Archive | house history RSS feed for this section

102 Years Later… New Windows!

March 17, 2012


…my living room has new windows!

I’ve endured these old windows for a long time. When we first moved here, we got a few new replacement windows to replace the broken ones. The remaining windows had to wait until we had the cash to buy new ones. I reached my tolerance level last year, when these old windows developed icicles on the panes in the winter and no longer kept the bugs out in the summer. It was almost better to have an open hole in the wall than these old windows!


They would no longer hold paint. I had painted them and painted them, but every year the paint peeled off. Time to replace.


These windows are not original to the house. They were installed in 1910 or so, after the builder died and his housekeeper bought the place. She did many “improvements,” such as replacing the old 9/6 windows and painting over the beautiful Black Walnut trim in the living room. 😐

Garage Window

This is one of the original windows, protected behind a storm window. They are called 9/6 because they have 9 panes on the top and 6 on the bottom. Hstorians can determine the age of a home by inspecting window styles.


Well, after 100 years, the windows have reached the end of their life span. (Actually, they reached the end of their life span about 25 years ago). On with the new.

The hardest part of replacing the windows is removing the old. We have to cut through the paint seal (more like HACK THROUGH the paint seal) and pull off the sash stops and the parting stops. 160-year old wood does not like being removed, you know that?


You have to be very, very careful with this kind of job. Old timers put all sorts of toxins in their paints back then. We had to clear the living room, cover everything with sheets, and make sure no one spread any of the paint chips or dust. I frequently misted a spray bottle to keep the dust from flying around.


Another problem was fitting the window into the existing frame. The height and length were very good, but the depth of the window gave us trouble. The old sill was too narrow for the thick replacement window. Our only option was the chisel away the 3/16-inch wood off the sill.


AH! Success!

We got two out of the three done so far. One more goes in the living room, and then it’s to the upstairs. And because we had to remove the old window stops and chisel the sill, I also have some patching up and molding replacement to do. But it is SO GOOD to have new windows!


Windows are not difficult to replace yourself. Oh sure, you can pay a professional, but expect the bill to be twice the amount. I figured that our labor was worth $100 an hour. we just watched a few instructional videos on the computer, read a DIY book, and away we went. It’s not that difficult. The hardest part is making sure you measure for the new windows accurately and removing the old window…. And containing the mess!

Continue reading...

How to Remove Plaster and Lathe

August 16, 2011


Believe it or not, there’s a system to removing plaster and lathe from old walls and ceilings. Oh, sure, you could simply get your hammer or crowbar and start blasting away. But plaster and lathe demolition is horribly, horribly dirty. Horribly. You think you have the furniture in the next room protected with plastic sheeting? Ha ha ha! Get your duster ready. We live in our house as we wreck it room by room, and try to be very careful with our demolition. And even after all our sealing the heat vents, duct-taping doors and boxes with plastic sheeting, and gearing up in heavy clothing and bandannas, we still walk out of the room at the end of that day caked in dust.Β  The stuff is just so pervasive.

Plaster Removal UGH

Even so, there IS a way to reduce the mess. My methods are tried and true. πŸ˜€ Someone may have a better method (I’ve yet to see it) but this works, so far, for us.

1. Remove all the plaster FIRST. Then remove the lathe.

If you remove the plaster and lathe on one wall all at once, you’ll wind up with a big, dangerous mess. Lathe will be everywhere with plaster sections collapsed all around it. And since lathe contains nails — if your home is old, the nails will be old and rusty — the material is serious safety hazard. It’s best to first remove the plaster and shovel up the debris, THEN remove the lathe and pick up the wood.

Its Pink

By the way, YES, that IS a salmon pink ceiling. It was underneath a drop ceiling we removed. The trim in this room had once been mustard yellow....


2. Start small. then work in “sheets.”

You only need to create a small hole at first, and then a narrow strip. I always begin in the center of a wall, so I can have two people removing plaster from each side.

I start by pounding a hole in the center of the wall with a hammer. Then, I chip a long, narrow strip from the ceiling to the floor.

