window tornado

scene: men's workboot foot prints leading from the door, to the kitchen, up the stairs, down the stairs, and outside again. a thin layer of dusk covers every horizontal surface. the cats aren't quite sure why the basement door is open. wires, machinery, boards, tools, toolboxes, and ladders are leaned up against the walls, in corners, and strewn about the house. there is man pee under the seat of the toilet.

i describe the condition of my home every day that i have returned from work the last two days. i'm having my windows replaced. rather, the windows have been replaced.

i ordered new windows soon after i closed. the existing windows were horrid. most were rotted, cracked, non-functional. one didn't even have a meeting rail. i sometimes wonder how the previous tenants dealt with their condition. even though they were in extreme disrepair, i have to admit, they were a turn-on. not in the sense that i loooove me some crappy windows, but in the sense that i'm a historic architecture nerd and these were the original windows.

how do i know this?

well, just looking at my house, i can tell right away.. because i do that for a living. but i also did a bit of reserach and discovered that my block was constructed at the turn of the century; some time between 1895 and 1900. during this period, a new method for mass producing larger sheets of glass to create sashes with one piece of glass, rather than two, four, or six pieces of small sheets divided by muntins, was invented. now, at the time, these one-over-one windows were cutting edge and more fashionable and more expensive. so they were put on the fronts of new houses, while the old style two-over-twos and six-over-six windows were used for the rears. my house had original two-over-twos and six-over-six in the rear as well.

i hated to part with the wood material or pane configuration so i decided to try and hold on to the aesthetic... at least for the first floor and front of the second floor and basement. i decided to bend and go with yucky vinyl on the rear because no one sees those ones, but me. i consulted with Architectural Window of Philadelphia because we work with them a lot at my job. they do a lot of windows that replicate the historic profiles while maintaining energy efficiency and modern window technology. after going around for wood window estimates, they seemed the the most reasonable. expensive, but reasonable.

i knew i was getting $8,000 from the government for the first-time home buyer credit so i figured i could splurge this on the windows. and that's pretty much what the final bill came to. a punch in the purse, but worth it, in my book. i mean, if you think about it, besides masonry, what else makes up the envelope of a house? = the windows and doors.

by june my order was in and by august i had 8 giant windows sitting in my living room staring at me to paint. (i decided to paint them myself because having them factory-painted added about $100 per window). dad brought down some saw horses and a drop cloth. kristin set me up with brushes. now the question was - color?

i ran through the Benjamin Moore historic color palette and nothing really excited me. i wanted to do the right thing and maintain the "historic appearance" in materials, but that didn't mean i'd have to sacrifice my personal taste or flare in color. so i thought of my favorite color: green. and i settled on the Split Pea Green. it's bright, fun, and totally me!

i bought a quart of the "Aura" line because the guy at the store said it preserves color the best for elevations in direct sunlight.. blah blah blah. "team we" went right to work.

side note: team we = kristin. a term borrowed from my derby friend dara. i say alot, "we should really paint those windows" or "we should make dinner tonight" or "we need to make cookies for so-and-so." and usually "we" turns into kristin... because princess becky isn't very handy, or culinary, or motivated when it comes to physical tasks that require skill ... or movement in general.

team we (and i helped!) spent the next month and a half painting the windows. we puttied, sanded, taped, painted, and painted again till the weekend before installation we were finally done.

i made an appointment for installation and 7am tuesday morning, they were there. before i got out of the shower at 7:30am they already knocked out a window. by the time i got home from work, the entire front of the house was replaced with brand new bright green windows. yesterday the entire rear was replaced. now all they have left to do is the trim work and some rear capping.

last evening i took a good look at the work and could see immediately that my work has not ended. they used white caulk to seal up the window openings, which i should have forseen, but didn't think of it. so now i have to paint the caulk once it dries thoroughly. there are also white vinyl jamb-liners in the track of the windows that i didn't think would be so obvious, but they are. a specification error that i'll just have to live with. i think i notice these things more than the average human because of what i do. we're going to paint the door this weekend so the starkness of the windows should blend a bit better with the rest of the house.

lessons learned:

- for wood windows: ask thoroughly about how to paint windows if you're doing that portion yourself. don't paint the sides and use a very high-quality paint. you don't want to skimp on new wood. wood rots fast if it's not well-maintained.

