Thursday, June 13, 2024

So Much Progress!!

There comes a time on every project where there is so much going on, I have trouble sharing all the updates.  That's the current state of affairs at the Charming Cottage.   There is so much progress being made every single day.

First - the floors are done!  And they are absolutely gorgeous.  We were able to keep all the original flooring, with the exception of the kitchen floor (kitchen floors are always a challenge because of water stains, pipe holes and multiple layers of flooring added on top).  The guys also did some patch work to repair some nasty spots - I challenge you to find them!  We will add 2 last coats of water based polyurethane just before the new owners move in, to make sure they look their absolute best. 

All of the trim work is done. This is truly detailed work - to recreate the original molding, the guys had to piece together 3 different moldings to get the same look.  It's exacting work, but makes such a difference!

I've polished up all the old doorknobs and they're pretty special.  Look at the difference after they are cleaned up.  I've never seen this pattern before.  It appears to be Art Deco, and the knobs seem to be black Bakelite with solid brass centers.  They're beautiful and so unusual!

The kitchen countertops got installed and it makes the whole kitchen look so much nicer!

I've started tiling the backsplash.  This is a Calacatta marble mosaic and with its multiple shades of white, gray and gold, it provides a neutral backdrop while adding some visual interest. 

Do you remember the dark basement?  Nicknamed 'the cave'?  Well it's gotten a brightening treatment and is looking so much better!  It took a couple coats of a oil based BIN to seal all the old wood, but now it's pretty gorgeous!

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Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Fireplace Update - Again

The Charming Cottage doesn't have its original fireplace mantle. My guess is there was a traditional wood mantle when the house was first built.  But at some point, it was updated with this brick facade.  Surely when it was first updated, this brick fireplace was the height of fashion.   But I'm not a fan.  It just looks odd in this traditional house.

Mantle - Before

So we set out to change it.  We wanted something more classic, that would blend well with the rest of the interior.  And since we'd found wiring for sconces above the mantle we wanted a traditional update.

I started by sketching out my ideas.  It mirrored the existing mantle size, but added additional millwork above it, to highlight the sconces.

Kyle started getting the new design into place, 

but then he paused while I installed this new black brick-style tile to frame the opening and hide the 3D pattern of the old fireplace.

Kyle added lots of detailed trim, like this crown molding, to achieve that vintage style.

Now that the trim is completed, we're ready to have it all painted.

Oh, and while we were at it, we had the fireplace cleaned and made ready for a traditional wood burning fire.

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Thursday, May 30, 2024

Bathroom Updates

Both of the bathrooms needed serious updates in this house.  So we started with the upstairs full bath.  It was completely gutted and then new electrical, plumbing and insulation were installed in a different layout, to make the room feel more spacious.  After that, the fun started!

Here's the mood board for the bathroom, with lots of classic details. 

I installed 'dogbone' Carrera marble floors (it's called dogbone, because instead of a perfect rectangle basketweave, the Carrera pieces have a gentle curve to them). 

The bathroom already had a nice built in cabinet, but we discovered a lot of additional open space under the dormer, so Kyle & Rich built a set of shelves to provide extra storage space. 

The bathroom had beadboard on the walls when we bought it and I really liked the style, so we added it back to the updated bath.  And I love this vanity - the serpentine front drawers and countertop are such a nice detail! 

It's still a work in progress, but it's going to be pretty sweet!

The basement bath was truly original!  And as I mentioned in this previous post, having the electrical panel above the toilet was an absolute no-no from the City, so all the wiring got rerouted.  We can't move the water meter, but we're hoping it will be less conspicuous once the updates are done. 

Like the upstairs bath, we redid the electrical and added insulation. We also had to pour lots of leveler on the floor, because it was seriously sloping.  That let me install this fabulous tile, that I'm absolutely in love with! 

Next week the walls go back up and we can start to install plumbing fixtures.  Here's the mood board with all the elements, won't it be fabulous? 

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Thursday, May 23, 2024

A New Kitchen for the Charming Cottage

The kitchen in the this house was the thing that we disliked the most while living there.  It had low 30" countertops, no exhaust fan and no dishwasher.  It desperately needed an update!