Wiring 2

3. Use a spade to cut off large sheets of plaster from the lathe.

Don’t use a crowbar or hammer to remove the plaster from the lathe. You’ll wind up with a mushroom cloud of plaster dust over your home! A spade is a small shovel with a flat blade. By the way, DON’T use a typical shovel for removing plaster, either. The rounded end, so perfect for digging holes, will only shear off a tiny portion of the plaster. It’s not worth all that effort.

My spade is very short, about 3 feet high. It has a grippy-type handle, and it’s perfect for removing large sections of plaster quickly and easily. Insert the end of the spade into the narrow strip of plaster you’d made with the crowbar. If the plaster is really sticking to the lathe behind it, you’ll need to ram the spade in. Now chisel the spade in between the plaster and lathe, to separate the plaster from the lathe. You may need to gently push up on the plaster with the spade, to force the plaster to break away from the lathe but not break off. The plaster will fall off in large sheets and the work will go much more quickly.

4. Keep the room tidy.

That sounds like a contradiction, doesn’t it? But the goal here is safety. And morale. NOBODY like slogging into a filthy workplace. Chop off large sections of plaster, and have a few folks pick up the plaster sections as you go along. We used a gravel shovel (another flat-ended shovel, but much more weighty) to shovel plaster into large garbage cans.

If you pick up the plaster as you go along, it will help reduce dust. You will not need to crunch over mountains of plaster to get to the next section. And believe me– shoveling up crunched and compacted plaster is a LOT more difficult than shoveling up freshly-removed sections of it.

DR Ceiling Down

Cleaning the room at the end of the work day did wonders for the morale, too. I found that we were much more likely to start the day with a little more vim and vigor when we entered a clean room to start our work than to begin in a room that was trashed. We lived in the house as we worked, so it was important to keep things clean.

Kitchen Gutted

5. Use a spray bottle with water.

It may sound corny, but it helped reduce the dust for us. When the dust in the air got too messy, we used a spray bottle filled with clean water to mist the air. The droplets of water grabbed the dusty particles and the weight of gravity forced it to the floor. Now, it’s important to go easy on the water, or you’ll end up with a muddy pool of plaster in your home.

6. Set a goal, every day.

My modus operandus for a day was to set a goal first thing in the morning, and that included cleanup. When we gutted our kitchen and dining room, I gave us one day to do half the kitchen (three walls) and a second day to do the other half (the fourth wall and the ceiling). It helps keep you focused, so the demolition doesn’t drag on forever. It’s very physical, laborious work. At the end of the day, we were EXHAUSTED. But settings goals helped, because we knew we HAD to have our house back again, and fast.


7. Be prepared for surprises.

I suppose every old-house home owner has stories to tell about what they find in their walls– old bones, newspapers, wayward toys, etc. We’ve seen all that. I was surprised to discover very old Art Deco wallpaper (hand painted!!) behind the chimney, though.

Wallpaper ddown

Wallpaper Display

We also discovered some less encouraging things. Someone years before had “capped” the exhaust to an old stove pipe with plaster, inserted a few old broken brick bits, and plastered over that. Over time, the plaster capping the exhaust vent cracked, allowing carbon monoxide from the furnace and water tank to seep into the room. *sigh*

Stove Pipe Hole

We’ve also found a rainbow of weirdo colors, a kind of historic home diary left behind by previous homeowners.

Be prepared for other strange things, too. I found studs filled with soft bricks on all exterior walls. No contractor or carpenter I spoke with knew what it was. They attributed it to “old timers” and their odd building practices… but I later found out that this brick is called “noggin.” It may have been used as a insulator (unlikely, in my opinion), but most probably as a fire stop, since my home is a balloon frame home.

I hope these tips have helped you some. Good luck on your project!

Continue reading...

10 Things About My New Kitchen I Am Thankful For

June 14, 2011


I’m taking my dear friend Carole’s suggestion. After a particularly harried day fussing over a plumbing cob job problem, Carole said, “Go get a cup of coffee and look at before and after pics of your kitchen and cheer yourself up…” Hey, who am I to pass up a cup of coffee??

