Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Who am I missing?

This morning I told my boss that I have started contacting companies that demolish concrete -- and he laughed and asked me if there are any trades left whom I have not had out to my house? We reviewed: carpenter, painter, plumber, electrician, roofer, A/C, furnace (I know, technically HVAC together but it makes for a better story to split them up) wrought iron worker, landscape engineer... And sometime this fall I'll need a chimney sweep. With Tom's help I plan to tackle tree limb trimming myself, so hopefully that's off the list.

I'll do a shameless plug here for Angie's List -- I've had great experience so far with the companies I have found there. (Google it for your area.) The reviews from other people like me who have hired them are invaluable. Thanks, Sara.

What's Under the Tarp?

There something fabulous under this tarp -- but since I am flying to Philly tomorrow for a fabulously girly weekend, the unveiling will have to wait until next week. Drat!

Monday, August 17, 2009

July 4th, 2009: Living with Nature

And when I say living "with" nature, I mean literally sharing my living space. In the days leading up to July 4th weekend, I had heard birds chirping. Loudly. I thought they were in my chimney. I tried ignoring them. But my chair was feet from the chimney, and gosh darn it, those birds were LOUD. I was losing it. I was instant messaging with a friend in Minneapolis, and she asked me if I had actually looked up the chimney. Looked? Up the chimney? And if I saw birds, what would I do? And by then I would surely have scared the bird poop out of them, which would likely land on my face, as I was looking up, right? Not a good scenario.

But then... the chirping just wouldn't stop and the idea of looking had been planted in my brain. I got my big flashlight, moved the very old andirons out of the fireplace, and laid down on my back... like plumbers do under sinks. I tentatively turned on the flashlight and peered upwards. Nothing. In fact, I could see a bit of sky up there -- encouraging. Satisfied I got up. Put the flashlight away. Settled back into my chair.

And heard chirping. But this time the chirping was accompanied by fluttering of wings. Mystified, I got up, and starting bending over towards the fireplace and walls, listening. Oh my gosh! I have birds IN MY WALLS! As in BEHIND THE SHEETROCK!

The next day Tom was over. The chirping and fluttering continued. He could hear it too, and now so could Greta -- who was certain that if she sniffed vigorously enough in that part of the wall where the wood trim met the fireplace brick she could pull the birds out of the wall. I moved furniture to that corner to keep her away. Sensing confirmation of what she already suspected -- prey was in the house! -- she paced and tried to strategically end up in that corner of the room. Night came. I went to sleep to chirping.

The next day I went knocking on neighbors' doors. These were can-do women. I needed help. I was pulling down sheetrock. The birds must be set free. Alas, they were not home.

I emailed a neighbor -- "I have birds in my walls!" She shot back, "Wait until winter. My first year here I had 3 exterminators with rifles shooting tree rats out of trees in my backyard. I nearly moved out of my house the first month I was here." Tree rats? Rifles? Clearly that's a story I must hear, but right now? Birds. Behind sheetrock. And remember the neighbor's story about raccoons and floor furnaces? Insert that story here.

So now it is Friday night, July 3rd. The Friday before a long holiday weekend. 5:50 p.m. I am contemplating a hotel. I call Wild Birds Unlimited, and explained my situation: birds, sheetrock, trim around fireplace... They suggested I call the DFW Wildlife Coalition. I do. The woman on the phone suggested a net. And a friend. And that maybe I should open the windows. Um yeah. The windows that are painted shut. Then she suggested I call 911 Wildlife. A humane animal rescue group. By now it's 6 p.m. -- the phone mail system says they close at 6 but to leave a message. Dubious but desperate I leave a voice mail describing my plight.

Less than 10 minutes later, my phone rings. It's them! They get the story, and tell me they will dispatch a "team" to my house -- will 9 a.m. be okay with me? They will call first. The team leader will be Robert.

Encouraged, I go to bed.

