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Emily Bowser Is Back With Another WILD Reno Rollercoaster: The Front Yard (PART ONE)

Hello my friends, it’s good to be back and I’ve missed sharing my thoughts and feelings around my epic adventure (?…traumatizing event?) of buying and renovating a home in a wildly expensive city. It’s been almost exactly 2 years since I gave you a process post on my backyard. I considered it a journey then because it had been almost 4 years since we bought at that point. We’re still not “finished” (are you ever really?). In the meantime, I want to give you an intro post for our front yard. I want to talk demo, construction, real numbers, the creative process, urban gardening, furniture design, and of course, cats. This will be a multi-part series that will end in a full outdoor reveal which *may* even include our back unit’s outdoor space. So come along, why don’t you?

It’s hard to know where to start, but let’s try a quick recap for anyone who needs a refresher or if you don’t want to read all my past dissertations 🙂

the first day we had the keys to our house

My husband and I own a 2-on-a-lot property (bought in late 2016), the front unit is 863 square feet, the back unit is 680 square feet. We live in the front and rent the back. At the moment our friends, Hope and Daniel, live there with their sweet pup, Nora. The property is laid out like so: the front has a 2-car driveway, with 2 separate 1-car garages, there’s a side gate that leads through our side yard (where we keep our many trash cans), and the pathway will lead you through our backyard to a gate for the back unit. The back unit has a concrete outdoor space that wraps around the side and back like an upside-down L. When I looked at this house initially all I saw was this potential: we don’t have to share a wall or an outdoor space. After renting in LA for 7 years, the idea of that kind of privacy while maintaining a sense of urban closeness seemed SO nice. Sure, the space is small but no shared walls and your own fenced-in yard? I know for those of you reading this in suburbia it must sound silly, but this setup is GOLD here. Turns out, it’s especially golden when a pandemic hits and you live in a studio apartment with your dog (just ask Hope and Daniel).

my literal concrete jungle, october 2016

The potential I saw was just that – potential. In its current 2016 state, my entire 5000+ square foot lot was made up of concrete that had been poured haphazardly over the past however many decades. Trees were popping up out of holes in the concrete that were mere inches wider than the trees themselves. In short: it was an ugly, uninspired space that was largely unusable, especially the front unit’s backyard (middle yard?) because it was concrete, but on a hill so you couldn’t even put a chair out there without feeling like you were going to slide out of it. Unfortunately (or fortunately?), what I didn’t foresee is how much $$ and how long it would take me to fully realize this potential. Tale as old as time? As mentioned, I wrote a “process” post 2 years ago and that only included one-third of the outdoor space.

Long story (very) short, after doing what we needed to do to make both units safe and liveable (termite and mold damage, damaged roofs, wrong-sized pipes, not to code electrical, replacing almost every window, an unusable sewage line between the back and front house, etc, etc, etc) we had NOTHING left for the outside besides a coat of paint. Even though we knew there were things that shouldn’t go too long without being addressed, namely the rotting front steps and garage doors, a persistent garage flooding issue, and a 100-year-old sewage line with a few, um, holes. We were left with no other option than hoping and praying nothing major would happen while we tried to save back up. We painted the front white and back black and called it a day…or a 2 years.

“good enough” January 2017 

In 2018 we were forced to deal with a foundation issue which, as it does, snowballed into other projects. In order to get to the root of the foundation problem we had to rip up almost all of the backyard (hereafter when referring to the backyard I mean the front unit’s backyard, not the back unit’s backyard – the middle yard, if you will). If you have to rip up most of a space that small you may as well rip up all of it while the machines are there. You can read more about it in the backyard progress post but I am bringing it up here to mention that one of the things we decided to do while building out the back patio was to tear down the fence/gate situation and do that at the same time since it was the same materials as the patio (concrete blocks and stucco).

fence/gate when we bought the house, October 2016
January 2018, pre rip out
January 2018, after foundation was fixed but before patio was put in and March 2018 “after” (until we did landscaping in June of that year)
front fence/wall seen on left side of both photos

At this time I decided to plant my beloved hedge, so we moved the gate over to leave room for them to come all the way up to the new stucco wall so that they would cover the entire fence in the side and backyard.