Now that we had installed new electrical, plumbing and insulation, it was time for the cabinetry to go in.   The goal was to create a more functional kitchen with modern conveniences and more storage space.

The guys quickly got the base cabinets in place and then started on the uppers.

When I'm installing a white kitchen, I always like to warm it up a bit with natural wood.  For this kitchen , Kyle made a custom white oak cover for the vent hood (and an oak shelf for the microwave on the opposite wall).

And of course details make all the difference - like this crown molding.  I always like to ensure the cabinetry has this finishing detail to make it truly custom.

You really notice all the updates as the house starts to come together.  As you walk in the front door, the changes we've made - widening the kitchen doorway, adding the bright mini-mudroom and eliminating the foyer wall - result in a bright, dramatically different space!

They've templated for countertops and now we'll wait a few weeks for them to arrive, but I the meantime, I'm already loving the updates! 

Kitchen Now

Kitchen Before

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Thursday, May 16, 2024

The Finished Basement - The Path From Retro to Modern-ish

The basement in the Charming Cottage is a time capsule to the 50's/60's - knotty pine pickwick paneling, a built in bar, fireplace and wall to wall carpeting (actually, we took the carpet out the day we bought the house, so there aren't any photos of that!).   It's also dark and a bit dreary. 

And that has to change.  I know some of you really like the retro look, but I'm not a fan and I find that most buyers want something lighter and brighter.  

Let me share an example.  This is a house we did a dozen years ago.  It had the same pine paneling and looked dark and dated.  We painted it white, updated the lighting and artwork and suddenly it looked totally different!  Farewell dark, dated interior!

The next change, getting rid of the bar.  It's certainly a retro feature, but this one had a super skinny little doorway to enter it.  And for many potential homeowners, it's not a feature they really want. 

For fun, I asked our social media followers if we should keep it.  54% said yes!  I was surprised at the interest in keeping it, but one of our guys is creating a 'man cave' at his house and it will really be loved there.

The floors need a lot of work.  We removed the wall to wall carpeting before we moved in.  As we renovate it, I don't want to replace the carpet (which can be a challenge even in the driest of basements - and it can be stinky!) and instead want to install LVT (Luxury Vinyl Tile).  We've done this in several basements and it's a fabulous product.

But it wasn't a quick, easy job.  The basement floor was poured decades ago and we've started describing it as 'undulating'.  It's not level and rolls from one area to the next!!!  LVT requires a flat floor for a successful installation.  So the guys got to work pouring leveler to provide the proper base for the floor.  It took 33 bags of leveler to get a smooth surface for the LVT.

It looks like a lake in the basement!
With the leveler in place, the guys got to work installing the floor.  What a huge change!  

Next we need to replace the old drafty windows and then it needs lots of paint to brighten the space!

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Thursday, May 9, 2024

Project Update - So Much Progress (and some pretty stuff)!

With all the mechanicals and insulation done, we can finally start putting this house back together and ordering the fun stuff.

First step - getting the white oak floors installed in the kitchen.  The entire house has white oak flooring, but the kitchen floor had been covered with white ceramic tile for years and we had to replace everything when we took it up.  

Our amazing flooring guys have carefully stitched in the new oak to match the old where we opened up and removed walls.  You won't even be able to tell once it's all sanded and polyurethaned.

The kitchen floor got sanded and two coats of poly on it - so it's all set for our cabinets to be installed.  Doesn't it look fabulous?

Drywall arrived and got installed.  It's so exciting to see walls again!  It gives us our first glimpse of just how different the house will look, thanks to changes we have made.

I've started ordering some of the pretty stuff.  One room I'm pretty excited about is the half bath in the basement.  It was so, so ugly!!!  But now it's going to have this very cool 'denim' and white tile,  a streamlined sink and black faucet.  The walls will be white bead board and this wood mirror will be a nice natural accent.

Next project is getting the kitchen installed.  Cabinets will arrive soon and we'll get going!

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Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Energy Efficiency at the Cottage

There were so many things we loved about living here, but its energy profile wasn't one of them.  I first got suspicious when we noticed that snow on the dormer roof melted faster than anywhere else.  I usually call this 'bleeding heat' - when the heat is escaping the building so fast, that it melts everything around it.

