Week 46 – Joe After many weeks of typical winter weather we were blessed this weekend with a day of 50 degrees and sun! My mom took Lucy to the Children’s Museum and Aiden hung out with a friend all day which meant Amy and I could both work on the house and take advantage of this beautiful weather. Because of the surprising warmth, we made the decision to spend the day on the exterior of the house. Continue reading
Week 45 – Joe
We are smack dab in the middle of winter in Indiana. We never see the light, it’s always cold, and our winter this year is just full of moderately cold days with barely any snow. Just bleak, chilly, wet, and depressing. Not exactly the type of weather that inspires working on a house. Especially when that house is equally bleak and chilly.
Week 43 – Amy
If you read Mission Electrician Part one you know I’ve decided to do the electrical work myself. The first part and probably most important part of any big project like this is the planning (also mentioned in part one). After planning out all of the circuit loads, deciding what kind of lighting we wanted where, and how those lights should function, I set out to do what electricians call “roughing in”.
Week 41 – Joe
The original floors of our fixer upper still exist and are in surprisingly good condition on the 1st level of the house. We are planning on sanding and finishing all the hardwood floors in the house… which is ALL the flooring in the house. These 100 year old 5″ pinewood floors have a ton of character. We are certainly NOT experts on flooring of late Victorian houses, but we are guessing that the floors on the 1st level were probably intended to be covered with wall to wall carpet. Not the plush, thick carpets we have today… probably a thin carpet that sat directly on top of the hardwood. At some point in our house’s history someone added a 2′ linoleum border around the edges of all the rooms downstairs (except kitchen). They probably covered the middle portion of each floor with a rug. The linoleum comes off with a wide range of effort. Some of it will need to be heated up with steam and scraped off, some of it just pulls right up.
Week 38 – Joe
We are now in our 2nd week of Christmas vacation and our 3rd week of having our wonderful carpenter at our disposal. This is the last push to get everything wrapped up before we insulate and drywall. That means finishing all the little details of framing and blocking. Besides the loft, there aren’t any major new areas that have been created. But there are many little items that we can now check off our list. Here we go…
Week 37 – Joe
One of the most enjoyable aspects of this renovation has been getting to create spaces that will be unique, interesting, or different. We have chosen to live in old houses with character because Amy and I are wired to crave aesthetically interesting and personalized spaces. I think everyone enjoys finding a secret space, an unexpected nook, or unusual features frequently found in old houses. The 2nd floor of our new house (and even an area of the 1st floor) provided us with an almost blank slate with which to try to create something personalized and unique. For instance, our upstairs bathroom will have a built-in window bench, our staircase will have a hidden play space underneath, all the 2nd floor rooms will have interesting ceiling angles and unexpected nooks, and our 1st floor bathroom closet will have four stairs to nowhere that will serve as a reminder of what once was there but also provide us with a unique way to reach higher shelves.
Another unique area we are excited about is the top of the new stairs. The area we are calling a “loft” is located above the master bedroom and looks out over the 2nd floor common area. This is a bonus space that we wanted to utilize in a creative way.
Week 36 – Joe
The “loft” area is located above the master bedroom. It overlooks the common area of the 2nd floor and would normally just be considered attic space. It has been an area much discussed, but up until now, not touched. Amy and I determined a long time ago that we would like to use this as a bonus play space, accessed by a ladder that will be built onto a wall in the upstairs common area. We will also add a window to the back of this area for added light. We have visions of slumber parties, a secluded reading space, pulley systems to raise and lower toys, or… worst case scenario, just extra storage space. The peak is tall enough to just barely stand straight up, but this area would mostly be just a playing-on-the-floor type of space.
Week 35: Amy
[Edit from Joe: Before my wife tells you about our latest progress you need to know something important. My wife is amazing. Seriously. She is one of the most determined people you will ever meet. Just try telling her she can’t do something and see what happens. I dare you. Amy and I are both teachers, which means we are huge advocates of life long learning. It is important to us that we model that philosophy for our own children and this house project is a great opportunity for us to set that example for them.
Week 35 – Joe A week ago I got a text from our carpenter. It was a text that rehabbers in need of structural expertise only dream of getting: “I’m starting Monday and cleared out all week or longer if needed. I’m yours until you say to stop.” There was much rejoicing in our house and we dug out the list of items that needed attention. There are a couple of large items that are way above our heads to accomplish on our own and then a lot of smaller tasks all related to framing. The very first thing to get accomplished was the installation of the new windows. Done.
[Edit from Amy: Let’s pause to celebrate that! YAY!]
We moved to the next most pressing concern – the old staircase to the 2nd floor. You might remember (probably not) that our original plan was to wall over the existing door to the basement (located in the kitchen) and add a new basement door on the opposite side of the stairs. This would allow us to use what was previously door space as added wall space in the kitchen.
[Edit from Amy: You might remember that our kitchen was originally comprised of doors. Not much wall space at all.]
When I did the demo for the new door to the basement stairs we discovered that we liked how this new-found hallway to the kitchen made the flow of the house flow so much better. It meant that there would now be a good traffic pattern from upstairs to the kitchen. I really think it is one of the best changes that we have made to the house – and it happened completely by accident. Here is what that area of the house looked like after the initial demo:
Week 35 – Joe
We have reached another exciting milestone! The new windows have been framed out and installed in Aiden’s room, Lucy’s room, and the upstairs bathroom. They are aluminum clad wooden windows. For those of you who might not know (I didn’t), that means that the exterior is aluminum and will never need to be repainted or maintained. The interior is wood and can be painted to match our interior trim color.
Everyone likes “before and after” pictures, so here goes…
You can tell from the first photo that there used to be three windows in this room, but they were boarded up and replaced with the fan. We kept the same idea, but enlarged the windows to adhere to the fire code for bedrooms.
Here is Aiden’s bedroom on our first day touring the house…
After new windows, a tub, plumbing, and framing…
There was a window up near the roof in the central area of the upstairs that had been removed and covered with siding many years ago…
Now there is light!
Here are some photos of the exterior:
Now the front looks like this…
Here is another view that shows the upper gable window and a peak of Aiden’s window on the side of the house.
Our original color choice for the window sashes was red, then we changed our mind about 10 times as we reconsidered the color of the house and trim. As you can see, we settled back to our original choice. Sometime in the future we will disclose our colors for the rest of the house. I have been busy, as always, working on windows. Obviously all of the old windows are being painted to match these new ones.
Our carpenter is working for us the next couple weeks. That means more exciting updates coming soon!
Week 34 – Amy
We are about half way through our house project!
[Note from Joe: Well… maybe halfway to moving IN. We all know the “house project” will never actually be done]
At the beginning of the project we knew enough to know that there was a lot we didn’t know. Along the way we’ve discovered the answers to some of the hairy questions and situations we knew we would eventually encounter. We anticipated from the get go that this would not be easy, that we had a lot to learn, and that there would be many hurdles and road blocks to tackle. Most people don’t take a DIY approach because they don’t want to deal with all those hassles and headaches. Strangely enough, as in other areas of life, we have been all too ready to dive headlong into a mess, invigorated by the idea of making something worthwhile out of something others might be tempted to avoid.
On a side-note: While dealing with these tough questions we’ve also come to understand that, despite the real need for revitalization in urban areas, there is no easy path to help individuals who want to do exactly what we are trying to do right now. In fact, we’ve often felt that the system discourages people like us.
QUESTION No.1: “How will I finance my project?”
ANSWER: “The old fashioned way”
Usually, if you have good credit, it is not terribly difficult to get a loan to buy a house. Unless that house is deemed uninhabitable. Despite our modern banking systems and grand institutions that help people do things like, say, build new houses or start businesses, there is little help or mercy for those people who chose to restore old homes DIY style. You could probably get funded for a TV series about DIY rehabbing sooner than you can get a loan to do the actual rehabbing itself. Banks will give you a loan to do the job ONLY provided that you hire approved contractors for the jobs (meaning no DIY) and allow the bank to approve and inspect the work at intervals. This scenario is:
A. more expensive
B. more time consuming
C. overly controlling
In our case we did what families have been doing since the beginning of currency, we looked to our elders. Seeing the trouble we were having getting funded for this project without losing the option to do it ourselves, a family member graciously offered to loan us the money for the initial purchase of the house. When the project is near complete, and the house is deemed “habitable” by a bank (whatever that means), we will be able to “buy” the house back and use a conventional loan to finance the purchase. Without this family loan our home renovation would have been a completely different experience… and not the one we were hoping to have.
QUESTION No. 2 “What does habitability look like……. to a bank?”
ANSWER: “A place to store canned goods and no cracked tiles.”
The word “habitability” was a buzz phrase at our house for a while. Without heat, running water, broken glass everywhere and gaping openings to the outside, we didn’t need anyone to label our house. We knew darn well it wasn’t habitable – we aimed to fix that. Since we plan on eventually switching to a “habitable” home loan we asked the bank to tell us what habitable means to them. Apparently it is a gray area. Some things are obvious, such as running water, no gaping holes to the great outdoors, and having heat. There were other odd things that could also make your house deemed uninhabitable. For example – homeowners beware – we actually had a bank tell us that they would look for cracked tiles. Also, counter tops and cabinets are required. But what if we want open shelving? Apparently people can’t be expected to live without reasonable canned good storage. We’re still not clear if things like lack of gutters or crumbing plaster walls will keep us from switching to a normal habitable home loan sooner rather than later.
[Note from Joe: A friend of ours suggested that we should move in and live there. Then how can they say it isn’t habitable?]
QUESTION No. 3: “How will I insure my fixer upper?”
ANSWER: You won’t. Or at least not for long.
Our current house is 145 years old. Apparently so old that the insurance company thinks it’s going to blow away in the next strong wind. I’d like to think of it as standing the test of time. If it’s stood this long, it’s probably not going anywhere, right? Despite this rationale, we actually had a little trouble getting our current house insured. So, if you have an old house or you’re looking to buy one you might have to shop around to get insured.
With the new fixer upper, our insurance company would not give us a regular insurance policy because, you guessed it, it wasn’t habitable. It seems like a good deal to me – no pipes to freeze, no electricity to catch fire, just a shell of a house.
[Note from Joe: actually… easier for the pipes to freeze, probably more likely to catch fire or be vandalized. I get it.]
Less to go wrong, right? It’s like a health insurance policy that only covers maladies of the skin or only covering people lacking vital and expensive organs.
BUT, despite our house’s apparent lack of houseliness we were able to get temporary coverage, a special type of coverage just for construction jobs. Put your hard hats on, we’ve got a winner!
UNTIL….two weeks ago when Joe drove over to the house and was surprised to see a clipboard-laden woman standing on our sidewalk. She was taking pictures and scribbling what must have been ominous notes about the deplorable condition of our uninhabitable house. The best part? Joe actually hid from her until she left, lest he have to answer questions he was not prepared to answer.
[Wait, wait, wait. I did not HIDE… I just didn’t get out of the truck. In my defense, I don’t like confrontations and awkward situations. This was definitely awkward and I had no idea what kind of trouble we might have gotten into. Plus, I probably would have been upset at this lady.]
Now, I realize that the outside of the house is rough, but as I’ve said before… it’s not what it looks like. Thus far we’ve been focusing our efforts on habitability concerns, and not exterior concerns such as chipped paint on the siding or a sagging front porch. The windows are boarded for security reasons, no longer because they are broken or missing. So, yeah it looks bad. For now, there are some additional holes and white plastic sheets flapping in the wind, but only because we are either restoring (AKA making better) or replacing the old windows. You have to make some holes to fill them.
On a side note, when we talked to the insurance company about covering our new house they almost said no because we own an Alaskan Malamute. They only approved the dog at the new house because she was already on the policy of our old house (they weren’t sure how we got that approved back then). To the insurance overlord who made that rule up, I say “harrumph!” Malamutes are extremely friendly and docile creatures.
In the end, we found out that our insurance on the rehab project had been terminated. Apparently, we hadn’t gotten it done in a reasonable amount of time. That is subject to opinion, thank you very much. To appeal the termination of our coverage, our insurance agent recommended compiling invoices and agreements for work that has been done or is ready to be done. Even after showing all our progress, the insurance company would not reconsider because we did not get the job done in 6 months. As of now, we will take our hard-earned money and find some other company to insure our rehab project, our other “habitable” house, and our two cars. Plus, we’ll get another man-eating dog just to rub it in. Take that big business.
[Calm down, wife. I think we might just be able to re-apply for a new policy. We did know it was only a 6 month policy and that we weren’t going to be done in 6 months. We just figured we would cross that bridge when we go there. Well, now we are there. We will make it work.]
Question No 4: “Once I legally own the house, I can start fixing everything up straight away, right?”
ANSWER: No, you have to pay money and get permission to do basically anything on your house.
This very expensive and beurocratic permission slip is called a permit. Anytime you need to fix (or entirely add in our case) plumbing, heating/cooling, structural work, electrical work or buy new curtains you have to pay to get the permit pulled for each type of job and show your governmental permission slip before any of that work can begin. Then when you’re done, it has to be inspected. Oh, and also, you must have a licensed contractor do the work or they won’t give you your permission slip. I’m a teacher, I know what happens when you don’t have your permission slip. No bueno. So if you plan on oh, say, wiring your house yourself, kicking down a wall or sawzawing into the ceiling (just as a few random examples)- no dice. Are you seeing a pattern here?
Since both of our houses reside in historical districts we also have to get approval from the IHPC (Indiana Historical Preservation Committee) and the Indiana Landmarks Association before making changes to the exterior of our houses. This insures that our historically protected areas continue to preserve their historical integrity. This is fine, but also an additional step in the process. For instance, when we decided to install full-size windows in the new 2nd floor bedrooms and bathroom we had to file paperwork to IHPC and submit the details of our plans. In addition, we had to send about 50 letters in the mail to all sorts of people and places (Including the Indianapolis Liquor Company?) to also let them know we were about to make these changes. The forms needed to be notarized and a special form from the post office that proves that I actually did mail these letters to our neighbors. The lady at the post office, per the norm, had no idea what I was talking about, thought I was an idiot, and my toddler threw a fit. I ended up having to handwrite 50 addresses and names onto a form with a toddler on my leg. I’m still not sure the lady had me do the right thing but I was afraid of putting everything a month behind because of a clerical error. In an effort to help me cope with my frustration about this whole ordeal I stamped some of the approval envelopes with this stamp. Others had fun stickers. I like to take myself seriously now and again.
