Monday, April 30, 2012

Insulation... It's Getting Hot In Here

June 2011

One of the least glamorous parts of our exterior remodel was adding spray foam insulation inside our walls.  We were lucky to have existing insulation in our attic, but our walls cavities were completely bare.  Considering last year we spent over $300 in January on our gas bill and the house never got above 65 degrees this was a completely necessary addition.  We used a small mom and pop shop which was way cheaper but kinda lacking on professionalism.  This seems to be how we get 90% of our work done.

Since the house was covered in lead paint we agreed to pull the lead siding off in all the areas they would need so they could drill through the sheathing without coming in contact.  They showed up on the rainiest grossest day of the year to date.  I had taken the day off work to help supervise.  The one guy was sick as a dog and could barely stand up, lovely.  They also kept missing places and I had to have them come back and fill several cavities.  At the same time, several of our electrical outlets on the exterior walls started popping out.  As the foam expanded in the wall the less secured boxes just pushed out onto the floor and white foam started flowing out.  Needless to say, I was having quite a nervous break down throughout the entire process. I even broke down and called Josh and had him come out at lunch to supervise further.

The good news is the entire thing took about 3 hours so my freak out session was limited.  The outlets easily slipped back into the wall and the soy based foam wiped up.  As soon as they were done I could not wait to get the siding back on the house and start painting.  I also couldn't wait to turn my heat on and see what a difference we had made.  The addition of insulation cost us $2,400.  This was pretty cheap (we had been quoted up to 5k), but, it was in part because they didn't have to drill through the siding or patch it back. Oregon gave us a tax credit of $340 so for the cost of a 3-day weekend in NYC we warmed our house, reduced our heating bills, and greened the earth a little.  You can teach a 1920's house some new tricks.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Trim... Dress Up for Houses

June 2011

The new windows were in, the french doors were in, and now we were getting down to small changes each day.  Since we had to add trim to all our new windows we decided it was a good opportunity to look at all the trim.  Many of the boards were in pretty rough shape.  They were heavily covered in lead paint and no amount of scraping was going to make them smooth.  We decided to go ahead and replace all the window trim on the house. 

This decision was big and expensive.  But something had to be done, some of the trim was actually missing.  First, all of our sills had been cut when they installed the 1970's siding.  The sills used to extend past the window trim, we knew this because there was a ghost of the original sill size on the old siding.  Also, it was standard practice in the 1920's to do this, we have evidence on a lot of the neighbor's houses.  This was pretty devasting, I guess the people who installed the 1970's siding were too lazy to knotch the siding around all the sills so they just cut them off. Horrible.  If you ever buy a house and do something like this, we would no longer be friends.  Total dealbreaker. We contemplated replacing all the sills, but, due to the delicate nature of our old windows, and the cost, we decided to cheat and tack small pieces back and then use wood filler to smooth them out. It wasn't perfect but it gave us the look we were after.  The windows were also missing trim under the sill.  Once again a ghost made it pretty clear that this was original and had been removed.  So we looked at several trims and picked a small simple option for underneath.

Below is a picture of the sill add-ons and the new trim.

As we went around replacing the trim boards, adding to the sills, and installing new trim under the windows, we talked about improving our trim. Based on the simple style of our house and houses similiar in age the original trim design would have been pretty basic. However, our neighbor and several other older houses in the neighborhood had a small crown or cap moulding on the top of their windows.  I really liked the look of these, I felt it dressed up the windows and would provide more depth to our elevation.  We decided to break with house authencity and add this additional moulding. I love it!  House preservationists be darn sometimes you just want to dress your little house!

I wish we had a better picture of the trim close up but unfortunately this was the blurry part of the remodel where we were lucky to capture anything.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Remodel Week 2: 5 New Windows

June 2011
After we got the french doors in, the next step was to install the two other windows we had purchased.  Around the same time we were getting bids to do the outside work on our house I also brought in several window restorers.  I got prices to have all of our old windows restored and to add wooden storm windows so they could be energy efficient in the winter.  Let's just say the price was a little overwhelming.  However, I did learn a ton about our windows, how they work and why they rock.  These windows were made of 80 year old doug fir and the restorers all felt confident they would live another 80 years withourt needing replacement. I felt better about being such a strong supporter of keeping old windows.  I love our old windows! The glass is dimpled and wavy and it casts the most amazing light onto our walls.  I also love how impossibly thin the mullions are between each pane it's amazing they can support the whole window.  I actually turned down some houses on our search purely because someone had removed all the old windows.

The bad news was that the windows in the back bedroom were in really bad shape.  There was 3-4 broken panes, all of the glazing beads were gone and there was some rot to the sill plates. Urgh.  I really wanted to keep the windows, but in the end it made more sense to replace them.  Since they faced West and South these windows were taking the biggest beating of all. We had our contractor order three new all wood windows for the bedroom and made them promise to give me the old  panes so I could make something out of them...

They installed our new bedroom window first.  I really can't tell you what a huge difference this made.  The original double-hungs were very short and fat. Both on the exterior and the interior they made the entire upstairs feel very low.  The funny thing is that our new windows are not any taller then the existing ones, the only difference is that the openings are oriented upward and thus appear to be tall and narrow. We love these things.  Side Note: Does anyone notice I tend to take pictures askew... Do I have a shorter right leg?  I know I can fix these things in Photoshop but honestly it's more real and funny to show you how unprofessional we are.

The stair window followed and the new back bedroom windows were a few weeks behind since we had to custom order them.  It is still a goal of mine to have the remaining 11 original windows on the ground floor completely restored. I might have to wish for a secret $4,000 to fall out of the sky but I can still dream and hope one day. 

