Chippewa Herald * March 27, 2006

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Basement project leads to long hours at home improvement store

by Tom Arneberg, Community Columnist

"Plumbing, electrical, appliances, too," I was singing a few weeks ago, as I walked near the shelving section at Menard's on my lunch hour. (I thought it was under my breath, but maybe not.)

I'm not sure if it was the singing or the SGI badge dangling from my collar, but when I got to "the savings will always come right back to you," a nice older lady stopped me and asked where to find the thermometers.

I smiled and said, "They're in aisle 82, on your right," as I showed her the way.

I'm sure she was thinking, "What a nice young man they have working here." Yeah, I like that "young" part, but what she didn't know is that I was a customer at Menard's, not an employee!

No matter. I don't mind helping someone out, and with the amount of time I've spent roaming the aisles at that store in the last year, I probably should be on their payroll. I think I now have their entire store layout memorized, in addition to their jingle.

Yes, folks, I have spent the last ten months FINISHING THE BASEMENT!

When we built our house eight years ago, our builder, Roy Rico, asked if I wanted them to put 2x4 studs around the perimeter walls. No, I told him, I'd do that myself to save some money.

I had high hopes, but after seven years of slightly inconsistent toiling, I calculated that I was averaging about eight linear feet of wall studs per year. At that rate, my kids would all be grown and gone by the time I got to the sheet rock.

What I really needed was a jump-start. So last May we hired Mike, an old friend, to do some of the construction work. Not only does Mike know a lot more than I do about construction, but he also has his very own AIR NAIL GUN! Having an air nailer in the house of a 45-year-old is like getting your first BB gun under the Christmas tree when you're nine or ten years old. What fun! (And it's efficient, too, I quickly add.)

With Mike keeping me on task by showing up once a week or so, I have had a never-ending job of running to Menard's for supplies. For my first batch of lumber, I borrowed my boss's trailer. Note to self: when borrowing a trailer, make sure that the cotter pin is inserted and secured. (I'm just thankful for two things: safety chains and an unloaded trailer.)

Fortunately, a local welder helped me restore the damaged tongue of the trailer before I returned it to my boss. (Better to get a tongue repair than a tongue lashing.) Then I bought my own trailer -- at Menard's, of course.

Once I had my own trailer, it was easy to haul the oversized items home from my weekly trips to Eau Claire. (Just watch -- as soon as I am done with this job, the new Menard's in nearby Lake Hallie will open.)

My kids had the honor of carrying supplies from the trailer to the basement. That's not all they did -- they also got to drill holes in the studs and joists, and pull wire through them. We used a LOT of wire.

As I did when we built the main part of the house, we strung wires everywhere for telephone, ethernet (computer networks), stereo, intercom, central vac, and video cable. Oh, and some power wires, too. You never know where you might want to plug something in, and it's a lot easier to wire before the sheet rock goes up. I also used drop-ceilings, just in case I forgot any wires.

When our house was originally built, I did all the wiring except the 120-volt house wiring -- just not enough time to do everything with all the deadlines. With a basement, however, there are no deadlines (other than the kids growing up and moving out), so I was able to do ALL the wiring this time. The low incremental cost allowed me to do more than I otherwise would have paid someone else to do.

Did you know that an electrical outlet costs only thirty cents?! At that price, I figured I might as well put one every two or three feet. Hey, lights are cheap too, and you certainly can't have too much light in a basement.

My final score was 78 outlets, 43 canned lights, 54 florescent bulbs, 30 switches, and eight free-standing incandescents. (You have to leave some area unfinished for storage.) They are all controlled by 21 separate circuits. (Good thing I requested an empty sub-panel during the original construction!)

All these parts are cheap, but it does add up. As happens with most projects, we spent a little more money than we originally estimated -- and we're not quite done yet.

To help pay for it, maybe I should get a part-time job at Menard's to "save big money."

I know my way around there.


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