July 21, 2024


Elegant home interior

Living through construction: the inconvenience of home renovation

ROCKY RIVER, OHIO – It was 8 a.m. on a Thursday, rush hour on our street as kids head to school and commuters leave for work. And there was a giant truck in our driveway.

“Where do you want your wood?” asked the driver.

Where did I want my wood? I had no idea. How much wood were we talking about?

A lot. A flatbed full. So much that it required three trips up our driveway with a forklift.

As soon as that wood was neatly stacked by our detached garage, in came a truck with a dumpster. Right after that, a truck loaded with portable toilets.

The school bus drivers must have loathed us that morning. But nothing about home renovation is convenient. For months, you live in a construction zone, hoping the noise and mess, extra work and expense are worth it. I mean, who wants a portable toilet in their backyard? Or piles of construction supplies killing your grass and blocking your vegetable garden? Or power tools drowning out a Teams call?

The goal was/is to add a second story laundry room above our existing kitchen and transform our unfinished attic into a dreamy bed-and-bath suite, complete with a shiplap fireplace.

To prep, I first had to clear out the attic, stuffing out-of-season dresses into my son’s closet and filling corners of the basement with fans and humidifiers and quilts, plus junk I probably didn’t need to keep. I took up rugs and removed family photos from the walls. I arranged for a place to podcast every morning, so I wouldn’t be interrupted by the banging and buzzing of contractors.

But I hadn’t contemplated the simplest, first request: where to put the loads of wood.

That morning, as I took a photo for posterity of the forklift lumbering down our driveway, I steeled myself for a long couple of months, for wrecked grass outside and drop cloths snaking over the floors indoors.

At least we didn’t have to move out during the work, since it was all happening in space we didn’t yet use. So I thought. I hadn’t realized they’d need to open up our kitchen walls or drill through basement rafters to insert pipes. (Note to self: Move stuff out of the way before the sawdust ends up on everything.)

Earlier column: From Mrs. Kaiser’s to our forever home: What it’s like to renovate a 109-year-old farmhouse

Framers arrived with a mechanical lift, to demolish existing walls and build new ones. Off came the house’s gutters and drain pipes, shutters and 1970s aluminum siding, revealing the original, century-old siding beneath. Off came the iron railing on our second story porch, all in one piece. It’s still sitting in the backyard, just like much of the wood. Who knows what we could use it for?

The crew worked quickly, hammering and sawing and pounding. In days, they had studs in place and a roof on top. Holes were cut for windows in both the second-story laundry room and the third-floor bathroom. Tyvek wrap covered the exterior.

And our bathroom was full of debris.

See, our house is 109 years old. In order to get air conditioning into the second floor, a previous owner had installed big ducts that looked like robot arms spread through the attic to feed into ceiling vents. When workers removed the ducts, there was, essentially, a hole in the floor where the men were working. So wood chips and dirt and insulation fell to the tile below. Right where we stepped out of the shower.


I vacuum nearly daily. I podcast from my neighbor’s daughter’s bedroom. (Thanks, guys!) I turn up the volume and put my Teams calls on mute when the crew is sawing pipes in my stairwell. I pick up green plastic button caps in my yard as I weed.

The guys have been great. And I am trying to tamp down my type-A need for neatness and order. While I’d love to be able to plant my vegetable garden this week, as the greeting card framed in my bedroom says, “The mess is so often where the magic is.”

But we have so much more project — and mess — before we’re done.

On a recent morning, a big truck backed into our driveway at 6:23 a.m., while I was heading to the gym. They were delivering windows. This time I knew exactly where they should go.

Content director Laura Johnston writes occasionally about modern life, usually with kids. She is chronicling her home renovation every other week.

attic construction

Framing is done, and studs are in, including for a fireplace in the attic.