By August 2014, we had a year of renovations under our belt and it had cost us a lot. Not only financially, but we had done very little relaxing, socializing, skiing, or much of anything BUT renovations. We were exhausted and began to enjoy a teeny weeny bit of time off. Gary was busy with (paying!) work and I was planning the wedding and getting used to coming home from the office and putting my feet up, rather than picking up a tool for another work shift. We might have even enjoyed a little more time off had one of our rental apartments not suddenly become available.

One of our tenants, Madame L, was pushing 95 when we bought the place. She was inspiringly independent for her age and she had her brother/next door neighbour/best friend to lend a helping hand if need be. Unfortunately, her health was slipping and she was easily confused. One day, I went upstairs to deliver a letter and she asked me if I had come over by bicycle. From en bas!? I replied ‘non, I took the stairs’ and she gave me a sort of ‘that’s nice dear’ reply. I suspect she forgot I lived below her apartment.

Back in the day, she was a midwife in Vermont and she was just sweet as pie. The first time she was taken into the hospital we sent her a get-well-soon card and she sent us a thank-you card back. Cute! Unfortunately, her visits to the hospital became longer stays and she was soon home less and less. Just before Christmas 2014, their family threw an emergency meeting and decided to move her into a nursing home. Monsieur L was not d’accord. He was outraged, insisting the best thing for her at her age was to be comfortable in her own home. He went to visit her every day and complained to us about the hostage-like move by the rest of their family. It was heartbreaking. Though the chances of her moving back home seemed slim, since things were a bit touchy, we didn’t press to see how long he wanted to hang onto her apartment. In any event, we were hardly ready to embark on a new renovation project back in December, so as long as they wanted, both apartments were theirs.

Months passed and then one day in May, Monsieur came home flustered, grabbed a few things, and then quickly screeched off in his car again. The following day, brother and sister were out on the back deck upstairs, enjoying a little sunshine just like old times…..Ummmm…what was she doing home? Mr. L later proudly explained to Gary that he had kidnapped his sister from the hospital. She was there for an appointment and was supposed to wait several hours for a ride back to her nursing home in an ambulance. He saw an opportunity, and made his move. He was manic, describing the event like a prison break!

We were obviously concerned, but reassured ourselves that someone would be by to get her as soon they realized she was missing. Days went by, then weeks, and things strangely seemed to go back to ‘normal’. No one came. Wasn’t the home looking for this woman? What if she had medication she wasn’t taking? I would feel responsible if something happened, and WHAT IF something happened!?! I finally decided to call their nephew. I didn’t want to double cross our jailbreaking tenant, but I was worried. I apologized for interfering and asked if he knew that Madame had moved back home. He did not, and thanked me for my concern. Following that call, nurses came by the house regularly to check in with her. Sadly, her blood circulation quickly deteriorated and she could no longer get around on her own. Not an easy situation in the best of times, let alone for her 80-something-year-old brother/caregiver in a second floor apartment. A few weeks later, she left in an ambulance and moved back into the nursing home for good. This time Monsieur L accepted that her care was best left to the professionals.

Through the summer months, Monsieur popped back and forth between the two units, living in both apartments. In fact, he seemed to be making himself quite comfortable up there. Unbeknownst to us, he was also sneakily moving his things into her apartment (I mean big furniture items, and all on his own! I swear he has superhuman strength). Since we had always assumed her apartment would become available first, it was hers we had planned to fix up. And anyway, it was in better shape, had more windows and could yield us more rent. Well, Mr. L had other plans. We suppose that acquiring that apartment might have been a kind of rite of passage. The kids (there were 11 brothers and sisters in all) grew up in the house downstairs and as they got older, they moved upstairs into the apartments. They moved out when they got married and settled down. Well our brother and sister duo never wed. She had probably once lived in his apartment and then earned her place in the brighter once. It was finally his turn to take it over.

