Memory Lane: 1630 4th St NW- Sweat Equity

I’m embarrassed that I can’t remember off the top of my head the names of my neighbors. But I do remember they moved in some years after I did and the husband was a friend and co-worker (they worked for the same development/building company) of the neighbor across the street.

These houses were old. They needed renovating. They were circa 1870-ish housing built for Black renters and were rentals for roughly 100+ years. So they weren’t necessarily in the best shape. Amazing things were done by those who came in and fixed up these homes using their talents, skills and bank loans.

1630 4th St NW

It’s not fun living in the middle of a renovation. I grew up in a house that was half constructed (*grumble it’s been 40 flipping years and dad’s still not done*.) During the years I lived in Shaw I witnessed many people living in the middle of their rehabs.

The house was purchased by a couple in 2003, when these pictures were taken. The husband did most of the construction and the wife (who had an eye for these things) did the design. She was also the heart of the block progressive parties that came and went when they moved away.

They had kids and when the eldest ‘lost’ the school lottery, they put the house on the market and left.

Renovation #4- A new addition

What was renovation #4? I just wanted to add an addition over the top of my 1 story kitchen. Apparently that was too much to ask for. We needed an architect because, despite the fact we were not changing the footprint of the house, we needed one to deal with the fact we were almost 2% over FAR. So it was an addition and new windows.

So this was 2014 and we were planning to adopt. We wanted a little bit more space for a little one. So we contacted our contractor and he put us in contact with an architect. In this project architects do more than draw pictures and plans. This one went to DCRA with me to talk to whomever I needed to talk to so we’d be approved to build on top of the kitchen. Which seemed stupid to me, still does. But apparently my back yard wasn’t big enough.

A few houses up the block had expanded back, knocking down their rickety old 1 story kitchens and building up. We sort of wanted to do the same, but we couldn’t build as wide because of the basement entry. I figured that gave us some wiggle room. Wrong.

As you may remember, renovation #1 was the kitchen. I had no intentions of changing that. But things happen when you’re renovating. I knew the alley facing wall was crap and bound to tumble into dust at any moment. That we planned on replacing. But when they were tearing down that wall, the wall facing the basement entry crumbled down too. Surprise! On the plus side, we gained 6 inches of length and width when the old brick walls were replaced by frame walls. yay.

Entrance before
Entrance under construction

Then there are things that fell under, “well since we’re doing this we may as well do this other thing.” That was the entrance to the kitchen from the main house. The entrance was wider at the top and getting things into the kitchen required lifting things up. While the walls were opened up, we figured, why not widen the entrance and even out the width. We also decided, why not new windows? And when the guys removed the plaster from the wall the were about to tear down to extend the bedroom, I saw the beautiful exposed brick and wanted to keep it. So I kept it. All that probably added $20K to the bill.

Speaking of the final bill, it was $65K, not counting the architect. If you add those services, along with other fees and costs, it was about $80K. No one seems to account for renovations and the costs of updating properties when looking at why housing in the neighborhood costs more than 5- 10-20 years ago. Sometimes, it is not the same house.

I’ve enjoyed my term as owner of the house. I think I did right by it by improving where I could. But due to limits there were some things I didn’t do. Typically those limits were financial. I never did any work with the idea of making up for it in the eventual sale of the house. It was all for my comfort and I hope that it will be comfortable for the next set of owners.

Renovation #3- Basement

I have a ton of photos of the basement renovation. About half of them are grainy and out of focus.

When I bought the house back in 2001, I had a finished basement. There was cheap Home Despot brown carpet there and the mechanicals of the ancient furnace and the hot water heater in a utility room. Then a few months later came the flood. Water flew from the exterior drain and breached the basement door. Water also seeped through the walls. I vaguely remember coming home to this and reviewing the damage with my insanely tall boyfriend. Insanely tall boyfriend did not want to bother with my problem, probably because the basement, was a short people basement.

The next day, or several days, I ripped out the carpet, and the baseboards and tossed them in the trash. And from 2001-2012, I had an UN-finished basement. Under the carpet and padding were cheap vinyl tiles and concrete. I used the space as a laundry area, untrustworthy storage, and an office. After renovation #2, I had ethernet cables and the wifi hub centered down there. And after this renovation the ethernet no longer worked and the phone signal was weak. Something got cut or damaged.

