Posted by: philipfontana | March 29, 2017

Repair & Replace, Part 4

Repair & Replace, Part 4

Getting Ready/Not Yet “For Sale”


Philip Fontana

1 Size HouseRecent

         Our 1885 Dutch Colonial as it has looked in recent years. Sad to say, we had to cut down our dear 150 year old & large sugar maple tree. It had to go. – – Just part of the latest house update that follows!



     Excuse us for living in one house for 42 years now. This being Part 4 in our house saga demonstrates that it will take a year or two to ready our 1885 Dutch Colonial in Montville, New Jersey, for sale. You can refer back to the previous “installments” I’ve written about by going to the archived articles in the right margin here, scroll down to the bottom, and click on “Our Old House.”

2 Size CoalBin

        Here I am in the old “coal bin,” August, 2016. The coal bin in our basement was long replaced before our years in the house by a gas run steam heat furnace. But the old coal bin remains! – – Pretty neat with a wooden partition & slot for a “door” or hatch that slid up to let coal slide out the bottom to shovel into an old coal furnace. We still find small chunks of coal in the basement, around the yard, & buried along the Morris Canal bank behind our property. You can see the coal shoot next to me here in the photo, where coal was delivered outside & sent down the shoot pipe into the coal bin. – – Neat!


     The issue in the coal bin was the field stone. You can make out in the photo here that I covered it with cement. The problem was that, due to the field stone at the base of the foundation, water leaked into the coal bin two or three times a year when we experienced torrential rains for extended periods of time. So, last August 2016, I spent three weeks fixing the problem. I mixed and patched up the field stone with upwards of 400 lbs. of cement, not an easy feat in confined quarters. – – I used my old wheel barrel right in the coal bin to mix the cement! In the process, I bricked-up and cemented the far end of the coal shoot as well. And, like all water problems with foundations, I topped off the job with 400 lbs. of topsoil outside the coal bin foundation wall where the plush, deep pachysandra over the years hid the fact that the ground had sunk creating a “swimming pool” of water during heavy rains.

Next up, the dying 150 year old sugar maple tree!

3 Size Tree Dying

      Here is a more recent side photo of the house with the old sugar maple tree. Already, however, the tree shows that it has been cut back from over the house over the years & branches toward the street had died & were cut down.

4 Size OriginalHouse

        Compare the tree in the above photo to same tree in this old photo of the house, more the way it looked in 1975 when we moved in. – -Before we had the beautiful porch with 5 white columns enclosed into a family room. The tree grew even more over those years before its decline. At one point, it reached the second chimney mid-roof, & you could see the leaves & branches out of the upstairs windows, front & back of the house!

5 Size No Tree

         Here is that same side shot of the house without the tree, cut down late August, 2016. It broke our hearts to have it cut down. But the tree was reduced to only three thriving branches.


The tree had been an issue for years and years, i.e., having dead branches cut down as the tree failed. It got to the point of having the tree service guys here every other year to cut down two branches or so. And in recent years, discussions turned to “taking down the tree.” The bone of contention to me was not the $4000 expense as much as the means by which to take the tree down. Various tree outfits wanted to bring in a huge crane: place it on my neighbor’s driveway; or remove a portion of our fence along the road and place it, one “leg” of the crane on our property, and the other leg on the street, hiring the police to direct traffic. But long ago I read that you can’t get what you want if you don’t ask for it. And I wanted the old tree taken down the old fashion way by hand!!!

6 Size TreeSlabs

        And here is the result! – -The slabs, or “rounds,” of wood taken down section by section, the last week of August, 2016. My neighbor introduced me to someone who ran a tree service that did not use heavy equipment. Two men took down the tree by hand! One man climbed the tree & cut 18 inch slabs/rounds & pushed them off the top of the tree to the ground. The other man laid the rounds on the patio to form a “bed of wood.” Once the tree was cut to the level of the gutter of the old porch roof, the men cut the trunk & down came the remainder of the tree. The trunk was cut into rounds. They carted the rounds by hand with a large/high hand truck or cart across my driveway to my neighbor’s property! My neighbor wanted the wood. Pictured here are most, but not all, of the rounds. And the branches were cut & stacked into piles.

7 Size AsbestosRemoval

         But the biggest triumph is pictured here; asbestos removal from the basement heating pipes. – – February, 2017, by me with respirator mask & eye goggles; four weeks of work, 3-4 hours a day, 45-50 hours total. The job turned out to be 45 linear feet removed & replaced with $359 of new pipe insulation. I took 84 lbs. of water sprayed asbestos pipe covering sections & loose asbestos from pipe fittings at corners & joints, double plastic bagged & sealed with duct tape, to Morris County’s hazardous waste facility for disposal. Here I am pictured holding two old asbestos sections of pipe covering & standing below the new white insulation that I installed on the heating pipes above me. 



