Making Do – What It’s Like Living In A Construction Zone

IMG_5422.JPGWe’re at an inflection point in our kitchen remodel in that we think we’re finally done with the “destruction” part of our project, and are moving forward into the “construction” part of our project. But right here, right now, marks what we’re thinking of as the point of “maximal chaos” here in the PoP household (or at least pretty close to it).

While enduring chaos has been a non-trivial part of growing our net worth, these past six months have pushed the boundaries of what we’ve lived through before we started this kitchen renovation. Since already some of the worse parts of what we endured are starting to fade quickly from memory, I just want to take a few minutes to record some of the craziness that is living in a construction zone and just how adaptable we can be if we choose to be.

Survived without laundry for about a month while the plumbing for our laundry was moved (including moving the water pipes and the drain that ran through the foundation). At the time, this felt ridiculously hard. I had to trek over to Mr PoP’s parents’ house 15 minutes away (the nearest laundromat isn’t much closer than this) and spend several hours there doing laundry every weekend. How spoiled I’ve become since becoming a homeowner by having laundry in our house!

But that was just a taste of what was to come… 

Replaced the pantry with a cardboard box. The pantry was one of the first things to go when we started moving walls to widen the kitchen. Luckily, just the week before Kitty PoP had received his new Rolls Royce of litter boxes and the giant box it came in was quickly repurposed to store most of our pantry items. Seldom used items went into the back, and often used items like nuts, beans, dried fruit, and oatmeal went to the front. This box has moved around various parts of the kitchen, living room, and back patio to accommodate whatever construction we’re working on at the moment, but has served as our pantry for the last six months. And probably will for a couple more. Surprisingly, this hasn’t been a big deal. I’ve basically forgotten what’s at the back of the pantry/box (a George Foreman grill?), so maybe I’ll be getting rid of some small appliances when we’ve finally got cabinetry to empty the pantry/box into.

Lived without a kitchen ceiling for three months, and then with just insulation (no drywall) for another two months. Mr PoP and his brother pulled the kitchen ceiling down a week into January. It was March before we finished the truss modifications. And April before the electric and air conditioning was all completed in the ceiling and we could start to put up insulation. That whole intervening time, there was no barrier between our kitchen and our attic and the air conditioner was completely shut off from use everywhere in the house. Any time a stiff breeze blew through the soffit, a little puff of cellulose insulation would float down from the attic to the kitchen below. The kitchen was very susceptible to whatever temperature the attic was – getting down to 43 degrees the night the overnight temperature dropped to 36 (ridiculously cold for us) – and becoming quite steamy when the temperature started to rise to the high 80s. The rest of the house wasn’t quite as bad, but there were a couple of weeks where the interior temperature was still nearly 80 as we were trying to go to bed and we actually had to sleep with the sliding doors in our bedroom open at night to sleep. This was probably the low point of the entire renovation as I wasn’t actually sleeping much at all during this time and the exhaustion due to not sleeping well was really terrible emotionally.

Kitchen cabinetry kept slowly disappearing (as did the drywall and insulation behind them as electric and plumbing lines behind them were replaced) and appliances kept moving. As we went along replacing electric and plumbing lines in the walls, cabinets kept coming down and appliances were moved all around. Our refrigerator lived in various spots in our living room for five months (not having an icemaker was not a big deal). But having the microwave on the same circuit as the refrigerator and the laser printer was, apparently. It couldn’t run for more than 40 or so seconds without blowing the breaker there. As the cabinets came down, we managed to salvage a few of them, which we have stacked around the kitchen holding our dishes. When the cabinet that held the kitchen sink and dishwasher came out (the last to leave!), we thought we’d be able to get by with doing the dishes by hand in the utility sink in our garage, but found the local mosquito population liked that idea a little too much and instead Mr PoP constructed a temporary sink pedestal so we could keep dishes and a kitchen sink mostly-functioning inside. The dish-drainer, however, hasn’t been in the kitchen since January. It’s on the floor of the shower in the guest bathroom, of course.