“finished” spoiler alert: this gate gets replaced. May 2018

To be honest I’m not sure exactly what the cost was of doing just the gate/wall because it was lumped in with the foundation/patio. The total invoice for that job was $33,000 so I know we didn’t have the money to do anything special with the gate. I had originally wanted to do an arch, but Ron’s (my contractor) guys just whipped this up with scraps of wood and we painted it with the leftover paint in the garage (Squirrel by Behr). If you are curious, the whole reason I was able to do this job was that Ron was willing to wait for me to refinance (end of 2018) to pay him for most of it. The financials are outlined in more detail in my very first blog post

By the end of 2018, we had finished the first installment of our backyard (& paid off Ron!) and it really changed the way we were living. When you only live in 863 square feet, adding outdoor space, especially in a place where you can spend a lot of time year-round outside, it really adds value to your life. Unfortunately, we still didn’t have the funds to do the things we needed and wanted to do in the front yard. We knew that it would be like the backyard and snowball into a much bigger project. From 2018-2021 our home looked pretty much exactly like this photo taken September 2020:

Isn’t she the silliest looking girl (house)? look at that hedge go!

Three things happened in September of 2020, 1. We replaced that gate because it was not made well and kept getting stuck. (You will see in an after later on) 2. Hope and Daniel moved in and didn’t have a need for a garage (we had previously been renting out the right 1-car garage to the back unit). After making it through 6 months of lockdown with us both working from home in such a small space it took about 1.5 seconds flat to make the decision to move Andrew’s whole situation to the garage so we could have more living space upstairs. 

The situation:

it’s a cornucopia of horror. don’t worry, i fixed it.

3. The shuffle made me start thinking about the front “yard” (if you can call concrete a yard). We had started having some sewage/plumbing issues (weird smells coming back up our drains, mysterious toilet noises), my garage (left side) flooded every. single. time. it rained, and the rotting stairs were definitely not getting better. I had been told not to let the sewage line burst or I would be in for a world of financial hurt. I was getting both nervous for those reasons and anxious for a new project to distract me – even if temporarily – from living in 2020 and frankly sick of living with the lack of curb appeal. 

My very responsible and totally safe way of doing business (per usge) 

Here is the laundry list of things that needed to be addressed in the front yard/garage/driveway area:

  • All concrete demo’d and removed
  • Stairs demo’d and removed
  • Fence along left side, demo’d and removed
  • Replace sewage line
  • Install french drain in front of garage doors
  • Install a drain on the left side of the house to help usher water down and under the driveway vs straight down the side of the house into the garage
  • Grade yard AWAY from the garage and towards the street. At the time, rainwater would run halfway down the driveway, turn around and go into our garage. Yes, we live in the most unrainiest place and yet still somehow have flooding.
  • Extend the patio (up by the front door) to the end of the house and widen it about 20 inches. We did this so we could….
  • Pull the garage doors out to the depth of the stairs (adding about 60 square feet of garage) and still have an overhang to…you guessed it, help with flooding.
  • Install new stairs and railing
  • Pull permits and replace apron of driveway
  • Pour a new driveway and walkway to side gate
  • Build and stucco wall to replace the half stucco/half fence situation on the left side of the property
  • Build an L-shaped, half (height) stucco wall on the right side of the property to create an area for green space
  • Bring plumbing into the front yard so that we could have irrigation/a hose out front
  • Install electrical outlet near the hose (for irrigation purposes)
  • Install electrical outlet by the front door (for Holiday lights mostly)

I started getting quotes in September and ultimately decided to use the devil I knew (Ron). He came in cheapest at $60,000. It’s a lot but it’s also something we knew would have to happen since 2016. Back in the ole saddle with Ron. You should have heard the resignation in my friend Lauren’s voice when I told her. I made Ron pinky promise (because you have about a 50/50 chance of getting a contract from the man – he prefers used napkins from his car) and swear on his firstborn son (that he sends to pick up his checks from me) that it would not go one cent over $60,000 (spoiler alert: it did). I’m here for you to learn from, or to judge, whatever.

Because of the steep price tag and the impending rainy season, we waited until April 2021 to start the work. For cosmic reasons that I don’t understand: I went out of town for weeks the day before it all started. This seems to be a bit of a bad habit. I get us deeply entrenched in a project and for one reason or another (mostly outside of my control) I have to leave town and am left to try to talk remotely through a husband who thinks this is an acceptable way to style a space:

he’s in a costume…probably.

In The Shit, Quite Literally.