There was a date set for the hearing over this window change when a select grouping of neighbors and community figures could appear to dispute our window choices/changes should they find them historically lacking. Luckily, if anyone hated our window ideas, they didn’t show up at the hearing and will now be forced to forever hold their piece.
As a side note, as annoying as this may seem I think it’s a great asset to historical areas to keep tabs on their historical integrity. That’s why we enjoy living where we do in the first place.
QUESTION No. 5: “I won’t have any trouble finding contractors that want my business, right?”
ANSWER: Apparently, yes.
Our house is a pretty big job. At first we planned on hiring a contractor to oversee the whole thing, but after several conversations that were rude and too many unreturned calls we started to realize that you have to really nag contractors to get anything done…starting with simply returning a phone call. We also realized that although you may be paying someone thousands of dollars to do a job, they don’t feel at all inclined to be polite to you. From what I can tell, contractors are in so much demand that they can pretty much do whatever they like. We also realized that we could save a ton of money by doing this project on our own.
One job we have planned on hiring out was the electrical work, but we’re having trouble getting our electrical guy to call us back even though he previously said he would do the work. Now I’ve started doing things like this….
…with colored pencils no less, and reading up on how to fish wire down through plaster walls.
Laugh if you need to. You might guess where this is going.
(Now, I will back up here and say that we have also had work done by super nice people that were great to work with.)
QUESTION No.6 “When are you going to be done?
ANSWER: According to the bank: never. According to the insurance company: six months. According to us? We have no idea.
We would have never purchased a house that needed so much work if we didn’t think we would enjoy the rehab process. The easiest part of that process thus far has been the actual work. We do look forward to the point when we don’t have to rely on other people (or agencies) to keep progress moving forward, but we aren’t overly concerned with our finish date. It would be nice to be able to be able to move in by late Spring or early summer so that we can put our current house on the market. For now, we will just keep learning, adjust to set backs, and keep a positive attitude.
So, in review of the things we’ve learned so far about the rehabbing process: If you want to rehab a house, you can’t depend on a bank. The difference between habitability and inhabitability is subject to debate. Insurance companies won’t insure your uninhabitable fixer upper, so cross your fingers and knock on wood. Pray nobody hates your new windows. Also, you’ll need to pay a bunch of money to get permission to fix up the house, and then pay a whole bunch more to get the job done – if you can find someone willing to do it. Good thing we have a whole lot of determination, a partner to complain to when it gets rough, and plenty of elbow grease to spare.
For now, we’ll just keep moving forward one step at a time.
Week 32 – Joe
Apparently winter is arriving a little earlier this year. An abnormal “polar plunge” is dropping the temperatures below freezing and will continue for the foreseeable future. I don’t mind cold weather. In fact, I normally embrace it… but it’s too early! We have been preparing for the inevitably of cold temps, but we thought we had a little more time to get everything ready. We weren’t ready yet to worry about frozen water in our brand new plumbing. We didn’t have electricity to the furnaces, there were still several window openings covered with thin sheets of plastic, and there were several places in the house that were just open to the outside air. To make matters a little more stressful, this rapid temperature drop is occurring at one of the busiest time of the year for my job.
Fortunately, we weren’t waiting until the absolute last second to prepare for winter. We had already ordered the new windows for the upstairs and I did make some progress towards winterizing the house a couple weeks ago. I got all the storm windows out of the garage and began the process of rehabbing those. I also placed an order for new glass and had two new storm sashes made. Even though some of the storm sashes were completely in tact and in good shape, I still needed to install new hardware on the sash and the header. Here is what the old hardware looked like…
The matching hardware that should be on the header was lost when someone replaced all the window headers some time ago so I had to order all new hardware for all the storm windows.
I was able to get all the storms hung on the kitchen windows and the south side of the house. Those were the first windows I restored and have been sitting empty, covered only by plywood and plastic. Hanging the storm windows was not as easy as I thought it would be. It was a little difficult to accurately mark the hanging hardware on the header and sometimes the window didn’t always fit perfectly and would need to be adjusted.
It was a lot of going up and down the ladder, but it was rewarded with the instant gratification of seeing what the windows would look like without plywood.
Here is the south side of the house without boarded up windows… Once again, probably not exciting to anyone except US.
One of those storms had this friendly little reminder for unwanted intruders:
Eventually I will take all of these back down and put them all through the restoration process, but for now they are providing a slightly safer and more energy efficient alternative to plastic.
The biggest news of the past week is that our order of new windows arrived! These are the windows that go in the upstairs kids’ rooms and the upstairs bathroom. They are aluminum clad wooden windows and the exterior side is already painted in the sash color that we chose for our color scheme.
We are beyond excited to get these installed in the next couple weeks! They will really transform those three rooms and bring so much light to the 2nd floor. Lucy’s room is going to be especially bright and open!
We finally removed the gigantic fan from Lucy’s room and cleared away the rest of the junk. Her room already seems bigger and we haven’t even installed the windows yet! Maybe soon she will stop describing her room as “broken.”
To get ready for the impending freeze, Jim ran power to the downstairs furnace and fired it up for the first time this weekend. In addition, I spent a day boarding up all the windows to try to retain more of that new found heat.
I also finally got around to boarding up the basement windows.
The biggest area that needed to be addressed was the vestibule for the front door. There was no ceiling in that area and was essentially completely open to the outside (and racoons). I patched up a wall above the vestibule ceiling that was allowing air directly into the living room and then created a temporary ceiling.
Our house is by no means air tight, but I think we are now at least ready to keep the house at a reasonable temperature for the winter.
Next step: Electricity, more framing, demo the old stairs, and then insulation!
Week 29 – Joe
Amy and I are in the middle of a fall break from work. This means we have been able to make much more progress on the house. A couple weeks ago I finally figured out how to make the new windows match the old windows. The amber shellac that I had previously tried by itself was WAY too yellow. I made a couple trips to different wood working stores and questioned some very knowledgeable (and talkative) workers on how to stain/finish the new windows. Turns out they sell this dye called TransTint that you can add to the shellac. It took a few tries, but I was eventually able to get a good match. Unfortunately, in order to get as much depth as possible I added one too many coats. This resulted in a color that was a little too dark and orange. I sanded everything down and started over. This time I did one coat of the dyed shellac and then two more of the amber shellac. I followed that up with 3 coats of poly.
Here is the final result:
It is impossible to match the grain of the old wood, but at least I got the color pretty close.
The next step was to put a couple coats of primer on the exterior side and then treat the inside with linseed oil. This is necessary to keep the moisture of the glazing putty from getting sucked into the wood and eventually drying out the putty.
Before installing the glass I figured it was best to take the newly constructed sashes over the to the house and install them so that I could line up the locking mechanisms accurately. I’m glad I did this because I discovered the sashes were not exactly the same size as the old ones. I took them back the place that constructed them and they made the correction. Of course this meant that I had to refinish a portion of the sash again, but at least I discovered the problem before I had the glass installed. After the slight modifications the windows fit and everything looks ready to do the glazing.
[Edit from Amy: The pieces of window hardware were originally caked with paint when we first removed them. With layers of careless paint jobs you couldn’t see the beautiful details on the surface. To get the paint off I soaked them in a crock pot overnight with water and blue Dawn dish soap. That worked to loosen the paint. With each piece needing significant effort to remove all traces of paint it was gratifying to see what beauties these are. In the end I stupidly left them on a towel to dry and they rusted.] So I finished cleaning up the old hardware with a little CLR treatment to get rid of most of the rust.
We didn’t want to completely clean them because we actually prefer the darker color. If we kept scrubbing they would have been a shiny coppery color like in the picture above.
After I reglaze the five sashes that have been causing me problems for the past month I will be ready to move on to the storm windows. We are lucky that all the storm windows still exist and are in relatively good condition. This week we got them all out of the shed and matched them up with the corresponding window.
Some of them are missing window panes and a few of them have broken glass. All total I have to replace 8 out of a possible 32 panes. Out of the 19 storm windows there are only 2 that will need to be completely rebuilt and 1 that has one piece that needs to be replaced. I still have a lot of work ahead of me, but if I ever get discouraged about how much time the windows are taking I just pause to remember how much money we are saving by doing it ourselves. I estimate that it would cost somewhere around $15,000 or more to restore our windows if we paid someone to do it.
With that as my motivation, I began by removing the glass from the 3 storms that need to be rebuilt or repaired. I took those to the shop that will create replicas of those windows.
The glazing putty is in really bad shape, which makes it much easier to remove. The hard part with these storm windows is that the glazing points (the small pieces of metal that help keep the glass attached to the wood) are TINY. They are much smaller than the ones that I encountered in the windows I removed this summer and they are proving very difficult to pry out.
The one other window I needed to remove so that I could add new glass was in the vestibule. I had to remove the plywood on the outside to do this and while we were at it we went ahead and put up the storm window just to see what it would look like. I’m sure that Amy and I are the only ones that are excited about this, but it was truly shocking to see this window from the outside without plywood on it. It’s hard to imagine how different the house will look when none of the windows are covered with plywood.
The ten sashes that I reglazed this summer are now ready to be painted and reinstalled. Amy began the process of painting the exterior of these windows.
Before installing these windows we still need to replace the sash cords and install spring bronze to help insulate the windows (more on this process later). I tracked down supplies needed to finish the windows, including new hanging hardware for the storm windows. “Lovingly” restoring an old house means that stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot tend to not be as helpful. Most the their employees don’t know much about historic restoration and I continue to get dazed looks when asking for things such as sash cord or storm hangers for old windows.
In addition to continue work on the windows, we finally got a roofer to install the flashing on the plumbing vents and patch up a couple leaky areas.
[Edit from Amy: We had buckets in several rooms catching significant drips. There was quite a bit of water in the downstairs bath and vestibule. Luckily we will be tiling those areas. It was actually very soothing to work in the house alone with the tap tap of water dripping into buckets and pouring rain out the front door. It was as close to homey I think we can get right now.]
Speaking of homey- we discovered a critter taking shelter in the ceiling of the vestibule.
I guess we have to add “get rid of racoon” to our list of things to do.
We also spent one of our days just cleaning up the house to get ready for the next round. As our architect said, “It’s good for the spirit.” [Edit from Amy: Sweeping out the entire house felt a little like sweeping a dirt floor in a hut (why bother?) but it was actually very emotionally gratifying.]
Other recent accomplishments include finally placing the order for the new upstairs windows, lining up an insulation contractor, and selecting exterior paint colors. High on our list of priorities right now is everything related to winterizing the house. That means getting the electrical done so that we can insulate and fire up the new furnaces. It also means getting all missing windows back in and sealing up any openings in the house.
Winter is right around the corner…
Week 27 – Joe
Amid the slow-paced progress of this fall we have managed to arrive at another small milestone. Our new stairs are framed in and now provide a new, functional way to get to the 2nd floor. [Edit from Amy: I’ve been imagining what the house will eventually be in my mind so much. It’s very satisfying to see a large missing element from my daydreams begin to materialize. I’ve imagined the walking up in this location so much that I sometimes walked to this location to walk upstairs only to realize there weren’t any stairs there. Duh.]
The stairs are being built by a longtime friend of mine. He is even more of a perfectionist with his work than I am, so I know these are going to turn out great! Obviously, at this point the stairs are roughed-in. They will eventually be finished with stained wood and a nice banister. For now there are temporary treads in place.
You can see in this picture the area under the stairs where we might put a small desk for the family computer. We also want to utilize the space under the landing as a book nook, hiding place, or just a cozy hangout place for Lucy and Aiden to hang out. This works well since the access to it would be in what we plan on making our playroom. [Edit from Amy: I’m looking forward to making this special little room]
Here is the view looking down to the landing from the 2nd floor. The beam sticking out on the left will eventually be cut off. Right now it allows for easier access to the furnace room on the other side.
[Edit from Amy: In this image below you can catch a glimpse of a very ongoing project of mine: removal of the old linoleum floor throughout most of the downstairs. You will notice the divide in flooring below the orange X on the wall. More on this snail-paced job later.]
Now that we have a secondary way upstairs we can now start the demo of the old stairs!
[Edit from Amy: The room that used to be connected to the old stairs was formerly a bedroom, hence the closets we had to demo in order to build the new stairs. That bedroom is now the downstairs bath. The door to the old staircase will now become an access to a linen closet- a luxury the likes of us have never experienced. In the near future we will have to decide if we want to demo the old staircase entirely or to only demo the top section that actually needs to be removed. In the latter scenario the linen closet would open to a staircase to nowhere, which I find very appealing. First of all, why tear down something original if it does’t need to be? Second, I feel Like having a secret staircase has untapped creative possibilities. I’m just not sure what those are yet. Any votes one way or another?]
Unrelated to the stairs, we did get another small demo project done. The living room had this ugly closet that was probably added 20 or 30 years ago.
This was the easiest demo project yet. [Edit from Amy: which just proves you weren’t around to witness the ninja kick wall.] I managed to bring it down with just a hammer and my bare hands. [Edit from Amy: Show off.]
(I apologize for the poor photo quality… I only had my phone camera with me at the time)
Eventually I just yanked it down…
Here is what it looks like now…
In other progress, I met with an insulation guy and got a bid that included the roof, walls, and basement. We have a fall break coming up and our main goal is to make more progress on old and new windows (which will require more framing) so that we can have the house ready for winter.
“The windows have been an ongoing project.”
I feel like I say that in every blog post. Now that my work schedule has ramped up I don’t have time to run over to the house just for an hour here or there. I moved the whole window project to my basement, which is great because now I can just run downstairs and do a a little sanding, staining, finishing, or whatever. The only downside… it’s cramped!
The kitchen windows were an easier process because we knew the trim and sashes were going to be painted white. The five sashes I am working on now are not going to be painted on the inside so it is necessary to decide how we are going to finish them. This has lead to a full out standoff between me and the windows. Progress has stopped. I stare at them, they stare at me, then we both agree to go our separate ways. I will back up and explain how we got to this point in our relationship.
