Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Old House Horrors

Besides the occasional haunted house, there are some pretty scary things we old house rehabbers have to deal with right? And, no I'm not talking about the bills this time.

In honor of Halloween, I thought I'd post some of the scariest things in our building. Of course they are all in the scary basement now since we've renovated almost everything else. The back porch should really be on the list because, well, because it's very old and it starting to separate itself from the building. I can't help but think of my mortality when I'm on it- especially on the 2nd floor.

Then, of course, we have the area of our basement that I like to call our own personal Blair Witch project. Otherwise known as...the crawl space under the back porch.

Go on, I dare you, Crawl around in there and see what's up. I think C.H.U.D. lives there. And yes, I did see that movie (in the theater!).

Of course the most terrifying would be anything that is a serious threat to our health and safety. I'd say the crumbling asbestos insulation in the basement more than qualifies in this regard. (Don't worry- we never ever touch it- except when I accidentally bump my head on it a few times a year)

This one looks like something from Star Wars. Can you hear it? It's saying "Danger Danger Will Robinson!! Danger!!" Now....I hope you'll share the scariest things in your home so I can rationalize how not bad mine are- won't you please?

Happy "Old House Horrors" Halloween from Chicago 2-flat!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

It's a keeper

Without further ado, behold the iron railing. It's been such a long time coming, and it went up so easily (we did not install it so easy for me to say), it's almost anti-climactic.

We like it. We think we'll keep it.

And for those of you who missed the saga of the iron railing, or those who care to take a stroll down memory lane, let's do a recap.

We started our journey with a desire to get rid of the tacked on panel on the front of our building. We suspected that at some point, the original french doors were removed so the space above the entry could become a small third bedroom.

Here you see a view from inside the small room before demolition.

And as you can see, that view has changed.

Here is a close up of the railing. It is very true to Steve's drawing. Three coats of Sherwin Williams Industrial and Marine Coating in Black later, it looks more wrought-iron-esque than when just primed.

This is going to sound like bragging, but our welder told us that a customer came in and saw our railing in his shop and said, "I want a railing exactly like that one." Damn. We really should have copyrighted that design.

And we have a few more things planned for the front of the building. In the Spring, we plan to put in a nice cloth awning.
And eventually, Steve plans to build double doors, which will be bringing the building back to what was originally there also.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Review: Pratt and Lambert Varnish

We used Pratt and Lambert 38 Clear Varnish in Dull for all the window sills and shelves on the 2nd floor. This included the pantry shelving and all the shelves in the closets.

I applied one coat, waited a day, sanded lightly with 200 grit sandpaper, wiped the area clean, and then applied a 2nd coat. While it feels like there is a coating, it doesn't look like it. There is no shine. We are pretty much anti-shiny when it comes to wood at our house so we are very happy with this product.

As you well know, we like to feel our wood. Nothing can separate us from the feel of oak under our fingers- nothing! As a result, all the furniture Steve makes is treated with linseed oil and then fumed, and it doesn't have a surface that is difficult to repair like a high gloss finish would be.

Steve used the same varnish for the medicine cabinet this week only he applied the maximum of 3 coats.

It's still dull, so we are happy. We like things dull.

But tomorrow, get ready for some excitement when the iron railing goes up.

On the tenant front, still no tenants. I'll do a separate post about that tomorrow hopefully.

Tip on polyurethane:

It's important to use the same based product over another. For example, when we poly'd our radiator covers, we used a water-based poly because the paint we were coating over was water-based. When coating over an oil-based stain, use oil based poly. Also, never shake the can or you will get the dreaded bubbles. Note the stirring stick in first photo.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Flat Roof & Parapet Story

I've posted here and there about the roof and parapet, but I never really shared the whole story. It was definitely a complex problem that we had to deal with and well worth sharing. It really illustrates how many resources there are out there for finding solutions to your home improvement problems.

We had our flat roof torn off in June. This uncovered a our very deteriorated parapet wall. Our roofing company said, "Just cover it up- no one will ever see it." They were going to put our new rubber roof right over it and bury the problem. We were not so sure this was the right move.

First we called up the mason that had just finished tuckpointing our building to ask his opinion. He said "If the roofing company says it's okay, I wouldn't worry about it." We didn't trust his judgement, so we called up a Mason we found on our Angie's list to come out and take a look. A salesperson came over and said the entire parapet needed to be completely rebuilt and this would cost about $6K. Now we had 2 entirely differing opinions about what should be done. The roofing company probably wanted to just finish the job and get paid. Our original mason didn't seem to want to come back and didn't care much (We won't be hiring him again). And the new masonry company wanted a job ($$$).

