Thursday, May 27, 2010

Yet another issue... of course.

So a couple of days ago, I planted all my new plants in the native gardens I am creating out front.  When I put new plants in the ground, I tend to get a little obsessed with their well being, so I went out to check on them that night.  When I came back in through the porch, I saw light streaming up through the floorboards. Hmmm...

Now I should mention that we have a full basement under the porch. Before checking on the plants, I had done a load of laundry and left the basement lights on.

I decided to investigate.  I went to the basement and noticed the ceiling looked strangely like porch flooring. I also noticed the joists were a little off.  There were twenty four inches between them. I went back up to the porch.  I walked on it.  It bounced.  There was no subfloor!

At this point, I brought in reinforcements (Kevin) who said we needed to call more qualified reinforcements (my dad, an engineer).  He was surprised no one had fallen through the porch. With the combination of no subfloor and widely spaced joists. So now the plan is to add joists downstairs and use the old porch flooring as subfloor and install new floor over it to act as the new floor.  We are also breaking tradition and staining it rather than painting porch floor blue/grey.  We found straight grain fir at a really good price; it would have been painful to paint it.


Thursday, May 20, 2010

It has begun...

Last summer we took off the asbestos cement shingles from the west side of our house and began restoring the original clapboard siding.  There is a whole series of posts I wrote on this if you're interested, starting here. We are planning on going around the house, doing one side at a time.  This summer, we are beginning with the front of the house, including the front porch.

Here is a picture of the porch before we began.  It is not a traditional bungalow full-front porch; it's small, about 5ft. x 15ft. The wicker couch and footstool were a curb-side freebie.  There was that red plastic outdoor carpet on the floors, plywood on the ceilings, and some odd issues between the ceiling and floor.
The porch had always been part of the plan for redoing the front of the house, but neither of us had expected the extent of work that was required.  We found rotted wood everywhere, plus a lot of poorly done repairs (I use the term repairs lightly in this case).  So, we ended up replacing every single post!  Luckily, we had help:

That is our almost brother-in-law, Ken.  He's done this kind of thing before, and proved to be a huge help.  While the dudes worked on the posts, Kevin's sister (also Sara) stripped paint with me on the interior of the porch.  She looks like a pro!
They were a huge help and even talked of coming again!  I guess the Bungled House didn't scare them too much, although I don't think Sara will ever look at her new house the same way again....

My dad came to finish the job with Kevin on Sunday, so we really made a lot of progress.    Here is a picture taken early in the process.  This is of the doorway. There is no support behind the trim! EEK! And the trim is rotted!  EEEEK!  

They went around the porch, replacing the trim and installing 2x4 support under all of the new trim.  Kevin just has one area to tweak and one more post to install, and that part of the job is done.  Bonus: Wherever there is new wood, I don't have to strip paint!  Yes! This side of the house actually should go quickly.  There is a dormer on the front of the house that has cedar shingles, so we just need to repair the bad ones and wash and stain.  There is trim that needs to be stripped up there, but not too much, so that shouldn't be too painful.  The clapboards on the bottom of the house are going to be stripped using a Paintshaver, which will make it a lot faster and not kill my native gardens. On the side yard, the plants took a beating because of the tarps covering the ground. Hopefully with the Paintshaver, we'll just have to cover the specific area we are working on, as it hooks up to the Shop-vac and the paint shavings will be captured.

As a reward for all the boring paint stripping on Friday and Saturday, I pulled down the plywood covering the ceiling. Guess what I discovered? Haint Blue!! And a hole, but that's not important.   Here's an article on the history of painting porch ceilings blue. I am so utterly excited about the blue.  although the bead board is in pretty rough shape.  I think we're actually planning on putting plybead (plywood beadboard) up because of its condition- painted Haint Blue, of course.

The floor is also in rough shape, but we are planning on stripping it and repainting it Porch Floor Blue (they should really think of a catchy name for gray-blue floor paint).