Cooking has been challenging. Without a ceiling, the focus was on meals that could be prepared completely covered (thank you InstaPot!) and without a lot of counter space or requiring a lot of prep pots and pans. There have been many peanut butter sandwiches consumed this year. PB & banana on toast. With honey. Or agave nectar if that’s what’s in the pantry/box. PB on banana, no bread. PB & J on tortilla. Mr PoP is partial to an open face mountain of PB atop some J. We may be PB-d out by the end of this project (if we’re not there already). We’ve also eaten more Publix subs and other convenience foods than we otherwise would (heck even eating this much store bought bread is out of our normal, but a necessity).

The garage has also been completely occupied with construction materials and our poor car hasn’t been able to go to her room at night in months (and probably won’t be back in there until the fall at the earliest). Not only is she extra filthy from sitting out under the tree every night, but the interior actually got pretty waterlogged when the first big rain came and we hadn’t realized how her drain ports had been clogged by leaves and twigs falling into them and getting stuck.

We can’t walk barefoot through our own house. We’re sweeping up constantly, to keep nails, screws, and other sharp construction debris out of here, but the floor’s gotten even worse since we removed the tile a couple of weekends ago. Our current state has us with a floor that’s been mostly removed, but not prepped for new tile. This means there are still bits of tile mortar in spots, along with craters where some of the concrete came out with removing the tiles, as well as a thin film of dust that no matter how many times I sweep and vacuum won’t seem to go away. Kitty PoP is leaving dusty paw prints wherever he goes, so we have the fabric couches covered with sheets to protect them. Since the floor is so rough, we have as much of the living room furniture crowded into our bedroom as can fit, with the rest placed against the walls of the living room to leave room for stack of drywall and tools that is currently sitting in the middle of the living room.

Maybe all of this sounds like absolutely nothing to you, or an absolute blast. Mr PoP is the kind of guy that takes stuff like this completely in stride and even takes pride his stoicism in situations like these. For me, change like this is harder*. While I take pride in the work we’ve accomplished, I don’t necessarily take pride in the fact that we’ve been able to live in a construction zone and it stresses me out from time to time. Mostly I just see it as a necessary means to an end that I really do want, and that I will likely banish from my mind as soon as it’s all over and we’ve got the kitchen of my (our?) dreams. =)


* The family joke growing up was that they were lucky I was born after Vatican II, or I’d have insisted the priests turn around and speak in Latin! (Catholic joke, sorry if you don’t get it.)



31 comments to Making Do – What It’s Like Living In A Construction Zone

  • Despite all the work PoPs, you’ve kept those spaces remarkably clean. When I ripped the walls out of our bathroom I was annoyed because every couple hours another ball of insulation would fall from the ceiling and disperse all over the floor. I don’t even want to think about what a ceiling replacement would do.

    Keep up the great work….and glad to hear Kitty PoP is still well spoiled :)
    Income Surfer recently posted..Why I am Optimistic About Our Future Investment ProspectsMy Profile

    • Ahh, the falling insulation was something else. Luckily we were pretty prepared for the bulk of it and had completely taped off that room from the rest of the house. We do have a picture of Mr PoP standing in the middle of the kitchen with a mask over his face, shin-deep in insulation the day the ceiling came down. =)

      Kitty PoP is definitely still spoiled… though he does occasionally get annoyed when we lock him up in one of the bedrooms for a day on a weekend while we’ve got doors open and power tools going. So we compensate with extra treats.

  • It appears that saving the big diaper boxes will come in handy after all. We will be hitting our kitchen cabinets in August (most likely). Our kitchen remodel is much more piecewise, so hasn’t resulted in as much chaos as yours (thus far). It’s more been an annoyance akin to having a really bad song stuck in my head.

    I’ve been reading tons of home improvement blogs lately, and I think that I’ve become convinced that a true live in flip (instead of extensive live in renovations as I’ve decided to classify our work) would be a nightmare with kids.

    • Yes! Save the boxes! You will thank yourself later for having plenty of boxes to move stuff into when the cabinets start disappearing.

      I think you’re probably right about how difficult this would be with kids. The 1500’s did it with two little ones, but I think it’s tough enough just having to worry about us and Kitty PoP!

  • Thanks for sharing the update! I hope you can start moving toward assembling your new space soon. I imagine floors are first on the docket? What are you doing, floor-wise?

