Work work work work

This summer we’ve been working on the porch. Two years ago when we painted, web we never got around to the porch columns. If the brick isn’t repointed soon the railing’s going to disintegrate, so that’s underway, too.

The columns were covered (sort of; a lot of it was peeling) with a thick layer of paint. I figure the last person who painted the house was paid by the gallon.
I scraped them, then hit them with chemical stripper to take off as much as I could.

I still had a lot of paint to straighten out after the stripper, and I guarantee it’s lead-based. Safety first!
Also, say hello to my little friend – the Wagner Paint Eater. I love this tool.

That was a nasty, filthy job. I figured stripping the columns and the bulkhead would suck mightily, and it did.

Anna thought bandannas make a good fashion statement.

So did Claire.

In that picture you can see the trim is missing at the bottom of that column.  With the exception of the two house-side columns, all the trim was badly damaged on the bottoms, and on several columns the bases had rotted as well. We had to rebuild bases, in some cases jacking up columns where they’d sunk, and replace the wood. Then I cut all new trim with my router and installed it.

In this picture you can see one of the columns that had to be removed, along with the “ghetto column,” a
pole with an aluminum cover that had been added sometime in the 80′s (we think.)

We suspect it was needed because the removed column wasn’t doing it’s job anymore. We reinforced the roof to better distribute the loads, and built a new column to replace the old one.


With the new column in place, we cautiously removed the pole.

The roof didn’t fall in! A section of gutter on the corner had to be repaired as well.

Once all the columns were primed and painted, the porch looked 100x better.

The exterior brick on that side of the porch has been repointed. Our neighbor was kind enough to teach us how and give us a hand to get us started.

We’re still working our way around the back side, and eventually the inside of the railing will have to be done, too (it’s a double layer of brick). Some of the concrete caps need minor repairs.


The mortar was so soft you could shove it out with your bare finger in most spots. For other spots, we have a grinder. I love that tool, too.

A house’s #1 enemy is water. When water gets into a wall, the wall gets leprosy. After unsuccessfully sealing up the flashing under the window above the spot, I redid the flashing altogether and it’s all dried out now and under repair.

It’s obvious in several pictures that the beadboard ceiling has seen better days.  While we’d love to replace that, 600sq ft of beadboard is not in this year’s budget.  Or next years.  Or the year after that.  (I want a new bathroom first)  We will patch, scrape, and repaint to freshen it up.  It won’t be perfect, but it will be better.

The other spot we’ve been having water trouble is in the back corner of the house. There’s been a leak up there that allows water into the bathroom. It did a number on the ceiling. I resealed all the seams (there’s an EPDM membrane roof on that addition) but the water still poured in. To find the leak, we’d have to pull down the damaged portion ceiling. It needed to come down anyway.  (this shows only part of the reason we need a new bathroom before a new porch ceiling)

Despite the damage, which was as extensive as we figured it would be, it was really interesting to see what was above the bathroom. This is in the newest addition to the house, if you consider 1923 to be new. We knew the membrane roof replaced an old tin roof that had leaked in the past – there’s still evidence of prior leaks in the hall outside the bathroom and in the 4th bedroom. In this picture you can see the old exterior of the house (yellow-ish; I suspect it’s aged white oil-based paint), the underside of the eaves of the original roof (green), and the remains of a roof they covered over with the current roof (nasty rotted wood and tar paper).

I climbed up on the roof with the hose while Mr. Unreserved stuck his head in the hole. I called him on my cell phone so he could tell me when the water was coming in. Turns out the leak was from a small flashing area where the sealant had pulled away. I don’t think we’d ever have found it without hosing down the roof with a head in the ceiling. We’re really relieved to have figured that out.
How high up were we working today?

That high. I love my ladder.
Fortunately it was a beautiful day. With the leak sealed up, I started nailing flashing along the roof line.

When they put on the membrane roof, they didn’t bother with drip edge but rolled the membrane around and behind the gutter. In theory, the rain should drip straight down into the gutter. In reality, rain sneaks down behind the gutters and made a utter mess of the whole wall and all its windows.

Lovely, isn’t it?

Once the flashing was nailed along the roof edge, we smoothed over the transition with a special EPDM membrane repair strip.

Tomorrow it’s supposed to rain. Bring it on!

Stairway before and after

I’d been meaning to take “after” pictures of the hallway for ages, approved but it’s not 100% done.  I’ve accepted the fact that nothing will ever be 100% done and am satisfied with a 90% improvement. The original front door needs to be properly stripped and refinished. The walls are still lumpy and bumpy. The sides of the treads and their moldings could use more attention. The ceiling is going to have to come down some day – it looks like a tin ceiling, but it’s wallpaper over sagging plaster. This will do for now, though.

