Wednesday, March 31, 2021

2nd Floor Living - It's Getting Real!!!

Now the real fun starts!!  Since we have a hip roof on the second floor, the usable floor space is quite small, due to limited headroom.  The solution is to add two more dormers to create more living space.  But cutting giant holes in the roof is always a bit nerve wracking, so we wanted to have everything lined up and hoped that Mother Nature would cooperate (seriously, who am I kidding.  Does the weather ever cooperate?) 

Isn't this crazy???

Day 1 - So on a bright Monday morning, the guys got the roof supported and started cutting holes.  With multiple saws-all going at the same time, they made pretty quick work of it and the sections started to open up.


Getting a chance to see the future view was pretty exciting.
View from Bedroom - pretty sweet!!!

View from the other direction - Yikes! 
And even the bathroom will have a pretty nice view.

Day 2 - Next they started framing and getting everything stabilized for the new walls.  There's a lot of engineered lumber going in, to ensure we have a nice rigid structure.  The wall framing started going up and it's looking good.

Day 3 - And then the weather forecast changed.  Instead of a nice, dry week, there were now thunderstorms and rain in the forecast - never good news with the roof wide open.  I made a quick trip to the lumberyard to grabs sheathing and tarps, to try and close walls up quickly. 

The guys did an amazing job of wrapping the roof in blue tarps to keep the water out.  We had an initial storm come through and only had a little water come in.  Thankfully some buckets did the trick to capture it.

Storm 2 came over the weekend and thanks to some frequent visits to dump water and move buckets around - we survived the storm.  My biggest worry was protecting those beautiful hardwood floors on the first floor.  Thankfully they came through just fine.  But this is not fun - we need some clear weather to make some progress.

And while we still have a lot to do, even with the 'blue roof', you can already see how the space is opening up.  As you get to the top of the stairs, the whole space seems so nice and open.  What a huge change!  

We have so much more to do - but it's getting pretty exciting!  Progress continues this week - but it's still blue tarp time to get us through tonight's storm.  Stay tuned! 

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Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Kitchen Expansion

Work is starting and we have so much to do!! Before we start tearing giant holes in the roof for the new dormers, we have quite a bit of structural work to complete on the first floor.  And that includes expanding the kitchen, which is pretty exciting to see.

First things first, the guys posted up the existing structure so we will be able to remove the staircase walls.  We’ll leave those walls and door intact until the new dormers are in place – that way we’re not trying to heat the great outdoors (yeah it’s spring, but this is Maine and we could still get snow!). 

It also required a steel beam to be installed across the back of the old kitchen.  This will allow us to remove the wall to access 45 square feet of living space – a real game changer for this kitchen!


The posts aren't touching the ground!
Of course that means the guys need to enclose the old porch/mudroom.  And that was when we got a nasty surprise.  We had assumed that it was built on nice concrete footings – but unfortunately it was old tree trunks (or fence posts?) that had completely rotted away.  We ran into a similar problem 20 years ago on another project and our carpenter said ‘Ain’t nothing holding that up but habit’.  Déjà vu moment – because we have that same situation here.


Thankfully the weather was mild enough that we could dig 4 foot deep footings and pour concrete to provide a nice solid base for new structure to support the porch.  We'll probably have snow again next week, but it was so nice to get a bit of warm weather!
New kitchen space is taking shape

New doorway getting cut in
 With all of that done and the new walls in place, the guys knocked out the old wall, cut out the new back door and suddenly the house feels completely different!  45 square feet might not seem like much – but look at how big the space looks now.  Can you believe it?

I can stand so far back to take a photo now!

Of course it will look even better when we open up the staircase, but that will be a few weeks away.  In the meantime, I’m just going to savor how nice it is already!
Kitchen Before
Kitchen in-process - see how much longer it is now! 

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Tuesday, March 16, 2021

The Word for Today - Compromise

Nobody wants to have to compromise - but when you’re renovating an older house it becomes an acquired skill.  Sometimes doing what you want is either absurdly expensive or physically impossible.  That’s kind of what happened on this house (I keep hearing Mick Jagger singing "you can't always get what you want" in my head 😂). 


I desperately want to make the second floor an amazing en suite bedroom, with tall ceilings that accentuate the funky angles of the hip roof.  But the current roofline is a problem, so we need to add two new dormers - matching the existing hip dormer on the front of the house.

Typical Dormer Styles - the one on the left is our bungalow

To accomplish that, a simple solution was to post a new structural ridge beam across the ceiling, but that meant lower ceilings and a post that would go through the dining room, ruining the antique hutch and just looking weird.  Ugh….

Can you tell it's a challenge?  Joe Leasure L&L Structural Engineering

So we brought in some structural engineering expertise.  After lots of measuring and discussion and running from the attic to the basement to see where structural beams lined up - we came up with a plan.  Can you tell it was a challenge?  Joe Leasure was deep in thought figuring out a path forward!  

The good news:  I get my tall ceilings and the two gables that will create a big bedroom suite.  

The not so good news: the gables can’t have a hip roof style to match the gable on the front of the house - they will need to have a standard gable to give us the structural strength we need.  We need to install a structural ridge beam on both gables - and that load needs to be carried by a post all the way to the basement.  

At first this drove me crazy.  But then I realized 1) These gables are on the side and back of the house, so I’m hoping it won’t be too noticeable and 2) the front porch is a standard gable roof, so that style already exists on the house.

