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.