Thursday, December 27, 2007

Corbin Mortise Locks

Most people I know make the assumption that people who lived a while ago, whether that be 100 or 5000 years ago, are somehow inferior to us. We take a patronizing view of them and their world. "They didn't have the Internet. How DID they stay informed of world events." "They must have worked so hard cooking without a microwave." "Without a refrigerator, they must have been close to eating spoiled food all the time." And so on.

I try not to fall into this trap. I try and remember that they were people, just like us, with the same basic needs and desires. In some ways they were more creative than we are, because they had to come up with solutions using a more limited set of tools or ideas. And yet, every once in a while, I fall victim to the "They were a simple people living in a simple time" syndrome.

The House of 42 Doors came with approximately 42 locks as well, but unfortunately, it did not come with 42 keys. I have about a dozen keys. Like so many other things in the house, the locks in all the doors are the original, 1921 mortise locks.

Previously I had noticed that a majority of the doors in the house have a small hook screwed into the frame towards the top, presumably to hang up the key for that door. I thought it would be nice to do just that, but the problem remains, that I have 42 doors and insufficient keys.

One afternoon several weeks ago, I took all the keys and ran around the attic, the upstairs and the ground floor trying each key in each lock to see if it would work. The keys have Corbin stamped on the top of the key (the manufacturer of the lock) and a letter/number code stamped as well - P2, P6, P8, P9, P11, etc. I carefully wrote down which key fit which lock - Office, P11; Office Closet, P2; Guest Room, P8; etc. Based on this, I was going to decide which door to hang which key on. I still have a few orphaned keys with no locks and a few orphaned locks with no keys.

Last night, we had to take the door to the basement off of its hinges. The new washer and dryer are being delivered today, and they won't fit downstairs unless the door is removed. This is one of the few doors remaining that I did not test the lock, so I trundled upstairs, grabbed the keys, took them back downstairs and tried the lock. The first key did not fit. But the second...well the second went in, turned and promptly got jammed.

The next hour and a half was spent taking apart the handles, the key plates and the mortise lock to get that stupid key out. I took the time to polish one of the brass plates and to oil the lock. While polishing, I found myself thinking how horribly inconvenient and time consuming it must have been to try so many different keys to open a lock. After all, who was going to remember that the office door took a P11 key, or the kitchen door took a P10? And if it was dark, it would be impossible to read the stamp on the key - P2, P4, P5, etc. What if you lost a key? How would the locksmith know what key to replace it with? Would he have to take the lock out of the door and take it apart? What if there was a fire and someone needed to get out? I had visions of some poor maid burning to death while trying to go through every key on the key ring in hopes of finding P12.

Then, when I was putting the mortise lock back into the door I noticed that stamped onto the lock itself, in small, inconspicuous letters was P8. In other words, not only are the keys stamped, but so are the locks. I wasted all that time running around trying keys, and on top of it all, I almost broke off a P9 key in a P8 lock. I guess that those "simple" folks were pretty clever about matching locks to keys.

If anyone has any Corbin skeleton keys, P series, please let me know. I'll be happy to buy them from you.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


Another week has gone by and I find myself sitting at work, marking time. The year's projects have been completed or the budgets have been expended. My colleagues in Ireland have the day off (St. Stephen's Day) and a majority of my colleagues in the U.S. are off for the week. This leaves me one part apathetic, two parts relaxed and two parts contemplative. Boredom hasn't hit yet, as there are a large number of mundane things that need doing, all of them necessary, but none time critical. It's a nice place to be at the end of the year.

Those of you who know us know how busy 2007 has been. We filled it with almost every possible stressful event possible, with the exception of a wedding and a death (thank goodness). We moved internationally, had a child, sold a house and bought a house. And if you're reading this blog, you know that the House of 42 Doors is not a stress-free house.

I think that in the last 12 months, I've accomplished more than in any other year of my life. And it's made me realize that life is entirely too short. This epiphany is made all the more poignant by my upcoming birthday. I'm very soon reaching the second half of my life, if I live to the average age of an American male. I come from fairly long lived grandparents (one in his seventies, the other three in their nineties) so it is also possible that I'm nowhere near that 50% mark yet.

It's said that the more you know, the more you realize how little you know. It seems to be true with doing to. The more I do, the more I see that remains to be done. I don't know if I'll ever get to see the House of 42 Doors "done", but I do take comfort in seeing a little progress every day.

And of course, there are all the other projects and goals that remain outside of the House of 42 Doors. After reading some of the letters and blogs of our overseas friends, it made me "awaysick". I'd still love to live over seas again - someday - much, much further in the future. There is the all-grain, beer brewing contraption I want to build. And the mead that needs making. And the hops that need growing. And the gardening that needs doing. The Spanish or French I want to learn. The MBA and architecture degrees I want to learn. The marathon I want to run. The book I want to write. The tower I want to build. The blacksmithing I want to learn. And on and on. As I said, life is too short.

We had a great Christmas. It was just the four of us and we started a good number of Christmas traditions in our family this year. we are fortunate enough to have a real chimney in our house, so Santa could make his entrance and exit in the traditional manner. In addition to the cookies and chocolate milk for Santa, we left out some whiskey. We asked our oldest (now three) if Santa preferred Irish or Scotch whiskey and the very emphatic response was Scotch whiskey. He must have liked it. It was gone in the morning (along with all the chocolate milk and most of the cookies).

Santa left a sled for the girls. We took both of them out and pulled them around the yard until I got entirely too tired (I think I see an exercise resolution for the New Year coming). The youngest, who is eight months, wasn't too excited with all the pulling and running though. She fell asleep on the sled while Pumpkin pulled her. We transferred her inside and Pumpkin and I stayed outside to play in the snow. We hid in the snow caves (underneath the yews in the front of the house), threw snowballs at each other and dug for buried treasure. When I asked her what kind of treasure, she replied "yong, yost" (her l's are still coming along).

The day was capped off by a fabulous supper cooked by Ms. Huis and a movie after the girls were in bed. Here's hoping that next Christmas is just as enjoyable. Hope yours was too.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Settling In

We've been trying to get ready for the holidays, like everyone else these days; shopping, putting up the Christmas tree, decorating the house, etc. And my parents will be arriving the weekend after Christmas, so we're also trying to get the house put into some semblance of order for them.

We have ordered guest room furniture and are hoping that at least the box spring and mattress are available before the guests arrive. We bought a full size mattress, so hopefully it will fit upstairs without having to be lifted from the ground over the first story railing and then into the back second story door.

We've bought several floor rugs and put them down. The electrician is off until January 7th, so we'll be putting down some of the other rugs too.

Most of the wiring is done, although we still have several lights we need to purchase and one I still need to rewire. So far we're very pleased with the work that has been done. There was only one screw up where he deviated from the plan.

The snowblower is fixed and since then it hasn't snowed an appreciable amount. Not surprising really. When you're ready for something, it seems to never happen.

There's still plenty to do, but it finally feels like a home. Wednesday night I grabbed a beer, sat down in my chair and turned on the television. I watched TV for the first time in...I can't remember when. It was American Idol and I only watched for a half hour. The act of sitting and watching TV seemed decadent and hedonistic.

I find watching American Idol an almost complete waste of time, so it was absolutely perfect for that occasion. All I wanted was to waste some time.

The floor in the living room has continued to settle, rather alarmingly. When we moved in, the gap between the floor (which is sinking) and the mop board (which is nailed to the wall and therefore, not sinking) was about 1/2 inch (1 cm). Just small enough that I couldn't get my fingers in there to pull out the toys and other strange bits. when I looked over the weekend, the gap was approaching an inch and a quarter (3 cm).

I supported the sinking joists with some posts in the basement until I can get the floor supported properly. I suspect that the floor is not sinking that much. Part of it is just seasonal humidity variation. Yes, I know. Ever the optimist.

On a side note, I just finished reading The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. If you are a foodie, it's worth a read. He writes well and has some good points. I've asked Ms. Huis to give it a read, so we'll see if she rates it as highly as I do.

I'm looking forward to having a few days off to spend with the girls. Christmas will only be with the nuclear family this year, but its nice that it will be in our house - the house we make payments on (its not really ours until the bank is paid off).

Hope all of you have a safe and merry Christmas

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Sounds of Silence

A quiet evening. Enjoying a beer. Listening to the house. The clank of dishes. The creak of a floor board. The pitter-patter of little feet...Wait, the girls are asleep. What is that sound? Not feet. Right. Of course. The roof. Guess I better buy some more buckets.

