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: