The Buffalo Evening Times – June 2nd, 1899

We’ve made some progress since our last post in 2014.  The house certainly isn’t done, but we at least have a remodeled parlor.  Goodbye to cracked plaster, hello fresh drywall.  I miss the plaster; it told a story.  But it had fought the good fight since the 1890s and had earned its rest in a hole in Lewiston.  Also, while taking down the plaster, I made a few interesting discoveries.  Here is the first of them: a copy of the Buffalo Evening Times from June 2nd, 1899.  Now older than any known living human.  It had been stuffed into the wall cavity all those years ago, and popped out during demolition.  The paper is extremely brittle, and did not particularly enjoy being unrolled after a century and change.  My preservation methods are probably less sophisticated than the Smithsonian’s.  But here you go, a little snapshot of life in Buffalo back in the glory days.  Enjoy.


… Getting close on Bedroom & Bathroom

First off, I should mention that we now have non-wood heat in the house, provided by our lovely boiler & radiant floor system.  Right now we only have the front half of the first floor heated, but that includes the kitchen, office & living room (which is still our sleeping quarters as well).  We love our wood stove; it got us through a kicker of a winter.  But there is something quite nice about not having to choose between getting up in the middle of the night to stoke the fire and having a forty degree house in the morning.  The luxury has made us weaker already.


The radiant floor system will eventually serve the entire house, except for one bedroom which is over the beadboard ceiling in the kitchen.  We did not want to pull the ceiling down, so that bedroom will have a baseboard radiator.  It will also have its own thermostat, which makes it a great guest room.  We will have to pull down the plaster ceiling in the parlor to heat the master bedroom, but that ceiling is already damaged, and removing it will allow for an easy ceiling fan installation and will let us insulate for sound. 

As for the master bedroom, we have made progress up there despite the last few months finding both of us up to our ears in big projects.  Allison is part of a new food business and I have begun another broken house rehab.  It is true, rehabbing two houses at the same time is often unwise, but when the master bedroom, bathroom and guest room of our home are done, A. and I should have all the finished space that we will need for now.  The outside of the house still has a few things left to do (porch repair, notably), but with the roof and most of the painting & window repair done, the outside is starting to look respectable.  So I plan to dial back on our home and work on Project #2 at three-quarter steam.

And as you can see, we are getting very close on that bed & bath situation:ImageImage



Still some paintwork to do on the windows & trim, still need to find doors for both bedrooms.  And the old floorboards need something done.  The plan is to paint them and then coat the paint in polyurethane.  The floorboards are pine, which is a softwood and therefore not the greatest choice for holding a finish, but it is what we have for now.  They had been painted in the past and, dadgummit, we’re going to do it again.  We’ll throw down some rugs in the high traffic areas and hope for the best.  Even without 3/4″ T&G rock maple, we will be so happy to have a bedroom & bathroom we just won’t care.  ETA on move-in day?  I hate construction timelines, but let’s say May 4th.

Oh, and here’s the hallway outside the bedrooms, finally getting drywall:ImageInsulating the window weight pockets.  We put a lot of work into saving the old wood window sashes, and now the challenge is to make them as energy-efficient as possible.  The weight pockets are usually a tough spot to get to, but sometimes you just have to pull the casings off and fit some polyiso foam board back there.  Caulk and spray foam are also handy if used with a careful hand.  The trick is to insulate the pocket as much as possible without interfering with the movement of the window weights.  I have heard the suggestioof fitting the weights into PVC pipe to act as a tight-fitting channel for the weight while allowing insulation to be packed around it.  I haven’t tried yet, but it sounds like a neat idea:


Here you see the layers.  We caulked the joints between our sheathing boards, fit fiberglass between the studs, 1/2″ foam board over that and then the drywall.  I like the idea of having even thicker walls with more room for insulation, but our house is long and skinny and thicker walls would have compounded our design challenges.  One does what one can.Image

Bedrooms and bathroom: halfway point

As I write this, K. is stomping around upstairs, applying joint compound to the drywall seams in what’s soon going to be the master bedroom, bathroom and guest bedroom.  The bathroom used to be a bedroom… or a weird little room off the front living room.  It’s a Buffalo house thing, the bedrooms are all tiny and there are a bunch of living rooms connected by pocket doors.