Andrew sends me this absolute BEAUT on day 1:

April 19th, 2021, hereafter known as THE LORD’S DAY

You spend every day of 4.5 years dreaming of this day, only to not be there in person to have the satisfaction. UGH. Day 1 also came with the awesome news that we have a completely corroded water line we need to replace as well, OF COURSE. Wanna know something REAL gross? The busted sewage line was backed up to a, let’s just say, unsettling degree AND it also had many holes in it. Not to mention it shares the same general area as my water line that also had holes in it…I’ll let you do that DISGUSTING math. I wish I had some pics of this to show you. However, my husband was in charge and mostly sent me videos. I’ll post on my stories or something so you can come watch and gag if that’s your thing.

the only pic I have of an example of *1* of the many gaping holes in my sewage line. for reference, I could probably fit my fist through there. making this job both metaphorically and literally, a shitty one.

We had no idea about the water line needing to be replaced so it’s day 1 and Ron is talking about how this is going to add to the budget (pinky promises be damned I guess) so we decided to not do the driveway apron because if you don’t know – it’s weirdly expensive. I had a couple of people that came out and gave me quotes say that *just* the apron could cost up to $15,000. Ron, in his unending optimism despite this house costing twice as much to fix up than he thought, wasn’t quoting me that much for the apron. However, when I told him $60,00 total was still firm and could he swap out the water line for the apron, he said yes. So alas, my apron still looks like sh*t. Someone please tell me why the city makes me pay for it anyway?? It’s technically their property but I have to not only pay to fix it but also pay the city a separate fee as well?? Tell me a scam that’s become more normalized.

Day 2 they started the stucco wall along the left side (if you’re looking at the house), ran the new sewage and water line, and laid the french drain. Again, limited pics but I found a video of Andrew promising he “saw the new line before they buried it” so that’s reassuring, I guess. I literally cannot believe I’m writing about such boring things. So let’s move on.

can’t lie, this fresh sewage line got me more hot and bothered than i’d care to admit. god, the boring shit you love to see when you’re an “adult”

By day 7 they had finished all the trenching for the half wall, framed out the walkway/steps leading to the side gate, graded the driveway, and did, I don’t know, whatever you do before you pour concrete? I guess just put rebar in a grid pattern? I’M NOT A SCIENTIST. (pics below for reference). I can’t tell you how long I spent trying to figure out how/where the walkway steps should go and what was the appropriate amount of space to leave for cars and walking around cars. Actually, I can, and will I’m sure in another post. I have some regrets, I think. I don’t know. We’ll see and find out together! I depended on Ron’s judgment a lot here. We talked through how much space we would want on the right side of the driveway for people to walk up to the house or to the gate. Where the steps should be considering us coming from our cars and people walking from the street. We discussed if someone was moving furniture in or out of the back house, how much space they would need to maneuver around on the steps, and the area we call a “landing” (between the initial steps and next to what would be the green space). All that said, I ended up with a lot less space for landscaping than I imagined in my head and now that it’s all there I wonder if I could have pushed for a *little* less concrete. I have some ideas on how to fix this visually, and we will get there in a later post.

when they started laying out where the steps and L-shaped wall would go. if any of you all are hurtin’ to work with ron, there’s his info.
ready for concrete!
this photo was taken from the edge of our previous patio (landing really). the post coming up is for the new patio.
spooooky nighttime pic with a sweet white kitty in the window if you squint

Coming Together

You know the point in a project where you start to really see it come together? That was the new driveway for me. Luckily I was home for a few days while they were laying the concrete. Not to take away from how satisfying it was to see that finally happen, but I was mostly here to make fun of these nerds:

Did you all know that all men become dads even when they don’t have kids? Something happens overnight and one day they are tucking their shirt in their shorts and you catch them standing with their arms folded watching construction workers on your street. To say this was a real treat for Andrew would be an understatement.

They poured the steps, driveway, and inside of the new wall all in a matter of hours. It was actually very zen to watch them even it out.  

They had put in the support they needed for the new patio pre-concrete so all of that was ready for the next step, which was to build a new wall on the far left and continue the middle wall between the two garages. They built those walls and did the L-shaped wall along the perimeter of what would become “the green space”. You can’t exceed (I believe) 4 feet high along the sidewalk without a permit so we kept it low, 29” tall to be exact. That random measurement was how high however many cinder blocks made that height because adding another one would have made it too high. I knew I wanted to plant something on the inside and have it grow up to match the height of our neighbor’s fence and I liked the idea of seeing some green from the street vs seeing just a white wall.

