Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Back Door Brick Problems

Update to the Update

OK, ok-- it's 145 years old, but come on....

And we did have the earthquake on April 18th, 2008. That sure didn't help much. Neither did the door insertions (original and subsequent).

But the brick from the right corner of the second floor window all the way down to the middle of the back door is just a mess.

After a little digging, we actually discovered that five courses of the bricks under the window (where there's a straight vertical crack) was actually *built* with half bricks. Read: no, they didn't crack in half, someone absolutely brilliant actually planned it that way. Needless to say, two halves were removed and a whole brick installed the way is *should* have been in the first place. Actually, the entire back of the house's brick work is wonky. The rest of the house is so good, but the back is wavy, almost.

The remaining cracks were patched and a few other places where the bricks looked weak, they were taken out and replaced with strong bricks from the fireplace demo.

Now we can prime the back. The Door will be trimmed out shortly as well.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Getting Electrified

We started the process for installing the electric and I have only one thing to say: Ouch.

We're drilling 1.5" holes in the 2x10" dining room ceiling joists (height +10') to run the electric from the panel throughout the house. The current panel is in the basement, but we're moving it upstairs into the dining room for easier access-- (not to mention the fact that the current panel is right where the water comes in from the street. Zzzzzt zzzzt.)

I started by using our hammer drill with a 90 degree attachment - to squeeze into the tight spaces between the joists. I was using a forstner bit to start and a paddle (flat) wood bit to finish off. The forstner bit started off great, but got dull very fast, and the paddle bit had such a long shaft that it was difficult to get in between some of the joists (we reinforced them with 2x4x16's a while back and this cut down on maneuverability quite a bit.)

Drilling the holes in 90 degree heat, well, it sucks. First of all, wear goggles. Not just eyeglasses like I tried. No sireee. Even with better safety glasses on, I was still pulling shards of lumber from my eyes.

And wear a face mask, not necessarily a respirator, but I was breathing in a lot of sawdust without one, and got a cheapie paper mask ASAP, which worked.

And for the love of lumber, wear a long sleeved shirt that buttons at the neck. I was pulling little curly cue slivers out of my cleavage for an hour.

Now here's what NOT to do: Using the forstner bit and with one hand firmly on the handle of the 90 degree attachment and the other on the base hammer drill trigger, once you;re about halfway through the 2" joist at full speed, angle the drill just slightly out of the 90 degree angle you're cutting at. This will successfully get the bit stuck in the hole and the drill will do one of three things, all of which happened to one or the other of us over the two days it took to drill the holes:

1. It will break loose your grip in your trigger hand and although the drill will stop spinning, it will do so momentarily after knocking into your face.
2. It will wrench your wrist so badly it will swell for days
3. It will unbalance you and knock you off your ladder.

Anyway, I have a bruised ego and a bump on the head and DH has two wounded wrists. Definitely not as easy as it sounds, folks.

We got the wire delivered, at least the first batch anyway. You really understand the cost of copper when you start pulling wires, folks. The lights and switch boxes cost about $200, these spools cost about $600.

We're planning on mostly recesses 6" lights for the dining room, kitchen and .. well, most everywhere that we're not putting in specialty lighting (like the drops for the kitchen and the chandelier over the dining room table).

Putting up the can lights now, we needed to keep in mind that the drywall is going to be set into 1x4" furring strips, so we had to adjust the cans lower than it looked like they're supposed to be. It should all fall into place soon enough.

We've also drilled smaller 1" holes along the kitchen wall for electric, and have started pulling the wires, but have discovered that our plumbers have installed a pipe right where we want an electric outlet to be situated, between the refrigerator and the stove.

Looks like we're in for another work around. ...

Anyway, we're working into the kitchen today and should have some more pictures if I can keep the sawdust out of my eyes.

Saturday, July 19, 2008


The painting continues apace, along with pointing and brick repairs. Our painter/go-to guy/contractor noted a major crack in the back of the house (we could see through it), and advised us that he was going to grind/chip out old mortar and break out any broken bricks and replace them prior to painting. Sure as shootin' he was up on a ladder doing just that.

It was a pretty extensive job, as you'll see when I get the photo uploaded. The interesting part about this is that he concluded that the crack is old. Very old. What we thought were broken bricks were just half bricks. He suspected that the brick work at the rear of the house was done by someone different from whoever did the rest of the house. It looked like it to me too as I studied it. Everything else is very plumb and straight. Maybe not square, but pretty close. The back is wavy for want of a better word. Not from settling, either. In any case, we're all pointed up and have cracks fixed so painting can progress.

