The Mountain Times

°F Wed, April 16, 2014

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Projects that grow

"Home improvement" turned to gut-and-rebuild

It was about this time last year that Jason and I decided we were going to buy land in Killington - after searching for houses in our price range we decided that land and location was more important than having a dwelling. I can't remember the exact reasoning behind that decision, but I think we figured we had all summer to build one and that seemed ample time to me. In retrospect, according to some, it would have been shorter and cheaper, had we gone that route and built a home from scratch.

Instead, the land we found had an existing house on it, which we immediately dubbed "Little Tiny" - a name that has stuck- because it was all of 700 sq. feet. I ignored the house and, instead, fell in love with the five acres of beautiful maple trees, tucked up on a hill above the Birch Ridge Inn off Killington Road. We calculated that it was less than two miles to the chairlift and four miles to work, an ideal location. And our Bernese Mountain Dog puppy could run free. (Yes, I did take that into consideration during our house-hunt.)

After negotiations with the owners (a nice family from the New York metro area) and a new septic system, we were ready to begin the work. I think it was August, by then - a much later start than we anticipated, but we had an existing house to live in, or so I thought.

As it turned out, Jason's ideas of "livable dwelling" were a bit different than mine, and some things just had to be renovated before we moved in. So we made a list: We would focus on the bedroom and building a closet (which required an extension off the back,) in addition to replacing the windows, walls and floors throughout the house and installing a washer/dryer. The living room, kitchen and bathroom would "wait until 'phase two.'"

In our idealistic minds, we had planned to do all this work as a DIY (do it yourself) project, while working full-time. Since shop class in junior high, I have not held a power tool, nor built anything useful. Jason had a lot of tools, but I wasn't convinced he had any more skills using them than me. This should have been a bigger 'red flag' than it seemed to us at the time. Reality was masked by my eagerness to learn. After all, this was Little Tiny, it had been a rental house for decades and it would be again someday, (once we save up to build our "real house" up on the ledge with a better view.) That is to say, I felt this was a good opportunity to "practice" my new construction skills.

Our saving graces were Jason's mom and dad, Richard and Louise, and my Uncle Mike, who moved to Killington for weeks at a time to help. Richard was well versed in construction technique and had build a beautiful house for himself in Montreal; Louise was also knowledgeable and great with details, and Uncle Mike was strong, worked long hours and had a pickup truck. Jason and I helped as much as we could on weekends and after work, but wouldn't have gotten far without them.

The first step was renting a dumpster. We filled it in a couple days, and also made multiple trips to the Rutland Women's Shelter where we donated all the old furniture and fixtures.

As we pulled up the rugs and peeled the paneling off the walls we found problems.

There were carpenter ants in the insulation, no flooring under the tub (it was sitting directly on a main floor joist, which it had rotted,) the windows were not framed and the electrical system wasn't grounded… off came all the walls, the insulation, the wires, the windows and the rotten flooring and joist. Soon our house looked liked a shell, only the 2x4s and plywood remained. We had to jack up the house to fix the joist.

Then began the process of putting it all backed together.
Believe it or not, the 700 sq. foot house had been rented for decades as a two-bedroom unit. Needless to say, both were tiny spaces so we blew out the wall between them and installed French doors, for the option of creating two separate spaces when guests visit. It is now a very large open space, which was further expanded with the addition of the large closet off the back.

We also chose two very large energy-efficient windows for the bedrooms. This choice was mostly due to rental regulations that require them to double as escape routes, but we also love the natural light.
The bathroom was supposed to be "phase two," but when we found the tub rotting the floor joist, it had to be removed, which tore up the floor and walls, making it a construction zone too, and renovations were required to render it back to functional. The original house had matching blue porcelain shower tiles, sink and toilet, with rusting fixtures. Everything went into the dumpster.

We had the shower custom-tiled along with the floor. We did not do this ourselves, despite my desire to learn to tile. The shower pan and natural tiles we chose were complicating factors, in addition to not having time or a mentor to teach me. Instead, our sub-contractor, Jason Allen, who we brought on to help in September to help us complete the work before snowfall, recommended Plumber Pat Matthews. As it turns out, Matthews has great skill working tile and grout and doesn't charge much for his tile work (which is one of the reasons he prefers to be known as a plumber.) We gave him a challenge choosing natural stone, and although he grumbled, he worked quickly and the end result was masterful. We had him do our kitchen and fireplace tiling, too-and our plumbing.
The kitchen was also on the "phase two" list, but replacing the floors, walls and windows, ultimately led to it all being done all at once. Ultimately, I'm glad it happened that way. Although our debts are now higher than I like, my stress is lower without having to plan for another season of construction.

Originally, a large wooden picnic table took up most of the kitchen space. We transferred that outside to the deck, where it is much more fitting.

We then had Jason Allen build us a custom bar under the large front window where we could sit and have coffee. We replaced the refrigerator, stove, microwave, sink and counter tops and I painted the cabinets solid white.

The changes completely transformed the room, although the layout is mostly the same.

There was a hodge-podge of various flooring layers throughout the house (old industrial-style rugs, linoleum and slate) before we ripped them all out and bleached the plywood. We considered various flooring options for living room and bedroom, bathroom and kitchen, but ultimately decided we wanted maple and tile respectively. Expensive choices!

To buy maple flooring from a lumberyard was out of the question, so we found a rough pile in the attic of a man we met at The Addison County Fair, and he sold it to us for cheep. We went back to him twice begging for more boards to complete the project! Rough boards, we learned, are far from being ready for flooring. They require plaining, edging, sanding and staining- which equates to a lot of work!

Once they were ready, we stacked them in the kitchen for Jason Allen who laid them down in a non-traditional pattern that we loved! Uncle Mike then spent days sanding and staining the boards.
With all the interior construction complete, we look forward to a spring/summer of "touch ups," landscaping and gardening- the fun small projects that we can complete over a weekend, right? More opportunities for me to learn and "practice" my homemaking skills, although, I think it will be some years before we undertake building our "real house" on the hill. Besides obstacles of money and time, we really enjoy living in our remodeled Little Tiny home.

Next year, I'm tapping a few of those maple trees!