So for some reason, we decided to finish the basement, but with some improvements to deal with water. I didn’t trust the basement. So we got french drains. Later, after the renovation, I got a bigger sump pump pump. These helped deal with the water as we were the first basement. One winter, a neighbor up a few doors had a pipe burst while he was out of the country. Water rolled down and for days our sump pump kept going off. And off. And off. It had snowed or rained but I figured out it was a burst pipe and not water seeping through the ground. This last flood event, we fared pretty well. Just a tiny bit of water when others got flooded out.

So what changed from the finished basement of 2001 to the finished basement of 2012? Well, indoor/outdoor carpet for one. Secondly it was set up for storage. There is storage along the wall and we used it to store our seasonal clothing, tools, food, little used small kitchen appliances and craft items. This allowed us to keep the upper floors uncluttered. We also changed the layout and moved the sump pump. The laundry was moved from the center to the front of the house and the dryer could finally expel air and lint to the exterior.  Those interior boxes for dryers are okay in the short term, but not for the long term.

There were some things left undone with the basement renovation. I really wanted a window in the rear office. But we were running out of money. The renovation cost us over $40K. One of the unexpected costs was moving a gas pipe. There were some other things but I forget what they were.

Renovation #2- Unsexy and unseen

So the things you get to brag about when you have a big renovation are things you can point to and see. I did that. The cool things you can see are the exposed brick wall, the clawfoot tub, the updated bathrooms, and the improved layout. What you couldn’t see or wouldn’t notice were the more appropriate sized radiators, insulation, updated wiring and plumbing, and central air.

Prior to the 2007 renovation the radiators in some areas were above or right at the bottom of the window. This was noticeable when putting in the window AC units. The iron pipes that feed the 2nd floor radiators were behind unsightly (and dangerous) false walls on the first floor. The iron was replaced with copper and those pipes were neatly tucked behind the wall. Some of the old radiators were reused, and others were replaced with more appropriate sized radiators. All that cost money, but it was a small change that I felt made a world of difference.

Insulation is another thing you don’t see but made a world of difference. There was no insulation in the wall when they were opened up during the demolition. I got insulation in the exterior walls. I asked for insulation along the party wall that wasn’t exposed. And I even put some insulation between the 1st and 2nd floors. Later this and the improvements with the radiators helped keep the house toasty warm, especially the master bedroom.

The Spacepak system I put in actually came in 2008. As I mentioned in the previous post, I ran out of money. So the AC was tabled until the next year when I saved up enough for it. The vents had already been installed, I just needed the mechanical parts. I chose this system because I didn’t like the boxy look that came with most AC systems.

There were some other updates and things not in the house. The Ethernet wired system was messed up with renovation #3. I’m not sure what happened but something in the basement was cut or damaged. Wi-fi kind of made the system unnecessary. The 1st floor bathroom is larger than need be because I was going to put a shower in it. That never happened. There are pipes to feed water to a shower in the wall, but not a drain. We wound up just using the space as a pantry area. The new layout made the rear bedroom cramped. That was corrected in renovation #4. But in changing the layout it lost a closet. A closet was planned for renovation #4 but I wanted flexibility and figured a wardrobe would work just as well, so it never got its closet back.

Renovation #1- Kitchen

I’m taking a look back at the renovations 1618 4th St NW has had over the years since it is up for sale and on the market. I bought the house in 2001 and the kitchen was not working for me. It had a foot of counter space and the corner was taken up by one of those little stacked washer dryer units.Kitchen01Yes, 1 foot. You see that little bit of space near the sink? That was all the counter space I had. I couldn’t put a little table between it and the stove if I ever wanted to open the under counter drawer and cabinet.

Through swing dance friends I met my contractor, David. David was the GC for all the renovations going forward. I had talked to his references and they all liked him, he was communicative but artistic. Artistic is a problem when you want to keep costs down.

I documented my renovation with several LiveJournal blog posts, which I can’t find. But I still have the Flickr pictures. And I could find only one InShaw blog post mentioning the kitchen renovation.

It seems almost pointless to really mention the kitchen renovation because so much was undone by a later renovation. Renovation #4 for some reason killed the heated floor. Man I loved that floor. Reno #4 also changed the layout, the entry, the insulation and the ceiling height. The microwave had to be replaced in Renovation #2. The stove got replaced when David said he was taking one out of another kitchen renovation. The Bosch dishwasher was a renovation #3 or #4 thing. New ceiling lights were also from reno #4. The cabinets, the Corian countertops (more forgiving than granite) and sink and the most of the tiles on the floor remain.

