Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 Wrap Up

Two years, 123 days. There have been eight hundred, fifty four days that we have owned the House of 42 Doors. My blogging has become more sporadic and less passionate. We are settling into the house and the house is settling into us. What originally seemed strange and wondrous has become normal and mundane.

What we accomplished this year pales in comparison to what we accomplished in 2008, but for the record, here is the list:

  • Finished up the kitchen ceiling (after the waste pipe replacement in 2008).
  • Plugged crack after crack in the basement with Great Stuff foam. Last year's basement temperature was 48 degrees. This year's its 58. Progress!
  • Stripped the calcimine from the bathroom and painted it.
  • Replaced the tub/shower drain.
  • Ripped up some of the attic floor and sealed some of the air leaks. More work needed here.
  • Painted and patched the office.
  • Distributed 90% of the huge compost pile to the garden.
  • Planted a garden.
  • Repaired, scraped and painted the beadboard soffit.
  • Built a storm window holder.
  • Put in 75 yews for a hedge.
  • Took out several honeysuckles to make room for said hedge.
  • Painted the dining room red (and interestingly, both Ms. Huis and I have gained weight this year).
  • Removed all the calcimine paint from the guest room. Patching and painting to follow.
  • Painted the back dormer.
  • Repaired and painted the back porch gutters.
  • Built an igloo (it only lasted a week - I'm no Eskimo).

Next year we'll be looking at repairing our last two roofs and maybe replacing the front entry gutters. When those are repaired that will be the end of the exterior repairs to the house.

Here's hoping you had a great 2009 and have a fantastic New Year's!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Last Lecture

Last Tuesday I started reading The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. It was a gift from a co-worker a few months ago and I was looking for something short to read before bed. I didn't finish it that night, but I did get a good way through it. It is a good book and worth the read. It is a thoughtful book that can lead to self examination and life re-alignment.

The next day I received word that my previous boss had died Tuesday night/Wednesday morning from pancreatic cancer.

I had known he was sick and that his time was near the end, but the timing of it all only underscored the message in the book. None of us know how long we have. Remember your dreams. Try and achieve them. I've been blessed in the last few years to fulfill a few of mine. They don't need to be grand. Sometimes they are small.

Like building an igloo.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Igloo Update

For all those people out there who have two properties, it doesn't take long before upkeep and maintenance on the other property begins to take focus away from the primary one. I'm sad to report that my igloo has some serious structural deficiencies.

Last weekend it rained slightly and reached 32 degrees. The result was that my igloo has bowed in appreciably on the north side. It has also shrunk. When I built the igloo, it was a little over six feet in diameter and a little over six feet high. Now the height is probably closer to four feet and with the wall bowed in, I have probably lost two to three feet in diameter. The door, which was never big to begin with is just barely tall enough for me to wiggle in on my belly.

My spacious igloo is feeling a bit claustrophobic. But the kids still love it. One of the neighbors told her husband that he wouldn't be granted a Dad of the Year award until he built his kids an igloo. :)

With the shrinkage, I'm now considering how my next igloo could be improved. Maybe made out of ice? Or maybe if I packed the snow tighter? Maybe I could make it bigger to allow for shrinkage? And of course all of this means I'm not thinking about the House of 42 Doors. I suppose its a good cautionary tale on why I probably shouldn't buy a rental property until after I have the House of 42 Doors fixed up. Maybe sometime in 2025.


[Ms. Huis Herself says: You can see bowed-in side here.]

Friday, December 11, 2009

My Other House is an Igloo

It's rare that we get the chance to fulfill a childhood dream when we are adults. Usually we outgrow those dreams, or the impossibility of the dream becomes all too apparent when the naivete of youth is stripped away.

When I was a little boy I had a blue plastic block, about 6" by 6" by 12". There was a picture on the front of it with a little boy in a heavy parka. He had the fur lined hood up and had a huge smile on his face. In the background was a perfectly domed igloo.

I don't remember if that toy was a birthday present, a Christmas present or a "just because" present, but when I saw it, I immediately wanted to build an igloo. And for several winters I tried, but it never worked. The snow was either too dry, too powdery, too wet or too little. And the amount of work involved was probably too great for a six to eight year old boy anyway.

Tuesday night we saw 16 inches of snow dumped on us. We went from late fall to winter in the course of 24 hours. The first batch of snow was heavy and wet, followed by drier, more powdery snow. When I went out to play in it Wednesday morning, I saw that the bottom six inches had been insulated by the top 10 inches. It was still wet and sticky, even though the air temperature was around 27 or 28 degrees.

I knew this was it. The perfect situation to build an igloo. So I went inside and dumped the toys out of six bins our girls use for toys and set to building an igloo.



It took about five hours. I did the first half by myself, but the second half was a full family effort with Ms. Huis packing the blocks and the girls delivering them to me inside the igloo. The inside is about seven feet in diameter and it is just under seven feet tall. It doesn't look much like the perfect domed igloo on my long gone blue plastic block, but I'm still thrilled with it.



I get a smile on my face every time I think about it.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Standards? I scoff at your petty standards

Here's hoping that everyone had a great Thanksgiving. We did. It's why I didn't post last week.

I started a long post about blogging and Internet anonymity, but I've come to the end of the day and ran out of time so...

We have a leaky faucet. I took it apart to fix it. It needs a new brass nut because some moron put on a steel one a long time ago. Guess what? Steel + water + time = rusted and broken nut.

So I went to the local hardware store (and I mean local as in locally owned, not local as in the big box store that is around the corner) and went to their two aisles of various bolts, nuts and screws. They had about 12 square feet assigned to brass bolts, nuts and screws and guess what? I couldn't find one that fit.

Why is nothing standard in this house?

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Mopping Opportunity

For me, late fall is a season of melancholic, pensive moods. A time punctuated by bipolar ups and and downs while I remember the beauty of previous weeks and adjust to the impending gloom of another winter. As we do not have any major projects in progress at the moment (compared to last year) I've considered many topics for this week's post including:

The True Opportunity Cost of Owning an Old House
Why Aren't My Rain Gutters Leaf Gutters Too?
How We Lost Our Souls to Mechanization
What is Lost in Keeping Online Privacy and Anonymity?
Accustomed to the Outhouse
Geothermal - Here We Come
Why Fusion Will Never Save Us

But the House of 42 Doors always has a few tricks up its sleeve, and has given me something to write about. Some time ago, I made the mistake of allowing our radiators in the sun room to freeze and crack in the winter. We have yet to repair those radiators. We've kept the pipes to that heating loop turned off and all has been fine, although colder.

We scheduled our annual boiler maintenance and tune up yesterday. John came out, checked the pump, the emissions, the intake valve, the overhead storage tank and did an overall tune up of the system. And then he opened up all the valves to make sure everything was working OK.

Meanwhile, several minutes later, my wife noticed a growing pool of black water growing in the sun room and leaking into the living room. She could see the water squirting out of the radiators. The floor in the sun room is tile. The living room floor is wood. She called me to find out where the shut off valve for the sun room loop was, ran down to tell John, turned off the valve, and then proceeded to mop up the mess (Thanks!). The water was black because of the years and years of coal dust built up in the walls, cracks and crevices of the house.

No damage was done, and we are only out the gallons of water that was spilled. The sun room tile floor is cleaner than it probably ever has been since we bought the place. The wood floor and living room carpet have dried out. It caused a good deal of stress to my wife (because she had to deal with it), but I found the whole incident somewhat amusing.

It's made me think about directly attributable causality and the interaction of temporal events across seemingly large amounts of time. In this case, all the months that occurred between the radiators cracking and this incident could never have existed, or for that matter could have been double, triple or more. Any time that those valves were turned on this could have happened. Its as if time does not exist, as if there were the equivalent of a spatial wormhole, but in this case a temporal one, connecting two events, regardless of the distance in time...

