Thursday, June 29, 2006

Please! Just don't hurt my hostas!

Here you see my yard yesterday. Peaceful and somewhat pleasing- a nice place to be-maybe even eat dinner.

Today the roofers came...and things have changed... They hurt my hostas. They thwarted some lilies and my lawn is in tears.

As it turns out the original roof was still on the building. This is to say that there has never ever been a tear off done. There were 5 or 6 layers of roofing on our roof. I know we did the right thing because this is way too much weight for our building, but it is not a pleasant for my garden --at all.

Here you see one of the cads that ruined one of my garden beds. Oh he seemed nice enough, but my hostas know different.

Here you see the state of the yard this afternoon- our construction fencing didn't do much good you see.

And here's me after work giving my Dad the low down on the damages. "Yeah, Dad, it's pretty bad..." Don't I look like someone who just got in a car accident or something?

Some good news though: we've got our power back. I think I neglected to mention that during some electrical work here we lost power in half our floor. Hardly a dull moment here this summer.

We're doing okay, but please...say a prayer for my hostas and lawn.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Keeping the crew happy

A little bit of thoughtfulness goes a long way towards building good will. We have a fridge plugged in upstairs stocked with water and Gatorade weekly for our guys.

We want them as happy and comfortable as can be because people do better work under those conditions.

I've read the top complaints from contractors about homeowners are the following:
-Not being paid on time.
-Being asked to do extra work without compensation.

I have to say that thus far we are having a very good experience with our main contractor.
We had some issues with our masonry work and I'll do a post on that soon.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Trim complete

A man, a woman, two little dogs and a mission: To prepare 9 doors, 2 windows and 1900 feet of trim for stripping. I am happy to report that mission is accomplished.

Now all we have to do is sand it all when it comes back sans paint and stain it. No big deal right?

All I can say is nothing could be as bad as the removal of the nails. That is up there on my top ten worst renovation tasks.

Here's a shot of the etching with the Dremel with our marking system. This is so we know where each pieces belongs when we get it back from the stripper.

and here's a current shot of the state of the den. Framing is almost done as is the running of the conduit.

We aren't so sure our roofing company will show this week. This is the busy time of year for them. Frankly, I wouldn't mind if they waited a week.

Steve and I did visit Community Home Supply tonight. It took 2 hours for us to select our bathroom & kitchen sinks, faucets and fixtures. Later on, I will post more details.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

In the weeds (and then some)

Otherwise known as overwhelmed or up to our eyeballs in projects right now.

The den has been completely gutted and there is now plywood over that doorway to keep the dust out. Everything that was in that room has now been relocated to somewhere else in our home, so it’s gotten pretty "cozy" around here. The dining room now houses Steve’s office (formerly in the basement), the den furniture, and of course, our dining table and chairs. Talk about multi-purpose. Thank goodness they made dining rooms large in 1910 so we have room for all of it in this one room.

The living room, bedroom and bathroom are completely “normal” but I had to put all my clothing in an assembled wardrobe in our kitchen. It’s good that my clothes are near the coffee maker – it makes things simple for me. I need things simple right now.

Thursday our Kraftmaid cabinets were delivered as well as our 3 lights from Schoolhouse Electric. Friday, the rest came from Rejuvenation. Ceiling fans came Friday too.

Steve also ordered the patio door Friday at Lee Lumber. We were planning to use Anderson, but we found out that our door opening is not standard and we have to go with a custom door. Our choice was between Lincoln and Marvin. The Marvin window was $1000 more and the main visible difference was that the muttons are on the outside rather than in bewteen the glass. Since money is an object in our life, we had to choose Lincoln. It is by no means a cheap patio door-just not "the best", which is what Marvin claims to be.

Our contractor, Miro Home Improvement, is officially our hero now because he has a source that can get us granite countertops for the same price we were going to pay for laminate. We can now also have an under-mounted sink, which is preferable.

Next week they are supposed to start the tear off of the roof.

This weekend Steve and I must finish (no pressure really) removing the nails and labeling all the boards using a Dremel with our “simple” marking system. Then we can call the stripper guy and have him pick them up.

