Our Yellow House

SOLD Summer 2013!

When we bought the place in 2006, we thought it was one of the best condition downtown houses.  Most we had been in had really scary basements and issues all over.  We came into the house knowing that there were a few siding issues and single pane windows, so we would want to do some work with those.  Everything else was fine.  It didn't take long living here to realize that the previous owners were great for style, but they did not deal with real issues - the boiler leaked exhaust into the utility room and couldn't keep up with heating on the coldest days in this totally drafty, uninsulated house; it rained through the window surrounds on the west side of the house and other windows, once opened, wouldn't close; most of the appliances were "special" at best.

Without intending to, we've basically re-built the entire house...  (and our furniture came from a totally different style house!)

AFTER (spring 2013), BEFORE (2006):

Before: Upstairs bathroom
Before: Upstairs bathroom
After: Upstairs Bathroom

After: Upstairs Bathroom

After: Upstairs Bathroom

Before: Living room
After: Living room

After: Living room

After: Living room

Before: Dining room
After: Dining room
Before: Kitchen/dining

After: Kitchen/Dining
Before: Kitchen
After: Kitchen
After: Kitchen
After: Kitchen/Dining

Before: Laundry room
After: Laundry room

Before: Basement playroom
After: Basement playroom
After: Basement playroom
Before: Office
After: Office
After: Office

Before: Front Bedroom
After: Front Bedroom
After: Front Bedroom

Before: Landing Hall
After: Landing Hall

Before: Master Bedroom
Before: Master Bedroom

Before: Master Bedroom
After: Master Bedroom
After: Master Bedroom
After: Master Bedroom

Before: Front hill - this is not a true before since we mowed twice before deciding that the slope had to NOT be grass.

Before: Siding was rotten and plywood.

Before: Front entry

Before: Screen Porch - the patio furniture went on the brick patio, so we put out folding camping chairs to  "furnish" the porch...

The windows and siding were the first thing we tackled in fall 2006.  Brian did the interior window trim himself to save money when we heard what the whole exterior was going to cost.  Room by room the windows were trimmed and other things were cleaned up.  Every painted square inch of the house was re-painted.  Once we got new windows, we didn't want to hang window air conditioning units in them any more, so we got central air installed.  The boiler was replaced with an ultra high efficiency unit, to save on the monthly heating bills.  While we were doing the boiler, it made the most sense to get an indirect hot water unit rather than continue to limp along the water heater.  Now, we have unlimited hot water powered off the boiler.  Whenever we had walls opened up, Brian's friend, the spray foam insulation guy came over to make it more cozy.  We really like to be warm and cozy, so we have also added 3 gas fireplaces - one in the dining room, one in the living room, and a stove in the basement family room.  If we could easily figure out where to squeeze one in and how to get a gas line there, the office and master bedroom would also get fires!

While we did a lot of it ourselves, dealing with a 120ish year-old house, some things are just too complicated or time-consuming to tackle ourselves.  We're working on making a comprehensive list of the most trustworthy contractors in SE MN, for any of you who might need a little professional help!

Every time we finish a "major" project, we consider selling and moving on.  Make that we constantly think about selling and moving on.  I couldn't tell you exactly why we're so restless, but there is definitely a sense that as soon as the next opportunity presents itself, we're all over that.  If we don't end up selling and moving on, we get to live in a sweet house that's very conveniently located just blocks from downtown, you can't go wrong with that!

The promised Contractor List:
For those of you in the Rochester, MN area, these are people who we recommend having bid your project.  All phone numbers are area code 507 unless otherwise stated.  This list is straight from Brian, he recently provided it to a friend who is tackling finishing their basement.

Kenny Hill, 635-5499.  He and his nephew did the framing on our bathroom.  They were great and you won't beat their rate.

Finish carpenter
I've done most of this myself.  The little bit I haven't done (railings/balusters/some door work) was done by my floor guy.  If I needed some trim work done, he's the first one I would call.  He is VERY VERY GOOD and has reasonable rates.  However, he's like a tornado going through your house.  Jim Curtis 252-9386.  Other options would be to ask the people you get bids from while they are at your house.  They all know someone that does whatever you need.

I used Brian Schwanke 951-8897.  Excellent work, and about 1/2 of what the Tile Superstore was going to charge us.  
For the actual tile, Laitala Tile Company has a huge selection, you'll deal with the owner, and she knows Brian. 1601 3rd Ave SE.