It all started with the original trim and hardwood floors in our house. The floor is pine and the plan is to just sand them and add several coats of polyurethane. Here is the current condition of the floors…
Here is what it looks like once sanded with 80, 150, and then 220 grit sandpaper…
Here is the look after a couple coats of poly…
We are not sure when we are going to refinish the trim. We plan on it eventually, but we aren’t sure if we will stain them a different color. For a while we thought that we would need to decide the stain color for the rest of the house so that we can match the windows. Turns out it’s not that simple. The windows are pine, the trim is oak. Pine is a soft wood and absorbs stain too well – resulting in a blotchy finish. From what I can gather, the sashes were not stained… just finished with shellac or polyurethane. That seems simple enough. I know how to do that. But will it matter that the newly finished window sashes won’t exactly match the trim??? Indecision and paralysis begins creeping in…
We don’t have a big problem with the current color of the trim, but if we had a choice we might choose a slightly darker tint. We also aren’t really sure how the trim is going to look compared to the newly finished pine floors. After staining the oak and then putting on a coat of poly, all the of the samples were actually a little lighter than the current trim. I took a piece of trim that we had already ripped off the wall, sanded it down, and then began systematically trying different stains.
A friend of mine recommended trying Formby’s to just remove the top coat and then use a finish coat to bring back the original look of the wood. The advantage of doing it this way is that we wouldn’t have to remove and sand the trim. We also wouldn’t have to worry about getting an even stain everywhere or deal with the difficulty of a polyurethane that is going to run and leave an uneven finish.
Once again, I grabbed a piece of trim that I am pretty sure we won’t end up using, carefully read the instructions on the Formby’s product at least three times, and then tried out the process. It was a pretty simple procedure and did not require much work… but, I’m not sure of the final results. The area in the middle was left a little splotchy…
My guess is that I pushed too hard in the middle. I have put on two coats of the finish, which you are supposed to treat like car wax, but I am not getting much of a sheen. I might need to try it with the glossier finish option, or maybe it needs more buffing, or maybe I’m not buffing with the right material. Once again, so many questions.
My questions don’t stop there. You might remember that I had to completely replace two sashes from the south side of the house. I also had to replace the bottom piece of two more sashes. The replacement wood is pine, the same as the old wood, except that it is 100 years younger.
This wouldn’t matter if we were just painting them white to match white trim. But we aren’t. The windows will still be finished wood because the trim is not painted. Somehow I have to match the old wood to the new wood. My first test failed miserably. I did pretreat the new wood with a conditioner that prevents the stain from being absorbed too much. This is necessary on pine because the wood is so soft and overly absorbent. I followed the instructions for the stain and left it on the wood for 5 minutes before wiping off. It looked awful.
My next attempt involved the conditioner again, but this time I just wiped the stain on and then immediately off. This worked much better and resulted in a finish that didn’t look nearly as bad. But it still doesn’t look anything remotely like the original and isn’t even close to being the right color.
Next I tried adding another level of stain that was a different color to try to add some depth. Didn’t really work. After a little more research I came across many people that recommended using an amber shellac to coat the wood and bring out a warmer color. Tried that. Didn’t work. It just looks yellow.
I have done a lot of research on how to match new pine to old pine. From what I gather in the woodworking forums, there is some magical combination of chemistry, plant biology, astrology, and sorcery involved in matching stain. After a couple trips to some woodworking shops to talk to real people I am now going to try dying the shellac with a concentrated dye called Transtint.
I really to get moving along on these 5 sashes so that I can reglaze them. It takes several weeks for the glaze to ready for paint and winter is quickly approaching. Trying to stay positive… My problem is only with these 4 sashes. The rest of them (barring any unforeseen rot) should be pretty straightforward. If I can figure out this non-sanding approach to refinishing the trim, it should allow for a relatively painless process. Also, the windows that I have already sanded and finished look awesome and I think the floor is also going to turn out great.
Meanwhile, our application for the new windows was approved by the historic preservation committee and we are in the process of selecting those windows. That decision hinges on the paint colors for the house. We are getting close to committing to that. Hopefully.
Week 23 – Joe
There are certain milestones that we reach in our renovation that have more significance than others. The first one was the framing of the new walls. It was the first glimpse of what this house will become. Up to that point, those walls were just lines on a piece of paper or pieces of masking tape on the floor. The home renovation process takes so long that it is almost impossible to comprehend that eventually we really will be living in this house. It sometimes seems like a slow moving glacier with occasional jumps forward. Two big steps were completed this week.
I’ll begin with the hvac…
We had such a thorough meeting with the hvac company representative that I assumed everything would be installed without any issues. Unfortunately, the chain of command and poor lines of communication between the higher-ups and the on-site workers taught me that I needed to constantly check the work of our sub contractors. I won’t go into all the details, but here are just a few complaints we had.
1. The contract clearly stated that all rectangular run outs would be replaced, but after they let me know they had completed the rough-in I went over to investigate and saw that none of the rectangular duct work had actually been replaced.
2. They added a floor vent right in the middle of a nook we were going to use as a play space. This was not on the original work list and was not discussed with us prior to cutting a hole in our floor. (Edit from Amy: a hole in the floor we plan to finish.) They did eventually relocate that vent to a spot that made more sense, but now we have to repair this floorboard.
3. They ran duct work to the wrong vents and then forgot to replace another rectangular run out even after they had already gone back to replace the other ones.
4. I had to notify them twice that the removed duct work was not hauled away.
5. They had obviously been smoking in our house and left cigarette butts and fast food trash on the floor. This irritated Amy a lot! (Edit from Amy: I have three things to say about that- 1. sawdust 2. Fire and 3. No running water. And for extra measure 4. Seriously?)
It wasn’t a completely negative experience. I do have to say that the two people in charge were always very professional, polite, and were quick to admit errors and fix any problems.
This picture below shows the upstairs furnace room with various run outs, returns, and venting.
Here is the downstairs furnace…
We are waiting to install the air conditioner units until spring so that we don’t have to worry about theft.
The plumbing process took place over several weeks. That was a good thing because it allowed Amy and I time to scramble ahead on some decisions we didn’t know we would have to make so early. We did have the downstairs and upstairs bathroom sinks picked out as well as the upstairs and downstairs tubs already at the house. We were surprised that we would need to have the upstairs tub faucet picked out. Also, there was some last minute debating about the exact placement of the upstairs sink. It seems like that would be a simple decision, but sometimes it’s hard to anticipate every possible scenario. For instance, how far should the sink be off the ground? The “standard” for a vanity is 31 inches, but that just seems SO low! We ended up doing 36 inches.
Another issue that complicated our decision making process was the discovery that the faucets that most people get for the sink we are ordering are not certified lead free. Apparently regulations recently changed and this faucet doesn’t meet those regulations. Several people have told us that those regulations are ridiculous because there is probably more lead in the plumbing to the house than in those faucets. BUT, we have two kids. Is any amount of lead okay? It seems terrifying to tell your kids they can have just a little bit of poison. So, now we are stuck.
We have lots of scrap to give away. Although, I feel like we could use some of this for some artwork or rustic furniture.
One great thing about this whole rehab process is that we will know exactly what is behind our walls and under our floors.
We do have an issue that was created by the plumbing scenario. In this picture below you will notice that the plumbers needed to cut out a section of the wall to allow the drain to travel down through the wall to the crawl space. Notice that we now have a floor joist that is largely unsupported because the beam that it was sitting on is now only sitting on one vertical stud. Not good. Other than that the plumbers did a great job and were super easy to work with.
Our sink that we are ordering is a 94 pound cast iron sink. You can see in the picture below how much additional support we needed to build in to the wall. Also notice the hot and cold outlets are stacked instead of side by side.
That is because our faucets will look like this…
So, now we have running water at the house! Actually, we only have water at this one spigot… but that is better than nothing.
Our friend has started on the new staircase. We are shopping around for the new upstairs windows. We thought we had exterior paint colors all picked out, but now we aren’t so sure. I continue to pull out my remaining hair as I wrestle with stains, finishes, removers, and general woodworking dilemmas related to our old windows, replacement old windows, and old trim. More on that later…
Week 21 – Joe
While the work continues on the hvac and plumbing, Amy and I have been busy preparing for new windows! If you recall, the front gable of our house had been butchered with a gigantic fan and vent opening.
That room will be Lucy’s room so it needs to have a window that complies with egress requirements. Same goes for Aiden’s room, which currently only has a tiny window opening. The bathroom has a window the same size as Aiden’s window. In addition, we want to add a window to the highest gable to provide light to the upstairs common area. This all seems straight forward enough, but as we have come to expect, it involves research, demo, framing, calling a guy, meeting a guy, meeting with the architect, decisions, and then…. waiting. In addition, this part requires approval from our local historic preservation committee because it deals with the exterior of a house in a historic district.
Before anything could begin, we needed to remove the existing siding to the four gables that would eventually have new windows. The exterior of the 1st floor was originally covered in fake brick asbestos material, but the previous owner had already removed it.
The 2nd floor is still covered with asbestos shingles. I guess we should be thankful for all of that because it is the reason our wood siding is still in such good shape. Our goal last weekend was to remove the asbestos shingles so we could gather evidence of what was once there and also clear the way for larger new bedroom windows openings to be cut.
We started with the front gable. It was the easiest to access. First, we had to get up there and remove the vent opening for the fan. That proved to be pretty straight forward. It just involved removing some tiles, prying off a few pieces of wood, and then unscrewing the vent.
We were able to move the fan off of it’s pedestal (actually, we just broke the pedestal) and cleared the way.
Side note – when our two year old, Lucy, first saw her room after we removed the vent (leaving a gaping hole) she solemnly declared that her room was broken. She now says that every time she sees it. Or whenever she feels like telling you about her room.
Once we had the fan removed we went to work on the siding. The reoccurring advice we have read and heard about asbestos siding is to try not to break the tiles and to make sure you wear a respirator. If you read guidelines on how to “officially” remove asbestos it involves full body suites and, in my mind, some type of set up like the end of the movie, E.T.
I think everyone that rehabs a home has to come to terms with the potential toxins you are going to face. Usually a good respirator and common sense will do just fine. Although, I have to admit that every little cough I develop makes me wonder if it is a cold or some lung disease I have acquired. We are lucky that we are not LIVING in the house and we are pretty careful about what we bring in to our current house.
We did the best we could, but the siding would not come off without some breakage. There wasn’t much to be excited about with this gable. Underneath the asbestos is just the actual side of the house. Not even old siding.
It did allow us to see clear evidence of the windows that had been removed and filled in to create the opening for the fan.
The next goal was to remove the asbestos from the highest gable. This was the next easiest because we could access it from a valley in the roof line. We actually tried to do this part the week before, but the roof was so hot that it was impossible to sit or kneel.
We were excited to immediately discover the original scallop siding underneath the asbestos!
The siding is in good shape and will just need a little scraping and painting. We were also able to prove what we already assumed, that there was originally a decent sized window in that gable.We will definitely use that opening for new a window. That window will bring much needed light to the area at the top of the stairs.
The last task was to remove the siding from the gables on the side of the house. This was going to be a little difficult because it involved using a ladder. It ended up not being as difficult as originally thought, except for the fact that to reach the higher tiles the ladder had to be extended all the way and I had to stand on the 2nd highest ladder rung. Still, not too bad… just had to be a little more careful.
[Edit from Amy: Upon inspecting this picture I would like to motion for the previous use of the word SOME to be reconsidered when describing how many asbestos tiles were broken (ahem…shattered) in this process.]
In the end we decided to only remove what was needed for the windows. We figure we will use a scaffold when we paint and that we can just remove the remainder of the siding with the aid of the scaffold. We still need to remove the asbestos from the back of the house, but it didn’t have anything to do with the new windows or the historic preservation committee so we bumped it down the priority list.
Once we were able to see evidence of the original windows we could get everything together for the proposal to the preservation committee. Our architect has completed the sketches of what the gables will look like with the new windows. The front gable will certainly have a huge impact on the curb appeal of the house.
We are also looking forward to seeing how much more light there will be on the 2nd floor.
Completely unrelated to windows, look what was found in the crawl space…
The crate has “The Polk Milk Company” engraved on the side. A quick Google search revealed interesting information and a great article by Cottage Home resident Joan Hostetler.
Meanwhile, we have been busy coordinating and consulting efforts with the hvac and plumbing as well as tracking down information about insulation and drywall. I have also been working on the windows most nights in our basement. Every once in a while we wander into the appliance section of the hardware store and try to narrow down our search for appliances.
Next, we need to decide what type of windows to get…. Apparently that is not as simple as I had hoped. So many things to consider!
Amy- Week 20
Many people believe they simply don’t have the time to take on big projects, especially when it comes to young families with kids. For many, this is most likely true. Others claim not to have the wherewithal or skills to pull it off. Also, usually true. When surveyed 8 out of 10 people confidently refer to our situation as “biting off more than one can chew.” Luckily for us, both are chewing….just usually not at the same time. Does that count?
I know you’re wondering how we are pulling this off. Here is the half glass full version:
Yes, we work full time jobs, but we are teachers. Which translates into “we get the summer off”. It is correct that we have two kids BUT…really one of them is 10 and totally age appropriate for A. Being another excited and ambitious set of hands with a hammer and or B. a free babysitter who is always happy to do it and C. practically an adult, right? So, again the whole 2 KIDS = WE CAN’T DO IT theory doesn’t really apply here. Plus, we have an Ergo baby and we’re not afraid to use it. ALSO…we totally know what we are doing so we’ll get it done extra fast. Like before the end of summer. Really, what’s the big deal? Clearly all attempts to poke holes in our master plan are completely futile and unwarranted.
And if we empty half of that glass the ugly truth starts to set in:
In reality, Joe works for many of the summer weeks with his marching band which leaves only 5 weeks of time off from work. I know, who are we to complain, most people don’t get even close to that. While Joe was at work and I was still on break I found that there was not much sense in dragging two children into an uninhabitable house all day by myself to try and get things done. Children are too frequently thirsty and snacky and whiney to actually make any progress. The only thing accomplished is complete and utter frustration. No, thank you. Even without a big side project I would usually say that normal life is super busy in our house. After all, let’s face it, maintaining ONE house and the hair of UNO dog is plenty for anyone. I do find myself feeling a little miffed that the messes at house #1 just keep happening. It seems very inconsiderate and downright selfish for the dishes and laundry to just pile themselves up like they do. It’s as if they are completely oblivious to the new level of mess that is happening elsewhere in my life. When you find yourself cleaning the floor with a snow shovel you can officially say you have taken it to the next level. Don’t worry that is only happening in house #2. Also in the glass half empty version we quickly discovered that aside from sledge hammering into walls, Aiden wasn’t really all that into hard labor. Turns out he’s equally not into free babysitting no matter how cute and curly-headed his little sister may be.
