Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Flat Roof aka The Sieve

So, I am laying in bed yesterday morning, trying to clear the cobwebs from my eyes, when I hear a distinct dripping noise, muffled by some sort of fabric. I kept thinking, no way, no way, it can't be. But, I couldn't wish it away.

Oh, yeah. Another leak. This time, in our bedroom, two feet away from our bed, dripping on our antique Kazak rug. It's almost funny. Almost. Frantically, I get up and call just about everybody, architect, contractor, contractor's employees. By the time I got back upstairs, there was a huge yellow stain on the ceiling. Oh, brother.

Well, apparently, the permit will be ready in 2 weeks. With this rain, maybe I should start building an arc. Or move into the basement. It's dry.

Friday, March 26, 2010

And, we're back!

Only to find the front porch overflowing with mail. This is NOT an exaggeration. Apparently, some contractors and magazines have heard about this blog, are clearly reading it, and have all decided to send us marketing materials. At the same time. I am now very glad that we installed the bigger mailbox.

So, thanks guys. This is actually very helpful in terms of ideas for projects and creative solutions for the existing problems.

Looking forward to working with some of you. No phone calls, please.

Friday, March 19, 2010

We are off!

To the warmer climates, for a few days. Just enough to soak up some sun and get the vitamin D levels up. That's how we call our vacations - vitamin replenishment.

We have some other improvements in mind that we wanted to share when we get back. The nitty-gritty stuff, but very important in the big picture kind of way.

The in-laws are house-sitting, so I am off to show them the ropes. Don't want to find them again huddled next to the stove, warming up. Don't ask...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Your Old House Workshops - Part III: Landscape and Grounds

Just wanted to remind all the readers that the third workshop in the Your Old House series will take place this Saturday, March 20 from 10 to 12 noon at the Van Vleck House and Gardens, at 21 Van Vleck Street, Montclair.

This Landscape and Grounds workshop, presented by horticulturist and author Marta McDowell, will be part lecture, part exercises including a short history of American residential garden styles. You will be able to learn the basics of designing period-appropriate, aesthetically pleasing planting for your style home and join in a landscape design scavenger hunt on the Van Vleck grounds.

Co-sponsored by MHS and the Van Vleck House and Gardens, the workshops are designed to introduce you to the knowledge you need to plan and execute a restoration or remodeling of your older home. Upcoming workshops include Landscape and Grounds and The Exterior.

The cost is $10 per person per workshop. If you register for the remaining three workshops, the cost is $25, and includes an annual membership to the MHS. MHS members and Van Vleck House and Gardens members are always free. Send a note to mail@montclairhistorical.org if you'd like to register.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Spring is here

A few weeks ago I started thinking about Spring, and all the snowdrops we had in the backyard, which we will not have this year, after moving all the dirt.

Well, thankfully, I was wrong. There are still some left.

Monday, March 15, 2010

What a storm!

I know, you are going to hate me for saying this, but it was magnificent! And I feel really bad for all the people that have experienced property damage. We know that some of our neighbors had to move out of their homes because of the fallen trees. My heart goes out to them. My in-laws are still without power and are moving in with us until it is restored.

But, but, it was really humbling to watch the nature show us just how small we actually are. We, as a family, are giving our thanks because we haven't experienced any problems. I haven't been to the basement, cause I'm kid of afraid, but the French drains we have haven't failed us... yet. OK, I have to go look now.

Dry! Yes! Very cool. Guys, French drains are a worth while investment.

We did loose some roof tiles, 5 to be exact. Not sure where they were, but when the roofer comes for the flat roof job, we'll just ask him to take a look. It will be easier with the scaffolding up, rather than trying to do it right now.

See, no big deal. This old lady is something else, I have to say.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Basement work and the replationship to the chimney

We have the contractor coming in today to talk about the basement. Yes, again. I've probably hinted this before in my previous posts, but here is the whole story:

Before we moved into the House in October of 2008, we had a chimney liner replaced in the chimney that serves the furnace. What we were assured would be "a piece of cake" job, turned into a complete nightmare. I've been going over this in my head for over a year now, and I think I might be able to finally re-tell the story and make sense.

Mistake #1: We hired, I believe, the first contractor that came through the door, despite our better judgment. My better half liked him. Apparently, that was all the research he needed. Personally, I think he simply didn't want to be stuck in the House all day talking to the chimney guys. I can't blame him, it was a beautiful day outside. So, I canceled all the other appointments and hoped for the best.

Mistake #2: We never checked the references and talked to other people they completed jobs for. Apparently, in the "man's world," firm handshake is enough. Ha!

Mistake #3: Meticulous as I am, I never checked how they prepped the House for the work - did they sealed the fire boxes, and any other outlets of soot and dust, etc. I just figured they will do that. Wrong! Let me just say that I was not allowed into the House until the job was done and the cleaning lady has been there 3 times. So, $700 in cleaning costs and one dead vacuum cleaner later, they sat me down and told me what they found and how they tried to fix it. I'm still not sure it is the whole truth, but I couldn't really argue and let my temper flare, considering I was a few weeks away from delivering a baby.

