Nightmare on Elm St.

The journey of turning the nightmare we bought on Elm St. into our dream home...

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Saturday, February 18, 2006

Your questions answered!

Hi everyone. I decided to create a short recap post to answer the questions posed in the comments section of my last entry because this was really too long to post as a comment.

When we bought the house, it had a partially finished basement, with a living space, a closet, and a terrifying bathroom with scary, scary shower. The basement was finished sometime between 1950 and 1970 (hard to tell) in dreaded paneling and ugly vinyl tile. The POs carpeted over the tile and added a new furnace, water heater, and A/C. So, it was finished, but not nicely. When we moved in, we painted the ugly paneling, repainted the bathroom, and replaced the vanity, but we had no further plans to redo the basement, as it was functional, until it flooded, once right after we moved in (not badly) and then more so last spring. See posts here and here for more backstory. Last summer, we had a waterproofing company install an internal sump system with drainboard against the walls, which required most of the walls be ripped out. We discovered a lot of rot and water damage in the process, necessitating a much larger tear out than we had planned. We've stripped everything to a shell and are now working (slowly) to fix a lot of issues and create a great new living space, with a functional laundry room (previously the dryer and washer were across the room from each other), more storage, and an awesome new bathroom. We hope to finish this project sometime this spring.
The POs widened the staircase to the basement and relocated it when they remodeled the kitchen. The cut a few floor joists in the process and did some dubious stabilization, causing that whole thing where we jacked the kitchen floor up and re-supported it. The stairs are now very stable and don't bounce when you walk up and down, which is nice. The staircase is open to the room below and I think that we can make it into a nice feature for that room. The POs carpeted the stairs with $0.99/yd awful berber carpet to sell the house, but I pulled some of it back and found gorgeous hardwood treads. So, the plan is to install a period appropriate newel and rail terminating in a rosette on the support beam we installed. I should make a decision on what we're going to order this weekend, I'll post about that soon.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Stairway to indecision

When we acquired the Nightmare, I knew that I'd have to do something about the basement stairwell. It was a decent width, but almost fully enclosed, with no railings or newels at all. I've been looking at different stair part suppliers for about 3 months now. I've acquainted myself with the terminology, I've scrutinized our main staircase, and I've thought carefully about what I want the staircase to the basement to look like. I've determined that replicating the upstairs staircase without having parts custom made is impossible. So, I'm trying to get as close as possible. Most suppliers that I've looked at don't carry the big box newels like I need in hardwoods, just hemlock and fir. However, today, I think that I've significiantly narrowed the field.
I was super stoked when I found LJ Smith, because they had a good selection of wood types and several box newels to choose from. But, their website is difficult to navigate, and big pet-peeve: no prices. I think that I finally may have found a place that meets my criteria:
1. Good selection, easy to navigate
2. Many hardwoods to choose from
3. Free shipping!
4. Prices on the website
5. Sells direct to homeowners (no dealers)
Where is this place do you ask? How did I not find them before? I have no idea. They even have a blog! Right now, I'm trying to figure out if we can afford to use walnut. I'll keep you posted as to my experience with this company.
There probably won't be much of an update this weekend, as I'm fighting with a cold and seem to be losing.

Nip/Tuck I

I've been working hard on tuckpointing the brick walls in the bathroom. As promised, I'll be posting an informative series on tuckpointing and preserving interior brick walls for display.

Step 1: Evaluation and Cleanup
The first thing that you need to do is check the walls for major damage (missing or badly damaged bricks) and the condition of the mortar. Whatever mixture of mortar they used in 1915 on our house has basically deteriorated to sand. So, our usual protocol involves cleaning all the old sand out of the spaces between the bricks. I have mild asthma and the dust and dirt from tuckpointing really bother me, so I usually wear my respirator during this stage. I start by brushing or vacuuming the dirt and loose mortar off of the wall:

vacuuming out old mortar


If you can't get the mortar off this way, then you can use a hammer and chisel, or a drill with a masonry bit to remove stubborn mortar that you want to replace. I usually would rather leave it alone if it's in good condition. However,if you want all of the mortar to match, or you suspect that it's not as solid as you think, these techniques more useful.

