Arriving in Tucson

We left Modesto, CA at 7:30am on October 14th. Handing cash to a house cleaner to scrub the old place for the new owners, Kim in the driver’s seat of a 26 foot truck with her opinionated Shih Tzu, Yoshi. I drove our car with the Redhead (our orange cat) and our Chihuahua mix, Toto.

At first I thought the cat would enjoy sitting on top of a box in the passenger seat. Apparently he suffers from agoraphobia. We eventually settled on him in his cat carrier in the middle of the back seat on top of a plastic box of last minute packables – good view but not so ‘wide-open-spaces’. For two days he was an angel, peering with interest out the front windshield with (uncharacteristically) nothing to say. The first day I tried to persuade him to use a litter pan (new with fresh litter, because… it’s in my back seat) around lunch time. Nope. He waited until we got to the motel room on the first day, and then the house on the second day. He’s a cat that likes a peaceful place to perform his bodily functions.

The dogs thought this was the best fun ever! A ride! With the cat! New smells! Fun places to pee! Both were really well-behaved in their little car harnesses, secured to the seat belt buckle but able to see out the window. Toto did her happy dance every time we got out of the vehicles for gas, food, or our own bathroom breaks. Yoshi was happy as long as she was with Kim. A nice cushy bed next to the driver in that huge truck cab was perfect.

Kim meanwhile, was dealing with the worst driver’s seat ever. Grateful as we were for the 26′ truck the nice lady at Budget was able to procure for us at the last minute (allowing us to fit everything we were bringing in one truck), it was not a nice ride. The driver’s seat was missing half the padding. I McGuyvered a seat out of packing tape and the memory-foam cushion for one of the dog crates. Unfortunately the driver’s window was not as easy to fix. I pulled it up (manually, a hand on each side of the window), and hoped for the best. By day two, it was not going to stay up. Fortunately we had, yes, packing tape, near to hand. Kim taped up the window so the AC could actually keep the 100 degree weather at bay.

The motel was uneventful. Pizza delivered for dinner with some of the last wine club pick-up from Lucca (neighboring Ripon CA’s amazing winery), and we crashed. Leaving early the next day we arrived in our new home in Tucson, AZ by 2pm. Our real estate agent had called to let us know he would meet us with the key, and oh by the way, the only thing we had required of the seller (fixing the roof) was still in progress. So for the first couple of days, as we got the truck unloaded and tried to make sense of the new house, two men tramped around on the flat roof.

If you ever have a choice, don’t get a house with a flat roof. That’s my unasked for advice of the day.

However, that’s what we have. Here, rather like the Coachella Valley, you put everything on the roof. Gas and water lines – across the roof. Solar, of course, on the roof. The AC unit? Yep, also on the roof. Underneath all that stuff, is a couple of layers of plywood, some tar paper or other water proofing stuff, covered with thick white goo that is supposed to reflect light and heat. That’s pretty much it. If your decking is destroyed because… say, the previous owner(s) left the original evaporative cooler to rust and drip for years, all of that has to be pulled up, the dependent infrastructure propped up, and new decking, water barriers, etc… installed. More white glop, and voila! Bob’s your uncle.

Not the smartest roof system on the planet, but cheap as hell. So of course, a significant percentage of the older homes in Tucson have them. If you’re lucky someone who owned the house before you has installed some decent insulation between that decking and the dry wall on the other side of your rafters. In most cases that never happens… because, you have to pull down the ceiling dry wall. And who wants to do that? Right. No one.

We however, were walking into a series of questionable choices that led us to add our HVAC ducting to the roof, removing large chunks of the interior roof dry wall along with the ancient rusty internal ducting. Think of the ducting for a house as your respiratory system. It allows the warm or cold air to flow into all the rooms that are connected to your HVAC.

