Home renovation: end of "phase 2"


I've blogged a few times on how girlfriend and me bought a house on the very end of 2018, moved in in april 2019 and then started some pretty extensive house renovations. That is: 2 chimneys and a wall went down, digged 40 cm into the ground in the downstairs corridor, extended kitchen and TV-room to replace the pipelines with floor heating, redid all the waterworks, had all the electricity (mostly lighting) redone, replaced all windows and the front door and after the dust settled added new wallpaper and paint. Oh, and laminate flooring on the first floor.

This was all what I'm calling "the first phase". Because we were living in this place, we had all the motivation to hurry. Not just because "Winter Was Coming"(tm), but more importantly: Baby Was Coming. It was madness and I wouldn't recommend everything, but we somehow managed to do all that by january 17th, 2020. When our daughter was born, she had a baby room, we had heating, we had our kitchen properly installed (2 weeks prior or something) and we had a place to stay.

We weren't done, exactly. The back end of the house could use a thorough cleanup, and most importantly: the attic. I really wanted a place for myself, and with my study being "stolen" by the baby (how dare she! ;) ), that attic was the next project.
Of course we had no idea that within a couple months, I'd be swimming in free time. After the initial shock, I gradually started focussing on what I always called "phase 2".

2.1: the back of the house

I wanted to work on the attic as fast as possible, but girlfriend kept her own priorities. She convinced me that the work in the back could be done "at the same time" as in the attic. I thought it was a bad idea, and on hindsight I was right. But that's priorities for you. And it's not like I had much of a choice because I needed my father-in-law for most of the jobs, and he only listened to his daughter. So...this work on the back of the house became "a thing" in my project for the attic. Then that "thing" took priority over most everything. For good reasons, but still...

But anyway: the back. Mid 2020, we had a veranda, somewhat of a small study/connecting room and a washing room. Okay, and a toilet area, which was a room carved into the washing room. These all needed work. I'm not sure on the history, but probably one of the previous owners had a sort of heating device on oil ("mazout" in Dutch), and then a later owner placed a water heater in the attic without removing the previous monster. And monster is almost taken literally (it conjures images of the heater in the basement of the first home alone movie): a giant metal frame with all sorts of pipes leading everywhere over the walls and into the ceiling. The thing is: it was no longer connected. Heck, it mostly wasn't connected anymore when we bought the house! But it was bolted into the washing area VERY WELL. And it had to go.
Writing it in summary's easy, but using a grinding wheel is hot, dangerous, loud and downright scary. Especially in the weird positions and corners I sometimes worked in. But after some days, the individual pipes started coming together and the whole monster could be escorted out. Of course the floor was equally terribly dirty, but there were plans for that.

By the time that got anywhere, girlfriend had another idea: tear down the wall between the veranda and the study. It seemed ridiculous at first, but on hindsight I have to say this was a brilliant move. The wall didn't support anything and the study was too small (and a "passing through" area) to have proper use. The wall was mostly glass, but if you think that made things easier I've got to disagree. Oh, breaking the glass was easy enough (and actually fun to do). But the window frame was solid iron. So...more use of the grinding wheel. I have no idea how often I've nearly hacked off my own fingers, but it's a job that requires all concentration. I managed.

Summer of 2020 things got easier. The walls in the newly made large room was plastered, which was pretty amateuristic really. We gave it a proper second layer, then papered it, then painted it.
Well...I did, mostly. Baby got into the crawling phase at this time, so girlfriend didn't help as much as she did before pregnancy. But I was used to working alone on what I could do alone and with father in law on what I had no idea how to do.

Or with his brother. See, the veranda needed a lick of paint, new windows and a new roof. and that "seat" on the side had to be replaced by girlfriend as well. An uncle could help with the former two things, the latter's my father-in-law's specialty. Though it would still take a year before daughter could climb and sit in the newly created wooden 'seat' on the side of the veranda, I can now say that the work had been worth it.

Meanwhile the washing room and toilet had gotten a thorough papering and painting as well. And even some wooden frame in the gap between the toilet and the wall. To me this was an extra...but again: it's a pretty fancy extra when it's done.