He seemed shocked and flustered when we mentioned it was her apartment we wanted to renovate. We said it was worth more to us and he replied that he had already moved many of his things into her place, which of course by now we had noticed. He is a good tenant but we couldn’t just let him move into the nicer of the two apartments without discussion. The rent was REALLY affordable and he would obviously also want to hang onto the garage where he parks his car, and one storage unit in le Frankenshed. We asked whether he would be willing to pay more rent to take her place and he agreed without flinching. We should have asked him for double. Oh well, it was settled. Once he had finished clearing out his apartment by the end of September, it was his place we would be renovating.

Despite all the things he had already dragged next door, his apartment was still surprisingly cluttered and hers was now packed to the gills. Where he planned to put the rest was a mystery. We offered to help, but he refused. We could sympathize with the fact that he did not want to purge his sister’s things, she was still alive after all, but he had effectively just halved his living space and doubled his possessions. Something had to give, and we hoped it wasn’t going to be the floor structure. We should have doubled the joists when we had the chance. Tant pis! We had bigger fish to fry. We had a renovation to start…and all just in time for our honeymoon: a few months of romantic evenings and weekend getaways upstairs chez Le Money Pit.


We knew from the get-go that the roof of our 1930s triplex was not going to last forever, or very long for that matter, but we were hoping it would tough it out for at least a couple of years. You know, give us a little more time to continue checking off expensive necessities. When we bought the place, the seller’s declaration noted that the last roof replacement was in 1991, with no documents nor receipts to prove it. Maybe that should have been a waving red flag, but the selling agent told us the roof didn’t leak and we heard what we wanted to hear: the roof is fine (for now!). Also, we asked our tenants ourselves whether there were any signs of infiltration after some big autumn storms and they both said ‘non’.  Well, just weeks after we last asked whether the roof leaked, it did. Every time it rained, water dripped right into Madame’s apartment through the plaster ceiling, quickly destroying it.

We called the company that had redone my mom’s office roof, and they came to have a look and give us an estimate. Hey, maybe all we needed was a patch! But if our tenants’ memory served them correctly, the existing asphalt roof would soon be celebrating its 24th birthday, and that is a pretty good life span for flat roof. In general, a waranty will get you 10 years, 25 years is pushing it.  A patch probably wasn’t going to cut it. And it didn’t. The roof was toast. However, with a huge rush of people trying to get repairs done before Montreal’s cold and snowy winter arrived, the roofer’s schedule was booked. They couldn’t pencil us in until the spring. They offered to temporarily repair the leak for ‘’free’’ (or rather included in the price tag) to get us through the winter and prevent further damage.

The plan was to remove the asphalt, replace any structure that needed repair, install new drains and install a new elastomeric membrane roof. Though they are more expensive, they are waterproof and supposed to last longer than asphalt roofs.  They are composed of ‘’sheets of impermeable rubber or Modified Bitumen membrane sealed together with heat, and then covered with a protective top sheet that looks like asphalt shingle.’’ (http://www.habitermontreal.com/en/my-home/know-your-types-roof).

In our municipality of Rosemont, in an effort to reduce the heat island effect, all new roofs have to be either green or white. And though we (and probably Marie la jardinière aussi) would have loved a green roof, we knew we didn’t have the budget for it. The switch to white roofs is meant reflect rather than absorb the sun’s heat and can reduce the need for AC (carbon emissions) in the summer. In cities, minimizing dark paved surfaces can also lower local temperatures and reduce smog. And though I’m sure a bright white membrane does a much better job reflecting heat than a black asphalt roof, I’m unsure how well it outperforms a light grey membrane which is what the roofer originally proposed in his quote. Regardless, we were still trying to do this renovation by the book so we opted for a Soprastar Ultrawhite membrane. Add another 1 400 bones to the estimate, and voilà, our shiny white roof would be compliant.