Monday, December 10, 2007

On Its Way

It shipped! It shipped! I never thought I could be so excited about a bit of copper, plastic and gold colored rayon. My spool of wire is somewhere between here and Willington, Connecticut. It should be here this week. Once I get the wire, I get to rewire the lights. Once the lights are rewired, the electrician can hang them up. I'm hoping that by Christmas we'll be done with the contractors and we can live in peace.

I'd never heard of Willington before, so a quick Google led me to their municipal site. Looks like a pretty cool place to live. Check out the beginning laido course. Just under it is a class for basic foil fencing.

We got a ton of things done over the weekend, due almost wholly to the visit of the in-laws. We were able to buy a guest room bedroom set, a rug for Penguin's room and a rug for the living room. And we got several boxes unpacked. Thankfully the snow held off (they were predicting another two to four inches on Saturday), which was great because the snowblower is in the shop for a tune up. FIL and I looked at it on Saturday and concluded that since the quick fix attempts didn't work in repairing it, there were probably better ways to spend our time than taking apart a carburetor in an unheated garage.

What I really wanted to get done, but didn't, was dropping off the white oak to the sawmill. It is surprising how heavy a six foot long, 14 inch diameter piece of white oak is. Those that know me, know that I am definitely not a hulk of human being. The better part of my energy seems to go into something other than muscle growth (not fat either, so I'm not sure what happens to it). And with a sedentary computer job, my raw lifting power is nothing to brag about. Still, both my wife and I could barely lift the largest of the four logs that we saved from the tree trimming we did immediately upon taking possession of the house.

A little bit of research online suggested that a log of that size would weigh between three hundred and four hundred pounds depending on wood density and water moisture content. Rolling it to the trailer was difficult, but not impossible (especially when I used metal pipes underneath it as rollers). Lifting it up to the trailer, however, was impossible. So I took a cue from the ancients and have been slowly using 2 x 4s to create cribbing underneath it. Once I get it to the height of the trailer, I hope to just push it forward off the cribbing onto the trailer. That's a "this week" project. If I don't write again, you'll know it didn't go well and I was crushed under several hundred pounds of oak tree.

I hope that the neighbors are enjoying the show we're giving them. We've had two diggers out, had the electrical pole removed, trimmed up trees and now we have a six foot log resting fifteen inches off of the ground on 2 x 4 cribbing. All of this is, of course, perfectly visible from the street. I wonder what they'll think when I start boiling up maple syrup in the backyard?

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend

One of the things that I love (and is also very frustrating) about the House of 42 Doors is the continuous stream of discovery that occurs. In the past, people have made decisions about how to do something and most of the time they made the best decision they could with the information they had at hand. Trying to figure out what they were thinking is what I love. Dealing with the consequences of their actions is what is frustrating.

I have written some about our new plumbing, but I have left out some juicy details (nothing too gross, I promise). Last Friday we had a meeting with Don the plumber to go over what was done, what remains to be done, problems that arose and the final bill. So here's a recap of the "Let's Replace Our Sewer Project."

What We Did

  • Replace the soil pipe from the basement ceiling, all the way out to the sewer main, 75 feet behind the house. This means, tearing up some of the basement floor and digging the backyard up.
  • Replace the drain pipe from the kitchen sink to the soil pipe.
  • Add a floor drain next to the boiler.
  • Add a wash sink so that the washing machine doesn't have to drain into the existing floor drain.
  • Plumb in the original 1921 kitchen sink (with the original faucets) in the basement.
  • Add a new stack for the "someday" first floor bathroom.
  • Abandon the cistern overflow drain and fill in.
  • Abandon a mystery sewer clean out in the backyard and fill in.

Why We Did It

  • The cast iron sewer line under the basement floor was almost fully corroded through and backed up frequently. The previous owner had a nice collection of ten plungers to attest to this fact. I guess if one didn't work, he went out and bought another. More plungers is certainly cheaper than a new sewer. Ironically, the owner probably put in cast iron because it was seen as more durable than the more fragile clay tiling at the time. They didn't consider the effects of rust I guess.
  • Our municipality is upgrading the sewer mains and requiring home owners to upgrade older sewer lines by 2009. This is to reduce the amount of water seepage into the sewers and therefore reduce the cost of sewer treatment.
  • Our mortgage company required replacement as part of the mortgage. This requirement almost killed the purchase of the house. In the end, we were able to negotiate an equitable agreement with the previous owners.

Problems That Arose

  • Our backyard looks like a war zone. Hopefully we can get it put back together next summer.
  • We had a nice brick patio. A good portion of it had to come up for the backhoe to dig down to the sewer line.
  • Somebody, sometime in the past had replaced all but the last 20 feet of the external sewer line with PVC piping. The village inspector was NOT pleased to see this. He didn't know about it, meaning that whoever did it, didn't file for a permit. In the end, he could have ordered it replaced, but he signed off on it and let it go.
  • The concrete in the basement floor ended up being six to eight inches thick. This meant that the subcontracted concrete cutters not only had to go back and get a different concrete saw, but they also had to get two more guys to help haul the concrete out.
  • And now for the real gem (almost literally). When I went down the first day to see what the concrete cutters had done, I noticed a lot of good looking black dirt mixed in with the clay under the basement. I didn't think too much about it and didn't look at it that closely. According to Don, it wasn't black dirt. It was coal. That's right. coal. Apparently, there is a layer of coal placed under my basement floor. The combination of coal and eight inches of concrete means that the concrete cutters went through one of their diamond saw blades doing our job. Those saw blades usually last 30 to 40 jobs, and they aren't cheap. I had to chuckle at this. Once again the House of 42 Doors proves to be difficult. I have no idea what reasons could possibly exist for the coal. Drainage? Anyone have any ideas? Maybe they thought they could make diamonds given enough time. It's comforting to know that I have a secret cache of coal for when the real energy crunch hits!

What Remains to Be Done

  • The toilet in the basement needs to be reseated.
  • Both drains need to be cut down to floor level and drain covers put in place.
  • Parts of the concrete settled and need to be re-leveled with the floor.

What It Cost
The cost of the concrete cutters turned out to be huge. With the extra man power and the loss of a blade, the bill from them came in at five times what Don normally expected and made up half of the bill. Still, Don stuck to his bid plus a little bit more for the extras I requested.

Lessons Learned
Never do this unless you absolutely have to. Even then, consider building an out house, or moving. Our backyard is trashed. The basement floor looks bad with the new concrete channels. Our basement is filthy. The floor and walls needs a good sweep and mop. They even used a wet saw to cut the concrete. If anyone says that they are going to cut concrete in your house without a wet saw, box their ears and then kick them out immediately. Concrete dust is insidious and evil. I suspect that it was originally in the bible, but "fire and concrete dust" didn't sound as good as "fire and brimstone".

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Widow Maker

Saturday night saw a dumping of the most beautiful and hateful snow I've seen in years. We received seven inches (18 cm), blanketing everything in a clean, white layer. It was the first snowfall of the year, so there were no snowbanks yet and no salt or dirt build up on the roads. Truly beautiful.

It was also the heaviest, wettest stuff imaginable. I'm not sure how, but I think that a shovel full of this stuff was actually heavier than an equivalent shovel full of water. Great for making snow men and snow forts. Also great for giving people heart attacks and making early widows.

We have a snow blower, but it hasn't been started in two and a half years. Trying to remember how to start the darn thing took a bit of mental drudging. Remove kill key...check. Turn throttle to full...Check. Turn choke to full...check. Put in gas...check. Check oil...check. Ok. Pulled on the rope go. So I tried again, and again, and again. Still no go.

Ahhh! That's right there is an electric start. So I ran into the house, grabbed our one 100' extension cord, brought it out and plugged in the snow blower. Push the button to do the electric start and it sounds like a cat is being put throw a blender on liquefy. This is normal. It really does sound like that. But after a minute of go.

At which point I notice a strange dark spot below my knee on my snow suit. Following it with my eyes, I see that the snow blower is doing it's best imitation of a peeing dog, with gasoline. Well at least I know why it isn't working.

I am not a big fan of small engines. Bolts get rusted shut. Guards and casings are difficult to remove, or in the way. No matter what I want to get at, my hands are too big or my fingers aren't nimble enough or I don't have the right tool. I always scrape up a knuckle or cut a finger. In short, they are very frustrating.

So I opted to shovel the driveway by hand. In retrospect, I should have taken the three or four hours to drive to the hardware store, get parts and fix the snowblower, because there is a lot of driveway and sidewalk to shovel. It wouldn't be bad if it were regular snow, but this stuff was like a shovel full of lead every time. It took pretty much the entire day to shovel, but we got through it. The snow blower still needs to be repaired and it's supposed to snow in the next day or two.

