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.

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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

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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:

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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

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

Kitchen!

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

November

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.

I Have Seen Ice

Outside our door on Monday morning, I saw a small bucket that had filled with rainwater.  On the surface of the water was a film of ice.  I took note of this.

Painting has been the top priority at the house these days, since painting weather is just about gone.  We have the north side of the house just about done and put away, but the south side of the house is still mostly primer.  It is generally not a good idea to let bare primer overwinter, so any day when it gets to fifty degrees (or just close, if it’s sunny), that is what we do.  The forecast now gives us less than a handful of painting days left.  Realistically, we will not get every last bit of the house caulked and painted before winter, but I think we’ll get close enough.

On days when painting is not an option, inside work moves forward.  The photo below is of the future kitchen, which has been plumbed, wired, insulated and now drywalled.  Tape and mud coming soon.  Paint to follow, then floor, cabinets and, finally, sink, dishwasher & fridge.  Washing dishes in the sink will be a major victory.Image

The colder weather has provided inspiration for another indoor project: the wood stove.  We purchased a DutchWest wood stove via craigslist and are just now getting to installing it.  The stove will sit in the kitchen, which is relatively central in the house.  The photo below is of the newly-installed thimble, which is the passageway from the outside of the chimney into the flue.  A few bricks had to be removed from the chimney to make the hole, and then the flue cut to accept the thimble.  An angle grinder with a masonry wheel offers precision for this sort of thing, but boy does it make a lot of dust.  Brought me back to the summer I spent repointing a brick storefront in North Tonawanda.

For insulating behind the chimney, I used rock wool, which is fire resistant.  I sealed gaps with fire-blocking spray foam.  Our chimney is in solid shape, but extra caution around a flame source is always a good idea.

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Getting wood for the wood stove was easy; we have a neighbor who cuts and splits firewood as a side job.  We picked up five face cords from him, and stocked over half of it on pallets in the basement (our basement stays mostly dry, which is a blessing).  When moving firewood, enlist the help of friends.  The job will go that much faster and you can all enjoy some well-deserved pizza and beer at the end.  For easy loading into the basement, we covered the stairs and stairway walls with scrap pieces of OSB (aka chipboard) and turned it into a chute.  One man at the top send the firewood down, two at the bottom to gather and stack it.  Good verbal communication keeps everyone’s forehead intact.Image

The wood stove.  While waiting to be hooked up, it seems to be serving as a handy work table.  It loads from the side as well as the front, and comes equipped with a catalytic combuster for a cleaner burn.  We built a brick pad in front of the chimney for the stove to sit on.

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Almost forgot about this ‘ol boy.  The ancient furnace in the basement is still an unknown.  The gas is getting turned on Monday, so soon enough we’ll see if it still kicks on.  Code-required CO detector is in place.  Ideally, we would have a furnace to keep the house a base temperature, and use the wood stove to achieve a more comfortable heat.  But even if the furnace turns out to be a dud, hot water and a working oven will be plenty to be thankful for.

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Wrapping Up the Summer

Well now, I do believe it’s been awhile since we last posted.  If this morning is any indication, summer is definitely over before fall officially begins on Sunday (at 4:44 PM).  Suffice it to say, we have been busy.  Scraping & painting, replacing clapboard, repairing foundation, fixing windows, building walls, overhauling a roof, running new electrical wires and getting things ready for a plumber to rough in a bathroom and kitchen.  It has been a heck of a summer.

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Of course, with winter coming we are only reminded of how much more we need to do before we can make it through the winter in anything approaching comfort.  There is where the pioneer experience really kicks in.  We purchased a used wood stove last night, and we look forward to piping it in soon.  But there is still not a scrap of insulation in the house, and we have a good few things to do before we can get there.

So, for now, the plan of action is closing up the last of the holes in the house, running some gas line to the old furnace in the basement, getting as much painting done as possible before it gets too cold, and getting things ready to insulate.  With the weather changing, we will have no lack of motivation.  Oh, and we should remember to stockpile some wood for that stove, too.

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As per the New York State motto, “Excelsior!”