L-shaped cinder block wall made for green space, you can see neighbor’s fence on far right, i know i want to match that height with some type of hedge on the other side of the wall

Why the wall at all you ask? Why not just plant a hedge and call it a day? The reason is that the house sits on a hill so I wanted to be able to block off that space and add dirt to even out the ground in that area. Originally the plan was to make an L-shaped planter out of the concrete blocks and have the planter be the divider with plants coming out of it. When we measured it out we realized that it would eat even more into the already not huge space (16’x16’) and decided this was a better direction. I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do with the space at the time but I knew if it was going to be on a hill that was going to restrict my options. Now if I knew *just* how much dirt I was going to have to add in order to make it level, I probably would have added the extra row of cinder blocks, but that’s a story for another day.

Let’s talk patio and garage doors. In order to avoid having an engineer come out, we kept the upper patio pretty narrow. The original steps were 40” wide and we kept the basic structure there but replaced all the rotted wood. This made it a “repair” and not a new build which would have cost a lot more money and required a few permits. We pulled the new wall out to match the width of the stairs. They did all of this after they had already made the new doors so it could happen quickly and all of our garage contents wouldn’t be exposed to anyone who walked by.

I told them to make the doors to match the new gate, which was a simple design of vertical wood and no trim, so when these bad boys went in I was not too pleased. I felt like the trim made it look like a barn. Also – they were made terribly. They don’t look so bad here but look at this close up: 

EW. What and why I ask. WHAT AND WHY. So not only did I hate the trim but the trim literally made the function of the doors…dangerous? We had a few splinters to prove it. And on this emotional cliffhanger, I will leave you today. Will I reach past my fear of confrontation and demand the hardworking men fix this mistake? Do I trust the people who thought this was ok to fix it? Will rain come before they put the patio/roof back on my garage??

Ha, it’s actually not that wild, but I need a place to split this up. Up next: the patio design and execution and my 16’x16’ urban garden dreams coming true with Down to Farm!

Here’s where I leave you: It’s May 8th, 2021 and I have a very much improved driveway situation, peace of mind of all the boring stuff taken care of, and with lots of questions regarding the patio and garage doors:

AMA in the comment section!


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64 thoughts on “Emily Bowser Is Back With Another WILD Reno Rollercoaster: The Front Yard (PART ONE)

  1. I am so excited for an update on your house!! I absolutely LOVE all of your posts and have re-read them multiple times, and have so many images pinned for one day when I get my act together. I’m already enthralled by the front yard saga and will anxiously be waiting to hear what happens with the garage doors, and (obviously) more cats.

    1. Just last week I re-read Bowser’s posts on the renovations and the back yard! They are so entertaining and fascinating!

  2. Great story telling for a stressful situation. I especially love the return of Ron and the loving way you tease your husband in the post.
    Can’t wait to see part II.

  3. Isn’t always the way, that everything takes wayyy longer and costs more than u think? Your water line saga reminds of when we needed a whole new electric panel when redoing our basement, there were apparently general power lines still present from the last time it was changed, and they were live and uncapped the whole time! (3 years!)

    Looking forward to round 2 – ding,ding! What did u do about the doors?

    1. It’s really boring stuff that anyone hates to spend money on but I have to say, when it’s finished it really does feel amazing to have the peace of mind of not only the safety element but also knowing everything should function smoothly for a long time (aka you probably won’t have to spend ~that kind~ of money on it again)

  4. Hey, are you guys going to change the book banner? It’s almost the end of June?

  5. I went back to look at the finished backyard post and the grass and plantings plus hedge look amazing. Did you ever make the raised bed on the patio, and did you make the redwood sectional you had teased? I love all the stucco additions you have made so far. How is the white paint on the back patio holding up? Are you still planning to add tile to the floor, or maybe just an awesome outdoor rug would be enough? I would also like to just see what the back house and yard looks like to get a better idea of what you’re working with. Do you have any posts about your interior? Very curious!! Great job so far, looking forward to seeing your front yard reveal this fall.

