Ugly House, Chapter 6 (Long - Overdue)

What is that saying about the “best laid plans,” “Murphy’s Law,” and other clichés? Remodeling always brings surprises and delays sometimes beyond the imaginable.

Since our “little” project began in our minds in December 2017 (and construction in October 2018) it has felt as if delays are thrown bunches of rotten tomatoes. The beginning was when the building department took about four months when the promised response time was 4-6 weeks, followed by a storm of unforeseen circumstances and their domino effect of surprises.

After demolition, we discovered that the main floor was out of level by 4.5” from the front of the house to the back of the house. In most cases this isn’t felt because as rooms break up a home, they can ease transitions through the height changes. Unfortunately, when you remove the walls to redesign a home to be more open and when a design has a long run of cabinetry (add perspective rendering of kitchen) we can’t disguise the slope with illusions as we’ve done for other projects. It’s easy to say, okay, let’s “just” level the floor, but what we forget is that then we must also level the ceiling to match, and then plumb/straighten the walls to prevent the feeling of living in the Mystery Spot (link words).

The next question from our friendly building inspector was “so what are you going to do now that the step is too big at the top of the stairs and the step down to the deck has significantly dropped?”. Well… I guess we get to rebuild the stairs and the deck now. And while we’re at it, we may as well build the man-cave called “storage” on the plans, under this new deck… five years ahead of schedule.

Next our contractor opened the lower floor in the soon to be accessory dwelling unit (ADU) so that we could add footings per the engineer’s plans and calculations to support the new wall locations. In doing this we discovered that the entire foundation of this 1913 House was only 12” thick. It’s amazing it’s still standing after the 1989 earthquake!

We have a great structural engineer, but as the rebuilding boom continues across the San Francisco Bay Area, he needs a few weeks to jump on things of this nature too. And… once again, we waited several weeks for the building department revision plan check.

If I haven’t mentioned it before, the building department has hired nice people. They have become even more friendly with their new hires. Though there is a bit of a learning curve and original conversations have disappeared with past employees, the new employees are understanding and seem genuinely concerned as well as a little behind with the heavy workloads.


This week the insulation is going in. You have no idea how some fiberglass batts can make an anxious homeowner giddy until it is your own home! Even as a professional remodeler for almost 20 years, the scope of work will creep, the schedule will stretch, and the costs will increase. We have been stretched and are learning patience as our apartment situation has extended, the ceiling leaked, and now new investor owners are evicting all the tenants because our municipality doesn’t have rent control. We are anxious and continually remind ourselves that we still desire our home to be done once and right the first time.

The best laid plans for my own project have gone awry but there is hope and I can start daydreaming again.