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

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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!”

Back to Basics

It seems we have put behind the wintry blast of the several days ago, and are back to the jolly spring weather of May.  This is good, because our house does not currently have heat beyond an electric radiator or two.  And we’ll be moving in two weeks from now.

We did buy this house to be our home, after all.  And our current lease runs out on the 1st.  The summer in Buffalo is a wonderful time, and a little camping out will be fun.  Fortunately, the front two rooms of the first floor remain undemolished, so it’s there we’ll make our stand.  Thinking of it as a pioneer-era cabin trapped inside an old barn makes the move into an American adventure.  It also makes you think about what you really need to be reasonably comfortable.  Protection from the weather, clean water, something to eat, somewhere to sleep, somewhere to sit, a good book or two.  And someone to share it with.

These tight quarters present an interesting challenge in terms of furniture arrangement.  Living well in small spaces has always been a fascinating art to me.  Architecture and design in Tokyo or some of the denser European cities is, at its best, a no-wasted-space bonanza of shelves, hidden storage, and this-folds-into-that ingenuity.  Well we’re not doing any of that, but we can still look there for inspiration.  Efficient living, on the cheap.  Hand-me-downs have been critical here.  For starters, we have the bed.  A sleeper couch that has been in my family since the Flood now sits in front of the porch windows, allowing either a comfortable place to put guests while entertaining, or a much comfier sleeping option than the twin bed we currently share.  Improvement already.  Next there is the drop-leaf table my mother gifted us a few weeks ago.  It has a formica top so, hey, no coasters.  The leaves are dropped by a clever mechanism which I won’t attempt to describe, but it does not require oaths to operate and that is dandy.  Add a mismatched pair of dining table chairs and you have a place to read a book while eating a bowl of noodles.  We also have a “portable kitchen”, which is a cabinet on casters which holds a few dishes and such inside, and microwave (gift from friends) and toaster oven (Salvation Army) on top.  Also, we have an electric kettle for hot water, a great find at the Salvation Army “As-Is” store on Military Rd.  That place is full of diamonds in the rough.  Add a set of shelves holding various dry food items and you have our parlor, the larger of our two rooms.  The other room we call the office, and it holds the desk and filing cabinet, where the deed to the house and a copy of The Last Whole Earth Catalog are stored.  It is the room under the stairs, and it also has a neat little closet under said stairs, so we even have a place to hang up a nice shirt.

And that’s it for now, except for the temporary bathroom at the back of the house.  But living at the house will certainly provide further motivation to fix windows, build a kitchen, build a better bathroom, paint the house, and on and on.  Stay tuned.

Beginning

So.  The place is ours now, and all the planning we have done in our heads must become work done with our hands.  Priority number one is in fact not the roof (which is now temporarily patched with painted plywood and catch bins placed under small leaks), but the power service.  Work on the roof will be much easier once we have electricity.  The problem is that the Buffalo Fire Department also cut the power lines leading from the pole to the house as part of their training, and seem to have removed the breaker boxes as well.  So we are starting from the backyard, where the pole is.  Fortunately, we have an electrician we trust, so no nightmares expected.  Having lights, running power tools and heating water for hot cocoa will improve conditions inside the house immeasurably.

Since the weather seems to have come on strong days after our closing, the roof may have to wait until the spring.  Fact is, there are no finished spaces in the house, so the roof issues are mainly in keeping framing and electrical dry during the demolition phase.  The plywood and catch buckets are working for now, and I hardly want to be on a roof during this time of year.  In fact, I would prefer my roofing crew to be nice and dry and comfortable, so they can do a thorough job and not a rush job.  Timing is everything.