Lastly, we’re not fast at this whole rehabbing thing since we usually need to research obsessively for weeks before attempting the next project. To make matters worse, Joe has to stop after each little step and over-think the next one. Projects can really drag on that way. [edit from Joe: Hey!] So, in short, it’s not easy and the kids (bless them) make it a touch complicated. The summer has come and gone and our lofty timeline has stretched into next spring. [edit from Joe: To be fair, our original timeline was way back when we didn’t think we would be tearing down walls, building new walls, or finishing the upstairs.]
So, here’s how we make this work:
During Joe’s summer band weeks we maximized the weekend days and diligently headed over to the house on weekday nights. Needless to say, we were busy.
Once Joe was off work things opened up for me quite a bit more. Most days we simply took turns working at the house while the other stayed home with the kids. Being the early riser that he is, Joe would head over to the house in the morning while I stayed at home with the kids and ran our house #1. After working all morning at the other house, Joe would return for lunch. After feeding everyone and getting Lucy down for her nap I would head over to house #2 for a bit of work myself. Admittedly, Joe put in WAY more hours than I did. Infinitely more. Someone has to raise the kids.
When we were feeling more ambitious we would take the kids with us in the morning when it was still cool outside and work together. Working together went so much faster and was so much more enjoyable than working alone. That is, when the kids were happy. After putting in a morning’s work we’d head home and eat lunch, usually returning later in the day to finish the job.
Now that school has started and we are both working full time jobs things have really slowed down. Just to make matters more hilarious we also happen to do a lot of things the hard way, surprise! We make most of our food from scratch and spend a crazy amount of time cooking and washing dishes. We do cloth diapers, have a big dog and no yard (which means multiple walks a day) and we are commuters to and from work. So, we can’t just run through the drive through for dinner, skip the laundry another day or let the dog out to pee. Plus we do other time consuming normal people things like give our toddler a bath and take our 10 year old to piano lessons. For the most part my weekly schedule is normal except that I an a single parent more often. Joe has been teaching kids how to play music by day, comes home to eat dinner with his family and then rehabs the house by night. So you could say that Joe has a flute in one hand and a power tool in the other. And for those of you who like a good math problem every once in a while: flute + power tool = no free time. Joe would say that he is really more of a clarinet player but “clarinet + power tool” just doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it? During the weekends we’ve been taking the kids with us and trying to get as much as possible done to make up for lost time. Thankfully we have parents who are willing to help take the kids so we can work even faster some days. That is a life saver.
I know you are wondering what we do with the kids while we’re both climbing the roof and covered in cancer dust. We’ll at first glance, we simply lock them in the car. No but really they like it in there. I mean….it’s not what it looks like.
What is actually happening is they are sitting on the only soft and un-mosquito laden surface around (the backseat of the car) and watching a movie on the laptop. No, the doors are not locked. The windows are rolled down and they are not overheating in there. Usually this is early in the morning when the weather is nice. When the mosquitoes aren’t bad Lucy can also play in her sand table or Aiden will begrudgingly kick a ball with her around the yard.
[edit from Joe: It is now August in Indiana… the mosquitoes are ALWAYS bad. Seriously, always. We can’t leave them outside anymore.]
Most of the time they watch movies and junk out on screen but sometimes they read books or just act silly together.
Other ways of passing the time include rolling each others fingers up in the car windows. Okay that’s not entirely accurate. That only happened once and only to one child. And she was fine…really. What does this mean? Our time working together doesn’t last more than the length of an animated feature film (if we are lucky) plus 10 -15 minutes of, ” we’re almost finished”. Then someone has to take the kids home and love them (which we do even if it doesn’t sound like it) and try again later.
Now that I have whined and complained sufficiently I’ll take this opportunity to tell you that life here never has a dull moment and we like it that way. We truly are gluttons for punishment and enjoy our crazy exciting life. In the midst of hot weather, tall ladders and asbestos siding falling on our heads we are intoxicated by our dream. Step by step, we’re doing it and we wouldn’t have it any other way!
Now who wants to sign up for babysitting? No seriously…who?
Read the previous post here: Brain explosions
Week 20 – Joe
School started a couple of weeks ago and that means the type of work we are doing on the house has completely changed. Progress is still moving forward and the house is changing every week, but it is because we are now in the stage of the renovation that requires us to pay people to work. After being the only people working on the house for months, it strikes us as strange to have work happening when we are not even there! The carpenter, plumbers, and hvac crew have all been in and out of the house on almost a daily basis. The dollar amount for MEP (fancy acronym we learned from our architect for mechanical, electrical, and plumbing) seems like a lot when you are thinking about it ahead of time, but now it seems like a steal. I think this for two reasons. Number 1 – Once you have actually put in hard work on your house you appreciate the value of someone else doing the work so much more. Number 2 – It seems almost like magic that these large items on our checklist are actually becoming a reality. I mean, our uninhabitable house will soon having a functioning brand new hvac system, running water, and electricity!!! Someday, in the very near future, we will be able to go to the bathroom in this house! How can you put a price tag on that? (I hope none of our subcontractors are reading this) In addition, we are also realizing that some things are relatively fun to pay for (like framing walls) and some things will not be so much fun (like insulation).
Here is the latest on our progress:
Our carpenter continues to rescue us whenever something needs to be moved or added. He has been great to work with and is always able to fit in an hour or two out of his already busy schedule. Just this week he framed out a wall for the new furnace room upstairs so that the hvac guys can rough in the air return. We also realized (after the framing was done), that the door in Aiden’s room would swing against one of the only flat wall spaces and would take up valuable dresser or shelf space. Soooo… we asked him to rebuild that wall for a pocket door. [Edit from Amy: I tried to convince Joe that Aiden needed a false bookcase door, but my idea was deemed unrealistic.] It also makes sense because it will mirror the bathroom door, which is also a pocket door. The carpenter also finished framing out the opening for the new stair case.
The hvac guys finished roughing in everything this week. It probably doesn’t seem exciting to anyone else, but it does to us! We debated several different locations for the upstairs furnace. As you would expect, there were pros and cons to all of them. Most of the options required exposed spiral duct work. We certainly weren’t opposed to that idea and in some ways we thought it would look cool, but in the end we didn’t want anything to block the view of our tall cathedral ceiling in the common area. We decided to locate the furnace in an unused space behind the master bedroom. The down side of this is that we have to build a bulkhead on the wall of the stair landing. We think it is high enough that it won’t detract from the aesthetic of that area.
It also means that the duct work runs straight through the bathroom. We don’t mind. In fact, it will provide a nice space to build out a shelf or even a bench along the wall and in front of the bathroom window.
The duct work then wraps around behind the laundry area to get to Lucy’s room.
The air for Aiden’s room and the master bedroom run in the floor between the joists.
We ended up with two completely separate hvac systems. This will mean that the upstairs area has it’s own thermostat and dedicated AC and furnace. Yes, it is more expensive but it accomplishes two important goals. 1. It provides a well regulated temperature to an area that was never really intended to be a living space. Living in an old attic space with only one AC unit would otherwise have meant living with A LOT of heat in the sleeping areas and extra money to keep that area cool for half the year. 2. It means we didn’t have to tear up walls downstairs to accommodate duct work to the 2nd floor. The one major issue we have had with the hvac has revolved around miscommunication… more on that in a later post. The hvac crew will be back again after we drywall to do the finish work.
The plumbing is also in the process of being installed. All the original galvanized steel has been removed and there has been damage to plaster in only a couple small areas as they work to find pathways from the 2nd floor to the basement. [Edit from Amy: Since plaster repair is a project I have adopted I beg to differ on the phrase “a couple small areas.”]
Everyone always asks if we have run into anything that we didn’t expect. Some huge unforeseen mess that would cause an unexpected expense. We recently thought we had finally run into one of those cases. We went through a couple days of thinking we might need to replace the main sewer line to the street, but the plumbers successfully cleared it out, tested the sewer line with a water hose from our neighbor this morning, and decided verything looks good! There are some decisions that have to be made now about bathroom stuff so that the plumbers can rough in everything for our future sinks, tubs, etc. We finally decided on a sink for the upstairs bathroom. We are very excited about this sink! (Actually we like almost everything about this bathroom)
We still have not heard back from our electrician regarding a written agreement of services despite the fact he said he could start three weeks ago. It’s okay. It’s actually a good thing. We are still having trouble making lighting decisions for the upstairs cathedral ceilings. Not only do we still need to decide where those fixtures will go, but we have to decide between cable lighting, pendant lighting, recessed lights, track lights….
Work still continues on the window rehab. I can only get about an hour each night (if I’m very lucky) to work on the windows. To make this a little easier I moved the whole window restoration project to the basement of our current house. I am done with the toxic lead paint, so there really is no need to keep that project at the other house. All the kitchen windows are done and waiting to be painted (once we figure out those colors). The windows I am working on now were never painted on the interior side so I am just stripping and sanding those down in preparation to stain and finish them.
Here is a before and after sequence of these windows:
I enjoy working on these windows. It allows me to fool myself into thinking I am actually a carpenter. We need to do a lot more research on staining and finishing… Plus we need to decide what stain we want to use. We figure we will eventually refinish all the woodwork downstairs (that is an overwhelming thought) so we need to figure out stain color for everything so at least it all matches.
I did get the sashes back that needed to be repaired or replaced. Here is what a brand new window looks like:
I recently finished the two sashes from a window in the master bedroom. This window was missing one pane, but the other sash did retain the old glass. I discovered that one of the pieces of old glass that was in our “glass graveyard” was only missing a corner and that the smaller pane needed for the master bedroom window could come out of that larger window pane. I made a similar discovery for a sash in the dining room that had a crack in the corner and would need replacing. I felt like I had outsmarted the antique window Gods. I took the panes of glass to a glass place and they said it would be no big deal to cut that old glass to the dimensions that I needed. As I was waiting for the glass guy to cut one of the panes I heard a very distinct and disheartening shattering sound followed by a “whoah” from the glass “expert.” He eventually come out and explained that the glass did not survive the procedure because of a slight curvature. He didn’t notice beforehand and didn’t take the extra care to make sure that the downward pressure on the glass didn’t break it. I happened to see the handwritten sign behind the counter letting me know that they were not responsible for glass brought in by a customer. I am sure I looked seriously bummed and the glass guy obviously felt really bad. It was just a sad scene altogether. The glass guy gave me a new pane of glass (for free) and that was that. I know it’s not a big deal when you consider the scale of our project, but I feel like I will always look out that window and remember this guy breaking my 100 year old glass. I’ll just add it to the list of faults and back stories that I will know about this house, but no one else will care about or ever notice. [Edit from Amy: I care.]
To end on a good note – We are feeling pretty positive about how everything is progressing right now. Not only were we relieved to find out that we weren’t going to have to deal with the hassle and expense of replacing a sewer line, but our friend (and Cottage Home neighbor) agreed to build our new stair case for us! On top of that, we unearthed a cool discovery underneath some asbestos siding.
More on that project coming soon…
Read our previous post here: Brain Explosions
Have you ever walked into an open house and thought about all of the things you’d change? It’s fun. Maybe you said to yourself, “Well…I really wish the cabinets were a little less country” or “Gosh! That tile around the fireplace will just have to go.” It’s fun to do these little assessments of houses and wonder what it might take to make it yours. For those of you who have bought houses, you probably had a good idea of what you were going change after you moved in. But truthfully, many people are still living with those cabinets and those hideous tiles for years and years until you warm to them more than you warm to the idea of renovating. “Those old carpets aren’t so bad after all!”
The one thing that you have probably never said when walking through an open house is, “Golly, that outlet really should have been five inches to the right!” You’ve probably also never said to yourself “Hmm, if the toilet was 6 inches to the left that would have rerouted the ENTIRE HVAC SYSTEM and changed the whole layout of the second floor.” Probably not, huh? Truth be told, WE (and by that I mean Joe) are agonizing over the placement of each and every outlet, fixture, appliance, piece of plumbing and even in some cases… the walls.
Instead of trying to write about every little decision we have been pondering for the past few weeks, here is just a small sample of the thought process for one very small and seemingly simple decision:
“We need a light switch. What light fixture will be wired to which switch plate? How many switches should be on the plate? Should there be a switch for each light or should some turn on in unison? If so, which ones? Oh, and when you walk in the door will you want to switch on the light with your left hand or your right? If you’re right handed, does that mean they should all be on the right so you can switch with your good hand…or are you talking on the phone with your good hand or holding some packages in which case you really want that switch plate to the left for your free hand. Yes, sir we want that thing on the left. Wait, what? We are we putting a bookcase there? Put it back on the right. “
Meanwhile, the electrician wants to know if that particular light is going to be a recessed light, a drop down pendant, have a fan option, a sconce, track lighting….or hey have you thought about cable lighting? What’s cable lighting? And just when you think the light bulb in your head just exploded the architect chimes in with, “Well, what you really want is two levels of lighting…” and everything starts to fade away like murky water….or is that just the natural ambiance of an unfinished attic?
[note from Joe: Amy is not exaggerating. Besides the kitchen, our downstairs lighting is pretty straight forward. The upstairs is a different story. We have crazy angles, a wide variety of ceiling heights, and except for the master bedroom there are NO flat ceilings.]
And while you’re imagining this scenario go ahead and just add a toddler jumping up and down at your feet (hoping she doesn’t fall through the floorboards) reaching up saying, “Hold me Mommy! Hold me!”
Insert explosion sound here…and if possible, fire and debris
So…. anyways…. that is why we haven’t been blogging a lot lately. It’s hard to take good pictures of us standing around debating the location of every minor detail of our future lives….down to the inch.
I will say that the most satisfactory part of these decisions have been marking the places where stuff will go. When your house is like our house, it’s no big deal to go around with neon orange spray paint making notes for your electrician, plumber, and hvac guy. It also happens to go really well with the boarded up motif we have going on right now. If you drive by and think someone vandalized our house, don’t sweat it. We did that handy work ourselves.
I also left little notes for the electrician. There is a card taped up in each room. If you are an electrician and you are reading this right now I’m not sure if you will tell me that we are very prepared and responsible clients or just plain idiots. At this point, I don’t care. It’s more for my sanity than yours. Like my little key at the bottom? Cute, huh?
