Archive for September, 2004

Further Basement Adventures

Saturday, September 25th, 2004

The phone that was in the rafters has now been hung from a rafter, so we’ve got a permanent corded phone in the basement.

We discovered that the ceiling not only hid the beautiful rafters, but also some of the most dangerous-looking wiring I’ve ever seen. Looking into my crystal ball, I see a fair amount of rewiring in my future.

The back part of the basement has some old panelling (in 4’x8′ sheets). I’ve decided to leave this be for now, but I had to pull a sheet off to get one of the ceiling boards down, and behind the panelling I found, Surprise! A row of furring strips! Behind that, the lower half of the wall was actual cement covered foundation, and the upper half was a plaster wall, which, aside from being covered in a ton of cobwebs and dust, seemed to be in pretty good shape. I punted and tacked the panel back into place for now… I can’t afford to get started on that project now.

We went to Home Depot and picked up a few porcelain light fixtures (the cheepie kind that screw right into a junction box) and S. installed them in place of the suspended ceiling light boxes while I banged away at the nails in the furring strips.

To top off the day, we pulled the two window ACs and put them in the attic, and the we pulled all eight radiator covers and put them in the basement in anticipation of the floor refinishers starting on Wednesday.

And now it’s time for a few bottles of Ibuprofen.

Basement Liberation

Saturday, September 25th, 2004

The first time I saw the Old Man, I went inside the basement, took one look at the half-broken drop ceiling in there and realized that it had to go.

It’s the standard 12″ x 12″ cardboard-type acoustic tiles, and the front half of the basement (the “Concrete Block Room”) was covered with them, with the exception of a few spots where they had been torn out to run new plumbing lines.

This left us with about 6’8″ of height in the basement, with the exception being the steel i-beam that runs from the front to the back of the house… the bottom of the beam is only about 6’6″ from the floor.

Above the tiles were furring strips. Above those furring strips were more furring strips, and on one side of the basement, even *more* furring strips… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

I went and picked up my nephew, S., to help me out. We got to the house and went straight to work in the basement. We each took a hammer and a wrecking bar and made short work of the furring strips in the front of the basement. Granted, we were slowed down by the fact that the furring strips were 32″ or shorter, and each strip was held in place with anywhere from 3 to 8 nails.

In the end we were left with a 5′ high pile of furring strips (with lots of nails sticking out) and some very sore arms (at least my arms were sore… S. seemed just fine)

It turned out that under all of those tiles and furring strips were some *gorgeous* rafters. We’ve got 24′ 2×10’s, and since they’ve been covered by a ceiling pretty much since the house was built, they look brand new and don’t exhibit any of the oxidizing that you’d expect to see in a 92 year old house. At some point in the distant past, there was a plaster ceiling, as the bottoms of the rafters exhibit the tell-tale white lines running across them:

Anyway, I’ll try and remember to take an “after” photo, but for now, here’s a “before” photo

and a “during” photo

In the back of the basement, only about 1/4 of the ceiling had tiles left, and instead of furring strips, they used 1×6’s, so it only took about 20 minutes to tear all that out. However, it took quite a boring while to bend nails into the furring strips and stuff them into garbage cans–we got about 2/3 of the strips disposed of.

A Brief History Lesson

Friday, September 24th, 2004

One of my good friends from college (well, I went to school with her husband) came over tonight at our invitation to take a look at the house and give us any insights into its history. J. is getting a masters degree in architecture, and we were hoping that she could both tell us a little about the house and brainstorm about some of the things we can do to make good use of our spaces.

J. was pretty excited about the house, but wanted to see the basement first. Now our basement is pretty weird. The front half of it is concrete block–something extremely unusual for an old home. Architect pointed out that the concrete blocks (half-thickness) aren’t actually load-bearing, but instead, they sit in front of the foundation, and the block wall that divides the basement in two has no supports whatsoever. She noted that a good swift kick could probably knock half of the wall over. So the basement is actually encased in concrete block as opposed to “made of concrete block.” This is good news as far as I’m concerned, because I want to rip the block out at some point anyway (although it’s pretty darned low on the priority list at the moment).

Next, she pointed out that our house, while a brick house on the outside, is not entirely brick, but it’s actually a frame house with brick facing.

Oh, and our radiators, which are hot water (as opposed to the typical steam heat), are not original, but were likely installed in the 30’s or 40’s. Radiators from our house’s era (it was built in 1912) were ornate and decorative since they were out in the open. These radiators are plain and were always meant to have radiator covers on them.