DW also did a bit more framing on the 3rd floor in 90' plus heat, and I'm working on repairing some badly deteriorated bricks on the front chimney. This is around where a stove pipe tied in and when I knocked out a few of the bad bricks, I found that the chimney was filled with a combination of soot, brick, and mortar...all the way up to the 3rd floor. That would get wet and hold water, and that's what caused the efflorescence and deterioration. So, I'm about half way through replacing the bricks, using a somewhat softer mix of mortar, but not the really soft stuff that I used to point with, as the chimney will be capped and will remain dry. Also the brick I'm using is hard chimney brick. I'll be adding a picture of this, too, as soon as I take it.

One thing I'm noting is that in this hot weather, fans are key, but more important is water. Drink lots of it. I'm finding that I'm getting goofy at the end of the day, and that's a sure sign of not being hydrated enough. We'll be bringing lots of cold water to the site.

That's all for now.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Bricking up the superfluous livingroom door

OK, last post for the day, then we go play *house*

The living room (which used to be the old kitchen) has two exterior doors. The intention was to be able to have external access to the second and third floors so that the house could be rented out as a two-unit. Since we are making this a single family home once again, we just don't need a fourth door on the first floor, nor two doors in a modest sized living room.

OK, now the funny *look what the previous owners did* moment:

The original kitchen, awful as it was, was in the rear (North) of the house. The kitchen sink and cabinets were seated on the East and North walls.

In the picture above, what you're looking at is the Northeast corner. The exterior East wall.

Guess what's on the other side of this wall.

I'm betting you didn't guess an exterior door and window, but there it is.

Yes, the old owners just drywalled straight over top of the door and window, stuffed the space with crappy insulation and left it that way.

With the broken window, you could reach in and pull out the insulation. That also is how the stray cat got in to claim this house as his own before we fixed that. (the hole, not the cat.)

It's also where some of the rain came in.

I rarely say things like this, but what a freaking %$#@*& moron.

Whew. OK, now that THAT is off of my chest, back to bricking up the door you see in the image above.

It was nailed shut. One nail. Freaking %$#@*&.... no... no, stay focused.

We had already purchased a new sill from Tate Building Supply in Erlanger, Ky. It was cut to spec and cost about $60. It took a day for them to cut it. Nice work, fellas. :-)

I knocked the door out, DH pried off the transom (anyone need one?) and removed all of the excess trim. We measured the height of the new window sill from the window closest to it, measuring down from the top of the frame to the edge of the existing sill and marked this height (from the top of the doorway frame) down. This is where we cut the door frame off.

Then to get a level line, we used a string and a line level to set the first course of bricks over the existing door steps. (We decided it would be easier just to keep them than remove them and open a whole new can of worms.) The top step was really worn, and in order to keep with the existing g level of bricks, the first course had to be half-height. So with our trusty brick hammer and brick chisel, we scored each brick all the way around lengthwise, then wonked on the brick to cut it in half. This worked about half the time, laying waste the remaining bricks in a pile of devastated rubble.

The cement mortar mixture was about a 2-1 ratio of cement to coarse sand with a bit of lime, and since we were using the old bricks from the fireplace, old bricks are VERY moisture absorbing. The first mixture I made was far too dry. It needed to be the consistency of melted milkshake, and I needed to move fast. Once set in place, the bricks wicked off all of the mixture within about 40 seconds. This means that you dry fit everything, measured for plumb and level, and moved quickly or you were scraping mortar off of a lot of bricks to start over. I did that a lot at first, but I really wanted the new bricks to match up to the existing bricks on the exterior.

Once the first course was down over the steps (the half-height course) then the remainder just needed to be level, and using approximately the same height of mortar as the existing wall.

It took a lot longer than I expected it would. After finishing the first side, we called it a day. I finished up the inside wall (who cares what THAT looked like anyway) the following day.

The inside run went a lot quicker, since it didn't need to be visually attractive as it would be covered with foam insulation, drywall, etc. We'd never see it. The one important key here is that we did need to have a small gap between the two walls for wicking air and moisture away from the the historic bricks (just like the other walls were built). Cementing them together would have just caused problems. I gave it about a 1/2" gap between the walls.

