Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Lead Clearance Test--Surprising and Scary

We bought this place from the City of Covington and by and large they've been great to work with, with some individuals going far and above the call of duty on our behalf. Sometimes, there are annoying requirements. One of which was the requirement to test for lead paint. Now, in theory, this is a great policy. DIY renovators are exposed to WAY too much lead.

The thing is, I took my lead course and I'm a certifiable lead-safe worker. I know there was going to be lead paint and I took steps to minimize my exposure. But I still had to cough up a pretty penny to get the place tested. That's money that could have gone to pay for some of the thousands of $'s of lumber that went up on these walls. Oh well...

Anyway, since there was an extensive lead test done, there has to be a "lead clearance test" done to demonstrate that lead remediation done or at least good cleaning practices were used during and after the project. Now, since the walls were furred, foamed, and drywalled, we didn't need to worry about them. And, since the interior walls, and the lead paint encrusted bead board stair enclosures were removed and replaced, we didn't need to worry about them. AND, since the floors had been covered with OSB, and swept and HEPA Vacuumed (both before and after OSB went down) several times, and since all the windows and doors had been replaced, we didn't need to worry about them. We don't even need a clearance test, Right?

Wrong. A lead clearance test is required even though there isn't any lead painted surfaces left in the house and haven't been for months and months and that all surfaces are now new. No certificate of occupancy will be issued without one. No COO, no refi. No COO, no CARD loan/grant.

So, a lead clearance test was scheduled.

Here's where it gets interesting. Our tester shows up and walks through the house. She notes that we've not put down carpet. She asked us if we had cleaned the window sills (no, they are new lumber and just painted and actually not really "sills"). She asked us if we had cleaned the window troughs (yes, yesterday). She looked at us and said, "You don't want me to test today"


Everything is NEW. There's no lead here! Not so fast. "This is an old neighborhood and our testing is very sensitive." There's a good chance that there's enough lead present to fail a test. She advised getting carpet down. Make sure every sill or subsill has been painted. Clean all window troughs and sills immediately before the scheduled test.

Fine. Whatever. Rush job on the carpet. We were lucky to find some carpet we really rather liked that could be installed fast. That of course blew the budget there by about $2k.

But we got it in. The outfit was McCall's and they were pretty darned good and professional. I just wish we'd had time to shop this the way we wanted to.

So, we got the carpet in and we HEPA vacuumed the entire place, cleaned sills and troughs per instruction, and had the lead test done. Basically, they test the floors and sills of the rooms that are likely to have children playing or eating in them.

Now, we passed but here's the kicker, one of our sills (brand new, where we replaced the door with a window) and one of our troughs were at about 35% of maximum tolerance. That's on a new sill and a new window trough that been cleaned within 2 hours of the test! There should be NO lead paint. The thing is, on a windy day, you're going to get lead dust from your neighbors. Plan on it. If you want to pass a lead clearance test, make sure you clean right before the scheduled test. Also, when you wipe your troughs, wipe the bottom of the sash well too.

Also, as a matter of course, when you open windows in the spring and summer, give the troughs and sills a quick suck with the HEPA vac and wipe them down with a good detergent. Also, encourage your neighbors to paint any deteriorated windows or exterior wall or trim to stabilize them.

Next up, Making the Ikea Kitchen!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Catching Up: Tile

A lot has happened and we're playing catch up.

The DW is a tiling queen. That's all there is to it. I was good for prepping for grout and cleaning up afterward.

This first picture is the guest bath floor. What you can't see is that the room is not particularly square.

What to do about it? Well, don't use these:

They give one a false sense of "squareness" and aren't really very necessary for the floor. In fact, what one can do is gently adjust for "non-square" rooms by squeezing or stretching the gaps between the tiles ever so slightly. Over 8 tiles, 1/8" adds up (to an inch).

Speaking of "not square" of the bathrooms is pretty badly wracked. That leaves us with a dilemma; how do we line up the tiles so that they look good and so that they don't highlight our wall problems? Well, DW was all over it. As you can see in the pic below, she lined the tiles up on the corner of the wall that you see as you come in. There's a long line of tile from door to window that really needs to be straight and also dead ahead of you is the cross angle. Fortunately, those two walls intersect in a nearly perfect square.

So far, so good. Looks pretty straight and square in and out and left to right. Most other problems will be behind the door or under trim.

But...there's a problem. If those important lines are maintained square and straight as they were, well, when the tiles get back to the bathtub, there's 1 1/2" of extra space at one end of the tub. See below.

So, how does DW address that? Marble trim legerdemain. She cuts a section out the tiles to allow for the special "trim", fiddle with the sizes of the joints to allow for that 1 1/2" gap, and create an optical illusion of the tile getting smaller as it extends away along the tub.

As you can see, there's hardly a noticeable sign of that unsightly uneven gap.

Absolutely amazing.

This of course means that there's going to have to be more of that marble trim utilized in the tub surround, but that's another story.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Over Budget Analysis

So, we're way over budget. I knew we would be and planned for it. We blew out that plan to. It's not the end of the world, but in a different environment, it could be.

So, I'm going over every deviation from budget that I can think of and determine if it was worth it or not. If it was utterly unavoidable, it was worth it. With some luck, this will give others an idea of how things go and how to plan their budgets and back-up plans accordingly.

So, here are the over-budget items that I can round up.

Roof: $1000 over budget, primarily for box gutter work. Unavoidable. We did get a great deal on a metal roof, however. Thousands cheaper than expected. Still over budget, but a bright spot.

Drainage: $500 over budget. Clogged drain dumping 2000 gallons of roof water into the basement. Unavoidable.

Demo: $300 over budget. Extra dumpster. Unavoidable.

Chimney removal: $200 over budget. Unplanned, but worth it.

Two months extra rent and utilities: $2100. Due to delays in demo and finding a roofer and getting the roof on. Avoidable. I should have been on the roofer issue much sooner and much harder. The same with Demo.

Financing Charges: $500 (estimated). Many expenses were floated on credit cards or on account for various periods over the 13 months of work. Partially Avoidable, but not entirely.

Mortgage: $2500. This wasn't forgotten about, but it ended up being paid out of the reno budget without a line. This doesn't include the 2 month overage accounted for above. It would have been worse, but for several months we were only paying for the purchase price due to using city money. Unavoidable, but make this a hard line item on the budget with a contingency for delays.

Fence: $300 over budget. Avoidable, but perhaps worth it for a better looking fence.

Stair case widening: $800. So VERY, VERY worth it. It made the 3rd floor usable.

Doors: $600 over. Partially unavoidable. Still, it would have been nice to find an old door or to have built one ourselves to save $300, net. If you have a non standard (say 34") door to replace, start looking at the reclamation centers or start building one right away.

Lumber: $1500 estimated over. Partially unavoidable, but we could could have gotten as much or more stiffening of the joists with cross braces and blocking, all for a couple hundred less. We used almost every bit of 2x4.

Tools: Total Estimated $685 over budget. Extra ladder $60, hammer drill $100, new drill $45, saw blades and drill bits $125, Jigsaw $30, extra nails and screws $75, router $100, router bits $80, tape measures $20 (don't ask), miscellaneous tool stuff $50. Mostly Unavoidable.

HVAC: $4000. We knew we were low-balling the HVAC estimate in our budget. Part of that $4k is utterly unavoidable. The jury is still out on whether it was worth it. We'll have to see the utility bills. I suspect it will be, but that's still uncertain. Probably worth it.

Insulation: $1900. I budgetted $4000 for DIY TigerFoam, and I'm pretty sure I was "light" by at least $1000, assuming no mistakes in application. I got got more foam, all the labor and all the risk taken by Priority One. Totally worth it. I'm not at all certain that I wouldn't have gone that much over budget doing it myself.

Transoms: $150 off budget. I didn't budget for these at all, but for the money, we got two double-paned low-e, argon-filled transoms, that are way efficient and that look better than any alternative. Totally worth it and maybe unavoidable.

WallBoard: $400 over budget. I could have gotten it for less, but this got it to the site, fast, and right where it needed to be when it needed to be there. Plus I under estimated mud and corner bead by a bit. Not too far off and unavoidable.

Drywaller: $2600 over budget. That's just my fault. I didn't do proper research and misjudged the cost of a drywall job of this magnitude and complexity. I took the low bid and got a great guy but I was still way, WAY off. Unavoidable, but let that be a lesson. My one and only budget screw up cost the most.

Bulbs: $150 off budget. I never thought about it. We got them cheap but we've got a blue million can lights, including some smaller sexy ones that take more expensive bulbs. It's not a ton of money, but it's another $100+ number over budget.

Exterior Lighting: $260 off budget. That was for motion detectors and wall lighting, plus some expensive bulbs. I totally forgot about this necessary expense. Partially Unavoidable, but I could have used cheaper fixtures. I just didn't want to look at them for the next 10 years.

Carpet: $2000 over budget. I had $5000 down in the Bank's estimate, but I figured we'd get it in for $3k. Nope. Due to the rush, we spent $5,000 on the dim. I'm happy with it, and I like the install, and the bottom line is that we had to get it in fast.

Windows: $500 over budget. This includes replacing a pane at the bottom of the stairs with tempered glass and putting in some hopper windows. I had hoped to re-work the windows myself and put in some nice wood ones in front, but time precluded that, so I just put in all new vinyls. I don't love them, but they're warm and efficient. Also, they came in almost $1,000 less than the bank estimate. Just more than mine. Unavoidable in the real world.

Tiling expense: $0. I was going to note $75 overage on grout and mastic that I didn't expect. Then I looked at our budget. We're net $1000 under bank budget, including an unbudgeted tub surround and almost $100 under my lowest DIY estimate. I'll shut up about that.

Floor refinishing: $200 over "budget". This was for labor and materials but considering that we did this ourselves and only pulled in help to prep and clean up, and that the bank budget was $1500 more, I have to say, "Worth it".

Theft: $240 off Budget. We lost and had to replace two sawzalls one cheap and one very used and old, two sets of work lights, and one compressor. Unavoidable. Plan for it. I did not includ the 50 or so CD's and player that were stolen off site.

Gasoline: at least $375 off Budget. I just stopped yesterday and thought, "How many trips to Home Depot, alone, have we made?" Many of them in the Denali, and many at $4 gas. I have a pretty tight estimate on that, but then there are all the little stop and go trips that we never used to take, including from home to site every day, runs to grab lunch, hit the small hardware store. Most of those with a cold engine and rotten fuel efficiency. Unavoidable, but we should have planned for it.

Re-financing: $1000 off budget. This is only partially forseeable. I didn't account for the rate lock we did, but that came out of the reno-cash. So did some closing costs. None were crazy. But they were off budget. We'll be doing another re-fi too but that's money not yet spent. Unavoidable.

Total over budget:

That is above contingencies and doesn't include some things that we just forgot about or can't easily quantify (e.g. how many Monster drinks did we buy the drywallers? How many lunches, sodas, waters, and bags of ice did we buy for contractors?). It's not an insignificant amount, though it can get folded back into the proper cost of the house during the next refinancing and fortunately, it won't alter the end result for us due to lower rates.

