Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Not-So-Sexy Stuff: Electrical, Plumbing and Heat!!

So, even as I write this post, I know a lot of people won't want to read it.  Because tearing out walls is exciting, while wiring and PVC pipe is a little less interesting.  But if you're remodelling a house, this is the really important stuff.

Case in point, not surprisingly, as soon as demo started, we found a mess of knob and tube wiring in this house.  They had replaced it in the easy to reach places (like the basement), but behind the walls and ceilings, it was still there (if you look closely, you can see the two cloth covered lines coming through the tubes and then tying into the light switch).  We want to make the electrical safe and up to code, so it had to go.

In addition, we also had every other generation of electrical wiring in the house.  Yep - BX, Romex, fuse boxes, you name it, we had it.  And it had to be changed out.  Lots of things were done wrong and we wanted to get it cleaned up.  So, the guys got going and before I knew it, the basement was full of old wires with lots of new stuff installed.

Look at all that shiny new wiring going into the electrical box!

I was a bit sad that we had to take out the old pearl button electrical switches.  But they were made for the knob and tube wiring and can't be reused.  The good news - I found reproductions at House of Antique Hardware!

After lots of hard work, we have all new wiring in place.  The drywall guys will patch it all up and it will look great.

And while all that electrical was getting done, we did a pretty major overhaul of the plumbing as well.  The kitchen plumbing was updated, to meet new building codes.  We installed new bathtubs in both first floor bathrooms.  And of course we put a whole new bathroom in the Tenant's Master Suite.  
New First Floor Bathtubs & Insulation
New Tenant's Master Bath

The Owner's Master Bath also got a major update.  The original space had lots of walls, where they really weren't necessary.  It made the space feel very cramped.  We tore them out and suddenly it felt much larger.  But we still had a challenge.  If you are a tall person, you can't see your face in the bathroom mirror.  Tough for shaving or makeup, unless you bend over the whole time!

So when we installed the new skylight, we used a larger unit and were able to extend the wall up.  Jason is 6' 7", so he checked it out for us!!!  And there will be lots of natural light when you're getting ready.  Very cool! 

Now we just need the City to come out and inspect - and we're ready to move forward!

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Creating a Master Suite

When we bought the house, the Tenant's side had an awkward 2nd floor bedroom.  It wasn't very inviting.  In large part, because of the following:
1)  It was really dark (just one window in the whole space),
2)  Had a small closet,
3)  Included a useless hallway
4)  Had lots of of attic space, but it wasn't well utilised
5) And of course there was that mysterious hole in the ceiling

We wanted to fix that.

Demo Day!!!
So, we started (as we usually do), by knocking down walls.  By moving the knee wall back 5 feet, we suddenly gained a lot of space!  Our goal?  Add a full bath, a larger closet, a larger bedroom and lots of light.
With the walls gone, the guys could start with brand new framing.  Much easier and quicker and it allowed us to put the walls where we wanted them (note - we added a lot more structural framing below, to accommodate the weight of the new bathroom!).

Next, the skylights.  In these old houses, I think skylights are one of the best value items you can add.  They're not cheap - I use Velux which is the top of the line.  They're guaranteed for 10 years .  In fact, I've bought houses with Velux units that were 25 years old and still worked well without any leaks.  
And it's so exciting to suddenly see the roof opening and the sunlight flood in!

Love the bigger space and bright sunlight streaming in!

The difference they make in a space is amazing.  This is the upstairs stairwell, before we started.  
And this is after.  The natural light that floods the space is great!  Oh, and notice the old lath?  Well, when we jacked up the first floor to make it level, all the plaster cracked and had to be removed.
Bathroom - Before (attic space)
Next step, the bathroom is framed in, with plumbing ready to go.  The skylight in here makes it such a nice inviting space.  Wait till you see the marble & glass tile insets we're going to do in here!    And for reference, here's the attic space that was 'before'.  
And here is the rest of the space.  Nice change, don't you think?


Oh, and the hole in the ceiling?  Well, we discovered a pie tin up there that was catching drips from a badly flashed 'stink pipe' (plumbing vent).  Our roofer fixed it for us in and the pie tin is now history.

So, we didn't add a dormer or make any major structural changes - but by removing walls, reclaiming lots of unused attic space and by adding skylights - we have made it a big, bright usable space.  We need to finish electrical and plumbing and then on to drywall.  

Nice change, don't you think?

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Thank You For a BIG Milestone - 500,000 Views!

Wow, as we near our 3 year anniversary, we hit an amazing milestone.  Half a million views!!  Incredible!  Thanks so much to all of you that follow our adventures as we renovate and restore these wonderful old homes.

And because I'm addicted to stats, I thought I'd share a few with you:

Here are the top 10 cities that read the blog:
Interesting mix, don't you think?

The typical viewer reads 1.84 pages and spends 1 minute and 54 seconds on the blog.  And 42% of our readers are new new each month.

So, many, many thanks for your support.  We're working hard to complete our latest project and will continue to share the progress!  Stay tuned for another update this week!

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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Deck Project That Just Kept Going and Going and Going

Okay, so we knew that the deck needed some work.  And that weird staircase that ended 8 feet up, in the middle of the backyard - well, that had to go!

But we really didn't bargain for how much work was going to be involved.

