Monday, February 25, 2008

Salvaging floorboards... how to kill yourself.

We obviously have quite a few holes in the floors of the first floor, and although the wood tongue and groove flooring is old, dirty, and altogether icky right now, I have faith. We are planning to use the remaining (non-rotted) wood from the first floor back room to fill in the holes of the cut outs made over the years for plumbing, HVAC and electrical in the front room and kitchen, then sand them and polyurethane them. Yes, I know, three coats.

So, in the past couple of weeks, as I've been pulling up the wooden floor boards in the back room and stacking them in a corner for eventual review to find the sections not rotted or ruined via my aggressive nail pulling and crowbar antics. The plan was to cut out the sections to save and chuck out the rest.

Yesterday, while the husband was cutting out a rotten section of flooring in the kitchen to be repaired with Oriented Strand Board (OSB) [it will be covered by kitchen cabinets, so no need to make it pretty] I began the process of reviewing the floorboards to cut out the sections to be saved. Anything that was salvageable was marked with a pencil line and an X on the part to be disposed of. I went through about 150 linear feet of floor boards, of which maybe only 65 was salvageable.

After pulling nails out, (or if I couldn't pull them out completely, I marked the areas where the nail snapped off, so I didn't accidentally cut through the same area with a saw later on) I used the circular saw to cut anywhere from 10" pieces to 6' pieces of floorboard that we can reuse. The holes that were cut for the old floor vents were about 10" x 10" so any sections of wood that were good, but less than 10" were set aside for making 'plugs', small circular cut holes that can be used to plug up the holes cut for small copper plumbing lines. I'll take some pictures as we get closer to that particular process.

What I wanted to mention at this point was the 'how to kill yourself' section of the blog.

Husband spent a lot of time going through the lead certification process and is very heads-up when it comes to lead dust. We bought the special masks that were rated for lead dust removal (N100 respirators) and it's like breathing through a HEPA filter. But now that the demo is basically over and most (if not all) of the lead surfaces have been removed, wearing the masks was basically reserved for when we were reinforcing the ceiling joists (a lot of dust and dirt falls in your face when you're drilling and pounding into 150 year old ceilings, trust me) and for sweeping up dust on the floor.

BIG mistake.

As we've mentioned before there's been a lot of moisture in the house in the last 50 years, and moreso in the last 2 weeks. The roofers are still waiting for a decent day to return to fix the roof and complete the gutter job, but the majority of moisture over the years has come in from the stack that was broken off and just dumping water into the dirt basement for a long long time. The very same dirt basement that is directly below the floorboards I was pulling up and stacking on the corner.

You ever have one of those moments, almost cartoonish, as if you were Wiley E. Coyote stepping to the edge of a cliff and holding up a sign that says, "hey look, a cliff" and then you step off of it?

Yeah, that was me. After cutting through about half of the floorboards and making rather quick work of the sorting process, it went like this:

Hub: "Hey babe, how are you doing?"
Wife: "Great, hon. Going great. Hey, what's this white stuff?"
Hub: (holding up invisible cartoony-like sign in my mind) "It looks like mold."
Wife: "Oh. Ok. I'll finish up in a bit."

So, I've been using a circular saw for about an hour to cut through the wood flooring with a thick coat of white mold, no respirator on, not even a paper mask, and I've been deep breathing the cloud of mold each time I make a pass. Niiiiice.

It's been about 26 hours since we finished up. It was just about the time the stabbing pain and the wheezing began for me. My head feels like a bucket of cement. My lungs ache. My eyes are dry and red. I am the epitome of good health gone to the seedy side of town.

I woke up this morning at 6:30 to get my office work done, finished up at 9:00 and went back to bed. Husband checked in on me occasionally to make sure I had a pulse. I woke up at 5PM. I'm still tired, cranky and have respiratory fatigue not unlike the days when I smoked a pack of cigarettes a day and caught a mild case of pneumonia after college exams.