    1. The next post will address some of this. Adding the front yard element in changed the way I was thinking of the backyard because I now have more outdoor space to work with. I will also get to the final reveal of the back patio. We actually tiled it in 2020 and added a dining table, you can see a sneak peek of it in a Halloween post I did, “The Only Outdoor Halloween Entertaining Idea Post You May Ever Need: Emily “BOOswer” Does It Again (lol whoever made up that title). If you search my name in the search bar my interior posts should come up, my primary bedroom, (only) bathroom, living and “dining room” and office have posts. Kitchen and Laundry to come in the fall :). Yard content will roll out over the summer/early fall.

  6. As someone who is also undergoing a major exterior upgrade, I am following along on the edge of my seat!
    Also, I think we need a tour/post of the husband’s garage “situation.”

    1. I want to do this! Along with a tour of my side of the garage which is in the middle of an organizational overhaul (all my prop stuff is in there)

  7. This is so entertaining to me. As a homeowner with an old house and all kind of issues, I love seeing the nitty gritty of other peoples home BS. Keeping me on the edge of my seat.

    1. Agree. It’s reassuring to know that I’m not the only one who’s had blood, sweat, tears and an insane amount of time and money invested in a reno. It’s HARD to get good results.

  8. I’m so happy to see another post from you. I appreciate the keeping it real on the budget and unsexy things like sewage and foundation issues! I am wondering why the doors in front of the garage but I’ll wait for the next post.

  9. This is riveting, not going to lie. I went through all the previous posts but couldn’t find it — can you share your trim/gate/garage door color because I am salivating…

    1. Katy, I believe it is mentioned in this post: “I had originally wanted to do an arch, but Ron’s (my contractor) guys just whipped this up with scraps of wood and we painted it with the leftover paint in the garage (Squirrel by Behr).”

  10. As a homeowner who also had to spend $$ to replace her sewer line recently, my condolences. And congratulations! Nothing worse than spending money that you won’t be able to see, unless that “something worse” is “sewage” coming up in your shower. Good to have it done!

    1. We had to do the same in the spring of 2020 and it is such a relief now that it’s done. We knew it was likely maybe soon needed for a couple of years before that (1929 clay sewer line! So it had a pretty good run until the roots started breaking into it) and I didn’t realize how much it had been a low grade stressor until it was done.

    2. We are about to replace our sewer line (before we landscape) and I’m terrified of the cost 😐

      1. We just had ours done. We thought it was going to be a “simple” 8K tree root abatement, and it quickly spiraled into replacing the entire sewer line to the street for 19K. We knew it was coming eventually and once I got over my initial shock, it’s a relief to know it’s taken care of. We have also had water issues, so this post was so interesting and incredibly stressful to read! Emily Bowser, you have a very strong stomach and I salute you. 🙂

  11. We were able to get by with relining our sewer in Seattle. Plus pouring new basement steps and patching the pavers in a couple spots. Our water line plus all the pipes in the house were replaced a few years earlier. I hate spending massive amounts of money on things you can’t even see. But you can’t live in a home without sewer and water. And we spent about $50,000 on our front and back yards about twenty years ago putting in hardscape and plants. So, your prices don’t seem out of line to me. All in all, we spent about $75,000 years ago but got it all back when we sold the house five years ago.
    I still miss that back garden. We lived out there all summer long.

  12. I LIVE for these kinds posts — love to get into the nitty gritty of costs and planning SO MUCH. Thank you for taking the time to be so detailed and transparent!

    1. Love seeing and reading anything Emily (Bowser) posts! So well written and easy to follow along, not an easy task when writing details of infrastructure!
      Well done on all counts Emily B! Can’t wait to see and read your coming posts, they’re always exceptional reads!

    2. Thank and and thank you everyone for all your kind words. I’s relieved to see there are people who also like this kind of content. In my head I’m like “i would have wanted a post like this before starting this work” but then while I’m writing it I’m like “this is so boring and who would read this??”

      1. So not boring! I can’t wait to see the final result but I love the process posts.

  13. I am RIVETED. Please tell me that an update is happening quickly! As a homeowner myself, throwing piles of money at things such as “rewire the house so the original 100 year old knob and tube wiring doesn’t burn the house down (but there won’t be any day to day noticeable difference in your home when we’re done!” is the worst! I too will have to replace my water line “soon” and I know that until the day I do, water will come out of the faucet, and then $20k later, water will also…come out of the faucet.

    1. I feel your pain! PART 2 coming very soon! Already almost finished writing it 🙂

  14. I am here for the scrappy renovations, sewer line disasters, and complicated relationships with deeply flawed contractors!