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bathroom drywall finishing in progress

We’re turning the front living room thing into a bedroom and the small side bedroom into a bathroom, anyway.  They’re at the front of the house, which theoretically means we’re exposed to more street noise, but 1. our street is pretty quiet at night and 2. after insulating, the sound doesn’t penetrate the walls like it used to.  Speaking of sound insulation, in order to have the least amount of noise pass from bathroom to bedroom we insulated the walls with rock wool.  It’s more expensive than fiberglass batts, but it’s great for blocking sound and our neighbor hooked us up with a bunch of surplus cutoffs for a nice price.  Since we’ll be using it for sound rather than heat, the patching in of random bits will work fine.

it's impossible to take pictures in this tiny room

it’s impossible to take good pictures in this tiny room

Like almost all of the rest of the house, the plaster up here was too beat-up to be worth the effort of saving, so we pulled it all off, ran new wiring and plumbing, insulated, and are putting up drywall over the whole shebang.  Luckily K. is proficient in drywall hanging and finishing.  I may be a biased observer, but really he can do everything.  Very convenient, that.  I am keeping away from the drywall finishing because while I can do a rudimentary job, I don’t want to spend the next few decades staring at my subpar work when I wake up.

the bedroom's front wall

the bedroom’s front wall

I am decent at painting, and that’s what comes next, so I will return to usefulness soon.  And I helped hang all the fiddly bits of drywall around the trim, at the bottom of the walls, and so on.  File under: still somewhat useful, don’t kick me off the island yet.

We’ll be putting a VCT floor similar to the kitchen floor in the bathroom, and probably just painting the already painted floor in the bedroom.

Here’s how the bedroom used to look when we first got our hands on this house:



Peep that decorative wallpaper border!  And note the water damage.  This was caused by the final holes cut in the roof by the fire department as we were engaged in purchasing it from the city.  Otherwise we could have kept the existing roof on the front section of the house for another few years.

We took that chimney down because it ended inside the attic, rendering it absolutely useless and adding stressful weight to the framing.  Yes, we saved the mantel.  The front windows were broken replacements of the originals, and you can’t repair replacements (I mean, I’m sure you could, but it’s not worth it) so we replaced them with better replacements.

these two chairs loved each other very much, and now they are gone forever

these two chairs loved each other very much, and now they are gone forever

We’re lucky enough to have awesome pocket doors upstairs as well as downstairs.  I was assigned to the project of making these work again, which is way easier with the walls open.  After taking off 1/4 inch of the bottom of the doors (the house had settled and they dragged,) cleaning and oiling the wheels, waxing the tracks, and boiling the old paint off the hardware they move relatively easily.  They will be the access to my giant Closet of Doom, which will be full of personal wardrobe clutter that no one will have to look at.

I am a stereotype

I am a stereotype

Beyond the Closet is another bedroom, which will be nice when we need to house visitors.  Actually, my little sister and her husband are probably going to live in there for a while as we fix up their house nearby.  The wall is still open because we have to get in there to install baseboard radiators.  Since there’s a nice wooden beadboard ceiling on the room directly below that we don’t want to remove, this room will not be heated by a radiant floor.  It is directly over the wood stove though, and does retain a lot of heat now that we’ve insulated.  All of the front part of Upstairs stays (relatively) warm now.

replacing that window is on the "eventually" list

guest room: replacing that window is on the “eventually” list

That makes up the front section of upstairs, which along with the hallway (used to be another tiny narrow bedroom that connected to what used to be two tiny narrower pantries) is the section we’re focusing on finishing.  After that, the oldest section of the house will be in a condition where we can leave it alone, live in it, and concentrate on other projects.  There will always be projects like baseboard, window and door trim, etc. though… because old house work is never done!

