In the Meantime, While Waiting

While waiting for this reno to start (will it ever??), I started on sealing the joist sill from the elements. I’ve been hosting all manner of wildlife and living with cold floors since I moved in.

Our favourite wildlife is what my son calls ‘the harmless beetle’ in a mock shriek, which as far as I can tell is actually called the sow beetle and is indeed harmless. But awful to live with.  For several years we’ve also hosted maple bugs by the hundreds. I am hoping it is simply a population explosion thing and that soon they’ll shove off. And of course, several variety of spiders. One variety of spider made me the most nervous and that was an incredibly speedy hairy thing. I simply could not catch it.  Out of the ordinary are the bumble bees that find their way into the basement. Doing laundry keeps me on my toes, because I’m never sure what I’ll find when I head down there. I wear shoes all the time in case there’s a dying bumble bee on the floor.  I’m afraid that enough have died down there that I haven’t seen any in the yard at all this year. Not out of the ordinary are the busy mice who keep us company and remind us at all hours that we’ve got company. It’s been fun over the last decade hearing the adventurous mice find their way to new locations in the house.

Recently deceased and not so bounce-y bumble bee

Having said all that, I’m excited to live warm and wildlife-free next year! So, in order to accomplish that, one step is to seal the rim joist/sill plate. This is the part where the house sits on top of the concrete block basement. In my basement the rim joist has gaps open to the environment because of rotted wood, a crumbling and cracked foundation, and pipes going into or out of the basement. Honestly, there is only 2″ of wood between the basement and forty below.

See the blue-ish gap in the lower left? That’s twilight from outside

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, I am using spray foam and caulking to fill the gaps and cracks. I’ll use rigid foam to insulate between the joists at the sill, all sealed with my terrible caulking skills, and I’ll also use rigid foam between the joists on the main floor. See the photo below, from Family Handyman, or Handywoman in this case. This will help to keep my toes cozy on the main floor and the wildlife where it belongs – outside!

Another project that I’ve started and mostly completed is insulation of my bay window. The plan was to simply insulate the underside of the window, but as things tend to be with old houses, one thing led to another and I ended up insulating the facing of the window as well. This was because when I started insulating the underside, I saw that the bottom centre 2×4 was rotted. So, I took off from all three sides of the bay the stucco siding (which concealed an open space under the bay window), the old growth Douglas Fir siding (numbered and preserved for refinishing and reinstallation), the tar paper, and the shiplap sheathing.

Stucco removed and original siding exposed

Underneath all of that was wood chip insulation and my interior lath and plaster wall. And underneath the bay was simply the subfloor exposed to the elements!  No wonder it was cold at the bay window!!

Blurry photo of exposed subfloor with cobwebs

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bay window with lath exposed, and woodchip insulation on the ground

I replaced the rotted lumber, used 2″ foil lined rigid foam and incredibly bad caulking to insulate on the facing and underside and reinstalled most of the original sheathing. I had to use new lumber for parts because the lower parts of all three sections of sheathing had rotted.

Rigid insulation installation

And, that’s where I stopped. I had run out of suitable lumber, the long weekend was over, and it was very hot out. Mostly though, I stopped because my knees were done. I’d spent three days (yes, this amount of work took me three days!) on my knees or in a squatting position working on this window. In fact, underneath the bay was a 12″ depression, which was probably the original elevation of the land before additional landscaping and topsoil was brought in. So I spent much of my three days squatting while leaning down under the bay. At one point my foot slid down the side of the depression and I felt some damage occur in my knee. I’m not sure what it was, but now, three days later, my knee is still swollen and it hurts while resting and definitely while walking. Anyway, a war wound from my fight to make my century home more liveable. I’m sure I’ll survive.

I have not put back the original siding as the plan is to refinish it first. In the meantime, the house looks worse than ever. I’ve explained to as many neighbours as I know what my plans are, so hopefully everyone understands that the great beauty of this house will take another year to shine through. Something like this:

Still Waiting

A few weeks ago the Builder was ready to start excavation of the basement and had an excavator on the site, but he failed to arrange to have the gas line moved and nothing could be done. The gas company could not move the line for several weeks, and here we are still waiting. In the meantime, my house and yard look awful, I have no driveway and am parking on the street, and my yard is susceptible to opportunist thievery.

Supposedly the gas line will be moved this weekend and things will get back on track after that. Supposedly.

Unsightly mess as seen from the street
Special unsightly mess for residents only

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Crawling Start

Getting this renovation/addition off the ground has been slow and painful. I spent almost a year discussing plans and costs with the builder and his designer, and then during the first week of September, 2016, I signed a contract with a substantial down payment. Unfortunately, the designer did not do what was supposed to be done in terms of engineering and dawdled at every turn, such that the City would not issue permits. After several months of changes by the designer, in January 2017, the City issued permits. However, being winter and being that a basement dig was involved, construction could not start until spring.

