Tuesday, December 22, 2020

My Christmas Miracle

So........ just when I was totally despondent, thinking I'd never find another project to work on, I got a phone call.  A local realtor had a client that wanted to sell, after decades in his home.  The house needed some work he said, but had good bones.  The seller had been in the house for decades and just wanted an easy sale.  Did I want to take a look?

Did I ever!!!  I tried not to act too excited, but when I saw it was a bungalow - well then I was over the moon!  Seriously, does it get any better than that?  We quickly agreed on terms, giving him plenty of time to complete the move and make it as easy as possible for him.

A bungalow!  Don't you love it???
It will take awhile before we can get started.  I have to get the design completed, permits pulled (thankfully I can do that before the expensive new sprinkler ordinance goes into effect), and get super busy contractors lined up.  But I'm so excited!!  This will be an amazing project!

Happy holidays everyone!!  I hope you get your miracle too!  

Pin It

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Bedrooms and Bathroom get a Makeover

While the open floor plan with the high ceilings looks very current in the main living area, you quickly realize this is a 1950's ranch as you step into the hallway of the original house. The original rooms were on the small side with small windows.  And while we didn't make major changes to the original bedrooms,  they did get some nice updates.  And the bathroom?  Well that got a pretty major overhaul.

Remember this little homemade ship that we found behind the basement staircase?  Well it became the centerpiece of the smallest bedroom.

The room started with one small window, that didn't meet fire code.  And another 'window' that was the frame from the original house, that got covered over when the addition was built in 1972,  We decided that a window made of stick on mirror tiles probably wasn't a design element to keep.  So we opted to enlarge the real window to meet code and cover the fake one up.  That provided a nice wall for furnishings.

Oh, and we replaced that ceiling fan with something a bit better proportioned!!!  I love this fixture!  We used it in all 3 bedrooms.

The duvet and pillow sham are perfect for Maine, where the working waterfront is part of our daily experience.  We have cargo ships coming and going all the time.  And once cruise ships start sailing again, we see them on a regular basis as well.  Oh, and isn't the sea captain pretty cute?

This little bookcase gets used in almost every staging project - it's perfect for creating a little reading nook with kids books.

The front bedroom also had larger windows installed, which made a dramatic difference in brightness (as well as getting rid of the non-functional roller shades!!  And again, the super low ceiling fan had to go!).  There was an odd boxed area on the far wall - we think it was once used for an air conditioner, but we quickly learned it was an entrance for a huge wasp nest.  We got rid of that and closed the whole thing in.  So much better!  


Before:  the day we bought the house
I made the cute window treatments and with an antique headboard, it's a pretty sweet room.

The bathroom got a big update.  At some point, the original bathtub was taken out of the house and replaced with a too-wide shower.  There was only 18 inches to squeeze past the sink on your way to the toilet - way too narrow!


That's not real tile above the bathroom sink - some sort of stick on sheet.  Needless to say, we changed that.  But I did like the look of the bead board wainscoting.  So we kept that idea - but replaced it with a wider, more contemporary version when we did the update.  

We opted to go back to a standard tub/shower combo, providing so much more space.  And with the odd leftover space at the back of the tub, we built a pony wall and topped it with Carrara marble.  So now there is a lot of room for shampoo and such!
I fell in love with this tile the moment I saw it.   The blue pattern is a bit of a wow and I love the color with the Carrera on the countertop and the basketweave floor.  

That completes the before and after photos of the first floor.  Stay tuned for the basement.  It got a big, big upgrade!


Pin It

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

The En Suite Bedroom -Before and After

While this house started with only 2 bedrooms, we wanted it to be a 3 bedroom home.  It's better for resale, whether they are used for sleeping or a dedicated office space.   2 bedroom houses just aren't as popular.  And since the old living room wasn't really used for anything but laundry (an odd use!) - it was a perfect candidate for bedroom number 3.
Our Starting Point - Living Room/Laundry Room

But it was a big job.  For the bedroom, we closed off the front door, added a new double window and created a closet.

To create a bathroom, we had to enclose the former garbage can alcove - which meant digging a frost wall and building a new exterior wall.  It had an oddly low ceiling, so we tore that out and raised it to create a cathedral ceiling.