    • Floors were intended to be pretty high on the list, but the flooring we have our hearts set on is still sitting on a boat at a dock in China – ETA late July. =/ So we’ll be working on walls, and some of the other things we can do in the meantime with cabinetry and countertops for the next six weeks or so while we wait for our floors to get here.

      The floors that we’re going to get are definitely worth waiting for (the store won’t let us place the actual order until the boat leaves the dock, so it’s not a done deal quite yet). They’re beautiful cherry wood plank look porcelain tile and are of a very high grade (PEI 5 – commercial grade), so they should last a very long time without showing wear. And that’s important since Mr PoP has said he’s only ever going to replace the floors in our house once – so these babies need to keep me happy for the next thirty or so years! =)

  • I think you should leave it as is… looks great :) Getting close to the finish line!
    Fervent Finance recently posted..The MIA to LGA DebacleMy Profile

  • I bought a fixer upper and I promised myself that I would never do it again. It was one of the most stressful things that I experienced in my life. I will say that once the renovations were all complete it was well worth it. I hope you will feel the same.
    Petrish @ Debt Free Martini recently posted..The Secret Formula To Becoming Debt FreeMy Profile

    • I bet it’ll all be worth it in the end. As it is, we’re already really enjoying sitting at the table in front of our new dining room windows while we eat. It’ll be so wonderful to be able to have guests over to enjoy the same view with us over a nice meal!

  • Yuck. Boy am I glad our kitchen was already re-modeled when we moved in. Although our bathroom will get a total makeover one day. This makes our current backyard work look easy-peasy because we can just leave everything outside.

    Talk about hot sleeping temperatures ruining your day. We put in our air conditioner about a month earlier than last year because it was staying over 80 all night long indoors and it was awful.
    Norm recently posted..B-B-B-Bats!My Profile

    • Leaving everything outside when you’re taking a break is nice for the outdoor work, but you’re also working outside where it’s that much hotter! Mad props to you guys!

      And yes, 80+ degree temperatures when you’re trying to go to sleep at night are the pits.

  • That sounds super stressful! I’m not sure I could do it myself. Our place has been mostly a mess for the last six months since my boyfriend moved in, with us slowly rearranging and donating and throwing out things. We’re starting the second last of the rearranging projects now: the office. Once that one is done, then we have the last one to do, which is to sell my coffee table and end tables. I love homeownership in that we aren’t leaving any time soon, so we can take some time at getting this right. I’m hopeful that we’ll have everything rearranged before I start grad school in September! I miss being able to have people over, especially with the summer.
    Leigh recently posted..I don’t want kids.My Profile

    • I’m definitely with you – I miss being able to have people over and am accumulating a list of people that we’ve promised will have to come over when it’s all done. Maybe I’m cursing myself, but we might be overwhelmed with dinner guests this winter after we’re all done sharing the space with family and friends.

  • That seems rough! At least the end is in sight. Keep on trucking, Pops.
    Done by Forty recently posted..Linear Assumptions are BullshitMy Profile

  • I’m dreading being in a work zone for a month. I can’t imagine doing this for 8 months. It’s also painful watching all that saved up money flow out so quickly. I know this is why we saved it, but I get attached 😉

    Looks like you’ve made great progress. I think you really will be pleased with the end result!
    Mr. FI recently posted..Fun in MayMy Profile

    • Yeah, spending the money hasn’t been super fun, either. But spreading it out over the better part of the year means that it doesn’t feel quite as bad as it would otherwise. We’re still hoping the total cost comes in around $20K. As of now it’s probably going to be close to that and that definitely would have hurt to outlay all at once!

  • Wow this sounds like quite the headache! But I think it will all be forgotten once everything is in place and your house is exactly as you want it.

    I wonder if you’ve look at the numbers – cost saved living at home during construction vs. additional costs incurred for things like convenience food, etc.?
    Ali @ Anything You Want recently posted..The “Cost” of Your TimeMy Profile

    • Oh it’s a no brainer that we’ve saved a ton of money living through the construction, even considering incidental costs like increased convenience food.
      (Checking numbers…)
      We’re $141 over on our goals for food spending for the first five months of the year, and it would have easily cost us ~10x that PER MONTH to rent a townhouse/apartment near our neighbhorhood. A neighborhood further out might have been cheaper to rent in, but then we would have needed another car since the cheaper areas aren’t really bikable to my office…

    • Looking at the numbers is kinda our thing…
      Mr PoP @ Planting Our Pennies recently posted..Making Do – What It’s Like Living In A Construction ZoneMy Profile

  • Have you seen big fluctuations in your utility bills? I imagine after doing so much construction, with so much insulation gone, open ceilings, and the like, that your utility bills must be off the charts.