Speaking of demolition phases, it turns out that the plaster in this house is in bad shape.  You are not surprised.  But even worse than water damage are the years of neglect and shoddy repairs.  Just about every wall in this house is covered in layer upon layer of wallpaper that was then painted over.  With the continual changes in heat and humidity, that paper is peeling all over.  To get down to something that is worth finishing would require hours and hours of scraping, scraping, scraping.  And then removing the myriad sloppy patches to the plaster, and then doing proper, smooth patches.  And there are a lot of walls in this house.  Meanwhile, we are going to insulate this house; code and common sense require it.  Add to that the other building systems that need to be redone and the conclusion I come to is that most of the plaster, especially exterior walls, will have to come down.  I would prefer to leave it, no only because that would mean less dusty, heavy work, but also because it represents a large commitment of human and material resources expended by those who went before us and I think that is worth preserving whenever it makes sense.  Nevertheless, it must go, so if anyone has use for old wood lath just let me know.  A. and I now own plenty.

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Bad plaster.
  Bad.

Planning for demo means planning for removal, and with the amount of debris we will have a dumpster is the way to go.  The beauty of dumpsters is that they drop off a big metal box, you fill it, and then it goes away.  Hauling trash to the transfer station yourself could potentially save a buck, but once you factor in the logistical challenges (timing, vehicles, etc.), the extra time it takes and the extra strain on your back, then for large amounts the dumpster is my choice.

But to get a dumpster next to the house (we own the lot next door as well, for just this sort of reason), we need a proper driveway.  We are lucky that there is a large driveway approach leading into our lot (leftover from the house that used to be there), but it leads into wet, sloppy clay at the moment.  We need something that a truck can drive on without getting stuck.  So first we need to get some stone down there.  We will go with recycled (crushed) concrete, which is mostly the stone aggregate from concrete with little bits of crushed cement mixed in.  Works well for this sort of thing, promotes reuse of concrete instead of filling up landfills, and is cheap at $15.50 a ton for 1″ crusher run, which is to say  screened so that no pieces are larger than about 1″.  Now it is just a matter of wrangling a truck and dump trailer to get the stuff from the gravel yard to our yard.  But only after we get a break in the weather.  That’s “order of operations.”

Lots to do, and none of it is the “put on a roof and paint the place” stuff that would really look great on the block.  We will get there, someday.

Closing

It took us almost eleven months from the submission of our purchase proposal to City Hall, but we are finally the owners of the Green Monster.  Since first seeing the place, closer to a year.  Add to that the six months or so we spent on the dead-end of 247 Rhode Island St, and it is a bit strange to finally own a house in Buffalo.  Going in, we never thought it would take so long.  Now, A. and I have joined the club of jaded Buffalo homeowners who chuckle when some bright-eyed kid starts talking about their house dream.  We ought to keep a cache of airplane-sized bottles of whiskey to give those twenty-something innocents.

But I digress.  Closing itself is a fairly straightforward process, for all that it takes to get there.  It takes place at the Erie County Clerk’s office, in the County Courthouse downtown.  A representative of the Division of Real Estate meets you at the Clerk’s office, you look over the deed, may your payment for garbage user fee (oh that fee), hand over your certified check for the amount of the purchase (minus the 10% deposit required back at the purchase contract signing), and then go see a secretary of the clerk to record the deed and pay the required transfer tax and filing fee.  And just like that, your fee simple interest in the house is recognized by the reigning authority in the land.  That is to say, you own the rights and privileges pertaining to the specified parcel of land, including all improvements thereupon.  I mean, you own the house.  As long as you feed the beast and pay the taxes.

Now, we just have to figure out how to get some new garbage totes, to take advantage of our paid-for City services.

Title Search complete

We received news this week that our title search is complete.  Normally, when you send out for a title search it takes about two weeks to get it done.  This one took four weeks because of certain irregularities.  We are eager to get our hands on the hard copy to figure out what those are.  The chain of ownership provides an important window into the history of this 120+ year old house, so we shall see what it reveals.

For folks interested in tackling a fixer-upper, the cost of the title search was $650.  The title search company is Capital Abstract out of 3659 Harlem Rd in Buffalo.