Autumn - a pensive season indeed.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Indian Summer

Last weekend was a bonus weekend. It was the kind of Indian Summer weekend that makes autumn my favorite season. I finished a few projects that I never found time for during the rest of the year. It was the "Weekend of the Gutter."

We inherited a 26 foot fiberglass extension ladder with the house and it seems that several times a year I am climbing up it to clean out the upper gutters. I hate doing this. It is dangerous. One fall would result in serious injury. Anything I can do to cut down on the need for this is a plus.

Last weekend I finished putting gutter guards on the upper gutters, which turned out to be much more involved than I had anticipated. But it's done now and with luck, I won't have to clean out the gutters more than once every year or two.

I cleaned out the garage gutters. And I was able to sand, wash, paint and caulk the integrated gutters on the back porch. I really need to squeeze another five or ten years of functionality out of them. The previous owner replaced them with galvanized steel some years back and they are starting to rust badly. Replacing them is not in the budget any time soon. I also took down the railing on the back porch for repair. Sadly, it is mostly rotten and may require a complete rebuild.

And I was able to rake, level and seed in a few more areas of the "lawn" that need grass. Hopefully next year it will come up, more grass than weeds or buckthorn.

I should have definitely worked on buttoning up the house. I still have windows to finish, cracks to caulk, insulation to add and trim to stain. But when it is 65 and sunny the first week of November, the last thing I want to do is be inside.

The mad march of mice to the inside continues. We've caught two more in traps and this weekend I found one that fell down our floor drain in the basement. The poor thing swam around until it was too tired and then drowned. I'm not sure if that counts as a mouse for the count, but I'll add him in anyway. That puts the current count at 58.

I think that beginning January 1st 2010, we'll start a contest to see what the mouse count will be like at the end of the year. Guess the mouse count! Win a faux fur coat!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Stripping

I'm done stripping. The hours are long, it ruins my clothes, it makes a huge mess, the smell gives me a headache and I can pay somebody else to do it for me. I am of course talking about paint stripping.

Yesterday I picked up the trim from the paint stripping place. They are in the middle of moving their business, so things are a bit chaotic for them right now. In talking to the owner, the current economic crisis has also hit the commercial real estate market. For those businesses that are still solvent, there are opportunites to relocate to bigger or better locations. They've moved from the middle of nowhere, sandwiched between a roofing company warehouse and a scrap metal business, to one of those locations off of a major highway that you can see, but you'll never be able to figure out how to get to. Thank goodness for online mapping.

The shop is a mess at the moment and just walking in gives me a headache from the fumes. It's a very good reminder of why I don't want to work on stripping the wood in the first place. Originally they weren't planning on getting my pieces done for another two weeks, but a few of the pieces of trim are 14 feet long, and they were getting tired of tripping over them in the chaos of the move. The shop has all kinds of beautiful pieces of furniture in various states of repair and refinishing there. We have a broken, vintage Morris-style chair that came with the house that needs repair and refinishing (looks like this). It may end up going to these guys.

So now that the window trim is back, it still needs staining, varnishing and then adding back to the window frame. And of course I need to put back the window I took out in the first place, replace the ropes with chains and add brass weather stripping. It sounds like a lot more work than it is, I hope. I'd post pictures, but several weeks back our digital camera met the ground a tad bit forcefully (dropping will do that) and now it's being repaired.

We weathered through Halloween just fine. We decorated the house a little more than last year and we were again asked about the ghost in the attic. My wife had a prime opportunity to perpetuate the myth, but missed it. She had been putting a strobe light in the attic on some nights to create a "spooky" light in the attic. When one of the neighbors commented that it looked creepy, the wife said thanks. I would have looked at them and told them, "What light? What are you talking about?" Ah well. Maybe next year.

We also caught mouse 55. So Great Stuff foam and I have been busy filling anything that even looks like a hole in the basement. I found several that I had missed last year, including two holes, one inch in diameter left over from when we upgraded our electrical service in 2007. From a mouse's perspective, all that was missing was a porch light and a little mat that said WELCOME!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Haunted Woods

When our house changed hands in the late 70's, the family knocked down the old greenhouses to the north and partitioned the several acres of land into lots. A cul-de-sac was put in and houses built on those lots. They intentionally made the lots large, some almost an acre in size. Some of those lots have been partitioned again, but two houses on cul-de-sac still have large lot sizes. One is .44 acres and the other is .87 acres. Both lots are heavily wooded and they have no backyard neighbors. The land behind them is owned by the factory and is used as a maintenance road. It is essentially junk industrial land that no one uses. It's unfortunate as it runs alongside the river and could have been prime residential land instead of worthless, unused industrial land.

For the last 12 years these two families have hosted Haunted Woods on their land. Every two years the venue changes from one back yard to the other. This gives time for the woods to recover from the abuse they receive. The families create a maze-like path in the woods and decorate it with a seemingly limitless supply of cobwebs, animated spooks and props. They have landmarks like the "Wall of Severed Heads" and the "Tunnel of Terror." There are three tours that they offer. The first is early in the evening, while it is still light out and there are no live spooks. The second has spooks, but if the tour guide has a red light, the live spooks are put to sleep. The third is the full on, no holds barred, live spooks tour. The live spooks are mostly neighborhood kids dressed up in costumes who jump out you and try to scare you into wetting yourself.

The families have a suggested donation of $1 a kid and $2 per adult. They take any profit from the event and donate it to a local charity. It runs every weekend in October and then for a few days leading up to Halloween.

We took the girls to the no spooks tour one evening before supper and Ms. Huis and I went on the full tour a few nights later. It's amazing how jumpy we were even knowing that we were safe. It's a great neighborhood activity that helps pull everyone together. We haven't had much to do with it yet, but I can see that changing as the girls get older.

Oh, and for the record Mouse, LIV.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Epitaph

This was really much funnier in person than it is in writing, but I'm still putting it here because it's close to Halloween and I want to remind her in the years to come what she said. This was a conversation at the end of supper with myself, our five year old daughter (Pumpkin) and Ms. Huis as she was heading upstairs to start the bathtub filling for the girls.

Ms. Huis: Pumpkin, you can't save everything. You have to throw that away. We don't have room to save everything.

Pumpkin (thinking): Oh...well, we won't throw you out, Mom...until after you're dead. Then we'll bury you in the front lawn.

Ms. Huis (heading upstairs): Most people don't get buried in the front lawn. They get buried in a cemetery.

Pumpkin: Why?

Mr. Kluges: Well, people think that digging up the dead is disrespectful and not very nice so we put them all in one place. That way we know where they are and we don't have to worry about accidentally digging them up.

Pumpkin: Oh! So we could put a big rock over them, and then we could write "Leave Me Alone!" on it.

Mr. Kluges: Well, yes, we could. Usually though people just write their name, the date they were born and the day they died on the stone. Some people also put on an epitaph.

Pumpkin: What's an epitaph?

Mr. Kluges: It's words on the gravestone that you want to be remembered for. Things like "Rest In Peace." Or "Here Lies Our Beloved." Sometimes they are funny, like, "I told you it was a bad cough."

Pumpkin: Mine could be "Sorry, I couldn't help it."

Mr. Kluges: Yes, honey, it could.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Mouse LIII

Mouse 52. Yawn. Yawn. I was becoming immune to the horror of it all - the intermittent but ongoing maiming and killing of rodentia. Then came mouse number 53. He was small and gray with big black eyes, rounded ears and a sad little twitchy nose. I met him last weekend when he tried to "hide" by my foot in the basement. He ran away before I could catch him. And he was very cute.

Monday night I found him on the basement floor, near death. We don't put out poison, so I can only surmise that his impending demise was the result of disease or insufficient food supplies. I picked him up with a gloved hand. He breathed out a labored breath and tried to arch his back. I carried him up to show the girls and then took him outside near the compost heap. If he has enough energy to forage for food, he won't need to forage far. I don't think he's going to make it though, poor thing.