An old bill says this kitchen redo in 2003 cost a little under $8000. I vaguely remember taking out a second loan to cover the cost, and something tells me it was more than $8K, as I had bought the tile and the lights and a few other things. It may have been around $14K with everything involved with add ons and what not.

When I finished my bright shiny I turned around and looked at the rest of my house. And that had me planning for the big renovation #2.



Going down and taking everyone with it

A neighbor on my block must really love this neighborhood. Mainly because his (and his wife’s) house is under construction for the 2nd… 3rd time? I lost count, but they’ve must have put in more money than the house is worth. The previous fixes have been mainly minor and one major thing. There was something dealing with poor drainage that plagued them for the longest. Well the current venture has them gutting the house. They didn’t intend to gut the house, but when you start to pull up floors and knock away old plaster you discover fresh heart sinking, bank busting horrors, like I did when I had my house renovated.
One of the horrors discovered was a combo pack of a poor electrical, mixed with bad brick, which under the right conditions could take out 1/3 of the block in a house fire collapse situation. Okay maybe 1/8th of the block trusting that at least one connecting house was renovated well enough to block disaster. Yes. There are supposed to be fire blocks between these old row houses, but ‘supposed to be’ and ‘actually is’ aren’t the same thing. Pulling away the drywall and plaster revealed failing brick load bearing walls, party and exterior walls with failed (questionable if brick was there in the 1st place) portions. Add these failed portions to an electrical system that came in contact with a leak and lint filled jerry rigged dryer vent, and we have the higher risk for fire. If the fire didn’t come then the failing brick wall, if it fell, would definitely have taken the neighboring house with it.
A former TC resident once told me that you never really know what you have until you get down to the brick and the joists.

Chef, Church, Contractor, Coffee

This posting is for stuff on the backburner I’d been meaning to post. So, going in alphabetical order

Chef Jean Claude LeLan that is. About a week ago I took my 3rd or 4th class with him and they are always wonderful learning and eating experiences. His classes tend to be on Sunday mornings at 10 at his home in Mt. Vernon Sq., so even after having a rich meal and a good deal of wine, I can toddle or waddle back home for a good nap. The next class he’s having is the sauce class January 11th. I’ve taken it and it is well worth it because Chef Jean-Claude is a hoot, you get to take some sauces home and the after class meal is brunch. I also recommend that you take good notes and ask questions because the handouts are general and some steps are not mentioned or can be adjusted or are estimates or there are ideas that come out of the class.
Chef Jean Claude also offers catering and cooking classes in your home. I am tempted to have him cater, but a cooking class would not work. My kitchen is tiny.

Church of the Immaculate Conception at 8th and N NW is one of two Roman Catholic Churches in Shaw, the other is St. Augustine. The pastor of Immaculate Conception, Rev. Msgr. James Watkins resides in Shaw, so he is a part of the community. Mass is as follows- Saturday 5:30 (29 minutes or less or your next mass is free); Sunday 9AM (1 hour), 11AM (about 1.5 hours), 6PM (Latin. Fr. Watkins’ Latin is lovely, everybody else….eh). And don’t bother with the website, it is stuck in Dec 2006.

Not exactly in Shaw, but close, and they asked nice, and I needed another ‘C’…

I’m Ongisa and we just opened up CocoLibre at 786 Harvard St. NW. It’s a Fair Trade Cafe’ that specializes in certified tea, coffee, and chocolate- plus your typical coffee shop fare like paninis and pastries. I know we aren’t exactly in Shaw, but we’re close. If you could give us a shout-out or something, that would be great. Check us out on the web- Feel free to hype us up and stop in for some great organic (and ethical) tea! Thanks.

Some of y’all wanted my contractor’s contact info. Well my 2007 big renovation job and my 2002-2003 kitchen job were done by David of Something Different Contracting, 2/321-6416. I do recommend him for your big house projects (things that may require permits). David is very communicative, and lives close, in Frozen Tropic land (Old City 1). He has worked with older homes and will work with you to salvage any old beauty that may still exist in your home. You can email me at mari at inshaw daht com if you have questions you want to ask.

