30 December 2009

Has it really been a month and a half...

...since I last posted? Sorry, guys. Now that my whole family knows, I can tell the blogging world that Tom and I are expecting a baby girl in May! I had to go on bedrest for a few days, which is why I stopped working on the house on my days off. By the time the doc approved my return to normal activities (I wasn't on bedrest but needed to "take it easy" for about a month and a half), I was needing to eat or throw up or sleep so frequently that mudding was taking a backseat. Now that I'm relatively healthy again, I can resume working at the house. Fortunately, drywall mud needs a warm environment to set up properly, so I will have an excuse to turn on the heat or at least bring over a few space heaters.

18 November 2009

Throwing in the towel.

We still haven't done any more work on the house, but there is at least an update. Tom's parents recently had some gutter work done on their house and asked the workers if they knew anybody that did drywall. As luck would have it, they themselves do drywall work. We had them come over today for an estimate of what it will take to finish the three rooms. We should find out soon what that will be. And better yet, they said if we approve their quote, they can get started almost immediately. It shouldn't take longer than a week for a couple of professionals to get in there and do it, so hopefully I'll soon have photos of primed walls!

16 October 2009

So much going on, none of it at the house.

I apologize for being such a bad blogger recently. There has been a lot going on. Without getting too deeply into the sordid details, I quit my job on Thursday. It was a decision made in the heat of the moment, but I can honestly say I don't regret it, and that I'm confident I made the right choice. I haven't been able to work at the house either, though, so there's not much to show since my last report. Last weekend, Tom and I hung some more drywall in the bathroom, finishing the sink wall and mostly finishing another wall. That leaves us two walls and the shower and tub (half-)walls to hang.

Instead of looking for a new job right away, I plan on putting in some major hours at the house as soon as I'm able. Oh, and do you remember the horrible bubbling of Tom's mudding/taping job? It's totally disappeared. Smooth as a baby's behind. And some of the areas that I know I left perfectly smooth have bubbled a bit as they dried. ??? I certainly can't explain it. Maybe that husband of mine is handier than we know. I'm just glad I don't have to rip out nearly as much of it as I thought I would.

04 October 2009

Massacre via mudding.

We spent a good portion of the day yesterday mudding drywall seams. I had done a bit during the week by myself and pretty well had the hang of it. I'm still not very fast with it, but I thought I've been doing a pretty decent job of it. It's a bit like frosting a cake.

I asked Tom if he'd ever frosted a cake before. He said he hadn't, but cited the Kroger bakery employees as evidence that he'd be able to figure it out. Now, I started with smaller sections of easier seams (taper-to-taper) in out-of-the way places until I got the feel for the process. Tom decided to start with a floor-to-ceiling butt-joint seam in a highly visible location for his first go at it. Not. Good. As a point of comparison, here's what my typical seam looks like:

And here's Tom's typical seam:

I forced myself to go outside and mow the lawn while he continued his massacre on the walls. I don't want to be unappreciative of the help I get, but I do want it to be done right. I guess I'll just have to go back and rip out the bubbled pieces and start again. Not to be a negative Nancy, here's an attempt at an overall shot of the room:

So progress has been made, slowly but surely. We're moving like a herd of turtles, as they say.

26 September 2009

Sorry I've been MIA...

but I've had a lot going on this week, and there's not much to report on the house anyway. Yesterday I started filling in the drywall screw holes with drywall mud, and today we hung a whopping one sheet of drywall in the bathroom (the one I wanted to do last Monday). That'll teach us to go to karaoke the night before a supposed work day. My penance is a week full of mudding all by myself.

21 September 2009

It's about time.

We finally got the ceiling drywall hung in the bathroom, so we can move on to the walls next. We would have started that last night, but it was getting too dark to work in there. However, if we get just one piece on the wall tonight, I can wire up one of the vanity lights, enabling us to work after dark on the rest of it.

Our productivity plans may be taking another hit next week. The bosses are going out of town on business and leaving Tom and me in charge of their house, animals, and child for almost a week. In theory, I'll have between 8 am and 2 pm to work at the house while the kid is at school, but it's a well-documented fact that I don't really wake up before 10 am. I'm not sure if trying to finish drywall while in a coma is a good idea. I guess we'll see.

18 September 2009


As I mentioned before, Tom and I painted last night at the gym where he plays table tennis. It was nice to get to start and finish a project all in the same day. That hasn't happened to us recently, if ever. It was pretty tough painting on the brick, and we were worried we wouldn't have enough paint, but we managed. It needs a second coat, but it looks alright if you stand back a bit. I take no responsibility for the Smurfy color. Here are Tom and Carl hard at work:

My job was to come back with a brush and touch up the bottom part where they couldn't get with a roller. I had to wait for them to finish this section and move the drop cloth, so I had a minute or two to get a few quick photos. And here's the wall after we were done:

The opposite wall before:

And after:

The paint color isn't really my taste, but it will serve its purpose - to give a greater contrast between the ping pong ball and the wall. And despite the color, the fresh coat of paint makes it look much better, and since we only painted 5' up the wall, it's not totally overwhelming. Maybe someday we'll get around to painting in our house...sigh.

15 September 2009

Not much to report.

So my optimistic September 15 move-in goal is clearly not happening. In fact, things don't really look a whole lot different than when I stated that goal to begin with. We'll be attempting to fix that this weekend. We've recruited help from work and hope to get the bathroom ceiling drywall/greenboard done. Tip for getting coworkers to help: ask early in the week before they've made weekend plans. Haha.

