Posted: September 14th, 2012 | Author: eliza | Filed under: kitchen, slow progress, woodworking | Tags: kitchen shelves | No Comments »
we’ve finished assembly! sanded and planed, plugged the screw holes and we’re ready to varnish.
we’ve finished assembly! sanded and planed, plugged the screw holes and we’re ready to varnish.
We finally tore down all the plaster from this crumbling wall in the stairway. It was very satisifying. Out with the old, in with the new! We will keep the old lath but we’re going to replace the plaster with wallboard.
We resolved to make some major improvements to the yard this summer and pitted ourselves against the mounds of half-buried garbage and rubble and relentlessly energetic grass and weeds. It’s been an fairly grueling, time consuming, buggy, sweaty, muggy, muddy crusade but with some great help from friends, neighbors and family, it feels like we are making progress. Hopefully our back yard will one day be fully transformed from an overgrown dump to a beautiful space to hang out and enjoy the view.
We spent the first half of the spring and summer pretty thoroughly occupied with trying to conquer the wild, bramble-covered and weed-choked land out back. We have two acres, and what ground isn’t occupied with the dilapidated barn has been covered with an impenetrable jungle of thistles, burrs, vines and weeds that grows to shoulder-high in full summer and is completely wild and impassable without a machete. So this year we’re trying to clear out as much land as we can and mow down the weeds before they get too big to tackle, and seed some nice soft grass, hoping to be able to enjoy more of our land during the summer. We started with hauling away lots of garbage that was left around the land by the previous owners. There were the shredded remains of several huge (inflatable) plastic swimming pools, a handful of mangled kids’ bicycles, plastic kids toys and trucks, pool floaties, lots of pepsi cans and milk jugs and just general garbage strewn about and hidden in the weeds, making for a lot of surprises when we’d accidentally mow over bike parts or soda bottles hidden in the knotted grass. We found a nest of at least 30 garter snakes living in one of the crumpled swimming pools! Imagine Mike’s surprise when he gathered up a heap of soggy plastic in his arms to drag it away, and found it squirming with dozens of startled snakes!
There were tons of tiny babies, and lots of huge adult snakes too. We felt a little bad displacing them, but the heaps of crumpled plastic garbage had to go.
Rainy May weather made the grass go crazy and we found that even if we spent every waking hour mowing, it was still growing faster than we could cut it. I suppose this is a common springtime homeowners lament. We decided we need to sow the whole thing with wildflowers or something. Anything that doesn’t need to be mown. We were super excited to get a new mower, which at least made the fight a bit fairer! Mike wishes we could get a riding mower, but I think we can use the extra exercise. Could do without the blackflies though.
Sometime around June, our amazing neighbors Mike and Fausto took pity on us and offered to help out. Fausto brought over his brush hog and weed whacker, and Mike brought his giant tractor, and they made SO much progress, transforming seas of brambly mounds to tidy fields and stone walls.
Man. Good neighbors are the best. What a difference it has made!
When we bought the house, there were a lot of unknown quantities that we had to assume were likely to become a problem sooner or later. We could see that the foundation looked good, the roof looked pretty good, and everything else looked pretty terrible. The stuff we couldn’t see: is there lead in the pipes? probably. Is the well pump broken? yes, and it’s not cheap to replace. Are all the chimneys blocked? probably. Are we going to have problems with the septic system? Easiest to assume that the answer is yes.
Given the obvious neglect to the house, we figured the septic system was probably in bad shape too. The septic tank should be pumped out every so often (my dad suggests every 10 years) or else it starts to back up and things get nasty and it can costs tens of thousands of dollars to repair or replace. Rather than wait for something to go catastrophically wrong, we decided to call somebody to come help us locate the septic system and see what work we need to do to keep it in good order. We actually had no idea *where* the septic system was even located. Old deeds suggested that our leach-field might be located off our property, under our next-door neighbor’s chicken coop! The septic guy helped us locate the sewage main coming out from the back of our house, and advised us to try and follow the main line out to the septic tank by digging little holes every 5-10 feet until the pipe leads us to the tank. Easier said than done: we spent a few weeks struggling through brambles and weeds back there, digging little holes ALL OVER the back yard. Finally we found the tank, and thankfully it was on our own property. We called back the septic guy and he took a look: he said it was overdue for a cleaning but thankfully nothing was damaged! He pumped it out and hopefully we’re good to go for another ten years. What a nice surprise to find one problem that’s easier to solve than we’d expected.
Now that the snow’s melted, the yard is looking ghastly. Mud, dead grass, all that crap and garbage we forgot about when the snow hid it in the fall. There was just a lot of flotsam and jetsam scattering the yard when we moved in last year – dozens of big plastic toys, two deflated swimming pools, all kinds of old tires, metal roofing pieces blown off from the deteriorating barn, etc. We started hauling away some of it last year, but there’s still a lot left. Anyway, we decided this summer’s going to be the summer of cleaning up the yard! Last week we made a few good trips to the dump…
Definitely still need to haul a few more big truckloads off to the dump. Also next week we’re planning to rent a brush hog mower to tackle the explosion of brambles and wild jungle in the back forty (last summer we tried to tackle it with a big-time mower and had to give up as we nearly broke the machine!) and hopefully our little wilderness of thistles and burrs will become a nice soft barefoot-friendly lawn. We’ll see how that goes – although we might not be able to improve the exterior of the house just yet, I hope we can make some progress on cleaning up the land.
