Rebuilding after the Fire

Lewis and Debra Demler

On Sunday, May 3, 1998 our house was destroyed by a fire.  The structure and contents were considered total losses.  For three months, Deb and I worked on creating an inventory of the contents that were lost.  This inventory consisted of a list containing the description of every item in the house, as well as the purchase price, date purchased and where it was purchased.  We also worked on the demolition of the burned out structure.  We finished the inventory in August and it took a month to get it into the format required by our insurance company.

During July and August, 1998, we had to make a decision on the reconstruction of our new dwelling.  The main options were to rebuild on the existing foundation, rebuild on the foundation, but with an addition, or build a new structure at a different location on our property.  One item that made this decision very difficult was that a portion of our old house was a 250 year old stone house.  The walls were still structurally sound and it was a candidate for restoration.  We did not want to destroy that piece of history.

We finally decided to build on a new site and restore the old stone house.  We negotiated with the insurance company for authorization to do this without affecting the proceeds from our loss.  They accepted our proposal as long as none of the insurance loss proceeds were used in the restoration.

We solicited estimates from different architectural firms for the design of the NewHouse and oversight of the construction.  All of the bids were way too high so we decided to take this on ourselves.  So we designed the house and wrote the necessary specifications during the same time we were finishing the inventory and the demolition of the old structure.  We completed the design and design specifications in August.

We solicited construction bids from several contractors and finally picked one to do the job.  We got our building loan and gave the contractor authorization to start.  He was responsible for all permits.  It took two months to get a building permit.  The zoning office wanted the old structure demolished and would not give a permit until we agreed to that.  They finally approved our permit, but made final occupancy contingent on removal of the old structure.  This process also held up the approval of the building loan, but that was finally approved with a use restriction on the old building.  This process took over two months.

We continued to pursue the renovation of the old structure.  It took another four months to get a building permit to renovate that structure, but only for use as a storage building.  

We were finally ready to start construction.  Ground was broken on November 24, 1998.  The contractor committed to an occupancy date of February, 1999 dependent, of course, on weather.  There were numerous delays.  We were using hand-made, over-sized bricks.  The brickyard said there would be no problem getting the bricks when needed.  When the mason requested delivery, he was told they did not have them.  There was a six-week delay while the bricks were made.  We accepted the delay rather than using different bricks.  

The cabinet shop delivered the wrong size cabinets for the wet bar and the wrong color and style for the downstairs bath.  This also caused a delay.  The electric utility "lost" our work order and called the linemen back from the job.  That resulted in a two-week delay getting electricity to the house.  They eventually found the work order.  There were a lot of other minor problems.  They sent the wrong burner inserts with our stove, so the correct inserts had to be special ordered.  Our original order for lights was rejected because everything we ordered had been discontinued.  They had given us the catalog just two weeks before we placed the order.  The lighting components came in dribbles and drabs.  Even then, they sent the wrong components.  Some of the plumbing fixtures were missed on the original order.

Eventually everything fell into place.  We moved in on May 1, 1999, almost a year to the day from the fire.  We still had to do the landscaping.  The landscaping around the house was completed in August.  The landscaping contractor finished on August 14, 1999.  That night we had 5 inches of rain and the terraces collapsed.  It took another week for the contractor to put them back.  Of course the grass seed was washed into the areas with shrubs, so we have been fighting that for the past few months.  We still have some landscaping to be finished this year.  In the spring of 2000, we will finish the lighting around the stone walls on the terraces and will have the waterfalls and ponds installed.

The following pictures were taken during contruction.

The picture on the right is our conception of the finished house.  The drawings are the first and second floor plans.  The plans for the basement and attic are not shown.






We finally broke ground for the house on November 24, 1998.  We had to remove a lot of trees.  They were eventually cut up for firewood.






We decided to use preformed structures for the basement.  The basement walls were set on December 2, 1998.


We are setting the first floor joists.  We used steel I-beams for support and set the floor joists on the I-beams.






We had started to frame out the family room.  It is 2-stories high with a sunken floor.  The sub-flooring had already been laid on the first floor.


We were working on the floor studs for the second floor.  This picture shows the bracing that was required to keep the wall studs aligned.  It was very hard to walk around during this period.






We used Amish carpenters for most of the general construction.  They were raising one of the interior wall frames for the second floor.


Here they were raising one of the exterior walls for the master bedroom.  This is the wall with the large windows on the front of the house.  This picture was taken on December 16, 1998.






We were working on the rafters, trying to get the house under roof before bad weather set in.  We still had to get the exterior sheeting on.  This picture was taken on December 19, 1998.


This picture, taken on December 23, 1998, shows that the exterior sheeting is on and sealed.  The roof has been completed and has roofing felt put on.  The doors and windows have also been set in.






The carpenters were just finishing the roof.  This picture was taken from the front of the house.  The garage had not yet been started.  This picture was taken from the road.  The old house was to the left of the picture along the road.


Heidi would come out to the NewHouse several times a week.  She is inspecting the electrical wiring in the kitchen.






We were putting up the wallboard in the master bedroom.  This picture was taken on January 31, 1999.


The bricks had finally arrived.  We had just started laying the exterior bricks on February 5, 1999.






We laid the bricks on the shady side of the house first.  We had a light snowfall during the night, and it had not yet melted on sections of the roof.  This picture was taken on February 13, 1999.  So much for moving in by the end of February.


This a picture of the loft taken from the family room.  The carpenters had finally finished the railing.






Heidi had just checked out the fireplace in the living room.  She said we can not use it for a fireplace as she is going to use it for a cave.


The carpenter was putting the initial coat of stain on the main staircase.  They had not yet put in the banisters.  This picture was taken on February 22, 1999.






This is a picture of the main fireplace in the family room.  The wood boxes on either side of the firebox open to the outside so we do not have to drag wood through the house.   The hardwood floors had not yet been installed when this picture was taken on February 24, 1999.


The kitchen cabinets had been installed by March 23, 1999.  The stove top and other applicances had not yet been installed.  You can see the ceramic tile floor on this picture.






This is a picture of the loft from the foyer.  The carpenters had finished the banisters by March 23, 1999.


This picture of the carpenters installing the mantle on the main fireplace in the family room was taken on April 15, 1999.  The hardwood flooring had already been installed.






This is picture of the exterior was taken on April 20, 1999.  We had requested the final inspection so the occupancy permit could be issued.


This picture from the chandelier in the foyer.  We had to order this three times.  Each time we ordered it, the manufacturer discontinued the finish we wanted.






This picture of the back patio and terraces was taken on August 2, 1999.  The trees, shrubs and ground cover had not been planted yet.


This is a picture of the back patio and flagstone walk leading to the driveway.  It was taken on August 5, 1999.






This picture of the back patio and terraces was taken after the storm which washed out sections of the landscaping.  You can not see much damage here.  Most of the grass seed that had been sowed on the flats washed off onto the banks.


This is a picture of some of the erosion from the storm which had washed out the landscaping.  This is picture of the back terraces taken on August 15, 1999.






This picture from the same storm was taken of the front terraces, which suffered the most damage.



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