Chicken Village

It’s summer!  We should be doing outside projects on the house, but not much is getting done because we can’t seem to find a carpenter who wants to tackle the exterior of the house.  On the inside, the downstairs bathroom, kitchen, and dining room are all essentially done, but we are struggling to track down those last pieces of furniture, artwork, or make those small finishing touches that would allow us to call them COMPLETE.  It would be silly to do landscaping right now, because it’s all just going to get messed up when we do the exterior house work.  So then we thought, “Well, let’s just rehab the garage/shed!  That seems like a doable small project.”  As we really started thinking about the work that needs to happen on the garage – install new siding, frame and install windows, build sliding barns doors, and completely remove the front wall and move it back to it’s original location, we realized we probably shouldn’t start all that just a week before going on vacation.

So, this seems like a good time to write a short little blog post about our chicken village!  Can we call it a village?  It’s just two coops.  Maybe a chicken compound?

Here was our first view of the space FOUR YEARS AGO!  And this is nothing compared to what it looked like when all the weeds and leaves were in full bloom…




After a lot of chopping, hacking, and sawing we finally got it to a point where we could walk around back there…

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Master Bedroom is DONE!

Wow!  It has been way too long since we have posted an update!  In our defense, we have actually been making progress in three rooms on the first floor – but nothing is completely finished yet.  I wrote a blog post once about how difficult it is to finish that last 10% of any project.  Well, we have been working on that last 10% for the past 5 months and it is killing our renovation mojo!  Most of the difficulty is finding the final decorative touches…  curtains, pieces of furniture, and artwork. We don’t like shopping.  At all.  That makes it hard to find stuff.

Here is a very small example of the torture we have inflicted upon ourselves during the last 10%.  The master bedroom has been mostly done for almost a year.  In fact – the only things we have added in the past year have been a lamp and a few pieces of artwork.  The final search was for artwork to go on the wall above the bed.  After months of looking, we finally found something we liked!  Once it arrived we hunted for a frame and a mat that would work.  Nothing worked.  We stalled out.  The master bedroom remained unfinished for another couple months until we came across another frame that we liked.  Of course, as I was hanging it…  I dropped it…and broke it.  But what’s one more day to complete the bedroom?  Finally.  Today.  It is done.  Now we can write about it.

The master bedroom is the first of the “old” rooms that we have completely finished.  By “old” I mean that it existed before in it’s semi-current form and is being used for it’s original purpose.  All the other rooms that are completely finished are spaces that we created from the unfinished attic – the upstairs bathroom, two kids’ rooms, the loft above the master bedroom, and the upstairs commons area.

The master bedroom was originally the only room on the 2nd floor when we bought the house and it was the only entry point from the first floor…


…via a very steep, very narrow and dark staircase!


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Kitchen Tile

In the past few posts we showed how we installed the cabinets and then cut and installed the butcher block countertop.  The next step was to finally add the subway tile. Originally we had just planned to have the tile backsplash go up 18″ on the wall to the height of the shelving and cabinets.  But then a neighbor who is also renovating a kitchen mentioned something about tiling all the way to the ceiling.  The seed was planted.  It grew.  It was reinforced by research and many examples of subway tile to the ceiling.  Turns out – you hardly ever see subway tile in kitchens that don’t go all the way to the ceiling.  Despite the fact that some family and friends looked at us with a look of doubt when we told them what we were going to do, we made a firm decision to go for it.

The best thing about subway tile is that it is cheap and classic.  Even though we were covering a lot of square footage, the cost of the project was minimal.  This wasn’t our first time tiling and we learned a few valuable lessons from previous projects.  One – no more cutting tiles by hand.  I finally invested in a wet saw!


It wasn’t overly expensive and I can probably sell it pretty quickly on Craigslist.  Also, we decided to use premixed mortar instead of mixing it ourselves.  We were able to get by with one large container of the premix and it saved us a lot of stress since we didn’t have to worry about moving quickly.

Before we could begin we had one last kitchen lighting decision to make.  We originally ran electrical for under-cabinet lighting.  It turns out that we weren’t going to use it, but we wanted to use one area for a sconce.  After finally making this decision, reviewing all the electrical plans, we started to cut out the drywall for the new box.  We didn’t get far. Turns out that it was also the location of a double stud from when there used to be a wall between the old bathroom and pantry.  There was no way to center a light in between the windows.  Not a great start.

20170811-DSC_0114I love that look on Amy’s face.  It says so much…  I have one of those pictures of me coming up soon.

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Butcher Block Countertops – Part 2

In our last post I described the process of cutting and fitting the butcher block countertops for our kitchen.  Everything went smoothly, but one issue we had was warping with both of the 12′ boards.  I am assuming this happened because we stored them in the shed during a hot and humid week. After getting the butcher block in place, we waited a week to let the wood acclimate to the dryer conditions inside.  It was difficult to tell, but it seemed like the countertops were starting to slightly unwarp.  We were confident we would be able to flatten them out when we installed them, so we moved all the countertops again and began the process of sealing the wood.  On the underside I used shellac.  This gave us a hint of what our countertops would look like.


Once the shellac was dry, I flipped the butcher block over and began sanding…  starting with 80 grit, then 120, then 220.

It was finally time to secure the countertops to the cabinets.  I drilled 1/2″ holes through the corner braces of the cabinets and then also strategically attached L-shaped brackets to the insides of certain cabinets.  I made sure to use washers so that I could use holes that were big enough to allow for expansion and contraction of the wood.  We were easily able to flatten out the countertops and get rid of the bowing that had occurred.

The only parts that really took some finagling were the 45 degree angles and cuts but we were able to get them pretty tight.


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Butcher Block Countertops – Part 1

After finishing the installation of our cabinets and it was now time to cut our countertops.  I think we always envisioned our kitchen with butcher block countertops, but there was a brief moment when we did consider other options.  One important element that pushed us back to butcher block was the price of other typical materials (quartz, granite, and soapstone).  These were easily $80-160 per square foot. Even so, we did visit a countertop place just to discover we didn’t even really like the look of quartz and granite for our kitchen.  It just seemed way too fancy.   We only have 40 square feet of countertop, but still – there was no way we were going to pay $3000 to $6000 for counter tops we weren’t even excited about.