Mistake #4: Related to #3, and it's not being involved in the process and the decision-making. Basically, when they started to insert the stainless steel liner, they realized that the flues were VERY narrow, which would certainly be the case, because they already contained the clay lining, probably original to the House. Well, that had to be removed. So, they started to. And since the builders used mortar to "glue" it to the chimney, bricks were starting to fall out of the structure. Now, being a chimney contractor, why would you not know this? A truck full of debris and a House full of dirt and soot later, they also discovered that they were lining THE WRONG FLUE. Oh, yeah.

Mistake #5: We should have fired them right then and there, cut our loses, and got an expert. The look of fear in the contractor's eyes when I saw him during one of the site visits I was not allowed to go into the House told me everything. But, what do I know? It's only a woman's intuition, right? I will give them some credit, at least on the wrong flue. Well, just a little credit. Here is what we found out about that. Apparently, when the House was renovated the last time, or rather when we got the kitchen we have today, the flue that was running from the old kitchen stove was simply cut and never closed. That ordinarily would not have been a problem, had the flue not been used for the furnace. But, instead of rebuilding the flue or adding some liner, the contractor simply stacked the bricks up and hoped that physics will take care of the rest and the heat from the furnace and soot will, well, rise up and find the right hole. When I found this out, I had half a mind to find this person and sue them. Are you kidding me!!!!

Needless to say, the stacked bricks collapsed, broke through the Sheetrock ceiling, only to reveal several inches of black caked up stuff in that ceiling/floor cavity. Having no choice, and baby on the way, we told the contractor to rebuild and reline that flue properly, close the wrong flue for now, and replace the ceiling. We hope that's what he did.

The consequences of this job are still haunting us. Our basement has at least an inch of dust and soot on everything, and every time someone walks in the basement, the dust rises through the floor into the living area, since the renovation contractor on the last go around didn't put the sub-floor before laying the wood, as I wrote in the last several posts.

The good news is that we had an old chimney expert here to inspect the work, and he tells us that everything looks good.

How's this for a horror story?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Closet draft - fixed!

Jason Aksman from Fine Custom Carpentry came back today to take a look at the closet draft. He filled the holes with caulk, insulated everything, and closed it with a small piece of sheetrock. So, the draft stoppers have been officially retired. At least from this door.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

New ceiling in the basement

Here is the image of the new, insulated ceiling. Very nice.

Unfortunately, this has us now talking about finishing the basement, which is really unrealistic, with all the other projects that are more of the "emergency" nature.

But, one can dream, no?

Friday, March 5, 2010

What a difference a day makes!

Or a few, give or take.

But, it has to be said, we noticed the difference in the temperature IMMEDIATELY. The temperature on the Living Room floor was always about 59 degrees. Today, it is 68. And the temperature in the room is around 70. When I was making dinner, it was 72. 72 degrees! The only time we had that this winter is when we had 2 space heaters working at the same time.

Needless to say, we are ecstatic about the results. We've asked the contractor, Fine Custom Carpentry, to give a quote for insulating the perimeter of the foundations and installing the sheetrock throughout the Basement ceiling, along with spackling it. He doesn't recommend insulating the entire ceiling, since the Basement is very warm. But, we want to put the sheetrock and spackle, because at this point we are certain that whoever laid the wood floors didn't put the shield or subfloor, because we have so much dust and soot rising up, it is almost impossible to clean. More on this later.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Basement work

Monday marked the beginning of the Basement (former garage)/Living Room floor insulation work. This is what was taken out after the demolition was finished. It took them almost 6 hours to remove all of this stuff, from that one little room. I guess we should be lucky it's not the entire Basement ceiling covered in this plaster..

And this is what was underneath all that.

Some really good bones. We just stood there for about 15 minutes, admiring.

After all was cleared, the contractor for this job, Jason Aksman of Fine Custom Carpentry, told me that in his opinion our walls are not insulated. Which is an important point. He also suggested we seriously think about blown in insulation, and that will probably be a next step. But, don't want to get ahead of myself here.

This project also allowed us to conclude a few things:
  • The new floors were laid over the existing floors, so if we were really, really, really going strong with the restoration, we should probably rip out the wide-plank that is there right now and restore the old floor. Unfortunately, chances are that the old floor is very damaged, judging by the large nails protruding into the basement and just awfully uneven floors we've been dealing with for the last year.
  • In addition to realizing why is so cold in the Living Room, we now know why the Hall was so cold and drafty. The crew left the lights on in the basement, which I discovered when I went to get my coat, in the Hall closet. I could see right down through the small holes by the door frame. Yes, there is a nice little breeze coming from the basement for this reason:

Not really sure how to describe the work of this "artist". How some of these people sleep at night, is beyond me. Jason will use some carpentry caulk and plug the little holes, and if he has any insulation left over to cover this, so at least we won't have to look at it. I'm guessing ripping it out and starting over would probably be out of the question, now that we committed to the flat roof work. As a note, this was a location of the Hall fireplace that was removed. Unfortunately, we are not sure when that happened. Probably when the steam heat came in.

Wonder what else are we going to find in the years to come?