Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Dirty Jobs: Can't Live Without Them!!

So, I know everyone likes to see pretty before and after photos.  Fancy fixtures, beautiful tile and elegant finishes are essential for a beautiful home.

But, if the systems and structures behind those finishes aren't robust, you'll never have a great home. And while it's frustrating to spend a lot of money on things you don't actually see, it must be done.   After all, the work to get those high quality systems and structures are pretty dirty jobs!

We've had a lot of dirty jobs going on around here lately.  Let me share a couple:

1)  A dry basement.  A neighbor told me that lots of folks on the street have water problems in their basement.  We saw evidence of a rudimentary drainage system in the basement, but with our unusually dry 2016, we never saw a lot of water.  But I didn't want to take any chances.  So once again, I called Dave from Concrete Prescriptions, to come install a waterproofing system.

It's a big job!  They jackhammer the perimeter of the floor up and dig a trench -

carrying everything out by hand in buckets.

Oh, and as an added surprise (we've been getting a lot of those this week), we discovered a lot of the old waste pipe was completely corroded.  Obviously that will  be replaced!

Next, they install drainage pipe, which links into the new drainage system we installed when we poured the new foundation.

The pipe is surrounded by crushed stone and a fabric membrane, which will keep it from getting clogged in the future.

But that's not all!  They install a plastic membrane, called Vapor Bright, against the existing rubble foundation.  This is a combination vapor barrier/air barrier, with hypo allergenic properties that keeps down dirt and dust from the old stone foundation.  And any water that may enter the foundation will drain down the membrane, into the drainage pipe and exit the building.

And finally, they mix fresh concrete and apply that to seal up the trench around the perimeter.

Finished product - and dry basement, guaranteed for 25 years!  We are ready for spring thaws!

Isn't it gorgeous???  

2)  Insulation.  This is Maine and we take insulation seriously, to get us through our long, cold winters.  And with the different peaks and valleys in this roof, we had some real challenges to determine the best insulation strategy.

Ultimately, we decided to install spray foam insulation in the old section of the house.  With the irregular roofline and lack of space for traditional insulation, due to our increased ceiling height, this really made the most sense.  And with a value of R7 per inch of insulation, it gives us great thermal properties.

Isn't it fun to watch them apply it?

And it is a very cool process!  Typically, it gets sprayed on the roof sheathing in 1 inch layers.  As the foam expands, it heats up to around 220 degrees!  They let the layer cool and come back to add additional layers.  While it's being sprayed, it requires full PPE (personal protective equipment), including a respirator, eye shields and a disposable suit (because it's also messy!).  So a dirty job?  Yes indeed!  But it will be a really warm, comfortable home (once we have a boiler!  Yup, that's right, we still don't have heat!!)

For the new section of the house, we could go with traditional fiberglass.  It provides the R value we need, with our new thick walls and rafters.  But just looking at this stuff makes me itch.  And the installers are careful to wear gloves and masks, to keep the itchiness away.

Are we finished with the dirty jobs?  Well not quite, but we're getting all that important stuff done behind the walls, so the new owners won't have to worry about it!

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Sneak Peek - Ugly Duckling

We're doing all our structural, plumbing and electrical inspections this week -  a big milestone.  So it seemed like a good time to give you a peek at the inside of the house.  You'll have to use your imagination a bit, but all the walls are in place!

Front entrance - Before
It's changed so much since we started! We replaced the not-to-code staircase, moved the front door and the hallway wall to create a bigger, brighter living room.

Same vantage point - During
And we're adding a gas fireplace, which will be a cozy place to sit during our cold Maine winters!

First Floor - Before

We also removed the old, unused flue - as well as the wall between the kitchen and living room.  Can you believe these photos were taken from the same spot?  Look at the steps on the right side, as a reference point.  As you'll notice, we added a lot of structural beams, as we removed walls and strengthened the ceiling.
First Floor - During
And the biggest difference?  Adding the dining room across the back of the house.  See how much bigger the first floor is now?  It's a bright room, with 5 windows and a sliding glass door to the back yard.  And it's completely open to the kitchen, which is great for entertaining.
Dining Room, looking towards kitchen and living room
Off to the left of the kitchen will be a large mudroom and a powder room.  This space provides a connection to the attached garage.  What an easy way to bring groceries into the house in bad weather (do I sound battle scared from all our snow??)
Stairway to upstairs - Before

The second floor saw even more changes.  