Monday night, we have an appointment at Community Home Supply to order sinks, faucets, a toilet and bathroom fixtures.

I have to say that we are feeling the pressure of getting materials on time and getting all this wood work finished. Steve also has to make a medicine cabinet from scratch because we want to have storage in the bathroom. However, the good news on this front is that the local wood shop has reopened. Anyone who has read this blog for a while will know this is a total Godsend!

And in the midst of all this, my Mom has gotten really sick. We think she got bitten by a tick on one of her camping trips a few weeks ago and has lyme disease! My Mom is an accomplished energetic amazing woman and for her to go from that to completely bed-ridden in 24 hours is a shock to her system and mine too. Subsequently, Steve will be the main Dremel-master this weekend so I can help my Mom.

"Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans." John Lennon

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Bonus Demolition

The den is the final frontier in the first floor pretty much. The ceiling is a sagging popcorn and the plaster walls are cracking all over. It's where I do my posting so I'll be offline until we set things up in the dining room later this week.

The surprise is that we are having the room demoed while the dumpster is still here. So we are clearing it out right now.

Say good bye to the den for now. Bye-bye den!
It's been fun.

We'll see you soon with new walls and electrical....

Sunday, June 18, 2006

As the wood pile turns...

boards sans nails

You may recall our wood pile's earlier days up in the 2nd floor freshly ripped from it's hundred year ancestral home. Well, wood pile has moved on and is adjusting quite well to it's new home in the garage.

I've decided to call this portion of the project,
"The Saga Of The Wood Pile" because after three full days of removing nails -it feels like a saga.

No, it's not a miniseries nor a short film. In fact, if the wood pile was a film it would be more along the lines of Gandhi or perhaps Reds (the director's cut) with just about as much suffering in it's own right.

Now the wood pile is residing in the garage awaiting it's next tribulation in which it will be branded with a label stating it's location in the 2nd floor. I don't know which of us will find this process more tortuous wood pile or me.

You might notice the wall-mounted sinks at the far end. We picked those up down the street for a mere $45! And I thought deals like this could not be had in Chicago.

Can anyone guess the purpose of the tennis ball hanging by a rope? And bonus to anyone who can guess why we had to put it there.

Saturday, June 17, 2006


Well, the tuckpointing is done. At left, you can see the clean up job the tuckpointers did on the facade of the building. Steve is going mad because on the left side of the limestone over the door, there is a slight angle at the top.

He is quite detail-oriented about these things. I think it looks good- way better than before. I see it, but it doesn't bother me.

Here's what else was accomplished this week:

*Coffered ceiling removed intact!
*Contract signed with Roofing company
*90% of wood have had nails removed
*Debris from garage put in dumpster
*Framing of new 10" ceiling started and framework removed for relocating walls
*Window in kitchen bricked up
* Researched pocket door hardware & pocket doors
*Determined exact locations of walls and closets and marked with tape for contractor.

You know you've arrived when you have one of these in front of your house. It's like Steve Martin in L.A. Story when he says he will know he's "someone" when the FedEx truck comes to his door with a package for him. Kind of the same feeling with a dumpster, yeah.

Today, we were working on the nails again. I'm pretty tired of this task I must say. My hands are giving out of me, but we are almost done!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006 the Press

I was browsing the new issue of Arts & Crafts Homes and the Revival and what did I see? An article about blogs and mentioned was Houseblogs and some of our illustrious members: Enon Hall, House in Progress, House-made, and Prairie Mod. Way to go houseblogs!

If you haven't ever checked out this publisher's magazines, which include Old House Interiors and then special series like this one featuring Arts & Crafts (they havea Victorian Interiors series too), I think they are great for design ideas.

Peace of Mind

Getting the building tuckpointed and a new roof is all about peace of mind. It's true that a building that has a good tuckpointing job looks better, but the main thing is to keep out the water and maaintain the building. Same with a roof. There's nothing glamorous about a flat roof. It's not beautiful like say slate or tile. In fact, you don't even see it unless you go up on the roof.

But there was no way we were going to put all this money into renovating the 2nd floor and then leave the structure of the building to languish. At left you can see one of the areas that was in dire need of repair. This is what you call cracked and spalling bricks.