more chiselly

chiseling action

drilling out old mortar 2

Step 2: Mortar selection

There is a wealth of information on the internet regarding mortar selection. Generally, you should remember that old bricks are very soft, and if your mortar is harder than your bricks, it will cause your bricks to crack. From what we've read, for our soft bricks, we need type "O" mortar, but we were unable to get that in Frederick, so we're using type "N" and hoping for the best. Since we're doing small repairs, we bought 1 bag of mortar and 1 bag of sand. We mix at 1 part mortar to 3 parts sand. I like the mortar a little wetter than Aaron likes to mix it, but either way, here is a picture of what our mix looks like (sorry too bright).

mixmaster aaron

texture of mortar

3. Actual techniques.
a. Spray with wall with water. I just use a small spray bottle for this, and I continue to mist the wall as I work.


b. I like to get some mortar on a large putty knife, and then use my narrow brick spatula thingie (sorry not more technical) to push it into the horizontal joint off of the putty knife. This reduces waste and increases efficiency.


I use a similiar technique for vertical joints.

vertical tucking

c. Then I use a stippling technique and a large brush to remove the excess, push the mortar further into the joint (sometimes I need to apply more), and leave a nice finished surface. You may need to use a strike or other tool to match the finish of the surrounding bricks. Since I was doing almost the whole wall, I went with this method for everything. Outside, I used a strike to match the finish on the surrounding bricks.


d. Next, I use a smaller brush to remove some excess mortar from the edges of the bricks (they seem to get covered up easily, especially when I do vertical tucking.


e. Finally, I mist the wall again. I continue to mist it over the next few days to slow the cure of the mortar. This may not do anything, it was just how I was taught.


Next time, I'll show final cleaning of the bricks, replacing a brick, and how to apply a clear coating to an interior brick wall so that it can be left exposed.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Pictures added!

I finally added pictures to Mixmaster Mike Redux if you want to check it out!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

On Valentine's Day, many ask... What is love?

Many thanks to Stace, who gave me the idea for this post, and who helped me come up with a lot of the below.

On Valentine’s Day, many ask the question, what is love? For us, love is many things…

1. Love is pouring concrete all week long so that we don’t have to pay any more rentals on Mixmaster Mike (but we still did!).

2. Love is marrying Bob the Builder (that’s the new nickname from Mike and Stace, even though the block already has a Bob who really is a builder).

3. Love is enduring endless "hey man's".

4. Love is framing a basement.

5. Love is picking out the perfect patio furniture.

6. Love is a promise that he'll never wear high socks and shorts and count them pants.

7. Love is the debate over the perfect ceiling tile.

8. Love is paying the bill for the wood restoration work.

9. Love is lead paint removal - and being banished from using the heat gun due to an incident.

10. Love is not said best with diamonds, but with three new knees for the dog.

11. Love is three-wet noses waking you up every morning.

12. Love is coveralls and power tools.

13. Love is a level concrete floor that will still require backerboard for tile.

14. Love is working hard, and hardly complaining.

15. Love is living in the Nightmare, and still being able to laugh about it.

Happy Valentine's Day, Aaron! I love you!

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Mixmaster Mike Redux

The guys at Rentals Unlimited laughed when we pulled up on Friday to rent, you guessed it, the jackhammer and the cement mixer. Again. Blech. You know, some people actually go on vacations with their vacation days. Not us. Noooo. We take days off to work on the house. This time we took out the old shower drain and made a great big hole so that we could run the drain for the new clawfoot tub. We were surprised to find that the slab was over 4” thick in this area, but that was a pleasant surprise, b/c we were going to rip out all the concrete that would have been under the tub and pour it to 4” to ensure it could take the weight of the filled tub. So, there we go. Pleasant surprise from the Nightmare. Wow, those are rare.

Outline of where tub will go...


So, you’ve seen it all before. I have some pictures, I may post them later. Aaron forgot to take a picture before we started pouring concrete, so we don’t have any of the pipe in the hole, actually, but I’m sure that you believe us. We did get two good tips from a plumbing supply place in town that we checked out. (1) We put a cup over the drain and poured the concrete around it so that we could still access the joint for the drain later. We’ll fill it before we finish everything up. (2) You can stack those little flangey things to raise up the toilet, so we didn’t have to rip that area up.

A picture of the hole... aren't holes exciting???