Steve then went to the Masonry Association Website . He actually called them and spoke to them about our situation. They said, "It sounds like you have a bunch of charlatans on your hands. What you need to do is hire a Masonry Consultant that does not do work; they just evaluate the job and make recommendations."

Based on this discussion and the referrals they gave us, we hired Walter Laska from Masonry Technologies Inc. to come in for $300 and tell us what should be done. He came out and provided a written report, a detailed blueprint (actually a sketch) and a material list. The consultant also said that our parapet wall was one of the worst he had ever seen condition-wise (deteriorated mortar joints, spalled brick etc...). This confirmed our gut reaction to seeing the wall and our hesitation in covering it up.

Shortly thereafter, we went to a our Masonry Supply store and purchased all the materials needed, which included Chicago common brick, different types of mortar, flashing, roof caulking, and much more.

Steve spent evenings and weekends grinding out the deteriorated joints. It kept raining, which delayed the work repeatedly. We also were living with a temporary base sheet that the roofing company put on, which is not a real roof and no gutter. It just kept raining and we kept getting more nervous about leaks and damage if this temporary roof failed. We had just renovated the 2nd floor and alot was at stake if water got in. We also were having water leaks in our enclosed back porch, which was not good for the structure.

Had we not had so many other projects going on and winter coming, we could have finished the job on time to get our roof completed for fall. (The roof job was on hold for completion until the parapet walls were rebuilt) Steve did manage to completely grind all the joints out, but alas that problem of not enough time came into play.

We were extremely fortunate that we had our contractors around (the ones who renovated the 2nd floor this summer and were still on site working) and they volunteered to help finish the job. They happen to be from Bulgaria and were laying bricks at the age of 7! According to them, lumber is scarce in Bulgaria and everything is brick, concrete and stone. They did a great job- very tidy work and with 2 guys finished the job in 2 full days. Even though we had to bring in outside help, we saved about $3K doing it this way over hiring a mason to do the entire job.

Here you see the roof tiles that run around the edge of the parapet. Steve chipped 100 years worth of tar off of every last one. I told him we have the tidiest roof in town now.

So even though this was by no means a disaster, it was quite stressful while we were figuring out what to do and living with a single asphalt base sheet layer for a roof. On windy days, I would just cringe.

Just last week the roofing company came and out the roof on. I'm sleeping much better since then especially when it rains. Now if we could just find the right tenants for the 2nd floor!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Our Punch List is knocking us out

In case anyone thinks we've been lounging with our feet up this past week, I'm here to report otherwise. I did take a mini-break from blogging though. We've made some real headway on our final Punch List for the 2nd floor, but we still have some things left.

At left you see Steve's medicine cabinet. It needs to be varnished, and then he can install it.

We decided to accept the iron railing this week and Steve picked it up. We have gotten 2 coats of paint on it with one more to go. Our contractors will install it this coming weekend- very exciting! Here's a sneak preview.

We also had our favorite electrician come and clean up our phone wiring in the basement. There were wires all over the place and we are trying to tidy things up down there. This, of course, made me look around the basement more closely and see again all the bx wire and hodge podge electrical work down there. The basement needs ALOT of work and will be our next area of improvement. I think we will do alot of that ourselves to save money.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The return of Scrappy

He's back knawing on our pumpkin like he did last year. And imagine my surprise when I opened my back door Sunday and caught him on my stairs walnut in mouth! We both froze and stared at each other and then he scampered up the stairs. I, of course, ran to get my camera and document this infraction.

At the same time, Steve was up working on the roof parapet and so the ladder was out. I knew the 2nd floor door was closed so I wasn't too concerned about Scrappy getting inside. As I headed up the stairs I heard the sound of little squirrel feet on an aluminum ladder.

I got to the top and there he was laughing at me from above.

I feel like the greenskeeper in Caddyshack or something. Only I won't blow up our house to get Scrappy of course.

So, some of you out there have mice issues, we have Scrappy to deal with.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The Dark Side

Sometimes it beckons. It waits until you're feeling weak and then makes it's case...

"Come on, you know you hate this house. All it ever does is Take Take Take. When is the last time you went to a movie? Remember manicures and buying shoes on a whim? Remember sleeping till 10:30am on Saturday mornings and then walking to the coffee shop up the street for a cappuccino...? Remember having time to kill?

Jocelyn You belong in a newly gutted condo. You could sell this place and pay cash for one of those. You wouldn't have to deal with tenants or maintenance...I know you really want this deep down- I can feel it. Jocelyn, the dark side is waiting for you. It's where you belong."