Fast forward a few months to spring, and the roofer called us to make an appointment. Of course, the roof patch was doing its thing and the sunny, dry weather had evaporated our urgency for the replacement.  We finally set a time for them to start in June. I had 6 months to get our permit organized and in my typical fashion, I left it to the very last second. I marched into the permit office, told them my roof was leaking into my tenant’s apartment and that a replacement was urgent. It was. Before Christmas. Anyway, they verified that we were installing a white membrane, calculated the permit cost from the roofer’s estimate and happily collected my money. They sent me away, permit in hand and the whole (costly) transaction only took about 20 minutes. Ha-ha!

The roofers did a fantastic job. My one complaint was that they obviously ran out of flashing and used up scrap pieces to finish up along the front façade. Since the fastening bolts are visible, it looked like a studded mess. Even the decorative finials that are only a couple of feet wide had multiple pieces of flashing. I mean, I might have let it slide if it was the back of the house, but even still, the more joints and junctions you have, the more potential leakage entry points you end up with and (more importantly to me) the uglier it gets. I pointed this out to the roofer, and he came back to replace the scraps with longer pieces hassle-free. It looks much better now. He admitted his mistake and apologized for losing sight of the aesthetic component, especially with a historical façade like ours. In his defense, the flashing is pretty much the best looking part of the façade now since the wood repairs keep getting pushed down the priority list, but I appreciated his comment. We have since made it through our first winter with a leak-free roof and can hopefully count on another 24 or so more.

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It had been a looooong time comin’… but the day had finally arrived (back in January 2014): our first sleepover in Le Money Pit! It had been 5 months since we began the renovation, and was a mere 3 months later than the date I naively thought we would be moving in. Gary had been less optimistic or more realistic, depending on who’s side you want to take 🙂 Generally, you can estimate how long a renovation project will take by calculating how long you THINK it will take, then doubling it. For Le Pit, I should have quadrupled it.

We had been staying with my parents out in Beaconsfield since we finally found tenants to take over our rental lease December 1st. Of course, it’s great to be home and to be taken care of, but the commute from le West Island to Rosemont via the 40 can be, shall we say, ‘’difficile’’. Cutting the commute out of our daily routine when we moved was going to save us a LOT of time, time we could spend… doing more renos! Hooray!

Back when we were packing, feeling proud of myself for thinking of it, I left the assembly instructions for our Ikea bed easily accessible in order to get it back together without fuss. It took an entire evening to get the damn thing together the first time and I didn’t care to relive that experience. But do you think I could find that ‘handy and accessible’ place when it came time to reassemble the bed? No, of course not. Gary had disassembled it before the move and managed to get it back together without the instructions. Plus, he only had 1 piece leftover towards the end. We washed our sheets in our newly installed washer and dryer (weeeee!) and settled in. The renovation may not have been done, but heck, it may never be done! We might as well enjoy being back in our own bed in our new home.

The next day, we were enjoying our morning coffee when we heard a loud BOOM! Gary was on the phone talking to his parents in Kap, but he ran to see where the noise came from. It was Monsieur from upstairs attempting to move a cabinet (twice his size) off our back deck. There were two large armoires left behind when we bought the place, and I liked them so we hung onto them. Of course, they were in the way, so they ended up on the back deck. Unfortunately, during a large wind storm, one of them had blown over and was damaged. Having now moved our own stuff into the house, it was looking more and more like we wouldn’t have room for them, so I agreed to get rid of them. Gary had mentioned this to Monsieur and he said he wanted one. Where he planned to put the armoire in his chock-a-block apartment was another story.

The previous night it had snowed and then rained. Gary had put gravel and salt down but it was still slick outside. Our 5’-0’’ tall, 80 year-old tenant was attempting to move a 8’-0” x 4’-0” armoire, alone, on the ice. I mean, he’s spry, but he’s no super-hero. Gary told his parents he would call them back, hung up the phone and waved at him to stop. Well did Monsieur arrête? Non. The thing tipped over crashing onto its side, thankfully not onto his head! Gary changed out of his pajamas and rushed out to help him. Monsieur was taking the broken armoire, and since we were getting rid of both, I suggested he take the other one which was in better shape. He said he didn’t actually want it, he was just going to store it at the back of his garage to make room on our deck. He also said he was ‘’willing’’ to take both. Gary refused and insisted that we store the second one on our side of the garage. I’m happy he did, because we may use ours now that we are planning a nursery. Anyway, evidence that Monsieur might be a hoarder was slowly emerging. We hadn’t mentioned needing any room on our snow-covered back deck in the frozen month of January, so I figured he was worried we were going to throw them in the trash. But then again, maybe I was wrong. Maybe he’d put it to good use crammed at the back of his tiny garage. Regardless, it is safely stowed back there now.

