Monday, October 29, 2007


After staying out far too late with good friends on Friday, I had a bit of a slow start getting to the house Saturday morning. I think I've mentioned before that we currently live about an hour away, and so we have very little idea of what's happening in the house during the week. And when we're in town, we stay with my mother a few blocks away.

So it was with a big fat smile on my face that I unlocked the door to the house Saturday afternoon to see...wires! lots of em! Apparently, the electrician was able to start work on the house this week and that is the one thing holding us up, really. Lots of outlets are in the floor and so we can't very well do the floors until everything else is done; can't paint until we know where new outlets will be cut into the walls; can't close up the kitchen walls until the electrical inspector signs off on them. It's one big chain reaction, and it starts with the rewire. We're one step closer!

Then I got a little further back into the house and also saw that some changes we'd asked the CH/A installer to make were least the biggest ones. It was very, very exciting.

However, without any electricity, we're a bit limited in our projects. So this weekend, we sprayed down the screened porch and finished scraping, and spent Sunday painting trim. And it's amazing how much better it looks. Who knew a good scrubbing and some white paint would make such a difference! Still no after pics yet-- have to replace some ceiling panels and rotted trim...and still need to rescreen, but you can see what we started with:

Monday, October 22, 2007

Floor Help!!

On the agenda for today's lunchtime obsession is our floors. If it weren't for the stark unevenness between the floors that were protected by the carpet and those that were not, I would probably say we should just give it good cleaning with mineral spirits to get the carpet pad glue off and be done with it. But the floor boards are continuous throughout the house, and their uneven height (as well as all the paint splatters from careless POs who knew they'd be carpeting and the raised grain in the areas that received a lot of traffic) means a bit of a sanding is ultimately required.

But how do we finish them?!?!? We love the way the antique vertical grain heart pine has aged into the shellac/varnish coating. Lots of rich colors that vary all over. And it's fairly dark (you can see a pic a couple of posts below)...Has anyone out there had any experience finishing floors like this? First and foremost we want to maintain that overall variety of tone, but we'd also love the floors to be somewhat darker amber...

The pics I've seen of floors that just have tung oil seem too light...Maybe they are just so recently finished that they haven't aged enough yet? Should we stain the wood the very lightest color that we see in the floor currently, and let the rest darken? I'd rather not go with shellac, seeing as how we have dogs, cats and kids and that can be a deadly combo on the floors.

I'm just so confused...

The weekend update

While I can't say it was a good weekend, I can at least claim to have been productive.

I met with the electrician by myself Friday. Adam is sick, so he kept his germy self at our rental home all weekend, and here is what I found out. We can save some time and money by stripping all the outlets, switches, light fixtures, ceiling fans, etc. Easy enough...We also talked cost. Lots of the outlets are in the floor (because of the aforementioned concrete walls-- bad for rewiring, great for insulation.) and these outlets are on a couple of circuits that run under the floor. The lights and switches are on other circuits that run overhead in the attic. Our city ordinances want each room to be on its own independent circuit. That means using up one entire circuit and breaker slot for 2 or 3 outlets and a light. That seems a bit much to me. But because the house is old, some things may be grandfathered in. Until the inspector comes and helps us parse through that, and the electrician actually gets started, we won't know how much money this whole thing's gonna run. He has said, though, that it should be less than the $9400 original estimate. Fingers crossed-- and I'll keep the blog updated on that. I had the hardest time getting even a rough idea of cost when we bought the house, so hopefully this will give someone else at least a figure to work from. (and FYI-- house is about 1460 ft2 with a mixture of plaster walls, sheetrock over plaster, sheetrock over concrete and a completely exposed kitchen. Also has a ~250 ft2 detached garage and shop. Dunno if we'll be wiring that or not...)

It could also be a week or so before he gets started-- this wasn't in anyone's plans.

So I got moving on it this weekend. I managed to get all the switches and outlets unhooked; and I got the blades and lights unscrewed from the ceiling fans. Boxes and ceiling lights/fan motors are next.

Maybe it's all for the best, since this seemed to be the PO's idea of a job well done:Nevermind the bad patch or the splice that I had to cut through because they didn't use a little splicer cap-- it's the newspaper that's shoved around that splice that makes me confident in this sample of DIY handywork.

Also in weekend news-- finally mowed the yard. Now that we've moved into a neighborhood where the residents take care of their grass, we had to step up and buy a mower. I took breaks from the electrical to put the thing together, and when I lost my light in the house (no electricity=no after hours work!), I mowed the yard. And I have to say that it was the most fun I've had trimming any grass.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

When a city ordinance is not your friend

See all those wires? That's the good old knob and tube that's been the bane of my existence for quite some time now.

We knew it was there when we bought the house, but most of the modern major appliances had been put on newer circuits and the wires were 12# quality copper. Most importantly, estimates ranging from $9-14k for a total rewire made us that much more fond of those old wires.

One of the biggest factors in the high cost was the fact that interior side of the exterior walls are all concrete/mortar with sheetrock on top of that. The time and cost of mortar bits to bring all the outlets from the floor and into the wall added a lot to the cost. Not to mention the local ordinances that go so far above and beyond national code...

So we decided to upgrade the old fuse box and the service (from 100 to 200 amp) and add 2 new circuits for CH/A and be done. We'll get to the rewire when we have a little more money. And here's where all the trouble began.

Our local ordinances state that if you alter more than 50% of the wiring of a house, you are then obligated to bring the rest of the house up to code. It also says that the box and circuits for CH/A constitute 50%. I'm not sure how they justify that, considering it is neither 50% of the materials, the labor, nor the cost...But when the inspector came out, he saw that we had also taken all the plaster off of the walls of the kitchen. Plaster was crumbling off, the holes were patched with sheetrock-- it needed to come down. He decided that this was a kitchen remodel and with the exposed wires, it would have to be brought up to code...therefore exceeding the 50% rule, therefore requiring a full rewire.

