Posted: January 3rd, 2014 | Author: eliza | Filed under: life, nature | No Comments »
Jack Frost’s handiwork
it’s REEEEEALLY cold and wintery here. We woke up to 8 inches of new snow on top of the last storm’s snow, and frozen pipes this morning. Mike defrosted the pipes with a hairdryer and I think there was no permanent damage. We’re wrapping them in heat tape today. Tonight’s supposed to be -14 degrees with a windchill of -24, and I think that’s the coldest we’ve ever had here. I keep telling myself that there are colder places in the world, and people live there, so we can do it! But it just feels so cold.
snow on the remains of the barn
all of our neatly stacked firewood is under a thick, hearty glazing of ice and at least a foot of snow.
Posted: November 3rd, 2013 | Author: eliza | Filed under: exterior, porch, progress | No Comments »
Last time we talked about the porch, it was almost half-done and bright turquoise. Now it’s kind of all done, and still bright turquoise. I did it in sections, sanding and repairing one third and painting that section, then doing the next section and then the final section was the huge stretch (more like half) of porch by the kitchen door and livingroom windows. I really really wanted to finish it
during the springtime, so we could enjoy it all summer before the winter arrived (because you can’t paint in cold weather).
We put in a final sanding/painting marathon in the last warm weeks of September and October and got it done. For the porch trim, we didn’t have time to finish everything but we got everything sanded and stripped and got at least one coat of primer on. We’ll have to finish with a white top-coat when spring comes. But for now it looks neat and tidy and pretty! I still think the turquoise blue color looks silly, but I’m just going to live with it for now, since we’ve got bigger problems to worry about.
Giant thank you to my mother, Judy, who painstakingly stripped the lead paint off the porch columns on various weekend and afternoon visits throughout the whole summer!
Someday, I would like to get gutters on the porch roof, and once that’s done, do some more significant renovation on this porch. But at least it’s in decent shape for now, the rest of the project can wait a while.
Posted: September 28th, 2013 | Author: eliza | Filed under: barns, history, life, yard | No Comments »
The old dairy barn finally seems to be coming down. It was on the way out when we bought the place in 2009 but it’s hung on surprisingly long, through a few hurricanes and a lot of wet heavy March snowstorms. Every time we get a big storm, we can’t wait to go check out the barn and see what’s fallen down. We’ve talked about having it demolished but we keep hoping Mother Nature will do the job for free. It’s a kind of picturesque wreck and I hold it no grudge (in 2011 we got married in the backyard with the collapsed dairy barn as backdrop), but it was always wayyyy too far gone to think about saving it. (Also we don’t have any cows or anything, though a big old barn in better condition could’ve been a great venue for movie screenings, barn dances, yoga classes…)
Based on old photos and some historical society documentation, we think the original barn burned in the 1930′s so this barn was probably the replacement for the old barn lost to fire. It was a dairy barn; the Brunk farm sold milk to the Locust Farm Dairy that used to be in Limington.
evidence of the Locust Farm Dairy
A few years back, we found some neat cattle tags(?) buried in the yard next to the barn while doing some yard work.
Typical 20th century construction, the barn was huge but nowhere near as sturdily built as the older ell and house. Leaky roof and time and no maintenance is presumably what did it in. By the time the Brunk family sold the property by the early 1980′s, the farmers would’ve been aging and dairy farming in Maine was becoming increasingly unprofitable, so (like so many rural Maine dairy operations) it’s no surprise that they didn’t put too many resources into maintaining a dairy barn with a leaky roof. Since the 80′s it seems like the barn’s been mostly ignored and used for dumping junk. Day by day it’s sinking and slumping. We go out and check after every big storm and often we’re surprised that nothing has budged, despite howling winds and whipping rain and wet heavy snow, even when the yard is littered with tree limbs and debris, the barn holds up. But this week’s been peaceful and sunny and beautiful, and we just noticed that it’s gone down dramatically while we weren’t paying attention.
I wish we’d managed to set up a proper time lapse record of the changes, but we’re not so organized.
this is the barn when we first arrived in March 2010.
left: found photo of the barn (1960′s?). right: inside the barn, 2010.
front of barn. 2010
And here’s the back.