We didn’t want to startle Monsieur the night we finally moved in so we had warned him we were staying over, and in the end, he was the one that startled us.

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With perfectly aligned bathroom tile and a real shower up and running, there was just one more  thing we wanted to complete before our big move in January. January 2014, that is. Yeah, yeah old news, the move was 16 months ago, but we’ve been busy with non-blogging things (see previous post). Anyway, it was the rest of the flooring. For the kitchen, we chose a large format slate tile. Throughout the rest of Le Pit, we wanted to restore the beautiful existing hardwood. Fortunately, during a magical time in the 50s-60s, the previous owners jumped on the vinyl bandwagon and covered the hardwood with all kinds of wacky sparkly designs. The flooring provided decades of swirly, shiny, basically wear-n-tear-free goodness.  In fact, it is so resilient, we left it in place throughout the demo and renovation to continue to protect the hardwood beneath. It did a pretty bang-up job, for the most part. In some places the wood was fairly worn down and for some reason the subfloor structure was installed parallel to the floorboards rather than perpendicularly, so there was sag.  Also, some boards had shifted apart so much that you could see right through to the workshop below. Without sealing and insulating the floor, dust from Gary’s shop would fly up right into our living room. Actually, I can tell you from the future that we never bothered to insulate the floor, so dust does travel up through the floorboards, and so do the crystal clear sounds and sweet tunes from Gary’s workshop. But I digress.

We thought about renting the equipment to sand and refinish the floors ourselves, but we were tired and there was a LOT of hardwood to sand. Also, we were going to have to remove a little more than a little dusting to get them back to top condition which meant MDP: Major Dust Production. We decided to hire BP Floors and we are thankful we did. It took the BP team one week to accomplish what would have taken us an eternity.  Plus we were able to move everything into the basement and the tiled kitchen and take off for Christmas vacay. The best part was that they took the dust with them when they left. Well, most of it.


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Ta-barrr-nac. Has it really been nearly a year since we last posted an update!? Where does the time go? Seriously. Though we may have been MIA as far as the intertron is concerned, rest assured that we have continued to pour all of our time and money into the endless renovation of our home. Although, I did take a break last summer to plan our September wedding in Vermont. What a blast that was. And then we quickly snapped back to reality to spend our ‘honeymoon’ gutting and redoing one of our two rental apartments upstairs. Ah l’amour…

We have made a lot of progress since last July and we now have a little bundle of joy on the way! The baby reveal is expected early October, just in time for Thanksgiving… plennnnty of time. We have about 20 weeks to go so we added ‘create/decorate nursery’ to our long list of things to do, somewhere near the bottom. Since I have to take it relatively easy these days, and bébé is sure to be a time’n’money-sponge just like our beloved Pit, I figured this would be a good time to post some of the things we’ve been up to.  Hopefully I’ll catch up before the lil’ turkey arrives. Enjoy!