  15. I can so relate to this. The only contractors I can afford are also the “back of a napkin” type, and the quality of the work is sometimes dubious (although still expensive). I also get so frustrated with our city (Chicago) requiring a $$$ and time-consuming permit every time anything gets touched in the slightest way but then also not taking any responsibility for the systems that they own (e.g. lead pipes, leaky sewers, roadways that are just a collection of poorly filled potholes strung together, etc.) Best of luck to you, and I look forward to seeing Part II!

  16. LOVE this series of posts! I am in awe of your vision and resilience…. Thank you for the honesty. From each of your posts, I take many notes for my upcoming build. Questions to ask the contractor and subs. So educational to see you (and your hubby) create these opportunities…home ownership and an amazing financial future…on a “normal” working class budget. TBH I am relieved and thrilled to see your incredible work ethic pay off! Also for some reason, I love Puck….

  17. Thank you for this totally relatable post about normal people things on a normal people budget!!! It’s pretty obvious that Emily is such a good person (please hear this first and foremost!), but as a VERY longtime reader, it’s become hard to relate to the blog as a single project/purchase is equal to my entire furniture/Reno budget for a year. I love seeing these kinds of posts that feel more like my life. Like how I, for example, just spent $4,000 with random guys to do my front yard instead of $9,000 with someone reputable and now my garden smells so much of poop that all the neighborhood kids complain 😂.

    1. Oh goodness! Does your yard smell like poop because neighborhood pets are pooping in it? Or because there are Shasta daisies planted?

    2. Thanks Hillary, normal is very subjective though isn’t it and for each of us can change throughout our lives. Emily is great at trying to give everyone good content whether it’s a studio apartment or a huge house complete renovation. Happy to be here for you though 🙂

  18. Welcome back to the blog! I love reading your updates!

    Question: if flooding is an issue, why did you go with a concrete driveway instead of a permeable one?

    1. Honestly I great question. I was looking at permeable driveways at one point and I love they way they look. Something I realized when doing our back yard is that when I ripped up the concrete, the water just went down into the ground and then went into the garage anyway haha… I guess I just wanted to get the water to the street in the fastest way possible.

  19. Thanks for the informative post! I love your paint choices. Where can I find what colors your used?

    1. The house is Polar Bear, trim is Squirrel, both by Behr. We actually ended up repainting but I’ll talk more about that next time

  20. this is so beautiful and satisfying and i love this project so so much. thank you for sharing. I can’t wait to see the next installment! I hear you that it can be frustrating and stressful but really, you have achieved so much already! the difference is incredible.

  21. Yes! More of this content! Love the real life reno stuff for people who arent filthy rich like myself. This is the content we’ve all been waiting for. I mean I love the farm content, but cannot relate on any level to $2500 bar stools. I feel seen by this post.

    1. I hope one day I (& all of us) can spend $2500 on bar stools that are hand crafted by artists n the US that 100% deserve that for their talent and time. I applaud Emily for singing their praises because people who can spend that kind of money should. It’s better for our economy and better for the environment. That said, glad you feel seen and I know what you mean 🙂

      1. Agree 100%, handmade is my absolute jam, as an artist and maker myself. I suppose there is a fancy part of me that loves the decadence of the $2500 bar stools, but it doesnt relate to my life in any real way, its just pure fantasy, which is also fun. This post feels more grounded in how I live, which is refreshing.

        1. I am here with you feeling seen by this post, Mindy! I find many of the details of a million dollar renovation alienating ( that’s probably why rich people don’t usually share this stuff publicly I guess), but paying a lot for a beautiful handmade object just because you love it doesn’t bug me as much as things like multiple laundry rooms or whatever. Maybe it’s the stuff people feel like they ‘need’ to be comfortable that rubs me the wrong way, when most of us are just trying to keep the sewage out of our showers. We all want beauty and connection but have buttons that can be pushed I guess!

  22. I relate to this so much! I haven’t had a concrete driveway since 2009 (lived on a ranch until 2015 then just dirt). We FINALLY poured one last month and man! the micro decisions that come along with it I was not expecting. However you truly don’t realize how great a concrete driveway is until you lived without one.
    We built a detached garage and part of the permit required us to create an “all weather” driveway. We knew we wanted concrete but there is about a 5 foot gap between where our property ends and the asphalt of the street (no sidewalks here). The county requires that gap to be asphalt, not concrete. $5,000 for 5×25 feet of asphalt and took the three man crew less than 4 hours. TALK ABOUT A SCAM!! The worse part is when the inspector came out to sign off he guessed it cost $1,500, I wish!