Here it is being repaired yesterday. This wall supports our bedroom. Like I said, peace of mind. All the bricks in this problem area were taken out and replaced. We were lucky because when the house next store was levelled, our neighbor let us pillage a bunch of bricks for repairs. We knew we'd be needing them and nabbed a bunch. That saved us some money.

Here's a single spalled brick being replaced. We have over 350 of them to be replaced. The front of the building was done more recently and is fine right now.

It's kind of like Christmas right now for me. Every day I come home and see what has been done on the house. Even if we don't move upstairs (we have not decided yet), it will be a good feeling to just know you are living under a place that is in order and alright with nice quiet tenants. Peace of mind...

Somehow, something has changed

Does something look different to you in the photo at left? Maybe something is missing perhaps?

Yes, that's right the awning is gone! In a previous post I alluded to what the future held for our aluminum awning. I'll explain why we removed it now in this post.

The sides of the building are being tuckpointed this week and boy is that a messy job. Even with the windows and doors shut tight, grinding out the mortar joints creates such incredible dust it has left a film on parts of our wood floors.

My entire garden looked like pig pen for the past few days. Steve mercifully watered it and washed off alot of the dust before I could get home and see it.

Back to the awning though. We are having the tuckpointers fill all the holes where the awning was bolted in and clean up a few areas of the brick. We would have had to take it off for the French doors anyway and now we realize once we repair the brick, we can't very well put it back. We will be awning-less until we get our new cloth awnings- probably towards the end of the project.

Since our awning is aluminum and metal prices are thru the roof, we figured it wouldn't take long for someone to grab it. It was left next to our new and bigger dumpster in front of the house. It took only a few hours until some enterprising soul quietly loaded it on their car while we non-chalantly ate dinner inside our house.

Nice tie job.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Weekend Recap

As anticipated, I spent my work-time this weekend removing nails from oak trim. If people are interested, I'll do a post on how this is accomplished with minimal destruction of the boards. Basically I use a vise grips and pull them from the back to avoid making bigger holes in the face of the board.

Some come out quite easily. Others are quite obstinate and can result in smashing of the hands. Wearing heavy leather gloves is not optional!

At left is the wood still remaining to be done. I got most of the long boards finished. On the table behind the fridge, there is a pile of smaller boards that also remain to do.

Here is what was there when I started.

And here's a shot of the finished boards, which I am putting in the garage as I finish.

Steve spent his time on a ladder pounding out the coffered ceiling. The good news is that he has been getting it out without breaking anything. The bad news is it takes a lot of time and his back was hurting today too much to continue.

He'll have to work on it during the week an hour or two at a time.

Steve did treat the bricks for efflorescence on Friday night, which hopefully I'll have time to do a post about later. An architect friend of Steve's also recommended that he fill any gaps in the brick joints with mortar while the walls are open. We may have to pay "the crew" to do this because of time limitations.

Some new developments this weekend... We were planning to have the sides of the building tuckpointed at the end of the project, but our tuckpointing company called us up and said they had an opening now. So, they will be starting on Monday. I will get some before photos tomorrow morning hopefully.

The other exciting development is that when the ceilings were opened up this week, we discovered alot of space up there- a few feet at least between the roof and ceiling joists. We spoke to a friend of Steve's, who is an architect and we decided we are going to raise the ceiling about a foot in the front room. The ceiling will be almost 10' in there after we are finished. This will add to the expansive feel of the room and be proportional since this room is larger than the rest of the place.

...And in the midst of all this, we managed to fit in a nice dinner for my Dad and Dave on Saturday night. After a few hours of nice conversation and a good meal, I felt positively civilized again. But boy are my hands tired!

Friday, June 09, 2006

The week in review

It's amazing how much can be done when you hire a group of professionals to come in and do this kind of work. The 2nd floor is almost entirely demoed. The bathroom still remains, but I think usually they leave that for last for obvious reasons.

To sum it up here is a short summary of what was accomplished this week:
*2nd floor demoed
*95% of debris removed to dumpsters
*Replacement posts put in place
*Light fixtures ordered
*Comparing quotes for roof replacement (I could devote and entire post to this one)

Here's a photo of all the scary black insulation that came down from the ceiling. The previous photo shows it coming down.