August 2011 (before Hurricane Irene)
August 2011, after hurricane Irene
Posted: August 7th, 2013 | Author: eliza | Filed under: exterior, porch, slow progress | No Comments »
Since the weather’s so nice I’m trying to get the porch fixed up. It’s one of the first and most conspicuous things that you see from the outside, and it’s part of what called to us when we first saw the house. I don’t really mind it looking a little shabby, but right now we’re trying to get the whole house cleaned up enough to get a mortgage from the bank (as if we were getting ready to sell the house – click here to learn more about this complicated process), so we’ve got to get everything as neat and tidy as possible, and I think the exterior is especially important for them. Shabby porch with missing and rotten floorboards probably won’t cut it.
I started thinking about this project in the cold months of winter, and resolved to jump in and start work as soon as the afternoons started to get warm enough to work outside. I figured I could get this done over the springtime (ha!) and then we’d enjoy the summer with a beautifully new and tidy porch. The first temperate day in April, I chose the warmest, sunniest spot and started sanding away the peeling paint. A lot of the paint seemed to be falling off in large chunks, which probably means it never adhered to the wood properly whenever it was painted on in the first place. So it didn’t really make sense to paint over the old paint, since it’s falling off anyway. Gotta get rid of it all and start with fresh wood. We had some lead paint test kits, which revealed that some of the trim had lead paint, but the porch floor was lead free, which means it’s OK to sand (with a dust mask, of course).
first day of porch work, April 21.
The sanding work starts out feeling really fast and satisfying, but soon the sandpaper gets clogged and dull, and once the easy bits are gone it starts to feel a lot more slow and tedious. I used a small disc sander, because it’s what we have, so I wouldn’t have to run out and rent a 300-lb sander every time I want to spend an hour or two working on this, and also because the porch boards are fairly uneven, bowed and cupped and I think a larger sander (like the one we used for the kitchen) would have reduced the entire porch to a pile of splinters and sawdust in an hour or two. The smaller sander lets you work on a sort of uneven surface without having to sand away an enormous amount of wood from all the high spots. Not sure if this was a genius decision but that was my logic.
still sanding in June and more sanding in July
I knew the porch had a few little “soft spots” but I kind of wanted to just put a fresh coat of paint on it and not get too fussy about ripping out and replacing old boards. Normally I want to get a job done right, even if it takes a long time, but current circumstances dictate that we get things done quickly. So, just a quick sanding and a fresh coat of paint, and we’ll come back and do this all a bit more thoroughly in a few years when we have a bit more time and money. But the more I worked on that porch, the more I found that it had some REALLY rotten bits! So rotten that I couldn’t even sand the planks, they just disintegrated. Bummer.
So then we get out the little Dremmel saw, and surgically remove the worst of the rotten planks, and then found that some of the boards underneath were rotten too. The porch roof has no gutter, so every time it rains, the water splashes down onto the porch floor and soaks those boards and rots them starting at the outside edge and creeping inwards, and sometimes rotting all the way through to the support studs underneath. Not all of them, but a few. So then we had to sister in new studs next to the old studs, just so we could have something to screw the new porch boards onto. This is how projects go, with old houses. You just want to put a fresh coat of paint on a thing and then you find a little problem and then another problem behind that one, and you end up gutting the whole blessed mess to get to the bottom of the it. I already knew this before we bought the house (I grew up in an old house renovation!) but it’s one thing to know a thing in an abstract sense, and another thing to actually have to do it with your own hands. Luckily it’s hard to get too grumpy about anything when you’re working out on the porch in the warm spring sunshine. Anyway, I didn’t do the most thorough job, and certainly not the neatest job, but I did replace all of the rottenest boards and studs.