So, just a warning to all of you who would think of salvaging wood from a moist area of your home: please, wear a respirator. Learn from the mistakes of others, or join the club of cartoony sign holding dolts like myself.

Oh look, an anvil.

Rehabbing an Old house Manual Step 2: Selecting a Property

This installment follows Rehabbing Manual Step 1.

Once you figure out where you want to do your rehab, then you need to pick your property.

The first thing that you need to do in the selection process is to set your priorities. What are the deal killers and what are the deal makers. That will allow you to quickly cut through a lot of marginal properties.

For us, we wanted more space than we had currently (easy), a passable space for a garden (at least 20'x5' of decent sun), off-street parking, and some minimum level of security (remember we've already figured out what areas we were OK with living in). There were a lot of pretty places that otherwise fit but we could quickly move on once we saw that there was no chance of off-street parking. We could also determine likely/unlikely properties with a google map. That would allow us to see the exposure and possibility for a garden.

Other factors you might want to prioritize are room for kid(s), nearness to schools or amenities, and similar issues.

Another thing to consider is your hard boundaries for the work. If there are things you simply can't or won't do, you need to keep that in mind to quickly eliminate candidates. You should also have a pretty good bead on how big a project you can manage. Can you only do some renovation, but not a full gut? That changes the type of property you can manage. More care must be taken when you won't be doing a full gut, if you hope to stay on budget. There are lots of stories about folks who fall in love with huge mansions and they end up slaves to the project. Sure, they can buy them for a song, but the work involved, even if not extensive, becomes overwhelming when the house is huge. Often the choice becomes either living in dust and construction debris for years, or going way over budget. Don't overreach. The house is supposed to make your life better, not wear you down to a fine paste.

One absolutely key factor to consider is overall quality of the home. We decided that we wanted a brick Victorian. This is because they are rather simple and tend to be pretty sound, and are so common here and that there are lots of folks who have experience working on them. The first thing you look for is soundness. You want good straight walls with NO bowing. Get your face up close and look along the wall for bows. If you can't easily see, get up on the roof with a plumb bob. Look for settling. Take note of any cracks and their nature. Some settling is fine, but if there's a lot, call in an expert to evaluate it. In fact, you should have a trusted evaluator go through your rehab candidates with you. Find someone who has some experience with these old homes. Many things (like a bit of water in the basement) freak out inspectors or folks who are new to old homes, but aren't a big worry.

Check the floor beams from the basement for insect damage. A little is probably OK. Over a century or so, bugs might have infested a place and then been dealt with. If the damage is minimal and not ongoing, it's probably fine. If there's extensive insect damage, you probably want to pass. Also, can an awl and poke the floor beams at the foundation. Look for signs of rot. Again, a little isn't horrible. A lot rot can be a big problem--especially if you're not doing a full gut. Repairs of a few joists is easy. Hidden water damage, however, can get very costly, if you're trying to retain as much of the original work as possible. There's a continuum of easy and hard to deal with issues that changes relative to how much restoration you intend, vs. how much removal of old material is planned. Water damage in a wall you intend to remove is irrelevant, after all.

Do check to see if a property you like is in a historic preservation district. If so, get in touch with the historic preservation officer and fine out what is allowed and what isn't. Get a good grasp of the general guidelines. If you know what you can and can't do and the general cost factors, you'll be able to determine more readily which properties are uneconomic and pass on them. Nothing is worse than buying the property and making plans, only to have them shot down by historic preservation and zoning.

Next: Rehabbing Manual Step 3: Estimating

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Just a quick thanks to Teri for the mention on


Monday, February 18, 2008

Roof Insurance

I took a look at the roof. It was lifting up quite a bit, and it was actually "tented" in one spot. Still, at the insistence of wifezilla, I didn't try any fixes. We moved lumber and did cleaning and hepa vacuuming instead.

That is, until the snow storm blew in. I want to stress "BLEW".

The entire shed roof was lifting off the decking. I paced a bit and then went down for a drill and some deck screws.