Still, this ought to be very instructive. It's easy to go WAY over budget. Little things add up, but so do big things. Try to plan down to the last nail. I thought it was trivial but it's really not. Where we did that (the kitchen), we actually came in UNDER budget. Don't forget the "cost of carry" and other financing expenses. They're slowly bleeding you on one of these projects and they're easy to over look. Plan on a few thousand dollars worth of "emergency" purchases. You're going to have them, including hiring labor to help get a project done on time, or buying a tool to save you days of work.

Another tip is to keep a separate account for project expenses and do not co-mingle ordinary and reno expenses. If it's not on the budget, it shouldn't come out of that account. That way, when you start going over budget you can readily see how far off you are and make what corrections you can. Keep a running tally of credit card expenses. It's bet to start with a "clean" card to facilitate this and it's best to only put reno expenses on it. If you don't have a great rate on the card, pay it off as soon as is practical. By using the card only for reno expenses, you can quickly see where you stand. You should have a spread sheet set up with your budget anyway, and as you spend on a project, you should add those expenses up and compare to the budget. It's time consuming, and it will likely fall by the way side if you get under the gun, but if you can do it, it'll help you stay on track.

One last tip that I think makes some sense is to set up an account or debit card with some splurge or "off-budget" money. You should stay on budget and not waste precious resources, sure, but you don't want the renovation project to be a joyless exercise in sharpening the pencil and crunching the numbers. You should make sure that you can buy those things that will really give you some pleasure or that really make the renovation work elegantly.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Green? Long-term vs. Up-front Costs

Some might take a look at our building choices (light metal roof, super efficient windows, super efficient HVAC, spray foam) and think we've gone "green". The thing is, I don't believe in fashionable environmentalism. I just don't. Talking "Green" makes me green, if you know what I mean. That doesn't mean that I don't care. I've been an outdoorsman for my entire life. I firmly believe in responsible stewardship of our land, air, and water. I even more firmly believe in EFFICIENCY that is consistent with such. Economic reality should dovetail into environmentalism. If it doesn't then it's just a fashionable bit of onanism. I'm not sure most folks get that.

Anyway, environmentalism should make sense. You have to look both short and long term at both costs and benefits.

Short term and long term costs for our metal roof were a no-brainer. It won on the upfront without even considering that it would outlive us, let alone the cooling costs. Windows were a no-brainer because added efficiency could be had at trivial additional cost, and no matter how we sliced it, we had to replace the windows (the calculus becomes much more difficult when one has a passel of solid old windows and the time to work on them, as well-repaired old windows with interior storms can be pretty darned efficient).

I did have to do the up-front vs. monthly/lifetime cost calculation when I was figuring the costs of insulation. I figured that we could DIY bats or blown-in insulation if we framed in all of my brick walls. This would preclude insulating the stairwell wall, of course, because we couldn't give up that space without rebuilding the stairs. The cost of that is ~100 square feet of floor space (and elbow room), and probably $2500 in materials, perhaps quite a bit more. Plus our time, which was short. The efficacy of 3.5" of bat insulation against the brick walls is debatable (some say R-11), but it's got problems in our application. The stair wells are going to be major heat sinks, for one and that means that the office and living room would be cold. Further, if insulation gets moist or if there's a gap allowing air to get in there, the true R-value drops significantly. There's a chance of both in our old brick house. I've seen a lot of water find a way into our walls over the past year. It could happen again on smaller scale. So, we're not going to be able to make the place fully insulated with pink stuff regardless, and if we did, there's a good chance we'd get less than the hoped for result.

Now, a lot of folks in these 150 year old houses don't insulate the walls, and just leave them plaster on brick with an air gap and more brick. They save the floor space in these narrow homes at the expense of comfort and gas and electric. With good attic insulation and storms and plastic it's bearable and almost affordable.

If we did spray foam, we'd get far superior performance for the life of the home (never any settling, never get wet, never allow a draft through, and provide R7 per inch (that's R-11 on the walls) AND eliminate the need for venting in the attic), and save ~100 square feet of needed floor space/elbow room. Most importantly, we could insulate the stair wells, making a huge comfort difference. I figured that I could fur the walls out 1.5" and get "real world" equivalence of bats in between studs without ever having to worry about the normal failure of bats in our application. In the rafters of the attic living space, I'm confident that the 7-8" of foam that we sprayed is going to outperform any other insulation. Forever.

Now, the total cost of the foam was less than $6k and we didn't have to do any of the labor nor take any of the risks (foam is fairly expensive if you screw up the application). That's perhaps $1.5k more than DIY foam (assuming no screw-ups), $2.5k more than DIY bats and $4.5k more than leaving the walls and just insulating the attic. I know that I'll save at LEAST $100 per month over the no wall insulation application and probably $50/month over the bat solution. Plus I'll keep that elbow room. We'll also get into the house sooner, saving on rent.

I figure that the cost differential alone is conservatively made up in less (perhaps a lot less) than 5 years, assuming utility rates stay where they are. That's a pretty short pay back and it makes good sense when I get to wait for it in total comfort. By comfort, I do mean serious comfort. In real life, when we set the furnace at 60 degrees, it's about as comfortable as our current place set at 70 degrees. When we turn it down, the third floor stays toasty for hours and hours. That's the outcome I was looking for and the savings justify the cost, irrespective of the luxurious comfort.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Side Door Replacement

That's the kitchen door. You can see the refinished floors a bit in there, too. We've put it off far too long already. We need to replace it.

The thing is, it's not standard. It's a 34"x85" door, in a mortised frame in brick. Doors come in standard 82" high and 32" or 36" widths. At 32", you can't get furniture in. At 36", you can't get a pre hung door in, intact. Then we have to deal with the transom, too. This will be our main door, so we don't want to have it look too kludgy.

