Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Some Days All You Can Say Is 'Wow'......the Kitchen Archaeology Project

I might have declared victory on the demo phase of the project a bit too soon.  True, the guys have started putting in some new posts and beams, but there are still some issues that have reared their ugly head.  

Full disclosure, we knew that the floor under the asbestos tile was likely to have some challenges.  But the reality was far worse than we expected.  When the guys peeled back the subfloor, we discovered that it wasn't just the sill (the big timber that sits on top of the foundation that has all the studs nailed to it) that was rotted, but the floor joists were in truly terrible shape.

This section of sill looked fine from the top, but when we rolled it over we found this!

This is the mess we found with the subfloor removed.  Wood rot everywhere
It smelled like compost when we pulled back the subfloor - probably because it is!

The floor joists are 3"x10" - big, heavy joists.  Which is probably a good thing, because even though they were rotted, they still held the floor up with support from only one end.  We repeated our mantra yet again "How is this house still standing?"


In the main section of the kitchen, we found similar sill issues.  And of course the studs above it are seriously compromised, having been cut away to install vents or simply left to rot.   Again - "How is this house still standing?"


So the guys ripped everything out.  It felt like a bit of an archeological expedition, as we opened up the crawl space of a very old building.  What did we find?  Nothing!  Not a single skeleton, money or artifact!  Instead we just have this odd view of the kitchen - isn't it weird to see all of the foundation and dirt floor exposed?



Such a strange view of the kitchen!

What's next you ask?  How can we keep this from happening again in another 30 years?  This is where building science takes over (and for those of you that don't need this detail - please skip ahead!).  

The window wall is 'floating' over old foundation while the work is done

Step 1 - try and prevent water from getting up against the foundation in the first place.  We have taken several steps to keep water away from the foundation (gutters, grading, etc), but this side of the house is at the  bottom of a hill and we're big fans of belt-and-suspenders mitigation, so we wanted to do more.  

Step 2 - so we raised the wooden sill.  Instead of putting a sill back where the old one was, we installed a course of concrete block on top of the stone foundation, to raise the wood up 8 inches.  We will waterproof the block from the outside, to keep water from using the block as a sponge.


Step 3 - install a sill gasket to separate the wood sill from the new concrete (this prevents any moisture coming up through capillary action) and install a new sill of pressure treated wood.  Now the wood is isolated from moisture!


This membrane will wrap all the way to the bottom of the foundation
Step 4 - Air seal the foundation with a plastic membrane.  This is critical to make the house more energy efficient.  We don't want any cold coming from the outside, through cracks in the old mortar.  We had a roll of roofing membrane on hand, so used that to seal up all around the exterior of the foundation. 

Step 5 - Install a vapor barrier on the dirt floor.  It's really important to get up any organic material before you do this step (if you skip this step, it can rot and create an odor issue later).  And yes, I vacuumed all the sawdust off the dirt - as usual the guys thought I was crazy.  This prevents any moisture from coming up from the ground.  The edges of the vapor barrier are sealed to the air barrier with a can of spray foam, to hold it in place and ensure it stays air tight.


Step 6 - When we install insulation, we will have closed cell spray foam sprayed up on the foundation walls, sealing to both the sill and the vapor barrier on the floor.  This will give us the air sealing and insulation we need to make this house energy efficient.

In the meantime, the guys have put all new joists into place and installed a subfloor (with a trap door, so we can get in there to do spray foam insulation).  With all of this in place, we can start on the rest of the kitchen framing.  

And I don't want to give too much away - but this kitchen is going to be AWESOME!!!  Here's a sneak peek of today's progress!

Future cathedral ceiling!!





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Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Temporary Living - Second Floor

As promised, here is an overview of the 2nd floor of our temporary house. We have three bedrooms and a bath.  And it's all in fine shape, but has a serious lack of closet space which we had to address right away.  Isn't that a problem in every old house? πŸ˜‚ 


Two of the bedrooms are almost identical in size.  We've chosen the first one as our primary bedroom and after a quick coat of paint, we moved our furniture in. 

 It has a decent sized closet, so that was helpful, although it only held about half of my clothes.


The second bedroom had a bigger challenge.  The closet is about 18" wide - not big enough to hold anything (except we can push suitcases into the back of it, where the sloped ceiling is).  It had another closet made of plywood - but it just made the room feel long and narrow.  


And it didn't have the drawers/shelves that I like to store clothes that can be folded.   So it had to go.  Thankfully once the wallpaper was removed, the baseboard was still in place and with a little paint it cleaned up nicely. 

A simple dresser and mirror makes the room feel MUCH bigger!



And for additional storage, we did our usual approach to increasing closet space - IKEA wardrobes.  With Pippa as my helper, we assembled them.
She likes to supervise!