Sometime ago one of the ropes broke in a double hung window of our dining room. I took both the upper and lower sashes out (quite honestly, I think just to see if I could). But so long as they are out...

One of the things that really bothers me is the painted woodwork in our dining room. The original owners were very careful about how they choose the flooring for their house. The used oak flooring in the public spaces of the house (the entryway, the living room, and the dining rooms) and "cheap" yellow birch flooring everywhere else. The trim and woodwork in the entryway and the living room are stained oak. The trim and woodwork in the dining room though is painted white. It doesn't match. I have always wanted to strip the paint off the woodwork in the dining room and stain it to match the oak floors and the entryway/living room woodwork. It's funny how one small cotton rope breaking was all that I needed to convince myself (and my wife) that the windows needed a complete overhaul, including the window trim.

The problem is that having windows disassembled in winter leaves a gaping hole. Even in our case, where I have the storms on, a single pane of glass isn't nearly as good as two, which means the race is on to get the window put back together, along with the all of the trim I pulled off. In the interest of getting the job down quickly, I took all the window trim (about 100 linear feet of it) to a local paint stripping place. If people have any experience with prices, please let me know. This place charges $1.80 per linear foot for any piece that is 6" or less in width. And another $2.20 on top of that to finish. That was a little more than I was expecting.

The upshot is that in three or four weeks, I should have the window trim ready to be stained and varnished.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

I'll Floss, I Promise

I've never liked dentists. We started out on the wrong foot from a young age. But that's not really what this post is about.

Our dentist's office happens to be three blocks south of our house, on the main street of our town. It's in a one story, brick building that was constructed in the mid-eighties. It has a great roof of concrete shingles and seamless gutters (I notice these things now). Across the street is a small, local mechanic (our mechanic), a real estate office and a large, empty corner lot. Next to the dentist's office are the beginnings of residential housing that line the rest of main street.

I went through the standard procedure of a dentist's visit (x-rays and cursory dentist inspection) before I was finally shipped off to a separate room for cleaning. The woman who cleaned my teeth was in her mid to late fifties and had lived in our town her entire life. And she was absolutely fantastic.

Anyone who has been to the dentist knows that it is almost impossible to carry on a conversation while having your teeth cleaned. The good hygienists in the world understand that going to the dentist is like going to a psychiatrist in reverse - they talk and you listen, all while you lie down. Her monologue was mostly confined to Brett Favre and his hometown of Kiln, Mississippi. Typically this would have bored me to tears, but I guess after 36 years of cleaning mouths and performing hours of one-way conversations, she had found ways to engage her captive audience.

Naturally, she got to talking about our town, and through my occasional grunt and head nod, I was able to communicate that we'd only been here two years. She talked about the slow decline the town had seen over the last few decades. The closure of the city swimming pool and ice rink; the migration of downtown businesses out into malls and business parks; the bars that went out of business; the local hardware store that now sits empty; the motel that burned down; and of course the closure of the local factory by our house. It was sad to hear the resignation in her voice to the inevitable failure of our downtown. Its not what she wanted for our town, but I don't think she could see a way to stop our town from turning into just another soulless suburb.

She asked where I lived and I mentioned the neighborhood without explicitly telling her we lived in the House of 42 Doors. We talked about the neighborhood and the Halloween Haunted Woods there (more about that in another post). Then she said, "And then you have the ______ House there," referring to our house by the last name of the previous owners. At that, I let the cat out of the bag and indicated we had bought the place.

I never know what I'm going to get when I tell people that. Thankfully she was one of the people who thought the house was worth saving and that the house had little, if anything, to do with the factory closing. She's not the first to have told me that the factory would have probably closed one way or another. She said she was very glad the previous owner fought so hard to save the house and the entire neighborhood. Of course I invited her to walk down some time and say hi. We'd be happy to show her around.

And she jokingly replied that she would have to make a house call. Then her demeanor changed ever so slightly, "To make sure you are flossing more."

Ok. Ok. I get the message.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

KISS

Keep it simple stupid.

Repairs for the exterior of the house have proceeded from the top down, which meant a few weeks ago I needed to paint the back dormer. I took out the windows to perform maintenance on them, mostly just painting and a bit of puttying. In the process I succeeded in breaking a pane. In the past I had gone to the local hardware store for my glass, but this time I opted to visit a glazier who was a few extra miles down the road.

The store was set up with displays of mirrors and glass doors for shower enclosures. There was one small corner dedicated to modern windows that he was reselling. I found myself wondering what kind of sales he has seeing now that traditional windows with single pane glass were not the norm. I suppose if he was able to sell new windows, rather than repair old, he probably did quite well in the housing bubble of the last few years. But now that the housing bubble had burst...who knows?

The point of going to the glazier was to ask about all my options for fixing the window - single pane, double pane, inserts, low emissivity glass, tinted glass, etc. He threw in a few other options that I wasn't considering too, like replacing the entire window or putting on a new storm. We talked for about 15 minutes on all the options.

In the end, I bought a double strength pane of glass. Standard, single pane glass is about 1/16th of an inch thick. As you might guess, DS glass is 1/8th of an inch thick, so less likely to break, although twice as heavy. When I asked him how much for the 8" by 12" piece of glass, it came to $2.65. I'd say it wasn't even worth the time it took him to tell me about my options. On the upside though, I'll be going to him in the future, as I can't get DS glass from my hardware store.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Mouse LI

September? What September? Where did it go? I find myself reeling at the month that never was. Suddenly we're in the middle of fall with Halloween looming and I'm not sure if I traveled forward in time or if I've suddenly awoken from a fugue.

Stepping back and looking at the House of 42 Doors, there are plenty of things going on, but in the interest of having something to write about in October, I'll limit each of my postings, rather than do one catch up post.

Fall means colder weather, a plethora of food and a search for shelter by our wee friends, the mice. I've set the traps in the attic again, and in the space of a week, we've caught two more, equaling a grand total of 51 mice since we bought the house two years ago. I knew we had at least one in the house. In the evenings, I could hear her sliding down the interior walls of the bathroom.

I had hoped that when we had the house tuckpointed, it would have solved our mouse problem. I guess that they are still finding a way in. We continue to fill in cracks where we see them. I know for a fact that plugging a hole in the kitchen has kept them out of our living space. Now they live solely in the walls and in the attic, which is an improvement.

The family has been pushing to get a cat for the last few months and I am hesitant for a variety of reasons that are not the topic of this post. I am wondering though if having a cat in the house would actually help with the mice. Not so much from catching the mice, but more from any scent that the cat would emit. Does anyone know of any evidence that cat phermones drive away mice?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Old and Green?

So. Umm. Hi.

How are you? Good? Fine.

Well. Errr. Ah.

I guess this is bit awkward. I've been gone awhile. I don't really know what to say.

You didn't notice? Really? You've been busy too? Oh good.

Last night I attended a presentation put on by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which is a non-profit, non-government funded agency that "provides leadership, education, advocacy, and resources to save America's diverse historic places and revitalize our communities."

It was about how green it is to reuse existing buildings rather than demolish them and build them new. The presentation was not what I was hoping for. I was hoping for a discussion on how to make old buildings more green. I'm already convinced that reusing old buildings is more green than building new, provided that they are kept up and improvements incorporated where appropriate. It's the "improvements incorporated where appropriate" that is the tricky bit and the part that I want help with.

Still, it was interesting to go to. I learned that one of the nearby cities has it's own historic preservation council. They organized the presentation by the Trust. Our village is entirely too small to have such a thing, so engaging with that council could be interesting, providing it isn't a bunch of little old ladies who are more concerned with what kind curtains people are hanging in their windows, or if the paint used on the house is an exact match to the color that was used in 1898.

I also came across this link about LED light bulbs in Japan. Would you spend $40 on a light bulb if it paid for itself in a year or two and lasted for 19 years?