Yesterday the power company came and finished energizing the underground line. That means there is no longer a power pole in our back yard and we are officially running off of 200 amp, underground power. Now the electrician can really start rewiring. The old electrical panel has been removed and everything is running off of the new shiny one. Just another two weeks and he should be done (really).

We also handed over the keys from the rental place to the landlord yesterday. We are responsible now for only one house - The House of 42 Doors. This is the first time this has happened in two and a half years and it feels good.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Why am I not surprised?

To quote from an email we just received...


The 2-conductor 20-gauge GOLD twisted RAYON wire - by the spool is on backorder. Would you like to wait, get a refund, or substitute something else?

We’re very sorry for the delay,

Isn't that just the way it goes around here?!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Making Progress

We've finally started to push through the log jam. I accomplished two things last night that will help in reducing our current work load.

In a previous post, I commented on the tile situation of the shower. Repair to the tile and plaster in the shower has meant that our one shower/tub has been unavailable pretty much since we bought the house at the end of August. This has meant that since we moved into the House of 42 doors a week and a half ago, we've had to go back to the house we're renting for showers and baths. By the time we bundle up the kids, drive over to the rental, take baths and showers, drive back and unbundle the kids, I figure we're losing about 45 minutes to an hour every night. That doesn't include bath time, since we'd lose that anyway.

Another time drainer for us has been no Internet at the house. The severing of the phone line set us back a good 30 to 45 minutes a night as Ms. Huis has taken part in NaBoPoMo. No Internet has meant trips to the library in the evening so that she can post. If it weren't so darn close to the end of November, I think she would have given up by now.

Add into all of this the inefficiencies of moving ("Have you seen my socks?", "Where does this dish go?", "Do we still have a finger nail clipper?", etc.), and you have chaos and lack of productivity possibly not seen since the Fall of the Roman Empire and the Dark Ages (maybe a little hyperbole there).

But last night was a stellar night. Not only was the tub caulked, and now available for use at the House of 42 Doors, but I also hooked up the phone and therefore, the Internet. It isn't pretty. A phone wire connects to the Network Interface outside, runs along the side of the house and under three doors before terminating in a hacked on RJ-14 phone plug. I'll do it properly later on, when the basement isn't a disaster.

We're still holding steady at 40 mice. We haven't seen hide nor hair (literally) in weeks.

The plumbers finished plumbing in the basement. They replaced the existing soil pipe, toilet drain and floor drain. They added another floor drain (for the boiler), a sink drain (for the new laundry sink and the original, 1920's pedestal kitchen sink, which may end up being used for making beer) and another soil pipe (for the someday future bathroom on the first floor).

I have several channels of mud in my basement. The plumbers did a reasonably good job of hosing everything down and scraping off bits of mud, but I'll still have to clean up when they are done. There's still mud on the walls and in some cases the windows.

I'm not happy with the way the exterior work was done, but after a conversation with the plumber coordinating all of this, he said he'd take care of it, once I figure out what I'd like done. Actions speak louder than words. We'll see.

Tomorrow they'll be in to finish up concreting the floor and connecting the two sinks. All the existing plumbing is working though!

The work definitely needed to be done. At one point in replacing the soil pipe, the pipe from the kitchen sink literally fell to the ground. We knew that one was bad though. It had stalactites.

The electrician is still working away. He's been concentrating on the second floor and the attic with all the mess in the basement, although he's not working today. He's saying maybe another two weeks to finish the job (if you've seen The Money Pit, you know how funny that is).

We tried to use modern lamp wire to rewire the original light fixtures, but it was a no go. Not only is it ugly brown plastic, put it's too thick to fit through the light fixtures. I did some digging and found gold colored, rayon covered light fixture wire. I ordered some today, so hopefully it will work and arrive soon.

Now that we have Internet, I'll see if I can get pictures posted soon.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

House Colectomy

Replacing the entire sewer line is no small task. Sitting around talking about it, thinking about it, even drawing it out seems like a nice Sunday afternoon exercise. Doing it is messy and hard. I'm glad I hired all of it out.

On the other hand, giving my house the equivalent of a colectomy is not making me happy. My basement is muddy with clay and concrete dust. My backyard is destroyed. My basement windows and back entryway are filthy. My brick patio is mostly removed. My limestone path is somewhere under several inches of dirt. My house stinks like a combination of diesel exhaust (used to power the concrete saw) and spray paint (used to mark the concrete for where it was cut). **sigh**

When we got home last night, I had to see what had been accomplished in 8 hours. In that time the concrete cutters cut five channels throughout the house, all interconnected, and removed the concrete to be carted to who-knows-where.

(The floor ended up being six to eight inches thick, rather than the standard two to three. I wasn't surprised. Everything else in the house seems to have been over-engineered too. The concrete guys had to call in two extra guys just to help them haul out the concrete.)

A really much-too-large-for-my-tastes digger dug out 50 feet of the existing exterior sewer line to a depth of five or six feet. The old clay tile was replaced with PVC plastic. Fortunately, the plumbers were able to slip the PVC pipe into the last 20 or so feet of the clay tile, so there was no need to dig up the entire 75' length.

(Digging out the old sewer line next to the house had to have taken quite a level of finesse. Its impressive that someone is able to maneuver a large bucket that easily.)

The pipe was fed under the house foundation and reconnected to the old pipe within the house, allowing us to use the toilet for the night. In my book that's a fair amount of work.

Today they will finish plumbing all interior drain work. Wednesday is cementing over the trenches. Thursday is connecting all the sinks and securing any loose plumbing lines.

There are a lot of things that I'm not happy about at the moment, but until I speak to the plumber today who is coordinating all of this, I won't elaborate about them. After all, if he fixes all the problems, then it just proves that I'm being up tight. And if he doesn't, it'll be here, in writing.

And thank you to Ms. Huis who as been very understanding around her grumpy husband.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Diggers, Plumbers and Electricians, Oh My!

Those of you who know me, know that I work in IT. Change in IT is almost always bad. It leads to downtime, unexpected outcomes and can have ripple effects that have the potential to cost lots of money.

I recognized that change is required to make improvements. I recognize that change is required to stay competitive and I recognize that change is required to meet the challenges of uncontrollable external events. But in my job, I don't like it.

Sometimes this philosophy spills over into my personal life. Like when there is a several ton digging machine trying to dig a six foot deep trench against my foundation. Or when there is a concrete saw cutting out large chunks of my basement floor. Or when an electrician takes a jack hammer to my walls.

Tuesday, the subcontracted excavating firm came out and dug a trench for the new electrical line. The existing electrical feeding the house is 100 amp overhead service. We knew we wanted to upgrade to 200 amp and decided to bury the line as well. Burying the line and upgrading turned out to be very cheap. The electric company wanted to get rid of the liability of another power pole. It also gives us more yard space and is much safer when it comes time to clean out the gutters - no need to watch out where I put that metal ladder.

Digging an electrical trench definitely qualifies as change. And of course unintended consequences occurred. The excavators dug up our phone line, at almost exactly the same time the the phone company switched service over from our old house to our new one. The excavators were "kind" enough to lay new wire in the trench to replace what they had severed. Unfortunately, where the electric enters the house is not where the original phone entered the house.

A call to the phone company had them out the same day (unbelievably good service I must say), where they informed me that since the entry point of the phone wire had changed, they couldn't restore full service. Internal wiring was not their problem, unless extra dollars were paid. I can't fault them. It makes sense, but it does mean that now I need to rewire the phone from the external network interface to the internal phone jack. And soon. No phone means no Internet, and no Internet is likely to make my poor wife go a bit off her rocker, especially with it being NaBoPoMo.

Today is the day that the sewer guys are coming to put in all new sewer under the house and then out the back yard to the main sewer line. The amount of change involved in this is huge (from my perspective) and it makes me nervous. I watched the digger in the backyard for about five minutes before I couldn't take it anymore. Everybody showed up on time and seems very professional, but it still makes me nervous.

Monday, November 19, 2007

A (Semi) Planned Holiday

The next few days will go something like this:

Monday - Moving things from the crummy rental place to the new house.
Tuesday - Moving things from the crummy rental place to the new house.
Wednesday - Drive back to Minnesota to see in-laws.
Thursday - Thanksgiving with the in-laws (for those of you who are not American, just take a few minutes and think about something you are thankful for).
Friday - Drive from in-laws to my parents.
Saturday - Thanksgiving with my parents.
Sunday - Drive back to the House of 42 Doors.
Monday - Back to work and then hopefully that night hook up the Internet connection.