They fit perfectly on either side of the radiator - and the mirrored sections are super helpful.  Now it's such a welcoming room with lots of storage space!




The back bedroom is a bit smaller, but it's perfect for my husband's office.  And for some odd reason, it has the biggest closet in the house!  Here is the starting point.

And this is once we moved all his stuff in.



The bathroom is really tight.  When we renovate the house, it will get a major makeover.  But for now, we're just added a mirror and some storage and it works for us.  And don't you love the built-in cabinet?

Bathroom - Before

The hallway has another built in, that works as a great linen closet.  This house has so many charming built ins.  You just don't find that in new homes!  And that's a mini-split heat pump you see in the ceiling (between the ugly light fixtures).  It's been great to have heating and cooling with a heat pump.

That light fixture is worse than a boob light!!!

So that's the tour.  It's a great house to use for temporary living - and with a few decorative touches, it really feels like home to us!  Plus, it's a short walk to restaurants, bakeries and the beach.  Pretty sweet!  


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Tuesday, February 28, 2023

More Surprises! Asbestos Tiles, Dry Rot and More!

I like to wait and pull up carpet after all the demo is done - it really helps to protect hardwood floors.  But this time, it was a wasted effort.  This laundry room off of the kitchen had a fibrous mat carpet.  

Laundry Room - Before

And what did we find under it?  9" asbestos tiles.  Ugh!!!  And to add insult to injury, they glued the tiles on top of oak hardwood flooring!!  Why would anyone do that?  I'm guessing this was probably in the 1950's and it was considered a smart, practical option. (We didn't consider having them tested.  These are very brittle tiles - a typical sign of asbestos.  When I've found pliable 9" tiles I've had them tested and found them to be asbestos free)

So what does this mean?  Well you guessed it, we needed to have the asbestos abatement team from Safe Environmental Solutions come out and visit us again last week.  I love those guys, but don't really want to see them twice on one job!!

They had to heat the tiles up with this very cool heater.  It allowed them to carefully lift the tiles up, without breaking them and creating a 'friable' condition.  Friable means the asbestos breaks apart and becomes airborne.

 Some tight spots required a spot heat gun.


Because the mastic holding the tiles down can also contain asbestos, they had to remove the hardwood floors that it was smeared on.   Once that was done, they bundled it all up and it goes to a hazardous material landfill.

And while Pippa approves of the old sub floor (she loves to sniff through the holes, who knows what's down there!), it has some serious problems.


This was the room that had us the most concerned when we bought the house - and those fears have been realized.  The exterior wall is no longer connected to the sill - we had suspected that the sill was totally rotted away and as we diugdown a bit we found that's the case.  

See the snow in the hole down near the floor level?  That's where the sill should be.  It's disintegrated. 


The sub floor has extensive rot near that exterior wall.  We haven't pulled the sub floor up, but we anticipate the joists (that connect into the disintegrated sill) will be seriously rotted when we get them exposed.  So we may have to completely replace them as well.

Those dark boards are wet and disintegrate with the lightest touch

There is a crawl space under this part of the house - but it's not accessible from anywhere.  So we will rip up all the flooring and see just how much damage we need to deal with.

Stay tuned, somehow I think we will find some more surprises under there!




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Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Ceiling Conundrum - Part II - Opening Up!

Okay, so we have waffled (a lot) but have finally made a decision for the living room ceiling.  I know many of you gave us input on whether we should remove the fancy coffered ceiling in the living room - read here.   Honestly, it was a hard decision.  The little bit that we opened up looked great, but will it all look that good?  What if it's awful?  


We finally took a deep breath and got started.  And at first, it was okay.  More beadboard, still looking good. 


But then we got to the other side of the living room and it looks completely different.   We know from old photos that this was a porch for many, many years.  When it got enclosed with a bedroom above it, the beadboard ceiling wasn't the style anymore and they used modern lumber with 16 inch centers.


The main living room has joists on 12 inch centers (they vary quite a bit!), with beautiful antique beadboard between them (there are also lots of places where the flooring nails come through from above, but that's another story).   So when you look at the whole ceiling, it looks very different on each side of the room. 


In addition, the old side has joists that aren't nailed in anywhere....they just float between a ledger board nailed at each end.  So they have twisted a bit and warped.  We'll need to see if we can somehow straighten them out, to make them look better.

So there are a couple of questions.  1) Will it make us crazy that the joists don't line up between the two rooms and 2) will it look okay if we try and replicate the old beadboard on the porch side.

To help me figure out how this might look, I went back to a house we did quite a few years ago that had a similar setup.  By painting the joists and beadboard white, it unified it a bit and also made the ceiling feel taller.  It's food for thought as we work through this!

