Monday, June 28, 2010

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie

If you have kids you've probably read the children's book series "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie." Renovating an old house is much like that series. Basically, if you give a mouse a cookie, he's going to want a glass of milk, and if you give him milk he's going to ask for a straw... and so on.

So if you re-shingle a 110 year old home, when the builder gets to a crooked window sill he's going to ask you if you want to straighten it. If you straighten a crooked window, you're going to have to replace the interior trim. If you replace the interior trim you're going to damage the plaster, and so on.

Having lasted 110 years, our home is actually still quite straight and solid. There are one or two locations however where the house clearly settled and it is most obvious when you look at the windows. Four of the windows have been manipulated over the years so that the window sash appears level, while the window opening itself has gone 1-2 inches off kilter. The technical term for this effect is called, "the hot mess."

Two of these off-kilter windows happen to be right at the front entry. We decided to let the builder "true-up" the opening on these two, then we would see how it looks and decide if its worth it to do the other two.

To complicate matters, we know there's lead paint involved. We've got 3 kids age 4 down to 8 months* so this is a big issue for us. We're happy to get rid of any lead based interior trim - but the removal itself is also tricky.

We had to clear all furniture out of the room in question, and when the builders arrived this morning they went in there and sealed themselves off with plastic sheeting. Lots of banging and sawing later we're left with this lovely interior.

The builder will now cut a new knife with our trim pieces and return in a day or two with brand new trim that matches the original exactly.

Note the hole in the wall between the two windows. We knew this was a possibility. To add yet another layer of complication to things, the walls you see here are actually wallpapered plaster, painted over by us in the lovely Benjamin Moore Yosemite Sand.

So now we wonder - do we just patch that spot, or is now the time to rip all the wallpaper down, and re-surface this room?
Like I said, if you re-shingle a 110 year old home...

*if you were not already questioning our sanity, you know for certain now that we are clearly not in our right minds due to years of sleep deprivation!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Thursday, June 24, 2010

New Casings are Here!

Our builder has made more than a reasonable effort to convince us to replace our windows, and I have to say he's almost broken us once or twice. But we remain resolute.

Today the builder installed some of our new casings. This is the outer most trim that goes around the top and sides of the window. The sill is the bottom piece, and unless you pull the entire window out of the wall, you cannot replace the sill.

The builder had a knife cut to match our existing trim, and then cut new casing trim to apply to the windows. The new casing is approximately 1/4 inch thicker than the old casing. This is required so that the shingles and the "cedar breather" behind them do not rise up above the dimension of the casing. That would make the windows look buried in shingles.

Anyway, the photo here shows our stained glass window with the new casing applied. Just inside the new casing you can see some chipped and ragged looking trim. I believe that is the jam? similar to the sill it cannot be replaced without removing the entire window. It looks bad in this photo, but in person you can tell that with a coat of paint the overall trim will look brand new.

We do plan to remove 2 or 3 windows that are severely askew to straighten them out. It turns out the house is not crooked, just these few window openings appear to be crooked. Perhaps they settled that way? We have to clear out the living room for several days while they do that, but that's a post for another day.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Monday, June 21, 2010


Let's check out some side-by-side before and after shots to see just how far we've come with the porch.

Its easy to lose sight of how things used to look. Now I see lots of nice straight lines, smooth shingles. No matter how much we sweat the details it's going to look great when it's done!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Pretty Shingles!

More progress photos. Lattice work installed in the porch base. This is for ventilation under the porch, and its also a nice detail to break up the continuous shingles.

And yes, those are new shingles!

While this makes us inordinately happy to see, our celebration is also mixed with some frustration.

When you look at the porch you probably see wood, shingles, some stairs. Not much to it, right?

Well we see those things, but we also see a rise over run that is steeper than we requested, a lattice box that is mysteriously off center, and trim detail that does not quite look like what we had in mind. And why doesn't the lattice box look exactly like the photo we used as a reference?

In these small, teeny-tiny, seemingly innocent details, we've learned many many lessons.