Here is a shot of the posts in place.

Here's a shot of some frightening electrical wiring. The entire 2nd floor was running on about 60 amps (4 circuits). It could not run a large a/c to give you an idea.

Next up this weekend: Solving efflorescence and removing nails from trimwork. And that coffered ceiling needs to be very carefully removed.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

A cool breeze

This is the Hunter Original Classic Series ceiling fan that we are getting for the living room in the 1st and 2nd floors.

One of the nice things about where we live is the breeze off the lake. Our building faces east, which is towards the lake that is 2 blocks away from us.

We get a nice cross breeze many times. A ceiling fan maximizes this potential.

People who live in the suburbs or farther west turn their a/c on way before we do here near the lake. The lake in Chicago is a real respite for all, rich and poor, young and old.
Daniel Burnham designed it that way- for all the people.

Around my neighborhood, there are many people
who work to protect our lakefront. Rogers Park is the only neighborhood in Chicago with unobstructed access to the lake-meaning- you can walk down a sidestreet right up to the beach. Most other neighborhoods have expressways between the neighborhood and the park/lake or else highrises have been built right on the beach or there are private homes in blocking access north of the city.

We think it's something special and people around here fight tenaciously to keep it this way.

I'll leave you with a classic Burnham quote.

Make no Little Plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting with growing intensity.

Daniel Burnham, 1909 Chicago Plan

new view

This is the new opening between the living room and former 3rd bedroom/den. I don't think a photo can really give the feeling of the space as it was before and now.

All I can say, is that when I went up on Monday and saw this, I said to Steve, "We have to move up here." We're going to see if we can make that work.

At left those windows will be replaced by French doors, which would give our dogs a street view.

We have to move up there for Billie and Mojo don't you think?

Demolition is pretty much finished except for the bathroom. We are having some dumpster issues. First off the dumpster was late and now we have realized that we will be going through at least 3 dumpsters because they assigned us these smaller ones rather than the really big ones.

Steve argued with them on the phone yesterday that we don't care about a weight limit etc...and finally they conceded they would let us have a larger dumpster- but we couldn't get it until Saturday-too late. Basically, this means we will probably spend an additonal $400 on dumpster fees- what a scam. Live and learn, but if you ever rent a dumpster for a big project like ours, don't let them talk you into some dinky dumpster.

We are really vigilant about the budget of this project. We have a spreadsheet and we maintain it. The more we can stay on or under budget, the more money we will have to finish the reapirs in the 1st floor.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Evidence

As promised, here are the photos showing the tenants bad housekeeping and spite. Don't read this if you don't want to see dead mouse photos.

We found one of these under the stove and one under their microwave cart. I didn't take photos of underneath the refridgerator but suffice it to say many critters spent much time under there and nary a broom ever darkened their doorstep.

I don't think I ever posted about the hysterical "We've got mice!!" phone call from Thadeus. He was beside himself because he had found mouse droppings -in-his-bed! He said, and I quote, "You have to do something about this- this is unbearable for me." Of course, we called the exterminator and we did laugh about it too- he was really quite pitiful. Now if it had been cockroaches and they had come into our unit, I'd have gone in-sane. But we didn't ever have one single mouse visitor or dropping in our unit while he was being ravaged above us.

I realize that having mice in one's bed is a terribly upsetting thing, but the fact that he made no connection to his life of sqaulor and the fact that mice felt comfy enough in his apt. to hop into his bed made us less sympathetic to his plight. Leave food all over, bags of rice on the floor and you're surprised you have mice?

It's over now, but the story was funny and I just wanted to post for posterity I guess.

The "girls" left us this, wasn't it thoughtful of them? They had girl-parties the entire last week they were here.

An empty apartment except for a penis-sippy-cup. That about sums it up folks. Can't wait to see the google searches that find this post now.

In addition to the above, the stove, which was new when they moved in 3 years ago, is now trashed pretty much. Our saving grace was getting them to pay the last month's rent. This left them highly motivated to get their security deposit back, which is how we got them to remove all their belongings.