IN OUR CASE, that meant there were two rooms that were not connected to the existing HVAC, a framed in front laundry porch that had become the utility room sometime in the past 58 years, and a kludgy “fourth” bedroom slapped onto the rear of the dining room. I’ll bet my hearing aids neither are permitted, but given they’re both at least twenty years old, it’s obvious no one in the neighborhood cares. In fact the neighborhood used to have a Home Owners Association which apparently expired decades ago due to a lack of participation, interest, funding, or whatever reason HOAs pass from relevance. Our neighborhood’s random additions, garages in clear violation of city code, and sundry neglected outbuildings attest to a remarkably l’aissez faire attitude on the part of City Code Enforcement. I can only hope our additions are similarly ‘grandfathered’ in.

The construction on the rear room is so bad that you can see daylight along three edges of the door between the “bedroom” and the dining room. A LOT of daylight… over a quarter of an inch on some areas. Yeah, it’s on the list.

In addition to the closet and an odd little hallway that leads to an unnecessary rear door (there are two sliding glass doors and a single wood door, all lined up next to one another in an L shape), the entire room is about 7×8′. Since we have no garage for all the stuff that was stored in our three car garage back in California, we promptly stuffed all that crap, including six bins of Christmas stuff (I swear they multiply in the dark hours of the off season) in that room. We’re 10 weeks in, and still call it “the garage”. Although we’re having a 20′ x 8′ shed being built as I write this, I suspect that name is going to stick.

side note: The “garage” looked much larger in pictures. In fact, the entire house and carport looked much larger in pictures. On the upside, the pool is smaller than it looked, which makes it perfect.

About that odd little hallway. We don’t use it. The cat’s litter pan is there, on top of a plastic bin of painting supplies. In case you haven’t figured this out yet, we’re a bit desperate for storage space. But first let’s visit all the things that the real estate agent did not volunteer during our Facetime tour of the house.

Every single window is original single pane glass in a heat conducting aluminum frame. This includes the large 3 pane sliding door on the rear of the house and the 2 pane sliding door on the “garage”. Neither sliding door has actually slid in at least a decade, the little wheels are not only worn out, they have crumbled into little bits of metal that screees as you haul the door open with brute force.

There is a side door off the “utility room” with a large (uninsulated, natch) dog door in it. A Saint Bernard could go through that door, and it was so poorly installed someone had to reinforce the bottom of the door with a piece of wood closet rod. The condition of this door has actually turned out to be a blessing in the short term, but that’s a whole other story.

In addition the utility room has two vents to the outside, ensuring no one gets asphyxiated by the routine functions of the gas hot water heater. They also ensure that the Arizona winter cold and summer heat, along with a fair number of desert dwelling insects of all kinds, have ready egress to the house. *sigh*

The ducting for the HVAC resided in soffits through the kitchen, living room, and hallway leading from the front door to the three bedrooms and guest bath. The soffits are… well, unnecessarily large. Apparently the builder, the architect, and the buyers were all under 5’9″ because I found the hallway oppressive. I didn’t even have to stretch to touch the ceiling.

Fortunately (?) the AC unit was old, and the furnace (residing in the front closet) was ancient.

Or not so fortunately. I interviewed 5 different HVAC vendors (wearing masks, with the front door open and the house fan running), and discovered that everyone agreed that the HVAC and ducting should be on the roof. Of course it should. I could get a combination AC/heat pump that would serve as my furnace and cooling system. It would only cost us about 20% of our entire renovation budget. But we could eliminate the soffits and recover the furnace closet for much needed storage, not to mention introducing a far more efficient heating and cooling system into this neglected old house. So we signed papers, wrote the largest single check I’ve ever written in my life, and included removal of the ducting/soffit and furnace in the contract.

It took time. Of course it did. Because of the US “trade war” on China making metal hard to obtain, and COVID felling people in construction shops all over the country, the ducting was delayed several times. But the small shop that created the heavily insulated metal ducts kept churning ours out in batches. Our project manager/HVAC specialist was heroic, working late into the night on our roof. He kept us informed, gave us firm dates for the next round of work, and finally installed the last ducts and our Ecobee thermostat (another story) on the first of December, a little over five weeks from the date we hired his company.

With the removal of the internal duct work and the soffits however, the lack of insulation made itself felt. But that is another post.

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