30 April 2015

Replacing the front steps

It was sickening to my soul, but we had to make the very tough decision to remove and replace the solid stone slabs that made up our front stairs. The stone was spalling and crumbled a little more with every footstep and raindrop that fell on it. The top step had broken in half and wobbled precariously under any weight. They needed to be replaced before someone got seriously injured.

So we needed to decide what we would put in their place. Replacing with comparable stone would have been prohibitively expensive. Concrete would have been cheaper but still pricey and probably not DIYable. Wood won out. Although not accurate to this particular home, wood steps are true to the time period and can be made to look as if they always belonged to the house. Hopefully the local historical society will not raise a stink about it.

We removed the bottom tread, which was actually 3 blocks of stone. Layers of stone came off in sheets. I was amazed and a little frightened by how easily the stone crumbled in my hands. Once the bottom treads were out, I pulled out an incredible amount of stone debris that had fallen off the bottoms of the other treads. I dug a trench along the sidewalk, then filled it with several inches of gravel and then sand. This will help water drain away from the bottom of the stairs and hopefully prevent rot. Solid concrete block was put on top and stabilized and leveled all the way across.

Tom grabbed a demolition bar and wrestled out one of the pieces of the top tread.

We carefully rolled it down step by step to a furniture dolly and rolled it to its new home, just a few feet away.

The stone seems randomly placed at the moment (my landscape architect sister is probably cringing right now), but it will eventually become flowerbed edging.  There is still a lot of use left in these stone slabs, just not as structural elements. I'm glad I'll be able to use them as part of the house and not just have them hauled to the dump. We're waiting for the weekend before we tear apart any more of the stairs to maximize our work time and minimize the time we have to climb up and down the porch foundation to access the house.

29 April 2015

When I was a kid, I had a favorite rock. It wasn't a fancy polished rock, or pretty color, and it wasn't shaped like a heart or a bunny or anything. It was a ruddy purplish brown with flat sides and sharp corners, about the size of my adult hand. It had some sparkly bits on one face, but otherwise it was just an ordinary piece of rock. I'm sure it was puzzling to my parents as to why I was always walking around with a rock in one hand (and probably a book in the other), but by that point in my childhood they'd learned to not ask questions.

But now that I'm an adult, I no longer have a favorite rock (although if I saw that rock in my parents' yard I'd probably take it just for nostalgia of my childhood weirdness). Instead, I now have a favorite brick. You see, I have piles

and piles

 and piles

of brick (several more piles than just these) at my disposal, and I've already used them in quite a few projects. So far I've built a raised flower bed,

lined the flower beds along the sidewalk,

buried a line of bricks under the neighbor's fence (to keep the former neighbor's terriers from digging under it, plus it helps keep my weeds contained to my yard),

and outlined around the heat pumps (to keep the stone "mulch" in place).

Whenever practical I orient the bricks so that you can see the brickmakers' stamps. In our one-half of a city lot, you can pretty much see the entire history of the Portsmouth brickmaking industry. I like having that history literally under my feet, and yesterday I spotted this gem:

Not only does it have raised lettering, which in itself is unusual, but the S in Sciotoville is backward. I don't know why this is so appealing to me, but it's a reminder to me that all of these heavy, durable bricks were made by artisans using hand-set molds. I have dozens of these Carlyle Sciotoville Blocks, but this is the only one I have found so far with this mistake. Here's the larger view of the project:

It's a work in progress.

28 April 2015

Where has the time gone?

Oh, hi strangers. Nice to see you again. Believe it or not, I've actually been working on the house and quietly ticking things off the to-do list. I finally finished the crown moulding in the master bathroom, back bedroom, and the tub/toilet half of the hall bathroom. I also finished baseboard in the hall bath and back bedroom. Other than some touch-up paint here and there, the back bedroom is done.

The temperate weather has inspired me to get some projects done outside as well. The next major project is replacing the front stairs, which we should make some serious progress on this weekend. Demolition of the existing stairs will be by far the hardest aspect of this job, since each of the steps weighs several hundred pounds. I promise I'll post some pictures soon of all our progress, but I just wanted to check in and assure you that I'm still alive and kicking!