So I did. And I figured I’d write about the amazing things about my new kitchen that I am SO thankful for. Our kitchen renovation was a BIG job. I don’t think I’d ever tackled anything so intense, except maybe childbirth, lol. Even the 2007 living room renovation paled in comparison to last summer’s big kitchen blitz. We and some folks from our church rebuilt everything on our own– electrical, plumbing, heating system, insulation, drywall, flooring, cabinets and counters, and appliances. Whew, it was a very intense year. In case you missed all the tremendous fun from last year, you can check out some of my blog posts here.

Here are 10 things for which I am very thankful.

1. We’d gutted the kitchen and dining room to the bare bones. I am thankful for that because I’m a rather fussy person. I don’t like to inherit another person’s “disaster.” Old houses are almost never disasters– old houses are exceptional in that they are solidly built with superior craftsmanship and quality materials. In this, they have new construction beat. However, the common “disasters” that strike an old home is usually sub-par remodeling or neglect. My house has suffered from both, but especially from terrible “remodels” in some of the rooms. Much of my turmoil comes from fixing previous remodels. So I like to gut the walls and start from scratch. I don’t like patching up previous owners’ disasters. And I also like to see exactly what’s behind the walls. I’m still looking for those gold dubloons somewhere.

Kitchen Gutted

2. I am thankful for my dishwasher. My daughter and I STILL give thanks regularly for it. We used to wash loads and loads of dishes by hand. When I used to babysit kids, I was washing dishes for ten people three times a day.


I got a cheap dishwasher, too– the kind without the electronic panel and no fancy features. I’d heard that fancy dishwashers break easily. I got this cheapo model in case it died early– then I wouldn’t feel so bad if it broke on me. But it’s been going like a champ. And we LOVE it.

3. I am thankful for my vinyl plank flooring. My first choice was hardwoods (whose isn’t?!) but it was too expensive and I didn’t think I could install something like that myself. So I opted for easy care vinyl plank flooring. It really is very easy to take care of, and doesn’t look too bad!

DR flooring2

4. I am thankful for my kitchen window. I love this window. It’s so big, more than twice the size of the previous window. I can see the entire backyard through this thing. And when I open it, all the breezes come in. I love the woodwork and the pendant light!


5. I am thankful for my wood countertops. I bought them online and had them delivered, can you believe it?! 350 pounds of countertops! Laminate might have been a little cheaper, but it would have been too much work to custom make it to fit my large space. The wood is just so wonderful. I am just starting to relax a little about the countertops. Before, I was rather hyper about any scratch or swelling. But now I’m not as fussy, because if the wood gets a scratch or swells, I can simply sand it down and recoat the surface with oil.


6. I love my dining room. πŸ™‚


7. I am SO thankful for insulation. Maybe that sounds kind of weird, but if you have ever lived in an old, uninsulated house, you know exactly what I mean. The insulated walls make the house so, so much more comfortable. I can’t wait to have the upstairs insulated.


8. I am thankful for new electric. For several years, we had no electricity in many of the rooms. After we gutted the living room in 2007 and saw the condition of the 100-year-old knob-and-tube wiring, I disconnected it for fear of fire. We were without electric in the kitchen except for a small ceiling light and one outlet. It was a pretty miserable room to be in, so dark and ugly.

When we gutted the kitchen and dining room, I wired new electricity throughout the house. I also wired Ethernet. Of course, in some of the upstairs bedrooms we only have one working outlet and a switch-operated ceiling light, but it’s one NEW outlet and a NEW light operated by a switch (before, the ceiling lights were pull-chain, ugh). I am very, very thankful for our new electric. I sleep so much better at night now.


9. I am thankful for drywall. I adore the inventor of drywall. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU. There are some “hard core” old home owners who install plaster and lathe in their homes, but not me. Plaster is dusty, dirty, ugly, it cracks, it’s lumpy and bumpy and did I say it’s dusty? It also smells. :-p I like my drywall.

DR ceiling sheetrock

10. I’m thankful for my new cabinets. They cost me a verrry pretty penny, but I love them. They are solid plywood. Beautiful doors. I love the color and they are so durable.