Two views of Aaron grinding off the old pipe. He learned from that exercise with the hacksaw last time!

grinder on pipe


Next, we laid the pipe in the hole (no picture) and poured more concrete. Mixmaster Mike came back (hopefully for the last time) to help.

mixmaster mike

more concrete


So, there you go. That’s how we spent Friday and Saturday.

Sunday we were bound and determined to finish framing. For design purposes, we needed to frame an angled entrance to the bathroom so that we could walk past it down the hall and out to the backyard. This was not simple. We spent many hours scratching our heads and making sample cuts. We finally got something that would work and finished framing these two walls about 6:00 pm. We only took a break to sign the papers for our home equity line. (They come to your house for closing now. How cool is that?) We’re really happy about this, b/c we slashed our interest rate by 2 percentage points, and we think that we have a big enough line to finish the basement, backyard, and attic remodels.

General framing shot. Many of these got messed up when I tried to move them to Flickr, so this is the only one I'm posting.


I'll get some better ones this weekend. The camera batteries are dead now.

After finishing the two angled walls, we only had one real wall left to do. We will put cabinets on this wall, so to increase the chances of actually hitting a stud when we hang them, I had Aaron space the studs 8” apart. So, the wall will look strange when I finally post a picture, but it should be strong and hopefully we’ll thank ourselves later. We finished up by 7:00 and then flopped on the couch, ordered pizza, and watched football.

After many trial and error attempts at framing in this horribly unlevel house, we finally figured one thing out that helped a lot. After measuring and cutting the pieces for the top and bottom, we held a stud up to each floor joist that we would hit, on top of the other two boards and marked a line on the board for each joist that it would touch. Then, we cut the board to the shortest length indicated. Then we checked this board in the same manner to make sure that it would fit under each stud. Then we cut all the studs to this length- we usually didn’t measure this, but just marked each stud with the previous one to save time, and it only bit us in the ass once. All of the walls that we made this way went up very easily (before we figured it out, we had a couple get stuck and a couple that we had to shim a lot) and were nice and firm after they were attached and didn’t require any shimming. It was also much faster than trying to measure everything. So, if you’re framing in an older home, this may be a helpful tip for you. We’ve made a tremendous effort to make everything level, plumb, and square, but we had a lot of issues. One big issue that we had is with lumber. Most of it sucks. No framing lumber is older than 7 years anymore, apparently, and most of what we bought seemed fine, but twisted as it dried out in the basement. So, lesson number one is to buy the wood and use it as quickly as possible. (Someone commented somewhere in the past few weeks that Tom from This Old House has said “Level, plumb, or square, pick two.” which made us feel much, much better.) Anyway, drywalling this mess should be an adventure!

We had to rip out the little section we did last week b/c of the issues with the stupid vents from the furnace. It turns out that they were sized incorrectly and don’t have the correct number of bends (I found the furnace installation manual online and we poured over it for hours. It took a combined 17 years of science/engineering higher education to make sense of the stupid thing.) The parts that we need to fix it aren’t readily available so Aaron is meeting with Frederick Air tomorrow morning to get an estimate to move and resize the vent. I hate paying someone to glue PVC together, but we don’t want to screw this up and die of carbon monoxide poisoning. That carbon monoxide poisoning is a bitch. We do have a monitor, but that’s not the point.

Sooo, at least I can report that the framing is about 95% done. We have to put back in the section that is affected by the furnace vent and we have a few door and window headers to deal with, but none of that should be too difficult. We ended up framing out the bathroom for a 30” door so that it would have the clearance necessary to swing into the room. This was very important to Aaron for some reason. I was fine with just swinging it the other way, but he would have none of it! But, this will make for more interesting blog posts because the tub is 32” wide, and it will need to go into the bathroom before the door frame can be finished out. This kind of slows work in the main area of the basement while we focus our attention on getting the bathroom ready for the tub. This will be nice because it will give us a chance to try out a lot of the same things that we’ll do on a large scale in the rest of the basement in this small room. So, over the next few weeks, you’ll see a lot of posts having to do with the bathroom. We’re starting with a tuckpointing post hopefully coming up this week sometime! Oh, and for those of you that have been following, we’ve decided to go with the tin tile style #1 from the post of a few weeks ago.