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K. sealed off the hallway with plastic where it meets the back section of house.  It has a tarp zipper on it for occasional access through while keeping heat in and blocking the wind.  Unfortunately the drafty back of the house catches the wind off the lake/river.  We have an intense relationship with wind in this neighborhood.

multipurpose living zone?

multipurpose living zone?

However nice our living room is right now, we will be very happy when it’s no longer also a bedroom.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to put some gloves on and bring two skids of rock wool upstairs.

Building a Bedroom

For the last couple weeks, the major project has been the two bedrooms and bathroom that make up the front half of the second floor.  For the time being, the plan is to finish the front half of the house and leave the back rough.  As two people we do not need anymore space than that right now.  We also need to turn our focus from working on the house to working on making a living; both of us are starting big projects this coming year.  So the back half of the house will remain a framed box, which will also give us the opportunity to plan the next phases thoroughly.  Working without a rush is nice.  Of course, we still have to finish up the exterior painting and repair the porch this summer.  It never really stops.

Here are some photos of the second floor.  I, with help from friends, have insulated with fiberglass batts between the exterior wall studs.  Half inch polyisocyanurate foam boards with foil facing are over the face of the studs, to provide additional insulation and insulate between the wall studs and the drywall.  That’s called a thermal break, because it hinders the travel of heat from the inside of the house to the outside, through the framing.  That type of direct contact heat travel is called conduction.  The foil face is to provide a vapor barrier and to reflect heat back into the room.  Before the drywall goes up, all of the seams will be taped with a foil tape as well.  Polyiso foam has a good R value (resistance to heat travel) per inch of thickness, but it has had issues in the past with shrinkage over time.  That’s no fun.  Hopefully the manufacturers have worked on that, but it is still a good idea to tape seams for air sealing and to create a continuous vapor barrier.  I often use fiberglass batts with kraft paper facing behind the foam, because the paper holds the fiberglass in place and prevents slumping over time.  I put a slash in the paper facing every two or three inches, so any moisture that gets trapped between the facing and foam board has a way to get out.  That’s the theory, anyway.

The photo below is of the front bedroom.  The room off to the left is the bathroom.Image

Looking from the front bedroom toward the stairs and hall.  The pocket doors to the left will open into a walk-in closet, which was my solution for keeping the pocket doors but not having them travel between two bedrooms.  I am a simple man; I prefer bedrooms that open into halls, not other bedrooms.Image

Looking down the hall, toward the stairs.  The yellow is the curved plasterwork that we left in place.  It is the most worthy plaster in the house, so I will attempt a repair instead of starting from scratch.  In the ceiling is R-19 fiberglass between 2×6 ceiling joists.  The attic is walkable and has a floor, but was not built to be a dance hall.  It makes for good storage right now, though it would be neat to someday take advantage of the view of Lake Erie that can be had from the one west-facing window.Image

And here the back half of the second floor waits, dreaming.  Note the new plywood visible between the “barn wood” or skip sheathing.  And the lack of sunlight pouring in.  These are good things.Image


We now have a kitchen.  The long wait is over; we can cook, bake, wash and refrigerate, all in one convenient space.  Until the kitchen came together, we were using a single electric burner on a small counter top in front parlor.  While the dual challenge of extreme space efficiency and very limited means is an interesting one, we are glad to leave that exercise behind us. 