Back when we were planning a more elaborate addition the architects offered project management services. They would come on site and monitor progress and give guidance to the builders. While this wouldn't make sense for a project this small, we've learned now how valuable those services can be.

Without detailed written specs, informal conversations happen. Decisions are made on the fly. Miscommunications happen and next thing you know you've got a 7 3/4 inch stair rise and someone had their heart set on a 6 inch rise and the stairs might need to be torn off and rebuilt and nobody's happy about that.

So while we're delighted to see some shingles thrown up, there's a fair amount of sweat and frustration thrown in behind them that no one would notice besides me and Chris (and of course the skilled craftsman who actually did install them). ::sigh::

But don't the shingles look pretty?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

It's a Wrap! Sort of...

Almost all of the old shingles are now off and the house is wrapped. This photo shows the festoon of wires and boxes I mentioned, they will all be going away when we bury the electric/cable/phone.

The builders finally installed some stairs to the porch (admittedly they were waiting for some decisions from us before building). Seems we have some code issues that are hard to resolve in an aesthetically pleasing manner.

The wall/rail around the porch is only 24 inches high. That was the original height, and we want to preserve that. It feels less enclosed and also does not block the line of sight from the inside.

Because the porch deck is only 30 inches from grade level, a 24 inch rail is OK. Anything higher off the ground would require a 34 inch rail. The stairs, because there are 4 or more risers, do require a 34 inch rail. So how to make a 34 inch hand rail work with a 24 inch porch rail? Basically the hand rail would run right into the base of the columns which is not going to look good.

We're still not sure how to resolve it, but we know the stairs will have a shingled wall running down either side. Until we figure it out we need a set of functional stairs so we can start using the front door again.

The yellow wrapping over the Typar is "Cedar Breather" - it creates a 1/4 inch space between the Typar and the shingles so that air can circulate and keep everything dry. Because of the Cedar Breather, we'll need to bump out our window casings by a 1/4 inch so that our windows do not appear to be buried in shingles. This is not an issue because we're replacing the casings anyway (matching the existing detail). We're keeping the original sashes and sill though.

We're pretty sure a shingle or two might be installed tomorrow - this is what we've been waiting for! Hopefully we still like the color once it goes ON the house.

Monday, June 14, 2010

New Skin in Progress

The re-shingling process started today. Looks like they went around the house and tore off anything they could reach without a ladder.

The new shingles arrived.
Maibec Eastern White Cedar Shingles, in Seacoast Gray.

Here you can see evidence of the trench where they buried the conduit for the electrical, cable and phone wires. This will eliminate the festoon of wires and boxes that currently clutter the front right corner of the house. We don't think the builders have any intention of re-seeding this trench, so until we do something we might have a mud problem on our hands.

It seems like slow going, but I think just removing the jagged rotten shingles is an improvement. At least the Typar is smooth and clean.

Speaking of Typar - Whatever happened to Tyvek? I wondered that too... I don't see much Tyvek anymore. Apparently they are competing products. Typar is more breathable.* Guess that's a good thing, although, we're not so worried about our house becoming too airtight anytime soon.

*If you ask Dupont, Tyvek is better. We figure that our house has been without either for 110 years, we're just happy to have any house to wrap at this point!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

As Good as New?

Seeing the innards of your 110 year old home is a bit unnerving. They tore off the siding on the front to run some new wiring to the porch. The inner beams and paneling are actually in pretty good shape.

But like the mid-point of a root canal, you wonder to yourself if it will ever be quite the same again. The Dentist reassures you you'll be as good as new, but until you chew your first New York bagel, you don't quite believe it.

The builders quickly put up the bead board, the next day the deck was installed, and thankfully the place looks a little less like an irretrievable mess.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Buried Treasure

We found these two small glass bottles when excavating under the porch.

Based on some very rough internet research, I would date them around 1900-1920. One of them has the faintest traces of a label on it - Edward something... and a Street address that we can't make out.