So things could be a bit chaotic over the week and posting may be non-existent. Apologies to all. I'll try and slip one or two in, but no promises.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

7 Random Things Meme

(Cross-posted from my main blog, Musings & Mutterings.)

I got tagged by Mary Beth over at Cats...Books...Life is Good for this "Seven Random Things About Yourself" meme. Since she's been enjoying reading about the House of 42 Doors, she suggested I maybe do the 7 random things about our house. And since I just did the 5 Things You Didn't Know About Me meme - about, obviously, myself - I thought that'd be a great idea.

(P.S. Thanks, Mary Beth, for the NaBloPoMo fodder! And since we are home most/all of the day today, I can just keep plugging away at it until I think of all 7. Yay!)


1- Link to the person that tagged you and post the rules on your blog.

2- Share 7 random and or weird things about yourself.

3- Tag 7 random people at the end of your post and include links to their blogs.

4- Let each person know that they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

Seven weird or random things about the House of 42 Doors...

1. We are the first people to own this house who are not members of the family who built it. I think I will refer to them as the G__ns.

2. When Gramma Yori originally came to visit and clean, she had a dream the first night in which all the G__ns were coming to the house while she was cleaning it. If I remember correctly (and feel free to correct me in the comments or send me an email and I'll fix it, Gramma Yori), there was a Grandma or Grandpa G__n who was welcoming them all back home. In the dream, she was getting a bit frustrated because they were all in the way of her cleaning, but she could tell they were pleased to have somebody living in their house again. So, due to that and to another dream she had while painting (ok, not while actually painting, but when she was visiting us to do the painting), in which she asked one of the elder Mr. G__ns to help keep the paint on the walls, and then a large bubbly spot where she repainted the ceiling dried back up overnight and fixed itself, I don't really worry about (the/any) ghosts.

3. We probably could have called it the House of 1001 Cans between all the old cans of paint, stain, and coffee cans full of nails, etc. (pretty much exclusively Hills Brothers) that we took out of the basement.

4. Some of the cans of paint are a custom-made color from a local paint store. They're labeled "G__n Ivory." Because there aren't enough shades of white and off-white to choose from, you know. *eye roll*

5. There are a few vents in the walls - the workroom downstairs, the basement toilet, the kitchen, the upstairs bathroom - of a sort that our inspector said he'd only seen once before. Apparently, they were put in the house to aid airflow to help prevent TB.

6. Red blinky lights that look like eyes look AWESOME in the attic window on Halloween.

7. The roofline of our house, the way it goes down and has trim and all, is apparently "Tuscan Entablature." Yeah, I'd never heard of it, either, but it definitely qualifies as a random fact. Thanks, Mr. Kluges, for the help with that.

Ok, time to tag 7 random people. Well, I guess I'll use to help me choose random people from my blog roll over on the right sidebar. (Because I don't think, say, choosing 7 random people from the phone book would do much good... so I guess it's random within a very limited sample.)

...consider yourselves tagged.

(And if I didn't tag you, and you still want to do this meme, I certainly won't stand in your way!)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

What Did You Say?

Our electrician warrants a few words. Steve is close to retirement and is a licensed master electrician. By his count he's rewired 150 to 200 old houses. He's a no-nonsense kind of guy who speaks his mind. Fortunately he also listens. So far, he's done really good work, but sometimes he says things that make me a bit nervous.

Before we'd agreed to give him the bid, one conversation went like this:

Steve: You know there's going to be some damage to the plaster. I like to see plaster at least a half inch thick, otherwise it's pretty fragile. One house I did, I was pounding a box into the kitchen wall and I heard 'Crash'. All the plaster fell off on the other side.

Me:(looking pale) Oh. Don't tell me that. That couldn't have been good.

Steve: Oh no, it was fine. The farmer said he was looking to have that wall redone anyway.

Then last week.

Me: Did you have a good weekend Steve?

Steve: I'm a little stiff, but it was great.

Me: What did you do?

Steve: We went and put a second story on the clubhouse for (some local boys and girls social club). It went great except when we tried to line up the last two walls and found out one was two inches too short. But I guess that's why we call ourselves "The Rough Carpenters." We've got shirts that say it on the back, with our names on the front.

And then Monday's conversation went something like this.

Me: So Steve, how'd today's work go? Did the house rear its ugly head?

Steve: Yup. So I got mad. I got out the jackhammer.

Me: (looking even paler) Did you. Ummm, whatever for?

Steve: I got tired of dealing with those walls, so I took the jackhammer and busted out the wall block.

Me: What?! Where?

Steve: There behind you.

I turned around to see a perfectly good light switch box in an external wall. Like I said, he does good work, but the way he talks makes me nervous sometimes.

Oh, and I almost forgot. We've finally gotten through most of the mice. We've been sitting at mouse 40 for quite some time now. I think that means we've only caught one mouse in the last two weeks.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

A Pictoral Survey of the Inherited Lights and Electricity

Since Mr. Kluges was talking about our light fixtures and electricity in the last post, I thought I'd share with you some photos of the electrical situation we inherited.

Here is some of the knob and tube wiring. This is in the attic where it's easily seen.

This is one of the cool toggle switches we have. They make the neatest click, too.

Here's one of the outlets in our baseboard in the living room.

This is one of the four lights in the beams in the living room.
(This is pre-cleaning, so ignore the big ol' ring of dust, ok?)

Of course, we also have non-pretty, merely functional lights like this closet light that will be replaced with something also functional, also not stunning, but more modern.

And this is my FAVORITE light fixture. It's the dining room light, and I think it's gorgeous.

Isn't it cool?!

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Wrong Size

Thanks to those who weighed in with comments on the white oak. It's good to know that I'm not crazy, or that there are at least a few people out there who are just as crazy as I am.

When we had our house inspection done, one of the things noted was that the bottom course or two of tiles in the bathroom shower needed to be re-grouted. This was certainly something we felt we were comfortable doing. So about two months ago, just after taking possession, I took a grout saw and started sawing away, thinking this would be a short one or two weekend project. Hah! Fool that I am. It turned out that water had seeped behind the tiles. They didn’t have green, waterproof sheetrock back in 1921, and when water reaches calcimine paint that is painted over plaster, it turns into a crumbly, mushy mess. The only thing that keeps this mess together is an outside covering of tile held in place by grout. Remove the grout, and the whole thing comes apart in your hands. What I ended up with was about eight inches (three courses) of tile that had to be completely removed, along with the plaster, all the way back to the lathe. During a short moment of insanity, I considered taking off all of the tile, and the plaster and then putting up green, waterproof sheetrock. Common sense prevailed though and I decided to limit my "repairs" only to what was necessary. This is our only shower/bathtub in the house, and we can't afford to be without it.

The tiles I took off were simple, square, white tiles. I saved all of them, but I figured it would be so much easier to get new sheets of tile, attached to a backing, so that they are properly spaced. Otherwise, I'd have to clean the adhesive and plaster off the backs of the old tiles and carefully place them (with spacers). This sounds like a tedious job requiring a high level of precision and attentiveness.

Last weekend, we went around to several tile shops. Ms. Huis and I really enjoy tile and mosaics. Going to the tile stores was a bit like a child going into a candy store with no money. We saw a lot of beautiful tile, but we were only going to see if we could find matches for our tile. We figured it shouldn't be hard; after all, these were square, white, porcelain tiles. Hah! Hah! Bigger fool that I am.

Turns out that the tile in our bathroom is 2.25 inches by 2.25 inches, which is no longer standard size (if it ever was). The only tile shop who was willing to look for such tile (and it got a lot of head scratching) would have to "make some calls". Estimates for a cost were $15 to $25 per square foot, versus $5 per square foot for normal two inch by two inch tile. And it was possible it might be more, since the tile shop owner thought she might have to "import the tiles from italy".

Let's be clear here. There is nothing special about these tiles if you look at them. They are plain, white tiles. They do not warrant special orders and I do not think that they are original to the house. So, we took our tiles back home and I am now engaged in using a utility knife to scrape, poke and pry the original adhesive off the backs of the tiles. Fortunately the tiles are blood proof. I slip a lot when using the utility knife.

On the electrical front, things are moving forward. The electrician was in Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. The first floor is about 40% done, although there's no juice to the new outlets. The electrician is waiting for the new underground, 200 amp service. There’s no firm install date for that yet, other than prior to December 1st.

