Posted: December 11th, 2011 | Author: eliza | Filed under: demolition, progress, slow progress, stairs | Tags: progress, stairs, walls | No Comments »
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.
Posted: January 20th, 2011 | Author: eliza | Filed under: excitement, kitchen, progress | Tags: carpentry, contractors, kitchen, paint, plaster, progress, walls | 4 Comments »
We took a big plunge and decided to hire a few contractors to help us get the kitchen up and running. We still want to try and do most everything ourselves, but it felt like a week or two of hired help could help us get a huge kick-start on the kitchen, just to get to the point where we can survive through the winter in here. Consulted our budget (ie. how much money we can borrow from my parents) and decided we could (just barely) afford to hire some help from a carpenter and a plasterer, to get the kitchen walls finished up quickly so we can move on to installing cabinets, counter, sink, all the good stuff! My dad had recently bumped into on old acquaintance named Lynn, a master carpenter who happened to be looking for new projects. And my sister Alicia recommended a plasterer friend, Laura, who had done some good work in their house and could help us whip up some kitchen walls. So we made some phone calls and… Voilà! December began with a house full of skilled tradesmen working away in our house. Lynn and Laura working on the kitchen while Nate and his helper worked away on the bathroom plumbing and basement drainpipes. We can’t afford to have them do a whole lot of work, but they can quickly get a lot of basics finished and get us further along the road! It was weird and fun to spend a few weeks with a crowd of workers in the house, we had to try and stay out of their way so they could work, and I was almost constantly employed in answering zillions of questions about “will you want to put some molding here” or “how do you want this wall to meet the ceiling” or “where should this pipe run” or “can I rip this out” or “should we plaster over this or go around it” etc etc! There were so many questions that we hadn’t thought about – it’s like a full time job just figuring out how to orchestrate and direct the contractors. At night when everybody had gone home, we’d drag two chairs into the empty kitchen and sit by the woodstove eating dinner on our laps, then in the morning we’d have to wake up super early to clear away everything from the kitchen again, drag the chairs and everything out of the worksite and start up the woodstove so it would start to get warm by the time everyone turned up for work. Then once it started snowing we had to clear and sand the driveway every morning so the work vans could get up the driveway. Mike had to stay in the bedroom to work most days, since his workday is filled with conference calls, can’t really do that in the middle of a construction site. The puppy made friends with all of the contractors and clambered all over them while they worked and tried to steal their lunches every day, but had to be locked up in the bedroom with Mike most of the time, or else she certainly would have chopped off the end of her pretty little nosy snout by getting it too close to a sawzall or a drill.
Lynn’s work in the kitchen was mostly getting everything totally finalized and prepared for hanging wallboard – in an old house, no walls are straight, no two wall segments line up quite properly, no doorway is straight, no two pieces of wood are on the same plane. There’s an infinite amount of little discrepancies to be evened out and tidied up. With a plane and impressive speed and skill, Lynn straightened out our doorways, replaced missing studs, missing bits of strapping, made walls level and plane and square, furred-out short bits and sawed off other bits, took out old broken wood and replaced it with new strong wood. We’d done our best to do the pre-wallboard preparation ourselves, but it was remarkable to see how many things we’d missed!
1-inch insulation and strapping on the ceiling, all ready to hang blueboard.
Then Laura and Rick hung blueboard all over. Blueboard is a special wallboard that’s intended for plastering over. Here’s what the kitchen looked like with all the wallboard up – what a dramatic difference!
all done with insulating, now the blueboard is up, and all is ready to plaster!
Work got slowed down with Christmas and then a big snowstorm. Just before New Years, Laura and Rick started to put up the plaster, and finished up in the first week of the new year. The plaster is kind of a mysterious and magical thing. It starts as soup and ends up as rock-hard walls. They had a bit of a struggle to work on the ceiling and walls above our woodstove, as it’s blazing hot and dry up there, and the plaster needs to complete a chemical hardening process before all the water evaporates out of it. We had to spritz the walls lightly with a spray bottle for an hour or two after they finished, to make sure it didn’t dry out too quickly.
all done with plaster!