Then, in spring the builder was busy. Finally, the builder arrived the third week of May to start tearing down the garage. My project is clearly not his priority, as he showed up with a single worker and they only worked two short days with hand tools and the garage still stands, albeit without a roof.

I realize there’s a lot of uncertainty, compromise, and dashed expectations involved with renovations and construction, but it appears much of the stress is completely unnecessary and is manufactured by one party – the builder. I’ll have to suck it up. In any event, we’re off to a crawling start, which I’m hoping I can consider to be better than no start at all.

The builder has said that he will have no problem completing the project by the end of July. I hope that is not an expectation that also will be dashed.

A Little More History

I recently talked to the owner of this house for the period 1987 to 1992. He works in my building. He kindly spent time going over some of the changes and renovations he and his wife made when they lived there. He also told me that although they really liked the house and the neighbourhood, they moved once they had their first child because there wasn’t going to be enough room for his growing family. That’s understandable, as that’s how I’m feeling too.
​He said they bought the house for $87,000 and then spent a fair bit of cash renovating, because it was not in good shape when they got it. They laid the drywall over the lath and plaster, put in a new furnace, central vac, and underground sprinklers,  put walnut floor in the living and dining rooms, built the pond, put in the fence, and  a new garage door.
They made the kitchen bump out from a porch that was there –  just knocked out the wall between the two spaces. It had patio sliding doors to the deck.
The Juliette balcony was present, but they replaced the door to it- using a door from the house across the street. This is the same door with the oval window that is there now.
There was no paved driveway when they lived here, so it must have been the next owner who put that in, as well as the sunshine ceiling in the kitchen. He noted he knows he wouldn’t have put in a sunshine ceiling because he hates those.
​And quite delightfully, it was his wife who chose the exterior paint colours that are still in use today and which draw so much attention to this house. Very nice colour scheme, albeit one I would not have chosen.
​I had many more questions I would have liked to have asked and I did ask for photos if he had any, but he’s moved on from this house and doesn’t have the same interest in it that I do. But, a nice bit of history he provided.

Wow – Original Flooring

I’ve got shiveries – there’s wood flooring in my kitchen! Well, under two subfloors and generations of linoleum. But I’ve just uncovered a couple of inches of what looks like intact, healthy fir flooring!! Yay me!

Closeup of original fir under 3 sub floors and 5 layers of linoleum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m a little unsure how to move forward right now. I was only taking a look-see for interest sake, because getting excited about any true character of this house is good for me, but also because eventually the builders are going to build a doorway into the addition at this spot and I want them to do it at the level of the original floor, ’cause that’s where the kitchen is headed some time down the line. I was only enlightened yesterday that there are likely two sub-floors laid upon the original wood floor when I took out the deck-porch yesterday. I looked closely at the floor near the front door and noticed what looked like two subfloors and two sets of linoleum sandwiched between.
​Anyway, I think I’ve now confirmed that there is wood flooring in the kitchen and hallway, and likely under the walnut in the living room/dining room that was laid in the 1990’s sometime. I’m baffled why homeowners would cover wood flooring with plywood or particle board and then lay vinyl. I’m a little worried that it was for a good reason, that is, the wood floor got damaged beyond repair in the middle or something like that. That’s the worse case scenario. But given that I saw yesterday that some homeowner built an ugly deck-porch overtop a perfectly healthy, proportioned, and appropriate concrete step, it could be that similar silly thinking went into covering nice and healthy wood flooring – to modernize or some crazy thing.
​Anyway, not sure what next steps are, being aware of asbestos etc. I’m going to research what true linoleum looks like and then decide. If the first layer on the wood is true linoleum (it has an textile weave in it, much different from vinyl), then I can cut through both subfloors and all their vinyl or asbestos flooring and get right to the linoleum, and hopefully prevent giving myself or my family lung cancer.
Wow, what an exciting day! I wish I had a week off to pull the entire kitchen floor out!

Update: I did some basic internet research and found this website:
http://inspectapedia.com/interiors/Linoleum_Flooring.php
It says that true linoleum is jute backed and does not contain asbestos. I’m pretty sure I’m dealing with a jute backing, so I’m going to proceed as if it’s got no asbestos. As long as I cut through all the previous layers and subfloors I should be good to go.

Update: I will need a whole week off work to get this floor off! So far I’ve got about 6 feet x 2 feet uncovered and it’s taken about 5 hours of work. And it’s hard work.