One downside to the new house is the way in which the exterior walls are constructed. The house is constructed of structural, terracotta clay tile with a facade of a brick. A narrow strip of wood is applied to the interior of the clay tile and the lathe is applied to that, which leaves only an inch and a half gap between the exterior wall and the lathe (or so the electrician says). That's plenty of room for old style knob and tube wiring, but it's a little bit tight for modern wiring and junction boxes. We might not be able to put any electrical (lights, switches or receptacles) on the outside walls. It's not the end of the world, but it would have been nice.

The attic had most (maybe all) of the original light fixtures in it. They need to be rewired, so I'll be taking them into a lamp shop today to see what they can do. At some point, we'll post pictures.

Unfortunately I'm supposed to work this weekend, so projects will be severely curtailed. The plan is to put the last coat of plaster on the bathroom wall so that when I finally get done cleaning off the tiles, I can glue them on next weekend and then finally grout. We'll be pushing to have a functional tub by Thanksgiving weekend.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Quercus Alba

I'm looking for some advice or suggestions.

The back of our house looks out over a small grove of oak trees owned by the local water department. There are Two oak trees in our backyard and one is possibly the largest oak tree I have ever seen. Each of the trees is at least 200 years old, but it's hard to say. If they are that old, then they would have struggled for nutrients and light in their early years and wouldn't have grown much initially before breaking through the canopy. Two hundred years ago the area was not settled by whites, although whites certainly would have traded there. It was still Native American land.

When we bought the house, the area around it was severly overgrown and in the first two weeks, we took down seven trees and trimmed up one of the oak trees whose branches where rubbing on our cement asbestos shingles. When we had the tree guys cut down the oak, we asked them to leave the large limbs as intact as possible, so now I have four white oak logs, each between five and seven feet in length and ten to sixteen inches in diameter.

There is a sawmill in town and for about $100 I can get them to cut the oak into boards and kiln them. Is it worth it? Am I saving any money by doing this? Anyone know what size lumber I should have it cut into? Anyone have any suggestions what I could turn it into? I'd rather not just turn this into firewood. It would be very cool to point to a piece of furniture and tell someone that it is built from a limb from the oak in back.

The limb alone is at least 125 years old. It would be a shame to send 125 years of growth up into smoke in just one evening.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Marsupials and Halloween

My wife loves Halloween. I think that it is her favorite holiday and the House of 42 Doors makes a great Halloween house. It looks old and big and is set way back from the road in the middle of old trees.

She decorated the house this year with window decorations several weeks ago and last night she added the final touches. A strobe light in an upstairs bedroom, blinking eyes in the window in the attic, three jack o' lanterns, and a rat, a bat and a skull in the dining and living room windows.

She already started talking about next year and how to improve on our rushed decorations. It should keep her busy most of October.

She and Penguin stayed behind at the house to deal with trick or treaters while Pumpkin and I headed out to tour the neighborhood. We hit ten to fifteen houses and scored more than enough candy for a little girl. The only crisis was at the end of the night when pumpkin lost her kitty ears. Fortunately, we backtracked and found them again.

Several of our neighbors stopped by early in the night, before Pumpkin and I went out and we had three separate instances of people asking about ghosts in the house. One mentioned lights in the attic, another mentioned strange noises at night and the last guy (a young teen) didn't mention anything specific. He just mentioned he'd heard it was haunted.

In our neighborhood there is a "Haunted Woods" that some of the residents put on. We didn't go through it this year, but it looks like good fun where a bunch of people dress up in scary costumes, create a path through the woods and then try to scare kids and adults. All through the evening we could hear the shrieks and moans coming from the woods.

It's dark at the House. There is no yard light and the way the property is laid out, it is a good distance to the nearest street light. On top of that, there are tall trees that line the property, blocking out any additional light.

At the end of the night, I was outside cleaning up, gathering up the pumpkins and blowing out the candles. It was dark, I had ghost stories on my mind, and I could hear the screams coming from the Haunted Woods. Very eerie.

Facing the house, there is an open air porch on the left side. The ground falls away a bit so that it's about three or four feet below the porch floor. As I was cleaning up, I heard somebody walking in the leaves at the side of the House, walking from the back of the house to the front, along that open porch wall. I expected to see young kids trespassing (which would have been fine on Halloween). But the noise kept getting closer and closer until whoever it was should have been visible. I could feel the hair on the back of my neck starting to stand up.

Keeping in mind the dark, the ghost stories and the screams, I was really freaked out. So grabbing the pumpkin in my hand (after all, what better weapon could there be on Halloween), I resolved to peek over the wall of the porch to see who was walking in the leaves.

This was not to be my first paranormal experience. Waddling through the leaves was an opossum. I was shocked. I think it was the first time I've ever seen a "wild" opossum. I put the pumpkin down, tore into the house, scooped up Pumpkin (our daughter) and ran out to show her the opossum. We watched it waddle into a tree and settle there. After a bit we went back inside, cleaned up and went home.

All in all, a very memorable Halloween. Oh and lest I forget, the current mouse count is 39 and the electrician starts Monday.

Monday, October 29, 2007


In the blogosphere, there are three frequently recurring steps, although I'm not sure that everyone recognizes that they are doing it. First is the apology.

"Ok everyone, I'm sorry I haven't written in so long."

Next are the excuses and the justifications.

"I just don't know where the time has gone. I've been so busy. My mom has been staying with us for the last week and a half, I had classes last week and we had friends visiting this weekend. I really had no idea that it's been two weeks since I last posted."

Then is the exposition (which this is). This post is going to be a long one, with many ramblings and non sequiturs. So sit down, grab a cup of coffee or tea or whatever suits and relax if you are in this for the long haul.

First off, the missus has spoken at some length about all of the work that my mom has done over the last 10 days, but I think it's necessary (for posterity’s sake) to discuss in greater detail.

As a preface, I do want to say that having children really, really decreases your productivity. That's the only way that I can still keep any semblance of pride around my parents. They are 20+ years older than I am and right on the cusp of retirement age, but the sheer amount of work that they get done in a day puts me to shame. Please keep this in mind when reading about the work accomplished recently.

When we purchased the House of 42 Doors, every room had some cracks in the walls. Most of them are very small, no larger than one sixteenth of an inch. And some had cracked or slightly fallen ceilings. Since almost all of the building is still lathe and plaster, this was expected.

I did my research to make sure there was nothing unusual about patching plaster walls. It looked pretty straight forward. General recommendations suggested widening the crack slightly and undercutting it, into the shape of a keyhole. Then add plaster. Let dry. At this point, there was some disagreement as to whether to use fiberglass tape or standard sheetrock tape. Then feather the edges out, let dry and sand down smooth. Add final coat, let dry and do final sanding. I had patched sheetrock in the past and I'd always done a pretty crummy job, so I was a little uptight about doing this myself. I chose one of our kid's rooms upstairs so that if I screwed up, it wouldn't be that noticeable.

It seemed odd to me that you'd make the crack wider before patching, after all, aren't you trying to fix the crack? If you need stitches, the doctor doesn't start by make the cut wider. But, putting my faith in the power of the information found on the Internet, I widened the cracks. That was easy. Then before plastering, I needed to wet down the lathe and plaster. I guess dry lathe and plaster will draw moisture out of the new plaster and this can cause problems with curing. Well, that makes sense.

So, taking squirt bottle in hand, I pull the trigger. Squirt, squirt, squirt. You know how sometimes big things are caused by tiny little actions? The proverbial butterfly flapping its wings causes a hurricane around the globe? Those three squirts led to a lot of work. Once I was done squirting, I went and mixed up some plaster. I packed the crack full of plaster and noticed that some of the paint was starting to peel up. I grabbed a piece and pulled it, expecting a small piece to come off. Imagine my surprise when a piece about four inches wide and a foot long came off. And there was still more loose paint, so I started pulling that up too. I distinctly remember standing back and looking at the wall with about six or seven square feet of paint stripped off and thinking "I'm going to regret doing this." Then, like a fool, I started pulling more off.

Pulling the paint off at first, was fun, kind of like pulling the skin off after a bad sunburn. A few searches online, quickly showed that the walls had been painted with calcimine paint. Calcimine is an old, chalk and water based paint. New plaster walls are supposed to cure for up to a year before they are painted, but calcimine can be used right away. Often, people would build a house, plaster the walls, wait a few weeks and then throw on some calcimine. After some time, they could wash off the calcimine or paint over it, when the plaster had fully cured.