Can you believe I’ve counted to ten already?! I could keep going on and on!

In case you’re wondering, this is what the old kitchen looked like.

Ugliest Kitchen1

Ugliest Kitchen2

Now you see why I am so thankful. πŸ™‚

It’s rather easy to see only the things that go wrong when you have an old house (mostly because things are always going wrong in an old house!!). But there’s a lot of marvelous benefits to living in an old home. And I am grateful to have a home. I shudder when I remember apartment living!

Continue reading...

Cemeteries and Private Property

January 13, 2011


Did you know that in some municipalities, it is perfectly legal to use a portion of your property as a private family cemetery? I can’t remember where I read that last year, but I remember reading it, and being surprised. Some states are developing more stringent laws about burials on private lands. In early America, families usually buried their relatives on a small plot in a woodsy area. Here in my area of New York, I can immediately think of dozens of such small private cemeteries on private lands, dating way back to the late 1700s. Some of those old headstones tell amazing stories on them.

Did you know that, in many states, if you are a property owner with a private cemetery, you must allow for easement for family members of the deceased to visit their buried kin, if their family is buried on your land? A Virginia statute reads:

Owners of private property on which a cemetery or graves are located shall have a duty to allow ingress and egress to the cemetery or graves by (i) family members and descendants of deceased persons buried there; (ii) any cemetery plot owner; (iii) any person engaging in genealogy research, who has given reasonable notice to the owner of record or to the occupant of the property or both. The landowner may designate the frequency of access, hours and duration of the access and the access route if no traditional access route is obviously visible by view of the property. The landowner, in the absence of gross negligence or willful misconduct, shall be immune from liability in any civil suit, claim, action, or cause of action arising out of the access granted pursuant to this section.

I’m glad I saw that statute, as I often visit cemeteries for my genealogical research. The fear of trespassing often kept me from seeing the headstones; now I know. πŸ˜€

Obviously, as the country industrialized and developed, fewer families placed their deceased relatives on their private property. Cemeteries were built, either by churches or the state, or by wealthy individuals who dedicated land for the citizens. Burials are expensive, though. Most “normal” folks would have had to hawk their stuff to afford a plot and a funeral. I don’t know when funeral insurance was invented (probably about the same time other insurances were invented?). In this area, the wealthy mucky-mucks must have had some very fine Insurance, because some of their burial sites are of Egyptian pharaoh proportions. Forest Hill Cemetery and the cemetery at Hamilton College hold some of the wealthiest and brightest people of history: Elihu Root, Samuel Kirkland, Roscoe Conking, James Schoolcraft Sherman, etc.


Utica, NY's largest cemetery was established only in 1850.

Anyway, as far as I know, most municipalities allow property owners to bury their pets on their own lands. But if you want to start your own private cemetery, it’s best to check with your local codes department, first. If allowed, they may require you to get a survey of your property or draw a map of the location of the plot on your land. And many states require that you allow family visitors to the site.

Continue reading...

My Before, During, and After Story, Part 3

November 18, 2010


This is the story of how we gutted our 1855 home’s kitchen and dining room. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

I have thus far blogged about the kitchen renovation. Originally, gutting the kitchen was my only goal. In an old house, it is SO easy to get carried away with multiple projects, because there is always so much to do. As I planned the kitchen job, I realized I’d have to do the dining room, too. Part of the renovation goal was to wire the house (I’d disconnected the old, decaying wiring in the house three years previously). We’d suffered all those years without any electricity in the bedrooms upstairs, the upstairs bath, and the dining room. I decided to gut the dining room, too. This way, I could wire the upstairs rooms from the opened dining room ceiling.

Wiring 1

The house framing method is balloon-frame, a building fad in the mid 1800s. Studs sit on the foundation sill and reach all the way up to the roof rafters, like a hot air balloon seams. It quickly grew out of fashion because cutting wood at such lengths was expensive; and the drafts produced by the open cavity from basement to attic was a fire hazard. But I was able to snake wiring up the stud cavities.