Unfortunately, the evenings this week will be dedicated to painting the gym where Tom plays table tennis. Tonight is the prep work: patching a couple of places where there's water seepage, scrubbing it down with a metal-bristle brush, and taping it off. Thursday is supposed to be painting day. Tom wants to host a tournament there in October, and the walls need to be a different color to contrast with the ping pong balls.

So, not much to report this week, even though I'll probably still try to sneak in some work at the house.

13 September 2009

Too tired for a full post you probably won't read anyway.

So a list of today's activities will have to do.

- Cut up branches and put in garbage can for pickup.
- Mowed lawn.
- Uprooted (most of) a plant in the middle of the yard. Root-rot accelerator should take care of the rest.
- Relocated bricks formerly surrounding said plant (our yard is actually mostly brick pavers - under all the weeds, of course) to another pile of bricks.
- Rescued the neighbor's escaped dog.
- Installed ceiling fixture in the closet - using Spanish instructions. Gracias, Senora Santini.
- Finished sanding one side of the bedroom door.
- Hung insulation in the wall between the closet and the bathroom.
- Hauled a bunch of drywall upstairs.
- Hung a sheet of greenboard on the sink wall in bathroom.
- (Mostly) installed the washer (including wiring the electrical, hooking up hoses, and leveling the machine).
- Got angry again about not standing up for my original closet/laundry room layout, as we now have about 3 feet on each side for usable closet space.
- (Mostly) installed the dryer.

Despite all this, I can't officially cross anything off the list. Drat.

09 September 2009

Heat gun = new BFF.

I give the heat gun two thumbs up. Less than 2 hours with it and the door is almost completely done. It started off with a very glossy sheen:

I went over the entire door with the heat gun. When the varnish started to crackle and dull, I moved on to a different section. After the door had been heated, I did a very cursory rubdown of the rails and stiles with medium-grit sandpaper. In this picture, you can see the matte finish of the heated area, as well as the natural finish of the wood. Believe it or not, the lighting conditions in the room are identical as the last picture, and neither photo was tak.

After I (very lightly, very briefly - it was getting late but I wanted to know how it would turn out) sanded those areas, I wiped them down with a Swiffer pad. It was one of the wet kinds made for wooden floors, so I figured it would probably be safe. Cleaning it really brought out the warm tones of the wood. I'm not sure what it will look like when it dries back out, but this is what it looked like freshly wiped down:

I really think I'll be able to finish this job by tomorrow night. I'll probably have to concentrate on the other side a bit more. Most of what is left on the formerly painted side is residue from the chemical paint stripper. The heat gun didn't seem to work too well on it, so I want to see if just sanding it will work. Any tips?

08 September 2009

Checked off the list.

Well, after a long day yesterday, we got the closet drywall complete. Having the walls and ceiling totally change the perception of the space. We no longer get natural light from the bathroom windows, and for the first time I can grasp just how tall the room is. Nine + foot ceilings don't seem that tall in our 16' wide bedroom, but they just soar in a 6X9 closet.

Lowe's called this morning and said they'd be delivering the dryer this afternoon, so I'll snap a couple of quick pictures when it gets installed. We decided to go ahead and install the washer and dryer without doing any of the finishing work on the drywall. We'll finish the drywall in the other rooms, then do the closet last.

Tom will be playing table tennis this evening, so I"ll be working solo tonight. I'll probably work on getting the door and door frame stripped and ready for installation. I bought a heat gun, and I'm hoping that it will make the task a little easier and less toxic than using chemical paint stripper.

06 September 2009

Chugging along.

I was hoping to have started the long process of mudding by tomorrow, Labor Day, but it looks like we'll still be hanging the blasted drywall. We got the closet about 1/3 done today. Tom and I were hanging the ceiling drywall, which is not an easy task with two people. And, being in the closet, space was pretty limited, making it even more difficult to maneuver giant sheets of heavy material.

Tomorrow will be more of the same, and hopefully we'll be able to cross something off the list.

05 September 2009

The price of laundry.

After 3 trips to 2 different Lowe's stores, we finally bought our washer and dryer. I was hoping to report a steal of the century, but it didn't quite work out exactly the way I had plotted planned. My scheme involved Lowe's "110% Price Match Guarantee" plus a 10% off coupon. The final price for the set would have been about $1100 (original price: about $1600) for a Samsung, front-loading washer and dryer set. I won't go into details since it didn't work.

We still got a fairly good deal, though, I think. The washer came to $574.56, and the dryer was $653.20, so about $1230. Right now, the delivery is free, so that saved us another $118 (we had to buy each at a different store, and standard delivery is $59). The 5-year all-inclusive extended warranty set us back $160. Any single repair would likely be several hundred dollars, so we were willing to get that extra insurance. Deliveries are scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday. I hope they know to be extra careful, 'cuz any dings on these babies will cost 'em extra.

31 August 2009

Creeping along

Tom is still out sick (he's had a low-grade fever all weekend and is even missing work today), so I had some quality alone-time Sunday and today at the house. I leak-tested the plumbing. There was one spot that was dripping a little bit, so I took the joint off and applied more plumber's putty/pipe dope. I didn't retest to see if it worked, but I'm pretty sure it did the trick.

Today I finished the door frame to the bathroom and (I think) all the necessary blocking for hanging drywall. This evening I'm going to try to get the master suite cleaned out of all the extraneous tools and assorted junk so we have a clean(er) place to work. If Tom isn't feeling better by the end of the week, I'm going to have to figure out how to hang ceiling drywall by myself.