The electrician tried to get us out of it by rerouting unnecessary circuits and we took our case to the board of appeals, but no such luck. So this afternoon we meet with the electrician to get our homework assignments: anything we can do to the house that will make his life easier, the job quicker, and in turn cost less money.

I imagine our weekend will largely be spent on this. Guess the porch rescreening will have to wait.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Floors part 2

I will be in very much trouble when I get home if all I've talked about is the floor grates...With enough searching, I imagine we can find what we need.

A bigger item on the floor agenda, however, is the finish.

We love the way the shellac looks-- the orangey aged color. And we really love the way the colors are inconsistent. In some places it's streaked honey gold, and it's a deep red mahogany in others. It depends on the grain and the resin and it's soooo nice.

So we're a little afraid to stain it and are thinking of going with Waterlox or pure tung oil. But I don't think this is going to be as dark as we like. It's a tough decision. Stain may, unfortunately, even out the color...Other finishes that "yellow" may take longer than we want, or not be as durable as we'd like (like shellac for example)...The oil keeps the uneven tones, but results are a little lighter than we want. The Sherwin Williams guy was very nice, but of no help whatsoever. I guess we'll be trying a few products in some inconspicuous spots to see which works better...closets oughta be good for that! Just one more little weekend project to add to the list while the electrician works through the rewire.

Our very first project

and I mean VERY first. I left the closing and stopped at the store for a box cutter so I could tear straight into the carpet. First couple of days were spent pulling up the nasty, nasty 20-year old berber carpet and pad. And the pleasant surprise was floors in great shape and with a pretty shellac orange patina. Another couple of days pulling up tackboard and staples and nails. Then our short attention spans moved on to other projects...

Well, now we're back to the floors (kitchen floors are another problem altogether). They're antique heart pine. No knots, or swirly grain. It's very clear and very vertical. And very pretty.

Our first order of business was to price a professional. The main man in town for this is old and cranky. And he'll only patch the floors if he's going to do the whole job start to finish. Including the kitchen it was going to be around $4k. A little outside our budget.

So, Plan B. We have 2 floor furnaces (that are now moot because we've installed CH/A) which are about 2'X3' and 18"X32". And there's a couple of places where they patched with short boards face nailed in a row. I started emailing every supplier of heart wood I could find, gathered quotes. And moved on to another project, again.

Last weekend we tried to measure the area we need to patch and plan out how we would stagger the boards. And that's where I completely broke down. I have visions of big ugly, obvious patch job in the middle of the living room floor. And I can't stand it.

So now we're on the hunt for old registers/grates/grilles that we can put over the old floor furnace space. The grates we have are modern and ugly. And if I'm just gonna leave a hole there, I'd like it to at least be an antique/reproduction pretty hole.

Unfortunately, those are some big holes to fill and we're not having much luck finding anything. Lots of eBay time being put in. Not many architectural salvage places nearby. Anyone out there have a lead for us?

The beginning.

I never thought I'd move back to my hometown, but after I realized that I could get a house less than an hour away from my job for half the cost of a house 20 minutes from work, I decided it wasn't such a bad place. So I started the grueling task of house hunting with my partner. After a lot of internet searching and a couple of days out on the town with our realtor, he and I took the dog for a walk while we discussed our options. We were resigning ourselves to the best of the bunch we had seen so far. Not a house we were thrilled with, but it had most of what we were looking for.

Then we turned a corner and saw our realtor standing on the porch of this house. It was serendipity. It had a notice in the window that it had been foreclosed on and our search was immediately over. It was the neighborhood I'd wanted to live in my whole life. It was walking distance to my mother's. It had sidewalks for my partner's daughter to ride her bike on. It had kids. It had my favorite Chinese restaurant and a 24 hour drug store and a grocery and an antique dealer. It was simply the best location we could ask for. At the best price we had seen so far.

And once we were actually able to get in to see the house, it was exactly what we wanted. We both love older homes. I grew up in a 1920s home with a pantry and creaky floor boards. And since then I've lived in 40s and 50s houses that are great, but they're mostly little cracker boxes.

This was no cracker box. It had casement windows, and a gas log fireplace, a mud room, a window seat and a bathroom that had been redone in the fifties in pink tile. Hardwood (somewhere under the carpet), big porch with a screened in area and a red brick patio.

However, it also had 1920s knob and tube wiring, floor furnaces and window units, some roof problems and some bad patch jobs in the floor (our first indication of the termites). And the godawful ugliest kitchen (fruit-themed sheet-vinyl faux tile backsplash, anyone?) And that's just what we could see on first inspection.

But we bid and we got it. And we love it. And some days we are in over our heads completely. We spend hours online trying to figure out one problem or another, turning ourselves into plumbers and sheetrock hangers and floor refinishers. And someday we'll actually get to move in.

Shoulda started from the beginning...

Well, this blog is something I've been meaning to do for a while now-- I really should have begun posting the day we closed on the house. That's the day we literally started tearing into things-- pulling up carpet, taking off trim, prying faux wood siding from crumbling plaster. But we've been so caught up in all these many projects (not to mention a fight or two with the city) that this just went on the backburner. Now we've hit maximum frustration. Time to slow it down and take at look at what we've done so far, share some of the solutions to our roadblocks and beg for insight into the ones we haven't had the heart to tackle yet.

So I suppose the best place to start is with some of the before pictures and the story behind our little love affair with our little brick bungalow.