Since there was no plumbing in the dining room walls, I thought renovating the room would be easy. However, the walls are 155 years old, wavy and narrow. Installing the sheetrock for this room was AGONIZING. If I ever had to hire for a job, it would be sheetrock. What exhausting, dirty, depressing work. Nothing is straight or plumb in this house, so the walls and ceiling looked terrible. Not to mention that at this time, Upstate New York suffered one of the hottest summers on record. We were absolutely soaked through. I drank about 1 to 2 gallons of iced tea every day. It was a big trial for us to work through this. So many times we wanted to quit.


Wavier than a surfer's paradise, I tell ya.

DR ceiling sheetrock

It was just my daughter and I who did the sheetrock, with later help from my son. It took us THREE GRUELING WEEKS to do this huge room. Never again...


The wavy ceiling turned out so poorly, we decided to paste embossed wallpaper on it. That was another GRUELING week of work.


I wanted to retain the Greek Revival architecture of the house, so I spent a long time building new trimwork for it. I love my miter saw!


The room was a tremendous challenge because it has four windows and SIX doorways. But here's the finished product.

Back to the kitchen project. There was a large space- a former pantry closet that was awkward and cramped– and I didn’t want to close it off completely… So we solved the problem by creating a narrow pantry shelf accessible from the side of the closet. The guys from my church got this up in one night!

Narrow Pantry


This is after the sheetrock. It's a little quirky, but I love it. I have to build custom doors for it. That open cubby hole to the left will house a closet with a roll-out garbage bin... still not completed yet.


I like quirky closets so much that I built another one, between the kitchen and dining room doorways.

The guys from the church helped me install the sheetrock in the kitchen, to save my sanity. I hope I never have to do it again. Woo hoo! It’s over and it looks spectacular!


Once the walls were closed up, we could start installing cabinets. Yay!



It took me a long time to choose countertops. I originally chose laminate (I was on a budget!), but the long run (11 feet) would mean I’d need custom laminate countertops. Time was running out for us– it was already late August– and I knew I could not build custom laminate, nor could I afford it installed. After much research, I bought butcher block wood countertops from an online wholesale dealer. It requires a little more maintenance than laminate, but it’s absolutely beautiful.


The delivery man placed it at the mouth of the driveway, and took off! We had to haul the 350 pound counters 150 feet down the driveway, to the kitchen. Fun.


It took three kids and me to make this sink cutout. I was trembling with anxiety the entire time. One bad cut, and my countertop was ruined. Praise the Lord, it came out OK!

Delta Faucet almost there

Delta gave me a faucet for this renovation. I LOVE YOU, DELTA! We love our sink. πŸ™‚

The end is near! Stay tuned for the next section– it’s the best part of all!!

Continue reading...

My Before, During, and After Story, Part 2

November 16, 2010


Over the summer, we gutted our kitchen and dining room, and replaced the entire electrical system and water supply system. Read Part 1 of our story here.

Redoing the electrical system in this house was harrowing, but not as harrowing as in 2007, when I had replaced the living room and bedroom wiring– for now I knew what to expect. The wiring was probably installed here in the 1920s, judging by the knob and tube system and the hardware used. It had been added to over the years– very piecemeal– and by the time I opened a wall in 2007, it was a disaster. Wires were bare, chewed by mice, spliced with tape… and every once in a while, we found a buried junction box when we opened a wall.

Hidden Junction Box

An inaccessible junction box is a code violation and fire hazard.

Crazy Old Wiring

Because I could find no electrician to assist me, I studied at night and rewired the house by day. I even learned to install circuit breakers in the service panel. The electrical inspector […]

Continue reading...

You Can Do It, Yes, You Can!

March 22, 2010


In my recent post about my new textbook, Lin from asked a question in her usual elegant and poised manner:

Head gonna ’splode. Are you seriously gonna do that yourself??? Wow.

Hee hee!

I thought I’d post my response here (rather then have it buried in the comments), because I realized that a few of you “newer” readers did not go through the excruciatingly crazy time when we gutted our living room, in the summer of 2007. It was SUPPOSED to be a simple tear-down-the-walls-and-slap-news-ones-up-again job.. but my house is 150+ years old. I guess that kind of project never happens with old homes.