Once we had the inside run, we needed to connect the two walls with a course of bricks turned 90* to add strength. We matched this run with the existing run along the house.

Once the perpendicular course was in place, we were ready to insert the sill and give the whole thing a dry fit.

We planned for a 10-15 degree tilt towards the outside for rain runoff and gave ourselves a 1/4" of mortar to seal it in. We didn't want to set it on the uncured brick wall, so we decided we'd set it in place on the third day.

The next day, we returned to the site to set the sill in place. We thought this would be the easiest part.


We needed to make several little cuts to the brick in order to fit the sill in place correctly, as the sill is about 2" wider than the actual opening for the window. Four bricks (two on the exterior and two on the interior) needed to have just the corners cut out. Hubby went to work on the cuts with the grinder. Like butter, I tell ya.

At first I was trying to use the brick hammer and the chisel to cut the bricks but it just knocked out a few bricks I didn't want to knock out and caused havoc on the rest.

Anyway, the grinder worked like a charm, the cuts were nice and even, and the sill fit in beautifully. We layered in a big glop of milkshake mortar and slid the sill in place.

There were still small gaps underneath the limestone sill, which we just pushed the mortar underneath with our fingers until it was packed in. (Note from DH: latex gloves are cheap by the box and they really save the hands from caustic lime and abrasive sand, brick, and stone).

Then we set the rest of the cut bricks on top of the sill at the corners, then set the OSB plank in behind and secured it in place until the new windows arrive.

Not too bad, and should look just fine once it's painted, which is also coming along nicely... but that's another post and I've reached my daily limit.



Stop by later to see a better "after" shot. We'll add it to this post.

Also, DH thought we should try to pad the budget, (becasuse we NEED it!) so we're entering this post in a contest at, so here goes the gratuitous plug so everyone else can play, too: “This post was written for as part of a sweepstakes sponsored by True Value.”

That was easy enough. Heck, the easiest project all week!

The rest of the dropped ceiling

After the laundry room ceiling was in place, we then went to drop the ceiling above the tub. That was easy enough. We dropped it to be about 10" lower than the rest of the bathroom ceiling for a stepped effect.

Then came the rest of the bathroom ceiling.

We decided to do this in three parts, since the space was larger than the laundry, and would no doubt be the heaviest pieces we'd have to hold in place while leveling them- before nailing.

The good news was that we discovered that since the door to the laundry was separated by a wall, we didn't have to match the height of the laundry ceiling as we had previously thought. That was good news as we could raise the height by a full 3", giving a little more exposure to the top of the window, where we want to not crowd out our trim.

The hard part was that the ceiling on the east side of the room turned out to be a tad bit trapezoidal at the top of the room, off by about 3/4"- smaller closer to the East wall-- which was lucky for us, because if the trapezoid was larger towards the wall, I have no idea how we would have gotten the ceiling frame piece in at all. Serendipity.

As it stands, we lifted the first piece and set it on top of our two ladders, then we climbed up, lifting the section with us, with the air hose for the nail gun delicately draping over Hub's left foot where he could reach down for it, not dropping the ceiling on his head which would no doubt throw me off of my ladder as well, killing me instantly.

We both lived.

The smartest thing we did was get 4 2x4's in place in each corner before we got started so we could reach over and lodge the 2x4's under the floating ceiling while we adjusted the height and measured for level. (note from DH: That was smart, but the smartest thing we did was get a chop saw so that DW could make those nice accurate cuts that allow tight clearances and ceilings that almost don't need supporting.)

Those 2x4's were sorely needed.

Once this piece was in place the next two were easy. On the last piece we decided to be a little clever.

The last piece was the rectangular area above the entry to the laundry/bathroom, about 42" x 5'. We decided to raise this area an additional 8" to give the additional step down. Then I nailed the floating corners into 2x4's I dropped from the original ceiling joists. Damn, no picture. Maybe later today I'll get one (check back soon as we'll be adding it to this entry).

Bathroom almost ready.

Complex Closet - Done. Dropped Framed Ceiling-- Done.

Well, it's been a week since we finished up the master bathroom/laundry room closet. We wanted to start there because we felt it would be easier to drop the whole ceiling with the center of the room hinged firmly to the ceiling joists. I think we were right. I just can't imagine trying to lift all of those wood sections without something to hold them in place.... ah, but I'm getting ahead of myself: the closet.