Okay, Online House Community and Friends, here's where we need your help:

1. Should we keep the porch open or reinstall storms? It had a full set of storms and screens, but they were ALL in very rough shape- we think a PO of this house had a crooked saw. Seriously. Should we go with tradition and have no storms and screens? Or should we make new ones?

2. Should we paint the inside of the porch to match the exterior of the house?  There are clapboards inside the porch, as you can see from the picture above, but do they have to be the same color as the house?  Or could they be white? And then what color should the beadboard surrounding the interior of the porch be?  Here is our color palate on the actual house:

I'm just thinking with the gray floors, the gray all over the porch might be too much.

Please weigh in, I'm all ears--or eyes, I guess, right?

Friday, April 30, 2010

You know it's time to landscape when...

the weeds are almost as tall as the shrubs you planted last year. Really, it was getting embarrassing. I could sense the neighbors all breathing a sigh of relief when they saw us pull up with a truckload of bricks and mulch.  I didn't think to get the camera out until the project was almost complete, but this is the end result.  I went cheap with the bricks and got them in the masonry section at the Big Blue Store instead of going through the landscaping section.  This cut costs almost in half.  
I think eventually the bricks will weather to the shade of the concrete sidewalk. I also plan to plant some perennials that will cascade over the side a bit to make it look a little less formal.  For now, I'm happy with the results, and very excited for the Friends School Plant Sale next weekend.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

And the we did nothing for two months....

No, actually we've been plugging away on projects, just not plugging away on blogging. Sorry.  Although we did take a break to do this last weekend:

The stairs are almost done, at this point I am just waiting for Kevin's carpentry skills to reattach some pieces. He's really the brains in this operation if I haven't mentioned that before.  

Here's a close-up of the stairs.  I finished the treads over my spring break with  a base coat of amber shellac and a few coats of Minwax Polyurethane for Floors.  While we waited for them to cure, all fifty pounds of Arlo had to be carried up and down for bed. We're all glad that stage of the remodel is done, especially him, since I bumped his head a few times on the wall while I was carrying him.  

The banisters and other trim will be done this weekend, I hope, and then... we tear down each and every last crumb of cement asbestos siding!! Or at least everything we can reach without renting the scaffolding yet.  

Sunday, February 14, 2010


What kind of crazy people buy each other a house for Valentine's Day? We do, of course.  For our second anniversary of Bungled House ownership, we didn't do any house projects. We went out to eat, we cooked good food, and sat around and watched the Olympics.  Wonderful.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

After, After and In Progress

Because what's the point of finishing a project if you haven't already started a new one that will monopolize your time?

First, I will start with the Hallway before:
And hall after:

It just feels more like an old house now, doesn't it? The color of the walls is actually green, though it looks kind of grey in some photos.  It is a Behr color, Spiced Oregano, but I have never been impressed with Behr paint, so it is actually Olympic Premium Paint.  Olympic Premium is a zero-VOC paint, and since I've been meaning to explore the low/no-VOC paint world, I decided to give it  a spin in a small space.  I'm pretty particular about my paint quality; actually I'm a little on the obsessive side.  I enjoyed using this paint, it had good coverage and very little odor.  I really love the color with the wood, too.

We are still hunting for a door to replace the white one in the picture above.  It is the bathroom door, and someone was not kind to it; it's badly dinged, there is a mortise cut out for a hinge that doesn't exist, and all of the panels are cracked or covered in holes from towel racks.  So eventually the plan is to use it in the kitchen for the doorway down to the stairs (currently void of a door) and find a replacement for the bathroom.  We're in no hurry, I actually don't mind the white door for now.

For the next before and after, I give you Beast to Generic-Modern-Day-Furnace-Not-Yet-Worthy-Of-A-Catchy-Name (or GMDFNYWOACN, for short):

I don't really have much to say about this, considering I did zero percent of the work. It's a Trane, 95% efficient.  I can now walk everywhere in the basement and not hit my head.  Kevin can too, as long as he walks only North to South and doesn't try to go West.