I kissed the Missus, promised her she'd not be made a widow this night, and crawled out in the snow. Fortunately, it wasn't too bad. Just some gusts of wind and a little snow with little accumulation. I crawled out the window and up to the peak of the rear roof, where the tin had actually pulled apart and drove a screw in. Alas, I managed to pick a spot right between the decking and cross member so I had to back that one out. I moved down a couple inches and drove two screws on either side of the separation. Then I moved a few inches to either side and drove two more. Then I moved down 18 inches and repeated the process and then down another foot or so.

The roofer may hate me, but at least that roof isn't likely to blow off. I'll sleep better...

As if moving a ton of lumber wouldn't make me sleep better as it is.

We made some progress today, besides that, and there'll be more soon, along with some pics of our joist stiffening work.


Sunday, February 17, 2008

It's still raining.

And the wind has kicked up and oh, yes, tore off all of the felt paper the box gutter fellas put down. It's all over the yard now.

And I think they must have pulled off some of the flashing from around the chimney and the apex of the west roof line, because we're getting as much water inside as the Titanic.

I did take a picture of what I rigged up in the meantime to scuttle the water outside instead of pooling (or freezing) on the floors of both the first and second floor. It's rather rudimentary, but it's working like a charm so far.

If you ever have a REALLY leaky roof and need to divert some moisture out a nearby window, I suggest buying a large roll of plastic and grab your staple gun.

We were told that the Benchmark guys would be back when the roofing materials came in (should be another week, week-and-a-half or so) but I really hope we don't have to wait the entire time with no flashing on the roof.

The winds were howling and we noticed that every once in a while, we'd hear the existing metal roof being picked up and off the sheathing. Hubby wanted to get up on the roof and secure the roofing materials so that we didn't have an even bigger problem than we have now, but I wasn't about to agree to that. Gusts were recorded between 47-50 mph. Yeah, go on, Gidget. I dare ya.

Not on my watch.

The next problem to tackle is the rear door. Everyone seems to think that replacing an exterior door is no big deal. Yeah, that's if you already have a framed in door. -----We don't.

The rough opening for the door is 39" wide by 101.5" tall and 9" deep. The transom was covered over in 1x6 and painted white. The door is
hanging on by a few nails. There's a 6" gap between the 1" door frame on the left side of the door (where the hinges are) and the rough brick exterior wall. If we pull out the door and frame, I fear the lintel above the door will collapse.

I think we'll need to carefully pull the door apart, temporarily support the lintel with a 2x8 and 2- 2x4's on each side, and rebuild the hinge side of the door frame with some connected 2x8's tapconned to the exterior brick, and seal up the gaps with expanding foam sealant. Once the lintel in once again supported, then we can work on the door frame itself.

As you can see in the image here, the pink area is where the lintel is (behind the white painted wood covering). The lintel is supposed to deflect the downward pressure of the wall above the opening towards the side walls left and right of an opening. That's not happening here and explains why there's a small crack in the exterior brick just above the doorway.

You can also see the gaps above the door and on the side. What a pain in the @ss.

On to better news: our first shipment of lumber is scheduled to arrive tomorrow. We bought from Riemeier in Norwood, Ohio and delivery cost is only $35. The lumber is a little bit more versus Home Depot, and I just found out why.

First, the price comparison:

Lumber Size: Riemeier Prices vs. Home Depot $
2x4x10 :......... $2.99........................ $2.69
2x4x16 : ........ $5.69 ........................$4.67
2x8x8 :..........$5.87 ........................ $5.25

So Riemeier is about 5-10% higher in prices, but from what I've seen and what I've been told, unlike the other lumber yards where the toss in about 10% of grade 3 lumber in with their grade 2 lumber and use 5 year old growth, Riemeier uses much older growth lumber (25 years?) so the lumber doesn't twist as soon as you cover it with drywall like the stuff from Home Depot.

