new roof, a new hot water heater, replumb the house, and also a new car (as our current car will be too small for us shortly as our family grows). We sort of feel we are left between a rock and a hard place.

Since it will probably be several years until we’re able to repair this, we decided we should go ahead and use the money to fix the backyard and the water issues, in the hopes that this will keep the foundation from getting worse. I’m also thinking of some other minor repairs that I’ve been wanting to do – it would be nice to take care of it now. For example, putting all the insulation back into the crawlspace, as the weather has turned cooler here. Also, I have been wanting to get our HVAC serviced and our ducts cleaned – just to see if that helps keep our heating bills down this winter. (It’s so difficult to save money when you’re paying so much to heat the house! Our house isn’t very energy efficient.)

And just because I like to dream… I like to imagine what I would do if someone handed me $40,000. I like to think about fixing the foundation, replacing the windows, putting in a new HVAC unit that’s more energy efficient, getting all new non-rusty pipes, a new hot water heater… All these things would help keep our energy costs lower and make an impact on our quality of life! But…. Alas, I don’t have $40,000, so I will have to keep my dreams locked up and focus on reality.


consensus is not reached

So we had a third estimate for our foundation this morning. It seems that no one can agree on how to best fix it! Meanwhile, we (the non-experts) are left trying to sort through which company we believe the most.

The problem: In the back corner (underneath the closet at the back of our carport), the footing is completely cracked through. It is sinking in the ground, coming apart from the wall of the house. This has caused the entire back half of the main level of our house to dip – there is about 3″ from the center of that level to the back. The cause is most likely water flow – there is some debate about whether we have water issues in our crawlspace or not. I don’t think there is standing water, but maybe it comes in when it’s raining? I don’t know. I should take some pictures from inside the crawlspace about what’s going on.

Back before we bought the house – July 2009 – Foundation Repair Company A came and gave us an estimate – 6 piers would fix the problem, $5400. Based on this estimate, we decided to move forward with the house. (If we had known then what we know now, we would have walked away.)

Almost a year later, we finally have the money and get ready to solve the foundation problems. I call Foundation Repair and Waterproofing Company B. They come by and look at the crawlspace and say that piers are not going to solve the problem, that it’s an issue with the joist and we need a general contractor who works with wood. The fact that he said that to a potential client really resonated with me.

After that, we take down the porch that was on the back of our house and discover how bad the back corner really is.

Enter Foundation Repair Company C, who gave us a discouraging report about the problem and the cost to fix. Out of everyone I’ve met with so far, he impressed me the most – though he was also likely the most expensive (haven’t gotten official estimate yet). He spent a long time in the crawlspace, taking pictures that he then showed me. He pointed out that the footing is cracked all the way through, and we would need to rebuild the footing and then use the piers to jack the house back up to its proper position. To put the piers in, he would need to take out part of the carport floor and also remove the floor of the closet which is directly over the cracked footing. He also said there was evidence of water and erosion in the crawlspace, so he would waterproof the walls and put in a sump pump. Total cost was between $10,000 and $20,000 – he would speak with a structural engineer and get a more precise estimate.

Then we come back to Foundation Repair Company A. I called them again and explained that removing the sun porch revealed more damage, and I would like a new estimate. This guy came out last week and went through the crawlspace and took pictures to show me. He agreed that there was more damage than the initial estimate. He talked about piers, and said that he would need to remove the stoop outside our sliding glass door in order to put in the piers. I asked about the footing being broken, and he simply said, “It won’t move.” Tomorrow, he is coming back with a structural engineer to look again and then will give me the official estimate.

Today, I met with Foundation Repair Company D. He came and I showed him the back corner, where the most visible damage is. He looked at it and also peeked into the crawlspace and said that he didn’t think piers would solve my problem. He said we need a masonry specialist to rebuild the footing, which is something that their company didn’t do. He referred me to a guy he recommended. I mentioned what Company A told me, and he said that the piers would make it not move, but it wouldn’t be fixed correctly. He didn’t elaborate, so I’m not sure exactly what that means.

I intend to contact the masonry guy and get his opinion. The fact that two pier companies have said that they couldn’t solve it means a lot to me. Maybe I should do some reading about foundations and see if I can make a more educated decision, when the time comes. (Our goal is to get this taken care of before it gets too cold, so we can put the insulation back into the crawl space.)


discouraging news about the foundation

A few months ago, we had a guy come out to give us a quote on our foundation problem. At the time, I thought he was so nice and helpful. He told us his company’s solutions would be overkill for our problem, and I just needed a general contractor. We didn’t get any more estimates at the time because weren’t sure how to proceed. I couldn’t imagine why the guy wouldn’t have been honest with us. Paul then pointed out something. “It could be that the job was too small for them.” That was a valid reason, and gave me the motivation to make the necessary calls and schedule estimates.

So, I called 3 other companies and have estimates this and next week. The first one was today, and it was discouraging.

With the porch gone, you can see the foundation issues much more clearly. The biggest problem is this wall right here:
Foundation issues exposed
The far right of the wall goes to a closet at the back of our carport. Next to it is the dining room, and on the far left of that level is the kitchen. Underneath all those is a crawlspace.

Here is basically what I was told today. The back half of the main level of our house has sunk about 3 inches (measuring inside the house). The main culprit is the foundation wall in the back corner (see picture above). The guy wasn’t positive – he wanted to show it to a structural engineer – but he was pretty sure that the wall can’t be fixed, and would need to be replaced. This is just the foundation wall that runs along the back of the closet by the carport. Once replaced, about 6 helical piles would be needed to jack up the house to its correct position. Unfortunately, part of the carport floor will need to be removed to put the piles in. I was also told there is a lot of water damage in the crawlspace, which may have been caused or worsened by the floods from last year (a year ago, it rained heavily for 8 days straight). If that’s true, then that would explain why the estimate that we got 14 months ago didn’t reflect this extent of damage.