Finally, I give you in progress:

This is where I left off on the stairs on Sunday to become a Saints fan and football fan all in one night.   As you can see, there is still paint in all the crevices and cracks, which will take me most of this next weekend to pluck and sand out, but I think I made good progress.  I think I can hear the bungled house thanking me for rescuing its wood from the dreaded paint-over -- either that or it's the new furnace starting up.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

We've killed the Beast

That's right, our sea-green beast is dead.  I was at work, so Kevin and the dog were there to witness its last gasps.  When I got home, I have to say, Arlo was visibly shaken.  Either he thinks he's next or he's afraid of the five electric heaters strategically placed around the house. Come to think of it, he's giving the heater that's pointed at us right now the shifty eye, so the evidence is in favor of the latter of my theories.
Anyway, enough about the dog.  It is COLD up in here. At last read, which was about five minutes ago since I'm obsessively checking it at this point, the thermostat is reading fifty-nine degrees.  I have two blankets on and I have only gotten off the couch twice since I got home from work.  One of those times was to stare at our basement in awe.
 This might look like a concrete floor to the untrained eye, but I'd like to draw your attention to the faint square imprint.  That used to be our furnace.  The one that was kind of handy to have around in February in Minnesota.  The temp outside right now? Nineteen degrees.

See? No furnace.  This picture also shows two of the five heaters. The new furnace is going in tomorrow, so really I'm being dramatic right now. Like I said, the asbestos abatement guys left us some heaters.  They also left our basement spotless and smelling of Simple Green cleaner.  Mmmmm.  I'll write more about abatement when I can get Kevin to explain the process in detail.

I go back and forth about the furnace. On one hand, the old furnace worked just fine.  Yes, it was from 1946, and yes it was a little on the creepy side, but on the other hand, it was a reliable appliance.  Gravity heat, for those who have experienced it is quite nice.  It is quiet and the furnaces last forever because there are no moving parts.  We are replacing something that lasted 64 years with something that will last 20 years.  However, I think, in the end, it was a good decision.  For one, our neighborhood offered a deal where we would get a 35% rebate.  That is on top of the federal Energy Star rebates. That comes out to 65% off of a new furnace.  Wow.  Also, we had gravity heat in a duplex before moving into the Bungled House (and enjoyed it thoroughly) but we felt that others who may eventually want to live here might be a little more freaked by the Beast.  Not everyone has a fondness for giant green hunks of metal.

How many pictures of the lack of a furnace can one put into a blog post?  I'm thinking three is the limit.  That was the last, I promise. It's just so weird!



Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Newel Post

Get it? A newel post? Ha. 

I will be honest.  The hall is not done, and I started a new project.  Why? Well, it turns out, trim installation is a lot harder than it looks. In the twenty minutes I attempted it on Friday night, I cracked two boards and a wall.  Ouch.  Lucky for me, Kevin is a much more patient person, he is more methodical, and he doesn't mind finishing my abandoned projects.  We tend to compliment each other well when working on the house. He is really our detail man, whereas I am the blunt force.  I am good at removal and power-tooling; he is good at finishing and picking paint out of cracks.  He is good at power-tooling too, but only after I've destroyed something enough that he is over the fear of wrecking it. Without me, projects would take months to get started.  Without him, they would never get finished.  

More on the trim, installations and decisions in another post.

Anyway, we need to get the trim installed today because the furnace is finally going in on Wednesday, and we can't have stuff everywhere in the basement.  So Kevin is installing the trim, while I begin the hall stairs. There are five stairs from the main floor, then a landing in which you make a 180 degree turn, then go up the rest of the way.  I am focusing on the stairs on the main floor, and leaving the top half until we are working upstairs again. Kevin and I are getting sick of feeling like we live in a crackhouse whenever we have guests, so main floor first. 