- try to schedule installation when the weather's nice. they can't work in wet conditions.

- COVER EVERYTHING with drop cloths, sheets, or plastic. i didn't and now i have to vacume and wipe down the dust that caked on EVERYTHING.

- leave your installers a case of beer or something as a thanks. leave out some delivery menus for lunch too.

- hide all personal or "bedroom" items and pictures that may reveal anything you don't want any other stranger to know about. make-out shots with your lesbian girlfriend, love notes enscrawled on the dry-erase board about how sexy you are, bras and underware laying on the floor... just do a walk-through and hide it BEFORE you realize it's been sitting out the whole day.

- look into tax-incentive requirements BEFORE you place your order. Energy Star recently upped their Solar Coefficient to .30 in June 2009. any windows that met their previous requirement would still qualify for the tax credit if they were purchased BEFORE June 30, 2009. i looked into the cut-off date too late and my window guy placed the order 3 days after the June 30th. hopefully he can finagle some paperwork so i can still get the $1500.

- get at least 3 quotes before you settle and be sure to factor in installation and all of the "extras" like screens, special glazing, etc..

- look into getting sash packs if your frame and casing is salvagable.

- save your old wood sashes to sell or give to a salvage yard. i'm hanging mine on my fence in the back yard.



i've recently come to the realization that i need to spend more time at home. that sounds incredibly boring and introverted, but it's true. i've been traveling a lot lately. everywhere has been fun and well worth the trip (, but i've neglected my house, friends, pets, bike, and peace of mind. a "homebody" has always carried negative connotations, but i'm ready to admit that i am one. there's nothing better to me than just waking up without an alarm, putting on some house shoes, thudding down the stairs, whipping up some eggs and bacon, and then floating through the day from activity to activity based on where i think i'd have the most fun or most relaxation. i haven't had one of those days for months. i can't say the house has anything to do with it. i haven't been around to tackle any major tasks. roller derby has been the biggest time theif. but i'm managing. i just need to make sure that i factor in some serious "ME" time at least once or twice a month... even if that means installing doors or sanding floors.

last night was really great and just added another reason for me to embrace my homeland. kristin and i went to liberty lands park for the lawn chair drive-in movie "the lair of the white worm".. the movie was so bad it was good. the best part was snuggling up on blakets with our friends and yummy snacks and drinks outside on a crisp cool night. there were a ton of people there because it was the opening night. but it's been going on for 13 seasons or something? i dunno.. it was something i've never done before and it was really great, good clean fun. i'm going to go as much as possible throughout the summer.

i started this blog about my house so i suppose i should talk about it a little bit. *crickets* not much has gone on in the way of major home improvements. but since i've settled a month and a half ago, i've had the electrical system fully updated and repaired by my way-awesome electrician friend Monika. my dad did a TON of small stuff for me - capped my chimney, installed a new dryer, installed a new sink and garbage disposal, braced the drain pipes that were just hanging in the basement, reconnected an air duct, fenced off access to the crawl space from my cats, jacked up a sagging floor joist, figured out that my AC actually does work. my window guy came out a few weeks ago to take final measurements and put in the order. i ended up settling on all historic wood windows on the front of the house and first floor and vinyl windows on the remaining rear. i'm kind of waiting for these to be installed before i get started on any other major projects. i decided i have to view this house with the "baby step" method (like in the movie "what about bob"). baby steps moving into the house... babysteps unpacking everything... babysteps to get new furniture... babysteps to new windows... after the windows i decided i'm going to be baby stepping to three other things: regrading and paving the rear yard, ripping out the carpet and refurbishing the hardwood floors, and demolishing the closet thing in my bedroom. one thing at a time i suppose.

this is a really fun site to read if you're bored: http://phobialist.com/
check this one out: Novercaphobia- Fear of your step-mother.


This is how it started..

A little over a month ago my mom said, "You know, it might be a good time to start looking into houses." With little more than pennies to my name, I knew this wouldn't be a real possibility. Since my lease in the overpriced condo I had been renting was ending, I started making appointments to look at apartments in Northern Liberties and Fishtown.

