BIG CHANGES
ON HOMEFRONT

   It was about a year ago. My wife and I looked at each other, thoroughly disconsolate. Nothing was working.
   The comfort level was gone. There were deep scars in our outer shell, massive leaks, faulty wiring. We needed to make a big change, and we needed to do it soon.
    While many may think Iím referring to marital problems, those would come later. First we had to begin remodelling our house.
    Actually, we had a choice. We could sell our house and buy something similarly decrepit. The only difference would be having to pay four times as much in real estate taxes.
    Besides, we liked our house. The negligence and deferred maintenance had a certain charm. Few of our friends had kitchens like ours, which could bring back memories of those happy-go-lucky "Leave it to Beaver" sitcoms. It felt like Eddie Haskell could pop in at any minute.
     There were other advantages as well. Many of the windows were burglar proof, considering they wouldnít open from the inside, either. And our crumbling roof allowed us to appreciate the end of El Nino more than most.
     But there comes a time when charm and comfort take a backseat to progress, such as when our bathroom toilet began to sound like the foghorns at the Golden Gate every time we flushed.
    Yes, it was time. We cashed in our savings, drained the college education accounts, borrowed a little from a 98 year old grandmother, and went out and hired an architect.
    We paid his retainer, in full, and even had a little bit left.
    The planning stage was actually kind of fun. Move a wall here, move a wall there---all the architect had to do was draw a line and abracadabra, it was done. Remodelling was easy. We shared our enthusiasm with our friends.
    "Itís going to cost twice as much and take twice as long as you expect," came the response from every single person.
     As optimists, this was not what we wanted to hear. Nor did we believe it. That happened to other people, not us. Those lines on the plans didnít look like much. It would all work out just fine.
     Then we got the estimate from our contractor. Sure enough, it wasnít twice what we expected. More like three times.
     Out came the old eraser. Lines disappeared. "How much did we save," we asked our contractor, perhaps a little too anxiously.
     I canít remember his exact answer. I think it was something like forty dollars.
     Part of the problem of the escalating costs was due to the necessary hiring of a structural engineer. Many of us thought we had escaped any damage from the Loma Prieta quake of 1989. Not so.
     The costs are still coming in. While our house didnít have any damage from the quake (although weíd use that excuse from time to time to explain some defect to friends or neighbors), other houses did. And it made quite an impact on structural engineers.
    Our structural engineer was not about to see her work fall down. Ever. Earthquakes, nuclear explosionsÖit didnít matter. Her baby was going nowhere.
    Our contractor was appalled when he saw the structural engineer's plans. There were braces, glue lams, spread footings, shear walls and other thingamajigs that he hadnít expected.
    "This is whatís driving the price up," he said, not entirely sympathetic. "But on the bright side, you can probably land a helicopter on the second-level deck youíre replacing."
    I was not amused. I called the structural engineer, weakly begging for a little relief while realizing it was difficult to argue against safety.
    "Itís the new building codes," she smugly replied. "Iím only interpreting the code."
    And I was only going broke.
    Now weíre almost done with the remodel. Pets have died, the grandmother is tapped out and community college is looking good for the kids.
    As for our marriage, weíre looking for a good structural engineer to relieve the stress.
 

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