We also have been negotiating inches in the kitchen. Since our house didn’t come with a plan and wasn’t designed by a modern builder with, say, cabinets in mind, we have to make sure that the placement of everything works. For instance, our future dishwasher door shouldn’t fight with the angled opening on the doors to a fridge, the path of traffic, or the legs of someone washing dishes. There are all sorts of scenarios to run through. That is all before even thinking about the kind of cabinets, counter tops, light fixtures and yes, the location and number of outlets and light switches the kitchen will inhabit. After months of agonizing over these things, we finally spray painted in the kitchen. Honestly, we’re still not sure it’s right.
[note from Joe: I am REALLY nervous about this]
This week we need to pick out our sinks for the two bathrooms so our plumber can get everything set up correctly. Last week we purchased our first NEW item for the house- a bathtub for the upstairs bathroom. That was the easiest decision since we bought the house!
Downstairs we will be refinishing our claw foot tub which means we will try to stay in the realm of all things vintage for that bathroom. We think we’ve found an antique reclaimed sink that we like and we are in the market for an old toilet too. We’ll elaborate on those items later.
Sidenote: Contractors and architects REFUSE to use the word toilet. Acceptable words include commode, water closet, seat, and when referring to the location – hole. It has gotten to the point where we feel like we are saying a forbidden word if we say toilet in front of other people.
As if all these decisions weren’t enough, we also need to submit paperwork for permission to add a few 2nd floor windows to our historical house and find historically accurate windows… which reminds me, we need to go ahead and make up our mind about the exterior house colors so we can paint the outside of the newly rehabbed windows before reinstalling them. We also need to find two stained glass windows that need replacing, think about insulating, remove the asbestos siding from the gables, find someone to eventually drywall and get another stair case built so that we can demo the old one.
[note from Joe: Of course, we go back to work (real work, not house work) on Friday]
Also in the works, and probably one for a completely separate post, is the removal of asbestos laden, mastic tar, hoof glue adhered (yes, as in horse hoof) linoleum flooring around the perimeter of EVERY downstairs room. YAY! Here’s a sneak peak of the fun.
Eventually, these will be beautiful original Victorian floors…eventually…I hope.
Despite the seemingly never ending list of things to do, we ARE on the verge of major progress… The electrician will start any day now (he was supposed to start last week), the HVAC removal and replacement should start this week, and we have plumbing that is starting to appear!
Meanwhile, when we aren’t researching every house topic imaginable, you might find us wandering deliriously around places like Doc’s Salvage or Tim and Julies “Another Fine Mess” murmuring about the ease of rust removal on cast iron sinks and measuring items by hand lengths.
[Joe can be found standing and staring aimlessly paralyzed with indecision]
Previous Post: Window Rehab – Part 2
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Week 16 – Joe
Window rehab has been an ongoing project all summer. It is something I can work on in between big projects. Realistically, it will take me months and months … and months. My previous post about windows was all about the trials of removing, stripping paint, scraping paint, breaking windows, sanding, and priming. I have all 8 of the kitchen sashes done and ready to bring back to life. I intended to stop with just the kitchen, but there were three window panes that needed to be replaced and we wanted all the kitchen windows to have the old glass. This meant stealing that glass from other windows in the house. The two remaining windows on the south side of the house are the worst, so I decided to go ahead and take those out to investigate any repair needed… and to put that glass to use for the kitchen windows.
These windows were much easier to remove because I wasn’t dealing with interior paint (just wood on the inside). The kitchen is the only room downstairs that has painted trim.
Upon closer inspection, both of the wood-trim windows on the south side of the house need some serious repair.
It’s hard not to look at this adorable window repair and think that the former repair person had no clue what they were doing. Secretly, one of our fears is that some future owner of our house will think the same of us.
As you would expect, the lower parts of each sash (where water is likely to collect) are always in most need of repair. Out of the four sashes, two of them are going to need complete replacement and two of them need the bottom horizontal piece replaced. I found a place on the near eastside that does historic window work. They can replicate the exact sash for $85. Seems pretty fair to me. I hate to lose any original part of the house, but the two sashes I have to replace were just too far gone to repair. I have checked the rest of the windows in the house and I’m pretty sure there aren’t anymore that will need replacement.
Anyway, here is what I did on the kitchen windows that have already gone through the first phase…
First, I cleaned off the paint, glazing, and general crud. I started off using a razor, but then switched to a larger scraper and made much quicker progress.
Seeing these clean 100 year-old windows (in all their wavy splendor) was a nice spirit booster!
After cleaning the windows it was finally time to use the glazing putty. I have done a TON of research on how to restore windows to try and make up for my former lack of window repair knowledge. The glazing part is the most important and the part I was most worried about. All my research indicated that I should not use DAP. Unfortunately, DAP is the only product carried in any of the hardware stores. I actually ended up ordering a gallon of Sarco Dual Glaze. I read that this stuff was what the professionals use, was much easier to work with and would yield better results over time. I was not disappointed… it WAS easy to work with.
I first smashed putty onto the small ledge on the inside of the frame (sorry, forgot to take a picture of that part). Then I set the glass gently on top of the putty and work around the edge, gently pushing the glass down. Once the glass is settled, I put in the glazing points. These help keep the glass in place. I get a little nervous any time I put these in because you have to apply pressure to the point and wood, but NOT the window.
Once you have the glazing points in you can flip the sash over and remove the excess. Then the flip the sash back over and apply putty to the exterior side of the window.
One of the big purposes for the glazing compound is to keep water from getting in between the glass and the wood, so the glazing on the exterior is angled. This part requires a little skill, but I figured my delicate musician hands would be able to handle the finesse required for this task.
I was pretty darn excited about my first two windows. It all went according to plan without any issues! The next morning I was not so lucky. (Sadly, you know where this is going.) After I had painstakingly cleaned the next pane of glass I began the process of applying the glazing putty and then setting the glass in. This window was a little different because it didn’t have an interior ledge on all four sides. On one side it just had a slot for the glass to slide into (kind of like the back of some picture frames). This means that I had to get the glass into that slot then push down on the remaining three sides to get the window to sit all the way down. I was moving very slowly and methodically, but then I heard a snap! I didn’t see it at first, but when I did my heart just sank… followed closely by a rapid increase in body temperature and the urge punch something really hard.
It turns out that there was a little bump of wood that I could not see because of the putty. When I was applying pressure the glass got caught on this one spot and then eventually cracked. Big sigh. I made a mental note of one more thing to watch out for on the other windows I still have to do. I got all 8 of the kitchen windows reglazed this week (while the framing was getting done). The next step is to wait for the glazing compound to dry (2-3 weeks) and then wait another month to be able to paint them. That’s okay, that gives us plenty of time to figure out our exterior house colors. I just can’t decide if I should repair the storm windows after I’m done with all the other windows, or if I should do the storm of each corresponding interior window to protect all my hard work from the weather.
There are 14 windows in house (not including the large muli-window in the parlor or any of the doors). Each window has 2 sashes and an additional storm window with 2 panes of glass. I’ll do the math for you… 56 separate piece of glass!!! The 2 storm doors have 8 small panes EACH! The parlor room window(s) has somewhere around 17 panes of glass. That is a grand total of 89! I have already removed, repaired, and reglazed 8. I am going to stop doing the math. Slow and steady, right?
Follow our story and read the next post:Brain Explosions
Read the previous post: Finally! Something new…walls.
Week 16 – Joe
We have been working hard this month completing demo and making tough decisions on the floor plan. We have been putting in long hours at the house, but it is still slow going because one of us always has to watch the kids. I can’t imagine how much easier this would be if Amy and I could both work on the house at the same time. Anyway, all the windows in the kitchen are glazed and waiting until it’s okay to paint, all the walls that need to be removed are gone, and the floor plan is pretty much finalized (as much as it ever really will be). Here is a glimpse of the latest plan for the first floor…
The small change (which really has a big impact) not reflected in his floor plan is that we are creating another doorway to the kitchen. Originally we were going to seal the old doorway to the basement (indicated by the dark line behind the refrigerator) and putting it on the other side of the old staircase. When I was done with the demolition to create the new door opening to the basement (just outside the bathroom) we noticed how GREAT it was to have another opening in the kitchen. We are essentially creating a hallway that turns our circular floor plan into a figure eight. Having two entrances to the kitchen makes it feel more connected to the rest of the house. This means we can avoid routing ALL traffic to and from the kitchen through the dining room. In addition it means more direct routes to the stairs to the 2nd floor, the bathroom, and the front rooms. And it just FEELS good!
We will obviously end up leveling that floor and then putting a door to the basement on the right hand side of that intersection. The only downside to this new development is that we have to reconfigure our kitchen arrangement. What you see in the floor plan above will no longer work. Here is the view from the kitchen looking to the front of the house (the doorway will eventually be completely open because the stairs will be gone.
Here is the 2nd floor…
The BIG progress this week was the framing. On the first floor the only new room we are creating is the bathroom (it was displaced by the kitchen expansion). The square in the framing on the right is for a medicine cabinet that we salvaged from the original bathroom. The wooden door you see inside the bathroom is the current door to the stairs, but it will eventually be a linen closet for the bathroom. The new staircase will eventually be in the space adjacent to the bathroom.
Upstairs, there was a lot of progress and immediate gratification. I have to say that this was the most enjoyable part of the renovation thus far. My wife and I both have creative professions and I enjoyed getting to stand there with the framer and our architect to make decisions about exactly where the walls will go. I reminded me a lot of the creative/logistical conversations that I experience in my job.
Here is the new wall for the master bedroom. It is exactly the same, but moved in about 16 inches to accommodate the staircase.
The bathroom turned out to be pretty big (7×9) and we were able to get the layout we wanted. The tub and toilet will be on the left and the pedestal sink and storage will be on the right. The window will eventually be bigger.
The new staircase will come up between the master bedroom and bathroom.
Aiden’s room is turning out great. He will have exposed brick, areas with 12′ ceilings (at one spot), and dramatic ceiling angles.
Here is the view from the master bedroom looking towards Lucy’s room. Aiden’s room is on the right and the bathroom is on the left. To the left of the Lucy’s doorway will be the washer and dryer (yay for not having to hike down to the basement!) and to the right of the doorway will be a little extra play space. This commons area at the center of the 2nd floor has a 15′ ceiling. We will eventually add a window to the center of that gable.
We will add flooring and create a loft area above the master bedroom. There will be a ladder just to the left of the doorway. This loft will look out over the commons area.
Now comes the big push to have plumbing, electrical, and hvac installed before the end of the summer!
Follow our story and read the next post: Window rehab- part 2
Read the previous post: More demo, more treasure
Week 15 – Joe
We have had a little lull in demo work while finishing up our floor plans and lining up subcontractors. During this time I have kept progress moving forward by continuing with the windows. All the kitchen windows have been stripped, scraped, sanded, repaired, and primed. I have also removed 5 other sashes from a few other windows in the house that needed immediate attention. The sheer amount of time it takes to go through all steps of window renovation explains why it costs so much to have an expert do it. I glazed my first window today and it turned out better than expected. I will include that in a future blog post.
This week my brother was in town! He happily (I think) offered to help me each morning work on that day’s project. The task for the week was getting everything ready for our framing guy. A big decision we have been mulling over was about a particular wall in the master bedroom. That room already exists and has minimal plaster damage… it is (was) pretty much ready to go. BUT if we knocked down one wall and moved it about 16 inches it opened up more room for the bathroom and alleviated some crowding created by the new stairs. This week we finally knocked down that wall. It wasn’t much compared to the quantity of plaster we dealt with in the kitchen and closets, but it was on the second floor and it is also a lot hotter now than it was back then.
We had to remove the insulation on the exterior of the wall we were knocking down, then got busy removing all the plaster and lath.
We were hoping the chimney would have some nice exposed brick to add to the master bedroom because it looks pretty good on the other side. Unfortunately, the side that was covered by the wall LOOKS like they knew it was going to covered by a wall.
This was the first time I had to remove plaster and lath from the ceiling. I was a little nervous that I would damage the rest of the wall and ceiling, but the Sawzall made a relatively clean cut and we didn’t have any unwanted plaster damage.
One unpleasant aspect of this job, besides the additional heat, was that we had to lug all the debris down the steep stairs, through the kitchen, and out to the truck.
In order to prepare for the framer I also removed some plumbing in the wall that was blocking our new door to the basement, removed a couple studs, baseboards, and door jambs. In addition, I removed a portion of the upstairs flooring where the stairs will be. The opening is not the final dimension, but this will help facilitate getting the right location for the downstairs and upstairs bathrooms.
While we were upstairs we did unearth a few treasures. In this space…
…we found a couple clothing items. Obviously not from the Victorian era…. probably the 70s?
I forgot to include (in our previous post) this particular oddity that we found buried in the wall behind of the old sink in the kitchen. It was actually a part of the structure, not just laying in the wall.
We already posted photos of a few newspapers we found under the linoleum in the master bedroom. We uncovered many more these, all from 1936, which I assume is the date that they refinished the lone upstairs room. At some point we will go through these and take pictures of the more interesting headlines and ads.
One of our more exciting discoveries were these old bottles…
Amy had it in her head that we were going to find bottles! These were discovered when I stuck my head in a very small opening that allows access (kind of) above the kitchen. They are both still sealed with a cork and have measurement lines indicated on the side.
There probably isn’t much more treasure to find because hopefully we are done with the major demo. Now we will start to see more new stuff going into the house and less old stuff coming out of the house. By the middle of this week we should actually have some new walls! We are unreasonably excited about that prospect!
Follow our story and read the next post: Finally, something New- Walls!
Read the previous post: Window Restoration Begins
Week 12 – Joe
We are still in a holding pattern on the final floor plans as we work out a few more details. We are also still trying to lock down a sub contractor for the framing. The last guy that came and looked at the house seemed excited about the project and eager to be a part of it, but he never returned my calls and it has been a couple weeks since we talked at the house. I understand this is the busy season for contractors and that a project like ours is going to be very low on their priority list, but still… just tell me you don’t want to do it so I can find someone else. In my short experience it seems that someone would be in VERY high demand as a contractor if they were just timely, professional, and actually communicated. We do have another option for a framer and I am meeting with him on Friday.