     Excuse us for living here so long, as I said at the outset of this piece. Before we can think about a “For Sale” sign on our house, among other smaller items to address, there is one more major item to replace or try to sell the house “as is”…

8 Size Old Wiring

– – The old electric wiring, knob & tube, 70% of the house electrical system. 


Comments: Please!

Sources:  What sources? This is hell!   




  1. The sooner the better

    Sent from my iPhone 6 S Plus

    Robert La Bianca / Realtor & Associates
    Homesmart Professionals

  2. Robert, Yep, you said it right from the beginning! “Just sell it!” you said! Many thanks! Phil

  3. Howdy Phil,
    What a great story for my three sons. Dad, being ultra conservative, plus so resourceful. Great stories for the legacy of the Fontanas. I know of the long love affair with this beautiful home. Time marches on. Wonderful to see you tending to your love. I slept in our converted coal bin for over 10 years. The shoot would be a metal segmented shaft at the back of a coal dump truck that was assembled and placed through a small basement access window. We had the same type of access doorway made of planks that would be added or removed as the season changed and the coal was used up. Hope you are mending after that surgery. Spring is on the way. You soon will be dealing with the final details for the Epoch move. A challenge for the heart, but the best for you and Geri. One step at a time. Take care,Be Safe.Peace,

    • John, GREAT COMMENTS & EXPERIENCES AS ALWAYS FROM YOU!!! You slept in a converted coal bin for 10 years…. Must have been in Winfield! Coal shoot & planks of access doorway sound exactly as here!!! OK re post-surgery after 3 weeks….Same hernia as 2003 surgery, just slower on the mend. But they administered great “nerve blocker” injections into the incision area right after surgery once I woke up. As a result, I experienced NO PAIN recuperating….plus 5 pain killer tablets over a two day period. Just had a new water heater installed Monday. This summer we must have a flu pipe installed in the furnace chimney by code for that water heater!!! Then just small cementing cracks in the basement foundation. Then the old electric wiring …..We will probably go for it for easier sale…..We may not do that until next year. It’s difficult to stop living, tell the kids we are doing nothing until we fix the house. So we think we will try to do both slowly…live normally & fix slowly. Thanks for caring! And you too, all the family, be well & safe! Phil

  4. You’re hard work will pay off my dear friend. Glad to read your latest entry!

    • Padre Tatro, Thank you, Eddie for your encouragement. This has turned out to be a very hard & demanding experience. I have taken on things above my level of knowledge & strength. But I learned one way or another what to do & the rest was just brawn & “Footprints in the Sand” & God guided me through. The remainder is smaller stuff & an electrical contractor. Thank you over & again! Phil

  5. Hi Philip — I have to admire your tenacity in the repairs and upkeep in getting your old house up to speed to sell. Many good moments, no doubt, have embraced you and your family in the living within those old walls. I love it.

    We’ve been in our house 35 years this year and, though it’s not as old (built in 1978), it too groans with needed repairs and attention. Needless to say, we haven’t been as diligent as you, down through the years, in taking care of her.

    I suppose there will come a time (and maybe not in the too-distant future) when we will also have to consider selling. The golden years and living in the mountains in a bi-level gently reminds us of that occasionally.

    Thank you for sharing your warm, personal daily life adventures and occasional challenges. It brings a warmth and comfortable feeling of home and connection to my heart.

    Best of luck in all your endeavors and blessings wherever you land or remain. God bless.

    • Pat, Many thanks! No tenacity, just struggling to do one thing at a time. This is hell! But, yes, all fond memories we must cut the heart strings from! Wow, 35 years in your home! 1978 vintage should be easier to bring up to speed! Start slowly before that time to sell comes! Thank you for your kind words about my website stories! Demands upon me have taken me away from checking up on warm, wonderful bloggers such as you & their websites. And God’s blessings to you as well. Thank you for that too! Phil

      • Aw, you’re so welcome, Phil, and I appreciate the kind words. I can only imagine the challenges you have in bringing modern comforts to a turn-of-the-century home and maintain it’s charm and integrity. You’ve done a wonderful job — it looks beautiful.

        I’m sure it must seem like hell at times not to mention the cost. You have to be good at doing that kind of stuff or have the means to hire someone. Neither of which we have at the moment.

        We’re just enjoying life together (50 years) and taking what comes and thankful working with what we have. No pressures to get things done for now.

        Wishing you all the best and that all your dreams come true. Sounds like you’re already there. God bless.

    • Pat, Thanks so much for your second comment!!! Most of our work,until now, has been decorating/painting/wallpapering/bookshelves/fixtures, etc. I know my limits & then hire someone too! You both sound just like Geri & I until we got on the “sell” bandwagon due to plumbing repairs. We both have been blessed with our lives, right?! Thanks again! Phil

      • Always welcome, Philip, and don’t want to tie you up with comments. We do sound alike with you and Geri and we briefly thought about selling last summer when our daughter moved out of state. The market looks real good but not ready yet.