I've also been told that the grade 2 lumber is as good quality as grade 1 lumber from Riemeier. I've walked through the drive through (Yes, they have a drive through!) and from what I've seen, the lumber yard is packed with high quality, no warping, no knots, no split lumber.

Also, Home Depot's delivery charge was $65, so if you're getting lumber delivered, overall, it's about the same cost for a small shipment from Riemeier.

But don't take my word for it. Check it out yourself. I'll let you know how it goes from this side when the lumber shipment arrives tomorrow for the reinforcing of the ceiling joists (see bouncy floors previous post) and for furring out the walls with the tapcons.



We were still shipping a ton of water around the chimney. Actually, because flashing and the cricket were disturbed/destroyed by the roofers and box gutter guys in the process of doing their work and diagnosing the situation, we're bringing in much more water than we were before. I'm getting worried about deterioration of the brick at this point.

Sooooo, I gambled on a bit of spray foam. This isn't a solution, of course, but it is a stop gap measure. I sprayed AMPLE foam between the brick and some goofy framing at the roof line from inside. It took a lot of foam, but it seems that the fast majority of the water is no longer eroding my brick. That should hold if we get some more snow or rain between here and when the roof arrives.

I'm sweating bullets about that roof popping up with high winds, too. I'd rather not lose that, thank you very much. That's a water leak that I can't patch with spray foam. I'll be checking on it this morning.


Thursday, February 14, 2008

The snow and ice are melting. INTO the house.

The boxgutters, although off to a great start, aren't finished and the ice that is melting off of the roof where the old rotted wood was removed, is running down into the house like a rainstorm.

Sticking my head out of the rooftop window that looks down on the lower gutter, (and after having a gallon of ice cold water dumped on my head) I could see that everywhere the ice melted, it seeped into the rafters, the joists, down the walls, etc. There was a good 1" sheet of ice on the floor on the second floor under where the two rooflines meet at the chimney.

After rigging up a large sheet of plastic in the corner of the room where the leak (a.k.a major holes in the roof) were focused, I was able to staple the plastic to the joists above and the walls and *aim* the chute out of the window.

I am so tired right now, and dirty, and wet. And it's Valentine's Day. I think I'm just going to go to bed, after a very hot, long shower.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Learn from the mistakes of others.

As a young girl growing up, they told me that there's nothing I couldn't do. Apparently they were right.

Today I did the impossible. I burned myself on the.... (big deep breath) .... the dishwasher.

Yes, the dishwasher. While cleaning out the filter element, I pulled out the lower rack, unscrewed the filters and gave the machine a cursory run through with a little bleach. I didn't realize the heat dry switch was on. That little heating element at the bottom of the pan got me good on the top of my hand while reattaching the filters. *&^%#@!*&.

So today's lesson is this: if it's called a "Heating element" we all now know what to expect.

A look at the roof, boxgutter, and floor joists.

Well, the roof work has begun and last Saturday the fellas from Benchmark started working on the box gutters. Woot!

Much of the framing that the gutters sit on was just total rot, so the first thing was to firm up the supports.

The guys made quick work of replacing the bad wood and set up these new frames, seen from the inside of the third floor at the roofline.

I gotta say, they worked all day and into the night when they couldn't work any longer due to darkness taking over.

So far so good. There are actually 2 gutters that need repaired, one on the East side of the house, which is shown below (nice work on the molding, guys!) and the second is perpendicular to this one, and just above the left side of this box gutter where the two angled rooflines meet in the center of the house. That one's still a work in progress... (but what isn't?)

At this point I want to point out that the box gutter on the front of the house is still in decent shape, but we did have one little problem: The electric lines coming into the house from the street were intertwined with the downspout at the front of the house. Matt Maynard (of Benchmark Roofing) pointed out that this could possibly be a danger to him and his crew, justifiably so!

So off we went to put a call in to Duke Energy to resolve the problem. After a quick conversation we were assured that they would send someone out to inspect the lines. Well, I gotta give them credit, they were quick about it.

They came and took down the downspout while we were out.

I think we'll be calling Duke back.

