PEI Farmhouse Reno

And Then I Rented a Truck

As an aside to the typical (which is to say: rarely to never appearing) content of this (pretty much defunct) blog (which is also to say: a pretty much defunct form of writing), this summer I’ll share a few notes on the reno work I’m doing at our Canadian farmhouse, in gorgeous Prince Edward Island.

Quick context: the farmhouse had problems when we bought, indeed could only be bought because it had problems…namely a caving-in foundation and some rotted posts in the basement. A good deal, then! Easy fix, the contractor who looked at it said!

It was not easy. Just as securing a contractor proved difficult. The first — the one who said it would be easy — disappeared after a walkthrough, foisting the job toward someone else when it became clear I wasn’t buying his “offer” to take the Island stone of the foundation off my hands, save me money since I wouldn’t have to haul it, he’d just take it for free (and then sell it for thousands…). Several twists and turns appeared in finding a new, reliable contractor, one twist rather tragic (which I won’t get into here), a few other amounting to further disappearance acts, and the end result being two contractors, one to replace only one wall of the foundation (the one caving) plus concrete the clay basement floor, and the other to do the structural work…

…which proved to be substantial. Almost every joist. Almost every post in the basement. The sill plates. A carrying beam or two. A necessary whole house rewire. Surprising needs for a plumbing upgrade. A budget tripled, and the “good deal” now not so much.

I arrived Monday to finally see the fruits of this winter labor. And, in bullet form:

  • The electrical work isn’t finished, with the most troubling non-connection that of the well pump to the new 200-amp box. So no water. And it is a holiday (Victoria Day)…
  • And, the phone + internet is dead, coupled with my American cell not working in Canada, and the nearest public WiFi a half hour away (see: holiday).
  • Day 2, an electrician arrives on short notice (thanks!) and installs the last breaker. This isn’t the electrician who did the job (rather, who didn’t), and he isn’t super thrilled with what he sees in the new box. Lots of long loops for the new connections, making it hard to get new wires through, and also leaving open the (unlikely) possibility of one of the long strands of bare ground copper getting pushed into hot slots in the box, zap.
  • Day 2, the phone company does not arrive…then I find out they did…just when I wasn’t there and before I knew they would be trying to come…because I was 30 minutes away checking my messages to find out they would be by, oh, between 8am and 5pm.
  • Day 2, the hot water tank doesn’t seem to be heating, at all.
  • Day 3, the hot water tank leads to tepid water, after a good 18 hours of cooking, so I start a chilly shower, get soaped up, and then the water stops. Kaput. Dead. I towel off, leaving a protective layer of soap film, and want to call a plumber, but have no phone service.
  • Day 3, the weather drops 25 degrees, into the 30s, and the wall furnace to the currently unheated home is still 24 hours away from install.
  • Day 3, the new propane tank is delivered. That’s good.
  • Day 3, I spend an hour on the phone with the satellite company, because the foundation work meant someone sawed down the tower with the satellite on it, tacked it up facing a different angle, so unless the neighboring potato field is broadcasting, nothing’s coming to the dish; it takes an hour to convince the agent that, no, doing the diagnostic again isn’t going to work.
  • Day 3, the phone is reinstalled, the tech showing me that the foundation work meant, wham, the box was pulled off the wall, the wire severed (would have been nice if they’d at least told me they did that), and fresh shingles places where the box used to be. The tech spools a temporary line through the woods to the relay console, and later this summer a crew will trench and bury it. Back to communications.
  • Day 3, new plumber called.
  • Day 3, plumber diagnoses a short in one of the well wires, plans to return on Day 4 to fix it. You’re living here, he asks. I assure him the woods are fine, and I have enough bottled water to force the commode to flush when necessary.
  • Day 3, the plumber also suspects that the heating element is dead in the hot water tank. He’ll fix that, also.
  • Day 3, when the plumber leaves, the circuit holding the internet has tripped…foreshadowing.
  • Day 3, I drive to the City to get wood for my interior projects…new floors in the kitchen, in the eating area, in the bathroom…future projects include building cabinets, and finishing a wall that now has exposed understructure, rebuilding the gutting bathroom.
  • Day 3, the big box store won’t sell me wood — this is actually charming and helpful — because the guy working in the lumber area thinks my project would be better and more economical if I sourced the wood from a local sawmill.
  • Day 3, I buy a drier for the house, assure the sales person that it will fit in the back of my Subaru Impreza.
  • Day 3, the drier does not fit. We start to remove the box. I give myself a bad paper cut and start bleeding all over the box. She gets me a bandaid, and I apologize for being the worst customer ever. The drier still does not fit.
  • Day 3, I find out the big box store has a van to rent, which I rent. I won’t be able to make it back until after closing. No problem, they say. They give me a number to call when I get there, for the manager on duty, who can let me in to return the key, or I can return in the morning…but in the morning I have a plumber, and a furnace install, and a cable service appointment. So I drive 45 minutes home, drop the drier on the porch, drive back. Everyone is impressed with my speed.
  • Day 3, I return home to discover that the drier won’t fit in the door of the house.
  • Day 3, I take the pneumatic off the screen door. The drier still doesn’t fit.
  • Day 3, I take the pneumatic holder off the door jamb. The drier fits.
  • Day 3, the upstairs lights don’t work, the breaker having been tripped at some point. Maybe it happened when the plumber was looking at the tank, or maybe there are gremlins in the new wiring. Perhaps Day 4 will yield answers.