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

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.



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


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.

Bad plaster.

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.