The place was crammed with stuff- it was getting to be like a junk shop almost- so cluttered. You literally could not walk in half the dining room. Really, we did them a favor. If not for us, they might have ended up one of those people that gets trapped under a pile of newspapers one day. Amen.

Before photos: Part II

Here is the dining room. It looks nicer with the blinds open of course. In here, we are not changing much structurally. The coffered ceiling will be stripped and put back and we are having chair rail not the panelled moulding you see here.

Here you see the living room. To the left of this room is a wall that was added to make a third bedroom. This wall is coming down and this room will be out back to the way it originally was! To me, this is one of the most exciting things about the project- improving the floorplan.

And here is the "den" or third bedroom. Where you see the windows, there will be French doors.

The bedrooms don't show very well. They are small and the only details have been painted over. There is original picture moulding in them, which we removed to strip.
In the middle bedroom, we are moving the south wall out a bit into the dining room to make a larger bedroom. The dining room is the biggest room in the house and our little bedrooms barely hold a queen size bed!

I am sure the apartment looks pretty tidy and you might be thinking, "Oh those tenants of theirs were not so bad." Well, maybe you aren't thinking that, but just in case you are, here is some proof of their misdeeds.

First off, imagine this, you're tearing out moulding and you keep smelling fish oil! Everything they cooked, they used this disgusting (sorry) sauce- the smell is literally in the walls.

And there was cable and phone wire EVERYWHERE- I have never seen so much wiring tacked on in one smallish apartment. It was truly vexing yanking this stuff off the wood trim.

Okay, I was just about to post the evidence of the tenants "mis-deeds" and mistreatment of the apartment and blogger won't let me post any more photos- not fair! Guess you'll have to stay tuned.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Before photos

Things are moving pretty fast- faster than I can post. I thought I'd better get some "before" photos posted of the 2nd floor before time gets away from me.

Here we have the kitchen. The window at left will be raised for counter space. There will be a corner sink, maple floors, and all new everything. The radiator will be pulled and replaced with a Myson toe kick heater.

Here's the pantry, which will be made a bit smaller to enlarge the closet in the 2nd bedroom. Oak shelves, beadboard panelling and maybe decorative brackets.

Here's a view down the hall from the kitchen. Bathroom is on the left side of the hall. 2nd bedroom is on the right. Directly ahead is the dining room and then living room.

Here's the bathroom. The tile on the walls was in pretty bad shape and the window well was rotted. We are replacing the sill with a granite one and tiling the window well. The only thing that's staying is the tile floor and the tub, which will be refinished.

Here you can see the bad tile. There was mold on the ceiling. Our tenants had no sense and never opened the window to let moisture out. They also never opened the blinds-and had seemingly no sense of aesthetics at all.

There will be a Fantech exhaust fan added to the bathroom, subway tile, and period appropriate sink and hardware.

I can't get any more images to post so I will continue with the rest of the apartment later.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Never fear

...we have a floorplan and chart with labeling system and marked every piece with a sharpie as we pulled it. We are planning to engrave the labels on the boards though before we give them to our stripper guy because we are pretty sure his industrial strength stripper will remove even sharpie marks.

Steve's labeling system is pretty foolproof I think. We've done this a few times now for the kitchen and entry and it worked before just fine.

It's amazing what you can do when you have to- plus- our contractor said to us and I quote:

"So, you think you guys can remove all the moulding in 3 days?"

I, of course, took that as a challenge. We did accomplish our goal as of 4pm today with the exception of the coffered ceiling.

Here you see all the wood on the 2nd floor back porch. We hope it doesn't collapse after all our hard work! You can't see the door and window jambs in the photo or the doors. They are out of camera view.

We are going to have a lot of fun removing all the nails next weekend and using the engraver to mark the boards. Then we have our stripper guy who is charging us $1/per foot to strip the boards. After that, we will sand and stain all of it. That will be another marathon I am sure. Some people run marathons, we take on projects- not too much different except you have to train longer for a marathon.

I feel surprisingly OK after all this although I don't look so great. I actually used the Sawzall myself this time to cut the door jambs out. And I didn't even saw my leg off or anything.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

As the wood pile grows...