First of all, which wall to square it off of? Well, Hubs made the decision to parallel the South of the closet wall off of the South bathroom wall. So far so good, but then we kinda ran with it and squared all of the other closet sections off of that. Probably not the best of ideas.

As I've said many times, "Closets are the perfect place to hide all of your f**kups." So when squaring off the North side of the closet, next time I'd recommend paralleling that side of the closet wall to the North room wall instead of the South. It's off a fraction, and most likely never noticed, but I'LL know.

Anyway, getting all of the sections to be square, plumb, level, and parallel was an absolute feat.
None of them are any of the above, of course, but the compromises made in the teeniest of degrees and millimeters will no doubt be lost in drywall. It looks just fine.

It took two days. The first day was building all of the sections and dry fitting them, the second day was installation day. The first was physically grueling, the second one made my brain collapse. Luckily, the hubby survived.

An interesting note: We've gotten to the point that we can measure and cut sections of lumber to within 1/32" of any needed fit. This means that we rarely need any shims, but frequently find a sledgehammer of use. After the closet was built, we started int he dropped ceiling framing, and lifting these sections into place and not having to hold them up while they are leveled and nail gunned into place was a life saver.

Here's what we ended up with:
Doesn't look too impressive, does it? I know. Weird how much planning and work goes into something I'm just going to hide the cat letter box in, anyway.

I wish there was a way I could take a picture and show the whole framing, but when the ceilings are 10' high, I'd have to back up too far, and all you'd see is the Sea of Lumber. So here's the bottom sections.

First is from the bathroom side of the closet (Facing North) the second is facing South, from inside the closet/laundry area.

What you can't see in the second picture is the doorway and wall section connecting the closet to the bathroom wall to the East wall of the bathroom, and the doorway into the hallway.
There's a lot of interconnections going on here.

The third picture is the top of the closet with the drop-cut out to fit around the HVAC ductwork on both the north and south sections of the closet, and as you can see, we've already installed the dropped/framed ceiling in the laundry room, which was pretty easy, actually.

Now the dropped/framed ceiling in the laundry room:

Find the lowest level of the duct work. Frankly, I just climbed the ladder and looked around. I took the 4' level with me to make sure it was indeed the lowest section in the area and market that level on the wall.


The all caps yelling is because I know some... ahem, who have thought, "Okay, we'll put it (whatever thing you're trying to build) up *there* (raising your eyes to some area unreachable ether above your head) but I'll take the measurements on the *FLOOR* where I can get straight lines and more accurate measurements."

So, no. Don't do that.

Walls slope. No 10' long 2x4 is going to be perfectly plumb, and certainly not a whole wall of them. It'll be close, but when you're cutting within 1/32", you need to measure exactly where you'll be setting your whatnot lumber extravaganza (or in this case, 'a ceiling"). Get up on the ladder and do it right the first time.

We built the laundry room ceiling in two sections, east and west, then raised them up, squeezed them into place delicately with a sledgehammer, leveled then nailed it in place, using the closet just built as an additional nailing surface.

Welcome to the Sea of Lumber.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Old insulation versus new insulation.

There's still interesting stuff to find in the walls of the house.

It reminds me of my grandmother who used to stuff crumpled up newspaper into nooks and crannies of her house to keep the cold out during the winter. Of course, this would turn into mouse and squirrel nests in the Spring, but what the heck.

We'll be using spray foam insulation, I think a major step up.

Apparently insulating with newspapers was more common than I thought. We found bunches of newspapers, whole sheets, twisted long-wise and then poked between the joists and the exterior walls of the first and second floors. Most of it was dried crumpled up and unreadable, but I salvaged a few gems.

I particularly like Coke ad and what they thought was good food.Seems you could serve an old shoe on a plate surrounded with festive looking peas and as long as you served it with coke, you had a winner.

They were obviously snorting it instead of serving it.

But the real favourite is the car advertisements, if only to garner a sense of inflation in the past 50 years.

a 1956 Chevy for $1283
a 1954 Buick for $983
a 1949 Buick (with a HEATER!) only $198!!!

Does anyone know what Hexaclorophrene is? Do you really want to?

And then there's this tidbit of time next to the soup ad on how to conduct yourself in a conversation so that the other person knows you're interested in them.

"Say, Bob, heard about your job being cut in the paper last week... that must really suck."

"Jenny told me that your daughter just graduated at the top of her class at Berkley, congratulations! When does she start her new job at McDonalds?"

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Should have known better - a lesson on gloves.