So why butcher block?  Every countertop has it’s pros and cons.  Butcher block is less expensive, can be installed yourself, and can bring warmth and character to a kitchen. Some people worry about the maintenance required with butcher block. It needs to be sealed, treated, or oiled regularly.  It can also absorb stains, water spots, or burn with high eat. But to me, the very nature of butcher block that can make it prone to damage is also the thing that makes it easy to use.  If something does happen to it, you can always just sand it and seal it again.  Plus, minor imperfections with butcher block just add to the character….  I’m not sure you could say that about a stain on marble.

We eventually decided on an American Walnut butcher block that we found at Lumber Liquidators. It was a nice dark color and had plenty of warmth.  We ordered two 12′ pieces and spent a total of $1000, or $25 per square foot. Still a chunk of change, but much more affordable compared to the other options.

Amy and I knew that each cut of the butcher block was going to be critical and that we couldn’t afford to make any mistakes.  This meant there was A LOT of measuring, thinking, re-measuring…


…and even more thinking.


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The Kitchen Renovation Begins!

Our original plan was to spend the spring and summer months working on the exterior of the house.  We wanted to fix the porches, add missing trim and siding, and paint the entire house.  Well, that didn’t happen.  We had trouble finding someone willing to help with the porches, then it just seemed silly to paint if the porches weren’t done.  In the absence of a solid path forward on the exterior it occurred to me that we should get going on the kitchen instead!  I managed to convince Amy that since we spend way more time in that one room of the house than any other, we should spend the summer renovating that space instead of the exterior. Plus, we have been designing that space in our heads for several years now – we pretty much know what we want.  She agreed and we began chipping away at the prep work.

I won’t take the opportunity in this particular blog post to go way back to the beginning of our kitchen renovation.


Well actually, this would be the very beginning…


Nope.  This post starts with the kitchen as we have been living in it for almost three years…



The garage shelving and stand-alone appliances have served us pretty well, but it was definitely time to move on.  We took a trip to a cabinet company that we had also visited earlier in the winter.  Turns out that the cabinets we were interested in were temporarily 20% off.  That was enough to motivate us to get moving and make some decisions a little quicker than we would have otherwise. Continue reading

Restoring our clawfoot bathtub

I (Amy) have always been excited that our house came with it’s original clawfoot bathtub..even though it was in pretty rough shape.

The development of the downstairs bathroom has been a very long-term project. When we purchased the house (before doing any rehab work or making any messes) it looked like this.


Before demolishing this bathroom to allow more space for the kitchen, we salvaged the original cast iron clawfoot tub along with the medicine cabinet (featured in the previous blog post).

The tub sat in the shed behind the house in this condition for about a year before our house was “habitable” enough to even think about adding frivolous things such as a second bathroom. Here is what the tub looked like when it finally made it out of the shed and into the light of day.


I did a lot of research about the variety of ways people restore old cast iron tubs. The best and most expensive way to do this would have been to send our tub away to have it completely resurfaced. We opted not to do this because (1) it’s too expensive and (2) we didn’t mind all the nicks, dings and imperfections that give it it’s antique character (at least we convinced ourselves of that after reading about the cost of a complete overhaul). Also, removing the antique surface and having a brand new surface baked on feels a little like taking the history out of the tub.

There are inexpensive resurfacing kits that you can buy at big-box hardware stores, but after watching a lot of youtube videos and reading a lot of reviews, this seemed like a short term fix with varying results. A lot of people who chose that route were afraid to scratch their tub and just refrained from using it at all. For us, the best option in terms of cost and daily use was to care for, repair and clean the existing antique surfaces.

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Medicine Cabinet Restoration

Now that we are essentially done with the 2nd floor (a post on the completed master bedroom will come soon), it’s time to turn our attention back to actual rehab work.  One of the pleasant aspects of working on the 2nd floor was that much of it was working from nothing, instead of undoing old work and then making it look nice.  Rehab work, without question, is more difficult.  That’s why many people, sadly, just gut an old house and start over.  We continue to be so thankful that no one ever did that to our house.

The original bathroom contained a clawfoot tub and built-in medicine cabinet that we knew we would someday re-use in the relocated downstairs bathroom.



The downstairs bathroom was one of the few spaces that we had to alter, and in this case, completely relocate.  This space was claimed when we expanded the kitchen, which means it contained walls that had to be knocked down.  When I was doing that, one thing I was careful to remove in tact was the medicine cabinet.

The built-in medicine cabinet appears (to my admittedly untrained eye) to be original to the house.


Inside it contained many razors, a handy chart for “Emergency Counterdoses”, and a ton of dirt and grime. Continue reading

Common Area is FINISHED!

Just outside of Lucy’s room there are two nooks on either side of the doorway.  After some deliberation in the initial brainstorming process, we decided that this was a good place to put our washer and dryer to create a small laundry area.  This 2nd floor location won out because we wanted the washer and dryer to be as accessible as possible. We can now do laundry while being around the rest of the family, while Lucy takes a bath, first thing in the morning, or right before bed.  Because of this convenience, the laundry gets done much faster!

The location of the laundry has been convenient, but we haven’t done anything to the space since the day we moved in.  (Except we normally have the dryer vent connected!)


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Upstairs Bathroom is FINISHED!

For more than 100 years the 2nd floor of our house was mostly a very large attic.  The master bedroom was the only finished room upstairs and it was accessed by a narrow, steep staircase.  The odd spaces and angled ceilings made it a little tricky, but we were able to devise a floor plan that included the addition of 2 more bedrooms and 1 bathroom on the 2nd floor.  The bathroom would be located in the south-facing gable.  Here is our very first view of the space that eventually became our upstairs bathroom…

Our first view of the bathroom space

One of the hardest parts of laying out the plan for the 2nd floor was figuring out how to fit in a full bathroom while also leaving enough room for a new staircase.  We had to demolish a wall of the master bedroom and move it about 18″, but it was well worth the trouble to create just enough space for this bathroom.  Any concerns we had quickly disappeared once the framing went up.