One tile at a time

Gary and I chose to stick with a retro design/colour scheme for our new bathroom, just not quite as retro as the 1929 original. In fact, we love the little hexagon tiles but Gary had his heart set on a shower with a sloped floor rather than a pre-fab base. Cutting and installing a mosaic pattern would have been extremely difficult, so we chose a small square tile that was going to be cheaper and much more user-friendly. Or so we thought. Did I mention that we also chose a white grout? Our intention to contrast the tiles would be easily achieved, but we predicted that a slight misalignment or imperfection would pop out too. The 2×2 tiles come pre-imperfectly aligned on 12×12 mats. In other words, to install a mat perfectly square, each tile needed to be rotated by hand before it set. (This step can be skipped if you can live with some irregularities and do not suffer from OCD, unfortunately, that is not the case for us). We had some crooked grout lines after the first try. After much deliberation lying on his belly, peering down the rows to confirm misalignment, Gary decided to demolish brand new tiles and I agreed. Who was actually going to view the bathroom from this vantage point? Probably no one, but it would have bothered us and it if we were going to redo it, it was going to be before we did the grout. Now or never. Sure, not having a functioning bathroom was pushing the move-in date further and further back but meh! with Christmas approaching, what was another couple of days? Another lesson learned. Gary tore up a few tiles and started over. The floor is now grouted, the plumbing in place and the walls are tiled. I had to peel Inspector Gary off the floor, but I assure you, the grout lines are straight, even by our standards. We still have some finishing to do in the bathroom but it’s up and running and we love it!

Everyday I’m shoveling

One of the perks of Le Money Pit when we looked at the house, was the prospect of having a driveway and two car garage. The current crooked garage and uninsurable Frankenshed may not be our “dream garage,” but it’s a start. We previously rented an apartment on a one way street with parking regulations prohibiting street parking on alternating days. To avoid tickets, we had to be ever conscious of where and when we were parked. Also, sometimes there were no free spots anywhere near our place. According to Murphy’s Law, these usually coincided with an over the top trip to Costco after a big snow storm. Speaking of snow storms, when we looked at the property last summer, it was hot and sunshiny much like this warm May Sunday. Not so after the first big dump of the year! We (1 truck + 1 little car) share the driveway with our next door neighbours (1 car + 1 station wagon) and our tenant (1 car). What that first storm made us realize was that, if we were going to fit our collection of vehicles back there all winter long, we could not pile the snow up back there. We were going to have to haul the snow out to the front along our very own 50 foot long driveway.

We got shoveling, knowing very well that we did not want our elderly tenant’s car to be trapped back there. We were hoping that our spryer neighbours might pop out to pitch in, but we suspected they might not. Much to our disbelief, our neighbours did actually come outside (one holding a tiny gardening shovel) when we were about 9/10ths of the way through. As it turns out, we were better off without their help. The garden guy’s technique was to violently hurl, the 4 inches of snow he was able to pick up against the side of the house. I am glad that is over with until l’année prochaine. Spring has sprung (finalement!) and Ma’s daffodils are out! 🙂

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Le super beam

The original layout divided the washroom with the toilet in one little room and the shower and sink in another.  In our case, there was a little swinging window between the two. Cute! And useful for… facilitating conversation while one of us is in the loo? …emergency TP without having to open the door? I suppose, the window could have come in handy, but I decided I would rather have the luxury of a powder room complete with a hand washing sink (I heart hygiene!) and a separate modern bathroom.  It turns out, I’m high maintenance. I wouldn’t even move into Le Pit until we had a proper shower, unwilling to sponge bathe in the kitchen sink. Diva.

Our design required tearing down a structural wall to extend into what was a fourth bedroom and testing out Cousin Rob’s engineering calculations. We beefed up some of the basement and second floor joists and added a new, big-ass LVL beam. RD and Gary installed the new beam with relative ease, I mean, as easily as a HEAVY 10 foot-long piece of laminated veneer lumber can be manipulated.

As it turns out, our existing structure had already been working pretty hard. When we pulled out the existing cast iron tub out, Gary noticed that the beast was made in the “Dominion of Canada.” Old school. It would have been fun to re-enamel it and reuse it but we decided we preferred a freestanding tub. We don’t actually have a freestanding tub, but that’s beside the point. For now.  Like I said, we needed a shower! So far, the structure is doing grand. We love you Cousin Rob!