Friday, April 13, 2012

Installing French Doors... Creatively

 May 2011

Back in December, we had purchased a beautiful french door to replace our horrible 1970's sliding doors to the backyard. The installation of these doors was sure to be life changing, not only because they were gorgeous solid wood with divided lights and shiny oil-rub bronze handles, but, also because our current sliding door did not operate properly and required you to pick the door up and slide it. I really can't write enough bad things about the old door.  It didn't have a lock, so that meant the front door was the only exterior entrance to the house, and it didn't always lock in general.  Thus, it was often 'open' to any robber or raccoon who was willing to lift a 80 pound door and slide it (luckily this appeared to be no one).

Before I start, I also want to say... we knew this was going to be a big project.  The current door was eight feet long, our new door was only 6 feet wide.  This meant we would need to frame in a 2' stud wall, and we were a little nervous about how the current door was installed since nothing in our house from the 1970's appeared to have been done right.   Josh and I decided this was probably a little too big to be an only-us-project.  We decided to hire a guy from his work to come and help out.  Jeff showed up early on Saturday morning and quickly removed the glass door panels exposing the frame. He then removed the exterior trim so we could see how it was installed.

It was a mess. They had cut the foundation back to install the new door, they had also installed a 4"x4" post as the header (to those not in construction, an 8 foot span should have at least a 2"x8" or 4"x"8 header).  But perhaps the most disturbing was that the header was not supported by anything on one side (see left hand side in picture).  The sliding glass door was literally hold up all of our house above.  A quick trip to Lowes was in order, Josh rushed off to buy some additional lumber.  Jeff and I talked about what we wanted to do.  The good news is that we were making the hole smaller.  We decided that to take the 4"x4" header out (which had to it's credit been holding everything up and was level) was not a good idea.  We figured it we supported each end of it with a king stud (this is two studs doubled up) and but another king stud on the side of the door we would have enough transfer points to not replace the header.  Now that structure was figured out we looked at the sill for the door.  Urgh

The last owners had  set the door frame into concrete.  Who does that? How do you remove a steel track embedded in concrete? At this point I need to tell you a little more about Jeff.  Jeff's real name is Jeff Ditch (honest to goodness) he is a beast of a man about 6'-4" easily 240lbs and sports one hell of a mustache.  Jeff was definitely not going to admit that this door had him stumped. I went in the kitchen, which is 3 feet away, to make some coffee and ponder what to do about the huge hole in our house when the entire house started shuddering... I rush to the stairs to see Jeff bare handed ripping the steel door track from my house.  I think I just stood there with my jaw open.  As my house cried uncle, he yanked and yanked until the darn thing had corkscrewed and pulled completely off. Jeff Ditch: 1.... House: 0

At this point, Josh returned and we just started framing everything back as if nothing insane had just happened. We installed both the dog door and the french door in (a perfect fit!).  Jeff told us that since the original door had not been installed on a wood sill, we would have to install the new door the same way, ie. imbed the doorplate in concrete. It was getting close to 4pm in the afternoon.  Jeff promised to come back the next day and add the concrete.  I was so tickled with our new door, but the entire process was a little blurry... did we just rip a huge hole in our house? Did we just discover a structural death trap?  Did that man just rip steel out of concrete with his bare hands? Is it okay that I can see daylight around the door when I am in my kitchen?  They don't show these moments on TV.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

We Love Demo

May 2011

Now that the weather was getting better we were itching to get our outdoor remodel done so we could enjoy it all summer long.  The first step was to see what we had to work with.  I had a creeping suspicion that our 1970's siding might be sitting on top of another layer of siding. The biggest clue was that all the trim on the windows looked like it had been doubled up.  So I walked over to the south side of our house, where no one can see, and started ripping boards off (Josh was not super thrilled). What I found made me jump up and down.  Underneath our siding was the original 5" siding just covered up!  Also, I did some very scientific rot checks (using my keys to poke at it) and it seemed to be in great shape.

Could it be we didn't need to install new siding at all?  Could our dream siding just be hiding underneath our ugh-o 1970's siding?  It looked like it.  I suddenly want to rip all the siding off that day.  Unfortunately, due to the age of the house and the way the paint was peeling off the wood it was obviously lead paint.  To protect ourselves, our home, and our yard we needed to put down a plastic barrier around the house as we worked.  We also recommend to everyone to wear a masks and eye protection. Also, don't eat the chips.  
The next weekend armed with lead protection we set about removing the siding.  You will notice in the picture the very ominous storm that we eventually worked through the whole weekend.  Still, pelting rain aside, it was a lot of fun, the siding came off pretty easy.  The worst part was all the bee's nests, cocoons, and spider dens that had been hiding between our two layers of siding.  Gross.  Josh and I spent two full days removing the siding from the South side, East side, and North side.  Our demo project was certainly entertaining for the neighbors, if not a little nerve racking as we stood on tall ladders and roofs to remove the second story boards.  In one weekend we removed all the siding wrapped up all our plastic and shop vac'ed every single chip of paint we saw on the yard, beds and roof top.  I am sure the view of me vacuuming the lawn was pretty comical.

At this point, the house looked terrifying.  The peeling paint was everywhere, but underneath was old growth Doug Fir siding from 1920's.  It was not rotten, it was not damaged, and amazingly a lot of trim we thought was missing from the house was actually hiding under the old siding.  Several contractors shied away from the project due to level of lead on the house and they didn't like the idea of re-using the siding.  They claimed that paint would never stick to our siding again due to it's age and the level of existing paint.  This is ridiculous. The siding was in great shape, the lead if properly scraped is fine.  The sustainable re-user in me could not understand removing good siding only to replace it with the same thing.  Worse case scenario, we have to scrap and repaint the siding in a few troubled areas in the next few years.  But, that will cost a quarter of what it would be to replace the siding and start over.  We had our first, and possibly last break of our budget remodel, FREE SIDING!