Bathroom and Front Bedroom - Before
This was the view from the top of the stairs to the front of the house.  The bathroom was on the left and the bedroom on the right.  

With the new plan, we opted to remove the bathroom and leave the stairwell wide open.  That let us make the bedroom larger, with increased ceiling height and a big, dramatic double window.  Finally, we updated the dormer, to bring additional light into the room.
See the original barn board and studs?  Plus lots of new framing!
Second Floor - Before
This area, in the rear of the original house, is now home to a bathroom, laundry room and the middle bedroom.

I love this middle bedroom.  The big, double window lets in the morning light.  We have raised the ceiling and will have a big light fixture in the middle of the room (do you like my cardboard one that's hanging up?).
Middle Bedroom - High Ceilings and Large Double Window
The new addition on the back of the house is home to the 4th bedroom.
Back Bedroom - do you like my cardboard light fixture mockup?

And the master suite?  Well that's in the new section, over the garage.  There are no 'before' photos here - this is all new space.
Don't you love how the gambrel on the front of the house frames the room??  It's the perfect spot for a couple of chairs, to sit and read.
Looking towards the front of house and the gambrel space
Master Bath - will have a large shower & double vanity
Obviously, we still have a long way to go.  But I hope the sneak peek gave you an idea of what's to come!!

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Old House Problems

No old house is without problems - and this one is no different (Although you would think with the walls wide open, we might have realized some of them sooner!)

First challenge:  No footings under the foundation in the back of the house, where we wanted to add a lot of new structural loads.  Thankfully, we were able to dig down and remedy that as part of the new foundation work.  As I shared in this post, we now have beautiful new footings!!  It's not an exciting place to spend money, but it's critical for all the improvements that we're making.

Next challenge: we knew these funky valleys, where the two gambrel roofs meet, would be an issue - but even we were surprised at how bad the dry rot was (you shouldn't be able to stick you finger right through the sheathing!).  This is the valley on the west side of the house.

The valley  on the east side, where the big gambrel and smaller  dormer meet, is a nightmare!   There is a narrow space between the gambrel valley and the dormer, where all the water gets channeled.  There were at least 6 layers of flashing, roofing and caulk where you can tell someone tried to fix the issue over the years.  And the fact is, that's just a really, really bad design.

We knew to do it right, we had to eliminate the issue. And this could actually be a win-win, because it could help solve the headroom problem at the top of the stairs.  No more bruised shoulder, from walking up the staircase!

That also gave us the opportunity to free up some space in the future hall bathroom, since the valleys intersected in there.  Those valleys use up a lot of valuable space in the bathroom!

But this isn't a minor change - it was a challenge to tackle.  We called in a structural engineer, to get his guidance on the best approach.  He came up with a design that had us widen the dormer, to something called a Nantucket Dormer (essentially a shed dormer with a gable added on top), that would allow the roof load to be carried onto the LVL's we have installed below.

So the team from Waterhouse Builders tore out the rotted old dormer and got to work!

What a nice view, with a big hole in the side of the house!!!

It was eerie, seeing that big hole at the top of the staircase! But now you can see how much more space we can create at the top of the staircase.  And the new window will be bigger - letting in lots of sunlight!

First step, was putting in a new load carrying LVL beam.

And then they started to frame in the dormer.
Doesn't it look great???  No more crazy water issues - plus a bigger window, bigger staircase landing and floor space in the bathroom.  That's the way to take a problem and turn it into a great solution!  
Putting the new roof on, between snowstorms, has been a challenge!!
Third challenge:  all the original framing in the house wasn't even a 2x4 in width.  More like 2x3.  That means we could only put in minimum insulation.  Given our Maine winters and new building codes, we've 'sistered' all the existing studs with new 2x6's, which will allow use to fully insulate the walls.  You can see them in the wall to the right of the staircase.  

So, you ask, isn't it practically like building a new house at this point?  The answer would be yes - and in the most expensive way possible!!!  But we wouldn't have done it any other way, it was too important to maintain the original character of the house.  And will help this ugly duckling transition into a swan!