Laura grew up learning plastering from her father and her grandfather, who were plasterers too. She said when she was just little, she would do the bottom of the walls while her father and grandfather worked on the top part. These days plastering is much less common, most people just do wallboard now, but it works really well for an old, crooked house – it fits with the history of the house, and works nicely up against the exposed beams and it helps to fill in some odd gaps and smooth over some of the irregularities.
Back when we were in the destruction and gutting phase, we found this beautiful huge beam when we ripped out the old wall by the chimney. We’d originally imagined having cabinets along this wall, but then it seemed like a shame to cover up this amazing beam, so in the end we took a few days trying to figure out whether it made sense to do some carpentry and plaster magic to keep it exposed, or just cover it over for the sake of getting work done more quickly. In the end we decided to take the time to expose it and we are really happy with how it looks now!!
before and after.
Historically speaking, this kind of exposed beams are not at all authentic, it has a fun old-timey look but the original house never would’ve had its beams showing like this. We think it looks cool anyway!
priming the kitchen walls
So… early January and we’re ready to paint the walls! This felt like such a huge exciting milestone and we were SO pumped to get started!! but turned into a huge job because the fresh plaster absorbs a TON of paint. It took something like six gallons of primer to cover the whole kitchen. I also had to tape off and mask off ALL of those precious exposed beams, a hellishly tedious process that involved balancing on top of a ladder, sweating in the heat and weirdly contorted to reach the beams overhead, carefully taping along the edges of every beam while wood splinters fall down in my eyes.
taping the ceiling for painting is really annoying
color deliberations, part one
We went through some lengthy indecision about colors, we tested EIGHT different color swatches and ended up liking this light-blue color.
benjamin moore, yarmouth blue
judy helps with painting
Posted: January 6th, 2011 | Author: eliza | Filed under: bathroom, plumbing, slow progress, woodworking | Tags: bathroom, process, progress | 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!
after (all done with demolition, ready to start rebuilding!)
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.
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.
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.
Posted: April 20th, 2010 | Author: eliza | Filed under: kitchen, slow progress | Tags: door, kitchen, mike, mudroom, progress, structure | No Comments »
man the kitchen destruction never ends. eliza’s parents did a really nice job at fixing up this beautiful old door, but before we could hang it we had to take out the door frame because it was messed up, but in doing so, we saw we also needed to repair the threshold and taking that up showed us we needed to rip out the floor below it. in order to rip out the floor we had to take out the walls (which we had wanted to do anyways since we needed to add insulation) and then once we got down to the subfloor we saw it was all messed up so we have to put new subfloor down.
buuut once we started that, we saw that it was pretty slanted so before we could lay down the subfloor we’d have to go down in the basement and jack up the house a little to straighten everything out… but before we could do that we had to go ahead and widen the doorway between the kitchen and dining room, which we’d been planning for awhile and because it involved moving some beams it had to be done before starting the structural work in the basement.
so, now we’ve moved the beams and laid the concrete in the basement that’s going to support the columns and we also propped up some temporary columns in the basement. now we have to wait until the concrete dries in order to do all this and THEN we can start putting the floor back together. and then we can fix the threshold and then the doorframe so we can hang the door.
we did get a new oak threshold which is beautiful!
Posted: April 13th, 2010 | Author: eliza | Filed under: photos, progress, slow progress | Tags: ceiling, chimney, destruction, dogs, kitchen, progress, woodstove | 1 Comment »
Feels like things have been moving slowly these past few weeks. Lots of things have happened but so much remains to do! We’re STILL ostensibly working on the kitchen, but I think we’ve spent equal time working on other various projects lately. So the kitchen still needs more destruction before we can start rebuilding! After tearing out the counters and cabinets we got the sink out and saved it, thinking we may reuse it. It’s not pretty but it works.
we got the sink out!