29 August 2009

Odds and ends

Tom was feeling ill today, so I worked alone at the house and finished up some small tasks that I could do by myself. First, I finished the water heater. I'm still not totally happy with the result, but it will have to do for now.


The rag is there to catch any drips from the pipe, which had already been cut.


I don't like the deep bend in the hot-water hose, but I couldn't get the metal nipple out to replace it with a shorter one. Maybe I can see if Lowe's has a shorter hose instead.

I mentioned before that I found the missing "8" in our house number. I cleaned it up and put it back in its place above the porch. The bracket that holds it is pretty rusty and broken in a couple of spots, so I'll probably have to find a replacement for that before too long. But it's up, so now maybe the postman will deliver our mail.

Tomorrow: closet drywall. And leak testing.

25 August 2009

Getting ahead of myself...

I know it's too early to really think about the details of decorating, but I found a pair of tall gourd lamps while at Goodwill yesterday. I've seen these in design magazines for months, and have been constantly appalled at the usually $200+ price tag for one lamp.

The citrus hues aren't really my style, but I like the lines of them. For $10 per lamp plus the cost of paint, I can forgive them that transgression. Of course, I'll have to wait until I have a room to put them in before I can paint them. Plain black or white is an obvious and mod choice, but I'm thinking a very subtle tone-on-tone crackle effect might give them the appearance of hand-dipped pottery. But I'm getting ahead of myself again.

24 August 2009

Lawn day.

Tom stayed home today to nurse an extremely sore neck (gained yesterday working in the basement. We're not sure if it's stiff because of the work he was doing, or if he got bitten by one of the many 8-legged inhabitants of our basement. There is a bite mark of some kind on his neck, but it's hard to say if the two are related), so I couldn't enlist him to help with the water heater issue. I attacked the yard instead.

Cutting back these weeds/shrubs and mowing the lawn took about two and a half hours, even with my visitors. Looking at detailed pictures of the outside of the house make me realize how truly shabby it looks. Unfortunately, we really need to get moved in before we can make any of the exterior, mostly cosmetic, improvements.

This is right beside our front porch steps (notice the lovely handrail). The pile of concrete in the after photo used to be part of the steps. The steps themselves are limestone, and somebody got the bright idea to "repair" the weather-worn treads with concrete. Unfortunately, they didn't know what they were doing and ended up doing more harm than good. Since limestone is relatively soft, much softer than modern concrete, the bond between the two materials was bad and caused major spalling of the stone. This is a common problem when repointing bricks on an old building - the new mortar is almost always too hard. Never ever ever repair brick or stone with mortar that is harder than the brick or stone itself. It's bad. The "after" shot was taken in motion, trying to get the shot while avoiding a third encounter with everyone's favorite stolen-shoe peddler. I did manage to find the missing 8 on our house number in the tangle of vines and roots I pulled up. I'd been looking online for nice house numbers, but it looks like I can put off this purchase for a little while longer. They're not the nicest looking things (2"x3" ceramic tiles), but we noticed another house on the street has the same kind. Originals, perhaps?

This is the other side of the front porch. I was a good neighbor and dragged all the branches to the backyard so as not to intrude on the sidewalk. The "after" shot gives you an idea as to why we don't think the fully bricked-in sides of the porch are original. It's been there a while, certainly, but 1) the bricks don't quite match; 2) the bricks are not interlaced with the columns, just butt-jointed (and poorly at that ); 3) the mortar isn't quite the right color; 4) the limestone railing is at the modern handrail height - older handrails tend to be much lower.

This beauty lives by the back porch. There's something thorny in that area, so I didn't get as much cut back as I wanted to. But the major guy is gone. The incomplete-looking brick wall hides the former basement entrance. There are some brick steps that lead down to a concrete block wall. Those bricks are definitely not original (don't have the same split-face look as the rest of the house), so I think they can be removed without too much trouble. Again, that's for another day. Or decade.

This one is right on the fence between our house and Lloyd and Jeannie's house. It's huge, and it's annoying. I cut it down once a month, and within two weeks it's back to full height. We need to borrow a chainsaw from somebody and put this thing out of its misery once and for all. I might go dump some brush killer on it tomorrow for good measure.

I also cleaned out a couple of flower beds of the vines that were overtaking them. One I think was morning glory, but I'm not sure. I just know it was incredibly invasive. The others I have no idea. Here's one of the beds of the unknown flowers (they very well could have been weeds. They were in the way regardless), freshly cleaned of its inhabitant.

This also shows the fact that the bricked-in porch is not original. I only wish I knew what was there. This porch also has a different house number on it, so it's possible that the house was broken up at some point. It could have also just been a delivery door, since that faces the more major street. I think we'll eventually take out all that non-original brick for a grand porch project...some other day.

23 August 2009


Whenever I do anything in the yard beyond mowing, I invariably get at least one visitor while I'm working. Today I got three.

The first was from Lloyd, our next-door-neighbor. He told me that he confronted a guy creeping around the property late Thursday night. The guy claimed that he knew us and that we'd told him that he could stay there overnight. Sure we did, buddy. Lloyd's dogs got out of the gate and chased the guy, who ran off yelling, "I don't want no trouble, man." So, thanks Lloyd and your ferocious Jack Russell terriers.