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Marie la jardinière: part deux

Just three months after Ma first came over to fix up the unsightly front garden, she was back again with a vengeance. We had millions of things to do inside and the move-in date kept getting pushed further and further back, and so, naturally, it was time for La Jardinière’s return to tend to our beds. Her priorities were transparent, it didn’t matter that we didn’t have a functioning kitchen (or that we had just barely got the drywall up)… we HAD TO get our daffodil bulbs in the ground before the first deep frost!!!

Of course, August is a much more pleasant time to garden than November. Mom left the yellow zipper-jeans behind and showed up looking more like a fisherwoman from the high seas. She wore boots, rain pants, gloves, a puffy jacket (though she has been known to wear her poufs even in the tropics) and she topped off her ensemble with a Sou’wester hat. It was cold, raining and almost dark before she made it out to our place, yet she got out her shovels and got straight to work.

It was Sunday. On Friday afternoon a pushy “roof guy” had been by, insisting that Gary hire him to redo the eaves for 500$. He could save us money! His credentials were questionable but he was able to point to a few roofs across the alley that he apparently had repaired. Gary refused, yet he insisted on leaving his ladder alongside our house, locking it to Madame’s front steps. He tried to convince Gary to “speak to the wife”, saying he would be back first thing Monday morning to finalize the details. Of course, “the wife” was not any more prepared to pay this random fellow to work on our roof than Gary was, but the ladder presented an obstacle for mama. It was in the way of some of our future flowers, but she managed to work around it. Before long, she had 150 bulbs in the ground and was covering them up with fallen leaves. We didn’t have enough leaves on our side and so she stole some from the next-door neighbours’. She was sure they wouldn’t mind, and I was sure they wouldn’t notice. With her mission accomplie, she hosed down her tools and took off in her speedy red mini. Hopefully, we will be a little further along with the renovations in the spring so that I can go out there and learn a thing or two from her when she will inevitably be back to help her useless daughter in le jardin.

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hope amidst the dust

With the insulation and vapour barriers in place, the openings all sealed up, and the new framing done, it was finally time to put up the drywall. This has to be THE MOST satisfying stage of any renovation. Having stared at open walls for just over four months, seeing the finished product was elating. OK, the walls still needed some plaster, sanding and a few coats of paint, so maybe we didn’t quite have the finished product just yet, but this was still an important step towards moving into our new-to-us home. Fortunately, I am describing work that we completed back in November and we have been enjoying our drywall since then. Unfortunately, these posts have fallen quite far behind our actual progress. But we’ve been really busy! Not only has Le Pit occupied our time but we are also in the process of planning our upcoming wedding. I have considered hosting a ‘renovation wedding’ to speed things along. Two birds, one stone. The ceremony could take place on white scaffolding or on our new white roof ($$$!) after it gets repaired in the spring. The real magic would happen back inside where dance moves would be carefully choreographed to instruct guests to help out. “Do the back and forth paint stroke…great! Now double time!” Everyone will think they are just celebrating our big day but they will really be volunteering to help us wrap up.  I’ve even had my friend Katie suggest having the DJ lead a curtain rod limbo and getting things started with a pre-dinner garden*ing* party. OK, maybe I’ve given this too much thought…back to the real renovation.

Though RD, Gary and maybe even little old me, were fully capable of taping and mudding the drywall joints ourselves there were also some major repairs to be done. What would have taken the three of us an eternity to complete, a professional plaster team could accomplish in a couple of days. And there would be a lot less dust! To prepare for the plaster team to come in, we squared off odd shaped holes in the walls, in order to fill them with cut pieces of drywall. Once that was done, the three plasterers came in and went to town. Though they are not permitted in Quebec, they took the liberty of using stilts to reach the ceiling and upper walls which saves them the hassle of having to put up scaffolding. The team did such a great job that they barely had to sand between coats. They ended up covering 99% of the existing walls with new plaster so all that wall washing I did early may not have been necessary after all. Oh well, too late now and at least they went in clean. Gary actually picked up a bunch of tips from the plaster crew. He is currently employing them in the living and dining rooms, where minor repairs had to be done to the original wall and ceiling plaster that we left intact. We hope to have finally put the final dusty phases behind us, until death do us part.

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