First appearance of walls

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Stuck at 90%

The upstairs bathroom has been 90% done for more than a year.  90% is a dangerous place to be.  It’s just enough to be fully functional, which means the sense of urgency to finish it is extremely low, but it still lacks all the finished details.  There are only a few rooms in the house that are 100% done (or as we like to call it, “done-done”) – Lucy’s bedroom, Aiden’s bedroom, and the new loft space.  The kitchen, downstairs bathroom, stairs, vestibule, and exterior of the house are all lagging at below 50% completion.  Sitting comfortably in the 90% completion range would be the upstairs bathroom and commons area, master bedroom, dining room, playroom, parlor, and living room.

Let’s take a look at the bathroom when we moved in…


The upstairs bathroom is a perfect example of how a room can function just fine for more than a year in an incomplete state.  The sink, toilet, and shower all worked, there was adequate lighting from a hanging light bulb, and the room even looked relatively nice once we added new woodwork and paint (not pictured above).  But we still needed to add a custom mirror, lighting, a transition piece in the doorway, and change out the extremely loud vent fan that didn’t actually do much venting.  This all seems like no big deal – just take care of that in one weekend, right?

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The Loft is Complete!

We moved quickly to finish the loft project so that it could be used for guests over the Thanksgiving holiday.  The actual construction projects were wrapped up a couple weeks ago, but we still had to do all the finish work.  This included sanding, caulking, priming, painting, and installing carpet.  In addition, since the loft is connected to a much larger space, we really wanted to finally finish off the whole combined area.  Not an easy job considering the size of the space and the height of the ceilings.

Before the big reveal, here is a quick look back at the progress from the very beginning:

The loft space is located above the master bedroom and is the highest point in the house.  It is an area that most people would have probably just discarded as attic or storage space, but Amy and I were determined to make this an additional living space.

Yes, we want to use this space

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Book shelves and a ladder for the loft

Amy and I have been moving right along on progress in the loft because we have been motivated by a rapidly approaching deadline called Thanksgiving.  The most recent project consisted of building two bookshelves at the open end of the loft.  The bookshelves will give us much needed storage for books (duh), board games, and Legos!  So many Legos.

As a reminder, here is what that end of the loft looked like in the beginning…


Actually, that’s a little better than it was in the beginning because that picture was after I cleaned out all the debris.

Here is what it looked like after all the renovation work…


This is the opposite end of the loft space from the bed and bookshelf I built in our last post.

Originally we thought we would construct a railing, but we couldn’t really picture it in a way that didn’t look strange or out of place.  We eventually decided that constructing bookcases on either side of a centered opening would be a better option.  It would act as a railing, but also help create a space that seemed removed, secluded, and special.

We thought for a long time about how tall and deep to build these.  We wanted them to be tall enough to add safety, but not too tall to completely enclose the space.  We also wanted the space between them to be comfortable to pass through, but narrow enough to keep the opening safe.  And we wanted room for shelving on the loft side and the open area side.

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Renovation of the loft space begins!

It’s Fall, which means it’s my busiest season as a band director.  For the past three years we have come to a screeching halt on renovation progress during this time, because I am at school late every day and I’m barely home at all on many Thursdays, Fridays, or Saturdays.   I have managed to chip away at rehabbing the old storm windows, but other than that it has been pretty stagnant around here. In other news, we continue to have trouble finding someone to help us with necessary structural repairs to the porch, so it looks like we will have to push that back to Spring.  In the meantime we have many goals to accomplish this winter on the interior of the house!

Sometimes you need an incentive to get something done fast – like oncoming cold weather or a neighborhood home tour.  Thanksgiving, which is rapidly approaching, is just the motivation we need to complete a space of our house that has remained untouched for more than a year and a half.  The loft, as we call it, is really just empty space above the master bedroom that is open to the upstairs commons area.


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The door and window switcharoo

All work on the inside of the house has stopped as we take advantage of the summer weather to focus on everything related to the exterior of the house.  One of these projects is the continuation of the window restorations.  Yes, that project is STILL going on. I completely restored the interior sashes more than a year ago, but there are still 14 storm windows (28 panes of glass) that need to be removed, reglazed and repainted.

The slightly more exciting news is the completion of a little project that we have been thinking about for the past two years.  First, a little background.  There are three exterior doors on our house.  The main front door, the back door that leads to the kitchen from the back porch, and then a very odd door located on the side of the house (facing the street) that opens directly into our current playroom.


It didn’t take much detective work to figure out that this door was probably not originally there.  1.  The trim on the exterior does not fit right.  2.  The door did not seem to be installed very well and the carpentry work in general seemed way inferior to the rest of the house.  3.  A quick survey of other houses from the same time period and house style indicate that a window should have been there.  4. There is a window that looks out over the back porch that was obviously not originally there.

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How to eat an elephant

This spring we began the overwhelming task of renovating the exterior of our house.  It is a massive job that we will tackle “one bite at a time.”  Up to this point, our work on the exterior of the house has been pretty limited.  We have removed the asbestos siding from the gables when we added new windows to the new rooms we created on the 2nd floor.  And, of course, I’ve done a ton of work on all the windows.  But for the most part the exterior looked pretty much like it did when we bought it.

Here is a reminder of where we started:


The previous owner of the house, who let the house sit abandoned for a decade, did complete some important work on the exterior.  He put on a new roof, removed the fake brick siding, primed the whole house to protect the original wood siding, rebuilt some areas of trim that must have been removed at some point for the “brick” siding, and rebuilt the front and back porch decks.  We are thankful that he took those steps to keep the house dry and to protect it from further deterioration.

There was a time when we thought we would pay someone to do the exterior rehab work, but our desire to have anyone else work on the house faded a long time ago.  Like many rehab jobs, the outside of the house is going to be extremely tedious and time consuming, but not rocket science.  The only part we will hire someone to fix (if we can find anyone who actually WANTS a job) is the structural issue with the front porch.  The porch seems to be pulling away from the house a little and there are also some visible issues with the porch roof.  But I feel pretty confident in our ability to do all the prep work for painting, do the carpentry work on the remaining missing trim, and do the final painting.

