September 05, 2008


Yes, my blog is back from the dead. After a meager two year hiatus (I know, not an auspicious beginning to the blog), my wife Jenny has cajoled me into reviving the blog on our house.

As you can imagine, there are a few things to update since my last post way back in 2006. Most importantly, we have a new addition to the family, our beautiful daughter Brooks, who was born in August of 2007. She's now a year old, and running around the house like crazy. She seems to like the old house just fine, and definitely loves the yard.

The baby's arrival of course spurred on a frantic round of work on the house, primarily focused on converting our decrepit office into a suitable nursery. I also powered through the vast majority of the paint scraping that was left in the house, in an effort to get rid of the last lead paint vestiges before Brooksie arrived.

Ok, in the interest of actually sustaining the blog from this point going forward, I will run very quickly through six years of restoration work to bring the house up to date. Some of these were biggies, and I will try to revisit these in more detail later. More or less in chronological order, we have:

  • Gutted the crumbling plaster walls and ceilings on the second floor (still kicking myself for this, but we had no idea what we were doing, and it seemed like the way to go). With the walls opened up, we installed modern insulation to replace the decidedly non-modern insulation that had been in place - lots and lots of dessicated corn cobs that were shoved in the voids between the timber framing. We then had the walls sheetrocked, and skimmed in plaster with a historic texture to match the original walls.

  • We also used the opportunity of the open walls to upgrade the electrical on the second floor, adding a fixture over the stairs, and adding and upgrading outlets.

  • Painted pretty much everything. The previous owners were smokers, and every surface in the house had a "patina" of smoke and dirt. I am a decidedly bad painter so focused my efforts on removing wallpaper, but Jenny and our families managed to get a fresh coat on most rooms downstairs.

  • Had all of the painted floors on the second floor sanded down to bare wood and polyurethaned. In hindsight, another mistake. The sanding messed up the nail heads on the old floors. Still bugs me, but live and learn. If I had it to do over again, I would have hand scraped. Of course, I would still be working on this project all these years later.
  • Had the chimney relined. We have 4 fireplaces, all off of one center chimney. The fireplace in our bedroom was boarded up, and the ancient Hercules boiler (coal converted to oil) vented through that flue. We opened up the fireplace, installed a dedicated vent pipe for the boiler, and reclaimed the fireplace. The other three fireplaces had been used over the previous 50 years to varying degrees, and it is a miracle that no one died. The fireplaces were lined using the Golden Flue process. Basically, they lowered someone down our massive chimney to chip out the old flues. They then inserted enormous bladders to each firebox. The bladders were inflated, and a special concrete was poured into the chimney. When it cured, the bladders were deflated and removed, and we were left with cast in place flues. Very cool, and provided the added benefit of making the chimney extraordinarily strong. The process works very well, and I highly recommend it, but our chimney guy was a nightmare. Lots of cut corners, sloppy, did not ask the right questions, and lost seven expensive bags of the concrete which he claimed went into our bricked up beehive oven (which he then insisted that we pay for half of). Anyway, it all worked out in the end, but thinking about it still makes me careen off into a rant.
  • Replaced the old Hercules boiler with a modern oil burning boiler. Unfortunately, between the boiler and chimney work, we spent our first few weeks in the house without heat during an unusually cold October. Brrrrr.
  • Replaced the roof, which the previous owners had assured us did not leak. This proved to be an optimistic assessment when a storm during the first week that we owned the house led to leaks everywhere. Our neighbor across the street kindly informed us that the previous owners kept a ready supply of buckets and pots to spread around the house whenever it rained.

All of this work took place during year one, with most of the messier items frontloaded in the weeks between closing and moving in.

The culmination was our hosting of Thanksgiving for both of our families. We were very proud to show off our cleaned up house but in retrospect, it still looked like a disaster. Our contractor managed to remove the table saw, and the rest of his tools from our living room only the day before our big event. I have a distinct memory of Jenny and I passing out on a big chair immediately after dinner. It may have been partly the tryptophan, but more likely it was the shock of our new endeavor catching up with us.

Ok, that's pretty much it for September-December 2001. Next post I will make some more progress on the next few years. Hopefully it won't be another two years before I get around to that entry.