Friday, October 31, 2008

Saving money on homeowner's insurance

I've learned, in the course of my shopping for homeowner's insurance, that the insurance companies don't like fuse boxes. This was finally made clear when the company I buy my auto insurance from refused to insure my house when they learned it had fuse boxes. A couple questions to another insurance company revealed a huge difference in premiums if I replaced the second floor fuse box with a circuit breaker. The difference was such that it would pay for the circuit breakers in two years.

This seems like it might be useful for others trying to lower their insurance premiums.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

[Updated November 3, 2008]

We received the city point of sale inspection report today. This work must be completed within 90 days or have substantial progress made on it. Of course exceptions are made for work that cannot be completed due to the weather - the garage slab, for instance, can wait until spring.

Further, the city requires that either the seller complete the work prior to closing, or that the buyer put into escrow 150% of the estimated cost of the repairs, to ensure that the work is completed and the contractors are paid. The seller stipulated in the contract that they were not going to be doing any of the work or paying for it, which we agreed to.

So, now that I have the report I have to go find one of the contractors registered with the city to write up an itemized estimate, even for the things that I think I can handle doing myself. Actually, it'll probably be at least three contractors - one for the masonry work, one for the garage slab, and one for everything else.

The quantity of work listed is about what I had expected. The part of all this that frustrates me the most is having to get a contractor to write up an estimate for work that I could clearly do myself, like replacing a smoke detector or a broken window pane.

The only item that I really take issue with are the two gutters that they say have to be replaced. While I agree that they do need to be repaired, I simply cannot afford to replace them with copper - the one on the front of the house would be about $600, just for materials. I'm going to call up the inspector tomorrow and try to plead my case with him - hopefully he'll be reasonable.

I had previously assumed, incorrectly, that the gutters were seamless, and that I'd have to replace a rather extensive section. It seems, in fact, that the gutters are made of smaller sections, soldered together, and that the two parts that have to be replaced are about 4 feet each - much more reasonable.

Garage and breezeway

Front roof detail

The damage on both of the gutters is to the left.

The following is the inspection. Commentary in italics is mine.

Interior House


Boiler Room
1. Remove out-of-use globe valve and properly cap gas line above boiler
2. Repair damaged areas of foundation at west and south side.
3. Tuckpoint foundation where mortar is loose/missing at west and south side.
4. Scrape loose and/or flaking material from wall(s) at north and east walls.

Recreation Room
5. Make smoke detector fully operable. Read: buy new battery or, worst case scenario, replace smoke detector.
6. Properly repair damaged 2 inch drain pipe at rear wall using PVC pipe and approved all metal no hub clamps. This becomes more difficult because the break is right at the point where the pipe goes into the basement floor, so part of the floor will have to be cut away.

First Floor

7. Repair damaged area(s) of (Bowed) wall(s). Replace Section This should be relatively easy - I've seen it on several houses this age. Once the plaster is removed, we can assess the degree of bowing and either replaster or put drywall over it.

8. Install surface run NM conductor(s) in conduit under sink. All electrical wiring run under sinks needs to be run in conduit.

Second Floor

Rear Porch
9. Repair loose door knob at main and storm doors.
10. Scrape and paint exterior storm door.

Master Bedroom
11. Secure loose light fixture. (Ceiling Fan Base)

Master Bathroom
12. Replace ceiling light fixture with UL approved moisture resistant light fixture inside shower stall. Presently, there is a single bare bulb mounted on the ceiling in the shower. We'd planned to deal with this immediately anyway. I'm not sure whether we'll raise the ceiling in the shower at the same time or not.

Rear Drive Side Bedroom
13. Secure door stop(s) at entry. (Make Flush)

Third Floor

Main Room
14. Replace cracked window pane at front.

Exterior House

1. Replace damaged/deteriorated or missing gutter at second floor.
2. Scrape and paint to include stucco area above entry, stucco area next to first floor window and window sill at first floor bay.
3. Replace cracked window pane at second floor right of entry.

4. Replace damaged/deteriorated or missing gutter at first floor including breezeway.
5. Reset loose bricks in chimney. (East Chimney)
6. Tuckpoint chimney where mortar is loose/missing. (East Chimney)
7. Scrape and paint bay door at garage and trim around bay door.
8. Properly secure trim at lower east side of bay door next to hose spigot. It's a small board. Two trim nails will do the trick.

Drive Side
9. Scrape and paint window sills at garage.
10. Tuckpoint step riser(s) where mortar is lose or missing at rear entry.

Garage Interior
11. Replace deteriorated garage floor. PERMIT REQUIRED.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Two bay windows

West (driveway) side

This bay window is on the driveway side of the house. It is theoretically a breakfast nook, though there really isn't space in the kitchen for the table that that would entail. It has a box gutter, lined with copper, which has been painted brown. The flashing, likewise, is copper, and has been painted brown. It should look even more lovely once the paint is removed.