Depending on what you need done, your tile person would probably do it.  For example a stone or brick veneer fireplace surround, they would probably do.

I did my own, but I have a couple names from when I got my bids.  Rory Horsman 259-0204  Christians Remodeling (Miguel) 358-3247.  Miguel did work for my brother and dad; both loved the guy. Friends used these guys and don't recommend them.  

All of my fireplace bids have been very similar from shop to shop.  At Brekke, you'll deal with the owner.  http://www.brekkefireplaceshoppe.com/ 
Or buy one online and have it installed by the framer and vented by HVAC.

Other stuff
1.  Based on our bathroom, the Tile Superstore is about the most expensive option in town.  This was true for tile work, cabinets, counter tops, sinks, and hardware. 
2.  Sometimes little things can have a major impact on price.  We're getting a granite top with 2 under mount sinks.  I wanted square bowls.  This ranged in price from $1000-$1500.  But for round bowls, granite fabricated in China is an option.  That drops the price to $339 + installation.  We're getting round bowls.
3.  Get multiple bids.  Sometimes there won't be much price difference, and sometimes it will be huge (like 3x).  Also, different guys will have different approaches.  Ask for suggestions.  They do this all the time and will probably have some good ideas for functionality, style, or a way to do it cheaper.
4.  Menards special order.
5.  Prepare to do a lot of scheduling, unlocking the door, and shopping.
In addition to Brian's advice for the basement finish, more contractors we've used and recommend:

Wood floors
Jim Curtis - see Finish Carpenter above.  He did amazing work on our stairs.  He has a saying: "it doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to look perfect."  A couple perfectionists like us really appreciate that!  Noah calls him "Super Jim".  If Noah's doing something that we think will harm the wood finish, we can quickly correct that behavior by asking him to not hurt Super Jim's floors!

Exterior- siding, doors, windows
Jim Kuisle out of Stewartville.  Honest, conscientious, quality work.  Very good experience for our first major hire-it-out remodel job.

We like guy's named Jim, can you tell?!

We struggled with this one, Superior Plumbing is called Superior Rates Plumbing at our house.  We've had quite a few come through for our various projects.  We might have finally found "our plumber" in Zumbro Valley Plumbing - his name is Don and he's trustworthy and a decent communicator, 635-3131.  We have a lot of challenging plumbing situations in our house.  He got a second opinion on how to do a couple of things, so he's humble too!

We used K&S, but it seems like nobody in town really knows radiant heating.  We had half a dozen bids and learned a lot with every additional person who came through.  Brian has become quite a hot-water heating expert over time here.  He's read a lot about it and his physics mind is able to comprehend the whole system.  We have substantially lowered our heating bills and increased the comfort in our house - a combination of insulation and dialing in the heating system.

How could we forget!  Dave's Insulation from Kasson is your man!  His wife works with him (love it!) and she oversees the end-of-job clean-up so that it is better than any other contractor on this list!  He offers closed-cell spray foam, our personal favorite, as well as the more traditional fiberglass bats and blown-in.

We used K&S again here, after substantial shopping around.  They dropped the attic air unit on the stairs on the way up...  While this started the chain of events that found us "Super Jim", I would rather have not had that experience.

Curry Custom Cut Gutters comes from Chatfield.  We used him on our first house and Jim Kuisle called him in on this place.  Back in our old house, I was teaching, so spent the summer taking care of things like this.  I interviewed 2 gutter installers.  The first guy totally creeped me out (and stunk of smoke).  Curry came along and was friendly, personable, and knowledgeable.  Before we even got the bids back, I told Brian that we were going to use Curry because I was going to be home for the whole day when they were working at our house and the other guy was not someone I would be comfortable having around!

We have pretty high standards for recommendation.  It's very subjective, but one of the standards for a contractor is that he can't give me the creepies in any way (see Gutters)!  I want to be comfortable in my own home and expect that the people who come and do work here won't make me uncomfortable.  I generally prefer non-smokers, but a few smokers made the list anyway, because of quality work and personable service.  We expect our contractors to be EXPERTS.  We only hire out the stuff that is too intimidating to tackle ourselves.  The guys who generally do new construction and haven't seen any of the crazy things that you find in old houses aren't on our list.  If we could find a how-to video on the web and follow along, then we save the bucks and do it ourselves.

If you have any SE MN contractors that you recommend tell me about them.  If you have used any of these people, or have projects coming up where they could help, let me know that too!