The Wreath House - Construction Begins

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1/21/2022, By Julie Van Hise


We moved to Montana, bought a house, and then what? Well besides starting a ranch, we needed to update and fix some things in the "Wreath House"!


Hi! I'm Julie Van Hise. My husband, Chris, and I are 1st generation ranchers and owners of 4 Bear Ranch - a ranch that not only provides for our family but provides for the local community as well. In 2017, we bought our home unknowing of what it would transform into in 4 short years. From mountain wilderness to mountain ranch wilderness - we have lovingly worked hard in building our dream! As if starting a ranch isn't enough, we have started construction on our home. No, we are not professional architects or specialists in construction - just do-it-yourselfers that have learned quite a few skills over the years from being in the military and as a field service engineer who also understand basic construction principles and are not afraid to do research on the projects we are about to complete. We are always looking for ways to be creative in design and to do everything the right way...and we know if, or when, we get over our head, it is time to call the professionals! Follow us on our journey, navigating through the "what on earth..." and "why would you do that..." of past construction.




First a little bit about our home. Our home was built in 1978. It is a 2680 sq ft 1.5 story log home. It was remodeled in 1990 to add a loft and large living space off the back of the home. It is a 3-bedroom home, with 2 full baths and 1 half bath. The home sits on a concrete foundation forming a decent sized crawl space - I can almost stand up. There is also a small attic over the original home structure - it will be interesting when we get brave enough to go up into the attic. The house is heated by central air and 2 wood burning stoves. There is a covered porch on the front and uncovered porch on the side of the home. There used to be a front deck off the porch that was slowly rotting away; however, this past summer we removed the deck opening up the front lawn. There is a 1200 sq ft barn/garage that was built in 1990. It is a 1 1/2 story barn that is basic and has only framing and siding. The barn will be a future project. Both the house and the barn/garage have metal roofing.


After playing musical bedrooms, we finally decided who was going to be where. The master bedroom was actually 2 smaller bedrooms - 1 room of which was barely large enough to be a bedroom with the massive closet installed in it. We took down the wall in between the rooms - fairly easy, though that is when we began to question the electric cabling as it is currently installed. We hung up the electrical on the ceiling, as the cabling came down in from the attic. We were going to take off the outlets and light switches we didn't need; however, we could not find the termination point to the wiring. Without finding the termination point, we had no idea what other outlets or switches would have been affected. As it was, finding which breakers controlled the electrical in those two rooms was crazy enough...The room is still currently in that same status.


Below: The wiring from the wall in the master bed.


Fast forward a bit, we recently decided that we wanted to move on to updating the master bath. The tub was a corner style jetted garden tub, that was kind of old and fairly disgusting. The toilet needs to be replaced. And the sink and cabinet just need updating in general. So, we started to do demo - slowly but surely. That is when we realized that a whole lot more needed to be done. The plumbing isn't done correctly - and neither is the electrical, for sure. There is actually no way to turn the water off to the master bathroom or tub other than turn off the water to the entire house.


We had a huge decision to make. Do we do one room at a time? Or do the whole house at once? After much discussion and debating, we decided to do the whole house at one time. So, first steps first. Get rid of and remove as much as we can. The great part about this project? We live in a log home, with no drywall on any exterior wall - woohooo. The bad part - no drywall on the exterior means that any electrical on the exterior walls is either on the exterior of the wall (best case scenario) or installed through the wall...not bad as long as the through holes are clear when replacing wire.


Below: the Office.


Slowly but surely the walls are coming down, and more internal construction and critter issues are evident. It is scary and it bit interesting exposing the bones to this home. Especially when it finally registers in your brain that you are looking at the sand of the crawlspace when looking down between walls - no wonder the critters find their way into our home...We apparently have an open-door policy! Welcome to our home - just hop up in through this hole and there is a warm mansion that awaits you complete with snacks thrown on the floor from the little human! Hahaha! All joking aside, these critter access points are going away soonest!


As we progress through tearing down drywall and cabinets, we are so thankful we live in a log home - otherwise we would have questions regarding the integrity of the structure in general. Thankfully the exterior walls and main beams are structurally sound. The home was taken care of in the beginning, but it is evident that care diminished over time - but is not so bad that care cannot reverse the aging. The signs are visible, and we knew that buying this home - in fact, it is those signs of poor care that most likely made this home even affordable and available to us in the first place. It is okay though, we are here to fix this home and ensure it lives on for many, many more years! This is our family forever home and we would like it to last for many generations to come.


Below: The master bath and kitchen.

Why do it ourselves? First, there is quite a bit of expense that can be saved from simply doing the parts that you are able to do. Second, it gives you a very up close and personal idea of what is happening with your home. Do your research on the conditions you have and explore potential solutions. If you were to do it yourself, how much would you spend on materials? How long do you think it would take? When you get over your head, and need to hire a contractor, you will have an idea of what they are proposing to correct the problem as well as the expenses for materials and labor. Does your contractor know what they are talking about? Can they answer your questions? Do they supply itemized receipts for material purchased? Do they propose several alternative solutions? If they hit all the points that you already know about, well, you have likely found yourself an honest and dependable contractor. Do your research first, and trust, but verify! Knowledge is power - and potentially the key to saving you lots of money in extra labor and potentially materials as well. And, most importantly, get it done right the first time, either by doing-it-yourself or with a contractor. Don't install temporary solutions, like I did with the firewood shed hardware, and forget to get back to replacing it in a timely fashion. Ooops! We all learn from our mistakes...In the end, you are likely to spend more in terms of time and money, than if you had just completed the job correctly the first time.


Below: The fire shed - the snow was so heavy it sheared the deck screws used temporarily to secure the roof to the frame. There should be heavy duty through bolts with washers and nuts or lag bolts at minimum.


We have no idea what our future construction journey holds - it is truly an adventure! Join us on our adventure as we move through our home, room by room, tearing down, replacing, fixing, and making the "Wreath House" ours.


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