So, there's only one solution that we could come up with. Order a 34" slab, with glass (for light, which we need), and build an entire new frame.

This meant that we had to sawzall out the door AND transom. Then we needed to rout the 2x12 framing material to accept the door and transom, and then we needed to chisel out for the hinge plates, and then install stop and weatherstripping.

THEN, we had to make sure our measurements of the transom were correct and order double paned glass. Then hang the door and install a threshold. Then we cover the transom hole and wait for glass.

We're still shy many of our pictures so we don't have the final, but the transom also looks pretty good.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Heart Pine (?) Floors

So the next thing on our agenda was to get the floors stripped and refinished. Unfortunately, the camera is on the fritz, so we can't access all of our shots. As such we're going to have to describe the process and pass on what we learned.

We decided that we would do this ourselves, but we wimped out on the drum sander. We settled on that sexy 4 pad random orbital thing from the "Orange Store". I'm going to have to say that the folks at Crescent Springs HD, especially Walt and Janet are really helpful and a font of knowledge. I'm also going to recommend the random orbital sander to any neophyte. It's very hard to screw up, dust is very low, and the whole thing is pretty easy to figure out. The negatives are these: You're going to blow through a lot of pads (which are costly). And, it's going to take quite a bit longer than you think if you've got anything but poly on there to sand. We also settled on Varathane clear satin poly. I don't like super shiny wood floors.

I'm not going to go through the blow by blow because instructions are all over the web, and in addition, there are good resources at HD's rental department (from what I can tell). I do want to pass on a couple lessons, though.

Lesson 1: Chemically strip varnish. Sanding it is a pain and takes for ever. If you use varnish remover, you can just apply and sand immediately. I'll save you hours.

Lesson 2: Paint will come up with a sander, but some spots can be stubborn. If they are, hit them with a chemical remover too. It'll save time.

Lesson 3: Both the wife and I make good ballast for improved sanding effectiveness.

Here are the results.

Note how cool our repairs turned out.

I'm pretty sure we have "heart pine" but I'm utterly surprised by the finished color. After we sanded, the floor was very light yellow with dark brown grain. We decided that we would not stain the floor, yet look at the color. Almost like cherry. It's very pretty, but not what we thought we'd end up with.

I'm not sure if there is anything we could do to lighten it up, even if we had the time anyway.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Seminary Square Holiday Tour

Technically, we're two doors away from Seminary Square, but they're still our neighbors. Check it out. Wonderful homes.

COVINGTON -- Nine homes, one garden and a converted church that is now used as an office building in Covington's Old Seminary Square neighborhood will be open for the second annual Old Seminary Square Christmas Walk, 5-8 p.m. Dec. 7.

The neighborhood features Victorian architecture - from townhouses to sprawling mansions.

Members of the Holmes High School Choir will be performing Christmas carols through the evening.

Tickets, $15, will be sold at the rear of 1018 Russell St., which is at the southeast corner of Robbins and Russell streets.

Parking will be available at John G. Carlisle School, Banklick and Robbins streets, a half-block west of the ticket office.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Dry Wall Finishing & Paint

A lot has happened, and I want to update, but I also want a placeholder for pics and tips that will likely come to mind.

So, this is it.

Aldrine finished hanging all the dry wall in pretty short order. There were few problems, save for a missed closet light ("Funny bulge in there Aldrine..." "Huh? Oops!) and an under-counter light wire that got drywalled over a stud creating a funny high spot. Aldrine just thought we were REALLY bad framers.

While he ought to know (he made our framing looks REALLY good), we aren't THAT bad. The repair was seamless and invisible.

The end result was beautiful.

There are three tips that I want to pass on:

1) Pay attention to your furring lumber. Just discard racked boards. Later in the process you'll know to do this, but we screwed up our finish because of some boards we put up early and didn't catch until after drywall was up and finished. Most folks won't notice but some will. So, when the lumber comes in, look at every 1X4 down its length. If it twists or is warped badly, pull it. You can cut it into short blocks where the twist or warp won't matter.

2) If your ceiling joists are really uneven, run 1x3's at 90' at 16" intervals all the way across them. We screwed them but you can nail them. You can then adjust them by getting your head up very high s you can look down each run and lower the boards in places where the joists are higher. This creates a nice reasonably level, wide nailing area for your dry wallers. Your ceilings will look MUCH better. We're told that a rolling scaffold works very well, but we managed with just 2 6' ladders.

3) Aldrine insisted upon 5/8" board for the ceilings. He just said, "It's better". I agree. As much work as we did smoothing out the ceiling joists with 1x3's, they weren't perfect. 5/8" hides the imperfections and lays much more smoothly. It looks great.

3.5) Aldrine insisted upon "Straight Flex" to deal with the funky angles up in the attic. If you're a DIYer, try that stuff. He also wanted Durabond 20 for some of the finishing, which he's great with, but he's fast and professional. It does NOT leave you with much time to get it up. They have a slower drying compound that's better for amateurs.

Hopefully, we have some close ups to show.

Once done with Dry Wall, we ran on to paint.

Normally, one primes dry wall, then paints. We were told that if we're in a huge hurry to get in, just spray it with 2 coats of primer (it would pass inspection) and worry about paint later. All well and good.

So we went to ICI and asked about primer. We were told that there's primer and there's primer and then there's paint and better paint. We were told that if we're doing two coats of primer, it'll be OK, but it won't look great and we'll have to paint anyway. Two coats of self-priming good quality paint and we're DONE for not much more.

Both of us hate "half a$$ed" solutions, so we picked a nice neutral high quality latex that we could get lots of 5 gallon buckets of and took that tack. The trick here is we used a standard color. Why? We wanted to buy what we thought we needed and a bit more. If we had 5 gallons left, we could return it--not a custom color.

