working on the porch

Posted: August 7th, 2013 | Author: | 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.

built new front steps
porch before

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).

starting work on the porch
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.

working on the porch working on the porch
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.

working on the porch

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.

still painting the porch

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…

working on the porch painting the porch

a l m o s t . . . there!

Posted: September 14th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: kitchen, slow progress, woodworking | Tags: | No Comments »

working on the kitchen shelves
shelves on the workbench

we’ve finished assembly! sanded and planed, plugged the screw holes and we’re ready to varnish.

still working on shelves

Posted: August 27th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: kitchen, slow progress, woodworking | Tags: | No Comments »

curved shelves
eliza working on the kitchen shelves
working on the kitchen shelves


Posted: December 11th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: demolition, progress, slow progress, stairs | Tags: , , | No Comments »

no plaster in the stairwell
old plaster / no plaster

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.

endless yard work and mowing!

Posted: June 6th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: life, slow progress, yard | No Comments »

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.

welcome to limington


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.

our new lawnmower

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.

Mike's tractor
Mike and his tractor!

mike and fausto

Fausto and Mike at work in the back yard

Man. Good neighbors are the best. What a difference it has made!

septic system

Posted: May 11th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: plumbing, slow progress | No Comments »

laika supervises pumping of the septic tank

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.

spring clean-up

Posted: April 17th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: life, slow progress, yard | No Comments »



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…

spring cleaning

headed for 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.

digging up the driveway

digging up the driveway to replace a section of the underground dog fence

tiling the mudroom

Posted: March 6th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: excitement, progress, slow progress | Tags: , , | No Comments »

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.

tiling the mudroom tiling the mudroom

first I made a grid… then laid out all the tiles for a dry fitting.

tiling the mudroom

cutting the tiles to fit the space turned out to be a big challenge. we built a little wooden jig to help us cut the tiles neatly.

tiling the mudroom

cutting cement tiles is messy business

tiling the mudroom

laying down mortar and tiles

tiling the mudroom

all done!

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!

a new door for the guest room

Posted: March 6th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: bedroom, slow progress | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

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.

architectural salvage in the snow

a visit to Pete’s Place after a few blizzards. We were kind of amazed to find Pete open for business even in the snowiest depths of winter!

architectural salvage in the snow

we had to dig and wallow through hip-high snow to find a new (used) door for the guest room.

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.

architectural salvage in the snow hung the new door!

new door in snow, and hung on the hinges in our house!

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).

Downstairs bathroom

Posted: January 6th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: bathroom, plumbing, slow progress, woodworking | Tags: , , | No Comments »

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!

demolition for the new downstairs bathroom


ripping out plaster and lath


demolition for the new bathroom

after (all done with demolition, ready to start rebuilding!)

giant rat nest :(

close up on giant rat nest :(

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.

downstairs bathroom downstairs bathroom

tidy lines of pex (heating pipes, hot and cold water and drain pipe to upstairs bathroom) and washer/dryer hookup

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.

downstairs bathroom

carpentry all finished, ready to hang wallboard!

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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