The one man "team" arrives: Robert. he has an array of cool tools and gadgets. Me, I am crouched on a chair in a launch position with my camera. He removes the mantle, removes the trim, and snakes a camera on a cable into my wall and begins making bird noises. Impressed, I joke with him about that being part of the interview process for his job. He says this isn't even his real job -- he's a sociology student. (?!) He fishes around in the wall for a few minutes, "shushing" me so he can listen. Then he sits back and prounounces, "I'm afraid our little friend has shuffled off his mortal coils." ? I have William Shakespeare in my livingroom, making bird noises.

Short cut to the end of the story: One bird didn't make it; it did its final shuffle in a used McDonald's sack. Robert left, 20 minutes later we heard more bird noises, Robert returned, apologizing (needlessly -- those Eastern Sparrows are feisty little things) profusely, located a second bird out of reach, we left it 2 exit routes, and we just hope he flew out and didn't shuffle.

I learned all sorts of helpful tips from Robert. And the visit was only $75 for probably 3 hours of work. He answered all my questions about raccoons and possum, and gave my house a winter critter preventative maintenance review and me a list of things to do. Handy, that. Here's a link to this great resource:

August 16th: Vents -- those breezy little things near the floor

The house is on a pier and beam foundation. And the crawl space is generous, I'm told, at least on the one side of the house where the slope is greater. Many things are under the house -- I'm positive none of them are creepy (although at this very moment I have the crawl space door unlocked and open because I fear I might have an angry skunk trapped under my house... it's... aromatic.) At any rate, one of the things under the house is the HVAC system and all the ductwork. No basements here.

Anyway as a result, my HVAC vents are not up on the walls near the ceilings like newer homes. Not a big issue, really, except that I've discovered that furniture arrangement requires a bit of forethought so that you don't completely block airflow. (A stroke of luck put the wine rack directly over the floor vent -- it's divine how the A/C blows gently on all my bottles of wine! Equal to the beauty of that is the horror that in the winter that same vent will blow heat on my bottles of wine... hmm...)

Anyway, because the baseboards were painted white, so were the metal air vents. I used a heat gun (what a great invention!) and a putty knife, and scraped off the many layers of many colors of paint. It went pretty fast. I sanded down the rough spots, and bought some spray paint in sort of metallic bronzy color to blend in with the new baseboards. I re-installed two. Yes, just two. The other 4 languished on my back stoop for weeks. Other projects came and went, but my 10x6" gaping holes in my baseboards remained. I ran out of spray paint... having not written down the name of the color, when I bought a new can I bought the wrong color. The vents were just the albatross around my neck for no particular reason.

Then I was talking with a neighbor about the possibility that I had birds in my chimney. She told me that since we used to have floor furnaces (exactly what those are isn't totally clear to me) that we have these metal tube chimneys that run from our crawl space up through the roof. I indeed have two of those in closets. She told me until she got hers covered with wire mesh on the roof (there is an asbestos issues to remove them I'm told, so lots of people just work around them) that she had an issue with raccoons. As in, raccoons falling down the tube and ending up in the ductwork under the house. Comical no?

Yes, I thought it was comical too, until I realized that quite possibly those ducts were connected to the current HVAC system, which -- are you ahead of me? -- yes, which open up into those gaping 10x6" holes in my baseboards! All I could envision was a little bandit peering out at me from the baseboards one evening while reclining and watching my favorite episode of Bones. Moments of panic ensued.

But... they passed. Somehow I managed to rationalize that that chain of events simply could not be strung together, and that there was nothing to worry about. The vents languished for a few more weeks. And this past weekend? Finally, the vent painting was completed, and some of the vents were even marginally modified for better airflow, and put in place. Sorry to be anti-climatic -- no raccoons scurried into my living space. They still have a chance though -- if they saw a piece of tin foil they just had to have, they could probably bully their way in -- the vents aren't affixed with screws -- the baseboards are holding them up quite nicely.

May/June 2009: Windows... they open, right?