Next up, get a paint sprayer. We thought about buying one. You can get them fairly cheaply. Alas, they are fairly cheap in outcome. You can also rent a good one. For something like $79 a day, you can rent a serious paint sprayer. Folks, in 9 man hours you can easily paint 2000 square feet with two coats. DONE. Including clean up. How long does it take you to roll out a room?

Painting tips:

Take your time and mask everything off before you get the sprayer. It takes time. Paint before flooring goes in unless you want to have drop cloths.

Make sure you get your walls clean--damp mop off the dust that doesn't vacuum or blow off. It has be recommended that one open up one end of the house and then get a leaf blower and a mask and just blow all the dust out. I have no experience with that, but it sounds fun and ought to work. We used a compressor with a blower fitting. If your compressor is large enough, it should work well. If not (our wasn't) definitely follow up with a damp mop.

Cover up. Wear goggles. I was wiping latex OUT of my eyes by the end. Gross. A mask is a very good idea. Preferably a P-100 respirator.

This is a two man job. Get a helper and make sure that they have a roller. There will be drips unless you are very good. Someone needs to get them immediately and roll them out. Also, the sprayer is heavy, as are the 5 gallon buckets of paint. You don't want to hurt your back changing out your paint. A helper, um, helps.

If you have time, get your trim in first (we didn't). That way, the paint seals it in and saves you a lot of detail work later.

REMOVE (don't just mask or use the "shower caps" that come with) your smoke detectors. Modern smoke detectors are VERY sensitive and they are also all connected so that if one goes off, they ALL go off. Killing the fuse doesn't do anything either. There is nothing like being half way through a paint job at 8:00 at night and suddenly having the din of 7 alarms going off. Why? Because the FUMES set one of the alarms off.

We put a fan on the offending smoke detector, and after a couple minutes, it stopped. We set the fan down and it went off again. Fine. We turned the fan up, and set it on a paint bucket. All quiet. The next morning (with the windows open all night) we turned off the fan and WEEET, WEEET, WEEET!. Take it from me. REMOVE the smoke detectors until all paint vapors have cleared the house.

The outcome on painting with a sprayer is very nice, and very uniform. What paint you do get on you actually washes off more easily, though it gets into every nook and cranny. I figure that the paint sprayer saved about 30 man hours, if not more and could have saved more than that had we had time to get everything in place.

More coming soon and we'll also come back and add some pics shortly.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

They're In!!

They are IN!

Call Madison's Market down at Findlay for more info or to order some.

Very affordable (as luxury items go) and a special experience.

Truffled Capon Recipe

Thursday, November 6, 2008

A Big Shout Out

I've been positive on our spray foam insulation guys, as readers know, but you'd think that after a couple months, we'd be over it.

Nope. I was going over issues with the NKAPC and asked them about the open-cell spray foam on the decking in the attic storage area. See, it's uncovered. There was a concern about the fire and smoke ratings. Rather than rely on hope, I called Priority 1 and asked them. Turns out, we're fine. Open-cell doesn't need to be covered (in most cases) but closed cell probably does.

Now, what does Priority 1 do? Well, Larry jumps in his truck and immediately DRIVES TO THE SITE to hand deliver the spec. sheet so I can show the building inspector if he's got an issue. That's service. I highly recommend not only the product but this outfit.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Any Time Now

I was speaking with someone about insulation and somehow the subject got around to food. Go figure.

Then to truffles. It's almost time, folks.

Soon. Madison's Market is checking on them. I'm hoping for another decent season.

Last year's was something else.

For those who are interested, here's the article and recipes

More house stuff soon. We're very busy and a lot has happened on site.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Dry Wall Going Up

So, after the gauntlet, Aldrine was able to get to work hanging gypsum board. Mostly at night (LATE into the night) and mostly alone. Remember, the walls mostly got the 54" wide 12' sheets. Ceilings got 5/8" too.

You gotta admit, though, it's looking pretty good. He has to be the hardest working man I know. He's good, too.

Next up, taping and finishing, then paint!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Rehabbing an Old House Step 5

Step 5: Getting Into It

So, after arranging financing and buying your rehab property, what's first?

Secure the property.

That means make sure that the elements or criminal elements can do no further damage to your home-to-be.

The first place to focus is the roof. If it's sound, great. If not, get it taken care of. I'm presuming that you're reading this well before you've actually acquired your building. As such, I want to stress that you get on the roofing issue (if necessary) well in advance of actually closing. Depending upon the time of year, your market, and if you're putting metal or slate or some other specialty roofing on your house, getting a secure roof on could take some time. In our case, I thought that we could have a roofer there within a week or two. It took me two months to get a decent estimate (after going over the site with 8 or 9 roofers), and another month and a half to get the roof on. Fortunately, I started before we closed, but it still put us two+ months behind schedule because you can't really do much on a house subject to water damage. Expect roofers to show up, and never give you a bid. Make sure you've got a back up roofer, too. Some will show up, give you a bid, then disappear. Others will fail to complete a job that gets complex or outside of their comfort zone.

Do not pay up front. Your only leverage on an incomplete job is your money. Don't give it up until the job is done to your satisfaction. You will likely NEED that leverage.

Other aspects of securing the site are windows and doors. Some folks advocate replacing the windows immediately. I don't, as that subjects them to damage during the construction process. There's a give and take on that, of course, if you're working during the winter, it might be nice to be a bit warmer.

If you don't replace your windows early, I recommend securing them via a screw or two, and covering them with plastic or paper. You don't want criminal eyes being tempted by tools on your site. One trick we used was spraying some windows with a "frosting". That let quite a bit of light through while obscuring the view.

