Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Screened Porch

moat-hurricane-matthew
We had stacks of cinderblocks falling into the moat during the hurricane. Sounds terrifying when you’re waiting for your house to collapse.

Bricks showed up at my house. They looked strange, but since they were all banded up in stacks, I couldn’t really see them until I came home one day to piers in my back yard. Oh, no! The color was all wrong! I called the contractor and had the work stopped before the foundation wall went up. Since no one had ever asked my opinion on the choice of brick, I had no idea who chose them, but this batch was solid burgundy—nothing like the lighter, variegated brick on our house. Greg told us to look at the brick company’s website, and since David and I were stressed out, we decided to use a couple of gift cards and go out to dinner. We sat at the table and stared at our phones like a couple of Millenials. In the end, we agreed on the name of the brick that we were certain was the best match.

 

And then we paused for Hurricane Matthew.

hurricane-matthew

david-raingear
David, ready to take on nature’s fury in a bathing suit, rain jacket, and slippers. (His Wellington boots were on the front porch.)

We have never seen so much water in our backyard’s 100-year flood plain—which has flooded several times in the fifteen years we’ve been here. Our garden was underwater. Our neighbor’s garden shed was submerged, with just the peak of the roof above water. We were without power for a couple of days, which allowed my husband to practice all of his caveman/ suburban dad camping skills. I can’t complain. Just a few miles away, people lost their homes, and hundreds of roads washed away. Even the interstate was shut down for weeks. We were back up and running in days.

Of course, they don’t make the bricks that we chose anymore. It took a few days, but Greg obtained a sample of the one that we thought was the next-best match. I met him in the driveway at the end of a long day; we walked into the back yard and stopped short. Greg pointed, and I said, “Oh, my gosh!” The burgundy bricks had dried out thoroughly after the flood, and now they were all different colors! The sample bricks looked too orange, and the bricks on the new piers were pretty close to the ones on our house that had been sheltered by the porch before. In other words, these new ones will probably weather to match within a few years. Greg was incredibly patient. He just quietly said, “Yeah, I usually trust the brickmason to pick the right match.” Yeah.

foundation-wall-inside
The foundation wall, looking out from the current kitchen window.

SO… the foundation wall went up, and after a few days, David texted me at work and said, “The framers have arrived! They hope to have the subfloor for the porch and the kitchen extension done today!” It was so thrilling. We had entered a new phase of construction! When I came home, there were piles of lumber in the yard! I came around the corner, and there were floor joists on the kitchen extension and… not on the porch. Why? The porch is going to have a peaked roof, and in order to accommodate the roof, we will have to step down onto the porch. Therefore, where the floor of the porch meets the house, it will attach to bricks, rather than wood. Whereas they could bolt the kitchen floor onto the current house, they realized that they couldn’t do that with the porch floor. And so, we need… more piers. That’s right, we’re right back to having three more footers dug, inspected, poured, inspected, and then piers built, inspected, and then we get back to the porch floor.

kitchen-not-porch-floor
That red line is where one of the three new piers needs to go.

This morning, pickup trucks pulled up to my house and brickmasons piled out! Unfortunately, I was home sick, so they probably think that I just hang out in a robe all day, but they are getting those new piers up! As a side benefit, I am learning so much Spanish. Before this, I knew “workplace” Spanish, so that I could fill out your name and address and get you a library card, or Pimsleur Spanish, in which I can find my hotel and restaurant and order beer, which is pretty useless, because I don’t like beer. On the other hand, I think “tequila” is already Spanish, so I’ll survive. However, I am now learning the words for “brick” and “access door,” which are not in many introductory courses. I try to limit myself to “Hermosos!” and “Gracias!”, since I have a feeling that I am not the brickmasons’ favorite person. I have, however, already chosen my own paint color for the inside of the kitchen, just in case the painter thinks that he gets to pick.

We Have a Moat

crumbling-old-piers
Crumbling piers from the old porch.

In our last episode, dear reader, we left my house naked and embarrassed, the old porch ripped away, bits of plywood exposed, with a long drop from the back door to the ground. The next step, my contractor told me, was to dig footers for the foundation of the new construction. Footers, he said, were the most weather-dependent part of the project.

pink-footer-markers
This is where the footers are supposed to go! But will they get to them before the rain washes the paint away?

And so, after weeks of drought, we entered the rainy season. Every morning, the skies were dark with clouds, and every evening brought storms and showers. I was surprised one afternoon when David texted me at work and said, “We have workers in the back yard.” Even though it was raining at my office, the skies were holding off at home, so they decided to dig while they had a chance. When I arrived, there was a low-boy trailer (now I know all the lingo) parked in front of my house, with the backhoe in the back. It was thrilling. Work was being done! I set about fixing dinner, but when I looked up after a while, I said to David, “It’s starting to get dark, and the truck is gone, but we still have workers here. Are they going to need the guest room?” That’s when he broke it to me: The truck driver had gone to get emergency repair parts, because they had dug right into our brand-new septic line! Yes, the septic line that I wrote about having installed just a few weeks ago! The guys worked a little later than any of us expected that night, but they fixed the septic line and dug holes for the porch footers and a little U-shaped trench where the outer wall of the kitchen will be. Now we needed to have the footers inspected before they could pour the concrete.

It was a tiny respite. The next day was, as Elton John would say, when the rain set in.

moat

Our footers were little ponds, and the trench became a moat guarding the dream of a kitchen. Days and days went by, and dirt began to run off into the holes. The walls of the pits began to collapse. We were going backward.

Then, on one of the endless cloudy mornings, I was sitting in the living room in my nightgown, applying makeup and sipping coffee, as is my usual workday routine. I went to stand up and take my coffee mug into the kitchen at 7:10 AM, when I looked up and saw a strange man just a few feet away, looking right back at me. I didn’t know whether to scream or cheer. As I struggled to make my mad scramble look cool and casual, I scooped up my freshly-ironed shirt and fled upstairs. That day, the workers cut those footers nice and sharp again, and the inspector slid through unobserved sometime later. We were approved.

And wet. Somehow, a week later, concrete was poured into these holes, and the next day it rained cats and dogs. Several inches of water covered the top of the concrete, and I whined to my son that the footers were going to be mud. “Oh, no,” he soothed. “That is a common misconception. Concrete does not actually dry. It cures by an exothermic reaction.” Oh. I taught him, you know. Not that, but I did teach him for eighteen years. Now he teaches me.

supplies-in-driveway
Came home to supplies in my wet driveway! My contractor is optimistic!

At this point, we are waiting for another inspection. I have come to understand that the county requires an inspection for every ten minutes of labor. It takes forever, but if this porch collapses, I know who I’m going to hunt down.

The foundation wall and the piers come next! We’re going up!