Money and renovation

I feel a need to talk numbers. However, finances are a very personal topic, it’s sort of like talking about the details of your last doctor’s appointment. Yet, without numbers the topic remains vague.
In 2007 I documented the renovation of my house. Prior to that in 2003 the kitchen was done. Both jobs were done by David of Something Different, and I’m quite happy with David’s work and his work ethic. The kitchen cost about $17,000 and the main renovation was around $100K (hello big fat 2nd mortgage), counting the work done before and after with heating and cooling. The house is a little over 1,000 sq feet, not counting the cellar. So those are the numbers.
So when I hear others say that a renovation for a certain house of roughly the same size would be $200K to $300K to renovate, I’m not totally convinced. Not that you can’t spend that much, but it seems you can spend less. People with more building daring have spent less, being their own general contractor, saving $40K, working with the same sq. footage as my house. From my own experience, I know I could have saved some money by cutting out some luxuries. Such as the heated floor in the kitchen, the tile from Expo, the fancy bathroom with the claw foot tub, the separate heating and cooling systems. Of course there are some things I did and didn’t do that would have bumped the price up. I didn’t replace the section 8 windows, they work, the eco-building guy said they were acceptable, I’ll replace them later. I used low VOC paint, which costs more than regular Home Depot paint. On the other hand, some wonderful volunteer helpers and I painted the house, saving on labor.
Labor, that was a majority of my expenses. David bills by labor and materials. If I wanted we could have come up with a single bid price for the whole job but it would have been more. But with David’s way I saw what I was paying for, and man are men expensive, even the unskilled ones.
Lastly, a thing that I think really helped in price was I was renovating the house for me, not some unknown buyer whose tastes and preferences are unknown. I don’t need stainless steel anythings, so I won’t pay top dollar. I prefer Corian to granite, Formica would have been acceptable too. I am okay with used items, like the tub and the radiators. Also okay with the low end barber carpet. I like IKEA, and we hacked them a bit and gave them a non-IKEA look. My tastes were not an unknown factor, so then money could be targeted towards things I actually cared about or whatever David convincingly talked me into, like the heart pine floors.

DI4Y (Do It For Yourself)

I can’t say this weekend was quiet. The folks across the alley and over a few doors are putting a deck up. So this was a weekend of hammering and guys yelling at each other.
They sort of had a small deck-like thing, a legacy from before they bought the house. It was grey warped wood with splotches of moss and mold. It was also small, just big enough for 2 guys to sit out on it to smoke. The deck they are getting would allow for a table, where two-four-six guys can sit, smoke and maybe have a few beers. Considering how much use the old deck got, new one will get used often.
I’m thinking of some home improvements as well for 2009. The 1st floor was to have a shower, but I didn’t have the money for it in the renovation. I’m thinking I’ll save up some money, talk to David my contractor, get a figure from him, and add 30% on top of that. Also scheduled for 2009 is repainting the house. With the colors B &IT have for their house and the color of the house next to me, the color I’m choosing will make the three houses my alma mater’s school colors. Though the neighboring house’s color is a little on the pastel side to truly be a fighting school colors. Eh, close enough.
I think there is something special about home improvements people do for themselves, and not to just try to sell the house. Considering the cost, the hassle of dust and discomfort of strangers tromping through your house (if paying someone else to do it), it pretty much keeps improvements down to things that are needed. Also the improvements are truly ‘custom’ to the way the residents live.

Renovation 2007: Air Conditioning

If I haven’t mentioned it, Phase II of my house renovations is 99.99 complete. Phase I was the kitchen, Phase II was the big monster budget killing renovation, Phase III will be the cellar. But Phase II is 99.99% complete, the .01% is some touch up painting I need to get around to doing with the doors and where the wall meets the ceiling.
Anyway, I have AC, and the system that I have is the Space Pak. We’ve had a few warm days, and so far my feelings are mixed. First off, where I work there are spots where it is 60F and I have to bundle up, so I don’t want to freeze at home. And so I’ve had the AC on and turned it off because I thought it was too chilly. The 1st floor does get nice and cool and the 2nd floor, where the heat rises, is iffy. It isn’t hot, just noticeably warmer. This can be dealt with the ceiling fans.
I do like the look of it. No boxy ducts.
When Summer comes I’ll give another review.