We’ve gotten wallboard and insulation off two and a half walls, one more wall left to tear out. We need to strip down to the studs on all exterior walls so we can put in new insulation, as the existing insulation looks at least 40 years old and a lot of the old pink fiberglass batting has been eaten away by critters. (how hungry do you have to be to eat fiberglass?!)
left: smashing things is fun! right: peeling away an entire sheet of wallboard
Once we got most of the walls gone, we realized we wanted to take down the ceiling too. It didn’t look too bad in the first place, but once we started poking around in there, we found that billions of rodents (probably rats and chipmunks, maybe mice, who knows what else!) had been living above our ceiling and eating the delicious pink fiberglass insulation, chowing on birdseed and sunflower seeds and piling their empty shells everywhere, building cozy nests filled with chewed-up old shirts and shiny things (mainly quarters and candy wrappers!) and peeing and pooping everywhere. Once we got up on ladders and got close to the ceiling we noticed it really did smell like a rat bathroom. Yuck! So we decided to tear it all down.
pulling down the kitchen ceiling
It was nasty work, you’d get a crowbar under one edge of the wallboard and start to pry, and then maybe you’d have to pry out 5 or 6 nails before it would budge, or maybe you’d just pry one nail and whoosh… without any warning the whole thing would come crashing down, sending the dogs running in terror and showering a massive load of shredded fiberglass, sunflower seeds, rodent shit and chewed sunflower shells all over your head. We took to wearing old parkas with the hoods up while working on the ceiling so that at least the sunflower seeds couldn’t go down the back of our necks and leave us shaking chipmunk debris out of our shirts and pants all day.
a sudden cascade of sunflower seeds and rodent-related debris
bare ceiling after we got all the wallboard and insulation and chipmunk nests removed!
really scary old wiring revealed when we pulled away all the insulation
We bought our new woodstove!!! We figured that spring was the best time to get a good price on a wood stove. We were tempted to get an old one, but we’re hoping to use the woodstove as our primary heat throughout the long Maine winters (we do have an oil burning furnace in the basement but we only want to use it for back-up), so we felt it would be best to get the most modern, efficient woodstove possible. We ended up going for a welded steel Regency woodstove, it’s not pretty like the old-time cast iron stoves but it has a nice big firebox so that we can load it up and only have to feed it a few times a day, not every few hours, and hopefully it will even burn through the night until morning! Also, the new woodstoves burn much more efficiently, wasting less energy and causing less air pollution and less creosote build-up in the chimney, so they’re just cleaner and safer. And I don’t mind the modern look too much!
the new woodstove, peeling back the layers on the chimney
Now that we’ve got the woodstove, we need a chimney. The kitchen chimney had been cut off at some point (probably when the roof was replaced) so it needs to be rebuilt from the second floor up through the roof, and lined and insulated (for safety) and we need a new thimble installed in the kitchen for the woodstove to plug into. We’ve met with a mason and he should be coming back to do the job within a few weeks! So we needed to expose the brick chimney, which had been covered with wallboard. Behind the wallboard we found a frame of 2x4s, behind that many many layers of old wallpaper covering an inch of horse-hair plaster which Mike chiseled off very carefully to reveal the bricks and mortar.
Meanwhile… we’ve also spent a ton of time working on dog fencing. We’re installing invisible dog fencing around the entire perimiter of our 2 acre lot plus our next-door-neighbor’s 1-acre lot. She has three dogs! And we figured it would be impossible and annoying to try and keep them apart, so it’s best to have them all share one fence system so they can play together. We’re so glad to have great neighbors who are into doing stuff and sharing stuff together! Our dream is to let the dogs run around our giant back yard anytime, without having to worry that they’ll run into the busy street in front of our house. They’ll have the whole back yard but they won’t be allowed in the front yard (near the street), only as far as the front porch. Here’s hoping they will enjoy the backyard and not sit on the front porch and bark at passing cars all day… It’s a pretty long process to map out the edges of our property, run electric wire around the whole perimeter and staple it down or bury it, and meanwhile it takes at least a month to train the dogs to understand and respect the invisible fence (they wear collars that beep, then shock(!) if they go near the invisible perimeter). We’ve been training on the fence system that’s already installed at my parents’ house in Gorham and I think they’ve pretty much got it down pat already!
Beatrice is one of the dogs next door! She’s an English Sheepdog puppy, like a crazy happy muppet! She comes to visit us a lot.
And… stacking next winter’s firewood in the sunshine. Still another cord and a half to go. Best to get it done before the weather gets hot.
seasoned wood is already stacked, now we’re working on the green wood.