The front of the house has two different gable styles

The worse news:  we will need a tiny gable, affectionally called the pork chop, on the 4th side of the roof to allow us to post the new structure to the basement.  I’ve seen them on other houses and they’re not super noticeable.  But it's still a bit odd. And in our case, we didn’t have any other option.  So a tiny pork chop gable it is.

And in better news, the bathroom can now be bigger and more functional.  The initial design was a narrow bathroom with a bathtub and no shower.  Now it will be much more spacious, with a big glassed in shower and lots of storage.

First plan - small bath with no shower

New Plan - large bath with shower and big vanity (size TBD)

So did I get exactly what I wanted?  Not quite.  But this is a pretty nice compromise that will give us the structural integrity we need, while meeting some nice design goals.  Good thing we have all this figured out, because work is starting!  

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Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Demo Days at the Bungalow - Lots of Discoveries

I always have a nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach when we start demo.  No matter how good things look when we start, inevitably we find some surprises - sometimes good, but usually not so good.  

So what did we find this time?

Let's start with the good news.  1) The hardwood floors are GORGEOUS!!!  I know people hate wall to wall carpeting, but nothing does a better job of protecting old floors.  As soon as the guys peeled away the old carpet and padding, I gasped.  Isn't it great? 

We are guessing it's yellow birch - but we need to sand down a spot to see the bare wood.  That will help us be sure.

Gasp - look at those amazing floors!!!!

2) There isn't any knob and tube wiring.  That's a nice surprise, with old houses it's pretty typical to find some somewhere.  Most of the wiring is armored cable (cloth covered wires, covered in a metal sheath.  It   can also degrade over time as the cloth wears thin - particularly where it's connected to light fixtures).  That's not to say that we don't have a lot of electrical to do - there are only a few grounded outlets in the house and most rooms only have 1 or 2 outlets.  Shockingly, there isn't an outlet in the bathroom!!! But we budgeted for electrical work, so we are in good shape.

The not so good news. There isn't any insulation in the walls.  As they started ripping out the plaster in the kitchen (because we need to rewire it), we realized the cavities were empty.
 I'm actually shocked, because we've had some super cold weather lately and when I put my hands on the exterior walls, they didn't feel frigid.  And my infrared camera didn't show really cold walls.  So maybe it was those steam radiators heating up the old plaster? I'm still a bit mystified.

What does that mean?  Well now we need to open up a section across all the walls so we can install dense pack cellulose insulation.  I'm a huge fan of dense pack - it provides great insulation value and also deadens sound, a win-win.  But that's a budget item I hadn't expected.

And we were disappointed that we didn't find any clues on when the house was built.  We found some old newspapers (I tracked them back to 1954 because they talked about a Doris Day song that was nominated for an Academy Award), but nothing else to help us define when it was built.  

And we found some quirky things.  The odd bathtub/shower was removed - as well as the medicine cabinet.  Behind it, we found a whole history of the bathroom.  The original medicine cabinet was probably one of those tiny metal ones.  At that point the wall was painted what I think of as 'old house green' - because seriously every house I've ever worked on has had that shade of green somewhere.  The original cabinet was replaced, probably in the 50's or 60's with a larger one - that covered the oh-so-trendy pink paint.  And probably in the 80's, a larger golden oak cabinet was installed.  I'm not exactly sure what I'm going to install.  I have to confess - I'm a bit of a medicine chest hoarder and need to see if I have something that will work.    
Medicine chests have gotten bigger across the decades!

The bathroom feels so much bigger with the shower walls removed!

And then we found this little bit of pristine wallpaper in one of the closets.  Isn't it sweet? 

And of course we donated everything that we could, so they can have a second life in another home. Habitat for Humanity's ReStore picked up the kitchen cabinetry and some appliances - as well as that medicine cabinet!  

Our local South Portland Food Cupboard needed a new stove - so I was thrilled to donate this one to them!

And here are a couple of sneak peeks of what a huge difference we'll have when the wall between the kitchen and dining room disappears.  The stair wall can't be removed until we get a supporting beam installed - but it's already pretty great, don't you think?
Next step - putting it all back together! 

Doesn't it look great already 😂

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Tuesday, March 2, 2021

The Garage Conundrum

This is winter in Maine.  And this has actually been a pretty mild winter, with less snow than usual.

I suppose if you live somewhere warmer, you wouldn't feel the need for a garage quite as much as we do here.  But it's a bit of a luxury here, that most Maine homeowners want.

This is the garage at the bungalow.  That's not your imagination, it leans - a lot!  The garage door won't work (because of the angle and rotted sections of wood) and a couple of the windows are broken. And it's small - even if you could open the door and get your car in, you probably couldn't open the doors easily.....unless you're driving a mini-Cooper or something similar.

The door is stuck in that position 😂

It's also only a few feet from the house, which means a lousy view to the backyard from the French doors in the dining room 

There is a beautiful backyard with giant rhododendrons.....but the garage blocks it!

and a narrow alley between the deck and the garage.

And it's blocking a pretty fabulous backyard that's bordered by amazing, giant rhododendrons - that are covered in giant buds.  I can't wait until spring when they all start to bloom, it's going to be spectacular.  But sadly, you can't see them because they're hidden behind the ugly garage.

So here is the conundrum, do we spend money to fix it up?  It won't be cheap and we'd have to take money from another area of the budget.  And I'm not sure how useful it is.  Or do we just tear it down?  I'd honestly like to rebuild it a bit farther away, but I'm pretty sure that's not in the budget.  

So what's your vote?  Should it stay (and sell as-is) or should it go? 

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