The space the kitchen now occupies started out as a bedroom.  After removing the plaster, lath and old wiring, the first step was to install a carrier beam to remove the bedroom wall but not the structural support of the second floor.  Always remember: weight, like electricity, needs a safe path to the ground.  The photo below is of the false wall built to allow the removal of the old wall, prior to the installation of the beam.Image


And there’s the beam in the upper left corner.  Plus: drywall.  I went with the recessed lights for more lumens without the clutter.  Image


Drywall finished, painted.  VCT floor installed.  Spent a solid day prepping the subfloor before laying down luan underlayment.    We went with Venetian blinds because of the windows’s proximity to the oven.  The range is gas, and I do not need the excitement of open flames plus fabric curtains.Image


All of a sudden, cabinets, stove, dishwasher & sink!  Just like that.  Ha ha.  Sure does take a lot of finagling to get it all together.  It’s a giant puzzle that, if done right, makes your life better in a direct and wonderful way.  Just don’t get it wrong.  Or you house will EXPLODE!  Hey, it could happen.  Many thanks to DM for handing us pretty much the entire cabinet and appliance set.  The microwave is courtesy of D&D way out in CO.  Nothing saves money like hand-me-downs.  That truism is well known to house-fixers the world over, and certainly no less here in Buffalo.  A. & I are proud to be carrying on that glorious tradition.  Also thanks to neighbor MJW for helping us with the floor and cabinets, and ND & NL for putting in work on the insulation and drywall.  Team effort.

That wooden squirrel is a gift from my aunt & uncle.  It not only adds a certain woodland serenity to the stovetop, its ears are also used to pull a hot oven rack out when needed.Image


Always check your appliances before roughing in your plumbing, gas & electric.  I had to move the gas line to the stove over by six inches once I realized the original placement kept me from putting the stove all the way against the wall.  Fortunately, it is a first floor kitchen so a bit of pipe wrenching and a wood bore did the trick.Image


I should also mention that the sink even has hot water.  We had a tankless water heater installed a few weeks ago, and the unit will also handle radiant floor heat.  I have not installed any of the radiant piping yet, but boy won’t that be nice!  For next winter, anyway.  We have a mirror over the sink because we still do not have anything but a construction-grade half-bath in the back of the house, as mentioned in A.’s last post.  But the future full bath is underway and is just about ready for insulation and drywall.

Plenty of finishing touches left, like baseboard on the exterior wall and the cabinet toe kick, crown molding on the top of the cabinet faces, paint touch-up, and putting the bell of that chandelier into its proper place (the light is a gift from my mother, by the way).  But all the important parts are there and functional.     Image


The kitchen in action:Image

Status: surviving the Polar Vortex in a broken house

We’re currently living in a three room insulated section of the house – two larger rooms which we use as living room/kitchen and living room/bedroom, and a tiny room that’s office/closet. The kitchen room is where we have the DutchWest wood stove, which is our only method of heating the house.  It’s a great stove, with a catalytic combustor that re-burns the smoke for a cleaner, more efficient burn.  And our neighbor up the block sells firewood!  Even with that thing cranking, the other room is only in the mid-50s today… so we’ve been sticking to the kitchen area.  This part of the house holds heat pretty well, even if it takes some effort to get the front room above 60 when it’s cold out.  After filling the plaster walls in the front room with blown-in cellulose insulation, the difference has been incredible.

ImageFortunately Kevin has been on an insulating tear.  The basement is tightly sealed up, and stays reasonably warm, considering.  The bathroom at the back of the house is no longer at ambient outside temperature.  Instead, it’s a super-insulated box that stays warm with the help of a space heater… so the pipes aren’t freezing as often anymore.


It’s half shiny silver spaceship and half old timey wainscoting, and 100% better than it was before… which was the only time period I would have accepted (with caveats) the mostly-problematic “urban pioneer” label.  Grudgingly, even I will admit that putting on a coat and boots to visit what’s basically a freezing outhouse is kind of pioneer-ish, as was hauling water from the basement, making do with our rudimentary food preparation situation and heating the house solely on split wood.  Luckily for them, pioneers didn’t worry about showering.  In our modern day and age, showering is part of the social compact.  You’re not allowed to be a filthy stinky person and still be accorded most of the customary rights and privileges of courteous day-to-day interactions… which is ok, and it means we have a rotating cast of friends’ houses where we shower for the time being.