    • With utilities it’s tough to tell. Our solar panels went in this spring, too, so the tracking of our usage has been a bit in flux with getting a new meter, not to mention a YoY comparison isn’t really super fair since last April our usage was our lowest ever since we were in Australia for two weeks and only the bare minimum of systems were running in our absence. Bottom line, utilities have probably been a little higher (probably not much, really – <10% if I had to guess), but so far we've only felt it by not accumulating quite as many credit kWh from our overproduction as we might have otherwise given our April/May production compared to historical usage.

      Don't forget, when the ceiling was completely gone, it was winter here... ie, the time of the year when you can pretty much get away without using any climate control in South Florida. (The timing for the ceiling removal was VERY intentional.) Before the ceiling came out, we turned off taped over our HVAC controls so we wouldn't accidentally use it. The tape only came off when we had the ceiling completely insulated with new (and a much higher R-value) insulation. So we used basically no climate control for the three months where the kitchen was completely open to the attic.

      Well, we did use climate control on a few very cold mornings, but that was with a plug-in space heater in our bedroom. Those are energy hogs, but I don't think heating our bedroom with a space heater (doors closed) used much more energy than it would have taken to heat the whole house with our electric heater had we had the HVAC going heating the whole house, which is what we would have done on those frigid days if there had been a ceiling! =)

  • Peanut Butter overdose!

    In all seriousness, this shows how easily we get used to lots of comfort in our lives. Pictures of your unfinished kitchen, the temporary sink for example look like something that my grandparents would have thought of “very acceptable” to use. But today we think “eww, how can you try to cook with this mess”
    Stockbeard recently posted..Engineers, early retirement was made for youMy Profile

    • Too true. We have definitely gotten used to all sorts of comfort, though I can’t say my gram would have thought living through this would have been acceptable. Her father was an interior designer in NYC and she always kept a very proper and clean home. My Pop, on the other hand, was raised on a farm in Iowa and he probably would have been totally okay with living this way for decades. =)

    • My grandparents lived in our town in the late 1940s with no AC, so I tried that exact argument with Mrs. PoP while things were getting kinda hot at night. It, uh, fell on deaf ears to say the least =)
      Mr PoP @ Planting Our Pennies recently posted..Making Do – What It’s Like Living In A Construction ZoneMy Profile

  • I know Mr. FI already posted a comment already but I just wanted to say I am so glad you posted this! I, too, will probably get stressed out when we begin our reno (possibly starting this weekend – gasp!) and was pleased to see how you handled the food storage and sink situation. I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around how eating will go from here on out,especially with removing the cabinets, and you’ve given me some great ideas to try :)

    Thanks and I look forward to more updates as well as the end results!
    Mrs. FI recently posted..Fun in MayMy Profile

    • Good luck with your reno! Keeping stuff partially livable is a challenge, but well worth it. =)
      Oh, just a hint – most of the cabinets that are sitting on the floor are the old upper cabinets. The bottom cabinets had too much damage to be salvageable when they were no longer screwed into the walls.

  • Wow! I’m impressed. I definitely have trouble with chaos and more so with kids in the mix. But with things outside my comfort zone like that, it helps me think of myself as getting paid. (There was an MMM article about imagining yourself as a “Hasselhoff,” a professional hassle manager, that I really like.)
    Frugal Paragon recently posted..Well, My Time with Leapforce at Home Is DoneMy Profile

  • Heidi

    The toaster oven and George Forman grill were my best friends when I renovated my kitchen! I’d wrap everything in foil and then cook it, since I couldn’t wash large dishes in my bathroom sink :)

    Do you have an outdoor grill, maybe with a stove burner on the side? If you do, maybe cook on the grill as much as possible, and have a fold out table for food prep (since your kitchen counters are missing). And I’ve done dishes in a Rubbermaid container before instead of a sink :)

  • How’s the kitchen (of your dreams)? I hope the construction went well and with lesser stress.