Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Thoughts on Antique Houses (with book teaser)

I confess to coveting this antique house for sale in our neighborhood.

Built in 1600's, it was originally home to a family fleeing the Salem Witch trials and has been in the same family for eight generations.

Our town was a haven for those persecuted in Salem. We even have a Salem End Road.

How is it possible to gaze on these spaces and not want to live there?

So many wonderful odd passageways.

But a look at the framing is a bit of a reality check.

Because the truth is that antique New England homes are reserved for those among us with large bags of cash and the patience to deal with the Historical Society. One will also need a very hearty constitution as there is little to be done to escape the antique drafts and cold.

Not to mention, that the family Pike, given the option, would have likely opted for baseboard heat, air conditioning, and vinyl siding.

Now the Mr. has worked on his share of antiques and what I have learned through him is that there is no such thing as a simple repair on one of these treasures.

Here's an excerpt from "How Hard Could it Be?" which sums things up nicely (please forgive me if the font is too big or too small as I still haven't mastered the cut and paste with reasonable font trick).

I once got a call from the owner of a colonial era house on a Saturday afternoon. “Bryan, can you come over to plane a door down for me? It’s stuck.” Not something I would normally charge for, just a good client freebie. Went over with my truck and tools to take care of the problem. Sure enough, the front door was stuck tight. It also bore no resemblance to a rectangle. Nor did the jamb. 

I went out front to survey the house and into the crawl space below to have a look. Now, the front door had been dragging for some time, as evidenced by the 1/2 inch deep arc it had gouged in the floor. “When was the last time you oiled those gutters on the third floor?” I asked. “Oiled?” he replied. I explained to him that if you don’t linseed oil your wooden gutters every few years, they’ll rot.

Raw linseed oil is the preferred potion. If you use the boiled stuff it’ll just evaporate on you, leaving you no better off. Boiled linseed is usually used as a medium for matching old stains, like on a vertical grain fir wood deck.

The rot will eventually cause a leak. The leak will create a sinkhole at the point of the drip. The sinkhole allows water to collect in your field stone foundation where, in winter, it will cause a frost heave that can move the stone. Unfortunately, your floor sill rests on these stones and when unsupported, will droop. In a balloon frame house the wall studs are nailed to the sill, and the floor hung off them. So, if a 6” stone is missing from your foundation, you may experience a 6” drop in the house above it.

I told this poor soul that in order to have his front door open long term, we needed to do the following:  
  1. Dig a hole on each side on the foundation into which we’ll put house jacks.                  
  2. Slide a steel beam through the foundation supported by the jacks.  
  3. Jack the house up 1/4” per day for 24 days. (1/4”x 24=6”) We do this in order for the house to adjust to the movement.

At this time, we can begin repairs. These will be pinning and securing the offending stone, cutting out and replacing the rotted sill, (trust me, it’s rotted.) Reattaching the wall to sill and floor to wall. Removing and re-framing the door jamb, and (in the shop) truing up the square of the door for rehanging. Then we’ll fix any broken plaster that resulted from all that jacking, and replace the rotted gutter. So, it’ll take most of a month and cost you $12,000.00. “ $12,000.00 to plane down a door?”

For those of you unfamiliar with fieldstone foundations, they are typically just piles of rocks, without mortar, on which the house rests. One house the Mr. was working on actually had small Stonehenge type towers of carefully placed rocks in lieu of supporting beams. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

El Dorado

El Dorado.

Is it the lost city of gold?

Or a land yacht?

Nope. It's a tired old ranch house. Dubbed the El Dorado due to it's mammoth proportions. Built in 1957, its almost 10% larger than its peers with a two car garage and an unheard of two full baths.

Yet another of the 30,000 homes built by the brothers Campanelli between 1947 and 1960.

Our offer was accepted and come early January the fun will begin.

It was just three short days ago when our realtor called to tell us that a house would be on the market the following day and "it would go fast." She wasn't kidding. The place was crawling with contractors and ours was one of ten bids. 

While I was not on hand for the viewing, apparently the Mr. encountered our down the street neighbor who also happens to be in the business of fixing up houses. I am told the following conversation ensued.

Mr: What are you doing here? 

Neighbor: What are YOU doing here?

Mr: Get out of here.

Neighbor: YOU get out of here.

Mr: No YOU!

Neighbor: Yo Momma!

Or some such. All in good sport, though, right? He's a nice enough chap.

The house had one owner who passed away in August. It's a tired old thing, but it "only" needs windows, doors, boiler, kitchen, baths, floor coverings, wall painting, trim, siding, garage doors, and other this and that. What it doesn't need is a new roof, electrical, major landscaping, or any walls moved about. 

Even still, it is bigger than previous houses the Mr. has worked on and oh so worn out.

Here's the living room.

