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Remodel, Refurbish, Repeat

Posted by on 2013/12/11

Hi there—

If you’re here, you must be looking for me. If you’re looking for me, you must be wondering what’s going on in the forums.

Well, as you know, the forums are being remodeled, and as you also know, there’s a certain amount of mess and kerfuffle involved with that.

Holly and the rest of us will be back in the forums as quickly as possible.

Have you ever had remodeling done on your house? Bear with us.

So, we bought a house in Los Angeles. Everybody has these little psychotic breaks; they are survivable, but they’re expensive.

So, we bought a house in Los Angeles, soon after the Northridge quake. It wasn’t much of a house, but it was in a pleasant area, half a block from an elementary school. Our college kid was a toddler at that time, but we are always looking to the future, so a house near a school seemed like the way to go. Besides, I liked the big olive trees in the front yard.

Did I mention that the house was in the San Fernando Valley? Technically, that’s still in the city of Los Angeles, but practically speaking, it’s a million miles away. For instance, none of my neighbors were record producers, though many occupied jobs lower down the pay scale: wardrobe makers, set builders, prize coordinators, prop makers, stunt men. Where we live now, our neighbors are engineers, machinists, lab technicians. It’s the same idea—there’s a big employer in the area. As we say, it’s a company town.

So. San Fernando Valley. It’s not just the name of a Roy Rogers movie. It’s a real place, full of real people.

And old houses. Also new houses, built on lots cleared by tearing down old houses.

The San Fernando Valley, despite being only about twenty miles from the ever-temperate Malibu, is one of the hottest places you can imagine come July, August, and September. We bought the house in July and right away we noticed that the place had no air conditioning beyond a window unit on the west wall. The house was small, just over seventeen hundred square feet, but the west wall was entirely glass. So were the east wall and the south wall. Only the north wall was not entirely glass. It faced the street and was made of stone. Eight inches of stone, plus exterior studs, drywall, and insulation. We never heard the street noises. That part was nice. Also, the stone cooled overnight, so the east end of the house remained relatively comfortable.

The west end? Where the kitchen and den were? Not remotely comfortable.

We needed air conditioning.

The style of architecture was called “low Googie.” I’ve no idea whether the “low” refers to the fact that the houses are one-story, with almost flat roofs, or to the fact that they were at the low end of the cost spectrum. It could even have referred to the lowbrow tastes of the owners.  I looked for some photos of houses like ours, but failed. Just picture George Jetson’s house, and you’ll be very, very close.

What’s important about these houses, with regard to air conditioning, is that, except for a four or five-foot-wide strip right down the center of the house, the ceiling and the roof were the same piece of cardboard. Okay, not cardboard, maybe, but certainly something cheap and flimsy.  Why is this important? Because in a normal house, air conditioning and heating ducts are placed in the empty space between the ceilings and the roof. When the ceiling and the roof are one and the same, where do the ducts go?

Answer: all the ducts go in that narrow, shallow strip right down the middle of the house.

So, we called in an air conditioner contractor.

The air conditioner, it turned out, would have to be placed on top of the house, right out there in the elements. A giant crane/truck thing came out and placed the AC unit on our roof. First, of course, the AC contractor had to build a support system for the AC unit, made of a platform on top of the house and a support column that ran down to the foundation.

Through my closet, as it turns out.

Oh, and while he was up in the “attic” (a word the contractors used, though my idea of an attic is much grander), the AC guy found asbestos.

Asbestos. You’ve heard all the mesothelioma ads put on by the ambulance chasers, so you know the downside of this stuff. I’ll tell you the upside of it in a later post, maybe. So. Asbestos. Asbestos, it turns out, is a federal case. A house with the least touch of asbestos is a regular crime scene. More big equipment must be dragged across the lawn, and men in outfits right out of a 1980s sci-fi horror movie swarm the place, providing giggles for the passersby. And lots, lots, lots of plastic sheeting. (My sister is certified in asbestos abatement. If I could get her over here, maybe she’d give you some info about it. Nevermind.) Asbestos abatement costs a fortune, delays the main job (installing AC), and keeps you out of your house for as long as it takes.

Once the asbestos was found, the government dictated our “choices.” They didn’t pay for the choices, and if they had, it would have been with money (taxes) already confiscated from us and our neighbors.

We understood why the previous homeowner, the lady who had lived there for forty years, had never installed central air conditioning.

So, eventually, the asbestos was “abated.”

And the AC guy had disappeared. Well, he had a business to run, right? So, I phoned him. He said he’d be there bright and early Monday morning.

I’m a farm girl, so I know what “bright and early” should mean.

Around ten o’clock, I phoned him. He said he’d be there on Wednesday. Are you getting the picture? What would happen to your business if you ran it that way?

His business did just fine. After all, there was an expensive roof ornament on top of our house. Until AC guy came to put in the ductwork and hook everything up, we would continue to swelter.

How much do you know about Santa Ana conditions? Can you say, “One hundred fifteen degrees in the middle of March”? Santa Ana winds can come any time. It’s when the wind runs backwards. Rather than coming off the chilly Pacific Ocean, it comes off the hellacious, thermally-enhanced Mojave Desert.

We could not break hard on the AC guy because nobody else would pick up the job at the halfway point, so rousting the AC guy and reminding him of our existence became my first job every morning.

Eventually, eventually, eventually, the job was done. We were poorer, much poorer, but we could at least use the west end of the house during the summer.

However, the first electric bill demonstrated another problem, and prompted our next fix-up to our sweet little glass house.

Have you had any remodeling experiences? Tell me about them. That’s an honest request for comments. And stories. I love stories.



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