Here is a before shot, taken on the day we bought the house.  You can just barely see the carpet on the stairs...mmm minty green goodness.

Here is What we did to the stairs on the day we closed on the house:

Why is it that new homeowners always feel the need to rip out carpet the first day?  It's like a hazing ritual from the house. 

Anyway, here are the stairs about midway through the day yesterday. 

I took off the trim around the newel post and I am planning on trying stripper on it, as they are small pieces and I don't want to sand them too much.  Our stairs have this glossy yellowish finish from the 50's.  Here is a close-up.  

Anyone know what this is? You can see the grain through it, so it's not paint. We know it was put on circa 50's because the crappy built-ins in the dining room also date to the 50's and the finish is on them too.  It reminds me of a glaze.  

I would love to hear from you all: 

What was your first project after the keys of your house were handed to you?  

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Step Five: Finishing the Wood

So this is where all of the work from the last three months will pay off.  Seeing gleaming finished boards ready to install is a wonderful thing.  I will write an after post once things are installed, but first, Step Five: how we finished the wood.

When I left off, we had sanded the boards down to 220 grit sand paper.  The first thing we did to prep them for finish is to wipe the dust off the boards.  A tack cloth works best for this, though ours keeps running off, so I just use a clean, lint free cloth.

After wiping down the boards, I put on a thin coat of shellac.  This keeps the boards from taking the stain unevenly.  Once this is dry, I stain.

The woodwork in our house is pine, according to Kevin, and was originally stained very dark to look more sophisticated.  We are keeping to the original spirit by staining the boards, though we are going a lot lighter than the original.  The stain we are using is Minwax's Vermont Maple.  Kevin held up a bottle of genuine maple syrup to a board, and it does have an uncanny resemblance.

Anyway, I digress. I use a cloth and put on a liberal amount of stain to all sides of the board that will be public.  I then wait 1-2 minutes and use another cloth to wipe off excess stain.  If the boards are small enough, I put stain on one, then another, then wipe off the first and then the second.  If it's too long a board, I just wait about half a song (listening to music is a pretty good way to time it), then wipe it off.

Up until now, we've been finishing everything (a spare bedroom and the three restored main floor windows) with shellac.  I like shellac, and I understand it is the historically accurate finish, however, I think I need a higher skill level to use it.  It dries incredibly fast, which makes it rather hard to apply.  Kevin and I thought long and hard about whether we wanted to keep going with the shellac, or switch to something else. The trim is going to see a lot of abuse and use, so something strong was essential.  Shellac has a tendency to get water spotting and reacts poorly to alcohol. Also, I am not happy at all with how it's held up on the window sills we've restored just last year.

After reading a lot of advice from Fine Homebuilding magazine's online archive,  we decided to switch to a oil-poly blend they recommended:

So far we are really happy with this product.  It is a wipe-on finish and has a three hour dry time, which makes it easy to apply.  I put on a third coat today.  The plan now is to install everything with three coats, then apply a fourth coat to the installed boards after filling nail holes.  Here is what the finished boards look like:

Pretty, huh?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Step Four: Sanding

This is the fourth part of my series about stripping woodwork.  This is the step we really didn't want to do, but since the stain originally put on our wood work became blotchy when we took off the old shellac, we had no choice -- we had to sand.  It really did slow the process down.  Any regular readers might recall I was planning on doing the entire main floor this winter.  I am still in the hall I started in.  So it goes; we didn't really think I was going to have such high productivity did we?

Anyway, on to the sanding.  Any area that could be power sanded, got treatment from the random orbital.  While doing the outdoor project, we invested in a hose attachment and connectors so we could hook up the  shop-vac and the sander.  It really cuts down on the dust produced by the sander. We got the hose attachments at the Orange Store.