        Thanks for taking time and stopping over — you didn’t have to do that, but love that you did. Take care, my friend.

    • Hello! I cannot agree with Pat more!

      Phil, what a big job you have been tackling indeed! Wow, you seem to be somewhat of a master tradesman. Yes, it can be quite heart-wrenching to leave a place that you have called home for so long, 42 years in total, so many memories and mementoes. . . . .

      • SoundEagle, I must learn your name….I looked around a little on your website. Thanks for the comment on the old house. The irony is that I’m not a tradesman but do what I can or hire someone. Yes, 42 years of memories & many collectibles…such as 155 steins!!! But the upset over repairs has cured us of sentiment We just want peace. We are up to breaking the emotional ties to this lovely place. Thanks so much!!! Phil

      • Hope it’s all been going well, Philip, and that you’re settled in by now in time for the holidays. Take care, my friend, and God bless this Christmas and the New Year.

  6. Hi Phil,
    You saved yourself a bundle by taking care of the asbestos! Are you skilled with electrical wiring, too?

    • Sandy!!! True, we saved money on the coal bin, tree, & asbestos! But I really am not handy like your Dad was! I cannot go near the electric wiring. Our son Tom could really do it if he were not a busy chef in Upstate New York. It’s only $10,000…..It’s the patching plaster & wallpaper that scares us!!! Thanks for looking at this! May all be well with you & Mom! Geri says hi! Phil

  7. hi Phil & Geri-
    I know the hard work you all have done. Jim & I and then just me have moved 5 times in our married life…bigger houses as the family expanded, and then just me downsizing for the last time after Jim passed. I NEVER want to do that again! you are darn right it is HARD WORK! ugh! Good Luck and I hope you find just the right place for you both! Good article as always.

    • MARG!!! Moving 5 times from bigger to now a smaller home! We really cannot imagine how we will ever be able to rid ourselves of “stuff,” pack up, & move!!! Geri has some nice condos in mind near Erin & Andy. Thanks for the nice words about the article! Phil & Geri says hi too!

  8. Phil What are the numbers? Who are you selling the house to? A first time buyer with building skills or a contractor? Place an ad to sell the house on Craig’s list with the major repairs Price Quotes and photos of the beautiful home you created. Get prices on the work that must be fixed to sell. The contractor route ($$$) sounds a bit extreme. We sold one of our houses on craigs list and we had a very happy ending. A good lawyer is what you need.
    OR …sell to a contractor and stop fixing the house. Packing is hard enough!

    • Bernadette, Too far ahead. No selling price yet, no sale, no buyer. Craig’s list is a good idea with photos & with what we’ve done & what needs to be done & the price like 10,000 to fix the old electric wiring. We agree that packing is hard enough & selling “as is” a better alternative. YES, a good lawyer is essential! Many thanks for your expertise, ideas, & encouragement. Thanks for commenting! Phil

  9. Interesting series, Phil (I thought you were in Paramus???) We look down on Rt 202 from our house of 43 years in Oakland, and are in the midst of trying to sort and manage all the stuff, likely selling within 2 years. Asbestos…I give you credit for tackling that, and the knob and post electric…That’s history! Our home is 1950’s vintage, and we had asbestos removed some years ago, and by contrast our electric is up to date. You might find a series I did a few yrs ago, about the source of our electric service, here:
    Marty 🙂

  10. MV, I grew up in Paramus, married, & moved to Montville into this house for the last 42 years (after 3 years in apts in Morristown & Madison at Drew University campus grad housing). Yep, Rt 202 is all over the place…Oakland too, know it well! I always tell people coming to our house, “Don’t take Rt. 202!!!” So you two sound like us….getting ready to sell! “Stuff!” HA! –Know the feeling! Asbestos anyone can do. The old electric wiring I will hire an electrician! –A 1950’s house with asbestos too! I’ll check out your series on your electric service! MARTY!!!! Such similar things here in your comment…just great! Many thanks! Phil

  11. Phil, interesting article, as usual. Put it on the market now – as is. It’s a seller’s market with low housing inventory. Someone will grab it right up. All the best to you and Geri. By the way, where are you planning to go?