ImageThis is Upstairs, which will soon be ready for drywall.  In a fit of optimism, we picked out the paint color a month ago.  This is where we will have dedicated sleeping and showering spaces at last!

The heated downstairs and the parts of Upstairs we’re working on comprise the oldest part of the house, a square 2 story box.  This original box is what we’re going to be living in for the immediate future, so we’re only worrying about insulating and sealing off this part (and making sure the rest of it is at least mostly airtight.)  The rest of the house was added on in sections, and will be left in more or less its current state (of structurally stable and sealed but still down to studs) until we can handle the work/need the space, whichever comes first.  Right now it’s looking a lot like:


and feeling pretty chilly.  But when we’re not working on it, there’s no reason to be there.  Kevin’s up there right now and he’s double layered up plus wearing insulated bibs.  The work doesn’t always stop when the world does, and inside you don’t have wind chill!

I know Kevin’s working on a post about the kitchen so I’ll leave that for now other than to mention that it’s SO NICE just having one, especially on a day like today when it’s -7891045 degrees out and all anyone wants is hot food and tea.

The dog and cat wear their own fur coats but when that isn’t enough the dog has a quilted jacket, which was probably not necessary inside today but it’s new and exciting, and the cat has a crocheted “cat nest.”


My family is in town, and my brother in law had never been colder than 45 degrees before this week.  Haha!  We took a walk to get takeout from the excellent Niagara Cafe last night and my dad compared walking down Pennsylvania towards the river to when he climbed Mount Elbrus.  It’s been nice to host people by a roaring fire, take them on neighborhood walks in the screeching wind, and assure them that this is as bad as it can get around here, weather-wise.  Unfortunately crossing the 190 via the pedestrian bridge at Hudson did not work out because the ramp is a solid sheet of ice.  My decadent wish is that they incorporate a heated walkway into whatever renovation plans I hope they have for that thing… yes, a pipe dream.

It’s really really nice to be living in a finished space instead of a work zone.  Sometimes I forget about the state of the rest of the house… until I open the door to it.


Hope everyone else is surviving winterpocalypse 2k13 unscathed!  Don’t leave the house except to take house pictures!!



The wood stove has been hooked up for two weeks now.  We love it.  Nothing like a piping hot stove on a cold night.  I see a forecast high of twenty five for Sunday, which would be a much scarier thing if we were just using the two electric heaters we had before.  But the wood is stocked and waiting, so things will be all right. 

The wood stove has also been great for drying joint compound, aka “mud”.  I now have the finish coat of mud on the walls, and will be sanding it in the next time I have a few hours free.  Hopefully very soon.  Then we can paint the walls and do the kitchen floor, and after that install cabinets and fixtures.  Not too far from having a completed, functional kitchen.  It’s a great milestone, especially with the winter coming on.  The winter is much better when you have a good place to make a hot meal.  Looking forward to it very much.

We have also been taking advantage of few forty-degree days to get more work done on siding repair.  Hopefully we will have something picture-worthy soon.  At this point we will probably have to wait until the spring to paint the new pieces of clapboard, unless we are lucky with a random fifty degree day in late January.  Hey, it has happened before.  In history.  The side door I installed Julyish finally has a set of stairs to go with it, which is a wonderful thing.  I took some of the bricks from the chimneys we dismantled and made a little walking pad in front of the steps, to avoid the scourge of mudfoot.  A light by the door will be a spring/summer project.

All the while we have been doing weatherization projects, especially since we are heating part of the house now.  We still have a few basement windows to reglass and paint, and I am in the process of building a concrete block wall to separate the basement from the space under the front porch.  When we bought it, the two were one.  That cannot be allowed.  Same situation at the back of the house, where the basement meets the crawlspace under the shed roof addition.  Just a giant opening to let local critters come in and get out of the wind.  That, at least, is now fully shut and insulated.

So on we go, through November.