Sure enough, we discovered there is no insulation along the dormer edges - which also explains why edges of the first floor ceilings and 2nd floor bedrooms were cold in the winter.  When I used my FLIR infrared camera, the dark blue areas (along the uninsulated edge of the dormer) show how much colder it is than the rest of the room. 

Cold areas are Blue/Purple (doors and windows are always colder because glass is a terrible insulator)

There is also no insulation along the 'sills' - the area between the basement ceiling and the floor above.  This area is notoriously lacking in insulation in old homes and will be a focus as we do updates.

What else needs work?  While most of the windows are newer replacements, the exception is the basement.  The basement windows are VERY leaky (I taped them shut when we lived there, because on a windy day I could feel my hair blowing) and we are replacing them all.  And of course we added a few new windows in the kitchen.

With all of this as background, what did we do to improve the energy efficiency?  A LOT!  Let's go through all the updates.

Insulation:  We used closed cell spray foam insulation for all the tricky areas of the house.  Spray foam is controversial.  It has the highest R value per inch of any insulation available - but it's also bad for the environment and while it's being sprayed/cured, it's not healthy for the installation team (they need to wear special PPE to stay protected and we can't allow anyone onsite for 24 hours).  So I try to minimize the spray foam to the areas that absolutely have to have it.

Safety over fashion!!

First the guys sprayed all of those pesky dormers that had been leaking warm air for the last 80 years.  That should make a huge difference for the house.  

Next, they sprayed the sills - they reached these from above via the kitchen floor.

And they sprayed the other sill from below, in the basement.  We didn't open up all the basement ceilings, but we were able to reach the majority of the sills. 

The upstairs bathroom got a combination - spray foam on the tricky angles, dense pack cellulose on the walls and loose fill cellulose in the ceiling. 

We also spray foamed the tiny addition ceiling, to maximize the R value there.   And the walls were filled with dense pack cellulose.

For the walls, we used my favorite insulation - dense pack cellulose.  It's made of recycled paper, so it's environmentally friendly, but it also provides a fabulous sound barrier from the outside, helping the house be nice and quiet as well as fully insulated!  

Cellulose comes in huge bales that are fed into their machine and pumped through tubes to reach all the walls throughout the house

The house sounds so much different now!!! So quiet!!! 

And finally, we added insulation to the attic - bringing it up to the new Stretch Energy code standard - R-60.  That's a lot of insulation!!

R-60 = 18 inches of insulation 

Heating and Cooling:  So the good news - the house already had heat pumps when we bought it.  The not so good news, the heat pumps aren't powerful enough for a full Maine winter.  But they are pretty fabulous for 'shoulder season' - aka spring and fall.  And the air conditioning in the summer is pretty sweet!

Other bad news - the boiler is ancient.  We kept it alive while we were living there, but it's beyond its useful life.  So we had two options.  Go to all heat pumps (which meant ripping out the existing ones and replacing them) or update the boiler.  

It's so tiny compared to the old boiler!
We decided to update the boiler.  And yes, I'd like to get the house off of fossil fuels, but I also couldn't justify ripping out perfectly good heat pumps and spending almost twice as much to go all electric.  And there is the added complication that many insurance companies won't insure an all electric heated home.  

We updated with a newer, more efficient boiler.  It's also tiny compared to the old one!  And it allows us to keep the steam heat - which is sooooo nice in the winter (steam heat is my favorite!!  No dry, static air in the wintertime),  Those steam radiators heat up fast and also transfer the heat to the thick plaster walls.  That helps radiate the heat back into the rooms for a long time after the boiler stops running, making a super cozy home in the winter.

Updating the boiler required us to line the chimney with a new stainless steel liner.  We also discovered that the basement fireplace was exhausted through the same flue as the boiler - a huge code violation.  So that's been closed off and now we are fully compliant.

Hot Water: And last but not least, we needed a solution for hot water.  The old boiler provided hot water, but that meant the boiler ran all year long - creating an uncomfortably hot summer basement as well as lousy energy efficiency.  So we are installing a heat pump hot water heater.  They're incredibly efficient and also help provide dehumidification to the basement, a win-win!  

Moving Forward: We've passed all of our inspections and are ready to move forward with drywall.  With all of these updates, this house will be so much more energy efficient than when we started, ensuring a comfortable home with low utility bills.  


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