OK, now on to the floors:

On the first floor, in the Northeast corner of the house (red arrow in above image), we have a pretty bad rot problem due to a defunct (aka rusted through) vent stack between the first and second floor.

In case I'm not being clear here: Hole in roof --> cast iron vent pipe--> hole in pipe dumping water into the wall and onto the second floor joist, down to the first floor joist, maybe for years now.

After pulling up the floor boards on the first floor where the rot started (trying to preserve as much as I could fo the good sections for use in the repairs we'll be doing in the front 2 rooms) I discovered this:

The top center of this image (Northeast corner of the house) is where the vent stack was dumping water into the house. You can see that the far left joist is gone and some previous repairs were attempted to shore up that corner, but they forgot to fix the problem (the stack pouring water into the house) so it's all still a mess.

But here's the killer.... the floor joists themselves.

Let me start with the history of the house. The east side of this room (about 6'x15') was once an outdoor area with basement access from the outside. (see image below) You can see the framing for the door in the floor in the Northeast corner of the room. Since this was once an outdoor area, the floor joists are pretty stable where they once stood under the exterior wall, about 6 feet in from the current East wall.

To support the floor when the original owners decided to expand the back room and encompass the basement access, (expanding the room by 6'x15') they sistered some beams to the existing joists and supported them on the existing foundation.

But then, someone decided to dig.

They dug out a lot of the dirt and half of the wall that was once supporting the exterior wall. They put in some lovely duct work that now is total cr@p.

So now we have this:

Yes, these joists (a solid 3"x10" beams) are only connected by three nails each and overlapping by only 4 inches with no support whatsoever underneath.

The scary thing is, they're REALLY stable.

We'll be shoring these up with a 2x6 crosswise underneath where the joists are joined together and support them with a metal post underneath.

The we'll be placing 2 layers of .5" OSB on top for the flooring.... as soon as we have a roof that doesn't dump water back into the house. :-)

Monday, February 11, 2008

Rehabbing an Old House Manual--Step One

It's time to back up a little bit, to the beginning.

The idea in creating this blog was to provide step by step guidance to those who would follow in our footsteps (as it were). As such, I'm going to back up a bit to step one. Actually, a bit before step one.

Pre-Step One:
The first thing one needs to do in this process is to assess what one is up for and what skills one has. If you don't like repairing things or working with tools and you don't want to learn, don't do this type of project. Not unless you have deep, DEEP pockets and don't care about money.

You should like to learn and like to do projects. You should have some facility with tools and have a desire to gain some new expertise. You should love old homes and the history of them. You should have vision and creativity. You should be willing to do your homework.

Where I started was here:

Renovating Brick Houses: For Yourself or for Investment
by T. Newell and Phillip J. Decker

Frankly, this is a bit dated, but the concepts are sound and very hands on. I got a lot out of it. Don't be afraid to do lots of reading to determine what is in store for you if you do this project and how much you're up for.

So, anyway, once you've established that doing a rehab is what you want to do and within the realm of possibility and financial responsibility, then you can move on to Step 1: Finding a Property.

The first part is to decide where to look. We chose the N.Ky Riviera because it wasn't Cincinnati, it was full of wonderful old brick homes, and was much more foot traffic friendly and all in all more like a real city with real neighborhoods. Of course, the N. Ky Riviera is several Cities (Dayton, Bellevue, Newport, Covington, and Ludlow), but you know what I mean. Once you've got a zone, there are some wonderful tools to help you. Indispensable is Google Maps. It really helps to be able to see the land around a property quickly. If you want off street parking, you can usually tell if such is possible with a quick search. is also useful in researching property values and trends, though I wouldn't rely upon those too heavily.