First, the before pics. This is from when we moved in, as evidenced by how young Anna is:
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The walls and ceiling were reddish and had been painted. . . creatively. Chunks of plaster started dropping off the wall along the stairway not long after these pictures were taken. There were missing balusters, and of the ones that remained, many were loose. The whole railing rattled and shook whenever we went up the stairs. The treads were mangled. Downstairs there was a junky light fixture, and upstairs was a non-functioning bare bulb for illumination.

It’s been a lot of work, and it’s still not as polished as I’d like, but it’s safe, clean, and well-lit now.
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What was done? Hahahaha. Plaster fixed and patched, walls scrubbed and painted. Plywood removed from pocket of pocket door and replaced with drywall. Ceiling repaired, primed, and painted. Decorative stair moldings removed, repaired, replaced, repainted. Trim painted. New light fixtures, new wiring for the upstairs light. Switches replaced. Balusters repaired, removed, retightened, replaced, repainted. Railing and newel post refinished. Edges of stair treads sanded, stained, and refinished. Some tread edges replaced. Risers painted. Replaced plexiglass in upstairs window with actual glass, properly glazed. Finally, this winter I installed the carpet runner.

This reminds me of a story about my brother and the aquarium

Yesterday I paused in my painting (nine hours worth) to eat lunch.  Since I wasn’t climbing all over the stairs like a howler monkey, erectile I got chilly.  I put on a sweatshirt.  I was still cold.

Me:  Do you think it’s cold in here?

Mr. Unreserved:  Maybe a little.

Me:  [checks digital thermostat]  It says it’s 66 in here.  It’s not just me. 

Mr. Unreserved:  [looking at thermostat]  It says it’s turned off. 

Mr. Unreserved and I ponder why the furnace would be turned off.  Mr. Unreserved goes down to the basement to see if anything is obviously amiss.  I feel an all too familiar sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach and flashback to the very expensive furnace repairs we had in the other house prior to replacing it.  (Completely my fault as it turns out – never cut the power to the blower on a milivolt system when the gas is still on and it’s cold outside.  The heater runs without the blower on, ed toasting the thermocouple.  LIve and learn. (in a perfect world the blower wouldn’t have been wired to the same circuit as the dining room I was wallpapering))  I hit the “mode” button on the thermostat and it kicked back on into “HEAT” mode. 

We went back to eating lunch, brainstorming what could have made the furnace decide to stop spontaneously.  We asked the girls if they touched it.  They denied it.  At first.  Then Claire piped up, “I did it.” 

“Did what?”  (Claire has been known to cop to things that she didn’t do; the truth is a flimsy concept for her yet.)

“I push button.  I like green light.”

The display on the thermostat lights up green when buttons are pushed.  She wouldn’t have known that if she hadn’t actually done it, so I believed her.  Mystery solved, followed by a lecture on not pushing buttons on the thermostat, pretty green light or no.

Antique wooden sputum

No need to call the paramedics, life and I think I’m finally done (mostly) with sandpaper.  It’s taken me all week just to do the messy, tearing apart, “temporary inconvenience for long term gain” portion of the stairway project.

I’ve broken four nails and cut one index finger, but I am proud to say that I have not yet hammered my own hand. My eyes are blood shot and my snot and earwax are brown.  My hands have the texture of 100 grit sandpaper.  I probably should be using a dust mask, but it’s so much more fun to cough up sawdust!

What’s done?  The walls are mostly repaired, with the patched plaster portion needing at least one more coat of mud (would be done, ran out of mud Sunday evening).  The balcony balusters are in place, most of them being replacements since the last ones were cut. . . oddly.  That was Mr. Unreserved’s job because while he was screwing around (literally – trim head screws are great!) upstairs I was making the worst of all the messes.  I sanded the insides of the treads, took, apart each return, removed the balusters, sanded the return, sanded the balusters, and reassembled the whole shebang, replacing balusters where necessary.  The last owners had found a house being demolished that had the exact same balusters, so we’ve got a bucket of them to work with.  It’s been great because many of the previously installed ones were broken or rather chewed up.  The pocket door is back at home in its pocket (the current flat luan door will need to be replaced when time/money permits) and the pocket is all mudded up.  An oriental carpet runner is on its way, and I ordered the custom chandeliers tonight from a craftsman we found at the Shaker Woods festival (our Christmas gift from Mr. Unreserved’s mother – grown-ups get the strangest presents).

As I see it, the worst of the project is done.  The stairway looks worse than it started, but the structural work is mostly done.  For the remainder of the project, things will start looking better.  That’s the rewarding work.  Prep work sucks because it’s harder, messier, uglier, and necessary.  There’s a lot of work ahead, but it’s the sort of work wherein one can stand back and admire the progress instead of saying, “Holy hell what have I got myself into?”