Flooring in this area was early fall 2020. And in just two days, the back of the house changed from "passable" to "great place!". The reason is one of the weirder aspects of the house: nearly every room had their own floor tile. And that's hardly an exxageration (at one point I counted four different ones in five adjacent rooms). The laminate floor didn't just look well with the rest of the wooden finishes but made the whole MUCH more consistent.

Now...there have been changes there since 2020 and 2021, but only a few. Placement of furniture, mostly. But it's in the end of 2020 that the focus started going back to where I wanted it...

2.2 the attic; basics

A main problem to overcome with the attic was as basic as crucial: proper access. Initially, our corridor ended just at the top of the stairs where it split into 3 rooms and a ladder in the ceiling. Those rooms were the bathroom (forgot to mention: another huge-ass renovation in the first phase), the study/baby room/guest room/stock (erm...I guess the description shows why we needed the attic :P ) and our large bedroom. And when I say "our large bedroom", I mean LARGE. It was large when we first saw it, and that was before we learned that the previous owners had put a wardrobe blocking the view of the central chimney. When we had that chimney removed, the room was even longer. Which gave us an idea that was easier said than done: we create an extra wall between the entrance and the wardrobe closet. That way, that wardrobe closet can be tore down and become the starting point to where new actual stairs could be made to the attic.

Jeez...now I write it out, I wonder how nuts I must've been to have believed we could pull something like that off. I mean sure, our bedroom would be shrinked but still be a very decent size. But creating a wall?
Luckily, my father-in-law and my father had good ideas on this. Gyproc, profiles...I can hardly tell the names in Dutch, but they knew what we needed, where we would get it and how to set it all up. And we did. With a door opening into it and a 45 degree angle at one point, no less! (the wall would've ended directly into our window otherwise :P ).
This also took weeks, of course. But it was crucial to get this done before the next part because the next part is where the dust would make its reappearance...

See, the new stairs would be made directly on top of the previous stairs. And the cupboard closet would be an ideal spot for it. But even so: there was a wall in the way. And even worse: there needed to be made a huge hole in the floor of the attic where the stairs would come out.

The cupboard wall was remarkably easy to break, even relatively. I had it completely teared down in less than an hour. Yup. Too bad it took the entire rest of the day to prepare for and then clean up the mess I'd made.

The hole in the floor of the attic was among the scariest projects here. The grinding wheel gave me nightmares, but this was ME. That hole is something I just couldn't have done alone. And my father (then 70 years!) was a great help. It was sweaty, dusty, we had a massive headache by the end of it and I was scared to death that the falling debris would somehow fall through the safety nets or thoroughly scratch the walls. Or worse: that one of us would fall down a story and a half.
But we managed without incidents. It was a very scary endeavor, but we survived. And prospered.

So...the actual stairs, then. This is perhaps the first part where the pandemic really affected us negatively. Because where everyone else was twiddling thumbs or learning to bake bread, THIS was the sort of thing that was going on here. If we weren't raising baby, of course (she could crawl and bubble some words at this stage). But finding someone who could measure up, create and also place the stairs took a long time. And it nearly wouldn't have worked either (the attic's not that roomy for what is essentially a crane to lift up the stairs into its final position). But it did. At one point last spring we suddenly were able to WALK to the attic instead of using a dangly ladder.

2.2 the attic; creating the area

However...while a large step, it was still only a first step.One that was hard to believe in, even. See...you know slanted roofs, right? Now...imagine two slanted roofs that are slammed into each other, as in some sort of cross when looked at from above. Well...that's the sort of attic we have. On one hand, it's pretty large. But on another it was quite a challenge to properly use it, as a pretty large area is smaller than you can even stand up. And the stairs and the water heater (just on top of the stairs) already claimed some not insignificant amount of that space.

But this is nearly all me. Girlfriend had some good ideas as well, but when I now look at the place I feel like all my gazing at the plans and going to measure up lenghts and heigts "just one more time" has made it all worth.
...I'm getting ahead of myself. Back to the next main issue at hand. At this point, the floor of the ceiling was covered with all sorts of wires and cables. Electricity that was neatly conceiled below crisscrossed over the floor. The monstrous pipelines we'd hidden behind walls? Also straight over the floors. Even the gas supply for the water heater ran straight over the floor. So what did father-in-law and me do? We created a new floor.