It seems it was very common in the early 1900's for home owners to bury their old used glass bottles in their own yard. A neighbor of ours finds old glass on a regular basis.

Have you ever wondered where all your used glass ends up? Wine, beer and ice tea bottles, used once then tossed? Most of it is recycled now, but think of the piles, mountains, of used glass that must be buried under our feet!

When you think about it, old home restoration is sort of like a massive recycling project (this is not a new idea). Of course, like the one wine bottle or cardboard box - its just a drop in the bucket. But maybe one restored home will inspire the neighbor to do the same... and so on...

Monday, June 7, 2010

Laying Ground Work

For the very first time in this almost two-year long process, I finally feel a sense of satisfaction with old-home restoration. Up until now everything was on paper. Theoretical. And honestly, until now it was just two years of tedious, anxiety-producing list making, picture drawing and magazine flipping.

After the porch demo, they started laying the groundwork (literally) for a proper porch installation. To address some water issues we've re-graded the area under the porch. At the foot of the future new steps they dug an 18 inch trench and filled it with gravel. This will prevent the stairs from heaving or shifting during the winter freeze.

Even though this amounts to a pile of sand and rocks, it gives us great pleasure to see something done right, and know that the end result could last another 50 plus years.

In the meantime we're still stuck on shingle colors. We narrowed it down to the two shown below. Don't bother picking one, because the photo on here tells you absolutely nothing about the true color. The color changes from photo to photo, monitor to monitor, and also from morning to noon, cloud to sun.

We pretty sure we're going with the one on the right. It is a very very light gray. It almost looks white, unless you see it next to something that is actually white, which is why we have the footrest out there in the photo. The trim will be white. Window sashes will be black... we think...

And here is our future porch deck, neatly stacked on a clean job site (a good thing). And there's our very own port-o-potty. We originally questioned the need for one... but after seeing some of these guys I'm glad we went for it!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Emo Porch Demo

It's started! After almost two years of planning, our home renovation project is finally under way.

This week we're tackling the porch. The existing porch, up to the roof, is getting demolished and rebuilt. As I mentioned before, the stairs were clearly unsafe. What we didn't know was that the entire porch was somewhat unsteady.

When they tore off the base, we found this:
The post you see directly under the nearest column is not something we added today during demo - that is what was supporting the porch. It appears to be a 4x4 post, with 3 2x4s tacked on the top.

My construction experience consists of watching my Dad build our front steps when I was eight, and even I know that this is not adequate support - and it certainly cannot meet code requirements!

Anyway, they delivered some very impressive looking pre-cast cement pillars to go in the ground which will give our new porch a nice solid foundation.

The demo process is fairly surgical. First they had to jack up the existing roof, then tear off each part of the porch carefully, so as not to disturb the Christmas lights.

Here's what it looked like at the end of the first day:

With only one day behind us I can report that the builders are quiet and neat. So far so good.

I mentioned before that this is not a finance blog. This is a renovation journal, but all I really want to write about now is the emotions tied to this project.

Mulling this over I've concluded that home renovation IS an emotional subject.

So how are we feeling? Chris is excited. He's happy to see work finally getting started. Me? I'm a mess. I spent several hours last night worrying about the columns.

See the wavy columns in the pictures? We HATED those columns when we bought this house. I've never seen anything like them. They look like they are perhaps installed upside down? No other home from this era has columns like this. When we drafted renovation plans we picked out the traditional Tuscan column with appropriate entasis.

There is a home in our neighborhood that is almost identical to ours, and that one has the standard Tuscan column. So perhaps our wavy columns were added later? Or maybe the builder wanted to put a unique mark on this home? Who knows.

But now that half our porch is in a dumpster in the front yard, I'm wondering - are we going to regret losing those columns? Maybe the whole character of the house will be lost without them. Will the proportions ever be right again? Seeing the porch dismantled makes me feel sad for the old house; I wonder - who are we to mess with something that's been around for 110 years?

So I stepped out in the rain this morning and asked the foreman to please place the old columns in the garage. You know, just in case we come up with a use for them someday.