I would.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Time of Plenty

We're approaching fall and there is produce everywhere. There are pumpkins on the vine. The squash are turning. The tomatoes are breaking their vines with the weight of their fruit. The beets are sweet and large. The carrots are long and crisp. Our CSA boxes are backachingly full of tomatoes, melons, onions and corn.

Last night our neighbor dropped off a brown grocery bag full of pears, apples and a peach. Today one my employees bribed me with a dozen ears of sweet corn.

I love fall.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Bricks

Brick pavers are heavy.

This is an obvious fact. But if I asked you exactly how heavy, would you have any idea?

On Monday I saw a listing on CraigsList for 1000 brick pavers for sale. I contacted the seller and was thrilled to hear that they were still available at a very good price.

They were an hour away, and I opted to drive down to see them. I wanted to be sure they were real brick and of a color that would match the rest of the brick around the house. The directions to the place sounded familiar, but it wasn't until I was well on my way that I realized the house I was going to was on the way to our CSA, which we've visited three times over the last two years.

The bricks turned out to be perfect. They are 8" x 3.5", and I figured that as long as I was down there, I might as well load up the Ford Taurus and take some back with me. I figured if I could get a third of the bricks in the Taurus, then I could come back another time with my wife and our two cars and get the balance.

As it turns out, estimating weight is not one of my many skills. I loaded up the Taurus trunk, back seat and passenger foot well with as many bricks as I thought I could safely take - about 275. Other than bottoming out the Taurus once, the trip was uneventful, but I was nervous the entire way that something was going to happen.

Once I was home, I weighed a brick to see how close my estimate of two pounds each was. It turns out each brick is closer to five pounds and that I overloaded the Taurus by a few hundred pounds.

We were able to arrange for the sellers to deliver another quarter of the bricks last night (for a fee of course) and I think I'm going down tonight to load up another quarter. They'll be following me with the last 250.

I had no idea when I bought these that it would be such a hassle to get them here. The ironic bit is that the guy selling them pulled them out of a sidewalk for a lady who happens to live within 15 minutes of us, and then transported them back to his house an hour away.

If only we had known.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Not Strictly OSHA Approved

The time off was fabulous, if perhaps too short. I have yet to find someone who will pay me for working on the projects I want to work on, but I suppose it's the same problem we all have.

The goals for the holiday were several.

1) Finish repairing, scraping, priming and painting the soffit.
2) Kill some of the weeds in the lawn with weed killer.
3) Scrape, prime and paint the integrated gutter on the back porch.
4) Take a day trip or two to see some fun things in the area.

As expected, not everything was accomplished. The only item on the list that was completed was number 2. We lost one entire day to Ms. Huis having the flu and one entire day to rain.

The soffit is mostly done with just the final coat of paint to put on two sides. I did not rent a lift or a scaffold and there's no doubt it would have gone faster, but the hassle of setting up and moving a scaffold, as well as the added cost just didn't seem worth it. Besides who needs a scaffold, when I can build this?



I didn't walk on this, only used it to hold my paint tray so I wouldn't have to go all the way down to the ground to dip the roller or the brush. The other sides of the house weren't bad as I was able to reach the soffit by standing on the first floor roofs. Once the soffits are painted, it'll be time to start working on winterizing the house.

Its hard to imagine, but old man winter will be here before I know it.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Giddy

I've got all of next week off and nothing planned.

Well, that's not strictly true. I have a lot of things bouncing around in my head that I could do. Enough really for me to retire for a few years, but still nothing is concrete.

I'll let you know how it goes, but for now, it's a case of finish up the work stuff and fly out the door.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Summer Fun

Hot. Humid. Sticky.

Perfect weather for the beach, the air-conditioned mall, or peeling paint off the walls.



We've gone on at some length in the past about calcimine paint. What we've noticed is that when it is warm and humid, the latex paint on top of the calcimine becomes rubbery and releases easier from the wall. Scraping in the winter results in paint chips. Scraping paint on a hot and humid day can result in pieces of paint coming off that are a square foot in size.



We took the opportunity that the weather gave us and almost finished pulling the paint off of the wall in our guest room in just a few hours. The one wall left is the one by the chimney and it's clear that it has suffered some serious water damage followed by some very poor plaster patching. Getting it to a decent state is going to be difficult.

The room was originally pink, then blue, then the blindingly bright yellow in the pictures. Over that was two or three coats of white latex. Here you can see a patch of white latex, over the sunny, cheery yellow and the gray of a washed wall. Good Summer Fun!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

You'd Be A Lot More Welcome...



If you'd come with your own bat cave, batsuit and batmobile.

We left the window open for you. Glad you were able to see yourself out.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Mystery

The first time we saw the inside of the house, I saw these.



Something about these light switches really appealed to me. The solid click during operation , the mysterious way they were affixed to the wall and the well worn brass spoke to me of quality, endurance and sadly, neglect. If these light switches were in the entry, what else might we find in this house? In retrospect, I think that is one of the things that really drew me to the house - the mystery of what we might find.

We might find a box of depression era bonds, or a trunk of vaudeville costumes or maybe even the famed wardrobe of C.S. Lewis' story in the attic. It was a house untouched for years with an aura of neglected wealth, a patina that might reveal a glimmering treasure if only we cleaned it.

We've gone through the garage, the basement, the yard and the attic. Initially, there was a daily expression of surprise over some discovered item, some architectural or structural detail, or some way the house was affecting our lives. But in time, these tidbits of mystery occurred every few weeks and now it's every few months. Less and less the house seems like someone else's mystery. More and more it seems like our diamond in the rough, a diamond that needs so much shaping and polishing.

Still, I take pleasure even in the small surprises. Last weekend when helping the neighbor remove a tree, I saw several large pieces of limestone buried in the ground, along with a few old bricks. They were originally part of the farm that predated even our house. I have taken them to use as part of a limestone path. I wonder, what were they originally used for? Who put them in? How did they get so neglected that they came to be half buried under five inches of soil?

And if I keep digging, will I come across the rotted out stump of a lamp-post?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Beetastic

Just bee-tastic.

Last Wednesday I was raking up the dead leaves and the dead weeds. The dead weeds have been the only silver lining in our cloud and rain free summer to date. There was one stubborn thistle that needed pulling, so I reached down and gave it a good tug. What I didn't see in the evening twilight was the large hive of underground bees buzzing around. My efforts gained me one large thistle and one large bee sting. I'd been stung once before, when I was around 10, so I didn't get too concerned about allergies, but it still really hurt.

Saturday the buckthorn infested city land behind ours had a box elder come down. We helped another neighbor finish disposing of it. And what did I put the same bee stung hand into while moving some lumber? ANOTHER nest of ground bees. I got two pokes in the hand that time around.

I guess the dry weather is making the bees cranky too.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Overstayed

I think that the next time we buy a house, I'd like to see it NOT re-painted. Conventional wisdom says that before putting a house on the market, its a good idea to paint the interior a nice neutral color. We've repainted the majority of our interior rooms now and they look much better. The paint also hides all the flaws in the plaster. I think I'd much rather not know the true shape of the walls.

One of the houses that we looked at was in a desirable neighborhood and had the feel of a house where the occupants had overstayed. Overstayed houses are houses that were once lavished with love and attention. Then the occupants stayed well past their ability to care for the house, whether due to financial or health reasons, and the house slid into disrepair.

This particular house had late seventies decor. Wallpaper was holding loose plaster to the wall. The floor was uneven. The chimney needed to be rebuilt. There were signs of water damage in some of the rooms. It had a lot of potential, but the lot was very small and the house was built on the edge of a ravine, so it had no backyard. It wasn't what we were looking for.

We only saw a few "overstayed" houses, but ours was one of them. The most egregious example of water damage in our home at the time of purchase was this.



The problem comes from our built-in gutters over the front entry. (Ms. Huis thought it'd be great to get a picture of me too - I'm taking apart the dining room window, the one I don't know what to do with yet.) The gutters have been lined with black pond liner to try and increase their lifespan, but it's not working very well.