Throughout much, but not all, of the work I’ve been listening to my iPod on shuffle.  I love how it’s like having a radio station that plays only music I like.  A sure sign I’ve been at this a while – I’m up to song 201.  If I make it to the final 547th track, I quit.

This is not “vacation.”

I had stashed away vacation days when we thought Mr. Unreserved would be needed to help with the gutter project.  It turned out his contribution was limited to holding up an end of the 40′ section of gutter for the three-man team for about 15 minutes.  I was left with three unexpected vacation days that I’m using to take the whole week off.

“Off” is, page as always, viagra sale relative.  Things I’ve done since Friday:

  • Baked cookies and attended the Burgh Moms cookie swap.
  • Used swap cookies to bribe youngest to pee on the potty
  • Made chicken dinner, complete with pumpkin pie in gratitude for tune-up performed by dear brother’s dear boyfriend (DBDB?)
  • Knit mittens to go with Claire’s new beret
  • Attended local “Light Up Night” after convincing girls I was teasing about Santa coming a month early.  He did come a month early, just not to our house.  So there.
  • Sewed pin-tucks on bodices of girls’ Christmas dresses and began embroidery.  The embroidery is sweet and is also a pain in the neck.
  • Got a hair cut, picked up the dry cleaning, and made at least two grocery runs.
  • Shopped for birthday gift for SIL.
  • Helped out with Thanksgiving Feast at preschool.
  • Busted out the paint and power tools and made a major mess in the middle of the house.

Years ago when we were DINKS (dual income, no kids), Mr. Unreserved always had to work on Black Friday while I had the day off.  Instead of braving the door busting sales, I started a tradition of doing some busting of my own around the house.  I’d take the long weekend to refinish woodwork, or paint the living room.  The tradition continues, but since I’ve got all week, I’m tackling a larger project.  The hallway (of doom!).

The hallway project involves the following repairs (I’m liking the bullet points today, can you tell?)

  • Paint the ceilings, upstairs and down (done, and boy are my arms sore!)
  • Repair the plaster on the walls (waiting for plaster washers ordered last week)
  • Remove loose paint from trim and prepare for paint
  • Finish drywall enclosing pocket door
  • Replace missing balusters from the bucket o’ balusters in the basement
  • Remove clumped-on flat white paint from existing balusters (in progress)
  • Remove gobbed on liquid nails from base and tops of above balusters (in progress, slow progress)
  • Reset and refasten all balusters
  • Clean and wax hand rail
  • Remove, sand, and replace trim from stair returns (in progress)
  • Sand risers and treads
  • Paint risers , baseboards, and return trim
  • Install trim around ceiling edge downstairs
  • Seal treads
  • Install runner
  • Paint walls
  • Paint trim
  • Hang new light fixtures
  • Replace switch plates for push-button fixtures
  • Install new quarter-round downstairs

Blech.  I lay awake for almost an hour at 2:00 a.m. this morning with that list running through my head.  It’s a fiddly nasty project, but when it’s done it will make a huge difference in the look and, dare I say feel of this house.

Some before pics from last year:

The railing is wobbly, there are missing balusters, the stair treads are a wreck, a chunk of plaster has fallen since, and the color of the walls is. . . not my taste.

Wish me luck, and if I don’t update again in a week or so, call the paramedics.  Or send more sandpaper.

Yard Sale – literally

So the (old) house has been on the market since mid March now. I keep telling myself that it really isn’t that long in the grad scheme of things, asthma but as May trickles away and the first double mortgage payment looms, we’re even more anxious to move this house. I honestly thought we’d have more people looking than we have, and I realize that current conditions make it a buyers’ market.
Towards that end, we had a “Moving Sale / Open House” yesterday. This area is a terrific place for yard sales and the like. Our neighborhood typically has two a year, and the traffic in our quiet back streets gets really heavy. I figured the best way to get people at least looking at our house was to hold a sale. We had a bunch of junk to clear out anyway. Everything we sell off is one less thing to move next month.

Yesterday morning I got up, tidied the house and got the girls and critters fed. Mr. Unreserved came home from work, and we put all our assorted random stuff on tables in the yard. Once we were set up, I went back out to the shed and grabbed the bulb planter. I dug a 5″ hole suitable for tulip bulbs in the front flower bed, and plopped in St. Joseph, feet pointing heavenward, facing north. I said a little prayer, and sold off a bunch of household belongings. We made about $85, but had no takers on looking at the house. However, this morning I had a little chat with a man in a pickup who was stopped out front taking down our realtor’s number.

I am Catholic, but admittedly of the “cafeteria” variety. I never really bought into the bit about praying to saints, looking at them more as interesting stories about people of faith that have little impact on my life. I’ve got to admit if the house moves in the near future, I think I may do a little double take.