My house is very bright and airy. I have 4 doors that lead outside -- one of which is a set of french doors so if I really wanted to get technical about things I could say five -- add the pet door (another story...) and I have six! But this post is about windows. My fifteen windows. My fifteen windows that are painted shut. And caulked shut on the inside. And on the outside. Uh huh. Paint, and caulking, inside and out. It makes me wonder what previous owners were trying to keep in... or out...

Nonetheless, I am an open window type of girl. And while I realize it's too hot to have the windows open here now, in August, October will be a different story. And so in my first days of home ownership, in those glorious days when I walked around my brand new, totally empty, waiting just for me house, marveling about all the fabulous projects that lie ahead of me -- but not knowing where to begin -- I set about getting windows to open. And I am trying really hard to be careful not to break the glass (for obvious reasons) but also because it looks like some of the window glass is actually original. It's that cool old timey wavey type of glass.

It was all very romantic. A girl, in her dream house, hair pulled back, a breezy spring day... ah, yes. Just her in her perfect little house, all the months of stress behind her... possibly even humming.

Okay, it took four hours -- FOUR HOURS -- to get the first window open. I worked on it for 2, and Tom worked on it for 2. I now have this handy little tray with seven different hand tools on it... my window opening kit. Honestly. With a bit of practice, we have the technique down to about 2 hours. And of the fifteen windows, four of them open. One in each room. That's enough for a cross draft, right? If you count the 6 doors that open?

I also have the inside part of the two kitchen windows done; but not the outside. When I got most of the inside done, I went outside to assess and begin that side of the window. You know, work the inside a bit, then the outside, and then the inside and then start trying to heave it open? There's this small detail that my street is on a slope. On one side of my house, you can stand on the ground and reach the windows. Okay, you might want a short step ladder. But on the other side! Let's say it's a good thing that I bought the 26 foot multi-position-I-think-it-even-configures-into-scaffolding-ladder, because the OTHER side of the house is quite a different story (no pun intended, really.) I suspect it will take a pan of brownies to bribe Tom into doing the outside of the kitchen windows.

And did I mention that I don't have any screens, and that Texas has the largest flying bugts you have ever seen? I'm certain that we can make window screens. Certain.

May/June 2009: Laundry Space

You see why I was compelled to name this post "laundry space" instead of "laundry room..."

When I bought the house, the laundry room (okay, I give in) was a single door, and there was a stackable W/D inside at an awkward angle. I determined that I could buy a stackable W/D (I owned a full sized side by side set) or I could take the cash I would spend on new W/D and upgrade the laundry area and increase the overall value of my house.

So, you see the before photo -- a tiny space with things jumbled in it, and then the after photos.

I really struggled with doors -- I have 4 or 5 old doors from this house out in the garage, but I don't have 2 that match. I looked many places for interior doors to match the existing interior doors here, and I found them, but gosh they were about $300 or $400 EACH. Yikes. Then I asked Vic if he would make me some (not "could" he, because I know he could -- but "would" he -- and the answer was a firm, "no." I suppose someone had to say "no" to me at some point.)

So for now I just bought two of those cheap hollow doors at Home Depot and took the door hardware off two of the doors in the garage so the hardware does match the rest of the house, and for now that is working fine. We stained the doors and they don't look bad.

After shopping around for laundry shelving that wasn't ugly and failing, (I am one of the few people who is not a fan of Elfa) Tom and I built the shelving over the W/D. We stained and polyurethaned the wood to match the other new woodwork. I intended to use the space for a while, determine what types of things would be stored there, and then add vertical planks for dividers to make cubes. So far that hasn't happened, but wow, what a life saver this storage space has been! (And to the person looking at these photos who likes to look at the background details of photos, rather than the intended subject matter -- stop it! You don't need to know what type of TP I buy. You know who you are... I'm just kidding! )

May/June 2009: Mantle - changed the room!