When I opened up the walls, I found a few surprises. One, noggin– noggin is brick, installed in the studs. We’ve no idea why the original builder did that; it was rare even back then. We suppose it was to help keep the house cool. And it does… both summer AND winter. :S


I also found mouse-chewed wires, and quite a few bare wires. And a disastrous mess of mangled wires. Oh Lord, it was a disaster. Long ago, the previous owners ripped off the flooring to the second floor, installed wiring, and put the floors back on– basically encapsulating the wiring. And this is what it looked like, 70 years later when I opened it up.

Bad Knob Wiring 1

You can read more about the craziness if you click the links. I had no intentions of doing the wiring myself, but I couldn’t find an electrician who would do one room– well, I did finally get one quote, but he wanted $1500 for it. I decided to study at night and do it myself.

Electrician Shock
Why My Electricity Won’t Work
Things Looking Brighter
The worst part was going into The Attic [insert creepy organ music]
It was a very frustrating job at times.
I also installed Cat5 ethernet wiring for the living room.

ALL MY WORK PASSED Codes Inspection! I was so happy.


Besides the living room, I installed wiring in my daughters’ bedroom above, light switches for two bedrooms upstairs, and separate outlets for the washing machine and sump pump. However, half the house still has no electricity. After seeing the condition of the living room wiring, I was too terrified to turn the rest of the old wiring back on. I disconnected everything I could. It’s been almost three years, and I’m hoping praying I can get electricity into the kitchen, dining room, stairwell, and upper bedrooms very soon. This year, we’re tackling the kitchen. The dining room and bedrooms will have to wait, unless a miracle happens.

This is our living room. ALL MODERN wiring!!!


You can read more about the House History and Our History here and all about Our Story of renovations up to now. After the massive 2007 renovation, which was the largest project we’ve ever accomplished yet here, I got a job blogging, and life just got hectic. I haven’t done anything else besides garden work around here. I’m praying the kitchen will be accomplished this year because it’s almost unlivable now. Please keep us in your prayers! I’m a little older now (40s) and rather out of shape because of my desk jobs for the past three years. I’m a little apprehensive about the physical labor involved. But God willing, it can be done. πŸ˜€ Thanks for reading.

Continue reading...

For You Curious New Readers

October 25, 2008

Comments Off on For You Curious New Readers

Some new readers to my humble bloggy abode have recently been requesting photos and more information about our renovation work here. I haven’t done much renovation this summer, but last summer and the past few years, we worked hard on the gardens, exterior and basement work, and gutting the living room.

I have tried to organize our stories in a convenient manner. Here are some links to click to read about our work and see some of the photos. (Be prepared, some photos are mighty scary!)

I had spent time researching the history of the house and property (it goes back to 1855), and blogged about it here. If you like history, you’ll like this post.

There’s Our Story here, which is a condensed version of the year 2007.

And if you want to know about this crazy family that took on this project eleven years ago, you can read more about it here.

I am in the process of looking for a new template for this blog, where I will be able to list some of our “classics” posts so you can see all the stuff we’ve been doing around here. The blog itself is also a work in progress! But I promise THAT will be done before the next century. Thanks for your questions and thanks for reading about our adventure!

Continue reading...

Mrs. Mecomber, Tear Down This Wall

June 28, 2007

Comments Off on Mrs. Mecomber, Tear Down This Wall

Well, the heat and humidity eased a bit today, enabling us to take down more of the wall surrounding the chimney. We’d already taken down a good portion of the plaster and lathe in the kitchen that surrounds the chimney. We’d removed plaster and lathe from one wall in the living room, but more had to come down, since some previous remodelers had laid the chimney on top of a wall with wallpaper and then built another short wall on on side. It’s very difficult to explain… it’s difficult to view… I’ve drawn a primitive diagram that I hope will explain how things look.


This is a bird’s eye view of the center if the house. You can see the different rooms (Living Room, Breakfast Room, Kitchen). The central chimney is tucked inbetween these three rooms. Water damage and mildew growth is labeled. The blue lines along the walls show where plaster and lathe needs to be removed. There is a false wall, too. After the chimney was put in, the owners built a false wall on top of the original wall between the LR and Kitchen.The only reason I can think of why they did this was to widen the space to insert a furnace heater duct in the wall between the chimney and the stairwell.