We also took the first warm afternoon to work on our underground dog fence, which got messed up by the snowplow near the end of winter. The dog fence is such a blessing when it works, but it’s been a hassle to maintain – hopefully we dug it deep enough this time that it won’t need to be fixed again for a long time.
so we FINALLY got to put in our lovely Argentine encaustic tiles on the mudroom floor. We’ve been working away on the mudroom, slowly, for a loooonnng time and we bought these tiles over a year ago, before we moved from Buenos Aires! So this has been a long time coming! And it feels great to finally have them down.
I did grout them and now we just need to scrub them and seal them and they’ll be done! I have to say that they are not totally perfect, the surface is a bit uneven but… hey, I did my best – I think it’s going to work fine!
We’re expecting our first wintertime guest, hooray!! Which means it’s time to put a proper door on the guest room so we can put a little heater in there and make it hospitably warm. We have like 20 assorted doors piled up in our ell, but after measuring all of them, we found that none of them were the right dimensions to fit the guest room doorway. So we headed off to search for a door at our favorite bargain architectural salvage spot, Pete’s Place.
Pete was super cheery and helpful and actually fired up his tractor to snowplow a path for us so we could haul our new door back to the car.
hanging a new door in an old house is a pretty big piece of work, as there are no right angles involved, everything is completely crooked! Mike and Richard spent most of a weekend working on this, planing and trimming the door and replacing parts of the doorframe in order to set in hinges and strike plate, etc etc. it’s all set now, keeping the bedroom toasty warm (and keeping the pe(s)ts out too).
Around November we decided to focus on the downstairs bathroom and try to hurry up and get it working asap. We brought in Laura (wallboard and plaster) and Lynn (carpentry) and Nate (plumbing) to look at the situation. We thought we’d finished the demolition phase, but they all said we still needed to do more demolition work before they could get started! So we laid down cardboard and plastic sheets to protect our beautiful new white oak floors, and dragged in garbage cans and crowbars and set to ripping out all the rest of the old plaster and lath. Tearing down old plaster is getting really old, it’s so dusty and gritty and icky. Also, of course (as we have now learned to expect), behind every old wall in our house is a huge stinky rats nest or squirrel nest or something, matted wads of urine-stinking filthy batting and shreds of old clothes and candy wrappers and cascades of turds and birdseed that all comes crumbling down among the plaster chunks, raining upon your face when you take out an old wall. I’ve learned to put on a hooded sweatshirt, dust mask, goggles, gloves, and cinch the hood all around my face when I’m doing this work, but I still come away picking plaster crumbs out of my clothes and birdseed out of my ears and feeling like I need a shower. Anyway, we got it all out of the bathroom now!
Then Lynn set to work furring out some walls to get them ready for hanging wallboard, framing out some areas to run the pipes through. The thing about old houses is that they were never intended to have plumbing in them, so it can be hard to find (or make) a place to run the pipes through. It was kind of a big consensus decision to figure that out, with input from plumber, carpenter, myself, mike, Judy and Richard. Got it all worked out and drafted some plans and directions for the workers to refer to. I started working in Google Sketchup to try and imagine how best to fit all the pieces together.
Then Nate (plumber) came in with his trusty assistant and set to work ripping out all our old plumbing (including the beautiful plumbing work I did myself over the summer, this was heartbreaking!) and laying in fresh, tidy pex in its place.
plumbers also did a bunch of work in the basement, had to replace the entire waste line as it was archaic and rusty cast-iron, quite difficult to join drains into it, and too narrow for modern codes. And they hooked up an old radiator in the basement, we were getting worried about the cold weather and frozen pipes in the basement so we had them hook that up to the furnace to keep the basement above freezing temperature.
Meanwhile Lynn got the bathroom all squared-away and ready for hanging wallboard! Strapping and studs on walls and ceiling. We’re going to have exposed beams on the bathroom ceiling too, as the beams in there are really gorgeous and huge, like 12″ square and very handsome.
Meanwhile, Laura (the plasterer) was working away on the kitchen. In the end, it turned out that after tallying up the cost of all this work we really don’t have enough cash to have Laura do wallboard and plaster in the bathroom, as we had initially planned! So the question is: do we hang blueboard ourselves, and then have Laura do the plaster over it? Do we hang greenboard ourselves, and skip the plaster? (this would be the cheaper choice.) Do we just go ahead and install and connect the toilet, sink, bathtub and all the appliances in the bathroom now, without having any proper walls, and then at a later date remove the appliances, do the walls, and replace the appliances? Or do we put the bathroom on hold for the moment, until we’ve got a working kitchen, and then return to the bathroom, do the walls, and then install the toilet and everything once the walls are finished?
We ended up going with the last choice. We had originally thought we’d be closing off the 2nd floor for the winter and moving our bed into the diningroom or something. But we just never really got so cold that it seemed worth the bother. So it turns out it’s fine having our only bathroom on the 2nd floor. It would be great to have a downstairs bathroom too, but it doesn’t seem as urgent anymore. And now we’re excited about working on the kitchen instead, so… for the moment the downstairs bathroom has moved to the back burner. I think we’ll hang greenboard in there eventually, we’ll do it ourselves and then get the appliances in, and it will be fantastic whenever it happens.
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