Future Bathroom needs a 4' deep footing installed
  The result?  Well. lots of work means lots of change!

Don't you love the molding around the door?  Big change from the Plain Jane time we started with!

The bathroom is so spacious with a beautiful marble floor, marble shower feature wall, towel warmer and we tucked some custom cabinetry and shelves into a nook to provide extra storage.  

And wouldn't you love to relax in the bedroom?

What a difference!!


Pin It

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Can We Make a 1950's Ranch Home Energy Efficient?

Infrared camera photo after insulation
That's what we wanted to find out!  When we bought this house, the first thing I noticed was there was a lot less snow on the roof of the house than the garage.  Why?  Because it wasn't well insulated - too much of the heat was going up through the attic and melting the snow.  The garage isn't heated, so the snow doesn't melt, hence the difference between the two sections of roof.
See how much snow has melted off the poorly insulated roof on the right?

Obviously, we wanted to change that.  Energy efficiency is so critical to a quality renovation - and yet you seldom hear much about it.  When you watch an HGTV show, they talk all about the paint colors and countertops, but there's barely a mention of how they make a home better for the environment.  Do they even consider that?  Hmmmm......

So let me start with the end.  After all the work that we did, I had an energy audit done.  Why?  Two reasons.  1) In Maine, you're eligible for rebates from Efficiency Maine for work you do improving the energy efficiency of your home (and who doesn't want a rebate?), but they want an audit on the results.  Part of that audit includes a Blower Door Test (although it currently isn't required due to COVID precautious) 2) Because I really wanted to see measurable results of how well we did improving the energy efficiency of the house, I had the full audit done.   

The test is a giant fan inserted in the front door, that sucks the air out of the house, creating negative pressure.  From that, they can measure the air leakage in the house.  Current building code in Maine says that needs to be below 7 ACH50 (Air Changes per Hour at 50 Pascals).

Now sometimes houses are so leaky, they can't even get enough negative pressure to do the measurements.  We had done a lot of work, but I was pretty anxious to see how we did.  The result - 3.82 ACH50! Woo hoo - that's much better than the new house goal of 7 and will make a huge difference in heating costs for the future owners.  It also makes a huge difference for the environment.  

How did we get there?  There are a lot of considerations to keep in mind, particularly in our cold climate.  I tend to look at 3 different things: 1) Insulation 2) Air Sealing and 3) Heating System.  

Let's start with 1) Insulation.  I shared some of this story in a blog post a few months back (Insulation Update) But let's look at it in a little more detail.  Since we created cathedral ceilings in much of the house, we need to insulate them as a 'hot roof'.  That means the insulation goes directly against the underside of the sheathing on the roof.  It's the perfect application for closed cell spray foam insulation, which has the highest R value per inch you can find.  Typically R 6.0-7.0 per inch, it sprays on and foams up - with temperatures over 100 degrees (not fun on a hot day in a bunny suit - this poor guy was about 5 pounds lighter at the end of the day!).  It can't be sprayed too thick or it won't cure correctly, so it's done in a couple of phases.

You can see some of the benefits of spray foam in the photo below - see this infrared photo of the ceiling? (orange is warm, purple is cold)  See how nice and even - and orange - the ceiling is?  That's a nice insulation job. (the cross pieces are the antique beams we installed, which are orange because they're in the room.  The tops of the windows are purple, as well as some of the framing, because wood and glass don't provide insulation against the cold)

Basement starting point - no insulation behind the paneling! 
We also used spray foam in the basement - when we pulled the paneling off, we discovered bare concrete, so we insulated these walls as well.  And most importantly, we insulated the sills around the house.  This is the area between the top of the foundation and the bottom of the first floor (that dark space above the paneling in the before photo), which tends to be very drafty.  Since your heat pipes run along this area, it makes your heating system very inefficient.  When we spray foamed the sills in my own house, our heating bills dropped 10% overnight!
Look how nice and toasty those basement walls are now (BTW - windows are poor insulators, hence purple color)

Where else?  The crawl space that runs under part of the kitchen and laundry was never insulated, so we spray foamed those walls as well.  But even more critically, we installed a plastic moisture barrier over the old dirt in the crawl space.  Why?  Because as you tighten up a house, moisture becomes your enemy. It can lead to mold, decay and breathing problems.  And a dirt crawl space can be a huge source of moisture.  So heavy, 10 mil plastic goes down and gets foamed into the perimeter of the foundation to get a good, watertight seal.