Me: "No, no no!!! Stop it- shut up. I love this MF house god dammit," gritting my teeth and grimacing with determination. It's true I don't love being a landlord, but this is a great investment and with a condo we wouldn't have a yard like ours or the original wood work and details. Our place says home more than any new condo could be for us. "

Dark side: "Remember what being well-rested felt like? Remember taking your dog to the lake every day for a walk? How about that social life, it's really hopping now isn't it?"

Me: "Dark side, that last part was really a low blow. I'm starting to think you are a real asshole. I'm going back to work now."

Footnote: Steve and I definitely need a break. We are almost at a spa weekend point (at least I am). This 2nd floor project has officially whooped my butt this year. Remember how I fell in love with the 2nd floor a while back? Well the romance has soured and left a bitter taste. I will be so relieved when we get tenants in there and we will not be able to work up there anymore!

Friday, October 13, 2006

The "kee" to my closet

It's funny. Sometimes I'm writing a post and I think, no one will want to read this- it's so pedestrian. And then I post, and people seem to relate and comment. Such was the case with yesterday's post about my closet.

Closets are one of those "old house" problems that many of us seem to grapple with it seems. Some of you asked how I set up the closet so that I could have a space for long items and then double bars on the other side.

The "kee" to this was our use of Kee Clamps.

Kee Clamps are industrial pipe fittings. They come in a variety of sizes and shapes for different pipe or railing configurations. Since they are industrial, they aren't the most beautiful (they are not polished) but they are incredibly heavy duty.

They are tightened together with an allen wrench. You can probably find brass versions, but I'm sure they are more expensive and let's face it, we have a humble working class 2-flat and we think kee-klamps fit right in here.

Here is a close up of the kee clamp at work. At left I have long clothes hanging. At right a double bar.

If you continue down to the floor you have a floor flange that secures the vertical bar. We used closet rod hardware (heavy duty) to secure the bar to the floor. We also bought the highest gauge steel rods we could find. We had to use a diamond blade grinder to cut it because a hack saw and a pipe cutter couldn't cut through it.

Suffice it to say, this closet ain't going anywhere anytime soon.

By the way, the company (we ordered from Fastenal) had a large minimum order for these, so we have quite a few left over. As soon as things wind down here, I plan to offer some of this up for sale on the Discussion Board or eBay. They run about $13/each.

Tonight we made one of our Home Depot marathon shopping expeditions. You know, the 3 hour kind. Among a myriad of other things, we bought some more oak for a few more shelves for my closet. My shoes need a home.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The girl's gotta have it (a closet)

I wonder how many of us out there have lived without a closet for a period of time? I did this summer and until recently because my closet is in our den. As you may know, our den was completely gutted this summer.

My new closet may not look like much to you with grander closets- but you should have seen it before. Jam-packed with stuff and no light inside. The door had a full size shoe rack and I was constantly bumping into it and shoes would fall on my head. A real treat in the morning when you are getting dressed for work.

Living in a smaller home, you learn to maximize space and be innovative with storage. You also learn to not accumulate stuff and get rid of unneccesary stuff. I believe this is a gift.

I am trying to make my wardrobe simple and not filled with things I never wear.

The new closet has double bars, but has space for full length items on the left. Before my full length items would drape over the lower bar and become a tangled mess.

Perhaps the biggest improvement will be the shelving up top. We are going to add a shelf for a row of my shoes. I am going to have to have a little step stool to get at the top stuff. I plan to keep the floor clear for easy cleaning.

We're not entirely done as I said, we are adding another small shoe ledge and some hooks for purses etc... But I believe when we're done, I will be able to see everything I have, which is key.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Iron Railing Revisited

You may remember my post about the iron railing that Steve and I designed and were having custom built by a welder for our quasi-French patio doors. I posted a while back about the problems we encountered with this project.

To refresh your memory, our welder went ahead and fabricated the railing without waiting for our final measurements and specs. I just don't get how even when you tell people over and over in so many words, "I'm picky and I want this done exactly to my specifications. I will be providing you with a to scale drawing to work off of," they still go ahead and do what they want and damn the consequences.

We are experiencing a similar phenomenon with our tub refinishing company and I'll do a separate post about that.

Today, Steve drove to the south side to see the railing in person. As it turns out, the railing looks quite good. It's just quite a bit taller than we wanted. We decided on about 41 inches high and he made it 44 inches. Three inches might not seem like a lot but proportion and scale are important and it is really a shame when we had something custom made that we should have to compromise.

Funnily enough, while Steve was at the guys shop, he heard him on the phone with an attorney talking about putting a lien on someone's property for an unpaid bill. ejem.