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Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Discoveries - and a History Lesson!

As I mentioned in a previous post, when we bought the house, there wasn't much inside that was very exciting.  Just old studs and cracked floor boards.  And then one day I looked up and found this!!!  A signed stud that says Soule Willard.  Just two blocks from Willard Beach.  Well, I couldn't wait to learn more! Why would we have something signed Willard in the house?  I knew the Willard family had owned the property down at the water, but were they linked to our house too?

When we looked at the City Assessors website, it shows that our house was built in 1920 ....hmmmmm ....that seems like a very round number.  Is that the case?  Or could it be earlier?  I decided to do a little research.

I checked the newly posted photo archives that are available on the South Portland Historical Society website.  I couldn't find any original photos of our house from a street view, but there is this 1927 aerial photo, that clearly shows the house.
Next, I reached out to Kathryn dePhilippo at the South Portland Historical Society.  She was incredibly helpful and suggested I do a deed search.  I discovered we are the 15th owners of the house!  Wow!  And sure enough, the property was originally owned by Henry Willard - of our Willard Beach neighborhood.  He subdivided the property after his family did this 1890 survey (in those days, South Portland was part of Cape Elizabeth) and the 1903 plot plan.  

Isn't it funny that he named Henry (shown as 'Proposed') and Willard Streets after himself???

But there's a mystery that Kathryn and I couldn't quite figure out.  It appears that in 1905 Willard sold the property to a photographer - Frank L. Norris.  And in 1906, Norris sold the property with a house to Charles Soule.  So the house was built in 1905/6 - but by Willard?  Soule?  Norris?  We're not sure!  And why does the stud on the 2nd floor say Soule - Willard?  No idea!  But it clearly ties back to the ownership of the Willard family.

BTW - Charles Soule worked for the Armstrong Haskell Company on Exchange Street in Portland.  Today that's the building with the Bliss retail store.

I'm so glad we didn't tear this house down, even though it's costing us a fortune to save it.  I love that it ties back to the origins of the community and was part of the original Willard family land.  Don't you love the history that goes with it?

And the stud with the Willard signature on it?  I haven't quite figured out how we will incorporate it into this house.  But it needs to be showcased!  Stay tuned - I'm sure we'll come up with something to highlight it!

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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Design Style for Ugly Duckling

No walls, interior trim or newel post...blank slate!
In many ways, this house will be quite a bit different from our previous projects.  First, we will be enlarging the house with a new addition and a lot of new construction.  Second, since the existing house had been stripped of all its interior walls, we don’t have any original trim or architectural features, so we can't build on the existing style.  We will need to add everything new.  That gives us a blank slate - which is kind of exciting and scary at the same time!

So with a blank slate, I thought the interior should be contemporary.  Something sleek and modern, to contrast with the traditional exterior.  I was really excited about it (although it does take me a bit from my comfort zone).

And then I stumbled across this antique mantle.  Seriously, does anything say 'cottage' more than this mantle?  How could I possibly pass this up?

Look at the carvings!  

And the size is perfect!  It will create the ideal frame for a gas fireplace insert, with custom bookshelves on either side.   Won't that be a cozy focal point for the living room?

Contact paper stained glass
And to further cement the cottage style, I found a leaded glass window at an antique store in Stonington.  Sure, it will be hard to say goodbye to the red and blue contact paper that’s currently in the window…..but this will make the transition easier.  LOL!!

And that turquoise/watery blue frame.  Love it!

I’d still like to incorporate some contemporary touches in the house, but those will probably tie to the furnishings.  For the woodwork, floorpan and custom touches, we'll go with a traditional cottage style.  And given this starting point, it looks like we’ll be studying inspiration photos from magazines like New Old House.

And as luck would have it, The Old House Journal, New Old House and Period Homes sponsored the biggest Historic House Show in the country last weekend.  I couldn't wait to sign up!  Thanks to The Old House University and some fantastic exhibitors, I got lots of new ideas, that I'll be sharing in the coming weeks.

Doesn't this look a lot like our house??? 
Best quote of the show!  Historic is nice - but a more modern paint scheme is nicer!

I love antique style....but still want a modern range!!
What do you think?  Would you do a traditionally styled interior on this house?

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