Thursday, August 29, 2013

What a Hole!

All the floor joists are out.

It was at this point, I considered just filling the basement with water and calling it
an indoor swimming pool.  But I thought with all the old plumbing still in place,
I shouldn't tempt fate.  This, I believe (and hope), is the worst of the worst.  

We've been called to the principal's office--summoned to the building inspector's office--
to provide more information for the building permit.  We've already provided the plans
but they've requested photos of the porches, the windows and a site survey of the property.
In such a congested urban area, almost every structure violates current zoning
setback requirements so changes to structures, including changes to windows
and doors, can require special permits.  That could delay the project by two months.

Stayed tuned.

 Thank you for all the great suggestions on the time capsule.  
You're not just a bunch of pretty faces, you're all really smart too!

I've pulled a lot of things together, and I'll compile a list of everything I put in.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Time Capsule

I've decided to replace the entire floor structure of the kitchen.
It just makes sense.  But things are kind of at a standstill waiting for the city 
to approve my building permit.  WTF?  While I'm perfectly happy
in my temporary kitchen trying to perfect my toaster oven cassoulet,
I'd love for things to keep moving along.  Hopefully soon.

In the meantime, I'm putting together a time capsule that I'll bury
between the two foundations under the kitchen.  I have a few ideas
but wanted to get some suggestions from you.  I'll, of course,
include a newspaper, a few blog posts about the house and a lot
of photographs of the house, the street and the neighborhood.

What items define this point in history that might
be of interest in 100 years?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


I know I'm a little strange but I love the look of exposed lath.
If this were my summer cottage by the sea, I would keep it like this.
Just hang a few paintings on the wall.

Anyway, the demo is done.  Well, I think the demo is done.
Here's why I'm not sure.

Darryl Carter

I was toying around with leaving a few of the old beams exposed
like in this Darryl Carter kitchen (which is one my favorites)
but until everything was gutted, there was just no way to know whether or not
anything would be pretty enough to leave exposed.

So I was looking forward to getting home and walking around the space
to make an assessment.  I unlocked the back door to step in and found...

No floor at all!

I guess the subfloor was just so crazy and at all different levels, it
just didn't make sense to save it.

There's nothing left but the floor joists.  Rosemary left me a comment
on the last post that the house looks so vulnerable in this state.  I think that's a great word.
We also discovered a second foundation, in about three feet from the outer one
just was I had suspected.  Why?  We'll get back to that.

The joists under the old bathroom don't seem too bad.  New 2x6s have been
sistered alongside the old 4x5 joists and additional pairs of 2x6s were also
added in between.

In other places joists were spaced about two feet apart.
Sixteen inches is normal and probably code.

And between the two foundations, the spacing is over 30 inches!  Many of the
joists are at different levels and the entire floor is just way out of level.
I could certainly beef up the structure with new joists and pad some of the
joists that are too low, but it just might make more sense to rip it out and
start from scratch.  There's certainly no better time to fix it properly.

From a purist point of view, I would love to leave anything original intact because
it's an historical document; on the other hand, the perfectionist in me would like
it all to be new.  I have a little bit of a stomach ache about it but I'm  not going
to shed any tears or lose any sleep over it.  Just gotta figure it out.

It is what it is, as they say.

But let's talk about the two foundations.  As I said, there are two foundations
about three feet apart but notice the center floor beam goes all the way
across to the outer foundation.  There appear to no bones, no treasure,
no stash of Paul Revere's silver although it would be fun to poke around with
a metal detector.  The inner foundation seems a little better built and made
of gray fieldstone...

...just like the foundation on the rest of the house. 

The outer foundation has a few wooden piers that have been filled in with brick.
It's much more makeshift than the inner foundation.

 The ceiling joists (and the second floor) go all the way across but notice on the back wall,
the sheathing is different on those three feet between the two foundations.

But why?

     1856 drawing                                                      2013 diagram

If you look at a few key measurements between the 1856 drawing and its current dimension,
you'll see that the house has gone from 61 feet to 42 feet on the right side and from
37 feet to 18 feet where the porches are.  Nineteen feet is missing!

I suspect there was a barn attached to the back of the house.  A place where horses and
firewood might have been.  But the double foundation?

Photo:  Our Little Big House

My guess is there was an inverted porch on that side of the house.  Perhaps just wide enough
to provide cover from the rain or snow to get firewood.   I think that explains the more
solid inner foundation of the house and a porch foundation that was most likely entirely on piers.

If I didn't lose three feet of my kitchen, I would love to recreate that.  I think it would be
really nice detail on that side of the house.
Up next is dealing with the plumbing and heating.
This plumbing stack serves the upstairs bathroom.  It would probably
make sense to renovate this bathroom at the same time but I have my limits.
Cast iron is famous for splitting open.  This is most like over 100 years old
so it's time to replace it with PVC.

The plumbing stack was boxed in just beside the old kitchen sink.  In the new plan the kitchen
sink will be placed right in front of the window.  The challenge will now be to move the plumbing stack back into the outside wall as far as possible so I can get a nice expanse of countertop.
Having plumbing in an outside wall can be a little troublesome in the wintertime
but I'm being told if the pipes are wrapped in foam and then foam insulation
is blown in around them, there shouldn't be any issue with freezing. 
Can I get a witness?

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Demolition, Man

Demolition has started.  Three hours, two guys, one dumpster...

View from upstairs
...and the porches were history.

The house looks better already.  Those porches were just bringing the house down.

Under the porch were five shovels and a pitch fork.  There is no visible gap under the kitchen
but we still can't figure out why there's three feet between the outside of the foundation
and the inside of the basement.  The basement walls under the kitchen are poured concrete - so
much more modern than the rest of the basement - so it just may have been dug smaller than
the outside foundation.  I think this is where coal was shoveled in to the basement.

