Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Demolition in earnest

Since starting demolition this past Sunday I've spent another two afternoons knocking down walls, removing drywall, plaster, and lath and piling the debris in three of the four rooms upstairs. We're beginning to run out of room. Miles reminded us today about our old brick piers that need to be "repointed" (this means the crumbling mortar needs to be ground out and replaced) and that we should be careful of piling hundreds of pounds of debris in the middle of the floor. We'll need to order our first 40 yard dumpster soon, and start the back-breaking work of hauling debris out of the house.

Demolition is invigorating and satisfying. It's amazing to see how quickly the feel of a room changes as it goes from relatively pristine white walls, to uncovering the old lath or old paint. It's also physically satisfying to swing a 3 or 8 pound sledge hammer and feel the old 2x4 framing or plaster and lath give way. There are very few culturally acceptable opportunities for an adult to really take out aggression and tension on real objects, but demolition is a great one (and by the way, if you're in the area and want the opportunity to experience the primal thrill of putting a hammer through a wall, I've got extra hammers and respirators!)

The other thrilling aspect of demolition is discovering what's behind the cheap dry-wall. In our Mallard Ave. house we discovered old bead-board walls and ceilings, as well as old wood floors under carpeting and vinyl. Our biggest discovery in the middle house, though, has been mild fire damage in what is the future dining room. 

It looks like the fire started to the right of the fire place and partially traveled up the wall to the ceiling. The majority of the bead board ceiling only has charred paint, but we did lose about 2 feet of it near the wall, and some joists in the ceiling are a little charred. All this damage was just covered over with drywall, waiting to be discovered by the home's bright-eyed and bushy-tailed new owners. Fortunately the damage doesn't look too bad, but we won't know more until demolition is complete.

In the coming week(s) we need to take all of the first floor down to the studs and get the debris out to the dumpster, and then we need to get the basement down to the studs and then remove the plywood floor in the basement. We now know the previous owner built the basement on an 8x8 beam sitting on the ground. This is obviously a bad idea, and the beam has probably already started to rot. We'll need to look and see how the earth is sloped underneath the floor, and then we'll need to evaluate if we can afford to properly rebuild, frame, and finish the basement. Otherwise we might just build a utility area for the time being.

We'll have more photos of progress and demolition real soon.

p.s. Does anyone have ideas for creative re-use of old building materials? We will have piles of old wood lath, a few old 2x4s from framing, and maybe other materials. I'd love to be able to prevent some of these materials from heading to a land fill. Help me!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

First Floor Plans

Two weeks ago, we sat down with Sara to talk about the nitty-gritty of our proposed floor plan. Aside from wanting to get the best plan figured out, we needed it in order to submit the application for historic tax credits, a process Sara is guiding us through.

Matt and I had gone through each room and measured it - roughly - and I'd drawn up a couple plans based on these measurements with our new ideas. We gave these to Sara and talked through a bunch of issues we'd come up with (more on those in a minute), and here's what she sent us a few days ago. It was so exciting to see a plan NOT in pencil on grid paper!

And here's the rough plan for the basement:

One thing we talked a lot about was the main-floor bathroom. (We keep calling the main floor "the upstairs", but that's only in relation to the basement; it's a one-story house with a 600-ish square-foot full-height  basement because it's set on a steep grade.) Anyway, the bathroom is fairly large, and Sara proposed dividing it up into a master bath, accessed from the bedroom, plus a half-bath accessed from the hall, for guests. Our friend Georgia realized, however, that if a family had two bedrooms upstairs, there would be nowhere on the same floor for the front-bedroom occupant to bathe—without going through the master bedroom—if this were the case.

The other issue here is the staircase landing, since right now there's only one place where the bathroom door could be accessed from the hallway. But re-routing the stairs is an option, and may change that.

We played around with the 1.5 bath idea, including having two doors into the master bathroom but just one into the half-bath; keeping two doors into the master bath but adding a linen closet. In the end we decided a) there isn't that much space to work with, and b) we want to keep costs low, and a guest bath is kind of a luxury. But I'd still like to see if we can figure in a closet accessed from the hallway for linens and/or cleaning supplies, especially since the kitchen is so small. So we may go back to the drawing board in that area.

The staircase is another area we're still playing with - where the treads start and end, what use could be made of the space beneath, how to let the most light in to the dark downstairs. For this I keep feeling the need for a 3D model - might have to make one out of paper! I like what Sara drew up, though.

Here are her plans of the exterior:

We'll be back with more plans and thoughts soon!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Breaking Through

What a satisfying thing it is to break down walls that were never meant to be there. Matt spent a couple hours today taking out the left hallway wall that a previous owner tacked up to make a quick buck by renting out each room separately to different tenants. We have some neighbors who lived in one of these rooms for a time. They report horrible and unsafe conditions, and fortunately didn't have to stay for long.

Above: The view from the doorway between the living room and dining room, looking toward the front door. You can see how great it will be to have a sidelight next to the door, and how much grander and brighter of a room this is now. Here it is cleaned up a bit:


I came over as Matt was getting to work on the second section of wall, which blocked the future dining room. Bye-bye, cheap, crappy trim!


Note: um, we usually work with masks and gloves. We were temporarily out of dust masks today, and I think Matt left his gloves at home... but I don't recommend working without either. What can I say? He was excited to get the walls down!


I took a few swings with the sledgehammer, but mostly for the camera's sake; I have a sore shoulder and Matt is responsible for all the great progress today.  

I popped over next door to chat with Shannon (who lives there, with her mom and kids) and Lisa, who lives around the block on Oakwood. These days were made for porch-sitting.

But back inside, Matt was getting things done martial-arts style.

A couple details we noticed, which we snapped photos of for documentation's sake just in case anyone ever questions whether that wall was really original: first, the original plaster wall hiding inside all the dry wall, with baseboard inside as well, which wouldn't have been there if the hallway had existed. 

And in the living room, the same baseboard clue: someone built the wall right over it, leaving proof of the original (and far superior) floor plan!

Coming up next: our first professional floor plan draft, along with details about working with the lovely and talented Sara Lachenman of Four Over One Design.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

General Contractor/Consultant

Old Durham Dairy Milk Bottle found in the crawl space of 614 N. Queen

Today we met with Miles Honeycutt to hire him as the General Contractor on record, and as a consultant to make sure Jessie and I don't make big mistakes which will end up costing a lot of money. Miles has worked on two important home rehabs in our neighborhood, including a limited role on the Clapp-Ferguson House, and as the primary role on the Petty Home. He has also won a Pyne Preservation award for the Furman-Nunnamaker House in Old West Durham.

Miles is a really upstanding guy and we're looking forward to working with him. Based on how he has conducted himself with our friends at the Petty Home, we really can't recommend him highly enough. Please contact us if you're looking for a general contractor and we'll put you in touch.

Creating a rough budget was on the agenda for today, and it looks like we'll be able to stay inside our original projections, although the structural condition of our basement could be a very big problem. Currently, the wood floor joists for the basement are sitting directly on the dirt floor. We will need to consult with our structural engineer to see how much work it would be to create space under there, and then we'll need to determine if it is worth it. Our spacious 4 or 5 bedroom house might change to a two bedroom with an unfinished basement.

We also found some fire damage in the attic, it looks like our chimneys are beginning to crumble, and the tin roof might be beyond saving as well. None of these issues are surprises though. On the positive side, we have a good subfloor underneath our hardwood on the first floor, and there were not any major surprises from our first inspection with Miles. The test will come next week with our inspector/structural engineer pokes and prods a little deeper.

Work and posts should start to come more often now. Hold on to your seats.