And the kitchen. 

The photos are from the real estate listing. I'll be in to do a full "before" pass after we hand over a shockingly large back of cash in return for keys.

Who knows? With real estate prices going the way they are maybe this one will be our El Dorado.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Book Teaser

Even with the Mr. writing at a feverish pace, I figure with editing and publishing and whatnot we're still a year out from availability. With that in mind (and housing prices continuing to confound our attempts to find a suitable project) I thought I'd post the occasional quote from his upcoming book.

The working title is "How Hard Could it Be?" which sums up the attitude of many unfortunates when it comes to home improvements. My brief answer is always "much harder than you can imagine."


Here are some useful tips for contractors when responding to customer utterances (also helpful to customers when interviewing contractors).

  1. When the customer says "I'll help" double the price.
  2. When the customer says "I'd do this myself if I had the time" triple the price.
  3. When the customer says "I'm getting three estimates" or "I fired the last carpenter" or "the architect will run the job" walk away.
  4. When the customer says "I'm a lawyer" RUN away.

Additional fees may be charged as follows:

10% entertainment tax for watching the work.
10% educational tax for asking questions.
$100 per for each answer to the above.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

No More Houses this Year

Well, things aren't looking good for getting another house this year. Goodness but people are paying an awful lot of money for very little house these days.

We've come close on a couple, but were outbid by folks who reckoned they could fix things up faster and cheaper. No doubt. The Mr. has certain standards and so do I. We looked at a house that had been "fixed up" by one of those quick turn artists. Blech. Shoddy finish, cheap materials. Makes me feel sorry for the home buyer, but there you go.

Fear not, though, plenty of work right here at our estate. Plus the Mr. is working on his illustrated guide to home improvements!

Thinking of roofing? Here's all the stuff you'll be carting up the ladder. No thanks.

Chock full of useful information, amusing stories, and helpful illustrations.

Oh that feeling when you're backing up along the ridge and suddenly your feet are dangling in space.

We'll keep looking, but right now, might be time to hunker down for the winter and see if there's enough cash on hand to build that home theater in the basement. Of course finishing the basement isn't all that costly, but outfitting it with absurdly large TV, surround sound, and theatre seating is another matter.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Garage Gets a Window

Did I mention that the Mr. is stripping the garage so that he can add more supports as he goes? Hopefully to keep it from further torquing. Gives it a nice, open feel.

Almost there. Ready for new siding soon.

Did you notice the new window he built? Isn't it adorable? Much better than the old one and it will provide good ventilation.

Oh, and the corner molding. Wowee!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Housing Prices, Garage, and Woodpecker

Things aren't looking good right now for acquiring House #4. Because while prices for fixer uppers have gone up, the selling prices haven't gone up as fast. Those skanky, run down, icky ranch houses are selling for a good 30% more than they were just two years ago, but the finished nice houses that are our bread and butter are only going for about 15% more. You do the math.

Meanwhile, the trim on the front of our garage is looking very happy with a coat of paint.

Before the front can be finished, the side needs to be stripped and get new new sheathing. The Mr. will take advantage of having the framing exposed to put in some more support structures with the aim of preventing further twisting and sagging.

Now for the latest on Mr. Woodpecker.

Apparently the caution tape was too subtle a message for him, so we've upped the ante with professional grade Triple Threat Bird Scare 'em Tape.

This tape is supposed to strike fear into the red headed menace on three levels; scary shiny reflection, movement, and sound.

Today wasn't a good trial as the wind was interfering with small bird flight and I suspect Mr. Woodpecker was distracted from his persistent displays of machismo. 

We'll just have to wait and see.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Back to Work on the Garage and Woodpecker Woes

After a work pause for some mechanical repairs on his person, the Mr. has been cleared for "light work" which means trimming out the garage.

Recall, if you will, the before photo of the structure.

Here it is as it stands today. That's our old front door in place of the decaying French doors.

Did you notice the dental molding? 

It's all in the details. This is so cool and it makes me smile every time I pull into the driveway. Not to mention that the careful use of decorative touches makes the structure look almost square (when in reality it lists somewhat front to back and side to side).

In other news, Woody Woodpecker has fallen out of favor ever since he decided to assert his maleness by drumming on our front porch post. This is how he repays me after all the times I rescued him from under the fruit tree nets. What an asshole!

Here's our opening volley in the battle against Woody Woodpecker. That's right, pal, stay away!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Garage Progress

I was momentarily delighted to see a new face on the job yesterday, that of Helper David. He was sporting a tote full of such a variety of brushes and whatnot that I was certain he had come to clean the interior of our estate (thereby allowing me to continue my life of sloth reading trashy novels and eating bonbons).

Unfortunately, it was not to be. David works as a car detailer and apparently he and the Mr. were only comparing manly equipment carriers. Oh well.