And then started painting! It was super exciting for like an hour, until I stepped back to take a look at the color. I don’t know how or why I picked this paint color. It was a Sunday morning and I wanted to get the can of paint before all the hardware stores closed for the day, so I got some swatches from our encyclopedic selection of paint swatches, and picked this lovely and dignified, subdued teal blue color. Ran out and bought a whole gallon ($55) and started painting. By the time I realized that the color actually looks INSANE, all the stores were closed and I had to decide whether to give it up for the day or just keep going with this wild aqua blue. I was thinking, you know, stately historic New England color palette (I chose it from a historic color swatch!), but somehow it turned out looking like… a swimming pool in Miami. A tropical vacation in 1963. A 1957 Chevy Bel Air. A pair of glossy 1980′s plastic jelly shoes. A melamine ashtray in a go-go bar. Which is all great stuff but totally not what I had in mind. It’s so crazy how a color looks completely mellow on the swatch and then turns out to be super wild once you’re done painting. It’s also super glossy – we picked a really tough oil-based floor-and-deck paint since this porch gets a whole lot of foot traffic and rough wear and moisture and stuff. The glossier it is, the tougher it wears, which is great, but the high-gloss sheen definitely contributes to the loud-and-bright look. I actually love this color in many other circumstances, but I think it looks goofy with the pistachio-green siding, which is a terrible color for this house anyway and I can’t wait to get rid of it, someday. So, half the porch is painted and I still think it looks crazy and I’m not sure whether I should just quit worrying about it or change it – what do you think? It’s already turned August!! so I kind of just want to finish this and keep moving on. I’m thinking of using up the whole can for the first coat, and then doing a second coat in a darker shade. Or maybe I should just try and learn to like it. I do love tropical vacations. Hmmm…
Posted: July 4th, 2013 | Author: eliza | Filed under: financing | No Comments »
Real talk. Right now we’re (unfortunately) obsessing about the mortgage. We need to get a mortgage for this house. We dreamed up this scheme, together with my parents, in October of 2009: We all fell in love with this big old house, and it seemed like a pretty amazing bargain, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and an exciting fixer-upper-project that we could do together, but the house was in such a state of disrepair that no bank would offer a mortgage for it. The sale was cash-only. So we decided together that they would borrow against the equity on their own home to get the cash, and buy this house in cash. We would do the renovations, and once we got the house fixed up enough to qualify for a mortgage, we would buy it from them, paying them back for the purchase plus whatever we need to borrow for the cost of renovations. So that’s what we need to do now!
Of course it’s turned out a little more complicated than we expected. We had a decent idea about what goes into renovating an old house, but we didn’t know a whole lot about the mortgage market. We are lucky enough to have good credit, and enough income to buy this cruddy old house, so unlike most prospective house-buyers, that’s not the hard part for us. It’s the house! Turns out the bank doesn’t just want to see a decent roof, strong bones, and solid foundation. They want to see neatly finished walls and floors and ceilings, everything freshly painted, all the cracked shingles replaced, all the bumpy floor-boards evened out, trim and molding on everything. No peeling paint or chipped corners. They want everything gussied up and tidied up and cleaned up and neatly squared away.
As best I understand it, the reason the bank wants everything to look tidy and perfect, is because we live in the age of short sales and foreclosures and third-party lenders and secondary mortgage markets. Local banks no longer own mortgages, because it’s a risk they can’t afford to take. Our local bank would give us a mortgage, and then immediately sell the debt to a third-party lender who would “own” that debt until it’s paid off. That third-party lender would probably be a giant national lender with a pretty strict set of requirements for what kind of properties they will or won’t get involved with. So mortgage requirements are pretty much standardized across the nation and not really open to negotiation, no matter how nice and friendly our local bank might be. From here forward, “The Bank” refers to these standards, I don’t think it really matters which bank we talk to, as far as we can tell it’s all the same. (Short political commentary: this whole system is so f*ed that I don’t even know where to begin and I wish I didn’t have to deal with all this foolishness, but I do.) Anyway, The Bank doesn’t really know us and they don’t know whether we’ll honor our mortgage or whether we’ll maybe lose our jobs and go bankrupt or something. Then The Bank would be stuck with ownership of our house, and they’d want to sell it again, ASAP (which is referred to as “the secondary market”), so they want houses that look good and easy to sell and then re-sell again if necessary. If the house doesn’t look like it’s going to be sellable, then they don’t want anything to do with it. (This is a little silly because of course we could always just take out a mortgage and buy a beautiful house and then have a hundred wild parties and wreck everything and then default on our loan and leave them with a ruined house, but that seems to be beside the point.) Banks don’t want to give a mortgage for a house unless it looks neat and tidy and ready to sell to anybody and then re-sell again to anybody else. They are looking for ready-made houses with mass appeal.
I haven’t missed the irony here: If not for the housing crash, we never could’ve found such a cheap house! So we’re grateful for the cheap house, but bummed about how those same circumstances have made it so difficult to get a mortgage.