It’s The Smell

Friday, September 24th, 2004

The basement is stale, but oddly not musty. The windows in the basement are all painted shut, so it’s never really aired out in ages. Combine that with the stale smell of paint applied sometime in the last year, and a whiff of sewer gas from what I can only presume is a dried-out P-trap in one of the basement drains, and you’ve got a beaut of a stink. So we stopped by The Paint Store and picked up a few Odor Magnets and scattered them around the basement.

We got the “natural” scent ones, and I don’t know how these things work, but they really do suck the smells out of the air instead of masking it with some annoying phony smell. We used one of these a few years ago when we painted my office at home, and the strong paint smell was gone in less than two days. Let’s hope these do as well for the basement.

Caulk hides all wounds

Tuesday, September 21st, 2004

The Second Refinishing Guy came by today to give me an estimate for stripping and refinishing the woodwork. He noticed something that I had never noticed: Almost all the woodwork was caulked to the plaster.

Yes, you heard me. Almost all of the woodwork. Caulked. To the plaster.

Now when I was in the back closet in the basement, I noticed a half dozen tubes of DAP ALEX Painters Caulk, and I couldn’t figure out what the previous owner had been using it for.

Well now I know.

Stripping the woodwork is going to be just that much more fun.

On a side note, Second Refinishing Guy suspects that the wood panelling in upstairs foyer and on the staircase isn’t original. I suspect he may be right as it seems to have been installed on top of plaster as it’s almost flush with the other trim.

Well, Duh.

Monday, September 20th, 2004

On Saturday, I mentioned that the phone wasn’t working, but that the buttons made tone noises. It seemed really weird at the time, but I couldn’t make sense of it.

In the shower this morning, I was thinking about this problem, and it finally occurred to me that the phone was behaving exactly as though it was off the hook. A mild wave of nausea passed over me as I contemplated the task of rewiring all the phones.

I let my mind drift, and suddenly something clicked. I went into mental steadicam mode: starting in the front yard, through the front door, down the basement stairs, into the back part of the basement, and zooming right up to a telephone sitting on top of an old board that had been nailed across two rafters. The phone was, of course, off the hook.

I remembered seeing this phone during our inspection, but don’t recall if it was off the hook or not but I can only guess that it was.

I mentioned this odd vision to M. this morning, and as I walked to the house after work to meet her there, my cell rang, and the originating number was the house. Sure enough, she had found the phone and was calling me from the new phone.

So now, infinity minus one things left to worry about.

Some Basics

Saturday, September 18th, 2004

The doorbell was, not surprisingly, non-functional, and while the chime mechanism is hanging in the foyer, the chimes were nowhere to be found. We managed to find the one wireless doorbell that has actual chimes, so our doorbell doesn’t sound like the door chime at the dollar store.

We picked up a few cheap lamps and put them on timers to give the place at least a slight look of occupation until we can get moved in. Then the Second Floor Guy came with his four-year-old son to give us an estimate. Second Floor Guy was very nice, and his son was kind enough to dust off our steps and half of our living room by crawling and sliding around playing with a toy.

Suffice to say that the floors are filthy–the house has been empty for months.

M. and I went down into the basement and spent about 45 minutes pulling the remaining ceiling tiles and furring strips down off the ceiling. M. got all the tiles down from the front half of the basement and I got a few dozen furring strips yanked. I’m glad to have gotten started on that.

Later, the Refinishing Guy came over to give us an estimate on refinishing all the woodwork. Refinishing Guy was very nice, but I can already see getting the woodwork refinished is going to be a lot of money.

Welcome to the Money Pit. 🙂

Lead Paint

Saturday, September 18th, 2004

Walking back from lunch, we met a few neighbors on the street and found out the backstory behind the house across the street.

It’s a beautiful home with 12 foot ceilings, plenty of stained glass, and a backyard that would give Butchart Gardens a run for its money. It was for sale about the same time as our house, so we snooped around when it had an open house, but was waaaaay too big for us (not to mention way too pricey). As I told the Mrs., we’d need GPS’s and walkie-talkies to find each other in there.

The weird thing about the house was that, according to city records, the owner had purchased it a year ago, and was now selling it. This is somewhat unusual to begin with, but even moreso in the case of this house, which has some historical significance (despite the aluminum siding–ick).

Anyway, the neighbor who lives to the left of this house explained to us that the owner bought the house and moved in with his wife and young daughter. Six months later, they moved out and into a new house in the suburbs.

It turns out that their daughter had been eating lead paint chips and got really sick. Really scary stuff.

Here’s hoping that she’s since gotten better.