The front is finally rid of all the punky, ant wood. Luckily, the back beam of the main header was relatively intact. Here we see all the bad wood gone and the new sister header over the bay door side.

Sister header over the small door side and the small door framed in.

Finally, the first of the sheathing up. Note the layer of different wood on the bottom. This is to prevent rot and (hopefully) discourage the ants.

If you are wondering why there is only one bay door, it's because the garage is too low to accommodate the Mr.'s van. So why put in an expensive overhead door when a nice guichet will do?

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Garage Work Commencement

While we've put the garage addition on hold, the garage face lift has begun. The poor old thing is saggy and worn. First item on the agenda was to strip off the siding and see what's underneath.

Not surprising for these parts, underneath was lots of ick and carpenter ant damage. No sign of the ants themselves which means they've moved on to some other wooden structure. Hopefully not our house (which luckily has brick on the lower half) or the barn (which has ant resistant pressure treated wood on the lower portions). 

The Mr. is cutting out all the punky wood. He mentioned something about "structural members" yesterday which is my signal to hide inside and not look until it's all over.

Those horizontal lines in the wood are from the ants. Nom, nom, nom.

I don't think I ever showed you the front door with the trim up. Took the Mr. a few tries to get exactly what he wanted, but the final product is splendid.

Never a lack of things to do at our estate.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Done and Dusted

Closed on house #3 on Friday, August 16th. Phew. No new house in the immediate future. Stuff to take care of at our estate and also waiting for the market to chill a bit. Prices are going coo coo nutty but there will be discounts once the winter approaches.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

We Have an Offer (and a new front door)

We have an offer on House #3! Woo hoo!

The inspection is completed, but we still need the bank appraisal and P&S so it isn't over yet, but we're getting closer.

On the home front, the garage addition has been put on hold due to some other stuff that is happening this summer.

No worries, lots of "small" jobs to be done to brighten our estate. First and foremost, the new front door.

Here's the before. BORING!

And during. That new door was in and out so many times that I lost count. Trying to get things just right in a crooked old brick house isn't easy. Of course it was BOILING hot the entire time.

Ta da! 

Note that the new door swings in the opposite direction. This has greatly improved traffic flow. I love all the light that comes in now. It's changed a dark nasty hallway into a well lit entry (of course an entry that now is showing its tired condition more readily as the hallway is still 1949 original - all in good time).

Sunday, June 30, 2013

No News Yet and Starting Our Own Project

Our realtor isn't worried, so I suppose we shouldn't be either. Plenty of traffic at the project house, but no offers yet, and I am just a tad concerned as the carrying costs have consumed the buffer and will soon be eating into profits. But nothing one can do but wait....

The little deck project was finally completed after suffering through weather shut downs due to alternating monsoon rains and jungle hot weather. It awaits inspection tomorrow.

Meanwhile, an actual project on our very own estate is about to commence. That being the building of an additional bay on the garage.

In anticipation of work starting, here are some before photos.

Typical two car stand alone garage.

From the yard side where you can see from the white line where the new bay will end.
This is going to be great as it will provide ready access to both front and back yards for the lawn tractor and snow blower (might even mean the end to my hand digging of Dexter's comfort paths in the winter).

Because the Mr.'s van is too big to fit, we've always had half of the garage dedicated to storage. When we bought the house, there were no garage doors so the Mr. popped on a set of french doors on the non-car side. Much nicer for going in and out.

This is where the third bay will be. Hopefully marking the end of the unattractive clutter that now collects in that corner.

When the Mr. was done with the last house project, he enacted a new rule that "all tools much be where they can be seen and reached without moving anything." 

That meant that the storage part of the garage had its contents tossed recklessly outside in order to make way for the proper arrangement of carpenter equipment.

Part of me suspects that having to scrounge through weeds and debris to find my hedge clippers was part of the Mr.'s plan to help me see the necessity of a larger garage.

When weather shut down the deck job, the Mr. was working on new windows for our garage.

I confess that it seemed to be taking an extraordinarily long time to build two little windows.

Of course I forgot about his minimum standards for decorative details.

Yes, our garage will one day (hopefully by the end of the summer) not only be 50% larger, but it will also look like a little Victorian cottage. 

Stay tuned...

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

More Deck Work and Something for Our Estate

First it rained for 40 days and 40 nights and then it got wicked pissah hot. Ugh. What next? Locust?

The Mr. set Helper Stan and Sr. Helper Bob to work digging. 

Look at Sr. Helper Bob go! He's a blur.

While Helper Stan opted for slow and steady.

Then another day of torrential rain and finally, cooler weather. Just in time for framing!

Hey, Sr. Helper Bob, are you sitting down on the job?

And big news back at our estate. Our new front door arrived! Woo hoo! Very fancy.