DSC_9027Supervised by Avery Watson at Independence Title, Mark Rehberg, president of Ranserve, right, arm in sling, and Jacquela, left, sign the AIA remodeling contract. Steven is at the back taking this photo.

Ahead of this, we spent a couple of days working with the lawyers — Rose Cohen for Ranserve and David Sewell for the Leons — tweaking the contract, right up to the signing, with Mark and I working through last-second fixes by sending pdf files and text messages back and forth to his office, to David, with phone calls, and to the Independence Title printer.

Deep breath. It’s done. Now we put hammer to nail.


Ron from Ranserve and I met today at Emerald Hill with Charles Johnson, assistant manager at Austin Habitat and ReStore.

One of our goals is to donate as much as we can as a result of demo. I contacted Habitat to ask if they can take items from a whole house remodel — including but not limited to “ceiling fans, chandeliers, ceiling cans if you want ‘em, dishwasher, microwave, oven, hollow-core doors, door hardware, bath tubs and sinks, faucets and handles, utility and kitchen sinks, maybe the electrical parts (depending on what we discover when we open up the walls),  etc.”

For something potentially this big, they dispatch a manager — Charles.

He made it easy, telling us what Habitat will not take. It’s a very short list. Their goal now is to help get to zero waste. So they even take old water heaters to scrap, and even old HVAC compressors — items I thought would have to be trashed.

Bottom line … Ron and his team of Sawzall Surgeons will stage even the light switches in the garage for Charles and his team to collect.

I’m feeling great about this. We are donating. We are saving good items that can be recycled from the dump. People who need a ceiling fan or sink or crown molding will be able to purchase these items from Habitat/Restore, at significant savings. Habitat gets the revenue to keep operating. And we get a tax deduction.

This is the smarter way to do demo. Thank you, Habitat. Thank you, Ranserve.

Shower/tub kits vs. custom

We’ve been debating custom showers/tubs vs. kits.

I did the math yesterday with Michelle, budget czar at Ranserve.

Using round numbers and bath 2, shower only, as the example:

Custom pan, including mudding $800
Labor, floor pan, estimated at $7 psf $150
Labor, tile the walls, estimated at $12 psf $983
Tile for floor, estimated at $6.50 psf $800
Tile for walls, estimated at $6.50 psf $700
Total, estimated $3,433

Requires backerboard and Redguard waterproofing, included, because this is something Ranserve has done before.

Kohler Groove pan, 60×32, left hand drain, mudding not needed $414
Kohler Choreograph wall kit, 60x32x96, corners included $734
Kohler 9-inch shower locker, aka soap/shampoo shelves $206
Estimated labor to install $700
Total, estimated $2,054

Still requires backerboard and waterproofing, included in “estimated labor to install.” Ranserve has not built a solid-surface shower kit before, which means there is a learning curve.

Today, at Emerald Hill, Ron and I rolled out a plan set on the back of his truck and talked through all the product options.

He’s opting to research construction methods and product specs with Ferguson, the supply house. And we will circle back.

Meet Freddy

freddyJadin looked up one day into the grove of trees off the kitchen deck and spotted an owl in an owl house built, we suspect, by a prior owner.

Everything has to have a name in Jadin’s world.

The owl is now called Freddy.

Freddy supervised today when Miguel and Luis from Davey Tree were setting up to trim the oaks at the driveway to create dumpster clearance.

Making way for dumpster


I am about to make a cut and ask your permission.

As a kid, I planted saplings around the house. The pin oaks today are now 70-90 feet tall, and my mom lives surrounded by a forest. It’s reverant.

So I am not in the habit of cutting trees; I plant them.

But we have to cut clearance to get the dumpster up to the house, to begin the remodel. Which pains, because we bought this house, in part, for the forest of trees it inhabits.

Here’s an example of why.


This limb extends 30 feet out over the patio and driveway, five to six feet off the ground, held up by a vertical post, and then up and over part of the garage. It’s your skull — or a thwacking. They can’t deliver the dumpster with that in the way.

Our goal is to trim, not destroy.

Ranserve recommended Davey Tree, a certified arborist — a City of Austin requirement. Jeff Cisneros came out, walked the lot with us, showed us what he recommended cutting in phase 1, to make way for the dumpster, and in phase 2, to remove branches that hang over the roof, for safety. Along the way, we learned there is an American Elm in the back yard. That’s opening a Cracker Jack box to find a prize.

miguelandluisMeet — from Davey — Miguel, left, cutting, and Luis, right, about to drag a limb to the chipper.

Here’s what it looked like taking down the limb that extends over the deck and driveway.


Belaying ropes. Safety glasses. Hearing protection. Just like on “This Old House.”

That’s an eight-foot chunk of limb hanging by rope.

Count the rings. Miguel thinks the oak is at least 50 years old.