    1. OMG that is SO annoying. UGH, our apron is so gross too, I know I’ll end up coughing up $15,000 boring dollars for it at some point

      1. Don’t do it! It would look so beautiful from the street, sure. A reframe: admire that broken concrete apron every day and pat yourself on the back for saving 15K. 😉

  23. It’s not the “pretty” stuff, and I feel you with that, but it was utterly fascinating. Great job!

  24. You have done so much work on your house and it’s really showing the charm and beauty of your place!! Love it all.

  25. You have one of my favorite type of houses! I love your process posts with all the nitty gritty detail and before pics! And your cats! Is there a specific reason to have them build garage doors for you instead of automatic pull up kind? They make some charming garage doors these days.

    1. yes there is actually! The ceiling isn’t high enough so when pulled up it would require too much real estate inside of the garage. I’ve really enjoyed this style anyway because they are way easier to run in and out of and since we both work out of them we’re coming and going a lot. We rarely even have to open the other side but it’s nice to know we can.

      1. Ah that makes sense! So so smart to bump out the garage while doing this part of the reno!

  26. I am SO excited to follow along, I’ve truly loved all of your renovation posts. Your house is night and day better than where it was when you started which makes me think… are you concerned about becoming the nicest house on the block? How do you think about “over” investing? Balancing quality of life upgrades with what will be $$ when you sell in the future?

    1. I’m not at all actually. I’ve been told exterior/landscaping doesn’t add to the value of the home much but I think that’s ridiculous, especially in a place where you can comfortably be outside 99 days out of 100. A lot of the homes on my street are well cared for and close by there are homes that sell for twice what this house would sell for, it’s a huge mix. Also, making a good return isn’t the number 1 thing on my list. I want to enjoy living here while I live here.

  27. Love all of your posts. They are so well written, interesting, funny, (I see why you are the designer in the family) and informative. I always say that it’s about turning a negative into a positive and that’s what you have done. Very inspiring! Looking forward to the next post.

  28. I cannot get over what a difference you’ve made on this home. Applauding your vision–and endurance!

  29. Came for the transparency, stayed for the hilarity! After pouring over every word of this article, I went down a rabbit hole of reading all of Bowser’s articles detailing her house buying/reno sagas and just sat here… laughing and learning and relating!

  30. this was super fun – thanks for sharing all the highs and lows. You are a great writer to boot. I have vague memories of seeing a post about what you did with your kitchen. Am I imagining that? If not, could you share the link to that post – I can’t find it. thanks.

  31. Hi Emily,

    My partner linked to one of your other renovation posts after we had some disastrous budget issues in our project.

    We eventually learned a very important piece of information about home improvement contracts in California: Time and Materials contracts are *not legal* here in CA.

    I hope this isn’t applicable to your budget overage situations but a lot of people (especially our contractor) were very surprised to learn this. Here’s details:

    “The first thing you learn from the Home Improvement Contracts section of the California Contractors License Law and Reference Book is that there is no provision for time and material contracts in home improvement projects. […] A total or fixed contract price must be identified when payments are made; they must directly relate to work that has been completed.”

    The backyard renovation post has given us a lot of ideas for our very similar backyard! excited to see what happens with the garage doors and front yard too!

  32. I also really love all of your posts on your renovation! We just bought our first house in February and even though the house itself is in good shape, there’s still a LOT of work we’d like to do on the house and yard but almost no budget to do so 🙂 We are big DIY-ers, but that’s a slow and frustrating process (not like on those DIY blogs). Up until 5 years ago we SHARED a sewer lateral with our neighbor AND it was 70 years old. Luckily the previous owner replaced it. They got a loan from our waste management agency which is paid back on our tax bill every year. I’m surprised that’s not a more widespread option! ANYWAY… I’m dying for the next installment!

  33. I’m 100% here for everything you’ve learnt about space for cars and walking around them. Didn’t think that’s a something I’d ever say but am over here spending too much time puzzling over how much of our driveway space we can steal for a deck! Thanks for a great post and keeping it real on the highs, lows and privilege of renovations.

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