He also said something about waterproofing the entire crawlspace and putting in a sump pump. He showed me pictures of how the ground is all eroded under there. I asked him for ballpark estimate, and he said it would be more than $10,000 and probably less than $20,000. He will get a more specific estimate back to me in the next few days.

Whew, this is a lot to take in and we’ll need to figure out what to do. We obviously don’t have the cash on hand for that, and it concerns me to wait too long to deal with this problem – saving up $10-20,000 will be very difficult to do quickly. I am eager to hear what the other two engineering companies have to say, to see how their estimates compare.

I will keep you updated!


moving forward

So, some updates on what’s going on as we try to move forward with our immediate plans.

  • I found out that we do need a permit from the city to demolish the add-on. I got the necessary paperwork and will be filling it out today. I hope the permit isn’t too expensive.
  • I called around and found that there’s no official documentation of our property lines. One option was to rent a metal detector and see if we could find the metal stakes that surveyors usually bury in the ground. However, because we’re pretty sure the neighbor’s fence is partly on our property, we decided to go ahead and pay for a survey so we could be sure before we approach our neighbors.
  • I set up a survey for Monday. Yikes, that was more money that we didn’t expect to spend, but such is life, isn’t it?

Once the survey work is complete, then we will apply for the “building permit”. Once we’re okay with that, we’ll get my uncle to start taking down the porch. In the meantime we’ll start stripping the porch of things that we want to Freecycle.

Here’s the plan for the rest of the summer, hoping to complete this before it gets cold in the fall. I’m praying that we have enough money.

  • Demolish porch and deck. (My uncle and cousin will be helping)
  • Get quotes from contractors about the foundation. (I’ve already researched a list of contractors to call.)
  • Repair the foundation, put insulation back in the crawlspace. (Need to research about the best way to go about doing that. Also, need to install a vapor barrier.)
  • Get rid of our shed and buy a smaller one. May need to do the backyard in between the two. (Research setback laws. From what I’ve read so far, it seems we might be very limited as to where we can put a shed on our property.)
  • Grade the backyard and put in sod. (Will get quotes from landscapers for this after the foundation is taken care of.) This is essential to fixing the water problems because our backyard dips in the middle of the yard, so the water can’t naturally flow to the creek that’s behind our yard.

This will take care of the foundation problem, and also the water problem. (And taking care of the latter will help prevent future foundation problems!) An added benefit is that we’ll be able to actually enjoy our yard, free of mosquitoes and weeds. I’m really excited about these projects! I hope it doesn’t take too long to complete this list! And I hope we don’t have too many unexpected expenses, because already we are cutting it tight. (And having a $526 after-insurance hospital bill doesn’t help!) One potential expense is our fence – I’m hoping we can continue to use what is up right now (not sure how that works with grading the property, etc.), but I don’t want to ignore the possibility of having to replace it.


where is our property line?

We had another estimate today, and also my uncle came out to inspect the porch to see how hard it would be to have him take it down.

First, the estimate was with a company that deals with foundations and water damage. The guy was really, really nice. He didn’t criticize me for the condition of our property, or my inexperience with all this stuff. (As compared to the landscaper yesterday.) He took a careful look around and agreed that taking down the porch would be the best thing. He also went through our crawlspace and said that the main supporting beam was sound; it was the pieces that connect to it that need reinforcing. He recommended we find a general contractor to take care of that. His company mostly deals with the heavy duty reinforcing – much more than our house needs. So basically, to fix our problem wouldn’t really be something their company does. But he spent a lot of time explaining what he saw to me, and giving me ideas. I really appreciated that.

He made a good point that our fence probably doesn’t follow our property line, because it zig zags. Our best guess is previous owners put the fence up, and then our neighbors just attached their fence to ours. So the next step in this project is to figure out where our property line is, getting our land surveyed if necessary. We might need to take our land back!

This afternoon my uncle came over and was encouraging. It looks like they added the room on top of the siding of the house, so that’s very good! He told us that we could start dismantling minor things, especially if we want to sell them on Craigslist or something – like all the windows, which are in decent shape (not broken, though they are single pane), the doors, and the ceiling fans.

I’m excited to see things moving! Once we get this done, then we’ll be on our way to having a nice backyard!!


getting estimates

Finally! We’re a bit closer to tackling the two things we plan to spend our $8000 on (well, we did spend part of it already on carpet and a new door, so we have about $7000 left). I mentioned here that we have issues with our yard flooding every time it rains. Water flows from our neighbor’s yard into ours, and doesn’t have anywhere to go. Also, our gutters aren’t very effective in getting the water away from the house. We had to quickly install gutters before we were able to close on the house (we couldn’t get a mortgage otherwise), and we didn’t want to spend any more money or time than necessary because we didn’t technically own the house. All this water pooling is causing one corner of the foundation to sink and also for lots of mosquitoes!

I found out that some landscapers specialize in water problems, so I made a list and called for free estimates. I also found one company that does both water problems and foundational repairs. We should be having someone come out tomorrow (Tuesday) and Wednesday.

I’m really praying that everything combined will not exceed our $7,000 budget. We’ll see what solutions they offer for our water – it might be something we’ll need to try and tackle ourselves if we can’t afford a landscaper.

I was thinking through what I’m going to say to the landscapers about what we’re looking for. I’ll stress the budget, because if we don’t have the money then it’s not going to happen. But I’ll also mention that in the future we might be needing a landscaper to come and help us with the rest of the yard, and if we like their work there’s a good chance we’ll be calling them again. Right now, I am just excited to be moving forward on these projects!