For what I was paying in the Art Museum area, I could practically afford a house to rent. I found a cute place near the Barbary with a claw-foot tub (the selling point) and called Mom while she was vacationing in California to tell her the news. In between hearing about her shopping trips and dining out she said I should not take the apartment and that I should get in touch with a realtor because I'm going to buy a house. She said it would be unwise to not take take advantage of the tax credits and mortgage rates for first time home buyers with my credit.

That same day, I was on the phone with my mortgage broker friend Richie Frangiosa, President of Capital Processing aka "Judge Knot" a ref for my roller derby league, the Philly Roller Girls. I said, "I guess I'm buying a house?" and we made an appointment to go over my non-existent finances that week.

The next day, my girlfriend, Kristin, put me in touch with her amazing realtor Ryan Gallagher. He lives in Fishtown and flips houses there too. From what Kristin said, he was a straight up and totally cool. And he really was. As soon as I emailed him that I was interested in looking he shot me back and email with listings in my price range. I marked off the ones I was interested in and the next day he sent me back my list with comments like "lame. lame. ok. ok. lame. ok..." I liked him already.

Over the next week I talked with my mom about what I could afford. In addition to my savings, she told me that there was stock in my name that I could cash in and she could also give me a kind of "interest-free loan with no due date" from my stepfather and her (otherwise known as help with the down payment). I brought the figures to Richie's house (a sweet sweet loft in an old rehabbed Fishtown factory building), he crunched some numbers, and viola' - it turned out that I could afford a house. Who'da thunk it?

I got together with Ryan and a couple friends to look at some houses. I was a bit nervous because as a historic preservationist, I knew exactly what I didn't want and I knew Fishtown had a lot of that. There aren't many buildings historically designated in the area so there are no real controls on what people do to their properties. Vinyl windows, aluminum siding covering character-defining wood cornices, glass block in basement windows, fake perma-stone and jersey brick covering facades, stuccoed this and stuccoed that are commonplace. It makes me wonder what these people find aesthetically pleasing. Cheap fixes I suppose.

Anyway, as our search was underway we saw some hideous exteriors, gorgeous interiors, and some hideous interiors. The night was winding down and we were nearing the bottom of the list when 829 Mercer Street came up next. I was excited by this one because, from the picture, it was the only facade that wasn't obliterated by modern materials c/o Home Depot.

We pulled into the tiny alley off of Thompson Street known as Mercer Street and I saw it immediately. My house!! A cute little two-story brick house with rotten-to-the-bone wood windows, a beautiful wood cornice, and not a stitch of vinyl.. well until you go out back. Inside it has an exposed brick wall, hardwood floors, and a wood-burning stove! I was sold the second I saw it. They say when you find your house, you just know it. Kind of like your wedding dress, though I don't know what that feels like either. But I knew about this.

I had an offer in the next day. Asking price, 20% down. It was under what I could afford and I wanted to make sure I was at the top of the stack of potential buyers. A few days and a few transactions later, they accepted my bid and I paid the initial down payment. For the next month until closing I was signing, faxing, emailing, bothering Ryan, bothering Richie, going to the bank, calling contractors, calling Mom, calling Dad, calling Kristin, calling Ryan some more, and I kept watching my little brown folder getting bigger and bigger with each new piece of paper.

The inspection almost made me throw up, but it was apparently not an abnormal estimate. As the inspector walked through the house from room to room, more and more imperfections were revealed to me. It was kind of like meeting a new love interest that you daydream about being with "forever" and then their best friend tells you about all the stuff wrong with them... you have to think to yourself, 'Can I live with this or that?' The answer was, yes, I'll fix that, I'll deal with that, I'll have to fix that immediately, or I'll fix that in a year or so.

The windows were by far the worst (or so I thought). They are completely rotten. You can actually see through one because it's completely missing it's meeting rail. They gave the house such character. It broke my heart to say that I have to have them all replaced. So I decided to stick to my guns and invest in custom historic wood windows in the front and first floor to match what was existing and (shudder) vinyl in the rear - $8,000.