In the meantime I have gotten started on a part of the renovation that will become a long term (and seemingly never-ending) project. Window restoration is one of many rehab items that Amy and I felt comfortable doing ourselves. From all of my research it just seems to be labor intensive, but not terribly difficult. Some of you might wonder why bother rehabbing old windows when we could just get bright and shiny new energy efficient windows. First of all, old windows can be pretty efficient if you do the necessary upkeep and also use storm windows. The cost savings in heating/cooling for new windows compared to old windows can take longer to materialize than the actual life of the new windows… so you really aren’t saving any money. Environmentally, rehabbing is much greener and more sustainable and these old windows will last much longer. As this article in the NY Times mentions, more and more people have caught on that rehabbing old windows is the better way to go.
I mentioned in a previous post that the windows are in fundamentally good condition… fully functional, original hardware intact, and generally free of rot. There are 14 in the house and all but 2 still have the original glass. When we gutted the kitchen we also removed all the trim around the windows. This means it is a good time to get started on those windows so that they are ready to go when (probably a long time from now) we are ready to put the trim back on.
The bottom sashes were easy to get out because they were held in place by a part of the trim piece I had already removed when dismantling all the trim. The most difficult part was getting the upper sash out. There is a piece of wood called the parting bead that vertically separates the two sashes. It is often covered in paint.
Originally this piece of wood would easily come out and allow for maintenance of the weights and rope. Obviously many years of paint now prevents the parting bead from coming out without a really good fight. Most of the research I did indicated that the parting bead was easily replicated and very difficult to get out in one piece. I messed with it for a while and then agreed… I would happily sacrifice this one small piece of wood.
The first sash was on the bottom (easier) and came out with little difficulty. This was one of the two that had missing glass. I did some initial picking around… testing how easy the paint would be to scrape. I went ahead and painted on the environmentally friendly and non-death causing paint stripper.
I moved on to the next bottom sash. That was when I experienced my first soul crushing moment as a rehabber. As I was removing the rope from the side of the sash I let go of the rope before allowing the weight to fully get to the bottom. After letting go, the weight came crashing down, snapped the rope, and bounced out of the wall and right into my 100 year-old window glass… smashing it to pieces. It was a stupid mistake and I was extremely upset with my carelessness.
It gets worse. After applying paint stripper to the 2nd sash I decided I would tackle that parting bead and get out the top sash. Mission accomplished. I was extra careful this time as I was lowering that sash and removing the rope from the window. I got the window to my work station and began the process of scraping and picking away the old glazing putty.
I was cruising along pretty well and everything seemed to be going just fine until I got a little overly ambitious with a stubborn area. Crack! The glass shattered. I was now 0 for 2. Not a good start. You might wonder why I was so bummed about breaking this glass. If you have never seen old glass (or just never noticed), it has a particular look. It is wavy and plays with the light in a distinct way. I hate to lose those panes of glass – especially because they were from prominent windows in the kitchen.
My 3rd attempt at removing the glass was successful… as was every attempt afterwards!
After removing each glass pane I scraped off any loose paint, applied paint stripper, waited about 8 hours, then scrapped again.
The next step was to repair any loose joints with an epoxy, then sand with a medium grit sandpaper.
Once the frame was all cleaned up I put on a coat of primer.
While we are restoring the windows we are also taking the opportunity to clean and refurbish all the window hardware – including locking mechanisms, pulleys, and ropes.
The hardware is as simple as an overnight soak in a crockpot with soap. The paint slips right off and the remaining residue can be cleaned with a brush.
We have a long way to go with the windows… 10 more to repair and reglaze. Those remaining 10 are not painted on the inside (still just wood) so at least I won’t have as much paint stripping to do. I probably won’t do those until much later in our renovation. The only reason I am doing the kitchen now is because I already had all the trim pulled off. At some point I DO have to strip, repair and reglaze all 14 storm windows.
The storm windows are all original to the house and many of them still have the original glass. This is pretty far down on the priority list.
The next step is to finish sanding and priming, then reglaze the windows. For now, we’ll keep chipping away at the hardware and try not to break any more glass.
Follow our story and read the next post: More demo, more treasure
Read the previous post: The demolition continues…
Week 11 – Joe
Once we decided that the kitchen was going to be in the back of the house we knew we were going to have to relocate the bathroom. There is a very small room right next to the kitchen that will make for a very nice and well-placed bathroom. That part was easy. The doorway in the picture below leads to the current stair case. That will be walled off.
The difficult decision we have been wrestling with for more than a month now is where to put the new stairs. The stairs that currently exist in the house are dangerously steep, but more importantly they are located at the very back of the 2nd floor. The stairs come up directly into an upstairs bedroom.
The rest of the upstairs is unfinished and we plan to finish that area so that all three bedrooms are upstairs. In order to do that we need to move the stairs so that they are centered with the 2nd floor. Obviously, if we didn’t do that everyone would have to walk through this bedroom to get to the other bedrooms. Not ideal. Renovations are all about give and take. If we get stairs where we want them, we have to give up something else. The best place to put new stairs is in a side area of the house right where a pair of beautiful closets are located.
We ARE going to use the closet doors and woodwork somewhere else in the house, but it still hurts to remove anything from it’s original location. Since having all 3 bedrooms upstairs was a clear priority for us, this was the sacrifice we had to make. Here is a rough sketch of the plan for that area of the house. We are still finalizing this, but it gives you the general idea.
One big change from this drawing is that we will leave the area open in front of the stairs instead of walling it off and putting and niche under the stairs. This will give us that circular flow on the 1st floor and allow easier access to the stairs and bathroom from any place downstairs.
I started demolition and realized right away that this was going to be more difficult than the kitchen. It was a much more enclosed space, much less light, more structural obstacles to work around, and is further away from the back door of the house (longer distance to haul plaster and lath). It was also a deceptive amount of plaster to remove because a large amount of wall square footage was tucked into in a very small area.
On top of the plaster mess, there was much more trim to salvage and many more studs to remove. And to make matters worse – I just wasn’t happy about doing this. The kitchen was a positive experience. It was easy to see right away how tearing down two walls would help make a beautiful kitchen. These closets were different. They were well-made, beautifully crafted, and added so much to the space. In addition, I knew that adding stairs was going to make one of the side rooms smaller and I was mourning that loss of space. In general, I was grumpy about this. I just tried to remember that this was the only way to get three bedrooms upstairs and kept moving forward.
On the second day of demolition Amy was able to join me. This made me less grumpy and obviously made the work move along much faster!
On a side note, the house is starting to get a little crowded with all the stuff we are removing and reusing.
In addition to removing the closets we needed to remove plaster and lath on the wall that will eventually have a door to the basement and plumbing for the bathroom. Amy spent the better part of the day taking the plaster and lath down on this back wall.
This sketch of the possible stair case is from a similar view of the picture above. You can see on the right wall where the stairs will go.
Still waiting to hear back from our framing sub contractor. In the meantime I will get started on the rehab of the kitchen windows…
Follow our story and read the next post: Window Restoration Begins
Read our previous post: Things we found in the walls.
Week 12 – Amy
A few years ago we did some renovation work on our current house. This required tearing down a wall and busting into some floors. Since our house is over 140 years old, I was certain we would find an artifact of some sort. Maybe an old photograph, a bottle or perhaps a Victorian hair-pin that Rose DeWitt (AKA Kate Winslet) had allowed to carelessly fall between the floor boards. Remember how at the end of Titanic old lady Rose dropped the Heart of the Ocean (That blue diamond necklace) into the sea? Just like that- except…into my floorboard. I once read a book about a man who said that the Victorian era rained down on his head when he busted into a wall. I guess that image really stuck. I too wanted rain of Victorian hats, pennies and pipes to become lodged in my hair. Since our current house was gutted in the 70’s I realize this was not likely, but I was holding onto this hope since we would be tearing up sub floor and possibly into uncharted territory, eerily similar to exploring the wreckage of the Titanic. To my disappointment and no one’s surprise there was nothing. So, to help make up for the fact that I hadn’t found some clue to the fancy inhabitants that had come before us, Joe and I made a little artifact of our lives and closed it up in the wall.
Hopefully, 100 years from now someone like me will be excited to discover it. They will probably laugh about the way we are dressed and maybe be a little ticked off it is not a giant rare blue diamond.
If you haven’t figured it out, I REALLY want to find things in walls.
Occasionally when we have talked to people who have rehabbed houses I am inclined to ask excitedly, “Did you find anything in the walls?!” After getting varied responses to this question it turns out there are two types of people. People who hope to find things in their walls and people who don’t. Someone I know found a dead mummified cat in a wall. Wouldn’t that be exciting!? Anyhow, I was a little obsessed with this idea and not so secretly going to be bummed out if there was nothing in our walls. There just HAD to be something.
So far we have found some things in the walls (fist pump!) and we have also found small oddities while doing jobs like unearthing the driveway and ripping out utilities. I know you want to see what we found. Here you go.
We first discovered that the original wood floors in the upstairs bedroom were covered in newspaper before linoleum was laid down. This apparently happened in 1936. We are slowly going through these and most are still under the floors. It’s interesting to read what was being said about the Nazi’s in the 30’s as well as to note the price of a frock. As a side project I’d love to cut out articles with addresses and mail them to the current inhabitants of those homes. Wouldn’t you like to know if there had been a moonshine raid in your house?
We laughed at how much college fashions have changed in the past 75 years…
An avid comic reader, Aiden was excited to get his hands on these old comics. After reading through them he just said, “I don’t get it.” Frankly, neither did I.
While digging in the dirt, I found all sorts of odds and ends. A tiny plastic blue duck, the knob of a retro oven, strange and unidentifiable metal parts, and pictured below a little vintage toy elephant.
While taking down the walls in the kitchen Joe came across two or three hives. Here are some pieces that he pulled down. I think they are quite beautiful.
Most notable of all the things we’ve found are these four little Victorian magazines. They were lodged in the wall above a doorway. There are sadly no dates that we can see anywhere but they do have stamps to an address on Washington street where they were sold. They are full of romantic illustrations and dramatic language. I have done some light poking around online but I can’t seem to find anything referencing them. Let me know if YOU know something about them. In the meantime, I’ll have to get my rare book librarian brother in law to bring me a book pillow and some white gloves. He can help me turn the pages with my tweezers.
Speaking of things we don’t know much about, we also found this.
Any clues or ideas?
We also found in a wall this little booklet for Food Coupons
And also this hand written pay stub.
Innocently lurking behind the tub was this jar of what I at first believed to be rotten peaches (Barf). However, after more careful inspection they are maybe just sponges? Anyone want to open it and find out?
And last but not least this item was not found IN the wall but rather ON one. Sinister isn’t it?
Since we still have some demolition ahead of us, we’ll update you on what else we may find!
Follow our story and read the next post: The Demolition Continues
Read our previous post: Finally! We get to do something!
Week 12 – Joe’s perspective
We mentioned in our previous post that we had not yet finalized the floor plans for our renovation. One thing we did know was that the kitchen was going to be in the back of the house and that we were going to need to remove the bathroom and pantry to create more space. This meant we could get started on the demolition while we were continuing to figure out the rest of the house. Anxious to begin, we went over to the house on a Friday night after dinner. Aiden, as expected, loved the idea of whacking a wall with a hammer.
Amy started taking down shelves in the pantry.
And Lucy gave us an early indicator of how difficult it was going to be for all of us to be at the house at the same time.
Aiden surprised us by volunteering to help me the next day as I continued with the demolition work. Maybe it was just better than the other option – groceries and errands with Mom. The plan was to knock down two walls – the one that separates the kitchen from the other half of the room and the one that separates the bathroom from the pantry. We got started early and were determined to finish the job that day. Aiden was enticed with lunch at Pogue’s Run Co-op and then Dairy Queen when the job was done. Plus he got to take a trip to the landfill! What 10 year old doesn’t like that? At least once.
The Sawzall took care of the plumbing in the bathroom and I was able to just rip out the sink and toilet.
As a reminder, here is what the kitchen looked like before:
Here is what the kitchen looked like after the first day:
Fast forward to the next weekend. After a quick check from our architect we were cleared to take down the studs.
Note from Amy:
In an effort to fast forward our progress, Joe took a personal day off work to do this job. As Amy is walking out the door, with a toddler, three lunch boxes and a coffee in hand the last thing she says to her husband is, “Don’t forget your phone.” Now, two important things to make note of. 1. Joe NEVER forgets his phone, so I don’t know why I said that… and 2. When Sawzaw-ing 10 foot walls from the top of a ladder, have a partner, and at the very least a phone lest you sawzaw your face off and need to call your lawyer and finalize your will. You can guess what happened. No, he didn’t sawzaw his face off but nearly as bad, he forgot his phone.
Note from Joe:
Amy tends to let her mind go down the path of worst case scenarios. I’m thankful that our friend (and now, neighbor) Kelly was able to come verify that I was not dead so that Amy didn’t have to leave her job to come check on my well-being.
Back to the progress report: We decided that the plaster was in such rough shape in the bathroom and pantry that we would just go ahead and gut those areas and take it down to the studs.
Of course, removing the plaster and lath from the walls would also mean removing all the trim from the windows.
After another weekend of work, our architect pointed out that we might just want to go ahead and remove all the plaster in the kitchen because of all the plumbing, electric, and cabinets that would be hung. Hard to argue with that logic, plus the plaster in the kitchen was generally in rough shape, we were going to have to repair multiple areas of plaster from removing the sink, and now we could insulate all the walls. It all came down.
The Mott sink was difficult to remove, but we figured it out eventually.
Same wall, afterwards (notice the sliding door that opens up to the built-in in the dining room). We will eventually cut out those doors because we will use that wall for the bulk of our appliances and cabinets.
Here is a close-up of that pass-through door.
Here is what we learned from our first experience with plaster walls:
1. Removing plaster is messy and plaster dust goes everywhere! We had been warned about this, but now we know for sure.
2. Your hands are soar the day after (or maybe that’s just because I have delicate musician hands?)
3. Cleaning up the mess is WAY worse than knocking it down. Plaster is very heavy and you can’t put much of it into a bag. This makes the clean up process very tedious and time consuming. Plus, it just kicks up all the plaster dust again.
4. Removing plaster is fun for first wall, then… a lot less fun as you go.
5. The work never seems to end. The job isn’t over when the plaster and lath are gone. It just moves on to removing studs, removing trim, removing nails from studs and continually picking up lath and other debris.
In our next post we will share some interesting findings from inside the walls….
Follow our story and read the next post: Things We Found in the Walls
Read our previous post here: Decisions, Decisions!