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First progress in the kitchen

Most people consider the kitchen to be the most important room in the house.  In the planning process, we agonized, seriously AGONIZED, over how to arrange our kitchen.  If there was ever a time in the renovation when our marriage was put to the test, it was definitely the kitchen layout that caused the most tension.  Right honey?  Good times.

[Edit from Amy: Oh yes, good times.   Let’s do it again for old times sake.]

As a result of the high stakes involved in planning a kitchen, the potential high costs, and the lingering layout uncertainty, we decided to begin as simply as possible.  We just got a few pieces of temporary furniture that allowed the kitchen to function and then assumed we would just settle in for a few years until we felt up to this monumental task.  We have survived with minimal food prep space by utilizing a small portable table and have enjoyed the easy access to pantry items, pots, pans, and plates.

[Edit from Amy: This so called “unfitted” kitchen model has really grown on me. I understand why commercial kitchens have open shelving and movable stations un-affixed to the wall. It’s efficient and flexible. I appreciate the novelty of our makeshift set up and will be sad when we have real cabinets and no garage shelving. Our current kitchen has been simple, earthy and unpretentious.]

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Lucy’s room is done!

From the first moment we saw the space that was to become Lucy’s room, we had a pretty clear vision of what it could be.   It has been one of our favorite projects and it couldn’t have turned out more perfect for our little girl. Of course, we couldn’t really blame people for not sharing that vision based on what it originally looked like:

[Edit from Amy: Especially considering that most people found that this space evoked nightmares and horror movie scenes.]

Our very first viewing off the room

It was dark, scary, and we weren’t really sure what might be lurking in the corners.  The most dominating feature of the room was this gigantic fan that was used to pull hot air out of the house.  Lucy’s room remained in this condition for many months as we worked on much more pressing areas of the house.  When we did finally have time to turn our attention to this room one of first jobs involved removing this fan and all the siding on the front gable.

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Aiden’s room is done!

For more than a year Amy and I were motivated by deadlines dictated by contractors, mother nature, school, vacation time, and the sale of our old house.  But once we were able to move into our rehab house the deadlines suddenly disappeared.  This is NOT to say that we haven’t been working our butts off to continue moving forward on the house, but there is nothing like a hard deadline to kick us into another gear.  The deadline that had been looming in front of us was pretty terrifying – a neighborhood home tour!  Yikes.  Nothing like knowing hundreds of people will soon be paying money to walk through your house to raise the stress level just a little.  Of course, everyone tried to make us feel better by saying, “Your house is in progress, everyone will understand if it’s not perfect.”  There are two major flaws with this statement.  Number one, Amy and I have worked very hard for two years to bring this house back to life and this home tour is the first time that many of our neighbors (and many hundred complete strangers) will have the opportunity to see it in person.  We wanted it to look like we were doing justice to this beautiful old lady we now call home.  Number two – We still hadn’t completely unpacked from moving 8 months ago!  People would probably be understanding of walls that aren’t painted yet or trim that isn’t completed, but they don’t expect to be walking around boxes on the floor.

In the end, we were able to wrap up several big projects, finish unpacking (or relocating to the basement, loft, or garage), and clean up the place.  We got lots of positive feedback from everyone and now have the pleasure of living in a super clean house!  The kids’ rooms were among people’s favorites, probably because they are the only rooms that are now complete!  After our blog posts about the built-in cabinets and beds in the kids’ rooms we never really got around to wrapping them up with a full reveal.  So… here is the final post about Aiden’s room.

When we bought the house the second floor consisted of one very ugly finished room and about 500 sq. ft. of additional attic space.  After considerable planning and thought, we decided to go whole hog and renovate the entire attic to include two more bedrooms and a bathroom.  Here is what Aiden’s “room” looked like when we bought the house.

When we first saw it Continue reading

Spring Break, No Break, Back Break

Joe and I are teachers, which means we have a good old fashioned spring break penciled in each year to get a jump start on warm-weather projects. This year we had a long list of projects that we wanted to do on the house, but we have learned over the past two years that there is a time and a season for each job. As much as we might have wanted to do some other projects, such as finishing our downstairs bathroom or installing trim in the master bedroom, we know enough now to temper those ambitions and replace them with sensible and seasonal plans.  NOW was the perfect time to work outside and get ahead of the spring growth.

For two years now we have been been waging a war against weeds, weed trees, and weed moats. I’m not talking about dandelions here. We wage this battle multiple times a year and frequently in the heat of a mosquito-infested summer. This year we planned to end the war once and for all.

Here is a reminder of what our landscaping looked like when we purchased the house.  Keep in mind, this picture was taken in the winter.  I can’t imagine how much more overgrown it looked in the summer!


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Lucy’s built-in bed and window trim

The kids’ rooms are slowly nearing completion.  We seem to be bouncing back and forth between these two rooms, possibly just procrastinating the final decorating decisions.  The first major project we completed in Lucy’s room (post-renovation) was the built-in dresser.  Next, we moved on to the window trim and built-in bed for Aiden’s room.  Now we are back to finish off Lucy’s room by taking care of her built-in bed and doing the final painting.

Before I get to the big reveal of this latest built-in project, I wanted to share some pictures and information about the other smaller projects that have brought us a little closer to finishing the kids’ rooms.  The award for least rewarding, least gratifying, and least glamorous project goes to Amy for her work on the exposed brick in Aiden’s room.  This brick hadn’t been touched in decades and was covered in dirt, grime, and additional debris from our renovation project.

Edit From Amy: These bricks were nasty. I made an abrasive paste using dish soap and salt to scour them. There was also quite a bit of spray insulation clinging to the bricks, especially near the ceiling, that needed to be chiseled off. While I can tell you that scrubbing bricks is not my favorite Sunday afternoon activity, they do look much cleaner. We plan to go over them with a sealant to help bring out the deeper colors of the bricks as well as make them resistant to absorbing any more dirt. After all, they are in Aiden’s room.

Here is a picture of the cleaning process…

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Back to built-ins

The built-in craze continues with yet another IKEA hack!  Aiden’s bed is in a unique area of the upstairs which most people assumed would be an oddly shaped closet.  We decided this was an ideal nook for a bed, despite the thoughts of the occasional contractor that lacked vision and creative thought.  But those same contractors were probably the same ones that were surprised we weren’t going to get all new flooring or replace all our plaster walls.  Heck, they were probably the same ones that asked, “So, why do you want to live in this neighborhood?”  Like I said, no vision.