The mantle also had a jillion coats of clumpy paint on it. First I went to a store that had natural wood mantles at a reasonable price and was really disappointed to realize that my mantle support wasn't a common size. (Shocking! Not.) I was going to strip it and refinish it (recall the baseboards?) I got home from the "mantle store" sort of distressed, and I had a conversation with Vic about refinishing it, whereupon he wrinkled his nose at me and advised against it. (And to be honest, there was nothing fabulous about the existing mantle features.) He instructed me to go to Home Depot, buy a 1x12 and some crown molding that appealed to me, and that afternoon I had a new mantle! I was giddy. Vic is the master. While we were at it, he replaced the trim on either side of the fireplace since it was off. The natural wood mantle vs. the white painted one really was a room changer!

Eventually I'd like to put up crown molding around the ceiling in the living and dining rooms.

May/June 2009: Kitchen Art Nook to Bookcase/Winerack

The small photo with the turquoise paint is the "before" photo from the realtor's website when I bought the house. Then a couple of construction progress photos, and a finished bookcase photo.

I still need a pendant light of some kind for the top -- there is a glass blowing studio by my sister's house in Wisconsin that I am wishing I had ducked into when I was home this summer. I have looked in stores here, and on a bunch of websites, but the ones I like are vey spendy! I will probably find something at a local arts festival and just know it when I see it! Meanwhile, if you find anything great, let me know.

A full wine rack brings me the same comfort as a stack of unread books awaiting me. Stop by for a glass with me!

May/June 2009: Baseboards - progress & completed!

Here you see (1) Original baseboards removed; see how the sheetrock stops about 5 inches from the floor? Nifty! (Not.) When Tom removed the baseboards, pecans and twigs fell out, and he found 4 dead birds! (Poor babies. More on sharing my space with nature in a later post... ahem.) There was also a layer of linen-type fabric, which I'm told was a vapor barrier. Tom also found two very old black and white photos behind the front bedroom baseboards. Super cool! I'll get those scanned and post them later.

One of my favorite things about an old house is it's history: who lived here before me and what there their lives like? I think it's fascinating. At some point, when I am feeling more together and like I have free time (no comments please! LOL) I plan to do some research on the history of my house. My neighborhood newsletter just recently had a step-by-step instruction on how to go about that.

(2) The next photo is the retro wall paper that was revealed in the kitchen! Amusing.

(3) New sheetrock up

(4) Ready for texture and paint

(5) Finished project -- well, some touch up paint is needed, and then there's the question of trim on top. But for now, I am calling this done.

I am reminded of a girlfriend and her husband who also bought an old house. They removed the baseboard quarter round and replaced it -- and she remarked on how much very old dirt they found -- and cleaned out. Now she laughs and says any dirt they find now, they'll at least know it's THEIR dirt! And doesn't that just make all the difference in the world? Yes, it does. If you have ever rented, you know what we mean!

May 2009: Baseboards - before

Eventually I'd like to replace all the white painted wood with natural wood; a daunting project, but so rewarding! The baseboards were the first to go; the house is 80 years old, and the paint was really layered on. Being the green girl, I wanted to restore the old baseboards. Tom pulled them all out, carefully labeling them on the back so we'd know how to fit them back into the same rooms in the right order. I began stripping them. They had been 3-4 colors over the years: gray, burgundy, hunter green -- but most of the layers were white. I was thrilled to discover that the baseboards were all one piece as opposed to a 1x6 with a piece of trim on top. Sweet!

I was not as thrilled when a professional painter in for an estimate on texturing and painting inquired as to where all the baseboards were -- I quite proudly told him I was stripping and restoring them -- and he gave me quite a stern talking to about lead based paint and the related lead poisoning! Oh! Indeed, I did recall signing quite a number of warnings and lead based paint addendums at my closing ... and yet that hadn't crossed my mind...