For sanding the trim, we went with four grits: 60, 100, 150, and 220. During the finishing phase we are using 400 to sand between coats.  Looking at the boards that are done, there are a few things I would have done differently.  I have a few of those curly scratches from the random orbital sander, and I think from now on, I will check the boards more carefully and hand-sand any of those out.  I will also work in a more well-lit area of the basement so I can see them better.

The trickiest part of sanding for me is when I am hand-sanding.  The boards that must be hand-sanded are the ones with the curves and detail.  It's hard to make sure I am keeping the profile crisp. I use a combination of hard sanding blocks and those soft foam sanding blocks that you see by the sanding paper at the store.  When I feel like the block itself is losing its grit, I just wrap new sandpaper on top.  I use the foam for any curves and the harder sanding block for corners and hard edges.

Once I was done sanding the boards I removed, I also began sanding the boards that remained installed.  These are the door frames. I found something kind of interesting when doing this.  The round doorway has a stop installed, like it used to have a door.  There are no ghosts of hinges, however, so I think the stop is just decoration.  Anyway, we thought removing the stop would make sanding a lot easier, so I began to pry it away.   The stops on our windows is mounted flush to the frame. On the round doorway, however, there is a channel cut into the frame. The joinery is so tight that the wood underneath hasn't even aged.

This picture above shows the straight piece of the stop removed, and the rounded still installed. I don't dare try to take it off the rounded area. I have a theory that the stop must have been installed before the frame was put in; all of the nails are sticking point side out.  Incidentally, it is a good thing there are no small children running around this house, because there has been at least 20 nails sticking straight out of the doorway for a week.

This picture gives you a good idea of what the wood looks like sanded down with 60 grit.  I make a point not to sand it down to make it look like perfect, new wood.  If there is a scratch, I don't sand it all out.  Although there is still some blotching I will sand out in future passes.

When working on the frames, I went to strip the paint on the kitchen doorway, and discovered it had always been painted.  I had mentioned what wood that was originally painted would look like when stripped. This is a good picture of it; see how underneath the paint it looks almost whitewashed?  It also shows the paint color we decided on for the hallway (the green on the left). I plan to strip this doorway and repaint it to match the kitchen woodwork.

And what has Kevin been up to while I have been working on the hall?

Making himself a woodworking bench.  It is his pride and joy; the top is individually laminated solid pine, when finished comes out to about 4 inches thick. The legs are also laminated together, all of it was hand-planed down smooth, and all of the mortises are hand-chiseled.  He really is a pretty talented guy.

And finally, a sneak preview of the finished boards. Next, I will report on the finishing and installation.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Textured Walls

Any opinions on what we should do about our badly textured walls?  I'm talking about the sand-paint look, seen here on the right side of this photo.  It isn't original to the house, but is it really out of character for a house of this vintage?

Options (I might make this a poll):

1. Leave them and retexture over repair work

2. Re-skimcoat the entire house ourselves

3. See how much it would cost to get professionals to skimcoat

4. Other option I haven't thought of....

Share your thoughts!

There might have been a reason....

that the PO calked the windows shut. I am seriously cold right now, and I am sitting inside on the couch. I can feel a breeze coming through (okay, that might be an exaggeration). I don't remember it being this bad last year, but we messed with the weather stripping while restoring the west-side of the house, so that might be part of the problem. I think we're going to look into blow-in wall insulation.

However the new furnace, with a whole-house humidifier, is going in soon so that should help the dry-air aspect of things considerably.

The new furnace, incidentally, is very exciting to me. We knew, when buying the house that we would eventually have to replace it, as we were the only people dumb enough to buy a house with such a creepy old furnace. However, cost-wise, it never made sense. Based on online calculators, the payback period was up to 15 years. However, our neighborhood association has a rebate program using federal stimulus dollars that is offering 35% rebates for qualifying energy improvements. So that rebate, coupled with the federal tax rebates, made it much more feasible and put payback time at 8 years. Minneapolis residents take note: here is the website.