So here was the starting point.  Clearly, the gutters had been flooding some areas of the deck for years, creating some rot.  But it seemed limited to the edges and the railing (in fact, one of our contractors took a tumble when the railing suddenly gave way as he leaned on it!)

But we didn't realise that the deck ledger boards were untreated wood - a big no no - and had rotted as well (the only good news was there wasn't any rot on the house itself!)

Or that the 'doghouse' structure that covers the basement staircase had rotted away.

Or that the deck didn't have any footings under it.

Oh, and there was that little issue of grading, so water kept coming into the basement when we had a heavy rain.

So.....we got to do it all over.  And we did it right this time.  But it meant we had to tear everything out and start all over again.

And yeah, that costs a whole lot more money.

The guys from Waterhouse Builders did a great job - as usual!  They started with the doghouse structure.  They had to tear out all the rotted wood.

And then we realized that putting new wood in an area with drainage problems, was just inviting future issues.  So, they jacked up the whole structure and Shaun Scott, our mason, came in and built a new concrete block wall.  That allowed us to change the grading and gave us a solid base to rebuild.

Next step?  The guys put up new, pressure treated ledger boards, to start the deck.  They'll go back and add a layer of flashing, before the decking goes in, to make sure that the water drains completely away from the house.  In this photo, you can also see the fresh new barn boards that finish up the doghouse.

But before they could go any farther, they had the back breaking work of digging footings.  It doesn't look like much with the dirt back around them, but the holes are 48 inches deep and 12 inches in diameter for the new concrete piers.

Once the foundational elements were in place, things started to go quickly!   With the old staircase out of the way, they tore out the remaining roof structure, to create a nice 2nd floor deck off of the Owner's Master Suite.

 And now that we have real footings in place, they started rebuilding the joist structure, that will carry the load of both decks.
Lots of decking and the rebuilt doghouse for the basement entrance
The quickest part of the project is the decking.  Didn't they do a beautiful job of installation.  And the new railings have a wide top on them - perfect for balancing a glass of wine or a beer :-)

But my favourite part?  The PVC skirt boards and lattice, that really dress everything up (and never needs painting!).  
It's not quite finished, but doesn't it look great?

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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

When It Rains It Pours.......Right Into the Basement

So, when we bought the house, there were some puddles in the basement.  But I didn't worry about it too much, I figured it would be easy to fix.  I think I was a bit cocky after our Craftsman Bungalow - a few gutters made a world of difference.  And it seemed like most of the water was coming in from the Owners side of the house, which didn't have gutters.

So one of our first projects - install gutters on the missing side.  And then wait for some rain to test it out.

Yea, well, that's where it got interesting.  We'd actually had a stretch of really nice weather and hadn't had much rain in awhile.  But suddenly, our cell phones were going off with severe storm warnings (we didn't even know they could do that - scared us to death when they went off in unison!) and the National Weather Service was predicting severe storms.  We ended up with 6.5 inches of rain in one evening and everything was flooding - sirens and flashing lights seemed to be everywhere.
 And of course this is the point during the storm where I decided to go see how my gutters were working.  

Yeah, 10:30 at night and my husband was not happy, but we donned our raincoats and headed over to the house to check it out.  And as luck would have it, the electricians had been rewiring the basement that day, so we knew there wouldn't be any lights in the basement.

We pulled up and raced to the front door - and discovered ankle deep water in front of the porch steps.  Ugh!  Next, we turned our cell phone flashlights on and went down to the basement.  Sure enough - water was coming in at a good clip on the new gutter side, as well as the front and back of the house.  Sigh....my gutters didn't do the trick.  (Sorry there aren't any photos, but we were too busy unplugging things and moving tools to take pictures!)

The next day, I took a look to reassess the situation.  And once I stepped back to look, there was a big realisation.  There is a 'saucer' around the house on 3 sides.  So when it rains, the water is channeled towards the house.  

For example, when we get a really heavy rain, the driveway next door dumps its water next to our house.  And because the ground slopes towards the basement, the water naturally goes in.

In front, the ground swales towards the front door, but it can't drain away and goes back towards the house, instead of draining to the street.  
And the saucer around the front steps creates the ankle deep puddle (which must be a nasty, icy mess in the winter!).

The back of the house was even worse.  We had just pulled the old deck out (more about that later) and discovered the ground pitched down 12 inches towards the foundation.

So, we called in the experts and they came out to do some regrading.  They created a swale next to the house, that pitches towards the street.  This required the installation of window wells to change the grade.

In the front yard, they  pulled away the 'saucer' and regraded so the yard drains towards the street.   (oh, and I had them pull the lilacs out that were on either side of the front door.  They were way too big for that spot! And would cover the front windows soon.)  And they used the extra soil they dug up, to fill in the big holes all across the back of the house.   That should fix the grading issue we found there.
Finally, Greencare Landscape Management came out and hydroseeded the front yard.  It was a fun process to watch, as they sprayed seed and a binding agent all across the new soil.  That helped it 'grip' the yard.  But it requires regular watering and a little patience to get the grass seed to sprout.

In a couple of weeks, we have a beautiful new lawn!!!  Nice improvement, don't you think?

Now we just need to wait for some more rain to test it all out - but hopefully not 6.5 inches at once!
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