The second visit was from a cracked-out looking lady pushing a shopping cart full of shoeboxes. She tried to peddle these stolen shoes for "only $10 a pair," giving me some story about her sister's shoe store going out of business, and the water company going to shut her water off tomorrow, and she had a young son at home, so they needed water. I apologize for the run-on/fragment, but that's pretty much how it was presented to me. I told her I wasn't really interested, so she offered to help me with the yard for a few bucks. Also not interested, lady. She came back again an hour or so later with the same story. I don't know if she remembered talking to me before or not. This time she started pulling shoes out of their boxes to show me. I told her that I didn't really have time to look at them right now since I needed to get this yardwork done today, but that if she told me where her sister's shop was, I'd be happy to stop by there tomorrow when I had more time. Oh, boy. I've never seen anybody backpeddle so poorly. I guess crackheads don't make for very good salesmen. Or liars.

The third visit was from a relatively normal enough guy, curious about what we're doing with the house. This is the usual kind of visit I get while in the yard. He said he had grown up in the neighborhood and was friends with one of the kids that used to live in our house. He said he was glad we were taking on the project, and that it's a good neighborhood (despite the aforementioned shoe peddler). It's a small thing, but I really appreciate the support of people who know the area and want to see it restored to what it was just 15 years ago.

No housework today.

I did yardwork instead. Before I get into that, though, here's a rundown of what happened yesterday.

Tom finished the electrical for the dryer. We had already pulled most of it, but he still needed to secure the wire to the basement joists and make the connection in the breaker box. No pictures of that, but it's been checked off the list.

I repaired the water hookup for the washer. Paul had forgotten to tighten down the female CPVC connector to the connection in the washer box before he glued everything together. It may have been alright for a while, but it almost certainly would have eventually started to leak. So I took a reciprocating saw to the supply lines, added the correct adapters, and used stainless steel braided flex connectors to finish it off.

Still needs insulation.

Then I tackled the dryer vent. Had Lowe's stocked the 5' lengths of rigid ductwork like their display indicated, this process would have been much less tedious. Instead of maybe 3 or 4 joints, I had to use aluminum tape and a worm-screw ring for every 2' section of duct for 8 joints in all. It still needs one more piece at the top to vent it out of the roof, but the portion that affects the closet is complete.

I have since added insulation around it to prevent condensation.

I also made a valiant attempt at fixing the water heater issue. It's a brand-new, never-used water heater, but whoever did the work at the house didn't think about future replacement when they installed it. The problem with this is that the rigidity of the connection will make it impossible to replace the water heater later without cutting out the entire section of plumbing. And since they placed the valves so low, you'd have to turn off the water to the entire house at the main supply and drain all the plumbing in the house to prevent a flood in the basement. You couldn't just turn off the water to the heater and work with that. Anyway, I have the appropriate replacement valves and steel-braided hoses to make it work better.

I cut the supply lines with the reciprocating saw (my new BFF) and drained the water in the cold water line. In theory, all I had to do is remove the old valve, glue in the replacement valve and connector. Unfortunately, that plumbing is stuck. The greenish stuff at the joints appears to be pipe dope, which would prevent water from working its way back up the threads, but shouldn't act as a glue. But I'll be darned if I can budge those valves a nanometer. I was moving the entire water heater instead. I guess I'll need manstrength to help with that task.

This post is too long, even without the yard update, so I'll post about that later.

I never won anything in my whole life...

until today, that is. Benny at DC Rowhouse, another home renovation blog I stalk read, hosted a giveaway of an Envirosax grocery bag. They're reusable, washable bags that can carry the weight of two standard plastic grocery bags. I was one of four winners. Maybe this will cut down on the amount of plastic bags I have to return to the recycling center in Kroger. I was sure to request a gender-neutral, solid-color bag so Tom will use it even when I don't go to the store with him. I can't wait to get it in the mail! Thanks, Benny!

15 August 2009

Nothing earth-shattering...

...but some progress nonetheless. Most of the day was spent staring at the dryer vent material in Lowe's. Apparently you can't use flexible aluminum duct inside a wall cavity. And of course, everything in our local Lowe's is out of place or broken or mislabeled or missing completely, so it is never a simple shopping trip.

I finally took care of our front door latch. It has always been problematic. If you don't leave the inside knob in just the right position, the outer thumb latch won't work. I read somewhere that this particular problem is generally caused by dirt and grime in the mechanism, so I bought some degreaser and went to it. As it turns out, I don't think it was a gunk problem at all - I think the inside door knob had been screwed on too tight. Somehow that interfered with the outside latch getting to the lift mechanism. It was interesting to take it apart and see how it worked, though - it's amazing how few moving parts there were in the whole handset! It still requires two hands (thumbs, actually) to open the door, but at least it's not a gamble as to whether or not it will work. No more climbing into second-floor windows for me! (Oh, yes, that has happened).

Tom started running the electric for the dryer. Unfortunately he got waylaid in the process by some old knob-and-tube wiring in the basement that was in the way. Here's his arm at the end of the day, covered in coal dust and dirt, with my much cleaner (but still dirty) arm as a point of comparison:

Is there any dirt left in the basement?

He should be able to finish up tomorrow, which means I'll be able to check something off the list. And if all goes well, we'll have all the washer and dryer stuff done by tomorrow evening, too. Of course, nothing ever goes well, so we'll just have to do the best we can. Until tomorrow...

09 August 2009

Let's play a little game, shall we?

Can you tell me what's wrong with this picture? Click on it to view a full-size photo if you need to see it better.

Any guesses? No?

Tom's white sneakers are a questionable fashion choice, but we'll let it slide (until Labor Day, of course). That's not what I'm talking about, either. And for the particularly observant, it's not the fact that he wears his wedding ring on his middle finger, either.