In the end I opted to put in new baseboards. I chose the plain farmhouse-style 1x6planks, stained and polyurethaned with quarter round at the bottom. I haven't decided if I will add trim on top or not. I've been told the flat surface will really collect dust and dog hair, but so far I am undaunted. I like the clean, plain look. I posted the old baseboards on Craigs List for free (complete with the disclaimer about the lead paint) and a couple in Fort Worth called me, wanting them. They had re-done the floors in their master bedroom and bath with wood from an old farmhouse, and said my baseboards would be the perfect finish for them! I was pleased someone could use them.

See the next post for the baseboard project in the works, and the finished product.

May 2009: Entertainment Center - gone!

Here is a "before" photo of the circa 1950's entertainment center that was in the livingroom, and then a photo with it out, before the wall was patched. (I don't have an "after sheetrock" photo yet.) Several pieces of the unit have been "reconditioned" into other things: The side panels with shelves are parts of two makeshift dressers (using that term very loosely...) and the big sheets of plywood will be installed as attic flooring for storage; I am trying to reuse things when I'm able.

When the piece was ripped out, a hole in the wall was revealed -- maybe 3' x 3' and about 8 inches deep. We think it was to accomodate a large picture tube television. Studs and drywall were added, and then texture and paint.

May 2009: Victor - Master of All Trades...

My boss hooked me up with his master carpenter friend Victor. Vic was the first person to spend more time in my house before I did... he was there pretty much every day for 3 weeks, transforming a few key elements of the house before I moved in. Tom and I helped him out a bit (Tom more than me) but mostly Vic was a one man show. He has a magical white work van... the tools and equipment that emerged out of that van day after day were mind boggling. I often heard Vic say, "Oh, yeah, I have a tool for that in the van!" and, he did.

He expanded the laundry area, overhauled a built in art nook (sorry, K, know how you love that term) into a built in bookcase and wine rack, made new baseboards throughout the house, removed a 1950's (guessing) built in entertainment center, and built a new fireplace mantle (in an afternoon!) He also installed ceiling fans and re-did a bit of wiring, and tore out the very rickety deck.

Vic only told me "no" once -- when I asked him if he would make new interior doors to match the old. Vic is very experienced with construction, and clearly knew how to get the answers he was after. Here is a typical conversation with Vic:

Vic: "Hey, Project Girl, what do you want to do about [blank]?
Me: "Oh, I thought I would [blank]"
Vic: "Why do you want to do that?"
Me: [blank look, thinking] Well how would you do it?"
Vic: "Well if it was me, I would [launch into very well thought out plan]"
Me: "Oh... right... yes, that's what I want to do! Let's do that!"

I have a lot of photos of those projects (and of Vic -- yes, I made him pose, he was such a good sport) and I'll explain those with before and after photos in separate entries. He was a gem to work with -- entertaining and meticulous, and was a total workhorse. I've never seen one person crank out so much work in one day! Thank you, Vic!

I am certain that Vic will make a return appearance in the coming months... even if he doesn't know it yet...

Lists, projects & photos equal...

I am geeky about lists. And I love projects... and documenting them... and I have a big family and a ton of friends. So when I bought an 80 year old house (e.g. lists, projects, photos) apparently it was natural for me to start an online journal with photos of my progress -- or so I've been told. So I've given in to the power of suggestion...

I closed on my house in the first week of May, 2009. I was out of pocket for work for a few weeks after that, then I spent 2-3 weeks doing some renovations to it after that (still living in my old place) and then I moved in on June 20th. Blissfully the departure of my empty moving truck coincided nicely with the arrival of a girlfriend's flight from Minneapolis -- and the unpacking began.

Since then I have been making a LOT of lists, and pecking away at projects ... and taking a lot of photos. It will take me a bit to get this blog up to speed, but I think it will be a cool way for those who are interested in what's happening in my little corner of Dallas to see what's going on.

I just love my new place! I am so proud of myself for being able to pull it off, and I have no buyer's remorse. The street is old and beautiful, my neighbors are great, and Tom and I are having a ton of fun (well I am -- maybe you should ask him...) doing a lot of projects together. I already really love my house, but it has the potential to be just amazing.