 

One slice of original linoleum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another slice of original linoleum
After many hours of work

Lost Heritage – The House I’d Rather Have

My grandparents were farmers. My grandmother’s family were original pioneers and were the first to break and farm their land. When my grandparents married, they lived in a large 1 1/2 story kit or catalogue house. It had a large kitchen, dining room, and living room, a small bathroom, and three 120 square foot bedrooms on the main, as well as an east facing sun porch. Upstairs were three small bedrooms and lots of closets. The reason I think it is a kit or catalogue house is because some of the salvaged trim has handwriting on it indicating it was shipped in its finished form to Springwater, ergo not built on site. I’ve tried to find the plan online, but no luck so far.

Grandma’s House

View from the sunporch

Like a lot of people do, I spent much time out at the farm and it became a part of me. Weekends, summer holidays, Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and when I could drive and between jobs I would spend weeks of time out there.
I never imagined a time when it wouldn’t be ‘my farm’. But that happened about 20 years ago when my grandparents moved off the farm and into the city. They turned their backs on the house and gave the land to their son, who also turned his back on the house (and the whole home quarter). Now my cousin owns it and he reports that he hasn’t been out there for a decade or more, despite it being just a couple miles from his place.​

Anyway, I took my son out there for a picnic last summer and showed the house to him. The roof was leaking and, inevitably, someone had shot out most of the windows, so the house was rife with swallows and other wildlife. A skunk had been trapped inside and died at one point. Strangers had been in and out of the house, each spreading the garbage my grandma left behind wider and wider. Do they really think she would have left anything of value behind? No, it’s all garbage. Newspapers, magazines, empty boxes. But each trespasser must look and spread and ensure it all gets soaked and ruins the house. They don’t even bother to close the doors when they leave.

 

Mess in the kitchen

 

 

 

 

 

Mess in the dining room

 

 

 

 

 

Mess in the living room
Mess in a bedroom

 

 

 

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I stewed on that all winter. It was a beautiful house at one time. It was a home. It housed my many splendid memories of being with my grandparents and the farm. It causes me a lot of pain to see the house and the farmyard the way it is now. Unloved. Unappreciated. All the work my grandparents put into it is now lost.​

I stopped in again two weeks ago and saw that since I was there the previous summer someone had been in and started stripping the fir trim from the living and dining rooms. I became obsessed with this. For a whole week I obsessed. Finally my sister encouraged me to call our cousin and ask about taking the trim for myself. I’d wanted to do it for a year, but had a serious ethical dilemma about removing the trim from what was otherwise a beautiful intact house. I couldn’t see at that time that it was beyond salvation. All I could see was that the house deserved to remain intact.
​Anyway, I was finally so upset that I was compelled to call my cousin. He sounded surprised that a stranger had been in the house, although acknowledging that he hadn’t been out there for a decade, and casually told me ‘fill my boots’ with the trim.

I went out a couple of days later and stripped almost the entire house. It took two days. My son came the first day and I was glad for his help and company. The second day was lonelier.

The dilemma plagued me the entire time – how wrong it was to take away part of the heritage of this home – but by the middle of the second day of I realized that the holes in the roof had irreparably harmed the structure and floors, such that it would never be habitable again. I found some peace and was anxious to finish the job and leave.
​I boarded up the broken glass in the exterior door and installed a padlock, and stapled poly on each main floor window. The swallows and bees will have to find a new home. I was not confident going upstairs to poly the windows because the floor looked too sketchy to stand on. But I put a sheet of plywood over the entrance to the upstairs so that no kids would head up there and get hurt.

I plan to go back for some trim I didn’t have time to take off. Also, there is still hundreds of square feet of beautiful fir flooring that is possibly salvageable and which I intend to have. I’ll have to hire someone to come with me though, as it’s backbreaking work to get it off.

But let me give an example of what I now have for my own addition: Old growth fir – baseboards (8″ high and some 18 ‘ long!), plinths, cornices, door and window casings, picture rails, doors with hinges (I have to go back for the jambs), windows, and about 100 square feet of flooring (I have to go back for the rest).

Beautiful old growth Douglas fir floors

 

 

 

 

Windows
More windows

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunporch windows

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

None of it was ever painted, only shellacked. It’s beautiful. I’m at peace for having taken it and I will be appreciating it for years to come.

While spending time in this house with a view to architecture, which is something I didn’t do as a young person, and while taking the trim, I saw that this was a very well built and maintained house. The concrete basements are in perfect condition, the walls and floors are square and level, the windows open and close as designed, and the trim and flooring is in immaculate condition. This is a roughly 100 year old house that is, aside from the effects of the broken windows and holey roof, in perfect condition. It could have housed many families after my grandparents left, including my family, had it been cared for properly. Deep sadness for me.