Anyway….  back to the project.  Here is the area we had designated for Aiden’s bed.

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Pretending to be a carpenter

The holiday break gave us time to make good progress with unpacking, organizing, and wrapping up some new projects.  One big project that has been in the works for a long time was creating storage spaces in Lucy’s bedroom.   We have known for more than a year exactly how we were going to create storage that fit the character of the room and wouldn’t take up too much valuable floor space in this awkwardly shaped room.


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Book nook under the stairs

It might be small and not very significant in the big picture of our rehab project, but we have officially finished one “living” space of our house!  As we mentioned in our previous post, our top priority recently has been to finish all storage spaces so that we have places to put things as we slowly unpack.  An area that had a little bit of storage potential but a lot of fun potential was under the staircase.

Utilizing this space was something we knew we wanted to do way back when we first designed the layout for the new stairs.  Amy and I have always enjoyed house that have unusual spaces, nooks, or personalized layouts.  It is also important to us for there to be kid-friendly spaces in every room, not just the playroom and kid’s bedrooms. We want our kids growing up in a playful house that is as much theirs as it is ours.

Here is what the area under the stair landing has looked like for the past several months…


paint storage

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Storage Wars!

We’re back!

We never intended for the move-in to be the end of the blog, but I’m sure it must seem like that considering how long it has been since the last post.  A year ago our intention was to try to be done with the rehab project during the summer so that we would have ample time to to unpack and continue to make the house inhabitable before school started (Amy and I are both teachers, remember?).  Well, that didn’t happen.  I will spare you the whole “we were so busy…  yada, yada, yada” spiel and just get right back to where we left off…

Remember all those pictures I took after we moved-in?  They were all warm, bright, glowy, and made it look we would soon be living in a Pinterest house, right?  Well, much like the rest of the human race, we are sometimes selective about what we display on social media .  It’s only natural for us to want to only show the nice stuff that makes it look like all our hard work paid off.  Pictures like this…

20150920-DSC_0101Edit from Amy: I see hanging cable for non existent fixtures and a desperate and serious need for Killz primer. On the postive side you should know that having the laundry upstairs has changed my life forever. Forever. 

And this…


…made it seem like we were just a couple coats of paint away from being ready for a home tour.

Well, let me give you the reality photo tour.  We have not had time to even unpack, let alone do much to continue the renovation project.  Many of our rooms still look like this: Continue reading

Big Tour after the Big Move

We have had a couple posts about the moving process, but not many pictures of the house.   As promised, this blog post will have more pictures of the current state of our house.  Be warned:  It is not pretty.  It is still cluttered with boxes and we still don’t have things like fixtures, trim, paint, or anything decorative.  Our current plan of attack is to proceed one room at a time.  It’s way too overwhelming at this point to try to do one major task that encompasses the whole house.  We need to be able to clear out a room, install trim, paint, light fixtures, furniture, artwork, and then put it all back together.

For now, even though we haven’t even unpacked, here is a room-by-room breakdown…


The original kitchen

The original kitchen

As we mentioned in the last post, the kitchen is fully functional.  We do have some short term plans to gain a little more counter top space and wall storage, but that will be a project for fall break.  In the meantime here is what we have:


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The Big Move

As you would expect, moving day and the days leading up to it were hectic, long, and stressful, but also full of anticipation and excitement.

The day has finally arrived

The day has finally arrived

By the time the day had actually arrived the vast majority of boxes and small items had already been relocated to the rehab house.  The movers were going to take care of the big stuff.  This was Amy’s idea.  At first I was hesitant because it seemed ridiculous to me that two people who had just rehabbed an entire house would not do something as common as moving.  But the closer it got to moving day the more I agreed that this was a brilliant idea. [Edit from Amy: I think this proves that I have good ideas…and that you should listen to them….always.]  One reason this was a good idea is because, sadly,  we are now too old to ask our friends to help us move.  Everyone has kids and busy lives and no one is just sitting around on a Saturday wondering what they are going to do that day.  Beer and pizza as a reward just doesn’t cut it anymore.  [Edit from Amy: Although we did have several people who graciously offered to help. I was feeling the love.] Another reason – our bodies are tired and our backs are sore.  Amy and I now joke about making a date out of a trip to a chiropractor.  That could be romantic, right? [Edit from Amy: I wasn’t joking.] Continue reading

Sprinting to the finish line

We have finally reached the most important milestone of our rehab project.   We have moved into our new home!

(pause for long applause)

Thank you.

This past month has been one of the most brutal of our rehab year.  This is evident by the fact that we haven’t even had time to post one single update despite a lot of significant events going on.  Most people understand how much time and energy is involved in getting one house packed up and ready to move and many people do this while maintaining full time jobs and raising kids.  But this becomes a lot more arduous when combined with extended job hours and a renovation project operating at max speed.  The past 5 weeks have been a tired and sleepy blur of work, sweat, and stress.

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Floors finally finished!

The floors are done.  Finally.

I started sanding the floors three weeks ago today and thought I would be able to finish in one week.   We did actually finish almost all the sanding in one week, but applying the three coats of polyurethane and sanding between took some time – especially because I am now back to work at my real job.  Before I reveal the “after” pictures, here is the grand summary…

We sanded and refinished every room of the house, except the two bathrooms and the vestibule.  This is a total of around 2000 square feet.  The process went something like this:  We sanded with 16 grit, then the edger with 16 grit, then vacuum, then repeated that same sequence with 20 grit, then 36, then 60, then 80.  That was followed with an orbital sander with an 80 grit, then vacuum, then again with a 120 grit screen.  After vacuuming very thoroughly again, we wiped all floors with a rag and mineral spirits.  We then applied satin polyurethane, let it dry 24 hours, then pole sanded and wiped down with microfiber cloth.  The second coat of polyurethane was allowed to dry for 72 hours, then pole sanded again and wiped down again.  The third coat of polyurethane has now dried enough for light foot traffic .  All total – the floors were sanded 7 times, vacuumed 8 times, pole sanded 2 times, wiped down by hand 3 times, and covered with poly 3 times.  That’s a total of 23 passes over all 2000 square feet.  That is 46,000 square feet – just shy of a entire football field or ten basketball courts.