Amy and I are well aware of how small projects can become big projects before you even realize it. In our current home, a little dog pee on the carpet in the upstairs hallway resulted in ripping out that carpet and then the subfloor… which meant it was a good time to scrape off our popcorn ceilings, replace baseboards, renovate our entire bathroom, and refinish the newly exposed hardwood floors. And…since there was carpet on the stairs (and no surprise..lead paint!) you can guess where that led. Yes, we would have probably done all those things eventually, but the dog pee was the spark and once you get going – it tends to snowball.
When we bought our new house we knew that we wanted to TRY to keep the renovation costs as low as possible. We did not initially plan on knocking down walls or doing much to add to the scope of the project. The problem is… that philosophy can easily conflict with the “let’s do it right the first time” philosophy and the “while we’re doing this, we might as well do this” philosophy. We quickly figured this out when we started thinking more thoroughly about how we would live in this house.
We couldn’t wait to see the initial plans that our architect would have for us. We had given him the run down of our current thoughts and he said he would sketch out some of those ideas, but also maybe show us some others to help us think through other possibilities. When we finally got to meet with him, he laid out 5 different plans. We were slightly overwhelmed with all the options and possible directions we could go. As you would expect, none of the 5 were perfect, but there were aspects of each that we liked.
We preferred avoiding knocking down all the walls and changing the historic nature of the house. In fact, we quickly discovered that forcing our own will on the house did not work nearly as well as just paying attention to why the current floor plan of the house works, then seeing if we can work a little closer to the original intent of each room. For instance, we thought about having one of the bedrooms downstairs in a room that was already modified with added drywall, but the more time we spent in the house the more we realized that having the wall there made the whole downstairs feel confined. By opening up that room it was as if the house could breath again and it really gave us a good feel for the width of the house. As a bonus, it brought back the circular floor plan that was originally there.
Another example of the benefits of listening to the house was the placement of the kitchen. The original kitchen was in the back of the house, but was very small and had a total of FIVE doors and two nearly floor to ceiling windows. It would be nearly impossible to create realistic counter space let alone make this a kitchen that would work for us. After all, we are bonafied foodies and don’t mess around in the kitchen. So, we thought we might just move the kitchen to the old dining room and have the back room be the dining room.
Something like this:
This would have worked great, except for 3 big things… The kitchen wouldn’t realistically fit in that old dining room space, it felt strange having the dining room in the back (and having the bathroom right off the eating area), and we would have had to tear down that big built-in that is in the current dining room. We lived with that idea for several weeks, but once again the more time we spent in the house the more we realized that having the kitchen in that area of the house just didn’t work. Putting it where it originally was (in the back of the house) just felt better and made more sense.
After going through all the original 5 floor plan options, we were able to make some firm decisions and priorities. It is impossible to get everything, so having these 3 priorities gave us a great starting point.
1. We wanted all 3 bedrooms to be upstairs. Originally we thought that maybe one bedroom could be downstairs. The more we lived with that idea the more we realized we didn’t like it. This meant that we would either have to do an addition above the kitchen or move the stairs and work to get three bedrooms and a bathroom in the existing space. We chose the latter. The kids’ rooms will have okay floor space, but we will have to get creative with the angled ceilings. That doesn’t really bother us, in fact, we actually look forward to working with the oddly shaped rooms.
2. We wanted the kitchen in the back. This meant that we would have to expand the kitchen and absorb the space currently taken up by the pantry and bathroom. This would create a 13′ x 20′ kitchen. Big enough to include a table and even a small island. Of course there is also a consequence for this… We have to relocate the bathroom and we lose a large historic pantry.
3. We wanted to restore the original circular floor plan. This was easily accomplished (just a swift kick), taking down the drywall that plugged up the old opening between the two rooms.
We have not finalized our floor plans yet, but we are getting closer. We think we have an arrangement upstairs that will fit the three bedrooms and a bathroom. We also think we have a good spot for the downstairs bathroom. The big item remaining is the stairs. We know where it is generally going to go but we might need to move it 12-16 inches (which would mean moving a wall upstairs). Hopefully we will have this figured out within the next week or two.
In meantime, no reason we can’t start demo on the kitchen…
Follow our story and read the next post here: Finally! We get to do something.
Read the previous post here: So…Now What
After closing on the house we were anxious to get going! In fact, we were so excited that we immediately started getting our current home ready to sell and prepared to move. We weren’t really that naive about the timeline, we just wanted to make progress of some sort and that was the only thing we could think of to do at that time. Looking back, maybe we just should have relaxed and enjoyed our Spring Break.
The finding and purchasing of the house happened so quickly that we hadn’t had much time to line up all the other aspects of the renovation. We needed to:
1. Get financing for the renovation
Actually, we thought we had this figured out before we purchased the house… but that option fell through. So now we needed to secure enough financing from somewhere else to at least finish the first phase of our renovation. We foolishly thought it would be easier to get financing for a renovation than buying the actual house. Turns out that banks don’t have much faith in the do-it-yourselfers. It also turns out that you cannot get a home equity loan on a house that is not inhabitable, even if you have 100% equity in the house. We determined that the first phase of renovation needed to be all about getting the house livable. Once we achieved that, financing options would open up a little. The first phase will need to be financed by a home equity loan on our current home, a personal line of credit, and our own savings. We had talked to several people about cost estimates for the first phase and also did a lot of cost estimate research online. It’s going to be tight, but hopefully by doing as much work as possible on our own and carefully prioritizing our spending we will be able to get the house inhabitable using our available budget. We figure worst case scenario – we sell our current home, rent, and use the equity to complete the first phase. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that!
2. Figure out what changes we are going to make to the house (if any)
Before closing on the new house we had seen the inside only twice, but taken many pictures. We used those pictures to develop a floor plan of how we might lay out the house to best fit our needs and begin planning for the renovation. We laugh now when we look back at the scale of the rooms that we initially sketched out based on our memory of the first visit to the house. It is amazing how well everything fit when we weren’t restricted by pesky things like actual dimensions! It became apparent that we needed more than a little help with the floor plan, especially when we started thinking of ideas on how to finish off the 2nd floor. We needed an architect. We are fortunate to already know a “retired” architect who lives in our neighborhood and knows old houses as well as anyone. Plus I (Joe) have known him and his family for 30 years… so there was a good comfort level before even starting.
3. Find a contractor (or not)
We assumed we would need a contractor to handle some of the work that was beyond our capabilities. Our architect was able to recommend several people. We contacted them all and met with one of them very soon after buying the house. Still not exactly sure of what we were doing, we showed him around the house and pointed out everything we thought we might do. The contractor seemed excited about the project and the potential for the house… until I told him our budget. Now, to be fair, I don’t think he understood that I was not talking about our final budget, I just meant our phase 1 plan. I wasn’t really surprised that we didn’t hear back from that first contractor. It was at that point that I realized it was a little early to be talking to contractors – we needed a more definite plan and scope. It was also at about that point that we decided we weren’t going to use a contractor. Amy and I are increasingly bucking the idea that everyone should follow some standard path to achieve certain goals. Usually this path is laden with people just looking to make money off of you. We figured we were capable of hiring people to do the jobs that we knew were over our head. Plus, we have the luxury of being surrounded by people who have plenty of home rehab experience! When we run into something we aren’t sure about, we’ll just ask!
While we were waiting to get everything going with our architect, finalize financing, and find sub contractors, we were itching to do something with our new property. We were told that maybe a good place to start would be the landscaping. At first it seemed silly to be worried about the yard when the house itself needed so much work. But then we realized that now was a perfect time to work on the yard. It was still Spring, the bugs weren’t out yet, the temps were low, and the massive weeds hadn’t completely taken over. Plus there was glass and other dangerous things all around the house that would need to removed before we could even let our kids play in the yard. After a trip to the hardware store to pick up an electric chain saw, we were ready to get going!
We split up. Amy tackled the driveway, front sidewalk, and steps. Joe began chopping away a decade worth of unattended tree saplings and weed-trees that surrounded the foundation of the house and the fence line around the back yard.
Amy devoted her time to uncovering the driveway from years of encroaching dirt, weeds, and grass. I have to say that Amy’s job was not as visually rewarding because she spent hours just picking up glass, shoveling dirt, and fighting ants. Her handiwork did uncover a big portion of the sidewalk to our front steps that had been taken over by an enthusiastic front yard and also revealed a brick border that we had no idea was there. We forgot to take before and after pictures, but here are a couple pics of the driveway.
The alley behind our garage was also completely covered in saplings and weeds. Here is the before picture:
Here is the after:
After the first weekend Joe’s arms were covered in poison ivy. Should have expected that. After three weekends of working on the yard, we finally got it to a point where the property didn’t look completely neglected. As an added bonus, it turns out that lawn mower sitting in the garage still works!
Now, we need to decide what we are going to do on the inside of the house…
Follow our story and read the next post here: Decisions, Decisions!
Read the Previous post here: Under New Management: A BEFORE house tour.
One of the first things we noticed about our new house was that at some point someone had left a nice note on the boarded up front door. “No body luvs me. My owner is an asshole.”
Now, I want to make clear that the former owner of this house was a really nice guy. So, we didn’t feel this was entirely fair. However, we didn’t need people wandering by getting the wrong idea about US, so the very first thing to be done was to revise the message on the front door.
As a side note, it was our son’s idea to name this blog after our new sign on the door.
Now for the “before” tour.
Our house is a 1910 late folk victorian home. Coming from an 1870’s home this fast forwards us into the future where there were things such as indoor plumbing! This house seems downright fancy compared to our current house.
The exterior of the house looks rough mostly because of pealing paint and boarded up windows. The siding is actually in pretty good condition because it was covered up with asbestos siding for many years. It needs minor repair in spots, but mostly just needs a lot of scraping and painting. Asbestos siding remains on the gables and we are curious to see what the siding looks like underneath that section. The roof of the front porch obviously needs work, but that isn’t at the top of our priority list right now.
Let’s take a look inside.
When entering through the back door the first room you see is the kitchen. The door to the left is a walk-in pantry, the door in the center is the bathroom, and the door on the right takes you to the basement. You can see there is a mott sink which may be an original detail to the home. We plan on keeping it.
The bathroom has two points of entry, one from the kitchen and one connected to the bottom of a stairway. We assume that the claw foot tub and wall cabinet are original to the house but the sink and toilet are obviously not. We’ll be refurbishing that tub. Check out that snazzy fake tile laminate on the wall.
Beyond the kitchen is a formal dining room with an original built-in. Inside the built-in is a little door that we assume would have been used at some point by household help to deliver food without being seen.
Adjacent to the dining room is the living room. On the left of this image you can see an opening from the living room into a secondary living space- maybe a former study or library which was dry walled over to make a separate area for renters. The doorway in the center of this image is a sliding pocket door which takes you to what would have been the parlor. On the far right you can see two sets of exterior doors. This is the vestibule.
Entering the parlor you will notice there is an original fireplace, additional access to the vestibule, and large front windows at the front of the house.
The vestibule is a tiny entry room with a large front door. The room features a window (on the right in this picture) that we will eventually repair with stained glass.
Moving back to the dining room, there are two “bedrooms” on the south side of the 1st floor. The blue bedroom with the exterior door is the room that was once open to the living room and will revert back to it’s original configuration after I ninja kick that drywall.
You can see that the closets have small upper doors on them. The bottom doors on the closets are the size of normal doors. This images gives you an idea of how tall the other doors are in the house. This house has 10ft ceilings!
Before we move on to the 2nd floor here is a view of the entry to the stairs which is also connected to the bathroom.
At the top of the stairs is bedroom 3. It’s the only finished room upstairs and the only location in the house with a ceiling. Sweet plaid floors. This room will eventually be the master bedroom.
Beyond bedroom 3 there is another half of the attic that is not finished. We plan to finish this and have all three bedrooms as well as a bath upstairs. We have grand plans… More on that later.
And then lastly here is an image of the basement. The basement is a multiple room affair with crypt-like qualities as you move your way back. This is actually the nice part.
As of now there is no running water as the plumbing needs to be gutted. The whole house is currently knob and tube wiring and will need to be replaced. In the ceiling you can still see the original gas pipes from the house’s pre-electricity days when there would have been gas lamps in each room. The previous owner already took care of providing a new 200 amp box for the house. Other than that, the electricity is confined to a few outlets in the basement (which we are very thankful for!) The windows are in surprisingly good shape. They all have original hardware. Almost all of them are still connected to the counter weights and move up and down pretty easily. There are a couple windows that need new glass and ALL windows need to be glazed and refurbished. The foundation is solid and there is no rot or structural issues. The previous owner had also already replaced the roof, so the house is good and dry! There are paw marks on the walls where animals came in under the roof. In fact, there is even a spot in the dining room where we are pretty sure an animal died at some point. Yes, what we currently have is less than habitable (despite our laughably futile attempts to convince a bank that WE could in fact live in this house as it is). But soon, and by soon I mean I have no idea when, it will become our home. We are shooting for within one year.
Welcome to our new house. Soon it will be our home.
Next up… hiring an architect and beginning the long project!
Follow our story and read the next post: So…Now What?
Read our previous post here: House Stalkers! How we found our fixer upper.
Once the house hunt was official two things quickly became apparent:
1. We wanted to live in the Cottage Home neighborhood.
2. We needed to find a “project” house in order to achieve our financial goals.
This left us with a small territory of land and a finite number of houses to work with. We first exhausted the short list of houses for sale. When those houses didn’t meet our needs we began networking. We talked with friends who live in the neighborhood asking if they knew of anyone thinking of putting their house on the market. Then we moved on to strangers. I met a lot of people in the neighborhood this way, emailing the neighborhood association and looking up people on Facebook. This produced some leads but no positive results.
Determined to find the right house our search evolved into some deeper sleuth work. We made a list of all the houses in the neighborhood that appeared as if they were vacant. Like detectives, we peeked into windows and crept into backyards. We tried door handles and even waltzed into a gutted home with an open door to find out about the owner from construction guys. Some houses were completely boarded up and others simply always had the blinds shut. I contacted the county assessor’s office and collected names and phone numbers associated with the properties.
“Hi, you don’t know me, but would you like to sell your house?”
Sometimes people answered the phone and sometimes they didn’t. We were persistent and determined to find just the right house and at an agreeable price. We even called some homes where people did live whom we knew in the past had thought about selling. At one point we had so many houses in play that the hunt became hard to keep track of. We drew color illustrations of houses on index cards and wrote notes on the back about who I had talked to and what they had said.