Beadboard ceiling from a past project

And for now, I'm going to keep staring at the ceiling, trying to decide the proper course of action!  

Do we miss the old coffered ceiling?  Nope!  The extra few inches of height make a world of difference!

Our starting point




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Wednesday, February 15, 2023

The NJ Diner Fireplace

One of the lovely features of the house is the big fireplace in the living room.  While the mantle doesn't seem to be original (I did a lead paint test on it and it came up negative, so it's likely post 1978 when lead was outlawed), it still has a nice elegance to it.   It's a key part of our renovation plan.  But we need to temporarily remove it (carefully) to do some structural work around it.

And that's when we got a huge surprise.  

At some point in the house's history, someone faced the fireplace with the ugliest stonework I've ever seen.  Seriously, we're not talking about an elegant stone face, we're talking about something that looks like it belongs in a 1960's New Jersey diner (and I'm not saying that in a hip, isn't it trendy and cool kind of way!).  There is no way this should be in this house.  It just doesn't belong.

It might be hard to see in the photo, but the mortar joints are raised in a 3D sort of style.  Again, not appropriate for a house like this!



In another interesting twist, we opened up the wall behind the fireplace and discovered the flue goes up at a really unusual angle.  That explains why we couldn't figure out its location when we were doing to drawings of the as-is house.  Who knew it would go up at such a funky angle!

So, should we tear out the stone facing on the front of the fireplace?  Is it brick behind it?  And would that just be a nightmare of mortar stuck to brick from the stone facing?  Or do we just cover it up, with yet another layer before the mantle goes back on?  

So many questions and once again we're at a crossroads.  This house certainly has its share of surprises!


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Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Temporary Living

Silly me, when we first looked at the 1898 house, I had hoped we could live there while we did the renovations.  After all, the majority of the changes were planned for the 2nd floor, when we replace the failing hip dormer with a shed dormer.  But my husband wisely disagreed and we decided to find another place to live for the renovation.  With all the issues we've found, that was a smart move!

We decided on this house for temporary living.  It will eventually be a SoPo Cottage project, but for now, we call it home.  


It has a nice large living room with a wood burning fireplace.  

The kitchen is also good sized, but it could use some updating.  That will have to wait until we move out, so for now we're adjusting to life with 30" tall countertops and no dishwasher.  There has been some complaining πŸ˜‚.
30" tall countertops and no dishwasher!!  We're roughing it πŸ˜‚

And now I'm the not-so-proud owner of a boob light! 


The dining room isn't large, but it has double French doors that lead out to a great patio in a very private yard.


Upstairs we have 3 bedrooms and a bathroom.

I know this probably won't come as a surprise, but we are doing a few updates while we're living here.  It's a work in progress and I've waffled between sharing where we are now.... or waiting until I get everything done.  

So bear with me, I'll share some works in progress.  There will be more to come.

Before moving in, we gave everything a coat of fresh paint.  It just brightened things up a bit and let us use a color scheme we are comfortable with. 


Our helper - taking a break



The kitchen and dining room got a major color change.  Thanks to all the white cabinets, flooring and ceiling, I went with a deep navy blue to give them more character and depth.

And changing light fixtures - that was a game changer! (except for the boob light!)
I LOVE this stainless steel kitchen sink!!  So practical!


We quickly discovered we needed a new stove (I might have burned dinner multiple times!) and some additional storage space, so we made those changes to make day to day work better for us (but still no dishwasher!).  This IKEA island was a game changer for kitchen functionality.  Not only does it provide more work surface, it has drawers and shelves for all of our stuff that won't fit in the other cabinets. 

The dining room is such a nice room, thanks in large part to the French doors to the patio

and the built ins that give it so much character.
This little built in cabinet is tucked above the back of the fireplace.  What a clever use of what would usually be wasted space!

I still want to make window treatments for the living room and a couple of other changes, but for now, this works well for us.  

One hiccup we soon discovered is that there are two fireplaces that share one flue.  This is a huge no-no for modern building code.  So for now, we have installed an electric fireplace in the living room to give us a bit of ambiance this winter.  When we do the full renovation, we will move it to the basement, so that flue can be permanently closed. 


We sold most of the mid-century modern furnishings from our last house.  So now we're using staging furniture and some antique pieces that we've had for years (I hid them in the basement of the MCM house!).

It's a nice, comfortable house - which is a good thing, because we will be here longer than we thought, thanks to all the issues we've found in the 1898 house!  And it's starting to feel like home.  For updates,  please stay tuned, I
'll share the 2nd floor soon, as well as some other changes we're making to the exterior.  
I suppose I need to take the wreaths off the windows one of these days......













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