    • Viv, Thanks! You are so right about the seller’s market…..but our hands are tied while we fix small things, clear FORTY YEARS of “stuff” from the basement, & only then decide to fix the old electric or not. It’s only a 10,000 fix but opens up sale to the general house buyers & not just contractors. To sell “as is” now means sell to a contractor. We have reason to believe in Montville this modest house would go for 400,000-450,000 but to a contractor maybe 200,000-250,000. We could swing the loss, but that really would be a shame after a lifetime of hard work & saving. The perplexing thing is a regular sale could take a year or more on busy Rt 202 & close to the road. ….while with a contractor we could be out of here tomorrow! We don’t know what we are doing except one thing at a time, kicking the can down the road & eventually selling it. We have a condo complex in mind in Rockaway Township just beyond the Rockaway Town-square Mall….5 minutes from the grandsons! ANY ADVICE IS APPRECIATED!!! To sell “immediately” means to stop living, put all holiday entertaining the family, etc., on hold & concentrate all efforts on the house & sale. This is hard & a strain. Thanks! Love following you & the whole family on Facebook! Love to you & Scott!!! Phil & Geri too

  12. Easter blessings…

    • Carl, Many thanks & hoping your Easter was wonderful for you too! You know, as I recently viewed your April cartoon offerings, I could not but take pride in all you do that has threads back to you the history teacher!!! –I guess because that’s where I come from too!!! Phil

  13. Wow. Been there, done that. But I was only 16 at the time, and just an assistant to my granddad and one uncle. I think the fun I had helping renovate my grandparents’ house is what led me into real estate as a Realtor, electrician, plumber, roofer, HVAC tech, home inspector, contractor, and investor. Now, at the age of 62, I’m retired and completely out of real estate other than as an owner.

    • Russel Ray, Wow to YOU & all your experiences going back to childhood & all your real estate experience & with all the trades, plus house inspector, contractor, & investor!!! WE NEED YOU & YOUR ADVICE OUT HERE IN NEW JERSEY!!! Do we have the old electric wiring replaced or sell “as is”? –The problem being, to sell full price at 450,000, the buyer will fail inspections for mortgage application & home owners insurance. And, selling to a contractor means selling for 200,000-250,000. At age 70 should we take that 200,000 loss? We are able to financially but do not deserve “the hit” after a lifetime of modest living & saving. Many thanks for the comments, Russel! Any advise is appreciated!!!!!!!!!!!! Phil & wife Geri

  14. A few points:
    1. You’d never be allowed to remove asbestos today without a certificate and qualifications. You saved yourself thousands!
    2. Are you holding out for a new tax code for even better gains? If I were you, don’t count on it.
    3. Stop fixing it already. Devote more time searching for the next house. Remember, it’s just a house. The memories belong to you no matter where you put your head down to sleep.
    4. A house is a house, a home is where you live.

    Forget coal, oil, gas, electric, we’re going solar baby!

    • Charlie, What asbestos? “See no evil. Speak no evil.” New tax code for better gains??? Don’t understand that. No problem finding a condo…..We have a condo complex picked out. But have to have the old electric wiring fixed to sell this place. We cut our heart strings many repairs ago over the last few years!!! Thanks for looking at this!!! Wondering if you are still in FL or UK. Phil

  15. Pat, So nice to hear from you…however you wound up on this post on “Repair & Replace, Part 4”!!! I have had 4 posts since this one. No, we are not settled in a new house if that’s what you refer to. We are still fixing. Last thing we can do is some cement repairs to basement & garage foundation. Then it’s either have an electrician replace the old wiring by tearing the plaster apart OR sell to a contractor at a lower price. We have no stomach for tearing the finished place apart. So 2018 looks like cementing, throwing out stuff, & calling in a realtor top sell to a contractor. Thank you for the Christmas & New Year wishes. May you & your family enjoy the joys of the season as well! Many thanks for looking in on me! Phil

    • Uh-oh — sorry, I wasn’t up-to-date, Phil, on what you’ve been up to lately. I’ve not been as active on the internet this past year but still enjoy my fellow bloggers and try to stay in touch when I can, though a little spotty here and there.

      You’re still planning on moving, aren’t you, and downsizing to a smaller place I thought. Sounds like you’ve got things well in hand with what you’ve planned and no doubt it will all turn out wonderful.

      Thank you for responding and keeping in touch. I wish you and your family many blessings this holiday and the New Year. I pray all your dreams will come true, my friend. God bless and Merry Christmas.

  16. Pat, So nice of you to keep touch with your old bloggers! I thought you might still be posting on your great website & that I have been remiss not looking in on YOU!!! I notice people do not keep their websites active for more than 3 years, maybe 4 years. I started January 2012 & started with a post every other week. The second year I cut back some & by year three I went to once a month. The last two years I post only every other month, six times a year!!!
    Each one takes me 12 hours, start to finish. That’s still too much time!!! What I resent more is an hour a day on Facebook to keep up with friends & family. Yes, that was what I was saying…..We are still readying the house for sale, fixing & deciding what we won’t do & sell for a lesser price. We hope to have a realtor take over when we are ready in 2018. Thank you for all your good wishes for the holiday season & in our lives. Wishing you & your husband all good things too for the holidays & for 2018!!! Phil

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