Rental House Redux

This past week, my husband, brother, and I stopped over to check on the rental house–the first time the three of us had been there together since the place caught on fire.

The contractor’s work seems to be moving along well–they have drywall up everywhere, and of course, rough-in plumbing and electric. It was encouraging to see. And better yet? Not one whiff of smoke.

One thing I can tell my writer friends is that there is nothing like the smell of burnt house. I went over there the day after the fire and, holy cow, the smoke smell was overpowering! As a writer, I’m supposed to be able to describe sensory details, but the pervasiveness of the smoke smell in that house almost defies description. It was so thick I could almost see the carbon molecules in the air I was breathing. And all I could think of was how fast I wanted to get out of there.

A couple months ago, I read a novel in which a character entered a recently-burned building. I could tell this author had not had that experience, as she barely even mentioned the smoke, much less how cloying and sickening it is (especially when there are emotions attached to it, as there should have been in the story). (Otherwise, the book was very good.) It wouldn’t have taken much, aside from how strong a smell it is. It mostly smells like a bonfire, but has an underlying, sickening chemical smell. It’s close enough that for the next few months, whenever one of my neighbors had a fire in their backyard, I was taken back to the rental house. I can’t imagine how much worse it would be for someone who’d lost their home to a fire.

One of our friends had, in an apartment fire around twenty years ago. We took her inside the house a couple days after the fire, and she said it smelled exactly like the burnt apartment building. And yes, she had to get out quickly.

Now, I don’t mind being there once again. There is a new furnace in the rental house, so when we went inside it was comfortable (though we kept our coats on, because the contractors had the heat turned down–thank you!). They are getting ready to finish the drywall next.

Some of the fixtures going into the upstairs bathroom

We had a progress meeting with them this Friday. While progress is good, that’s where the good news ended: we are going to be over-budget, unless we take on some of the work. As in, the estimates for all the work done so far plus what’s still to come exceeded the insurance estimate by about $15,000. Apparently, the savings found in drywall and OSB roofing were not enough to offset the new bathroom, and siding the detached garage so it would match the house (insurance wouldn’t cover the garage, as it was not affected by the fire). So  I spent all day yesterday poring over their 42-page detailed estimate, and pulling out line items we could cover. Most of this was purchasing materials, as they put an “overhead and profit” markup on everything. Others were things like installing towel bars and TP holders – they charge over $13 to do one. I don’t have a problem with that as it’s simply paying for their time, but they’re willing to let us do that and save some $$, so we definitely will. My husband may wind up refinishing the hardwood floors again, too, as that would save over $6,000.

What I’ve been Reading: This week, it’s been mostly my own WIP. But I’ve also continued to binge on a blog I found a couple weeks ago. Over this past year, I’ve discovered blogs outside of the writing community, mostly focused on 1) DIY, 2) Homesteading (I’m not interested in doing so, but I find it fascinating), 3) home building (surprise) and 4) Financial Independence. This week’s blog binges have fallen into category 4. One is, in which the author describes his march to financial independence, with a goal of reaching it within 1500 days of when he started the blog in 2013 (spoiler: he succeeded). He has a really funny, engaging writing voice, plus there are sometimes plastic dinosaurs and fart jokes (check out the dinos drinking beer  at the top of the screenshot). I’ve become fascinated with FIRE (Financial Independence/Retire Early), and will probably blog about it more in the future.


What I’ve been Writing: Still not much–actually, nothing besides this blog post. I probably spent too much time reading and not enough reading my WIP, as I did not complete reading it yet. I’m close, though, so this week’s goal is to finish what I have, and begin writing the next scene.

What about you–have you ever been inside a burnt building? What have you been reading lately? What are some of your favorite blogs? Please share–I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

9 Responses to \

  1. Ha, ha, ha! Yeah Jennette, once you’ve built things yourself and know the costs, it’s hard to pay someone else to do it, especially when they pad their profit into the materials, which is not an uncommon practice depending on how they bid out the job. Way to keep them honest girl. I cannot say that I’ve ever been in a house after a fire. Flood, water damage, mold. But not fire. Keep up the excellent writing goals! You’re inspiring! 🙂

  2. Thankfully, I’ve never been inside a house after a fire. I’ve heard it’s nasty, though. Glad things are coming together for you.

    Good luck with your WIP this week 🙂

  3. Well, at the very least, this whole house fire experience made you a better writer in that you now know the importance of those sensory details. I haven’t been in a burned house – well, we had a shed burn once but it was small enough that I could see everything inside from the outside so was never inundated with the smell. But on my first job in the medical field, we had a patient walk in with close to 50% of his body covered in second and third degree burns. The smell of burned flesh is something I never want to smell again.

    Best wishes in the coming weeks.

  4. I’ve never been in a building that has burned. However, I have a local writer friend who’s apartment building caught on fire. He lost a lot of stuff. He ‘saved’ many of his books by sanding the soot of the ends of the pages. I was there when he was doing some and that smell was enough for me!

  5. Chris, I’ve read that there is really nothing like the smell of burnt flesh, that it’s something one never forgets. Hope I never experience that one.

    Lynette, I’ll bet those books still smell like burnt building!

  6. When I was a kid me and some of my friends were eating ice cream at a shop on the main street in the town where my friends lived. While we were there a fire broke out in an abandoned house across the street. Because we were kids, we ran outside and watched it burn. We were covered in ashes and smelled like a forest fire when we got back to the house and we had ashes in our mouths and eyes, but for some reason we were mesmerized by that fire. I do remember the smell. Not just smoke, like you said, but chemical smells and burning plastic and melting glass, they all have a unique smell.

    I’m glad the remodel is coming along. I know you’ll find some ways to cut some of those costs. It doesn’t take long for things to add up. And that doesn’t take into account those unexpected things that pop up along the way.

    I feel for you. Hang in there.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

  7. Wow, Jennette, that’s a lot of extra money. Good to know you guys can do some of the work yourselves and save money. Saving $6,000 by your hubby doing the floor (again) is a huge amount. It will be so nice when this is all behind you and a done deal.

    I’ve never dealt with a building that burned down. Great point about how important it is for writers to cover the sense of smell if they have a burning building. I know that the foam retardant or whatever the firemen spray all over everything is toxic, so I bet that adds to the disgusting smell.

    That blog, 1500 days, sounds good. I look forward to what you’ll write about the topic in future posts. I like the tub you plan on adding to the bathroom. Very cool. I think the homesteading TV shows are interesting, too. And the house flipping shows. I have no desire to ever remodel anything. Have heard too many horror stories.

    I’m looking forward to your next book. You go, girl! Lots of irons in the fire. You’ll be moving and in your new home in no time!

  8. Patricia, that’s some story! Kids…. LOL And yes, there are always issues!

    Lynn, that house will be gorgeous when done. Hopefully we’ll get some gorgeous money! I started back into writing, so here’s hoping it doesn’t stall out again!