Renovating a Main Line Home

My new social circle: electricians, painters, contractors, roofers

I am never alone in my house. The good news is that I’m never lonely. The bad news is that it’s really expensive to have this much company. Being the owner of an older home, I’m speaking of workmen and service people. Not tourists that require French toast and tours of Old City.

I’ve come to the conclusion that home ownership is one step forward, three steps back. For each new project that brings our home closer to the desired vision, we find a handful of problems we didn’t know existed. This cycle has been going on for four solid years and shows no signs of letting up. I may never be able to walk around my house in my underwear. For this, no doubt, the neighbors are grateful. For the continual sounds of sanders and buzz saws, they may want me dead.[SIGNUP]

It all started when we first moved in. We ordered furniture for several rooms, which trickled in a piece at a time, always in a giant moving van. The exterior of the house needed repainting, which required 10 men in 10 separate trucks. The piano needed tuning, the lawn needed maintenance, our bathroom was being renovated and before you knew it, the entire block was taken up with service vehicles for our house. Of course that’s when the furniture van showed up with a sofa and had to double-park, blocking the road, which made us incredibly popular with our neighbors—and the police. While this is not abnormal (except for the police part), on that particular occasion my parents were holding down the fort while my husband and I were at his father’s funeral on the West Coast and my mother called to tell me she thought they were under siege. Although it ebbs and flows, it really hasn’t let up much since.

Whenever my mother visits she bursts out into laughter (which could be nervous or crazy) at the sheer volume of activity in my house. There is always someone coming, going or multiple people descending all at once. If it’s not the contractor, plumber, painter or closet system installers, it’s the attic insulator, the roofers or stone masons. Something at our house always needs fixing. Hell, it could just be the UPS guy, but you know he’ll show up at the same time I’m directing everyone else. It’s bedlam.

I woke up one recent morning to the sound of ladders being raised and banged against my gutters, wondering if we had roof issues or were about to be robbed. Knowing our house, I figured my husband simply forgot to tell me the roofers were coming to fix the flashing. While most people would have actually gotten up to check, I’m so accustomed to employing god and everybody to keep our house from rotting or falling down, I rolled over and went back to sleep to the sound of footsteps over my head, thankful for window shades.

Of course I am totally responsible for part of the chaos. I am a bit of a renovation junkie. Every year we set aside a bit of money to do one project. This year’s was to enclose a porch for a mudroom. The problem is that when the contractor is here we always seem to find other problems, like the water leak in the basement. So we end up keeping the contractor to fix that. While investigating the source of the water leak, he discovers the pergola is rotting and the balcony beam needs replacing. That’s when we notice the wood damage to the exterior shutters, which leads to the painter telling us we need to repaint and seal some siding before the frost comes. Now, once again, we’ve ended up with a team of people working, the entire street consumed in service vehicles for our house and our little reno budget blown to hell. Plus we have to weed out the service people that charge a “Main Line” premium. I’ve considered borrowing a house in Broomall to get quotes on things like electrical or plumbing and then telling them the actual address to see the price differential. Next year’s plan is for exterior lighting. I can’t wait to find out the whole place needs to be rewired and is built on sand. But on the plus side, there are no signs I’ll be lonely any time soon!