[Edit from Amy: And that doesn’t count the hours spent on hands and knees prepping the floors for this job. I.E. mastic tar removal, counter sinking every nail head and removing every old carpet staple. We also did a ton of sweeping before any sanding to get every stray plaster crumb and dog hair out- which is, in all honesty, quite impossible. ]

The final product

The final product

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Adventures in floor finishing – Days 5, 6, 7 and… I’ve lost count

So much has happened since our last post that I had to go back and reread it just to figure out where I left off.  On the 5th day of sanding we were finally done with the drum sander and edger, finishing up with the 80 grit.  On day 6, the Saturday of my last day of summer break, I rented an orbital sander to do the final “buffing” pass.  The orbital sander is supposed to provide one consistent look and, since it can get much closer to the wall, get rid of any remaining lines from the edger.  This type of sander is the one that is recommended (instead of the drum sander) by a lot of websites for DIYers because it is much less aggressive and much less likely to damage the floor.  Of course, this also means it doesn’t actually do much.  This sander would have run screaming just at the sight of our floors in their original condition.  The orbital sander has hundreds of little rubber stubs on the bottom of it that help hold a thick pad and then a 12×18″ sheet of sandpaper.

The orbital sander

The orbital sander

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Roller Coaster Adventures in Floor Sanding – Days 2, 3, and 4

Day 2

A long time ago when I was researching everything about refinishing floors I found something online that calculated how long it would take to do the project.  Turns out that 2000 sq. ft. is supposed to take 105 hours.  I remember thinking, “Whoah!  That’s a lot.  How could it possibly take that long?”  Well, now I think they underestimated, because that number obviously doesn’t apply to a 100 year-old floor that may never have been finished since it was first installed.  My original naive guess was that we would have the floors sanded in 2 days.  Silly me.  I should certainly know by now to double any expectations of time.

At the end of day 1 Amy and I were feeling good about the progress on the 2nd floor.  We had the bugs worked out and had developed an efficient work flow.  On day 2 we were fortunate enough to have our friend invite Lucy over for a day-long play date with her two little girls (Thanks, Anna!) so that Amy and I could work together on the floors.  The morning went great!  Sanding with the higher grit was easier on the drum sander and the edger and by early afternoon the upstairs was DONE.

After having a quick lunch, the rest of the afternoon was not so bright and cheerful.  We both thought that the floors downstairs would be the same, if not easier, to sand.  The boards are more even and are generally in better shape than the ones we just finished (How quickly we forgot about paint and the laminate we removed).  I started in the parlor with a 20 grit and noticed immediately that I was going to need to slow down.  It was taking forever for the 20 to cut through, but when it was done I thought it looked decent enough for a first pass.

Parlor - first pass with 20 grit

Parlor – first pass with 20 grit

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Adventures in Floor Sanding – Day 1

Sanding and refinishing the floors was a job that had been looming at the very end of the first stage of our home renovation.  It marks the end of major mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and structural jobs and also acts as a bridge to the next stage of our project.  I woke up this morning relatively confident I had done all I could do to prepare for this next endeavor, but I couldn’t help but think about all the things that could go wrong….  beginning with picking up the equipment.  In my mind, for whatever reason, I felt like the guys at the rental place were going to point and laugh at me, or even worse, refuse to give me the equipment.  I know – it’s ridiculous. I am a full-fledged home rehabber.  I am now sufficiently dirty and seasoned.  I seized the opportunity to skip the big box stores and happily support a local rental place on the near eastside just down the street from our house.  The guys turned out to be extremely friendly, helpful without being condescending, and set me up with good information about the specific sanders I was renting. [Edit from Amy: See I told you it would be fine.] My first impression of the drum sander?  It’s so vintage and cool-looking!  [Edit from Amy: It’s all round and cute like a grey little storm cloud.] Also, it’s a little smaller than I expected, but literally weighs a hundred pounds.  So small and unassuming.



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Plaster repaired, walls primed, floors are prepped… and one more treasure!

We are now at T minus 5 weeks before the big move-in deadline.  The 10-12 hour days have continued, although we did sneek in a three-day trip to Michigan with the kiddos this week.  I consider that the calm before the storm.  Or maybe it would really be considered the eye of the hurricane.  Either way, we are making big progress.

One quick note before we dive right into the pictures.  For the past few weeks I have felt just like the Karate Kid.  Do you remember how Mr. Miagi had Daniel wax the cars, paint the fence, and the sand deck as training for karate?  Well, based on my practice regiment, I’m ready for the big tournament right now.  Put me in!  The non-stop repetitive motions of sanding, scraping, puttying, painting, spraying, and drilling have more than prepared me for some type of martial art.  I’m sure of it.

Overall, the plaster repair took longer then I anticipated.  It was also less fun and gratifying then I anticipated.  Of course, it could just be because I had to do SIX rooms of plaster repair.  I won’t bore you with the details.  Here are some pics of the newly repaired and primed rooms…

Living toom

Living room (looking towards parlor)

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The clock is now ticking

We have been putting in long, long hours at the house the past few weeks.  So many hours, in fact, that we haven’t had much time to keep the blog updated.  The increased sense of urgency is due in large part to the fact that we sold our current house!  [Edit from Amy: Woot! Woot! ]   We have had buyers for our house for many months now, but it became official last week.  A part of the deal with the buyers is that we can remain in our house until the other house is inhabitable and we will “rent” from the buyers during that time.  This allows us to use the equity from the sale of our current house to make the final push on the rehab.

So now the clock, which has always existed more like sand in an hour glass, is ticking much faster…  like the stop watch at the beginning of an episode of 60 minutes.  [Edit from Amy: I hate that clock. It really stresses me out.]  Part of our agreement with the buyers is that we try to be out of our current house by August 15th.  As of today, that gives us only six weeks!  The reality is that I only have two weeks until I have to go back to work and then Amy joins me when school starts in four weeks.