Bay window gutter detail

Note the curious manner in which the gutter attaches to the downspout. I'm not sure how this might have been installed originally. The downspout is definitely a later replacement, of aluminum.

Living room window

This bay window is on the front of the house, on the living room. I suspect that the roof may have been copper, originally. The gutter was hand-fabricated to fit the form of the curve. It has taken a bit of a beating (see detail, below), however, it still does its job well. The downspouts are clearly later replacements - I suspect that the originals had a bit of a return on them, though I have been unable to locate mounting locations for them.

Living room gutter (detail)

Homeowner's Insurance

My bank, like most, if not all banks, requires that I have homeowner's insurance. This requirement seems reasonable to me.

For the purposes of this discussion, the price we are paying for the house will be referred to as X. I looked around, and it seems that we've managed to get a good deal - to buy a comparable home (same build quality, size, and size of lot) - would cost 2X. This seems a reasonable amount to insure the house for.

However, while I was able to get quotes online for insurance at this level, when I called up one of the companies, they stated that they would only insure for full replacement cost, and that if something were to happen to the house, that they would rebuild it.

I have no interest in a new house. Zero. There's just no way that a new house would have the charm or character that this one does. What I would want is to buy another similar house. This insurer estimates that the cost of rebuilding would be 4X. Base upon what I know about construction, and given all the extra features that they didn't ask about (and I didn't mention), I suspect the cost of rebuilding would be closer to 6X.

I don't want to pay for insurance on a house costing 6X. I just want to be able to get another similar house in the neighborhood if something catastrophic should happen to mine. Why is this so difficult?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Trials and Tribulations of Steel Casement Windows

Kitchen window

We are fortunate that the house retains all of the original steel casement windows. Even more fortunately, they all seem to be in good operating order.

My issue is with the storm windows and screens. They are all aluminum framed replacements, some installed on the exterior, and some, as shown below, installed on the interior.

Window, west side of house

Window trim detail, west side of house

Originally, it seems that the storm windows were mounted with this hardware. The storms are long gone.

At present, to open or close a window, one must remove the 8-10 screws holding the screen in place. This is ridiculous.

Another house we looked at, of similar vintage, had wood casement windows. The screens and storms were also wood framed, probably original, and were mounted on the inside. The screens had a small hole in the frame, at the bottom, to allow a crank to pass through, to open and close the window. This simple solution seemed so brilliant to me at the time - I've since learned that it's not uncommon.

I can't see a way to apply that solution to this house - it seems that it would require a major expenditure on new hardware that probably wouldn't look right. I'm also not interested in roller screens - while they may have been there originally (I haven't investigated fully, but I'm pretty sure I haven't seen any remnants of them) they're a pain in the neck to use.

I'd love to hear any thoughts or experiences with screens and steel casement windows that might be useful.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Finally, photographs!

Due to popular demand, I'm going to share some photographs of the house we are purchasing.

Somehow, the only photograph I have of the front of the house is from the listing.

Front entrance

Rear view
Rear, with semi-attached garage.

Walkway between house and garage

Entrance hall and stairs.

Dining room
Dining room.

Living room
Living room. The fireplace is stone of some sort, and has been recently painted. I don't think the carpet will be there long either.

The kitchen has some nice 1950s steel cabinets. The while tile has, in fact, been painted. I'm curious to see what color it actually is.

Kitchen Kitchen


The library.

Work sink, laundry room
This sink might not seem so impressive, until you note that it is cast iron.

Master bathroom Built-ins, master bathroom

Shower enclosure, master bathroom

Master bathroom
The master bathroom is in remarkably original condition, although the toilet and sink were replaced at some point. The floor tiles, rather than the usual squares or hexagons, are round. Note the nice border near the top of the room. Finding the missing handles and parts for the shower is going to take a long long time (or a lot of money). The one original handle is for the "needles".

Built-ins, northwest bedroom
Built-ins, in one of the bedrooms.

Third floor bathroom
The fixtures in the third floor bathroom appear original, except for the toilet. I'm slightly tempted to move the basement toilet up here, to have one completely originalish bathroom.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Moving forward

The seller of the House of Our Dreams ™ has accepted our offer. We close a month from today. Now we just have to go through all the paperwork, paperwork and more paperwork.

This will change the direction I take this blog in, as said house is almost exactly what we want, and won't require a ton of work to make it habitable. There will be lots of little things, though, like trying to find the right white tile to replace the couple missing from the bathroom, slate repair, working on steel casement windows, and more.

It will also provide me the opportunity to showcase all the great houses we looked at but decided not to buy.