We’ve heard a lot about construction loans or renovation loans or 230k FHA loans. Those seem like cool mythical things where supposedly a bank would give you money to pay for the renovations that you’re going to do, and then you do the renovations and everyone lives happily ever after. As far as we can tell, those things existed before the 2008 real-estate crash, and they do not exist anymore. If anybody’s gotten one since 2008, let me know how you did it. When we’ve talked to banks about this, they’ve told us that construction loans were a cool idea, but once the homeowners got the loan they didn’t always complete construction, and then they didn’t always pay back the loan. Or they used the funds to hire contractors, and then the contractors took the money and skipped town. Either way, the banks ended up owning houses that were foreclosed, unfinished renovation projects, they couldn’t find buyers who wanted to buy unfinished projects, and then the real estate market crashed and all those unfinished houses were worthless and became financial burdens, and they didn’t like it, and they won’t do that anymore. We get a lot of advice from really well-meaning folks who suggest that we get a construction loan, but we’ve found 0 banks that want to offer us (or anyone!) a construction loan.
And another fun fact about construction loans: you can’t do the work yourself. Even when banks did give construction loans, homeowners weren’t allowed to fix it up themselves; they had to hire licensed contractors to do all the work. Which means that the cost of work is a lot higher, which means that a construction loan, if we could get one, would leave us with greater debt. We’re really happy to hire some experts to help us with some of this work, but luckily we’ve been able to do a bunch of the work ourselves, and we wouldn’t really want it any other way.
So anyway, it seems like the reality of the situation is that we need to turn this house into a very neat and tidy house with mass appeal for the secondary mortgage market. Which sounds great, but it’s a stricter set of standards than we had imagined, and it’s different from our personal priorities, so it’s honestly more work than we expected, on a tighter timeline, and it kind of changes the nature of the project.
Personally, I would love to focus on some purely functional stuff, like improving our heating system and insulation. I don’t want this whole entire huge house to be warm and toasty through the winter (that would be wasteful!), but I would like to isolate a core zone of kitchen and livingroom and bathroom, add some brand-new radiators, and tighten up and insulate these rooms enough that we can easily keep them toasty warm with a minimal amount of fuel.
I would like to focus on a few rooms of the house and make them nice and comfy and beautiful, and then maybe move on to gardening and landscaping. I would happily leave the rest of the house looking shabby for a while. I don’t mind renovating the rest of the house one room at a time and spreading it out over the next 10 years. Gut each room to the studs and clean out all the crud inside the walls and insulate it properly and thoroughly, update the heating system one room at a time, and do the whole job at a relaxed pace, and do it properly and thoroughly. That’s what I would love to do.
But we’d planned to buy back the house from my parents within a few years, so that’s what we want to do, even though it means we’re swapping The Bank’s renovation priorities for our own. My parents are super nice and not breathing down our neck about the deadline but we want to honor that commitment. Also, we feel like once we get the mortgage out of the way, then we will be able to do this project at our own pace, on our own terms, and that’s what we want.
So instead of doing everything perfectly and lovingly and slowly, we’ve kind of switched over to doing the work as fast as we can, a bit more superficially, and just trying to make everything look as neat and tidy as possible.
We’re still thinking of this as a long-term project. But we’ve got a short-term goal. Maybe it means that we’ll end up doing some of the work now, quickly, and then re-doing it later, properly.
The positive side is that we’ll end up with a nice-looking house, a fresh coat of paint on everything, and honestly a pressing deadline is a great motivation to get a lot of important work done fast. So this year we’re trying to set aside distractions, make some compromises when it comes to all the other parts of our lives, and just focus on getting a lot of the house stuff finished up.
Posted: May 4th, 2013 | Author: eliza | Filed under: exterior | Tags: before, exterior | No Comments »
the house. may 2013.
not much change to see from the outside, not yet. hopefully this summer.
Posted: February 4th, 2013 | Author: eliza | Filed under: neighborhood, photos | Tags: limington, neighborhood, photos | No Comments »
Posted: January 21st, 2013 | Author: eliza | Filed under: excitement, kitchen, woodworking | Tags: kitchen shelves | No Comments »
After a year of steady work, we’ve finally completed this huge shelf. Here it is on the work bench for the first coat of varnish.
After the varnish, we painted the shelf back blue to match the color of our kitchen walls, and screwed on the shelf back (it provides important structural support and makes it easier to hang the shelf.) And then both of my parents helped us to haul it up to Limington and hang it up!
When we built the kitchen walls, we put sheets of 3/4″ plywood instead of strapping on top of the rigid foam insulation, under the blue board and plaster, all around the countertop areas where we expected to hang upper cabinets or shelving. So when it came time to hang the shelf, we didn’t have to wonder about where the strapping was, whether the screws would grab into wood or just plaster, whether the wall’s strong enough. We know the plaster is all backed with nice strong wood because we built it ourselves!