In that short amount of time we still have a LOT to do.  The major items include finishing plaster repair, priming the whole house, sanding and refinish all the floors, get at least one bathroom functioning, and create a temporary kitchen. [Edit from Amy: Easy peezy.]  Many more projects remain after that, but we will take care of those once we have moved-in.

[Edit from Amy: This sounds crazy, but we are a little nutty when it comes to deadlines. We’re like allergic to missing them. Fun fact time: we got married, took 30 high schoolers on a trip to Italy, sold a house, bought a house, moved my house, moved Joe’s apartment, and spent a week in St. Lucia for our honeymoon…  all in one month. We know how to bust a move.]

Here is a quick run down of what we have been doing…

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Prepping the floors, priming the walls, and cooling the air.

While Joe has been busy continuing window reglazing, door restoration, and plaster repair, I have been chipping away at the floors….literally. I talked a lot about the mastic tar and horse hoof glue removal process in this blog post when I was about half way through the job. Now that job is officially finished and I’m so glad to have it behind me!  The last section of the house that needed mastic removal was the kitchen. Here’s a picture of me working on removing tar from the south side of the kitchen.

removing tar from the kitchen floors

removing tar from the kitchen floors

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Plaster repair – Part 1

One of the big remaining jobs we have left to tackle before moving into our rehab house is repairing the plaster.


Technically, I guess we could do his after we move in, but it’s a messy job and not something we really want to be doing with furniture in the house.  Plus, those silly people at the bank would probably deem the house uninhabitable at the very sight of exposed lath.  Plaster repair was one of the jobs that we didn’t know much about in the beginning and it seemed as if we might just hire someone to do it, but the more I researched the more I believed in our ability to do this. [Edit from Amy: Big surprise there]  Like most aspects of home rehab, it’s not horribly difficult.  It just requires time and practice.

The plaster issues include cracks (lots of them!), missing plaster, crumbling plaster, small holes from insulation being blown into the exterior walls, and big holes from who knows what.  One of the things that makes plaster repair challenging for a novice is that each situation requires a different strategy.  It was only after researching every possible scenario I would encounter did I then feel like I could proceed. [Edit from Amy: Yep, that’s the man I married.] Continue reading

Doors (Part 1) and Weed Moats

As we look back on the past year of our rehab project it is obvious that the stages can be neatly divided into categories:

Stage 1 – Planning (and lots of thinking).  Meetings with architect, contractors, skilled friends who can give advice.

Stage 2 – Demolishing (knocking stuff down and taking it out).  The demo stage goes on for a long time.  In fact, it still seems like it is going on.  I’m still making trips to the landfill.

Stage 3 – Structural (building stuff).  Once the old stuff is out of the way, any new framing or structural reinforcements take place.  For us, this included new walls upstairs, a bathroom downstairs, new stairs, addition floor support under the new stairs, under Lucy’s room, and under the new loft space.

Stage 4 – The guts (the important stuff in the walls).  For us, this included new plumbing, electric, and hvac.

Stage 5 – The walls.  This is when everything you spent the past 12 months working on is covered up by drywall. [Edit from Amy: And it looks like you’ve done nothing.]

Stage 6 – SURFACES.  This is our current stage.  As you would expect, it means getting all the door, window, wall, ceiling, and floor surfaces repaired, primed, painted, sanded, refinished, or all of the above.

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Is that light I see at the end of the tunnel? Nope. Just another window…

I told myself that I would not do another blog post about windows until they were done.  I mean, how many different parts of the rehab process can I really show without repeating myself?  Well, this week there were a couple big developments (relatively speaking) and I thought they might just warrant another update.

This week I removed my very last window sash!  In addition, every downstairs window frame is now complete with weather stripping and new sash cords.  As each window has been completed I have removed the boards from the exterior.  This means that more and more light enters our house with each passing day.

Here is the living room and vestibule in progress…

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Completing the Cycle: Re-installing the rehabbed windows

The renovation of our beautiful 100 year old windows has been the most time consuming single project (by far) and the biggest money saving DIY project (by a mile) of our home renovation project.   Those of you that have followed this blog from the beginning have read about these windows off and on for the past year.

Another batch of windows to restore

Another batch of windows to restore

They are always being worked on in the background, taking up the limited available space in our basement, and making progress when I have extra time.  I was demoralized early on when I  broke a few of the treasured old glass panes and then frustrated by the science fair of matching new pine to old pine.  These early set backs have been more than offset by the pride I have developed in my accomplishments and the realization that we would have blown half our entire renovation budget if we had paid someone to do this…   IF I could have even found anyone willing to rehab the windows with the same level of detail.

I still have a long way to go to actually complete the window project (some of them haven’t even been removed yet), but the first 12 sashes I removed last summer have been ready to go for months.  Now that the drywall is complete I can finally begin this final stage of window rehab project…  The re-installation!  I have had the supplies for months.  This includes sash cord to re-rope all the weights, spring bronze for weather stripping, and copper coated nails. Continue reading

Pressing the Rewind Button

Over the last 100 years the waves of what’s hot and what’s not in home decor usually leaves many layers of work to be subsequently undone in future home renovations.  Each decade brings a new layer (literally) to the story with floors and walls acting like layers of sediment that reveal the past.  We are extremely lucky that our house has seen very little alterations.  No awkward additions to the house, not much wallpaper to remove, original hardware remains, no one removed the original windows for cheap replacements, the walls were all still plaster, the original woodwork is in good shape and was never even painted.  It’s truly shocking that this house has remained so untouched for so many years.  It makes us feel guilty for making any alterations at all, but we have worked hard to leave as much intact as possible by going through great pains to restore the walls, windows, floors, and retain the original floor plan as much as feasibly possible in a modern world. Continue reading

Taping, mudding, scraping, and washing

One year ago this week we still hadn’t even picked up a hammer, decided on floor plan revisions, or even lined up any subcontractors.  Everything we have done since that time has been towards one big goal – drywall.  Last week our drywall was officially completed.  Let’s pause for a moment to celebrate….

Okay, time to move on.