If you have broken windows, get some plastic stapled over the panes or sashes to keep water out. Broken 1st floor windows may need some OSB or ply wood to keep the critters out. Cats can be a problem in rehabs. So can opossums, bats, raccoons, etc. You get the picture.

Make sure you have a lockable door. One trick we used was to put a secure pad lock flange on the door and use changeable combination locks. That way, we could give a contractor the combo, and when he's done, change it. We found ours at Big Lots for a couple bucks. We bought one for the front door, one for the cellar, one for the ladders, one for miscellaneous tools, etc.

One other thing to check is water and electric. Both of these present possible hazards and you want to make sure both are off and the water system is "winterized". You don't want broken pipes leaking on new work and you don't want to get fried while doing demo when you hit a live wire.

One thing we didn't do and wish we had done was getting security lighting in early. Light is the enemy of criminals and derelects looking for places to sleep or do drugs or crime. If you can find a cheap way to get a motion detector light up high early in the project, do so. Also, a faux or even a real security camera may provide a good deterrent as well. Cheap alarms can be a great investment. So can getting to know your neighbors.

The good news on securing the site is that it's fairly easy to do. Once a roof is on, most water problems are dealt with. Most construction site crimes are crimes of opportunity. If they can't easily get in and can't easily see anything worth taking, there's usually no break-ins. If there's a good risk of being seen or caught, it really cuts down on things.

This follows Step 4

The rest of the manual can be found here

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Dry Wall Prepping

So, we're under the gun time wise and we've scheduled the drywaller, Aldrine. The problem is, just like with the Spray Foam Guys (Priority 1), we aren't fully ready for him and we need to get that way fast.

So, it's the Gauntlet again for us.

We had to get the last of the nailing surfaces in place for dry wall and we also needed to level the ceilings with 1x3 furring. This works pretty well, by the way. We used 1 5/8" and 2" screws and keyed off the lowest ceiling joist. We also had to reposition a number of can lights to account for the 5/8" drywall that our Aldrine wanted to use. We have a LOT of can lights.

Another problem was the spray foam. The guys were pretty good, and we did more than one walk through with them, but they still left high spots of foam on the wall... spots that needed to be shaved off. But you can't do it with a utility knife. The foam is tough. You need to use a saw or in some cases you can chisel it out. I like a wood chisel in tight spots and a pull saw on the flat big areas. It was a pain.

We also had a brain killer of a problem trying to figure out how to create nailing surfaces for the attic door way, where the shed roof meets the gable and where it's so low that we need every single inch. In fact, we've only got about 3" of spray foam at one corner between drywall and roof decking. It's only a tiny spot, but we needed the head room.

It's hard to see, but there are several different planes and angles here that I had to find a way to marry and merge while leaving adequate nailing space. Then I prayed that Aldrine could work his magic.

Finally, we had to put the concealment shoes back, along with our own addition, before the walls were closed up. I'm glad we took the time. Maybe it's creepy, but honoring a tradition seems right. And it'll provide another story for someone else in 100 years, I suspect. We did provide a link to this blog inside one of our shoes and wrote it on the sole of another. Maybe it'll be archived in some historic web archive. Who knows?

Here's a link to our prior discussion of concealment shoes, for those who are curious.

Wait until you see the drywall.

Next posting.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Murder On Berry

Not really.

But still...remember "hub-tard"?

Sometimes the stress levels get up there when we are working this hard and fast.

DW decided to make fun on the floor. All the contractors (foam, window, drywall) got a kick out of it.

To me, it was just a warning.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Between the Gauntlets

As we've reached each benchmark, we've had to run a hurried gauntlet of tasks to get ready for the contractors. The spray foam guys needed to have all the furring up on the exterior walls and any fire breaks in place. Because we are "part timers" we often would stop partway through a room and then start up again the next day or even several days later. As such, there were all kinds of missed or forgotten spots that needed 2x4's cut and tap-conned into place. Frankly, taking care of that nearly killed us, but we made it and foam got sprayed, as you've seen.

Then came the prep for the arrival dry wall. We still had some flooring issues that needed to be dealt with from the spray foam. We didn't screw down OSB in the living room so those guys could pull it up and spray the sill underneath. But we wanted our OSB down before the drywall went up and that means that we had to have it in before the drywall came. More rushing around with that, but it was more like a rest between gauntlets.

Then, the drywall came. On a BIG truck. I had to rush out (more rushing, of course) with a tall ladder and a saw to make room for the boom to get under a tree in the ally. Fortunately somebody took a blow torch to a metal post that was up back there a couple weeks ago.

It was a lot of gypsum board. 211 sheets, if memory serves. That's a lot of board, when you consider that much of it was 12' long and 54" wide.

Can you guess how many guys it takes to move that much drywall and distribute it on three floors in 5 rooms?

Let me give you a hint. The operator in this picture was inside the house.

The answer is 2. Two guys. Just two guys.

My job was to keep them from breaking the board or themselves. Now, it was also my responsibility to make sure that I got what I ordered and to make sure that it got placed where it was needed. You DON'T want to have your drywallers moving sheetrock all over the place. Somehow, these two guys got the big wall boards where they needed to be and then stacked the 5/8" boards on top (ceilings go up first).

Then, and I don't know how I did this, but I glanced at the last two piles and saw that I didn't get enough of the 5/8" board. Like 20 sheets shy. It's scary how quickly you can learn to not only differentiate between similar building materials but also develop an eye for quantities. I quickly called the guys over and called the salesman who made sure we got the right material for the order the next day. This is good. It would have been a real hassle to force the drywallers to stop and wit for more ceiling board.

Next up, prepping for the drywallers and seeing them hang.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Drywall is on the way.