Posted: December 1st, 2012 | Author: eliza | Filed under: bathroom, oops, plumbing, progress, upstairs bathroom, water | No Comments »
Have I told you about the upstairs bathroom? There are a few stories to tell. We’ve learned that this bathroom was originally built by a previous owner, obviously another amateur do-it-yourselfer who invented a few creative (and not-to-code) plumbing techniques, like putting the sink trap (normally found directly under the sink) two stories down, in the basement. The next owners apparently had some bathroom problems because when we got here, the whole bathroom floor was covered in a thin film of foul, sludgy sewage residue, including the baseboards and, in some areas, the bottom of the wainscoting. And the toilet looked like this. UGH. Until I scrubbed it for a few DAYS, then it looked like this. (While I was working on the plumbing I discovered a pair of childrens’ safety scissors lodged in the drain-pipe, which might have been the root of the problem!) So back in 2010 I tore out all the flooring (while wearing rubber gloves and a mask!) and the baseboards and the nasty parts of the wainscoting. When I got down to the sub-flooring, I was pleased to find that it was clean, unsoiled and usable! So we left it like that, and cleaned the bejeezus out of everything else, and we’d been living without proper flooring in the bathroom ever since.
The shower stall was ugly but once we replaced the burst pipes and turned on the water, it seemed to work fine and we weren’t planning to replace it til we’d fixed up the rest of the house. And then around June, we sprung a leak! Downstairs, in our beautiful new bathroom, there was water coming out of the ceiling! It ruined some of the fresh new paint and plaster on the downstairs wall, which was kind of heartbreaking. We disconnected the water supply to the shower and set about searching for the leak. Because of the unorthodox and not-to-code nature of the plumbing situation, it was actually impossible to access the shower plumbing without either tearing out the plaster wall of the adjacent hallway, or else tearing out the shower stall itself. Unsure of the exact location of the problem, we decided to just bite the bullet and tear out the old shower stall. And when we did, we found no apparent source of the leak! Arghhhhhh. We inspected very carefully around every seam of the supply line and the drain line, and we could not find any moisture, nor any water stains or signs of leaking. Instead there was plenty of powdery, dry dust, which really seemed to suggest that there was never any leaking at all. Looking back on the situation now, I believe that the leak was not caused by plumbing problems in the shower, nor by cracks in the shower stall, but by water spraying out of the shower, on to the porous, unfinished floor and seeping down through the first-floor ceiling below. Oooops.
But we’d hacked up the old shower stall in the process of removing it, so we needed a new shower stall. After way too many days of living with no shower (thankfully we have a generous neighbor who let us use his shower!), we borrowed my parents’ pickup truck and headed to Home Depot to pick out our new shower stall. Hauled it home and wrestled it onto the front porch and … oops again! It won’t fit through the front door! And it won’t fit through the bathroom door either.
Next day we hauled it back to Home Depot and exchanged it for a two-part model that did fit through the front door. But it turned out to be a tiny bit larger than the old shower stall, so we had to rip out a partial wall (the one that supported the third side of the shower stall) to get it in. It was a pretty simple thing, it wasn’t a load-bearing wall, so it wasn’t a huge deal, but after we got the shower stall in, then we were missing that wall and it needed to be replaced.
It also seemed like a good time to replace the bathroom flooring, so we started researching Marmoleum, which my sister had used in her bathroom renovation, and seemed like the best and easiest solution. Marmoleum is the original brand of linoleum, which has made a comeback in the past few years as a green building material. It’s made from natural linseed oil, pine rosins and wood flour, without all the toxic ingredients that go into vinyl flooring. It comes in large sheets which are waterproof (except for the seams between sheets) and unlike tile it feels soft and warm under bare feet, which is important when you live in a big old drafty farmhouse in Maine!
We had to hire help for installing the marmoleum. Before he could get started, we had to remove all the fixtures from the bathroom (except for the new shower, of course).
Here’s the finished floor! It’s purple! It wasn’t my first choice for a bathroom floor color, but it was the only one we could agree on at all.
Once the floor was in, we put the toilet and sink back in, of course, and started planning for the next stage, re-building the shower wall and the corner soffit that we’d ripped out.
Posted: October 7th, 2012 | Author: eliza | Filed under: life, nature, yard | No Comments »
fall colors in the meadow behind our house