It's the plumbing. The #$%^& people installed the pipes in the middle of the floor, 6" from the edge of the wall. Now consider the fact that the (non-load-bearing) wooden wall has 3 main purposes: 1) provide a place to hang drywall; 2) hide electrical wiring; 3) hide plumbing. I understand the fact that this is a sometimes necessary way of doing the plumbing, but in this instance, it's mind-boggingly nonsensical. Long story longer, we'll have to redo even this section of plumbing. Ugh.


We had some slaves friends come over to help us work today. We finished just about all the drywall that we can do for the moment and then moved downstairs to work on the flooring. We managed to remove most of the finished floor and will be able to hack away at the subfloor. It started here, right by the basement skylight:

And ended here, very close to the north kitchen wall (there's a stack of drywall on the last 2 rows of flooring - we removed more after this picture was taken):

After the wooden planks were out, we still had to dispose of the 105-year-old tar paper underneath it and pull out hundreds (I'm not exaggerating) of finishing nails that were sticking out of the subfloor. Four of us spent the better part of an hour pulling them out, and I think there are still plenty more left. Here's a shot of the entire space from the hole in the floor to give you a better sense of the size of the room:

We absolutely definitely need to figure out the bathroom door situation and complete the washer plumbing tomorrow. We need to leak test ASAP and start drywalling in the bathroom.

07 August 2009

My evening job as a stripper.

Sorry if I just gave you heart palpitations, ma. I'm talking about stripping paint off of perfectly lovely solid wood doors. Well, one door anyway. The door to the master suite looked like this:

Please ignore the utter filth of the basement.

The picture makes it look like it's in much better condition than it is. The door itself is fine, but the paint was chipped and cracked in hundreds of places.

I applied a generous coat of America's #1 Stripper Brand, and before I could even finish the application over the whole door, I got this:

Thanks, Klean-Strip.

If I hadn't been able to smell the awful fumes, I might have mistaken the lovely crackle effect for a delicious lemon merengue pie.

Mmm, pie.

One swipe of the plastic scraper:

This is the door by the end of the first pass:

Not too shabby for 45 minutes of work.

If you have a paint stripping project in your future, I suggest you get somebody really smart to do it for you. Not because it's difficult, but because they can probably spare the brain cells they'll inevitably lose while using the stuff. I'll make a second pass at the door with Klean-Strip tomorrow, possibly in a better ventilated area.

I did get a few other little things done this evening. I added insulation in the hallway area and dragged out the door I wanted to use for the bathroom entry. I had planned on framing the doorway tonight, but decided not to because I'm not sure if it will work. All of the doors we have at the house are 32" wide. Unfortunately, that doesn't leave enough room for trim around the doorway unless we do something either 1) chintzy or 2) kinda crazy. I'm certainly open to suggestions and creative ideas, even though I think the answer will probably be just to suck it up and buy a new door.

05 August 2009

Inviting myself over

We found out a few days ago that one of Tom’s friends is moving back to Portsmouth from Columbus. He and his wife are building a house on some family property. Her grandparents have a farmhouse there, but it has too many structural problems to try to fix. They plan on tearing it down and building on the same spot. I’m trying to figure out a way to invite myself out there and raid the house of materials. They insist that it’s in really terrible shape, but I’m sure there’s something there I could use. Even one working doorknob would make it worth it to me. I’ll let you know.

Bathroom inspiration board

Here’s a picture board of the products we’re using in our master bathroom so you can get a better idea of what it might eventually look like.

Flooring: Porcelain tile from Lowe’s. Rialto Noce ($2.08 per square foot).
Sinks: Two pedestal sinks from Lowe’s. American Standard (Around $90, I think).
Tub: 42”x60” Whirlpool tub. Special order from Lowe’s ($798).
Toilet: Kohler from Lowe’s. ($168? I remember thinking it was a lot for a toilet).
Mirrors: Oval mirrors from Lowe’s ($50 each). I'll probably paint the frames a different color.
Sink faucets: Delta Victorian, 4” centers. One from Lowe’s, one from eBay. (I can't remember how much these were without sifting through my pile of receipts).
Tub faucet: Clawfoot style tub filler. From eBay seller wosmile ($98).
Vanity light: Royce Arc 3-light vanity bar from Lowe's ($59 each).
Shower fixture: Delta Victorian showerhead. One from Lowe's, one from eBay. (Again, I can't remember. Something like $120 each).
Plantation shutters: Not purchased yet. I'm waiting to put casements on the windows to ensure a proper fit. Mom says she can get them in Mobile for $8 each. I saw some in a junk shop in town for $18-20 each, but they had a very limited selection.
Wainscot: I'll do these myself using various mouldings rather than a kit. I just like the look and think it fits well with an old house.
Fabric: I haven't finalized this by any means, but I'd like something similar to this for the window treatments. This particular fabric is a Waverly pattern, $20 a yard at fabric.com.

I also haven't finalized a paint color. I tend toward cool colors, especially aquatic blue-greens and grays. A warm color might make sense, though, since this is where my long waking up process will take place every morning. I'll probably pick out window treatment fabric first and draw a wall color from that. It's a lot easier to match paint to fabric than vice versa.

Any tips or thoughts?

04 August 2009


Everybody keeps asking when we think we'll finally get moved in to the house. I've never had a good answer because it always seemed like we had so much more to do before we could even consider it. I finally put pencil to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and wrote down everything that had to be done before we got in there and estimated a deadline for each item. I think that September 15 is a reasonable deadline. It will take a lot of work and long hours to get it done by then, but (I think) it's doable.

I added the list to the bottom of the blog to help keep track. I'll remove or cross items off the list as they're completed, and add items as I think of them. Hopefully it'll keep me motivated to chip away at the list bit by bit.

02 August 2009

Long day.