There was one house in particular that we kept coming back to because of the size, location, and historic charm potential, but we could not get the owner to call us back. According to neighbors it had been vacant and boarded up for years. We wondered why someone would be holding onto it. We didn’t know if it was gutted, condemned, or what. It was a mystery and we were going to get to the bottom of it.
I began making weekly phone calls and after the third week the owner called me back. Turns out, he bought the house 11 years ago as an investment property. He had already put a new roof on the house, installed a new electrical box, and completed a few other small jobs. He said he might be interested in selling. We held our breath.
Several phone conversations later we were finally standing inside this freezing and dark house.
As we continued the tour we were surprised to see original woodwork, level hardwood floors, beautiful doors, working original windows, and plaster walls in decent shape. The house was more intact than anything else we had looked at and had great potential.
Sure it needed A LOT of work (beginning with all new plumbing, electrical, HVAC, etc.) but we had seen many other houses that had much less charm, needed even more work, and cost even more money. To get a second opinion we looked at the house one more time with our good friend (and experienced rehabber) Dana and a local contractor. Both concurred that the house was in surprising good shape for it’s age and that the house had been very well preserved! It was a fair deal on a solid house and we had a vision, so we moved quickly to figure out some “creative” financing options. (Sidenote: We learned just how difficult it is to get a bank loan to renovate a house. No wonder so many homes remain abandoned for so long!)
We were afraid that the seller was going to change his mind before we could close the deal. Two weeks later we scheduled a closing.
It was official. The house was ours.
Coming soon, the “BEFORE” tour…
Follow our story and read the next post: A BEFORE House Tour.
Read the previous post here: 10 Things We Love About Cottage Home
10 Things We Love About Cottage Home
It sounds really corny but whenever I’m in Cottage Home I get the feeling something magical is taking place. Maybe I’ve been to one too many Halloween Block Parties or maybe I only visit Cottage Home at dusk. Nevertheless, I cannot shake the feeling that I’d be missing out on something unique and amazing if I didn’t take-up permanent residence here. Cottage Home is the sort of place where you’re bound to meet someone interesting and see something exceptional. It has the underpinnings of an earlier era that matches the ages of the houses where friends and neighbors stop by unannounced. It’s a place where dog walkers pause to offer advice on growing veggies and where dads randomly bust into games of unorganized soccer with neighborhood kids. It’s a place where families share their sand toys, garden water and their books. The friendly faces you meet in Cottage Home are a quirky bunch of open-minded and caring people. Unlike many neighborhoods filled with the same types of people, this neighborhood is home to a diverse and interesting population from many different walks of life each bringing something unique to the table. However different these individuals may be in age, ideals, or world views, they all have in common a communal sense of place and pride that is not often found in America today. We certainly want to be a part of that!
Sometimes we find ourselves fielding comments and responding to inquiries about why we would want to live downtown- especially since we work in the suburbs and also have kids. There are many well-meaning folks who truly believe this is a bad idea.
Here is a link to a great article by Indianapolis Star columnist Robert King about his family’s decision to leave the suburbs and move to the Near Eastside:
…and an article one year later:
We’ve have actually been warned, “Downtown is no place to raise a child!” To help explain why we wholeheartedly disagree, here are the top 10 reasons why we love living downtown and why we think Cottage Home will be a great place to live and raise our kids!
#1. The Community Space
Many new suburban housing communities today have large backyards with private swing sets, tall privacy fences, and a well organized layout of mailboxes, garages, driveways and cul de sacs. Cottage Home, by contrast, is a community of distinct smaller houses in a variety of styles, close together with one large multi-use communal “backyard” in the heart of the neighborhood – the Cottage Home community space. What I love most about this space is that it wasn’t some pre-planned fabrication by a national real estate development corporation trying to fit some cookie-cutter idea into another bland subdivision. It developed naturally and organically from the community of people living in Cottage Home. They worked together to raise the money to build a resource for the community that is unique and specific to the needs of the people that live here. The shared green space is the backdrop for many gatherings large and small and is by far my favorite place to be. The community space boasts a laundry list of amenities that we enjoy.
The most frequently utilized part of this area is the playground.
We almost always run into kids and parents every time we stop by. My kids are almost sure to come home tired and dirty. This is, by the way, a fabulous way to make fast friends young and old. Why aren’t more neighborhoods doing this?
Next to the playground is an area known as the Urban Prairie. Here you will find plenty of green space to kick a soccer ball or throw a Frisbee.
A large circular path surrounds a fire pit and open green space. On the outside of the path there is a shelter, micro-library, urban garden plots, and a bee hive. The shelter is used for picnics and also for bands during neighborhood and community events.
The roof of the shelter catches rainfall that is connected to a large cistern used for watering the community urban garden plots.
Anyone visiting the urban prairie is also sure to also notice the buzzing of BEES! I have been obsessing about bees this year and over the winter read everything I could get my hands on. We recently had the fortune of witnessing (along with the other families that were at the playground at the time) a fellow Cottage Homie introducing his first box of bee’s to a new beehive in the community space. I was ecstatic. Maybe too much.
Near the buzz of bees also resides the micro-library. Just as the name implies, it is a small library built and maintained by Cottage Home dwellers. The books are free to borrow and even categorized into sections. How awesome is that!? Also, it looks very cool. Well done to you- whoever you are that designed it.
#2. The People
We appreciate the eclectic mix of individuals and characters who call this neighborhood home. We have felt warmly welcomed by their friendliness and we haven’t even moved yet. People stop to shake our hands and offer a thumbs-up when they see us in the yard. Neighbors don’t hide away in their houses, they come out to meet you. Or, if you’re Steve-the-alley-neighbor, your head randomly appears over the fence top to say hello. The people in the neighborhood are valued for their differences and bring to the table a servant heart of skills that range from cooking and food trucking, to art making, graphic design, and carpentry (just to name a few). We look forward to being a part of this active community where neighbors gather spontaneously and people look out for one another.
Here is a great article we found that shares a similar experience of Cottage Home:
#3. The unique aesthetic
You won’t find meticulous lawnmower lines on the lawns in Cottage Home. Not everyone has an edger either. We like that. You won’t find matching mailboxes or lost party guests trying to find the right beige on beige house. What Cottage Home does have is a whole lot of uniqueness and individuality in the way of antique pianos on front porches, colorful painted doors as neighborhood signage, and signs that say interesting things like “Bees for Sale”. There are twinkle lights on front porches (year round!) and more than a few yards with wildflowers as their primary motif. Yes, Cottage Home is not all quaint beauty and is intermingled with light industrial buildings, but that is the historic reality of the neighborhood. I’m sure there will be moments when we miss the Disney park-like atmosphere of our old neighborhood, but what we’ve found in Cottage Home is permission to be a little more creative, a little more real and organic, and a little more us. So, if we want to let our chickens roam around the yard- so be it. Want to paint the house funky colors- go for it! 20 wind chimes and a gnome- no problem.
#4. The Kids
Most people know that urban areas are experiencing a continued renewal. The vast majority of these new residents to downtown are young millennials and older empty nesters, but there are also an increasing number of young families choosing to stay downtown instead of follow the path of the previous generation to the suburbs. Cottage Home is a small neighborhood, but it has a good number of kids. We have a 10 year old son and 2 year old daughter. We have been excited to find many new friends for our children in Cottage Home.
One of the first things people notice about Cottage Home is well…the Cottages. Most of the homes in the neighborhood were built between 1870 and 1915 and share characteristics common of Folk Victorian homes. There are also several modern homes which are equally as awesome as the old ones, such as the Bradbury’s yellow home nestled in between little cottages…
and the PreFabulous home development on the north border of the neighborhood.
This area is a testament to the asset old homes can be. Once seen as an eyesore of urban blight, this area is now a protected area of historical integrity thanks to the hard work of dedicated renovators before us. These homes, like many slated for demolition in our city today, just needed someone to love them and bring them back to life. We love that the people in this neighborhood are passionate about their homes and many boast grand stories of historical refurbishment. Do I have a twinkle in my eye?
#6. Proximity to Mass Ave, the Cultural Trail, and the Monon Trail.
Cottage Home resides at the eastern end of the Mass Ave cultural district (a diagonal street known for its local shops and restaurants). Some of our favorite highlights include Homespun, Indy Reads, Mass Ave Toys and Silver in the City. One of our favorite local things to do with our kids is to walk to one of the two ice cream places – Sub Zero or Yogulatte. Mass Ave is fortunate to connect with two major bike trails, the cultural trail and monon trail. The cultural trail is 8-mile urban path that connects all of the city’s major cultural attractions and is an amazing asset to Indianapolis and especially to young families downtown who want to bike with their kids from one location to another. Check it out at http://indyculturaltrail.org/
The southern terminus of the Monon Trail is right at the doorstep of Cottage Home. This trail runs straight north and connects downtown to Broad Ripple and further north to Carmel.
#7. The Block Party
The photographic highlight of the year is the annual Cottage Home Block Party.
This party takes place along a lantern laden Dorman Street. It truly IS the pinnacle of fall… complete with food trucks, hay bales, bon fires, live music, art, Halloween costumes, an animal show, hay rides, sweaty kids, drag queens (yes, drag queens), beer, and dancing. There is truly something for everyone.
#8. Urban Farming
Nationwide, there is a burgeoning scene of local foods and farming in urban areas. Cottage Home is no stranger to this homegrown movement boasting a handful of lot-sized guerrilla gardens and even a full blown CSA complete with chickens, bees and compost.
#9. Access to Downtown
Cottage Home’s close proximity to the very center of downtown means that we are just a short walk or ride from events or places that other families have to plan an entire day or afternoon to visit. It’s nothing for us to ride our bikes to the Zoo just to see the penguins or to swing by the Children’s museum for an hour or so while we’re out running errands. There is always something going on and we are able to walk or ride to it all. Some days we will walk down the street to find an unexpected 5K run or a bike race. Just last weekend we walked to the Indy 500 parade to show Lucy a few of the bands, floats, and balloons. When it was obvious she had had enough, we just walked back home. No big deal. Downtown Indianapolis also has a killer library that we take full advantage of as well as other worthy to be mentioned amenities such as the Canal, White River State Park, and the Indiana State Museum. Other events, such as the Strawberry Festival, Italian Street Festival, and the Indie Handicraft Exchange keep us busy over the summer.
#10. The opportunity to be a part of a neighborhood still developing
We feel passionately about the development of urban neighborhoods. Joe grew up right down the street from Cottage Home and his mom was once a president of NESCO (Near East Side Community Organization). Continued revitalization of the near east side is deeply personal to us.
I think there was a part of us that was a little sad after we originally bought a house that was not in much need of renovation and was in a neighborhood that had been revitalized decades ago. We had resigned ourselves to the fact that we might have to wait until retirement to find a nice little house to renovate. The past few years we have found ourselves looking at houses that most people would see as boarded up examples of urban blight, but we would see nothing but potential. We were also envious of friends and people we met who bought an old house and brought it back to life. There are many reasons (more than just 10) to be excited about moving to Cottage Home, but the fact that we get to be a part of a neighborhood that is still developing and play a very small part in it’s continued growth is right near the top. We certainly can’t claim to be urban pioneers – there are MANY residents of Cottage Home that bought in when it wasn’t so obvious this would be a great place to raise a family. To them, we are so thankful.
For more information and photos of the neighborhood – check out the facebook page at:
Now, about the house we bought…
Follow our story by reading the next post: House Stalkers! How we found our fixer upper.
Read the previous post here: Wait! What? You’re moving? Why?
We like our current neighborhood and love our current house. We live in an 1870s cottage and are as close as you can get to all the cultural highlights that Indianapolis has to offer. Our neighborhood is full of beautiful historic homes, tree-lined streets, brick sidewalks, and friendly neighbors. Our house isn’t big by today’s standards, but we never minded. In fact, we liked that! We thought that this would be the last house we ever bought.
So why are we moving to this!?!
It was a gradual journey that all started with having a baby, and not at all for the reason you might think (more space). I think most people would agree that having a baby makes you refocus your life and causes you to take another look at how you spend your time and money. It also forces you to think about the type of world you want your kids to live in. It becomes more difficult to ignore issues and realities that you were aware of but were able to ignore or push aside. The short story is that we changed. We found ourselves wanting to live in a neighborhood that reflected these changes.
To be even more specific, I’m pretty sure we are moving because of cloth diapers! The decision to use cloth diapers with Lucy seems like a no-brainer to us now, but at the time we weren’t sure. We did a lot of research. The more research we did, the more we stumbled across information that challenged other areas of our life. Cloth diapers logically led to little things like cloth napkins and ridding our home of chemical cleaners, but then led to big things… like reducing our overall consumption of material goods. It didn’t stop there… our diet changed. We started with eliminating as many processed foods as possible from our diet. We became members of our local grocery store co-op and committed ourselves to supporting the local food scene as much as possible, even if that meant altering our budget. We seriously ramped up our intake of fruits and vegetables, practically eliminated our consumption of all meat, and stopped eating fast food completely. We became more aware of the money we spent and who gets our money. We chose to vote with our dollar as much as possible. We ditched cable TV along with Tivo and satellite radio. As silly as it seems now, giving up something little like cable TV seemed like a scary thing to do at the time. But now we are actually free from TV and don’t miss it at all. It actually feels liberating.
As we continued down this path we realized that we were too tied to money. We could afford our current lifestyle, but it didn’t allow for change, risk, or the ability to try something completely different. We figured that if we could cut our mortgage by more than half that it would open up other options in our life – like pursuing masters degrees, other job fields, or pursuing other interests that would otherwise be halted by our current budget. In fact, we could actually live on one income without drastically changing our standard of living. In short, we decided that we didn’t want money to stand in the way of trying new things, experiencing life, or spending more time with our kids.
We were soon on a mission to find a way to live with less – less possessions, less commercialization, and less money. We don’t need much to be happy and we feel liberated by the thought that we can take a step to reinvent our lives by downsizing.and avoiding the cycle of money and material consumption. We want to jump OFF the ladder that we are always told we should be striving to climb. Leaving our perfect little house in our idyllic little neighborhood was not an easy decision, but we are confident that this new adventure is a big step in a new direction that we are excited to explore.
Now, about finding just the right house…
Follow our story by clicking on the next post: 10 Things we Love about Cottage Home