The problem is that as the calcimine ages, the binding agent in the “paint” starts to fail, and if any water or moisture gets between the calcimine and the plaster, it starts to release. If someone paints with latex paint, the water in the latex paint penetrates to the calcimine, and then the paint starts falling off on its own. It's almost impossible to paint over calcimine with latex. It might be possible to paint over it with oil based paints, depending on how thick the paint is, but there's no guarantee. Of course, if you could find more calcimine paint, you could paint over calcimine with more calcimine, but it's a hard paint to find and it’s basically chalk. Rubbing against it results in it coming off. Not ideal for walls.

The best solution is to scrape off the existing oil or latex paint, then wash off as much of the calcimine as possible. Once the plaster is bare (or mostly bare), prime with a special primer. Then paint as desired. I knew all this when my mom came up the first time to paint, but I don't think I explained it very well.

When she started painting a different bedroom, she saw a small corner of paint coming up. Thinking that maybe she could just flake it off and then paint over it, she pulled...and a huge sheet of paint came up. Then she pulled some more and some more, at which point I came in to see how she was doing. I was less than pleased to see that now we had two rooms to wash down to bare plaster, but I did have to laugh to see that my mom fell victim to the same insanity that I did. "Just pull a little bit here..."

Our bedrooms are not large. They average only 12' by 12'. To give an idea of how long it takes to fix these rooms properly, it takes about ten hours to scrape off the old latex/oil paint. Removing the calcimine paint takes about twenty hours. Patching the walls and ceiling takes about two hours. Priming the bare plaster walls takes about six hours. Painting the trim and the ceiling is probably another eight hours. Applying the final coat of paint takes about four more hours. To paint one 12' by 12' room, it took about 50 man hours, probably more since my mom had intermittent help from my wife and me as we wrangled kids and worked on other projects. We also did not wash the ceilings back to bare plaster. We may have to do that someday.

Towards the end, we did find a short cut, so for anyone out there cursed with calcimine, take note of this. Use wheat wallpaper paste, or if that's unavailable, make a water flour paste and apply it directly (and thickly) to the calcimine. Wait until it is nearly dry, and then scrape it off again. It makes a big mess, but the paste binds to the calcimine and helps pull it off the plaster. When we do the other rooms (someday), we'll do it this way:

1) Remove all loose paint by pulling it off (the fun part)
2) Scrape off all remaining latex/oil paint (being careful to contain potential lead paint)
3) Apply wheat paste to calcimine
4) Scrape off wheat paste after allowing to dry
5) Use a sponge/scrubby to wash off the remaining calcimine
6) Let dry for two to three days
7) Apply primer
8) Paint

It's a real pain, but to see gray, raw plaster is truly beautiful. To see the original texture put in place by craftsman almost 90 years ago, and to know that we are taking care of something built well is very satisfying. Interestingly, one bedroom was painted a baby blue, walls and ceiling. The other was painted a dark forest green.

Going back to the work my mom did. In the course of the 10 days, she removed the calcimine and painted two of the four bedrooms, painted all ceilings on the second floor (about 1200 square feet), painted our bedroom, the sewing room, the hallway and two closets. Remember what I said about children decreasing productivity.

It's worth mentioning that for the other bedrooms, the sewing room and the hallway, nobody pulled on ANY loose paint. It was painted over with a silent prayer that it would hold. We'll address other rooms as time allows; perhaps one or two rooms a year.

We continue to play the waiting game with the sewer and electric. The electrician should be starting this week. The house is prepped for him. I cut out a channel in the sidewalk for the new, underground 200 amp service. Like everything else in this house, busting out the sidewalk proved difficult. They used rebar in the sidewalk. Stupid rebar. I also found an old sidewalk in the back yard under nine inches of dirt that I needed to bust out for the underground service. At least that was rebar free.

The roof is moving up the priority list too. The shingles on it are the original 1921, cement asbestos shingles. We were hoping that we could get by for a few years with the existing roof, but it is becoming more and more apparent that it's going to need to be replaced next year. Every year the PO (previous owner) would use a small board on a long stick to push the shingles that had slid out of place back into place.

Originally, the shingles were held in place by small nails that have failed in several places. Now only the weight of the shingle above holds the one below in place. IANAR (I am not a roofer), but using gravity to hold shingles in place does not sound like a good idea to me. The flashing around both chimneys is also leaking. And the gutters are shot on the north and south west sides of the house. This means that next year is going to be the year of the roof and gutter. The quote we got for the removal of the asbestos roof came in at about $4 a square foot, which seemed reasonable enough though.

We did have a roofer come and replace two shingles that had fallen out. In the process, he broke (and repaired) four more. Even if the shingles were in good shape (which they aren't), I'm not sure that anyone in this area has the skill or knowledge to repair or maintain the existing roof. Trying to find roofing that can replace our existing shingles and retain the original look is going to be difficult.

We've also had two consecutive days with no mice. I plugged a few holes with steel wool, fiberglass AND expansive foam over the last week and a half. Hopefully nothing can get through that. I'm sure I missed some holes though. The current rodent count is 38.

Wheh! A lot happens in two weeks. I should write more often.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Hats off to the coal miners of the world...

Father in law (Fil) and Mother in law (Mil) were here over the weekend to visit and help with the house. It was a good visit and much appreciated. Much work was done.

Last week, we had a good planning meeting with the electrician to go over the house and what he needed to do. Steve seems to be perfect for the job. He's near retirement and has rewired lots of old houses. He claims 150 to 200. The experience is certainly there. There is only one thing I'd fault him on. We talked to him about re-using some of the original light fixtures and switches and he balked. He didn't say he wouldn't do it, just that he wouldn't recommend it, mostly because new switches are more reliable and have a smaller footprint than the old ones. All true, but they don't make anything anymore that even looks like the old ones.

There were a few items that I came away with as my responsibility. The first was to talk to the power company to get our electrical upgraded to 200 amp, underground service. Currently it's only 100 amp, above ground. I had erroneously assumed that our electrician would take care of all that. So now I'm trying to coordinate between the electric company, the electrician and the village inspector (who thankfully seems in no way related or connected to the village idiot). It seems that the electrical company won't schedule excavation until the electrician has put in the new pedestal and the village inspector has approved it. The electrician won't put in the pedestal until the electric company has scheduled an excavation date. I gave the electrician the number for the person I'm dealing with at the electrical company, so hopefully that will be the sword to cut that Gordian knot.

I also need to cut away and remove a piece of concrete sidewalk two feet by four feet. This will be my first opportunity to use a concrete saw. Should be interesting, to say the least. Thankfully, there's a rental place nearby where I can get it for about $60 a day.

The last bit led to this weekend's work. Two of the rooms in the basement were finished off with a lathe and plaster ceiling; the boiler room and a work room/cistern pump room. The plaster had fallen off of about 20% of the ceiling and about half of it was cracked or sagging. It was certainly repairable, although, it would have taken a fair amount of work. Sadly, though since the ceiling was applied directly to the ceiling joists, leaving it in place meant the electrician had no access to the main floor. No access means no electric. So it all had to come down. I really didn't want to do that, but there was really no way to rewire the first floor without taking the ceiling out, so Fil and I took it down on Saturday.

The job was the dirtiest job that I can remember doing, ever. The boiler room was originally heated by a coal furnace, so in addition to 86 years of dust, insect bodies, mouse poop, spiders and dirt, there was also a lot of coal dust and soot up above the ceiling. Then we had to haul out the lathe and plaster to the dumpster I lined up on Friday. Both Fil and I wore full face masks to filter the air, but I coughed up black gunk for two days straight. When we were done we looked like coal miners. The neighbors came over around supper time to bring us supper (really great neighbors - I'll blog about some time). They didn't stick around long - I think they were afraid that we'd put them to work or get them dirty.

The amount of waste lathe and plaster makes is astounding. I had read somewhere that you should figure just under 1 cubic foot for every square foot demolished. I thought that sounded ridiculous. I'm a believer now. We didn't find any treasure in the ceiling (unfortunately), but we did make one discovery. All the lathe in the ceiling downstairs appeared to be oak.

Ten hours of working above my head pulling down the ceiling almost killed me, so Sunday was a bit more relaxed. We put the storm windows back on and I finished up the second coat of plaster in the bathroom. We should be able to repair the shower tiles in the next week or so.

Ma will be here for the next week to help finish stripping off the calcimine paint and then patch, prime and paint the walls in the girls' rooms. We may also paint the the upstairs hallway.

And the current mouse count is 31. Anyone know if mice reproduce faster than 7 a week? Because I'd think that sooner or later we'd get ahead of them.

Friday, October 12, 2007


One of the many, many things that appealed to us about the House of 42 Doors is that it is on the National Register of Historic Places. From the website:

"The National Register of Historic Places is the Nation's official list of cultural resources worthy of preservation. Authorized under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Register is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect our historic and archaeological resources."