More specific: we created a huge "checker pattern" of wooden beams. Horizontally over the whole area with 40 cm between every aspect (and broken up so we wouldn't disrupt the cables and pipelines). then we screwed the second layer on top of it in the other direction. This wasn't really hard work as it was tedious. I must've drilled well over 200 nails into this pattern. All with my father in law. We would both position on how to hold it down, and then I'd screw it in. Again and again. I must admit my hand steadiness increased just from that work (which took nearly a month, I think).

The next step: plates. This was very fun at first: all the measuring up ("this isn't horizontal! Get rid of the screws and add in a small beam over there!") and acrobatic work payed off as we could now lay down large plates that just click into each other and...

...and then I realised these should be bolted on the beams as well. Yup. Insert two more full boxes of screws into this! (each containing 100 screws, so I'm not exaggerating here). But it was nearly summer now, and we FINALLY could move around in the attic without risking a misstep could mean a sudden fountain or even a gas leak.

This time we had prepared for the next parts: plastering. The insides of the slanted roofs were just wooden inserts. Dark, ugly, the opposite of smooth and impossible to maintain. But correctly measuring and placing gyproc in this weird shape of roof would take months and never would look right. So we hired a guy. Two guys, in fact (one for the gyproc, another to paint "stuff" on the straight walls). It took a while before they had time, but we had properly prepared and were just about done with our work when they could start theirs.

It only took them each two days to get it done...and thus far everyone who has seen the "before" and "after" is awestruck. It wasn't an attic anymore: it was a room. Correction: two rooms (we had decided to split the cross into two rooms for maximum efficiency). Even now I can look at this place and go "wow...this is just so incredibly, incredibly GOOD! :D ".

2.2 the attic; the hateful details

It had been nearly a year since we'd seen our electrician, but he fixed up the place. Then we started painting everything. And then we got more laminate and laid some ground floor. And then...we hid a pause due to unforeseen circumstances.

Again: the roof is slanted. So how do we efficiently use the lots of "small" area? Crawlspaces. Closets. Stockage area. Even 'room', if you're lenient with the description. By this time we had marked out the places where we'd create them, where we would put up wooden plates and even how to anchor them to the walls.
The pause is because these needed to be ordered, very tightly sawed and placed. And my girlfriend's uncle was the person with this specific saw...and he got seriously ill in fall 2021. Not covid, but that's not much of a comfort to him.

So...pause. Wasn't much we could do. Walking, playing, clapping and singing with our now-toddler. Make plans. Hope for the best. And...

And then it suddenly hit the ground running. Uncle came, plates got places, plints got measured and places...and then all the furniture went upstairs.

And I mean ALL the furniture. My desk that had become buried into no less than 5 crates of baby clothes (that girlfriend promises she'll try to sell off one day). My entire 100+ board game collection that went in the specific cupboard father-in-law and me made for me. The spare bed that was littering our own bedroom for the last year or so. My spare desk that I had used downstairs for PC purposes but that was still in hearshot of the television (meaning: gaming immersion's nearly impossible because fuck headphones).

And the crawlspaces filled up as well. Our garage was supposed to be empty in the summer of 2020. It was in the tail end of 2021 that finally most of my stuff found a home outside the cold.
Most of my stuff (I still have things I'm not sure on). My desk is now not in the passageway of a toddler screaming for attention, a dog wishing walkies and a girlfriend who's too lazy to get herself a cup of cola zero (yes, I know it's not flattering...but you get why gaming isn't a high peak in this kind of circumstance?). In fact, I finally have two screens again! Two!

It's still not perfect. This week I dusted two year old spider rags off my poster frames and hung them up. Early next week I'll replace the simple lights with the fancy spots girlfriend bought for me (well...okay, with common money but ey...I guess it's her way of contributing to an actual home). Yesterday I even connected my spare wii and xbox360 to girlfriend's old television set in a corner that I had intended for such (I used to have no gaming space. Now I suddenly have two back to back). I even have a backup desk. And a backup two person bed, which means acquantances could spend the night with us if they want to.

As said...it's not finished. But it's the end of a phase. The first one was a struggle to make our mad plans into something inhabitable. The second one was to prepare to make it a home.

I've never really considered this place I live in my home. Perhaps after nearly three years of inhabiting it, it might become mine...
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