Unfortunately, the gutter (or the soffit) tilts towards the house. The water runs back towards the house and then along the brickwork. This had been going on so long, that the water dissolved the mortar holding the brick together. The water would travel through the brick to the window lintel and then into the house.



There was no point in painting or plastering this area right away, and the first winter we had a little bucket under the window to catch the drips. Then last year we had the house tuck pointed. Now that those gaping holes are plugged, the water running against the house stays outside the house. Last winter the window and wall were dry, even in the face of record snowfall. We finally felt comfortable painting the dining room.

The tuck pointing is only part of the solution of course. Getting the gutters and roof replaced on the front entry is on the list of things to do in the next few years.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Blitter

Since my wife has started using Twitter, her blogging has decreased significantly. I didn't get Twitter at first; after all what's the point in trying to communicate in 140 characters or less?

But over the last few weeks I've had several ideas for posts and as I let them roll around in my mind, none of them had any real substance. They could have easily fit into those 140 characters.

Now there's no reason that I couldn't have still posted them on the blog, but there just seems to be a certain "weight" that blog posts have. I don't expect to read a one page story from my local paper in a copy of National Geographic. And I don't expect to find a tweet on my blog.

I was looking at one of my old posts and realized there was a solution for this. So, in the interest of combining these different types of media formats, welcome to my...blitter? twog? blogter?

When did they go to dimensional lumber? And what was the progression? My 2 x 8 joists are neither 2", nor 1 1/2". They're 1 3/4".

We ordered and bought enough wood to build screens for two windows in every room. The mill strongly suggested poplar as a more affordable alternative to clear pine. Didn't expect that. Went with it anyway (they're only screens). We'll see how they hold up.

I work with a guy who used to work at the factory near our house. He started to go on and on about "some house" on the National Historic Registry that kept the factory from expanding in the 90's. I stopped him before he ranted too long with, "Oh yeah. That's my house." The look on his face was priceless, especially when he asked if he could see it sometime.

It's really dry here. We've gotten 0.85 inches of rain in the last 37 days. That makes for a lot of watering of the 66 yews I put in this year. Didn't figure THAT into the cost.

Horrible, heavy, thick clay soil that holds water like a sponge is great for keeping plants alive in a drought, even if it does make my basement damp.

A weight broke in the upper sash of our double hung dining room window. I just bought a copy of Repairing Windows by Terence Meany. This gave me enough courage to take out both the upper and lower sash and the parting bead. OK Mr. Window, now what do I do?

We went to a neighborhood barbecue last weekend. I found out one of our neighbors is a marathon runner. She qualified for the Boston marathon this year.

Our neighbors to the south (who hate yews) have been at their lake cabin all summer. It's been wonderfully quiet - almost as if we've been at the lake cabin.

I've had no luck catching rabbits with the stick and box trick yet. But the girls talk about it.

The neighbor's sour cherries were ready this weekend and they let us pick our share. We canned about four pounds and took the other four pounds and added them to a mead I have brewing.

Our mulberry tree also fruited over the last two weeks. More fruit for the honey-ginger-cherry mead. Next year we'll have raspberries too.

Work has been insanely busy - not so much the amount of work, but the number of things going on is making it really hard to keep track of everything.

I think I vaguely remember a time in my life when I was bored a lot. I wouldn't mind a little more boredom.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

WW - Pre-painting "Before" and a Very Red "After"












(Thanks, Gramma Pet & Papa Pharaoh for the painting & kid-watching help!!!)

Cross-posted to Musings & Mutterings

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Yewdaism

Well, now that Ms. Huis has let the proverbial cat out of the bag, I guess I'd better come clean.

I'm a yew lover.

There I said it. I hope you can all accept me and will support me now that I've come out. I'm no longer a closet yew lover.

My path toward yewdaism began when I was 17 years old, before I even knew about yews. My mom and I took a trip to Europe for a month where we visited Blarney Castle, in Blarney, County Cork, Ireland.
Blarney Castle has extensive gardens attached to it with numerous old yew trees. I have a picture of me, at 17, in a black, stone-washed, jean jacket sitting in the limb of this tree.



At the time, I didn't know that this was a yew tree. I just knew that it was a really cool tree. Then as I grew older and started thinking about the tree more, I started wondering what kind of tree it was. I was able to confirm that it was a yew tree when I went back to Ireland with my wife in 2003. I was hooked.

This yew tree is a major pilgrimage site for yew lovers. We even moved to Blarney for two years where I lived within just a few miles of it. I have since returned to the rest of the world to teach others and evangelize about the joys of yewdaism.

If anyone is going to Blarney Castle, this tree can be found at an elevation of 127 feet at north 51 degrees, 55 minutes, 45.54 seconds and west 8 degrees, 34 minutes, 4.09 seconds. Once you get into the gardens, follow the main path through the tunnel under the road. Stay on the path, past the elephant ears and it will be on your right.

There are a lot of yews in the landscape of the current community we live in, but they tend to be used as accent plants. This is good, but there is so much more that can be done with yews! Too many people have fallen sway to the false Society of the Arbor Vitae (treasonous splitters), somehow believing that they make a better hedge.

I have begun my evangelical work by starting a yew hedge around the House of 42 Doors. To date, I've put 66 yews (195 feet) in the ground, and more are coming this fall or next year.

Long live the yew!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Sworn to secrecy

I'd tell you how many yew trees Mr. Kluges has purchased this summer, a few at a time, both spreading (maybe this one?) and Hicks varieties, but he says I can't.

But I am going to tell you that it's more than the number of doors in our house... :)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Et tu, Brute?

While I was in charge of the girls last weekend, I tried to make a point to get out of the house and do something fun with them each day. On Friday, we went to a nearby state park for the first time. My plan was to do a bit of hiking and have a small picnic before we went back to the house for nap time.

We found a nice, flat broad path perfect for a two year old, an almost five year old and an out of shape dad. We were really enjoying ourselves when I started to notice the local flora.

What did I see? Tartarian honeysuckle, buckthorn and garlic mustard.

I guess that when they say "invasive", they really do mean it. It makes me wonder though, what exactly is to be done about invasive species? Is it inevitable that the Wisconsin understory will someday be buckthorn, garlic mustard and honeysuckle? Will we lose all of our ash trees to the Emerald Ash Borer, just as we lost our elm trees to Dutch Elm disease? It's really very sad.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I Lasted 30 Hours

Last Thursday Ms. Huis left for a four day vacation away from me and our two girls. I was left in charge. Since we've moved here, we have assumed the very traditional 1950's roles. I get up every morning and go to work. She takes care of the kids, does most of the cooking, cleans the house, does the laundry and generally runs the household. I come home from work, eat supper, help put the girls to bed and then often head out to the garage to tinker on things.

So for the last four days, I was Mr. Mom (which explains why there was no Friday update). The experience underscored for me what I already knew. That if it wasn't for Ms. Huis taking care of all the things she does (laundry, cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, etc.), I'd have no time to work on the rest of the house.

Her vacation was well deserved. It was the first time she's spent away from her family in over four years. I know I'd be a bit upset if my work told me that I was down to one vacation day a year.

Sometimes it becomes necessary to get things done in the house - dishes, laundry, cleaning, whatever. And sometimes there is a two year old and a four year old that are not playing together nicely. And that's when, against my better judgment, I ask the question, "Girls, would you like to watch a video?"

It took 30 hours from the time Ms. Huis left to the time my resolve wore out. I guess stamina is something you build up over time.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Long Slide Down

The days are getting shorter now. Enjoy them while you can. There are about six to eight weeks where I can still get things done outside after work. Then the days will be too short.

Ack.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Thump! Supper's ready!