It's been a week, and we've been putting up the remainder of the furring strips on the ceilings for the drywallers, picked up the last of our windows for the third floor and have been building new window stops.

The spray foam insulation guys came by today to finish up the cutting back of the foam to meet the wood framing & furring, and left us tanks of extra stuff to spray should we find additional areas we want to cover. We have a few issues still remaining with the spray (and some accidentally cut wires) but I'll focus more on that later.

DH has been drilling 2 1/4" holes in our wet walls and closets, and anywhere he can stick the darned hammer drill with the hole saw to accommodate the new pipes we picked up for the Nutone central vac system. It's partially installed as of this evening. If you're at all interested, and you're doing a rehab where the walls are exposed, you may want to think about this option. Absolutely everyone I have heard about who has one, absolutely loves it. Especially the toe-kick vac. Drop food on the floor in the kitchen? No problem, scoot it over to the toe kick and sluuurp-- there it goes. This is going to be very cool.

The central vac system uses pvc pipes, but special diameter pipes to have enough power to suck the dirt off of the floor on the third floor, so don't just run out and get regular plumbing pvc pipes. It won't work half as well if you do.

The big news is that we have hired a crew to put up our drywall, and we placed the drywall order this afternoon. It's arriving tomorrow afternoon. All $2,500 worth, including mud, tape, screws, nails - everything. The company is Skyline Materials based in Mt. Healthy in Cincinnati, and they'll not only deliver, but they'll bring a boom and lift the sheets in through the window. Also, for an additional $1/board, they'll carry boards from one floor to the next. We needed this additional service because they can only deliver through our 2nd floor window, so all of the boards headed to the 3rd floor have to be carried - and not by me. My back is killing me. Twitchy, painful, nerve pinching type stuff, but as long as I don't over do it, I think I'll recover.

I still have those pics of the firebreaks to upload, I haven't forgotten- just too busy to get to them....

And we still have a fallen tree in our yard. > :-(

Thursday, September 18, 2008

We PASSED!! (The framing inspection)

Okay, looks like second time's a charm for us once again.

I still plan on uploading a bunch of pictures regarding what constitutes a fire break (because it was somewhat confusing, I know) and some specific fixes, but right now it's back to the site to finish up the ceiling lath strips so the drywallers can get started hanging drywall.

It's hard to believe we're almost there.

Anyway, there's one snag in regards to framing-- apparently we need a tempered glass window sash at the bottom of our staircase from the third to the second floor. I knew about the bathrooms needing the tempered glass if you have a shower within 10 feet of the window, but if you have a window in a 'hazardous condition' then it needs to be tempered glass. In our case the lower sash is evidently in a hazardous condition at the bottom of a stair, while the upper sash is more than 60" above floor, so now we are going to have a spare sash. Great. At least we only need to replace one sash and not both.

Also, something I hadn't realized in regards to venting and smoke detectors: You can't have a vent within three feet of a smoke detector. It would blow the air away from the detector, which makes perfect sense. We have an air return within two feet, and that's okay. Maybe even better than not near any HVAC at all.

(note from DH: The inspectors may have saved our lives. People complain, but unless you run into a real jerk, these folks are trying to make you safe. You may not realize it, but they are. Had we not put in adequate fireblocking and breaks...well, in a fire, we might have been dead instead of collecting insurance. the worst kind of fire spreads quickly without setting off your in your walls and ceilings. We'll be doing more on this.)

Now maybe we can get our fence up.

As soon as we get the neighbor's tree out of our back yard...

Monday, September 15, 2008

Insulation, Part two.

Still no electric at the house.... so here I go with another installment of Insulation and You.

This time it's insulation for the walls for the main purpose of keeping the warm side warm and the cold side cold.

Priority One spray foam insulation came last Thursday with a big trailer and long hoses to start the process. They're spraying 2# foam on the brick exterior walls, and 1/2# (quick expanding, but more flexible) foam on the roof rafters. We were barely a step ahead of them, finishing up the furring on the windows and walls from all those times we knocked off at 9PM thinking, "I'll get that tomorrow" and then promptly forgot to finish it until now.

The stuff, once sprayed, hardens within a minute, doesn't smell bad at all, and it really very cool.
They sprayed it inbetween the 1x3 and 2x4 furring strips on all of the walls, and then, when it hardened, would scrape off the excess off of the wood.

It's a light, pale yellow color and when they finished a room, it looked like they buttered the house.

The guys wore full body coverings and masks, and if you decide to do this yourself, I also recommend you do the same.

It took them all of Thursday and Friday to spray the exterior walls and the rafters of the third floor. They'll be back on Tuesday with smaller tanks fill in the small missed areas with slower rising foam that they can use to get in the tiny cracks.

They suggested we get a can of spray paint and mark all the areas they missed in order to speed up the process.

They would've been here today, but apparently a few of them have to repair tree damage to their homes and cars.

I understand completely.

See you tomorrow, guys. ;-)

(Addendum by DH: I am going to recommend these guys, from what I've seen so far. Dilligent and responsive management and lots of responsibility. They WANT you to have a tight home. By doing this process I get significant insulation in my walls without losing a full 3 1/2" on all four walls. That's more than 70 square feet (and nearly 600 cubic feet), if my math is correct -48' long house 16' wide, 2 1/2 stories- I get a perfect vapor barrier and insulation that never settles, never falls out of place, never lets cold air through it, and provides R7 per inch. The alternative without building out the walls is not much insulation at all.

Without spray insulation on the walls, I can't imagine that we wouldn't pay $100/mo. more in utilities. Probably more. Plus, we'd STILL be spending a goodly penny insulating and building out the attic and basement to try to get some decent insulation. At $1200 year, the whole job pays for itself in 5 years. Not the price differential--the whole job. It's a no brainer. The house is sealed up tight like a big igloo cooler and it's done. We can move on once the last holes and missed spots are foamed in.