We have carefully been removing every stitch of wood trim from the 2nd floor apartment. Today was day two and I am pretty darn tired. There are two things that will get us through tomorrow, which should be the last day for trim removal: determination and extra strength Tylenol.

The photo at left was taken on Friday at the end of one days work. The next photo was taken today at about 6pm. Sorry, I was unable to smile for the photo (too tired).

We still have the window sills and jambs to remove and all the door jambs. For the door jambs, we will be using the sawzall to cut all the nails. I will be doing that job.

Steve will be removing the sills and window jambs by hand I think. We took photos of "how-to" and later on I hope to summon the strength to post them!

When we first started the job on Friday, after about one hour of breaking 10+ layer paint seals with a razor knife, I didn't think I was gonna make it, but once the pieces started coming off, hope returned!

We actually did extremely well I think as we had very few cracked boards. We also learned some things about how the 2nd floor was constructed a bit differently than the 1st. In some ways they cut a few corners using secondary wood in a few places and using shallower window sills etc... I could do an entire post dedicated to these differences and probably will at some point.

Maybe the 1st floor was always considered the "owner's unit" and therfore got better quality on a few things. Or else the worker's on the first floor knew more what they were doing when installing window jambs etc...We will be in some cases putting it back better than it was even originally.

The nightmare of it all (hear music from The Omen playing here) will be removing the coffered ceiling.

Steve started to this morning, but after cracking two boards (we can repair them- don't worry), we decided that we will wait until the ceiling it cut out so he can get up above them and pound them out that way. In our place, Steve stripped the coffered ceiling in place. It took him a whole summer basically working weekends.

Wish us luck finishing up tomorrow. I took Monday off to recuperate before going back to work. It's funny because this is about the most sore my muscles have been since we drywalled the kitchen 2 summers ago. I find if I keep moving I don't notice the pain as much. It's once you actually stop working, that it really hits you.

Tylenol and Gatorade are my friends (and you housebloggers too). I'm sure most other folks think us batty for this episode.

Oh, I forgot to mention we had the radiators pulled in the midst of this and thru a mishap(plumber's error) had water rain down into our unit in a few places. Not alot thankfully and no damage to see except for the rusty water that stained my expensive lampshade. Hopefully we can have it cleaned. Gary, I thought of you. Signing out!
(Steve can't believe I'm typing this much with my poor tired hands)

Friday, June 02, 2006

Has anyone seen this?

Old House Restoration Stories

I didn't know Houseblogs was on here!

Submit Your Resource to
Please tell us about your:
your own old house (join our archives)

I see quite a few housebloggers are on there already!

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Post Replacement: Day 2

Okay I know this isn't really that exciting, dingy basements just aren't that glamorous for the most part, but I'm all about the documentation right now.

Yesterday, Miro and crew removed part of a wall (see left) to add another post and poured the footing. They are going to also add a support beam for the back of the building, which contains the kitchen and our bedroom. Our 2-flat was built originally with no support beams for the back side of the building. Maybe this is because kitchens didn't used to have all the appliances etc... This is what we think.

So, since we now have much more stuff than what they had back in 1910 and our building is sagging a bit, we are updating the support posts and beams.

(view from other side)

In this process, we have moved Steve's office out of the dingy basement and into our dining room. I hate Steve working in the basement for a few reasons. It's dingy and not nicely finished and there is still asbestos down there. Now I have been told that the asbestos is only dangerous when it becomes airbourne, but I still don't like him down there. We are now thinking that we will make our den his office and just keep files and stuff down there for him to get at. The den is not big enough for everything. It would make me happy for him to have a nicer environment to work in and I think he would be happier too.

Oh, one more thing. Initially, our contractor wanted to put the posts in after 2 days. Steve thought this seemed a bit fast for dry time and called the concrete manufacturer Quikrete and spoke to an engineer on staff who said minimum 5 days dry time. He discussed this tactfully with our contractor and they are now waiting 5 days before doing the posts. You really have to watch these things it seems. Just like your own health, one has to take responsibility for the "health" of your building- no one cares as much as you do.

Coming up next post...
...and then there were none..the tenants vacated last night at 11:40pm. How do you spell relief? e-m-p-t-y-a-p-a-r-t-m-e-n-t!