We are going to put some masking tape along the exterior where the railing would go to try and get an idea how it will look. I am more inclined to accept it as I want a railing real bad and it looks nice. Steve is more hard line in case you hadn't figured that one out yet.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

There's something I haven't told you

Okay, I will now confess that I've been keeping a BIG secret off the blog. Part of the reason I couldn't post it is because it was a surprise for Steve's birthday, which was last week.

Let's put it this way....it's the "best birthday present" he's ever received. Can you guess what it is?

It's a Bosch 4000-9 portable table saw with stand!!

He tried it out a few nights ago and his initial comments were, "Runs like a Rolls Royce, is very precise, and very well constructed." I think this is going to make Steve's woodworker life much easier. (I promise to post a full review at some point.)

I really wanted to give him a good present for being such a good project manager this summer. He dealt with contractors interrupting him all day long with questions while trying to work and he had to deal with any and all
problems while I was at away at work.

So, I had it delivered to my Mom's house. She lives about a mile away. I had no idea how I'd get it over here, but hoped it would fit in the trunk of her car. It didn't. Of course we figured this out on Steve's birthday, when I was over to pick it up and bring it home for the big surprise.

So what did I do? I put it on a dolly and rolled it home. I wish you could have seen the look on Steve's face when we rolled up the backyard with it. He was in the kitchen making dinner and turned around to see me and my Mom outside the back door with this huge box. I said, "Honey, look what I found in the backyard. I think we should keep it."

I'm just happy I was able to surprise him, even if I had to roll a 131 pound saw one mile through the neighborhood. It was well worth the sore shoulders.

Tenant update: One promising candidate came Saturday, but no deal yet...

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Punch List

We're down to the punch list for the 2nd floor!
Our contractor has pretty much finished his punch list- now we have ours to finish.

On the list:
*Fill, sand, prime and paint 3 radiator covers. (about halfway there as of tonight) At left you see them before I started- kinda dingy looking.

*Finish and install the masterpiece (medicine cabinet). We just ordered the glass shelves yesterday.
*Scrape kitchen & front door jambs and then stain them or paint them if all else fails.
*Touch up wood on staircase.
*Detail clean staircase corners.
*Replace carpet (maybe...)
*Clean back porch and remove old fridge.
*Clean up basement.

It's alot of what I call "busy work", little things that add up to alot of time. Cleaning up thoroughly after a big construction job takes alot of time and energy, but we're getting there.

And after all this, we can start on what I really would rather be doing- work on the first floor finish work.

I have 2 closet doors to fill, sand and stain and then install.
And we are going to add some built-ins to my closet.
Then we'll get the den office set up for Steve.
And after that, we can build our own pantry shelving unit.
Okay, I feel like going to bed now.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Ol' Man Winter

"Ol Man Winter, Dat Ol' Man Winter
He mus' know sumpin' - But don' say nuthin'
He jes' keeps rollin', he keeps rolling along!
Hammerstein and Kern (sort of)

Others have alluded to this. We have been feeling the pinch of winter's imminent arrival with our roof project. Steve had ground out all the joints in the parapet wall, but time was ticking and it's been raining ALOT lately, which has delayed the work getting done too.

So, we had to call in our heros from Miro Home Improvement to help him finish the parapet. They are not masons, but they did a beautiful job. And best of all- it's done and we can now have a real roof put on.

Look, a rebuilt chimney. What a sight for sore eyes.

Here you see a close up of the parapet wall rebuilt. Note the zinc plated metal rod inserted between the two courses of bricks. In case you're interested, this is to minimize seasonal movement of the top of the wall, which is prone to rapid deterioration due to the elements etc...

Our masonry consultant recommended this because the parapet wall is not very tall- only 6 bricks tall. Clay coping tiles will go along the top of the parapet.

I am really glad this is done. Every time it rains, I cringe because of our lack of a complete roof. We only have one layer on because this brickwork had to be finished. We should be getting our finished roof within a week.

I think I have nerves of steel after living with a temporary roof for 3 months now.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Fun with the Bonsai

Steve's parents came for a short visit this weekend from Michigan. We took some time off from work and did some fun things.

We visited the Chicago Botanical Gardens, which is truly an amazing paradise. We had fun at the Bluegrass festival, the annual bulb sale, and with the bonsai displays as you can see.

How can you not love this mini-forest?

Wait! Take a picture of me with this bonsai!

Random thought: If I was rich, I'd have a bunch of bonsai and an expert bonsai caretaker. It's a good thing I'm not, so I can't be that person.

We also got rides on Steve's sister and brother-in-law's new Kawasaki Vulcan.