Summer is here and our first Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share has arrived. We also opted to put in a relatively small garden this year, so depending on how much we end up feeding the bunnies, we may have an overabundance of a few things when combined with the CSA produce. We very much enjoy our CSA and I encourage you to look into it if you aren't already a member of a CSA.

On the rodent front, we've seen no mice in weeks, but the rabbits are eating our garden and a few of our hostas. This weekend we may try the old box, stick and string trick to see if we can catch one and relocate it elsewhere. If it works, the kids will talk about it for months. If it doesn't, they'll talk about it for days or weeks. Either way, I think it's worth trying.

A little known fact (to me) about bricks with recessed mortar is that they are laughably easy for squirrels to climb. Tuesday after work I found two squirrels busily chasing each other around the outside of my house. It appears love is in the air.

My wife succeeded in scaring one by opening a second story window, leaning out and yelling at it. [MHH says - Actually, it was the bathroom window that opens onto the second floor balcony. So I climbed out and yelled at him!] It took a 12 foot jump to the ground and ran off. The other one had the temerity to hang from the corner of my house and scold me for evidently getting too close to his home. I asked him for rent, but he just twitched his tail at me. Cheeky.

Wednesday morning, as I was brushing my teeth and looking out the bathroom window, who should look around the corner and peek at me through the window? You guessed it, my freeloading renter. I didn't have time to deal with him, so I let him have free rein for the day. That night though, I chased him off again, and there was another fabulous twelve foot free fall. There's something very satisfying about hearing the thump of a squirrel on the ground. Maybe it's an ancestral memory of the days when we were hunter gatherers and that thump meant supper had fallen from the tree. In any case, I haven't seen him since then.

I am of course concerned about the squirrels and the numerous holes in my soffit. I've seen no evidence that they are nesting in my soffit, but seeing them makes the soffit repair a bit more urgent. I'll have to get something over those holes this weekend, beadboard or no.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Guesses Anyone?

Oh look! Its a...a...ummm...err...right. Anybody have any ideas what this is?



The house was far from empty when we purchased it. This happened to be in the garage on its side and was used as a shelf. It's made of wood. The picture above is the front. Or at least I presume it's the front. The three boards in the middle slide out completely and are grooved.



The holes throughout it are perfect ovals and extremely well done. The bottom of it is cut at an angle, which is why it is leaning so precariously.



At the top, written in neat handwriting across the four sections is Driver's left side, Driver's right side, Passenger's left side and Passenger's right side.

This is the back of it.



I'm utterly baffled. Does anyone have any idea what this is?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Back into the Fray

There was no Friday update last week as we went back to my home town for a graduation (Congrats Mz.Blu.Eyez!) The graduation was in my old high school, which I haven't been to in almost twenty years. Very little had changed and short of the people attending, it could have been me up there so many years ago.

The event was cause for a good deal of reflection on where I was, where I've gone and where I'm going. The conclusion I came to was that I don't have time to wallow in melancholic self analysis that would inevitably lead to a mid-life crisis.

So it's back to the house, where I have soffits to repair, gutters to patch, porches to level, hedges to plant and piles of dirt to level out.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Wanted

I'm looking for a rose with characteristics similar to a good wife/girlfriend.

  • Low Maintenance
  • Local
  • Non-invasive
  • Pleasant smelling
  • Nice hips

Suggestions anyone?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

In a perfect world, I'd have a little place in the country, with views of the ocean in the front yard, and views of the mountains in the backyard. I wouldn't need much land, maybe just a half acre to an acre, so long as the view was unspoiled.

But I don't live in a perfect world, so I'm planting hedges.

Our lot is 100 feet by 265 feet, which means that if I surround the entire place in a hedge, I'd need 730 feet of hedges. Due to driveways, garages, sidewalks and pre-existing vegetation, I think we only need about 450 feet of hedge. Putting in this hedge is a multi-year project of the ten-year plan, and short of one small area, it's all intended to be yew.

Last night I was planting six more of the 150 or so yews along the front of the lot when the southern neighbor pulled up in their truck to chat. A little back story is necessary to appreciate the rest of the post. Ironically, I was planting the yews just a few feet from the scene of last spring's tree cutting crime, perpetrated by yours truly.

We exchanged pleasantries for a short amount of time (she is a very direct sort of woman), before she began telling me that she had found a great landscaping guy. She was looking to contract with him for several years to slowly replace the buckthorn in the "woods" between our place and theirs with native shrubs. In addition, she would maybe expand the woods making it larger. That's fantastic I said.

But then she said she was hoping that she, the landscaping guy and I could meet sometime so that we could come up with a plan for the woods, one that we could all be happy with. Then she asked if I was still set on putting up a yew hedge? (As I'm planting yews along the front).

Clearly what she wanted to hear was that I wanted a naturalized woods on my lot. Instead, I tried to assuage her fear of change by saying that a yew hedge with several large trees and understory trees on her side would blend in and be completely unnoticeable from her side in the summer.

The entire time this conversation was going on, what I wanted to tell her was that it was my damn land I'd damn well do what I liked. As a matter of fact, to avoid these sorts of arguments, I've placed the hedge three feet off of the property line, so that it remains my hedge.

I may need a higher hedge.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Deeper Down the Rabbit Hole

Other than color, you could be forgiven for believing these two pieces of beadboard are the same. I would be a hypocrite to fault someone for the same sin I committed.



The darker piece of wood is the original soffit beadboard. The lighter piece is a sample piece I picked up at a local millwork store. I called them several months ago and asked them if they had beadbeard. "Oh yes. We have traditional yellow pine bead board. It's three and a half inches wide and $0.85 a linear foot."

Knowing that I had sourced the beadboard, I tore into the soffit on the south side of the house, scraping away loose paint and removing rotten beadboard, until things looked like this.



When I went to get the new beadboard at the millwork store, I took the darker piece with me, just to be sure they matched. I found out what I should have known all along. Today's beadboard is 1/8" of thinner and an 1/8" narrower than beadboard from 1921.

I could get around the thinner bit by using shims, but the reduced width is a real problem, especially as row after row of beadboard is placed next to the original. First I'm off by an 1/8", then a 1/4", then 3/8", etc.

My options here are neither great nor cheap, but what I'm leaning towards is getting this, which would allow me to create my own beadboard.

Suddenly my quick project of scraping, repairing and painting the soffit is looking like it could take all summer.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Soil

Last night I put in a half dozen yews we purchased to act as a hedge. And the soil - Oh the soil! I have the kind of soil that makes me want to knock on the neighbors' doors and ask them, "Have you seen my soil? Come marvel at the crumb, the dark inky color, the ease with which I can move it."

I want to invite my gardening friends from Minnesota over so that I can dig a hole and we can all stare at it in silent appreciation. Nothing would need to be said as we all stood there, because we would all know that this is what soil is supposed to be like.

If I ever fall to my death while cleaning the gutters, I can only hope that I land face down in the dirt.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Invaded

I feel so...invaded.

The house originally belonged to a family that owned a greenhouse business adjacent to it. The greenhouses are long since gone and the previous owner (an architect) clearly did not inherit any sense of gardening from his progenitors.

When we purchased it, the property was seriously overgrown. We have buckthorn, tartarian honeysuckle, creeping charlie, burdock and garlic mustard. There are other plants on the property that I haven't identified yet, but I have a sinking feeling that they are also listed as invasive species. America is a melting pot, but I'm not sure that should apply to plants as well.

The soffit work continues, albeit slowly. Our youngest has been sick most of the week, and still is not fully healthy. This has taken away a fair share of my working time. But at this point, I can stand in the attic and look down through the floor, through the soffit and see the outside. I'm hoping to use the new Rotozip to finish cutting out the rotten bead board and get the south soffit sealed up this weekend.

