Sunday, September 9, 2012

Summer Projects

For me, summer is a good time for getting projects done outside the house.  When you own a house that's more than a century old, the list of projects often seems endless, and this summer I managed to get a couple knocked off the list that have been there for awhile.

The first was replacement of the lead water service connection.  This is something that around 1,000 homes in the older part of the city still have. The city recognizes that these should be replaced, so there is a water service replacement program.  The city will subsidize the home-owner's share of costs, up to $2,000, and replace the connection on the property owner's side.

I'm not sure how many residents have been able to take advantage of this program, and I think that we should look at how it could be made more efficient, to encourage participation.

I have been trying to get a contractor to come to our house to do the required excavation for two years without success.  Part of the problem is that digging up a single yard is a relatively small scale project, and most contractors are involved in much larger, more profitable projects.  This year, a friend who was also arranging for his connection to be replaced gave me the name and number of someone who might be able to help.

Andrea and I had been in Regina for the Folk Festival the second weekend in August.  On the Monday morning, as we were getting ready to leave, I got a text message from a friend - "There's a backhoe in your front yard."  When we got home that afternoon, yes, there was a backhoe sitting in our front yard, and a phone message from the contractor, saying that they would call the next day.  I immediately called the city, saying that I would need someone to come by and mark the water line as soon as possible.  I was told that someone would get back to me.

The next day, fortunately, it was pouring rain, so no digging could be done.  When I hadn't heard from the city by mid-morning, I walked down to city hall to make my inquiry directly.  I was told that maybe somebody could come by on Thursday; after a bit of discussion they agreed that somebody could come by within a half an hour.

On Wednesday morning the digging started, and on Thursday we were able to get the water lines replaced.  We also had to get the excavation and reconnection approved by a city staff person, before the excavation could be filled in.  The city finished their side, including ripping up several feet of sidewalk, on Friday.  Four weeks later, the sidewalk still hasn't been repaired - I'm hoping that it happens before the snow flies.

Lead water service connections are a health hazard that the city doesn't like to talk about much.  If you need to find out about the program, it's on the city web-site, under Residents, then under Water and Sewer.  Right now, it's only scheduled to run until the end of this year.  I think that this is a program that we should target for completion, and work to find efficiencies that would help home-owners.  I've already mentioned the difficulty in finding a contractor for a single yard job.  If the city could target a block at a time, and arrange for and pay a contractor to do all the homes on the block at that time, that would leave the home-owners with only having to pay for the plumbing contractor.  The $2,000 subsidy covers the cost of the excavation; if the city took care of it, that would also save in the administrative cost of processing claims.

I am glad that my home connection is completed, and I appreciate the quick response of the city crew, after some nudging.  I also realize that the average home-owner may not take such direct action when they don't get a response, and I think that city administration needs to be more aware of the need for a timely response - a contractor isn't going to hang about for several days waiting for water lines to be marked, when they could be making money somewhere else.

The second project is not a necessity, more of a nice-to-have.  The week after the water work was complete, I started building a deck on the west side of the house - a project that we've talked about for several years.  In this case, the guy that I called about putting in screw-piles (a faster and easier alternative than digging holes for pilings) showed up the day after I called for an estimate, ready to work.  So I've been in construction mode for the last two weeks, and if you've driven by the house, you've probably seen me out there working.  Fortunately, I've also had a great deal of help from a couple of friends.  Barry and David spent a couple of days helping with framing and laying out deck boards, with the result that I'm now left with just the stairs and railing left to do.  While the final product looks much larger than it did on paper, I think that it's going to be a great place to sit and relax with friends.  It's our version of a cottage, without the high maintenance requirements.

And tomorrow, it's the first council meeting after summer break - back to the suit and tie.  With the election looming, it should be an interesting couple of months.

"Summertime is always the best of what might be." - Charles Bowden

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