Tom and I didn't work at the house yesterday (we were out of town for a table tennis tournament), but we made up for it today with a 12-hour workday. We're about 80% done with hanging drywall in the bedroom and will probably start working on the bathroom next.

We tried to do our plumbing leak-test, but I apparently forgot to cap off a couple of lines the previous owner had installed. Luckily Tom heard the water splashing from the basement and shut it back off immediately. I had to get creative, but I managed to cap them off. Unfortunately, you're supposed to wait 2 hours after gluing before you pressure-test, and it was already getting dark.

While we were doing our weekly inside-trash-can-to-outside-trash-can dump at the end of the day, somebody stopped and asked if the house was for rent. Huh? Nothing says "Rent Me" like an ill-kept yard, drywall scraps in the trash, a broken window, and two really dirty people in the back yard. Oddly enough, this is the second time we've been asked that.

I took pictures today but left my camera at the house. Really, though, pictures of drywall aren't all that exciting.

01 August 2009

Renovation blues

I've been reading a few renovation blogs lately for some reassurance that this process will eventually end. I've enjoyed most of them, but none of them really seem to have taken on quite what we have. Most of their "renovations" are more aesthetic - pulling down old wallpaper and painting are the two main projects I see. Sometimes they'll gut a single room (usually the kitchen or bathroom), but most everything else stays the same. If they are doing a full down-to-the-studs type of project, the blog is mostly filled with reports of what their contractor has accomplished.

I'm not really sure what my point is. I guess I just feel discouraged sometimes not having accomplished much of anything. We've owned the house for a year and we still haven't moved in. We really have gotten a lot done, but visually there's not a whole lot to show for it. Some things we've done, if only to dampen the self-pity party I'm having over here:

- Cleaned out a bunch of old junk from the main floor.
- Coated the basement wall with a skim coat of concrete and waterproofing material.
- Sistered the second-floor ceiling to accommodate a habitable attic room (this involved cutting notches in every joist in an attempt to level the ceiling while we were at it).
- Framed a knee wall for the attic room.
- Replaced the attic cross-bracing.
- HVAC installed (hired out).
- Windows replaced (hired out).
- Patched cracks and gaps in the brick mortar.
- Framed the bedroom, bathroom, and closet.
- Installed insulation in attic and master suite.
- Lay sub-flooring for attic room.
- Ran new electrical for master suite.
- Ran new plumbing (supply lines, drains, and vents) for master bath.
- Installed subfloor for bathroom tile.
- Hung drywall for most of the master bath.
- Removed subfloor from parts of the first floor (we plan on reusing much of it).
- Installed OSB sheathing where we removed the original wood planks.
- Tore out a bunch of questionable electrical work.

I guess that's not really all that much, even accounting for the whole getting married thing.

Maybe I should just look in a mirror and say:

30 July 2009

This is a long post, sorry.

I haven’t mentioned it before now, but I’ve been busy planning the downstairs layout, specifically the kitchen. I think I’ve *finally* decided on the plan. Here’s how it will be divided (at least until I change my mind again):

Top to bottom: Mudroom, den, kitchen, half-bath under the main stairs.

There were a few things driving this design. First, the windows. Since our home was built in 1905 and is load-bearing masonry construction (with limestone headers and sills), we aren’t going to try to change any of the openings. Most of the windows are only about 20” off the floor, meaning we can’t put cabinets in front of them. The windows where I’ve located the sink are a bit higher off the floor and will accommodate cabinets.

The second consideration was the two sets of stairs at the back of the house. The set closer to the back door is a servant’s stair. Several steps are missing (I think the previous owner took them out to add a closet there), but we plan on restoring them. It will lead up to a study/guest bedroom on the second floor from a mudroom on the ground floor. The other staircase leads down to the basement.

The next challenge was the bump-out in the wall in the middle room in the plan. It was a chimney for the home’s boiler, which no longer exists. The brick has to stay, though, so we thought we’d turn it into an asset rather than a weird bump in the middle of the room. By framing it a little wider and deeper, we can install a gas fireplace insert. The extra bulk will make it look more like a traditional wood-burning fireplace structure and turn the whole area into a focal point. Plus, it’ll give us somewhere to hang the TV that isn’t visible from the front windows. Am I the only one who cringes at seeing people’s TVs in the front room?

As far as the kitchen design goes, I’ve been awfully picky. I cook nearly every day, so I want it to have form AND function. While I might love having a huge, million-dollar kitchen, I simply can’t justify it. Sure, I cook, but it’s certainly not gourmet meals every day, and right now, it’s just me and the husband. And whether I like it or not, I’m usually the only one doing the cooking, so I don’t need space for 13 cooks (actually, it kind of drives me crazy when other people want to help with dinner. Control freak much? Or maybe I‘m just ashamed at my amateurish techniques - like using scissors instead of knives to cut meat). I like to buy in bulk and have items on-hand, hence the large pantry. I’ve justified closing in the north window by planning for transom windows above, and possibly a French door to let through as much light as possible.

There are a couple of different things I can do with the area by the pantry, where I have a wall oven drawn. I plan on having an oven and microwave together and a separate cook top (by the doorway into the den). I could gain more countertop by installing a single wall oven at a standard range oven’s height and putting the microwave on a shelf above. Or, I could buy a microwave/oven combined unit and install it at the standard wall oven height. I’d be able to get cabinets underneath and shelves on either side and on top, giving it a more custom look.

Although I’m pretty satisfied with the general layout, there are still a lot of details I need to work out. I’ll post later about the finishes and materials I’m thinking about since this post is already out of control. Any suggestions or recommendations for the layout?