Now, I COULD have done this myself, but my estimate was not that much less (maybe 20%) than my bid to have someone else do it, take all the risk, and do all the work and all the clean up. I'm an optimist, but I'm pretty confident that I'd waste quite a bit and that I might underestimate things. It's possible that I'd screw up badly too. I don't have to worry about that and I've got time to push other aspects of the job forward.

I think that anyone who's insulating bare walls needs to consider this. If you're local, know that I found this company's bid to be the most competitive, too.)

What's been going on INSIDE the house

In a word, Insulation.
Two different types, and two completely different projects, though.

The first is the firebreak insulation, mainly the rockwool that we needed to fire block the framing that we oh so messed up big time.

We originally thought we just needed the fire caulk (bright orange fireproof foam) to fill the gaps around pipes and such. Nope. We needed more.

Areas like around our soffits, and on the third floor in the ceiling joists needed a lot of help.
Below this soffit (see pic) in our kitchen, there's an area to the side of the wall that has a gap. This is where a fire (or in my silly mind, a mouse) could crawl from one area into the next. If a mouse can crawl through it, a fire can, too and it needs to be plugged with firecaulk or rockwool (rockwool is cheaper, but a lot like fiberglass and is itchy - be sure to wear long sleeved shorts and respirators). Jeff also said OSB is a good barrier. We'll have to use that on the other sides of the soffit.

In this case, we just stuffed a bunch of the material into the area with a shim. That's all it takes.

Jeff Bechtold at NKAPC said we could use two bundles of the rockwool for the whole house, so we went to go get them. They were $35 each and they were MASSIVE. One fit in the back seat, the other one we had to strap in the trunk, making visibility um... bad.

We ended up bringing one back, as we really didn't need that much after all.

We had NO idea they were this big. We paid for them first, then went out to the yard to pick them up. Sheesh.

In the last picture here, Jeff even noted that where the framed walls pulled out from the plaster in the kitchen and created a gap-- that needed to be stuffed with rockwool, too.

There are little places like this all over the house. I can't even take pictures of all of them. It's dizzying.

I thought at first that we might have really screwed up by not installing our soffits BEFORE the furring strips, which would have solve a majority of our problems, but then I thought I really wanted to have the furring strips in first to add stability to the soffit.

I guess it's just a matter of opinion.

Anyway, we were really disappointed that there wasn't much information available anywhere we looked on fire protecting a house like this, so we'll be adding more information on this later, along with before and after pictures of where you need to look for fire break problems.

Just remember to think like a mouse, and if you can connect a vertical space with a horizontal space (like climbing up the wall to get into a soffit) you too can fail a framing inspection.

The second insulation project deserves it's own post..... and now on to Insulation, part 2:

Wind Damage - Part Deux

Well, there are still about 600,000 people in the Cincinnati/ NKY area without electricity. Including the rehab house. Funny thing is that where we live only seven blocks away from the project - the electricity never went out, which is why, of course, I'm able to update the blog :-)

We dropped by the house to see the condition of the fallen tree in the backyard -- more specifically, on our neighbor, Jim's house. It pretty much took the brunt of the cracked tree on both sides of his house.

This first picture is the *tree of concern* and you can see why. Half of the dead branches are hanging from the others. There's a whole section that's hanging upside down.

But really, most of it's being upheld by the roof of the yellow house behind us.

The bad news is he's the caretaker for the rental property with the *TOC*. And now, more than ever, he understands how heavy this burden is.

You can see the huge limb that would have crushed our car in our backyard.

I just got word that most of the traffic lights in Covington are still out, there are power lines still dangerously hanging in the roads, and even telephone poles have been knocked down.

I cannot express how thankful I am to have taken down that massive catalpa tree in our backyard when we did. I have no doubt the damage from that broken down hollowed out trunk would have been more than I could take.

Even down the road from the house, a smaller tree was just completely blown over, taking the power lines with it.

It's gonna be tough working on the house without electricity.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Windy day in Covington. A little TOO windy.

It started about 3PM. It's still going on. They say gusts of wind of 50 MPH.

I say they underestimated. This is Hurricane Ike.

The Ohio River had white caps and a lot of people are going to be calling their insurance companies tonight.

We've been worried that a nearby tree on the property next to us (our neighbor to the West) was old and could fall apart at any time. When we cut ours down and found out it was hollow, we were even more concerned about hers. It became the *tree of concern*.

Today, after the winds started picking up, we drove by the site to see if there was any damage.

There was.

If our car had been parked in the parking area, it would have been crushed by a huge branch. I didn't have my camera with me at the time, so I didn't get a shot of the mess, but when we got home, I grabbed my camera and walked around the neighborhood in the wind, with sand and leaves whipping around so much, it stung the backs of my legs just walking down the street. These are those pictures.

The caretaker of the property (next to our rehab) with the *tree of concern* called us about a half an hour ago to let us know that the tree was blown over even more; not just branches this time. The tree cracked.

It landed on HIS house.

I'll take pictures tomorrow. We're told our house is ok for now.

I'm just thankful that we hadn't put up the fence in the backyard yet. It would have been trashed.

So on our walk within a 2x5 block swath around of our current house, we found about 40 cracked or collapsed trees, 8 damaged cars, many many live wires pulled into the streets, shingles in the streets, store signs pulled off the sides of buildings, siding being ripped from the sides of houses, awnings flying down the streets, broken windows...

And I don't think we've had a moment of silence since 3PM. The ambulances and fire trucks and police cars have been non-stop.

We parked two blocks away from our house.

In a parking garage.