In the original attic, the one you saw from the first photo with the melting snow, we used blown in cellulose.  This is an easy, cost effective insulation made of recycled newspapers.  It only has an R value around 3.2 per inch, so you need a lot of it!  But in that attic space, we had plenty of room to pile it up, with room for fresh air venting above.

New window installation
For the walls, we used a combination of spray foam, mineral wool and fiberglass, depending on its location.

And that brings us to 2) Air Sealing.  Just as important as insulation is air sealing.  It's pretty easy when you use spray foam, because it gets fills every little space.  But for the other parts of the house, we were pretty obsessive about sealing every air gap.  So every hole for electrical and plumbing got filled with foam.  We also added new windows (Low E/Argon filled), which were carefully installed with expanding foam around the perimeter to ensure a tight air seal.

Last but not least was the heating system.  The old boiler died 10 days after I bought the house - so it was clearly time for something new.  We had natural gas run to the house and installed a condensing gas boiler.  It's about the size of a suitcase and heats the entire house, plus provides hot water.  To my mind, it's a marvel of engineering.  It's the size of a suitcase and constantly monitors the desired room temperature vs. the outside temperature and the return temperature of the water flowing through the baseboards, to maximize the efficiency of the boiler.  It doesn't need a chimney, it has a direct vent thru the sidewall, as well as an air inlet for optimal combustion. And that results in 95.6% efficiency - pretty fabulous!  Our boiler was set up with 3 zones - one for the main living area, one for the bedrooms (because some people want the bedrooms a bit cooler) and one for the basement.   It doesn't make a lot of noise when it's running and provides nice, consistent heat from room to room.  Pretty great!
So that's our energy story.  As you can see, there's a lot of work involved in making a 1950's home energy efficient.  Insulation, air sealing and an efficient heating system are critical elements to creating a full system. And that effort is totally worth it - the new owners will enjoy the benefits for years to come!!

Pin It

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Creating an Open Concept Living Space in a 1950's Ranch Home

It's always fun to see people's reactions as they walk in the front door of the house.  You see, from the street, it appears like a very small house.  But as they come in the door - they get the WOW moment!  The kitchen, dining room and living room are all open and thanks to removing the old pressboard ceiling to expose the cathedral ceiling, it feels huge.

Of course it didn't start off that way.  The original floor plan had your typical segmented rooms.  The kitchen was dark, thanks to wood paneling and no natural light.

Original Floor Plan
To get to the living room, you had to go out to the hallway that leads to the garage and enter from there.  We changed all that by removing a couple of walls.  We also opened up the cathedral ceiling in the living room - to make it feel even more spacious.

Final Floor Plan

And the kitchen?  Well that changed a lot.  The centerpiece is this large island.  It provides lots of counter space for cooking, but there is also room for seating - perfect for a casual meal or to chat with the cook!
Can you see the feature that stayed the same?  The doorway on the right!

But even with the wall removal, the space was still a bit dark.  So we enlarged windows, added new ones (the double window behind the dining room table) and installed an operable skylight.  That will also help channel summer breezes through the space!
I've said it before and I'll say it again.  Opening up a cathedral ceiling is one of the biggest bang-for-your-buck projects you can do.  The old pressboard ceiling was low (7 1/2') and once we raised it up, it was 10'.  It was a big job, requiring some structural changes, but so worth it!
And while I usually do lots of new built-ins, the existing bookcases were really well built.  So we left them in place (and had the fireplace reworked to be wood burning again) and added new trim and lighting.  Once it had a couple of coats of paint, it provided a dramatic focal point to the room.

Now that it's done, I have to admit I'm pretty thrilled with the result.  This once dark, cluttered living space is now bright and open - perfect for the new owners who will be moving in soon!  Don't you love it?

Pin It
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...