Noah's Ark was on standby...

We finally had the water turned on yesterday, and I’m happy to report that our house didn’t flood. There is a valve right inside the water line’s point of entry that we had shut off to keep it from traveling through the open supply lines. Now the next thing to do is put caps on the bath valves and perform leak-testing this weekend. I never thought I’d be so excited about water, but it’s a huge step in the renovation process. Once we’re sure our pipes are not leaking, we can start drywall, green board, and cement board in the bathroom. Then we'll really be cooking with gas.

27 July 2009

Pictures, as promised.

We had two long workdays in a row and actually managed to get a lot accomplished for once. If you recall, this is what our bedroom looked like last weekend:

And this is what it looked like at the end of Saturday:

Not much progress. We discovered a mistake with a previous piece, so we had to take it down, cut new holes, and reattach it.

But here's the bedroom at the end of the day on Sunday (11 pm):

South wall.

Ceiling. Now that the ceiling is (mostly) done, we could turn the breaker back on and work on the walls after dark.

Niche thing on north wall. Closet and bathroom beyond. Drywall dust and assorted junk everywhere.

I also capped off all the supply lines in the house, so I can call the water company and have them turn on the water. Hopefully we'll be able to leak-test the plumbing next weekend so we can begin drywall work in the bathroom. Since Paul and Francesca are expecting baby boy #3 in November, Paul's got his own list of home improvement projects he needs to get done. He's trying to get done everything Tom and I would probably mess up royally if left to our own devices. Namely, the hookups for the washer and dryer. I'm still waiting for the next big holiday weekend for sweet appliance deals (sales + 110% price matching + free delivery + 10% off for opening a Lowe's credit card = ka-ching) before I buy them, but we'll be prepared when they finally come.

25 July 2009

Broken promises

As I mentioned in the previous post, Tom and I promised to hang a sheet of drywall per day this week after work. That didn't happen. For the first time in a long time, we've had other obligations every night this week. It's really just as well, though, since I was a bit under the weather anyhow. Whatever it was seems to have passed now, so tomorrow we will have a full day of drywall-hanging fun. We should have 2 helpers, making it go twice as fast. Or, with twice as many opinions on how to do something, twice as slow. We'll see. Pictures will follow.

20 July 2009

Snail's pace

I know it's been a long time. And no, mom, I'm not deceased. Thanks for the vote of confidence, though. Progress has been frustratingly slow, bordering on non-existent, and I have avoided blogging to hide my shame.

We're still exactly where we were at the last post in terms of drywall. We were supposed to have help last weekend with it, but a nasty storm kept the helpers busy with other obligations (mostly helping their own families clean up after the mess that the storm made). Today we didn't have help, but we're not sure why.

We did get things done, though, in small and seemingly insignificant ways. While our work has no effect on our move-in date, it is all work that will need to be done eventually.

When we bought the house, a bunch of post-demolition work had already been completed. Things like framing, plumbing, and minimal electric (an outlet in the basement and one on the second floor, just enough to plug in some tools). Had these things been done correctly, it would have been a huge time-saver for us. Unfortunately, the guy was a hack and did just about everything wrong. It's taken us so much more time to go back and undo what they "fixed."

For example, today we focused on repairing the downstairs floor by the back door. They had patched in a couple of pieces of plywood in front of the stairway to the basement, which we needed to take it out so we could lay down the OSB. These sheets were only about 3 feet square, but they had at least 30 ring-shank nails in each piece. Getting those things out is a remarkable pain in the behind. A cat's claw is the best tool for it, but it's still back-straining, tedious work. We finally took all the nails out only to discover that the base plate of the wall framing was hiding more nails. Upon closer inspection, we decided to take out the wall framing altogether because the studs were unbelievably warped and twisted. Also, some of the plumbing that ran in the wall stuck out past the line of the wall, making it impossible to drywall even if the studs were straight. And of course, instead of using nails like every other framer in the history of wooden framing, they used 4" screws. Coincidentally, these screws are the worst screws money can buy. The head strips with one turn of the drill. Sometimes if it doesn't strip, the shank will simply break off right where the threads start, making it impossible to remove. We even bought a screw extractor kit, but to no avail.

We finally just cut the studs in half and used brute force to pull the framing out. Once that was done, we went back to trying to get the plywood out. But the plumbing and electrical lines that had already been run were running through the plywood, so we couldn't simply lift it out. A couple more hours of magical circular saw and hand saw maneuvers, and we were finally able to take out the piece of plywood to install the OSB. A few cuts along the edge for length and width and a couple of notches to accommodate the aforementioned plumbing, and we were in business. We spent about 5 hours on the flooring project today, and only got 2 pieces put down. Sigh.

And we can't really progress much further with the flooring until we take up all the top floor and the subfloor. Currently, that's got a bunch of drywall sitting on it, so I guess we really do have to finish the drywall first.

We rounded out the day with some other miscellany. I hung insulation in a couple more places, and Tom took out a bunch of electrical wiring The Hacks had installed. Based on what we'd seen of their electrical skills, we thought it best to start from scratch. (They hooked up a bunch of lights in the basement, put them on the same breaker as the furnace, and then started randomly cutting wires in the circuit - presumably to lighten the load after the circuit kept tripping.) I also mowed the lawn and talked to our next-door-neighbor. He offered his sister's labor to edge our front sidewalk. It's really nice and completely unnecessary, and I have a vague feeling that they're getting tired of our weeds overpowering the sidewalk and making their house look shabby, but I'll take what I can get.