You'll probably want to find a long suffering real estate agent and work through their listings that meet your criteria. Do them and yourself a favor and research the listings that you think are interesting before you call your agent. You'll be looking at a lot of homes and you don't want to waste his or her time. Google helps on that front as does a good real estate web site. We liked Sibcy Cline . Additionally, you'll want to get in touch with the housing department of whatever municipality you decide on. Often they will own several properties that they are eager to sell to motivated rehabbers. Sometimes, they'll have incentives for you as well; Tax abatement or grants or loans. Don't assume that any price for a property is set in stone, either. You'll also want to look up realty auctioneers. This can be a great way to find a real bargain.

And, don't forget just driving around looking for "for sale" signs in neighborhoods that you're interested in.

Do take your time. You're going to be making a pretty sizable investment in time and money and you don't want to rush things. Try to remain emotionally detached from the process. It took us 6 months or more to find a place and then another year to actually buy it. Believe it or not, we were ready to walk right up the the closing, if necessary. Remember, buying a house is very emotional. That can cloud your judgment or allow others to perhaps maneuver you into an inadvisable selection. Keep your cool, do your homework, and do your leg work. This tilts the odds in your favor.

Next, Step 2: Selecting a Property

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

We have a roofer.... whew!

I tell you, it's been hell finding a roofer who will work with this specified metal--AND who will return your phone calls.

We currently have a metal roof which has seen the last of its days... all 150 years of them. Not bad for a roof lifetime, eh? Also a darn good reason to put another one on, especially now that we've found good and cheap ($160/sq) metal roofing through Modern Builders. They have American Building Components Residential Metal Roofing 26 gauge SL-16 AND it is approved by the City of Covington (CVG) Historic Preservation Officer(s).

We're picking the light stone color, which also got the thumbs up from CVG, as it's pretty close to what we have currently.

We've just been waiting for someone to return a call.

We've contacted more than 20 roofers, some of them just don't do metal roofs, and that's fine. Some of them say they'll get back with you, and then they never do. We've talked to a Lot of them. Maybe it's that it's mid-winter, I don't know. It's a relatively mild winter this year. (Good for us, btw). I'm thinking they just don't want the cash. Oh well.

So here's the deal.... if you are using HUD money to do a rehab in CVG, your contractors MUST be licensed in CVG (not just the state) and be insured, and whatever other hoops CVG wants. I think that cut a lot of roofers out of the loop right away, and I understand that.

But the two that rose to the top were WrightSide Roofing and Benchmark Roofing. They both are licensed and insured, both do metal roofs, and seem like professional operations. Nice guys, too and know what they're doing. If you're looking for a metal roof, I'd give them both a call if you're in the NKY or Southern Ohio area.

We decided to go with Matt Maynard of Benchmark Roofing.
Here's basically what we were quoted:

"Remove all existing metal roofing panels from entire house. Renail all decking. Inspect decking, and if necessary replace any deficient decking at an additional charge of 25.00 per sheet if plywood, and 2.70 per linear ft if 1" pine decking. Install ice guard at gutterlines. Install #30 felt underlayment over remaining exposure. Install new 16" wide, 26GA, prefinished metal roof panels in customer's choice of color. Install factory drip edge and eave closure trim. Install sidewall flashing along rear knee wall and sides of front chimney. Install new apron flashing on front of front chimney. Install new counter flashing into rear wall and chimney flashing(grind/tuck lip in mortar joints in bricks, and seal). Install factory ridge cap metal. Install new valley metal as needed on rear. Install a new soil pipe flashing. Clean up and haul away all job related debris. *Contract includes minor wood replacement on rear shed roof (up to 3 sheets of plywood or 30 ft of 1X) 15 Year Warranty on all workmanship."Price: $4350.00The box gutters will be an additional $1800.

The other thing the City of CVG wants your contractors to do is to sign a six page contract outlining the scope of the work, the bid, payments, a statement of liability insurance, saying they won't eat the lead paint chips, and won't break the law. You have to have that signed if you want Rehab funds from CVG. It's a good thing to look over, even if you're not working with the City. It's a decent back-up contract. Take a look for yourself here. (Adobe PDF Reader Required.)

Anyway, we're making progress, which is what this thing is all about.