Thursday, August 28, 2008


What determines an infestation? The thought crosses my mind when I look at the nest of yellow jackets in our eaves and when I look at the guano on the floor of our outdoor porch. Does it depend on the species? On the merit of the species? Is it possible to have an infestation of one (to do a poor paraphrase of the old Army slogan)?

After we bought the House of 42 Doors exactly 364 days ago, there was a period of three months when we didn't live in it, but tried to make it livable. During that time, we caught a lot of vermin in the house, including over 40 mice and two bats. The first bat we found laying on our stairs during the middle of the day. I wanted to use it as an opportunity to teach our eldest about bats, but Ms. Huis objected.

She correctly pointed out that a bat lying on the ground in the middle of the day is probably not healthy, and probably not something to bring around small children. So I took it out the back airing porch door (on the second floor) and set it on the railing. Eventually it flew off, although I didn't actually see it go.

The second bat we found hanging on the back side of a bedroom door. There was a narrow space between the wall and the open door, so just right for a bat. I grabbed a pair of gloves and gently, but firmly grabbed the bat. And the screeching it made! I had no idea that they were so loud. I also didn't realize what sharp, pointy teeth they have. I'm glad the gloves were heavy leather. I took that one out the airing porch too and hung him on a pillar. He seemed much more healthy and I did use him as an educational opportunity for the girls.

Then around November 1st, when we redid the sewer in the basement, one of the plumbers found a bat in basement. I believe that one did not fare as well as the other two. The plumber said that he disposed of him outside. That was the extent of our indoor bats until Tuesday night.

I was blissfully asleep when I got an elbow in the ribs at three in the morning. "I think there's a bat in our room!" was the first thing I heard. I squinted in the dark with my glasses off and could faintly see something and hear a flep, flep, flep. I was astounded that my wife could identify a bat at three in the morning with her glasses off. I would have slept through it all.

I got up and opened up a window, while Ms. Huis went to close our bedroom door. Herr Fledermaus got out anyway. She went downstairs and took over from there.

I like bats. I think that they are cool, especially as the only flying mammal. It makes me wonder if someday in millions of years, the skies will be full of mammals, instead of birds. And I think the whole rabies things is grossly overstated. Can it happen? Absolutely. But it is not likely. I've thought of building a bat house, but haven't gotten around to it yet. But there are two things that I don't like.

I don't like guano on our porches. And I don't like bats in the house. That's where I draw the line. So now that it's late enough in the season that any bat young are grown, I can try and get the little buggers out of the cracks in the eaves. The best solution I've found so far is to cover the bat entry with a cloth. They'll be able to push their way out, but won't be able to figure out how to get back in. We'll see.

I'm also very excited to report that the shingles are here! I called our roofer to check on the them and he said they were sitting on the floor of his warehouse. I'm heading out tonight to check the color of the shingles and pick out what color metal to use for the valley flashing.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Its fun sometimes to think of the House of 42 Doors as alive. Not in the sense that it is full of spiders, centipedes, sow bugs, hornets, bumblebees, mice and humans. But in the sense that it has a hard exoskeleton (brick), a digestive system (the sewer), a respiratory system (the tuberculosis vents along with loose windows) and a circulatory system (the boiler and radiators). It turns out that the poor organism that we're acting as symbiotic hosts to has health problems with almost all of its systems. Today we bled the little bugger dry.

After four months of waiting, we finally got the heating guys to come out and drain the radiators. When they stopped in last April, they said they'd be back in May to finish the job. I called them in June. No action. I called them in July. No action. I called them in August to tell them either get somebody out here to finish the job, or send me the bill for the time and the "Lipitor" and I'll find somebody else. That was Friday. They had someone out today.

They drained the radiators and the pipes, added fresh water, bled the radiators of air, turned on the heat and verified that all the radiators heated up. We are still waiting to hear back on the metal tube used for draining the boiler and the cost to replace the radiators in the sun room. I also asked them to drill a hole through the foot of concrete that is our basement wall. Ever since we got our new dryer, we haven't been able to vent it outside. This makes for pretty humid conditions in the basement in the winter. In the summer it hasn't been bad, as Ms. Huis has been hanging laundry outside.

Here's hoping the house appreciates its new blood.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Perfect Project

I've been doing research into window glazing lately. For those of you who haven't dived into the world of window vocabulary (Sash? Stile? Sill? Glazing? Muntin?), glazing is just the fancy term for window glass. Early on in my research, it became apparent that within the historical renovation community one of the biggest heresies is replacing the original windows. The debate is huge though, with people from the window industry (predictably) pushing to replace the old, inefficient, drafty windows. Meanwhile the historical folks go on and on about the value of preserving the old windows for their look, their quality materials and the cost savings.

We have a few "issues" with glazing around the house. There are several cracked panes. The glazing in one of our front doors was broken in the past and replaced with scratched plexi-glass. Finally, one French door is missing a pane completely. I didn't notice that until I went to clean the French door and found that super clean pane of glass was just air.

I'd been looking for some "quick wins" over the last few weeks. I've got a lot of projects on at the moment, and all of them require at least 20 hours of work to complete. With the girls, I don't generally get more than an hour or two of uninterrupted work time. Some of the projects require set up and clean up time and once that time is taken out of the hour or two, very little time is left over for actually doing the work.

The ideal project is one that has very little setup or cleanup time, one that can be abandoned in a heartbeat ("Daddy, daddy, come quick! I has an emergency!"), one that can be completed in a few hours and one that doesn't cost much money. Most of these projects have been done around the house.