As far as drywall goes, though, Tom and I promised each other to take the time this week to hang at least one sheet per day by ourselves after work. It doesn't sound like a lot, and it's not, but 1) drywall is heavy; 2) Tom usually doesn't come home from work until 7 pm; and 3) I still have to find the energy in the evening to cook dinner, wash dishes, do laundry, etc. etc.

I wish I had pictures to update this entry, but I didn't take any this weekend, and they really wouldn't have been very exciting anyway. Maybe next time.

06 July 2009

It's starting to look like something.

I'm pleased to announce that we finally began work on drywall today! It was only 3 pieces, but it certainly feels like an accomplishment.

Hint: It's not the underside of a spaceship. Also, not a weird face with widely-spaced glowing eyes, a tiny mouth, and exposed brains.

Our weekend help will be out of town next weekend, so Tom and I will be on our own. That means a lot of long hours holding up heavy sheets of drywall, but I think we'll be able to do most of it ourselves. Tom will probably take a day or two off while The Help is on vacation to get a bit more knocked off the list.

In other news, Paul got us pretty well on the way with the plumbing in the bathroom. These are for the shower:
Corn mazes are out. CPVC mazes are in.

We used flex tubing instead of rigid CPVC connections. The idea is that if the shower valves and such ever need to be replaced, unscrewing those tubes will be easier, faster, and neater than trying to cut off rigid pipe and having to glue small extension pieces in place. In reality, replacing that stuff will never be easy, fast, or neat, but we can at least minimize damage this way.

This is the setup for the tub:

The connectors we used caused a bit of controversy with The Help. They're called GatorBite fittings, and they form a glue- and solder-free joint. You simply push the pipe into the end and call it a day. I guess he doesn't trust the connection. I can't really find any reliable information about them. All I can find are message boards where professional plumbers complain about them because they enable people to fix their plumbing themselves. I haven't seen anything that says that they form a poor connection, or that they leak, or that they're poor quality. Any negatives I've seen about GatorBite have been about a line of copper fittings that they don't sell anymore. I guess we'll do some pressure testing before we put wallboard up to see how they do.

During the week next week:

- Finish plumbing for shower (install straps, connect supply lines to main supply stack).
- Continue drywalling (the goal is to get the ceiling and one wall done before the weekend).

30 June 2009

Quick update.

Just a quick update to show you the installed tub, since I finally remembered to snap a picture of it. The half-wall beside it hides the toilet from view upon entering the bathroom. There will be a shelf on the toilet side for extra TP and the ever-present library collection.

So we read in the bathroom. Don't judge us.

The front of the tub will feature a removable access panel. I found an interesting schematic that I think will work well, and you'd never know there was a panel there. There will also be another panel on the toilet side to make it easier to reach the motor. Our bathroom will have a bit more color in it than this example, but this is what I was going for with the tub:

All that white is a bit blinding.

This weekend, we also finally cleaned up the glass from the broken window, stubbed out the sink plumbing, connected the tub drain, and added in nailing blocks for drywall. We should be ready to drywall in the bedroom this weekend. It's possible I'm being overly optimistic, but I think we can get the majority of the drywall hung in the bedroom this weekend. Then you'll really be able to see the progress.

27 June 2009

Mysteries revealed.

The county auditor has our home listed as being built in 1870, but we've always doubted that date. It's an old house, but we really didn't think it was that old. I probably could have found more accurate records at the courthouse, but my work schedule doesn't work well with their 4:30 pm closing time. The previous owner told us what he knew - or what he thought he knew - about it, which wasn't much. He gave us the name Peter Kline. He was a physician, and because of his job was a fairly prominent citizen, so he was easy to track down.

Found in a book of local history, published when Kline was alive.

I found census records and his listing in the telephone directory (his telephone number: 1. How awesome is that?). One of the directories gave a physical location, too - the northeast corner of Fourth and Washington. That's our intersection, but it's the wrong corner. It turns out that all his addresses had odd numbers, which means he lived and worked on the opposite side of the street. So I was basically back to nothing.

I did find out that his son was also became a doctor and practiced briefly in Portsmouth. The information I found indicated that he also lived on Fourth Street, but I couldn't pinpoint an address. I kept him in mind, thinking maybe the previous owner got the names confused and it was actually his son that lived in the house.

I stumbled upon some old fire maps of the area in a earch tonight. It turns out we were right about the house. The earliest map, dated 1884, shows a building on our lot, but it is definitely not our house.

The building that is not our house is circled in red.

Two maps later, in 1892, the building is gone.

In the 1904 map, the footprint for the existing house is shown. It also indicates "from plans," meaning the house was not yet complete. This note was removed by the 1911 map, so we at least narrowed it down to a 7-year period.

Yes, our next-door-neighbor's house was - and still is - nearly identical.

These maps also indicate the older numbering system for the city. The 1911 map indicates both the old system and the new (current) system. Our house was listed as 52 W. Fourth Street. I went back to the census for this time period and looked up Peter Kline's son, Charles Flint Kline. His address is listed as 56 W. Fourth Street - our next-door-neighbor. And because the census was taken door-to-door (not listed alphabetically), it was easy to see who lived in the next house - Samuel Peebles.

At some point, our entire backyard was covered in brick pavers, many of which bear a "Peebles" stamp. There was a brickyard in Portsmouth called the Peebles Paving Brick Company. Samuel's involvement in the company certainly explains why our house is brick when so many from that time period have wood siding. So far I've not been able to find out anything else about him, but I'll keep hunting. It feels good to know a little bit more about the house, but I still have many more questions and will keep up the hunt.