This was very clearly spelled out in the conditions report provided to prospective buyers and I believe it was also one of the things that scared away a lot of those same prospective buyers. There is a common misconception that a listing on the National Register means that you can't do anything with your property; that you are somehow bound to living in a museum. Or that if you do want to make a change, you need to scrape and bow before some committee of gray bearded academics who require extensive knowledge of 19th century plastering techniques. "Yes, but what kind of horse hair should you use in the plaster? Plow? Quarter? Arabian?"

As I did some research, I found out that nothing could be further from the truth. Digging around the Wisconsin Historical Society's website found this great FAQ. As long as the property is a privately owned residence, you can do whatever you want to; wrap it in siding, add a futuristic addition, paint it neon yellow, even knock it down and put a garage in it's place. It's your property. You can do what you want.

Having said that, nothing is ever what it appears. Different rules apply if the building is commercially or governmentally owned. Different states and cities may have laws that apply in addition to the national laws. There are government grants, loans and programs available to assist with properties on the National Register. Accepting or applying for those grants, loans or programs comes with conditions. I looked carefully at these programs to see if any would suit.

The state of Wisconsin has a program that gives private owners of historic properties a state tax credit for monies spent on restoration and repair. What qualifies is very clearly spelled out. Primarily it is structural and mechanical expenses that qualify. Cosmetic expenses generally do not qualify. It requires a minimum $10,000 investment spent over two years. There are forms to fill out. Pictures of before and after have to be provided. All work indicated on the forms must be completed in the two year time frame. If approval is granted, the owner has to maintain the property as a historic property for five years, otherwise the tax credit has to be paid back. If the house is sold prior to the five years, the tax credit has to be paid back. The work must be approved before it can be started, otherwise the tax credit won't be granted for those items already started.

Reading the fine print, I couldn't see anything in the program that made me uncomfortable. It looked like a great perk to owning the house. It might require us to use a higher quality of materials and workmanship than we normally would, but that's OK. The downside was that we had to identify all the projects that needed doing at the house, prioritize them and then get rough costs for each so that we would know what to put in the application. This has taken a lot of time. We met with electricians, plumbers, roofers, carpenters, handymen, masons, and restoration specialists over the last six weeks. We identified what projects we'd take on right away. And we applied for the state tax credit. And we waited.

Yesterday at the end of the day we got the official nod from the Wisconsin State Historical Society that our projects were approved! Which means finally after six weeks of waiting we can start lining up contractors and start the work. We'll be rewiring the entire house, or at least as much as we can without ripping into the plaster and we'll be replacing all of the sewer lines underneath the house and out to the lateral. And the best part is that we'll get a $0.25 tax credit on our state income taxes for every $1.00 spent.

We really should have focused on the roof and gutters first, as those are structural issues, but the sewer and electrical are required to make the place inhabitable. The gutters and roof will have to wait for next year. The application for the roof will be a bit tricky as it is a visual component of the house and will be subject to much closer scrutiny by the Historical Society. But we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Oh and the current mouse count is 28. We're getting ahead of them or they are getting tired of peanut butter.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

86 Years of Ash

Children make you inefficient and ineffective. That's the only way that I can explain how much my parents accomplished this weekend compared to what Ms. Huis and I accomplish in a weekend. Ma and pa visited this weekend, driving up on Friday and leaving on Monday. All day Saturday and Sunday were spent doing various projects at the House of 42 Doors.

The plan was to have ma paint Pumpkin's ceiling, woodwork and room. Pa and I would get the lawnmower (a found treasure) working, clean out the basement and plaster the shower. Ms. Huis was on kid wrangling duty.

It was a good weekend. Kids were wrangled, lawnmowers ran, showers were plastered and basements cleaned. Pumpkin's room didn't turn out quite as intended though (more on that later).

Some numbers from the weekend.

1 - the number of found mousetraps (yay!) and also the number of lost mousetraps (boo!)
3 - number of garage stalls full of the previous owner's stuff found in the attic and basement.
4 - number of inches of dried mud and dirt still at the bottom of the cistern (future project)
10 - number of gallons of dirt swept out of the basement
25 - percent off of paint at the local Sherwin Williams (yay for lucky coincidences!)
26 - Current mouse count
50 gallons - number of gallons of ashes dumped out from the fireplace

Has anyone ever come across the amount of ash that wood creates when it burns? Because I'd love to know how many cords of wood it takes to generate 50 gallons of ash. And the ash dump still isn't as clean as I'd like, but that was all I could comfortably reach. I may have been the first one to clean out the ash dump in 86 years.

Where does 10 gallons of dirt come from in a cement, hollow block basement? I could see if it were a dirt floor basement, but a fully contained, sealed basement? Where does that come from?

Yesterday was mouse free, but it's not really a fair comment as I only had two traps of the five set. I set all five last night. If they are empty today, I know I'm finally making progress.

As Ms. Huis stated in an earlier post, we are running into problems with calcimine paint. Calcimine is a paint that consists of chalk, water and gluing agents. As the gluing agents age and lose their strength, nothing painted over calcimine will stick.

When ma went to paint over the existing latex paint in Pumpkin's room, she noticed a small peeling corner. Thinking she'd just flake off a little bit of loose paint, she fell victim to the same sort of madness that seized me with Penguin's room. Next thing she knew, she had a whole wall of paint peeled off of Pumpkin's room.

Sunday was meant to be a painting day, but instead turned into a paint removal day. The current state is that now both of the girls' rooms are stripped down to calcimine. Penguin's room turned out to be a pleasant Mediterranean blue and Pumpkin's is a dark forest green. They both need to be washed down to the plaster, patched, primed and painted. Ugh.

Ma has been doing a lot of research on calcimine since she found out that we were dealing with it and has come up with some interesting ways of possibly dealing with it, everything from tape to wheat wallpaper paste. Once we've tested them all out, I'll do a post with our results so that some other poor bugger doesn't have to suffer through everything that we did.

Father in law (fil) and mother in law (mil) will be visiting this weekend. They saw the house at it's worst, just a few days before we took possession of it, so I'm hoping for some wow factor in all the work that's been done so far. I just won't show them the three car garage full of junk.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Hopes Dashed!

We had a chimney sweep and a restoration expert come out to the house yesterday to examine the chimney and give opinions on restoring portions of the house (mainly the gutters and parts of the soffit). It was a conversation I've become accustomed to over the last month.

"Wow, what a great house! I never knew this house was here. Well, your _______ was very good for when it was built. I can't enforce modern day codes, but it really doesn't meet code. I'd repair/upgrade/replace it for __________."
(pause to see if I'm flinching)
"Wow, what a great house! Ok, thanks. Call me when you decide what you'd like to do."

But what is really, really, really disappointing about all of this is that yesterday I had to reset the Rodent counter back to 0. The last trap I checked (of 6) had one. My "Rodent Free for 2 Days" sign will just have to wait. My hopes are dashed.

On a slightly related note, I thought I would pass on this joke. One of the many treasures that we got with the house was a June, 1941 copy of Reader's Digest. This joke comes from it. Prices have been adjusted for inflation.

An optometrist was teaching his son how to become a successful optometrist. "Son, once a customer sits down and you've placed the glasses on him, he's going to ask how much they cost. Say to him 'Those glasses are $100.' Watch him carefully. If he doesn't flinch, say 'For the frames. The lenses are $100.' Wait a few seconds and see if he flinches again. If he doesn't, tell him 'Each.'"

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

1 Days Rodent Free!

Yesterday was a momentous day. It is the first day that I can remember since we moved in and started setting traps that we didn't catch a mouse. Saturday was mouse free too, but we ended up finding a bat hanging from one of our doors, so it felt like a hollow victory. Yesterday was truly the first vermin free day. I'm holding my breath for today.

I told my wife yesterday that we should get a big work safety sign, like the ones they have on construction sites, only ours would say "____ Days Rodent Free!"

Work is progressing. We've had several contractors come out and quote on things, and we've decided the only major things we'll be tackling this year are rewiring the house and replacing the sewer line. The huge list of other things (roofing, repointing, gutter repair, porch leveling and floor leveling) will have to wait until next summer when the weather is more pleasant and our bank balance has replenished.

With any luck, we'll have the electrical and sewer done sometime by the end of October to mid-November. My timelines in the past have been hopelessly optimistic in the past, so we'll just have to see.

We had the radiator heating system examined and repaired. They bled the radiators too, so hopefully that will keep us comfortable this winter. Today a chimney sweep is coming out to look at our two chimneys. Here's hoping that he finds the chimneys functional. I'd love to have a cozy fire in the house around Thanksgiving.

