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!!