There is some concern that so long as the soffit is open, we are subject to all manner of animal invaders too - bats, birds and wasps. Yesterday Ms. Huis called me to say there was a bat crawling up the side of the house in the middle of the day. And I know that one of the sizable holes in the soffit has had a lot of wasp activity. Last year's wasp nest in the soffit ended up being about several cubic feet in size, and I don't want a repeat of that. We came across the under-the-floor nest this spring, when my dad and I put in the cross pieces to try and stop drafts from entering the house under the attic floor. Thankfully, it was empty and a darn cool thing to show our eldest to teach her about wasp nests and the six sided shape of their cells.

We've also caught two more mice in the last few weeks, bringing the count up to 52. Here's hoping all the Americans out there have a safe and happy Memorial Day.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Vegetable Garden

A nice day spent working outside in the yard is about the closest thing there is to heaven. The kids play in blissful ignorance of the trials of everyday life. I can focus on simple, repetitive tasks that have visible results. And it helps bring balance to my life now that I spend days and days working indoors with technology.

We'll be putting in our vegetable garden this weekend. We have a twenty food wide strip of land on the north side of our property that receives sun most of the day. Unfortunately, it looks like that area may have once been a gravel parking lot for the greenhouses. The top three inches or so are black dirt, but beneath that is a two inch layer of crushed, hard packed gravel. Underneath that is more good soil. The gravel was impenetrable to our little tiller, so I don't know how the vegetables are going to deal with it. If they can get through the gravel, they should have access to all kinds of great nutrients.

Tilling did dislodge a large crop of egg size rocks, meaning we'll be picking rocks out of our garden for quite some time. I've started moving our compost pile out to the garden to add some soil depth and richness. As of last night, I've moved about half of the compost pile. We'll see if it helps.

Yesterday I bought a Rotozip in hopes that it will allow me to cut out the rotten sections of soffit beadboard. After playing with it last night, I can already see that I'll need to create a jig with a straight edge. Looking at my "straight" cuts, you'd think that I had been drinking.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Storm Windows Part 2

A few comments in my previous post require a bit of clarification and comment. Christopher over at Shaker Heights mentioned that he had seen others hang their storms from their basement ceiling to keep them safe. This is indeed a great idea, if you happen to have casement windows. Many houses of our vintage would have had wooden casement windows, hinged at the top. Of our storm windows, only ten are casement windows. Based on the lack of marks in the exterior window frames, I can say that we never had more than ten casement windows, although it is entirely possibly that more have been added over the years.

Building storm windows is going to be a bit of a learning experience. It wasn't too many years ago that a person could go down to their local lumberyard and have wooden storms made. Those days are gone now though. Now that big box stores have put most of the small, family owned lumberyards out of business, wooden storm windows are a specialty market.

When we lost our storm window last spring to rot, I put the pieces in the back of the car and took it to a local place that specializes in custom doors, paneling, milling and planing. It's a great place with gorgeous doors, wainscoting and fireplace mantels. But it turns out that they don't make windows. They referred me to a carpenter that they occasionally subcontract to.

I drove over to his business, which is located in a four stall garage in a residential part of town. Nobody was around so I stepped out of the car and walked into the garage, shouting hello as I went in. There were boards and sawdust everywhere. I recognized a lot of the boards - maple, oak, pine - but there were others I had no clue about. And they were stacked everywhere.

Nobody answered, so I kept walking in towards the smell of fresh cut wood and cigarette smoke. Just about the time I saw the Penthouse calendar with the pet of the month hanging on the wall, John came from around a corner and introduced himself.

We chatted for awhile and when I explained to him what I wanted, he came out to the car with me to take a look. After looking at it, it was clear he was hesitant to take the job, as he figured it would run $300 to $400 dollars and I could get an aluminum storm window at a big box retailer for a lot less than that. In his mind, it would just be a waste of money. He also didn't know anyone local who still made wooden storm windows. There was no market for it.

For $300 to $400 I should be able to get a good router, router bits and a router table. Combined with the table saw I recently received, I should have all the equipment I need to build storm windows. I'm inclined to use something like cedar as the wood, because it is rot resistant. I also need to ask a few glass places around here if I can get either double pane, Low-E glass inserts, or if I can get single pane Low-E glass. Then of course I'll need to do a mock up on some cheap pine, before I actually start.

Once I get the soffit repaired, the storm window is one of the next three projects. I've been stuck on the soffit project for the last few weeks, trying to figure out what to use to cut through the beadboard attached to the underside of the joists. Looks like I'm going to be purchasing a new tool soon.

Friday, May 8, 2009

A Perfect Storm

I hate the phrase "A perfect storm", almost as much as I hate the phrase "A 100 Year Flood/Storm/Hurricane". It is the kind of hyperbole that news organizations use now that they are more interested in making money rather than disseminating the news.

But I digress.

There are a total of 48 storm windows on the House of 42 Doors. Last year I took off all of them and stacked them in the garage. I was always terrified that they would be broken en masse by a stray ball, a runaway bike or a simple stumble.

Excluding the cost of tools, I think it costs about $100 in materials to build a storm window. Or at least that's what I'm estimating right now. I'll know more by the end of the summer, as I have four to make. Considering what a storm windows costs, it takes a long time to recoup their cost, so it only makes sense to protect the 48 that I have.

Most of them are in good shape, but there are a few that are on their last legs. We lost one last spring when we took it down from one of the upstairs windows. It literally fell apart as my dad was carrying it to the garage. The corner was rotted out and held together by a metal L-bracket that the previous owner had screwed on.

I tried to repair all the storm windows last year, but in the end I was only able to repair those in the worst shape. There are still some that need to have putty applied and some that need a touch of paint here or there. Repairing storms meant laying them on a table in the garage, where once again they are exposed to all manner of potential disasters.

On top of the potential breakage, the storms took up enough of a garage stall that the wife was unable to park her car in the garage. Once the storms went up this winter, we were able to park the wife's car in the garage. Giving this space up every summer for storm windows is not an option.

For all of these reasons, I've spent the last few weeks building this.


It is a cabinet with a slot for each of our 48 (someday 52) storm windows. There's a place for our storm windows in the summer and our screens in the winter. The cabinet isn't completely done yet. I'd like to get it fully enclosed, with doors to really protect the windows, but that will come eventually. As I remind myself daily, the house is a marathon, not a sprint.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Projects, Projects

Yesterday I walked around the house in bare feet and a t-shirt. I mention this for several reasons. First, it wasn't that long ago that I was walking around the house in many more layers of clothing, trying to imagine a time when I might actually be "hot" in the house.

Second, the outside temperature was 64, one degree warmer than the inside temperature. I know that when September arrives, 64 will require a sweater and maybe even a coat. Its amazing to me how we adapt to our surroundings.

My parents were kind enough to give me a table saw for my birthday and I've been putting it to good use over the last few weeks. In fact, based on the six inch pile of sawdust on the floor, you might think that I've taken up sawdust manufacturing.

See this picture?



Did you notice that there is a hole for a drawer? The reason the drawer is missing is that it fell apart. With the new table saw and the recovered drawer front, I was able to build a new one. All the cross pieces we put in the attic? Used the table saw for that too.

The current project with the table saw is to build shelving to store our storm windows. The storm windows come off the first week in May (starting this weekend!) and I need somewhere to store them. Last year they sat on the garage floor and I was always terrified that one of the girls would fall into them and hurt themselves. This will hopefully get them out of the way.

The other project I'm working on when the weather allows is this.





The soffit needs to be scraped and washed. Any old, rotten pieces of beadboard need to be pulled out and replaced. And of course, we need to paint it. Fortunately about 50% of the soffit can be reached easily by standing on the first floor roofs of the porte cochiere and the two outside porches.

One of the things that has me a bit puzzled though is what kind of tool to use to cut out the rotten beadboard. It needs to cut through 3/4" thick wood nailed to the underside of the joists. I need a tool that is lightweight, capable of cutting straight lines and going no deeper than 3/4". Ideally, it should be able to do plunge cuts. So what's the right tool for the job? A rotozip? Reciprocating saw? All I have are a standard skill saw and jig saw. Neither of those seems appropriate.