I love fireplaces. Having a fire to sit around is just fantastic. I wanted a traditional fireplace in Ireland, one where I could burn peat, but Ms. Huis was adamant that with a small child, it was a bad idea. She also didn't like the smell. We ended up with a gas fireplace. Not as good as peat (to my mind), but still better than nothing. It was great to turn it on in the winter months.

Pity we can't find any peat here.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Nothing is ever simple...

Mr. Kluges said I could post about the house here, too, so I will! This here post is a big old complaint, so feel free to skip it if you'd like!

File this under: "Nothing with this house is ever simple!"
(There's another example I'm going to have to share soon, but Penguin's decided she's had enough exersaucer time, so that means I've had enough computer time!)

We decided to fix some cracks in Penguin's room before painting it. We're lucky enough to have Mr. Kluges's parents coming next weekend & mine coming the weekend after to help out, so we figured we'd try to get this multi-day process going so it could be done in time for our helpers to paint it. Well... we scraped out the cracks down to good plaster, Mr. Kluges mixed up some goo to put in them, and sprayed the cracks/wall with water as recommended because otherwise the plaster soaks up the water in the goo too quickly and it doesn't cure right. He came back a bit later to find that the paint near the cracks was now wanting to come off in big chunks... It turns out that one of the early layers of paint is calcimine. That's bad. It means that newer paint won't stick to it well. Like, humidity or water (!) affect it differently or something (Mr. Kluges did the research; I'm just glossing over here...) so the layers separate and ... you've got big chunks of paint coming off.

The solution - remove all the paint chunks/scrape the paint all away. Wash the chalky calcimine paint off with 2-4 washes with soapy water. Follow with 1-2 washes of clear water. Follow with a coat of calcimine covering primer. Then you can finally paint the wall - twice.

So we get to add that time-consuming process to the crack-fixing before we can paint. I think Penguin might end up getting moved into the guest room until we're done with hers!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Humans 14, Mice 1

The House of 42 Doors has been empty of humans for almost two years. I think that the total biomass in the house did not decrease though. With no one living there, all number of spiders, wood lice, centipedes, mice and who knows what else have moved in.

My mother came and stayed with us for a week and cleaned the two main floors from top to bottom (bless her soul!) and that got rid of a majority of the smaller vermin, but the mice continue to live in the house. We started trapping almost immediately and to date we're somewhere around 13 or 14 mice. I've lost track.

Imagine my surprise when I went up to check the traps in the attic and found one missing. I told Ms. Huis that I was going to look around the attic for the trap and that if she heard a scream, to grab the kids, run from the house and never return again.

What I found in a back corner of the attic, about 25 feet from where I put it, was this:

I think the mice are evolving.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Newsflash! Monster carp found in abandoned house basement

When we moved here, I immediately started looking for a house. Since we were new to the area, I asked several of my co-workers about good places to live, places to avoid, interesting things to live next to, etc. Everybody in the office learned pretty quickly that we were looking to buy a house. I also tried to make it clear that I was looking for something a little bit different, something distinctive.

I did not want a typical "new" house. If anyone has built a new house in the Midwest in the last five to ten years, then you know what I mean. Something with an open floor plan blending kitchen and living room into one space, probably with a fireplace at one end. Something that has a powder room downstairs, a full bath upstairs, three bedrooms upstairs and a master suite. There's nothing wrong with those houses. It's just that they are so alike to each other. A house like that would never feel like my home. It would always feel like everybody else's home.

So anyway, I let everyone know that I'd be looking for something distinctive, probably older, with a lot of "character". My co-workers are generally a good lot, and they certainly mean well, so I wasn't surprised when one of my co-workers pulled me aside to talk to me about my search for an older home. The conversation went something like this.

Co-worker: So you're looking for an older home?
Mr K: We are. We'd like to find something with a bit of character.
Co-Worker: Hmmm...Well, you'll want to be careful when buying something like that.

Now at this point, I am of course thinking of all the things that can go wrong in an older home like high heating bills, leaky roofs, dangerous electrical, lead paint, asbestos insulation, drafty windows, rotten wood, etc. I'm very interested to see if the co-worker has some sort of insight that I've missed.

Mr K: Well, I know that older homes certainly can have some issues.
Co-worker: You know that all of those older homes are located near downtown.
Mr K: Yeah, we've seen a few in that area.

We did go around the older areas of the city and in fact, some of the areas were very nice. At this point, I'm just very puzzled about what could be so horrible. So what could it be? Loud traffic noise? Airplane fly overs? Horrible stench from the sewers? Chemical spill? Nuclear testing? Gaping rift to hell? Keep in mind that this particular co-worker lives in the suburbs in one of the new houses mentioned above.

Co-worker: Make sure you check out the neighborhood before you move in.
Mr K: We have been. We make it a point to go for walks in the neighborhood that we're buying into.
Co-worker: Well, there's a lot of Hmong in the downtown area.

Ahhhhh, now I've got it, I think to myself. She's prejudiced. So I decide to play this out and see how it goes.

Mr K: And?
Co-worker (dropping her voice in her best conspiratorial tone): They raise carp in their basement.
(Stunned silence)
Mr K: Carp. In their basement.
Co-worker: Really they do. Talk to (another co-worker). She lives next to Hmong and they are raising carp in their basement.

Still reeling from this revelation, I try to organize my thoughts.

Mr K: How does that work? I mean do they cover up the drain in the floor, turn on the garden hose and flood the basement? What about the water heater and the furnace? What about the electrical?
Co-worker: I don't know, but you should go talk to (other co-worker).

I'm imagining massive 100 pound carp swimming blissfully in 5 feet of water in a flooded basement, and some 100 pound Hmong man trying to wrestle one up the stairs for supper. I know that I'm going to have to cut this conversation short, or I'll start laughing out loud.

Mr K: We'll be sure to check out the neighborhood, but as long as the neighbors are law abiding and friendly, I think we'll be OK.
Co-worker: Just make sure you know your neighbors.

So there you have it. Anybody else know of anyone raising carp in their basement?

Friday, September 21, 2007

It had to be you...

As the inaugural post, let me say that I'm going to try and post weekly. I've seen a lot of blogs die over the years though, so the odds are against me. And to be sure, at some point, some day, hopefully before I die, the topic of the blog, our house, will be mostly renovated and we can relax and enjoy the fruits of our labor. And at that point, when I finally really have time to do something like blog, I won't have my subject matter any more.

I was thinking the other day about the thousands of houses I looked at online and the 50 to 75 that I took my family through to find the "perfect" house. A lot of the houses we looked at were nice, well cared for houses that didn't meet our criteria. Some were absolute holes. The price differences in the housing market amazed me. There were some deals out there and some definite rip offs. Situations where, if two houses were placed right next to one another, you'd just have to laugh at the way they were priced.

I felt bad about not buying some of the houses, especially the "for sale by owner" houses. You could see in some people's eyes that they were desperate to get rid of their house. We ran into one very nice woman who had bought an old Victorian house and decided to remodel it. Some of the things she did were nice, others were not. After a very short time in the house, I could tell that she was in trouble. The electricity in the house was out, so she showed us around the basement with a flashlight. I don't think the water was on. She talked about how she had bought another lot and was building a new house and how she had fired her real estate agent after six months because she wasn't getting anywhere. Now she was cutting the price and trying to sell it herself. Afterwards, I looked up the property on the county tax role records and sure enough, she was delinquent on her taxes. The house didn't suit us.

Then there was the older couple who were offering a gorgeous 1920's colonial style house in a very desirable part of town. They had been there many, many years and were looking to move to a retirement home. The house was very well taken care of with custom counter tops, a beautiful conservatory and great decor. They talked about the house with such enthusiasm, I couldn't believe that they really wanted to move. Unfortunately, their house was on a corner lot and the lot size was only 8000 square feet. Again I felt bad not buying the house.

Finally, there was the 1920's brick four-square located within walking distance to all the major downtown amenities. It is very similar to the House of 42 Doors. It is the town house to our country house, with similar floor plans, but it had been kept up and modernized over the years - modern electrical, good plumbing, a new kitchen and two bathrooms. The owner of that house, really was not coming to terms with his sale of the house. He kept wandering around saying "Oh, I guess I still have to..." and each time it was some major house project that would take a few months or more. He hadn't changed his mindset to "I never got around to...". We really struggled as to whether or not to buy that house.

In the end, we got what we got. But I sure wish I had enough money to buy all the nice houses we saw, so that I could live in each of them for six months or so and then pick one. Maybe someday.