The windows were only a small part of the work this place needs. A floor joist is rotted, the bathroom is rotted behind the false front they slapped on, the mudroom floor is rotted underneath the vinyl flooring, an air duct is completely disconnected, the dryer was done, the AC condensor is being supported by a few cocked cinderblocks, the PVC pipes in the basement are unsupported, the sink leaks...

All this had to be taken into account when it was time to barter with the seller for a credit. I estimated to repair everything on the inspection report, it would cost at least $30,000. I wasn't even including my own personal desire for wood windows. Guess what they came back with after a few volleys with numbers... $5,000. That will get me... oh wait, NOTHING. But Ryan did an awesome job getting me that much. Apparently, so I've learned, $5,000 for a house like mine is actually pretty good. So I was satisfied... though dreading the future repair costs.

When it came time for closing that $5,000 ended up helping me out more than I thought. They credited it to my down payment so my monthly mortgage payments were reduced by $40!

Closing on my first house felt a lot like a right-of-passage; like Holy Communion in 8th grade, graduating high school, getting my first off-campus apartment in college, getting my own car insurance. It made me actually feel a little older, a little more mature, and a shit-load more responsibility. I never knew signing my full birth name over 20 or 30 times could do that to me, but it did. I left that lender office with a new skin.... and I had no idea what I was in for.

Over the following weeks I began the packing and moving process. I was used to it because I've moved every year since 1999. You'd think I had it down to a science. I took a car load of stuff over every night. Kristin helped me a ton and we even borrowed her friend's truck a couple times to haul out the big stuff. Just her and me. Girls.

The perfect little picture of a clean and empty house soon filled up with boxes, bags, dusty objects with no home, two frightened cats, and there was me - broken out from stress, sweaty in cut off shorts and a wife-beater, with dirt and dust from head to toe and through my exhausted eyes, you could see I was really happy. Just unlocking and locking my door made me giggle. Like I'm a little kid climbing into my own treehouse.

As soon as I got reasonably settled I made a list of "want" and "need". Things that I once thought were on my need list soon made their way to the want list.

-resolve water drainage issue with neighbor
-vent crawl space
-replace mudroom floor (rotted)
-repair floor joist (rotted)
-cement and seal basement floor
-reconnect air duct
-stabilize pipes in basement
-stabilize AC condensor
-re-insulate AC condensor pipe
-inspect and clean wood stove
-side or stucco rear
-replace the entire bathroom (rotted behind fascia)

-repave rear yard
-refence rear yard
-demo closets
-rip out carpet, refinish floors
-rip out linoleum, tile kitchen floor
-rip out couters, replace
-install living room ceiling fan
-replace all lighting fixtures
-install rear screen door
-paint walls
-replace all interior doors and moldings
-buy a grill
-install shelves in mudroom
-compost bin
-new dishes

First on the immediate need list was the electric. There was no main disconnect and the fuse box looked like someone vomitted metal spaghetti into it. My friend Monika just so happens to be in electrician school. So I hit her up and for less than half of what I'd probably pay some crotchety Fishtown electrician to rip me off, she reorganized it all, threw in a main disconnect, new breakers, jammed a grounding rod into the basement floor, and fixed all of my ungrounded plugs. I'm sure she did a litany of other things that she tried to explain to me several times, but trying to understand what she was talking about was like trying to understand directions in Spanish; I kind of get it, but not really.

Then Dad showed up, kind of developed a priority list of his own, and went to town. First he bought me a new dryer, which took removing the door frame to the basement to haul it down there. Then Kristin and he put the washer in the basement and hooked it all up. He put a cap on my chimney (watching him try to get up on the roof had me shaking with fear), replaced my broken garbage disposal and sink, and reconnected extremely seperated ductwork.

I think it's so great that my dad has been helping me as much as he has. But he just retired and my vision of retirees is sitting on the back porch, sipping a beer, and reading a
good book. Not banging around your daughter's dirty basement for hours. So I feel a sense of guilt. But I guess that's just what dads do.
Which kiiiiind of gets me to today... For the sake of not writing a book right away,
I'll stop here and just say what I keep telling myself - Rome wasn't built in seven days. This house is a continuous work in progress and I'll try to keep you posted with its modifications as things move along.