I know we already did a blog post about the drywall, but the taping and mudding made such a drastic change in the look, I thought it would be worth another post.  The guy doing the taping and mudding didn’t seem very excited about the project when I met him on the first day, but to my admittedly untrained eye, he ended doing a great job!  It took him almost two weeks, but that included A LOT of repair work to the areas where the drywall and plaster transitioned.  In fact, he did WAY more repair work than I thought he was going to do…  I didn’t really think he would do any at all.

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Taming the backyard… again.

Week 53  (Joe)

One of the very first projects we did a year ago was to try to make the front and backyard of the house not look so…  abandoned.  The house had been vacant for more than 10 years and it definitely looked like it.  Weeds had turned into trees.  Parts of the yard were so thick with brush that you couldn’t even get through it.  The picture below doesn’t do it justice.  This was taken before there were any weeds, leaves,  or other normal summer growth.

The back of the backyard

The back of the backyard

We spent three weekends with a chainsaw and other assorted sharp items cutting down everything we could.  There is still a lot of work to do, but at least it doesn’t look completely neglected anymore.

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Happy 1-year anniversary!

Week 53!!!  (Joe and Amy)

One year ago TODAY we took possession of our new house!  How fitting that the 1-year anniversary corresponds with one of our biggest milestones – drywall!  By coincidence, another small milestone will be passed today – some lucky reader will be the 10,000th view on our blog!  We wanted to commemorate the anniversary with a look back at this past year.  We have had about 40 blog entries and it would be ridiculous  to try to recap ALL the details in one really long post, but we did try to pick the highlights of each month and show a timeline of our overall major progress.  Maybe it’s a little long, but not really long.  It’s mostly pictures, and everybody loves pictures, right?  Enjoy… Continue reading

A better drywall experience

Week 52  (Joe)

All of our drywall is now up.  It only took them 2 1/2 days to finish and (for the most part) everything went smoothly.  In my last post I commented on a couple issues that occurred after the 1st day of drywall.  The reality is that most of those issues have nothing to do with the quality of the drywall people and more about the oddities of our particular job.  For instance, the reason for this…


Notice the asymmetrical approach to the edge of the angled ceiling

was because the drywall on the right did not have any blocking.  We knew there would be a few of these issues, but I was told that they would let me know so that I could fix them.  This did not happen.  It was obvious that I needed to be around so that I could point out what I wanted and what was wrong. Continue reading

Drywall finally begins

Week 52  (Joe)

Amy and I spent last weekend and Monday frantically preparing for the drywall crew so that they could begin on Tuesday.  The big day finally arrived and we drove home after work like a couple of kids on Christmas morning.  Except…  there was nothing under the tree.  Sadly, no drywall.  The drywall had been delivered that day, but it all sat on the floor in the middle of each room.  Amy was bummed, I was not surprised.  Wednesday we drove home sure that half of the house would be done by now.  Nope.  Nothing.  Thursday, same story, except this time I got a call from the owner of the drywall company saying that he has a couple of guys at the house and they don’t have the right bit to unboard the door and can’t get in.  I let him know where we keep our screw driver and we at least felt a little better knowing that someone was there and that they would at least get something done.  But, they didn’t.  Not a good start…  Amy is mad and my initial dread of dealing with another contractor is validated.  Finally, on Friday some of the drywall was up.  It was really wonderful to see drywall for the first time. The crew continued work on Saturday, but it looks like they just put in a few hours.

The drywall still needs to be taped and mudded, but here is a belated and exciting sneak peak at the initial progress…

Our first view of the new drywall

Our first view of the new drywall in the kitchen

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Prepping for drywall

Week 51  (Joe)

Once the insulation crew began work we gave our drywall guy a call and scheduled him to start on Tuesday.  We knew we had some small jobs to take care of before drywall, but we wanted to get the drywall finished soon so that we would be able to work in the house over our spring break.  Spring break could be a great opportunity for us to put a dent in wallpaper removal, plaster repair, the floors, and other projects in the next phase of our renovation.  We haven’t really firmed up our plans for the next stage.  To be honest, drywall has been a goal for so long that we just haven’t come up with our post-drywall plan .  But I’m getting a little ahead of myself here…

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Week 51 (Joe)

Insulation just doesn’t seem like it would be that exciting, does it? But to us, it is! It is a huge job that gets us one big step closer to drywall.  As a reminder, our house had no insulation anywhere.  As tempting as it might have been to save money by doing the bare minimum, we decided to spend a little extra to make sure we maxed out this opportunity.   This job used a little fiberglass, some open-cell spray foam, and a lot of closed-cell spray foam. It was costly! It will end up being our 2nd biggest expense. Most of that is due to the closed-cell spray foam we needed to use on the 2nd floor ceilings. It was necessary to use that type of insulation because of the limited depth available between the roof and the drywall and the fact that we are essentially locating 3 bedrooms and a bathroom in an ATTIC!

The kitchen walls got a skim-coat of the closed-cell spray foam to help seal it, then it will also get fiberglass.

After the skim-coat, before the fiberglass

After the skim-coat, before the fiberglass

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It’s cold and snowy, but we plow ahead

Week – 50  Joe

After the excitement of finally connecting to the service panel last weekend, we naively thought we be able to get all the lights on that very same weekend.  Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.  Then we experienced a frustrating week of sub zero temps and a broken furnace that made work slow and somewhat painful.  The end of the electrical project is so close we can finally see the finish line, but it seems like we will never get there.  I’m sure other rehabbers would understand, that final 10% of each stage is agonizingly long, difficult, and tedious. Continue reading

Mission Electrician Part Three: Making up and Hooking up (It’s not what it sounds like)

Week 48 – Amy

A lot has been accomplished in the past couple weeks.  The rough-in of cables is complete!  WOOT, WOOT!   (minus one more for the upstairs furnace- but who’s counting anyways?)  Joe already hard-wired all of our recessed lights and I already met with an electrician for a “pre-inspection” inspection.  The circuits were completed this week and we were ready to fire these things up!  I called up my electrician friend and asked if he would be willing to come back again and help me hook up my circuits to the service panel.  We planned to meet this past Saturday and he said we’d “hit it hard” to which I had no choice but to reply with emoji muscle flexes.

making up Junction boxes

making up Junction boxes

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