The lesson is this: buy good ones and use them.

I've already been through three pairs. First the finger tips start to wear, then holes appear, then you get frustrated and just cut the fingertips off until you get round to buying a new pair.

Recommended: leather (cha-ching), pig skin (cha-clank), or my personal cheap fav, nylon with velcro wrist closures. I'm about ready for another pair, too. The index fingers on both hands are worn through and cut off.

On the last set of gloves the worn holes in the fingertips of the gloves became such a pain, snagging on boards and nails, that I stopped what I was doing, frustratedly ripped off my gloves, set them down on the saw table, took my utility knife from my belt and slashed through two of the glove tips, put them back on and returned to work. Ten minutes later, hubby came into the room, saw the decapitated glove fingertips -- right next to the saw, of course-- and had one of *those* moments.

So my latest pair of nylon/velcro gloves (in a smashing red-black ensemble) are about shot. I dove into the 'glove basket' looking for another set to wear, and came up with a sad third place choice in cotton. Better than nothing, you're were about to say? No, they're worse. They are actually cr@ppy garden gloves I bought at Big Lots for .$70 each and are probably good for painting or maybe brushing the cat. They snagged on everything lumberish, became very hot and uncomfortable very quickly, and in my dogged pursuit of the inextricably idiotic, I grabbed them off of my hands and tried to throw them out of the window. I missed. Both times.

I then proceeded to quickly measure out a stud for the closet we're building on the second floor, when the left hand let loose the measuring tape end as the right hand was holding onto the base of the tape... with my index finger holding steady the side of the tape as it stuck out... and then I made a noise. It must have sounded like what my hubby felt when he saw those amputated glove tips next to the saw.

The tape measure retracted with a snap as it sliced through the underside of my right hand index finger at the first joint like a steel paper cut.

OK, I'm a huge wuss.

Wear your gloves.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Building a complex closet.

It shouldn't be this tough. I mean, it's a closet. But it's a freestanding closet that needs to be built before we can drop the rest of the ceiling, and it needs to coincide with the new HVAC ductwork running above the bathroom/laundry. (laundry north, bath to the south)

The duct work comes down about 10" from the joists on the East side of the room and covers the entire span from the North side all the way to the South side of the room, so we have to build the closet frames with 'cutout' areas.

We also have to build all three sides separately. The long wall (the North side- pink, green and blue panels in the plan below) will likely need to be built in three sections, because the extension of the closet to the West is the framing for the doorway into this laundry area.

The other two sections, the east (yellow) and the south wall (bottom blue), shouldn't be too much trouble as they'll both be one piece wall units... but sheesh, the North wall's gonna be a b*tch, particularly because of where the adjoining pieces connect. The first is in the middle of the closet door, so that needs reinforced.

I'm thinking we build the door frame area first, then the wanky ductwork wall, then fill the spaces in between with what we've been calling "ladders". This way we can put the easiest piece in last and make sure it fits on both sides.

Oh, yeah, the floor's not level either. It slopes to the east, so we're making sure the closet door opening will have to be measured particularly well, and capped on the underside of the top opening with an additional 2x4 so we can shim it to ensure it's level. This entails making the closet door opening an additional 1.5" tall to start with, but I think the additional bracing will be helpful in joining our various walls together as well.

If this sounds confusing, imagine what it feels like in my head. Then we get to figure out how to frame in & drop the ceiling to match the ductwork height.


This last picture is looking through the South framing wall of the bathroom toward the North.

Hello, ducts.

Day-After Notes from Mark: H is really like this. She draws out everything given a chance. It actually really helps keep us on the same page. We discovered one wrinkle, however. That drawing is about 3.5" off on the hallway to the west of the closet. Basically, we're not going to be able to run that North wall as one continuous span from east to west. We're going to have to build out the door jam 3.5" north. A clumsy miscalculation while framing weeks back now requires and elegant bit of problem solving.

A few walls are built and leaning up out of the way. We ought to be able to finish this one today or tomorrow. We'll get pics up of the "elegant solution" when it's up.

More paint decisions

I've tried to determine the paint layout on the decorative corbels under the front boxgutter. Thinking that they're only going to be seen from three stories below, I didn't want them to look too cluttered, but couldn't pass the opportunity to add some color.

We've decided on the pewter base, the green (main house paint color) for shadow, and a burgundy accent.

I hope it doesn't suck, because the painters told me I'm not allowed to make any more changes.