The missing pane of glass in the French doors has been bothering me for a long time. We have a plain blue carpet under our dining room table to keep the chairs from scratching up the wood floor and to catch all the food from the kids. It needs to be vacuumed every night to get up all the food bits that a one year old and four year old leave behind. We often vacuum after the kids are in bed, so I close the French doors to keep the noise to a minimum. No sense in waking up the kids. So every time I closed those French doors, I'd always think about how much noise is creeping through that open glass pane.

Early this week I finally got up enough chutzpah to pry off the wood trim around the pane of missing glass. It went surprising well. And in the space of two days, I was able to replace the glass and put the trim back on. The project went so well, that I decided to replace the plexi-glass in the interior entry door, hence all the research on glazing. I wanted to know what my options were for replacing the glazing; thick, thin, tempered, tinted, etc.

I had hoped to find some low-e glass to replace the plexi-glass. It really wasn't critical that I find low-e glass. The door I was working on wasn't an exterior door. It is just the door that sits between the living room and the front entry, but it does sit between the heated living room and the unheated front entry. In the end, it didn't look to me like there were many options out there for refurbishing old windows with new, high performance glazing. The industry out there seems to take an attitude of throw it all out and replace it all with something new.

Now this is a general complaint I have with our current consumerist society. There are too many examples of current products being sold as an integrated unit, rather than as repairable, replaceable parts. It's one of the things I love about our old house. Almost everything can be taken apart and repaired, even by a layman such as myself, provided that parts can be found. If I could find a place that would provide low-e glass, I'd replace broken panes of glass with that kind of glass.

After all of that research, I just decided to run down to the local hardware store and get the project done, so I bought the $25 worth of materials required. Most of that cost was the 3/16" thick, single pane clear glass. Nothing fancy or complicated about the glass. And in the space of one night I replaced the ugly, scratched plexi glass. For the first time in almost a year, we can see out the two front doors. By all measures, it was a perfect project. I wish more projects were like this one.

Now this isn't to say that in the future I won't try to source some low-e glazing for the exterior windows. But I'm not sure it makes sense to replace the glass simply for the sake of replacing it. There are other areas in the house that my return on investment would be much higher, like insulation. But if I have to replace broken glass, why not do so with higher quality glazing?

And of course I cannot forget to mention that four years ago today Pumpkin came into the world kicking and screaming. Happy Birthday!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Now That's Smooth

The plaster on the ceiling is done. The plaster masters applied 4 by 10 sheets of plaster board and then applied two coats of plaster onto that. It looks really good and is a huge improvement over the old ceiling.

There are two differences between the original plaster and the new plaster though. First, the pattern that the plasterers left behind is different than what was on the original ceiling. Second, the plaster that was originally used in the house was gray, almost like cement. The plaster that these guys used was white. All of this is very minor and probably won't be noticeable once we repaint. We'll need to repaint the ceiling and parts of the kitchen walls where the spray adhesive they used to keep up the plastic sheeting either left behind residue or took off the paint.

We also made a discovery while doing all of this work. There was some trim on the kitchen cupboards that needed to come off for the new ceiling. Taking it off revealed this.

That's right. Blue, patterned wallpaper attached directly to the ceiling. It must have been quite a sight during its day. I don't know when it was put on, but I would guess the 30's or early 40's.

We still need to paint, put the light shades back on, and put up the cabinet trim before everything is just "so". But there's no additional cost for any of that. This little project ended up costing us $575. I'd guess that insurance kicked in about another $1300, putting the grand total somewhere between $1500 and $2000.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Plaster or Maybe Something Else...

Ms. Huis has done a good job posting a pictorial representation of our kitchen. It is shrink wrapped.

When I got home last night there was butcher paper on the floor extending through the front door, into the living room, around the corner and into the kitchen. The entire kitchen floor and counters were covered in butcher paper and everything from the ceiling down was draped in plastic. They moved the refrigerator to the middle of the kitchen and they moved the stove into the dining room. There was a slit cut into the door for entry. All other doors were covered in plastic.

The first time that I walked into the kitchen, I felt like one of three things was going to happen.

A) Bubble boy would come running at me screaming, "Get out! Get out! You'll kill me with the common cold!"
B) The CDC in level A hazmat suits would come out of nowhere to tell me that I need to follow them to a "decontamination" trailer at the back of the house now that I've come into contact with the "unknown contaminant."
C) Fox Mulder would approach me to say that my kitchen is off limits and currently subject to a highly classified FBI investigation. Oh, and also to "Please ignore the strange stilt-like objects in the corner."

None of these turned out to be true. Sometimes I lead such a boring life.

Monday, August 4, 2008


The in-laws were here for the weekend and we had a great time with them. We went to the Farmer's market, did some car shopping, went to the beach, and just caught up with them. Much fun was had by all. Not much got done on the house, but as my wife keeps telling me, "It can't be about the house all the time." She's right.

So...back to the house. I received a call this morning from the plasterer that they would be out tomorrow at 6:45 am to start fixing the ceiling. This should have made me happy, as the ceiling is getting fixed. It just made me cranky. I left a message with him over a week ago that we wanted him to do the work. One week ago he called me back to tell me that he would schedule us in and let us know when he'd be available for the work.

Then after a week he calls me to tell me he'll be in at 6:45 am the next day? What kind of crap is that? He can't plan out any further than 18 hours? If he would have told me this on Friday, we could have done all the prep work over the weekend. There's trim work that needs to come down and a light that needs to be adjusted before they can plaster. Now I've got to spend tonight working on it. I'm tempted to leave the plasterer with all the prep work, and I would if I wasn't afraid that they would ding up the trim or screw something up.

My experience with the plumber and the sewer replacement last fall makes me suspicious of tradesman working on anything except their core competency. It's cynical, but since that first project, it's a philosophy that's worked well.