I don't know how these things work in the real estate world, but I would imagine when we finally tear ourselves away from this house, we will get some money back by having a furnace that doesn't look like it came out of a World War II submarine. Right?

Finally, in a vein completely unrelated to HVAC, we bought the house another Christmas present with our Christmas money from my grandparents (Thanks!!!). We're really just too indulgent when it comes to the bungled house. That, or we're trying to apologize to it for all of the unfinished projects.

This one is for the outside of the porch; there is currently no light there at all.
This one is for the inside of the porch. There is also no light there right now, but there is a hole where we ripped the old one down and put it in a closet. It was ugly, and we killed the electricity to the porch when we rewired the house. It was one of those "we'll just temporarily not have electricity out there, say three months until warmer working conditions?" that turned into two years of no porch lights.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Step Three: Getting rid of the old shellac

So when we last left off, the board looked like this:
The next step is to get it looking more like the right side of this board:

Removing the old shellac is pretty simple, though a little messy. If you're lucky, you can go right from removal to finishing your boards, which was our plan... that fell through. More on that in a minute.

Anyway, tools you need are:
1. Denatured Alcohol, the solvent for shellac.
For more information on shellac, check out this Wikipedia Article.
2. Rubber or latex gloves.
3. Steel Wool or Synthetic Steel Wool
4. A bowl (doesn't matter the size, though it might be nice if it had a tight lid).
5. A rag (any rag).

Get your gloves on. Pour some alcohol into the bowl and dip the steel wool in. I bought synthetic steel wool for the first time on this project, and I must say, I like it a lot better than the real thing. For one, I don't have to worry about metal shavings ending up in my wood. Also, I don't like the feel of it. Though I can touch it unlike my mother-in-law who wouldn't even stock it at the hardware store she used to work at. I don't think she or I are alone in our distaste for steel wool.

Anyway, back to the process after a lengthy diversion.

Begin scrubbing the wood with the steel wool dipped in alcohol. When the alcohol gets too cloudy, pour some new stuff in your bowl. When the boards start to take on a dull appearance, the shellac is off.

Now, this is where we were going to go ahead and refinish. What we didn't count on was a stain below the shellac. This stain, while removing the old shellac, became blotchy. After reading about fixes for blotchy stain and trying talk ourselves into liking the look, we gave up and decided to sand all of the boards down to get rid of the blotchy stain.

So, stay tuned for sanding and finishing!

An Ode to the Beast in the Basement

Your subtle warmth has graced this house
for 64 long years,
and you have served it faithfully
--though your demise will cost me no tears.

When every fall we lose the fight
and temperatures dip too low,
it is I, dear furnace, who must go below
and light your pilot light.

I face your rusty, blue-green frame
(you really have let yourself go, by the way)
and my heart begins to pound.
(Yes, I know that fearing you is really pretty lame.)

I will miss the sense of accomplishment I get
when I hear your familiar Whoosh!
(Especially when it's not followed by BANG!)
However, I must say, the damage you do to our utility bills
are something I won't soon forget.

So goodbye, dear beast, it's been real;
your replacement is on its way.
I assure you it's nothing personal....
We just got a really good deal.

Every House Deserves a Christmas Present!

Here is ours:
This is one of those splurges we could justify no other way, except to gift it to the house. We've been eyeing house numbers like these for some time now, and decided that installing them in the below zero weather we've been having in Minnesota would be fun. Actually, I think they will wait until spring, since we are planning to do to the rest of the house what we did to the west side last summer. We also ordered new lights, an outdoor sconce for the front and a matching ceiling fixture for the inside of the porch. I'll post pictures of these when they come.

It has been busy here at the bungled house, so the posts went off my to-do list for awhile, though the projects have been going smoothly. I am going to post a ton, now, to make up for it. Sorry for playing catch up.

By the way, on New Year's Eve, we saw this house for the first time two years ago!