Inside the going is a little slower.  The kitchen tile is set in a bed on thick mortar
on a metal lath that's like a cheese grater.  Watch your fingers!

Above the tile is evidence of the stove flues that went in to the chimney.

The floor.  Ceramic tile on plywood on linoleum tile on plywood
on hardwood on subfloor.  It was a good two inches thick, maybe more.

Here's a few before-and-now photos.

One of the cats took up residence next to the sink after it was emptied out.
He seemed kind of sad about the old kitchen going away.
(Maybe that was just me.)

This is the same kitchen window that was next to the sink.
The bathroom window is in the distance.

Pretty, right?  It's so old!

Here's an old drum trap circa 1900. All lead.
The claw foot tub and sink drain to this.

The old pantry.

The back door to the porch air.

How's this for an example of bad construction technique?

A charred joist between the kitchen and bathroom that's about a foot shy of being
tied to anything.  I was told there had been a fire in the house - I saw evidence
of fire up above the ceiling where the new bathroom is - but this burned joist seems
to have been put here later.  Nothing around it or attached to it is burned.

I always find demolition both nauseating and exciting.  I always fear that something
horrible will be revealed, something will spring a leak, start a fire or fall down.
At the same time, it's the beginning of something new.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Back Porches

Just off the kitchen and master bedroom are my back porches.

My renovation strategy since buying the house has always
been to tackle the ugliest thing.  I started here.

I've ripped things off.  I've added new things.

I've painted them.

And painted them again.

And it's all been lipstick on the proverbial pig.

When I was out last weekend cutting back overgrown plants
and shrubs and I discovered new problems.

The center post is rotting.

You can actually see the lower porch is sagging in the center.

The brick piers are crumbing...

...along with the porch foundation.

The time has come to replace them.

The thing that worries me most about the porches (and the kitchen)
is I don't know what is under one-third of the kitchen.  There is basement
under only two-thirds of the kitchen and the rest is unknown.

Might it be on piers?  It's a mystery.

Historical documents don't help.

On an 1854 map of the neighborhood, it almost appears like
there were porches, or at least one porch, on the house.

But on a drawing of the house from 1856, it's clear
there's only a small staircase leading from the kitchen.

The woman from whom I bought the house told me her father 
added the porches in 1940.  Whether or not there were ever porches
on the house prior than 1940, I don't know.  But these porches just don't look
correct to me.  I wanted to see something with more formal balance.

The porches may not be original but I want them to look
like they might have always been there,

Old Wayland Town Hall
Photo:  Historic Buildings of Massachusetts
The closet thing I could find locally to what I think my porches
should look like is the front of the Old Wayland (suburb of Boston) Town Hall
built in 1841, just a year older than my house.  I don't have the triangular
pediment above the porches, nor would I want the back porches
to compete with the front of the house but it's the symmetry
that my current back porches lack that I'd like to add.

So I've split the columns into two one-story sets that are thinner
than the columns on the front of the house and with no flutes.
This creates smaller-scaled bits that won't compete with the front of the house.

To create the symmetry so quintessential to a Greek Revival, you'll
also note I've created a center entrance.

Adding the back porches to my kitchen has consequences:  the budget.
I've decided not to add a second window above the kitchen sink.  The
cost of removing the old chimney, repairing and residing the house just
to add one window without an attractive view, just no longer made sense.

I also need to take a look other places where I can save money without
holding up the progress.  Right now it's appliances, lighting and cabinetry.

Work should start tomorrow.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Kitchen Prep

I've been cleaning out the kitchen and getting ready for the big renovation.
A lot of people love my kitchen and I agree it turned out really quite
pleasant from where it started out.

This is what I started with.  It's a great example of the transformative
powers of paint.  I didn't want to change the floor so I chose a neutral
color palette and added the dark blinds and mirror with a black and gold
frame to draw your eye up.

I also replaced the disintegrating sliding doors with a pair of
old four-panel doors on the pantry and old bathroom that will now
be demolished to expand the kitchen.

I've removed the doors and pulled off the casings.  I still need to cut out the jambs
that Sam made to fit the doors.  They'll get reused on my closet and bathroom upstairs.

Behind Door No. 1 is the pantry.  A lot of people think I should keep it but
when you consider about two-thirds of the space in the center never gets
used, it's really a waste of space.  The pipe on the right provides heat to the
bathroom upstairs.  

Behind Door No. 2 is the old bathroom.
It was made handicapped accessible in the 1980s as evidenced by the
pink and gray tile.  Although it's a very spacious shower, you then have to 
walk back and forth across a wet floor to use the rest of the bathroom.

This is the only shower in the house and I can't believe I've
lived with this for so long.

This is the rest of that bathroom.  Nothing horrible by any means but
now that I've created the new bathroom, this is space that will be better
incorporated into the kitchen.  Actually, in an urban area where it's impossible
to expand the footprint of a house, this was the only way I could add
square footage to the kitchen.

Here's the floor plan of the future kitchen again.  The area in green
is the space being added by incorporating the pantry and bathroom into
the room, about 60 square feet.  The counter space along the back
alone is more linear feet than I have in the old kitchen.

My dining room shelves which have been very popular on Pinterest
have all been packed up to make way for my temporary kitchen.

They're my temporary pantry.

And the other side.

I'll move the refrigerator in here and between grilling and a
hotplate, I'll enjoy the challenge of making meals with a very
limited kitchen.  As a Boy Scout my favorite part of camping
was cooking my meals outside on an open fire.  This is a little
more like glamping so I have no complaints.

People like to ask how long the renovation will take.
I have no expectations.  I think expectations only set yourself up
for disappointment.  As a Boy Scout I also learned to be prepared
so, this Thanksgiving, the only thing I'll be making is a reservation.