The problem is that they built the chimney and this false wall on top of a plaster wall that had old wallpaper on it (as shown by the blue lines in the above diagram). The wallpaper is so water damaged from the leaky chimney that the mildew has eaten the wallpaper away in spots.

So we’d already torn down some of the plaster and lathe in the Living Room that surrounds the chimney. We’d torn down the false wall and the plaster and lathe on the Kitchen side. Today we finished the Living Room side, by removing two studs from the wall on the other side of the chimney. We then removed the plaster and lathe and wallpaper from this section. In other words, we’ve now got three out of four sides of the plaster/lathe surrounding the chimney down.

Here’s the section before:

Here’s the section after:

Below are photos of the sections of wall we took down. You can see how old the wallpaper is and see the extensive water damage from the chimney. This side of the wall faced the chimney– they built the chimney on top of this wall with the wallpaper left intact. It was doomed to fail, not to mention a great fire hazard.

We still have a small portion of plaster/lathe to remove (the part of the wall toward the Breakfast Room). That will be our most difficult job, because the walls are in total disarray in that area. Originally, there was a full wall there, not a half-wall with doorway. Originally, this was not a Breakfast Room, nor was the Kitchen the Kitchen. Whenever this area was redone, the owners chopped only half of the wall (the bottom half) to open up the space to make a Kitchen and a Breakfast Room. The upper part of the wall is still intact, covered with paneling. Under the paneling are busted sections of old gypsum board, shims of scrap wood, and loads of joint compound.

Once we get this figured out, the rest won’t be as bad. We just have to figure out how to cover the chimney.

Continue reading...

Good News, Bad News

June 26, 2007

Comments Off on Good News, Bad News

Well, the bad news is that we aren’t going to rip apart the whole place all at once. It is just too expensive and too messy for us to handle. Doing the house piece-meal has its drawbacks, but on the good side, we can go at our own pace and avoid debt. So right now we are handling the most crucial of repairs: water damage and mildew growth from a leaky chimney.

We’ve removed the one wall from the Living Room, and part of a wall in the Kitchen. I’d wondered if the chimney was original to the home. We’ve discovered it is not. Bummer. This means that the chimney is of a lower-quality build. The original builder was very careful and thorough with his work. All owners after him were not. This is classic remuddling.

The chimney was built over an existing plaster wall. The plaster wall still has the original wallpaper. I can’t believe they built a chimney on top of a wall with wallpaper! All it took was a little leaking, and the paper rotted. Mildew growth all around the chimney must be removed.

You can see in the above picture the lathe and the plaster. The wallpaper is that brown papery stuff behind the bricks. That blue stuff is paint. After they built the chimney, they smeared joint compound all over the brick, then painted it over. Through the years, they painted it sterile white, then mustard yellow, then pink, then that Eisenhower blue. In the 70s, they smeared paneling glue all over it and stuck fake-wood paneling on top. I could scream in agony.

After days of indecision, we decided not to remove the chimney (yet). It would be a much larger and more expensive undertaking than we are prepared for. I also need my Kitchen and Living Room back soon. We will install an interior chimney liner to vent out hot-water tank vapors. Then we will remove all the plaster and lathe around the chimney, replace the walls with drywall, and paint. I have no idea what I am going to do with the actual chimney, how to cover it. That joint compound is like concrete. I could try scraping off the paneling glue, but that would be weeks of painful work. I sure am open to suggestions.

Here are some close ups of the wallpaper.

Actually, that wallpaper is not even the original wallpaper. There is another layer of wallpaper beneath what you see (it is hard to peel the two apart, but the original looks flecked). I think the layer that you see was put up in the late 1910s or early 1920s, as it has that Art Deco/Art Noveau look.

Even the layers of wallpaper border, at the top of the wall, remained intact.

The good news is I can finally install some electrical outlets since we have the walls open.

Continue reading...