Suggestions anyone?

Mouse count went up one again too - 50 and counting.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Compost Anyone?

One of the items I have yet to mention is the compost heap that came with the house. It's large enough to bury a body under it so there's no telling what's at the center of it...

It's too large, isn't in a very good location and getting full. The fence around it is a four foot high octagon with each side of the octagon measuring four feet long.

One of this year's goals is to make it go away and put a smaller compost heap in the corner. Here it is in all it's glory, with my dad in the picture for scale.



Now that's a compost heap!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Chimney Effect

Following up from my last post, what exactly did my Dad and I do for three days if we didn't rip up the attic floor? We worked sealing the eaves from the attic underfloor.

The image below shows how the exterior walls of the house are constructed.



On the outside of the house there is a wythe of brick. I believe that this brick is held in place with metal ties. There appears to be a very thin layer of air between this brick and the main structural terracotta block walls of the house. Attached to the interior of the terracotta walls are 2 x 2's. Nailed to those are the lathe and then the plaster is applied over this.

Any cracks in the exterior mortar allow the wind to penetrate into the first air gap. Any additional cracks in the terracotta mortar allow further penetration into the second air gap. These air gaps terminate in the attic, between the attic floor joists.

During the winter, the warm interior air seeps into the second air gap from cracks in the plaster and along the base board. Warm air from the basement also seeps into the second air gap. What ends up happening is a chimney effect. The warm air from inside rises up to the attic, pulling cold air from outside to replace it. This makes our interior walls cold and allows a lot of warm air to escape the house.

Because of our cantilevered roof, cold air is also vented into the attic from vents in the overhanging soffits. Which means a whole lot of cold air circulating in the attic and along the walls. The R-19 pink stuff is better than nothing, but one problem with pink stuff is that it is terrible at stopping air infiltration.

My dad and I cut 2 x 6's and installed them between the joists to try and stop the cold air from the soffit vents from mixing with any air that might be leaking into the attic joists. We also did this in preparation for possibly putting in polyisocyanurate spray foam. I didn't want the spray foam to ooze out into the soffit or down into the first gap between the brick and the terracotta.

Here's a picture of what it looks like at present that will hopefully make it clearer. The clean, shiny boards are the ones we put in. The are positioned on top of the terracotta wall.



And this is what one of the four corners in the attic looks like. It also shows how it would be impossible to remove the attic floor without causing my roof to collapse.



And that's what took three days. Taking up the perimeter floor boards, cutting around sixty five 2 x 6's and then nailing them in place. This will hopefully block wind from coming up the soffits and the first gap and mixing with heated air in the house. We still need to plug the second air gap though.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Cantilevered Roof

When you know almost nothing about something, anything can seem unusual. It's why I wish I had the architect who designed the House of 42 Doors and the head carpenter who built it here, right now, so I could ask them, "Why?"

Our attic floor is framed with 2 x 6's and then covered over with tongue and groove pine boards. At some point the previous owner pulled up the majority of the floor boards and put fiberglass batts beneath them. This was no small task. The boards were nailed through the tongue at an angle and somehow he was able to take out the boards without destroying them. I'm not sure how he did it, but it's impressive. When he nailed them back down, he nailed them down through the top, rather than through the tongue.

What he didn't know was that insulating the attic in this manner was a mistake for two reasons. First he never air sealed any of the cracks in the house. This allows cold air to circulate throughout the gaps in the walls and up into the attic. Second, it's not a good idea to insulate around knob and tube wiring. It can overheat and begin a fire. It is also the only insulation in the house, a whopping R-19 in a climate that is recommended to have R-49.

We replaced the knob and tube wiring last year, so before adding any further insulation, I wanted to seal up the cracks in the attic. Several months ago, I mentioned in passing to my father that I wanted to take up the attic floor and air seal the cracks up there. He came up to help me do that, but things are never as easy as they look.

To understand why this wasn't going to work, it will take a few pictures. Roofs on most houses are built something like this.



The roof rests directly on the outside walls of the house. In this case, if there is an attic floor, the entire attic floor can be taken up without affecting the roof. It may be advisable to keep the floor in place to help tie all the joists together, but the roof can stand without an attic floor.

Our house is built like this.



This shows that when the house was built, they first put down the attic floor joists. Next was to put down the tongue and groove pine. Around the perimeter of the house they then nailed a 2x8 board, and the roof trusses are notched to rest on this. Essentially, we have a cantilevered roof, resting on the attic floor.

This makes taking up the attic floor impossible at the edges of the house where the tongue and groove flooring runs perpendicular to the 2x8. We can take up the rest of the attic floor, but if we try and take up those attic boards, the roof will fall down. Which leads me back to my original question. Why on earth was it built this way?

Besides the fact that I can't take up the attic floor (which is annoying), it has caused parts of my attic floor to bow down at the edges. The weight of the roof is really heavy over the outer eaves. This does not seem like good a good design to me.

In the end we didn't, pull up the attic boards. What we did instead I'll leave for another post.

And on the topic of straightening warped boards, I came across this suggestion. I'll let you know how it works out once I get a hot summer day.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Catch Up

Spring is here and I can finally feel the constriction of winter ease up. We are two weeks away from taking off the storm windows. The Siberian squill are poking their heads up in the backyard and in another week or two, there will be a wash of blue throughout the woods. The tulips and day lilies are coming up. Over the weekend, I saw a bat flying around the front yard, finding whatever insects are available at this time of year. I called out to him ("Come here Bruce"), but he didn't respond. I suspect that my voice wasn't high pitched enough.

The weekend before last, my parents came down to stay with us for five days and get a few house projects done. The two main projects were to get the office fixed up and to try and figure how to insulate the attic.

The office plaster was not in very good shape and needed a fair amount of patching. After a lot of experimentation (and peeking inside the truck of our plastering contractors), I've finally found the right material for patching plaster in the house. Diamond Veneer Basecoat and Diamond Veneer Finish. Now I just need to improve on my technique. I'm getting closer to doing seamless patching, but I'm not there yet. I'm certainly not comfortable doing any patching in the living room or dining room, and ceilings just plain stink. The only downside to the new plaster is that it is a lime based plaster, and it is very alkaline. It is hell on my hands.

Fixing up the office meant peeling off as much of the loose paint as possible, patching the plaster, priming the fresh plaster and then finally applying the final color. I'm happy with the room, except for the ceiling, and I don't have anyone to blame for that, except myself.

All that is left is to put the picture rail back up. The previous owner took it off many years ago and stored in the basement. After years of sitting in the 100% humidity of the basement, some of the picture rail is quite warped, so before I put it back up, I need to strip the paint off of it and try to straighten it. If anyone has any suggestions on ways to straighten warped boards, I'm all ears.

Here is the office, with the new wood desk we picked up from Craigslist.



P.S. from Ms. Huis Herself: Yeah, just so y'all know - there's a lot more stuff in it now!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Of Mice and Men

Now, I reckon that the average mouse is about three inches long and about an inch wide. Carefully skinning and tanning the hide of one should yield about three square inches of fur. Based on the 49 mice I've caught to date in the House of 42 Doors, that's 147 square inches of mouse fur, or about one square foot. That isn't a lot, but if I get an average yield of one square foot per two years, then after about ten years, I should have enough for a nice, soft fur cape.

Something to think about.

The parents are coming this week to visit and to help us work on the house. Hopefully there will be plastering, scraping, painting and who knows what else. The big job my dad and I will be tackling is to rip up the attic floor to assess the state of the insulation. I'm not sure yet what I'll be doing there, but more and more I'm leaning towards polyisocyanurate spray foam. Since I only have about six or seven inches between the attic joists, I don't have many choices, if I want to put the attic floor back down. Otherwise I have to pack the attic full of insulation and lose that space for storage.

Here's hoping we don't find too many surprises under the attic floor (unless it's money).