Right now, I have 2 objectives:
1 - Get the yard to where my two dogs can hang out there and I don't have to worry about what they're getting into, and
2 - Get the house to where the occupancy inspector doesn't give me a giant list of things that need to be done for me to get an occupancy permit.
The yard is far from decent, but since it rained all weekend I spent my time inside the house, alternating between plastering bad spots in the walls and ceilings, and painting.
Why am I painting, if I'm going to rehab the place? Because the house stinks. Bad.
It's a story for another day, but the house smells like a dog's restroom, X 6-10 dogs. The 5 gallons of Kilz I went through was an effort to knock down whatever the dogs did to the walls, and I probably still need another 5 gallons. The kitchen, which is drywall, just soaked up the paint, which means it's been forever since it was last painted and/or it's only ever had a coat or two of paint in its life.
I'm not aiming for pretty, or good, or even decent; I'm just trying to get paint on the walls in the quickest manner possible. Plus, the previous paint job wasn't done very well - drips and runs everywhere - so it doesn't make sense to spend a lot of time getting everything just right. So far, I don't think the paint has made any difference in the funk.
After doing a little googling, I figured I'd try a different plan of attack: baking soda. The front room, which is really like 3 rooms put together, has a wood floor (though not the original).
There are stains all over the floor, and the closer I get to the floor, like when I'm painting or grabbing tools or whatever, the worse it smells. From what the neighbors have told me it sounds like the dogs had the run of the place, and it shows. And smells. I'm guessing the wood floor, and the wood floor underneath it, which might be the original wood floor, is where the odor is headquartered.
So, before calling it a day, I dumped 4 boxes of baking soda on the floor in the front room, and broomed it all over the place. I'll let it sit overnight, or maybe even for a couple days, then vacuum the floor, and probably mop it, and see what happens. I'll replace the floor eventually, but right now having a gross floor I don't care about is pretty nice, because it means I don't have to worry about drop cloths or dropping tools and denting anything.
Of course, if the smell doesn't go away, floor replacement may quickly rise on the priority list.
Before I can move in and really get to work on the house, I have to button a couple things up.
Some number of years back, apparently, the roof was in pretty rough shape and leaked considerably. The roof got replaced, but the water damage inside the house didn't get cleaned up. Fortunately, there's only a couple spots where the wall plaster disintegrated, and only a couple spots where the ceiling plaster delaminated. Those are easily fixed, at least in a quick and dirty fashion for the sake of an occupancy permit.
The ceiling water damage is limited to the areas around the chandeliers, although most of it is just a water mark; the plaster is still 95% solid in those areas. And the wall spots, one in the foyer and one on the wall in the chandeliers room, they aren't too bad. A little scraping and a little plaster, they'll look OK for the time being.
I thought that was the bulk of the repair work needed, at least to make the place tolerable to live in. And as is usually the case, I was incorrect.
Those are the bedroom windows. Obviously, there are some issues to be dealt with, but my assumptions (hopes, really) were that the peeling paint was a result of a little previous moisture mixed with poor millwork prep before applying the paint, and that the plaster was in decent shaped, aside from the couple little bubbles there by the baseboard.
I had about an hour to kill this afternoon before calling it a day, so I figured I'd go scrape paint and patch the bad plaster spot in the bedroom. I grabbed my trusty 5-in-1, poked it into the wall, and about 0 seconds later...
...that happened. And the truth of it is, I could have kept going and probably removed material from the entire wall. Want to know why? Because there's a 1/2" of drywall on top of the plaster. And it's rotten.
I sort of figured that was the case, as this part of the house had been redone at some point and a lot of drywall was added. And while the windows and casing are original, I don't think the baseboard is, and some of the reveals are wonky which led me to believe the exterior wall with the windows had been messed with. I kinda figured the plaster wall had been drywalled.
Here's the thing: sticking a layer of drywall directly on top of a plaster wall, especially a plaster wall with some sort of issue, is dumb. Really, really dumb.
If the goal is to hide bad plaster, why not just fix the plaster? It's pretty much the same process as finishing drywall, just with slightly different material.
If the goal is to hide bad plaster and circumvent having to fix it, putting drywall on top doesn't resolve the underlying issue, which is whatever caused the plaster to crack in the first place. And if that isn't resolved, guess what happens to the drywall, eventually? It goes bad too.
If the goal is aesthetics, that's fine...but there's lots of original plaster in the house that isn't covered, so why cover this wall and create work?
Anyhow...there is or was some moisture issue with the wall, and regular ol' drywall is a pretty bad product to use in areas with high degrees of moisture. As such...what I thought was going to be a quick little patch the size of my fist is now a 1/2" deep crater covering about 8 sq. ft. I got a first coat of plaster on it today, but there will be many more coats in the very near future.
Bigger picture, I think the house is letting me know where I need to direct my attention once I officially start the rehab (right now I'm just trying to get the yard under control, patch the bad spots in the house, and make the place not smell like 6-10 dogs used it as a restroom, which 100% was the case). I don't believe there to be any significant water infiltration issues with the house at this point, but I need to go over the exterior with a fine-toothed comb.
And a bucket of elastomeric goo, and caulk, and mortar, and luck.
In trying to research some of the house's early history, it seems as though the house narrowly missed inclusion in several documents that would have really helped figure some things out. For example, if the house was built in 1878 as has been reported, it just missed being in the Compton & Dry map (1876) by 2 years, and that map - a hand-drawn bird's eye view of the entire city - is usually scary accurate.
Similarly, the home sits in an area of the city that wasn't quite yet developed enough to merit inclusion in the 1895-1898 Whipple maps, just missing making the map by all of a couple blocks. The Whipple maps are a lot like the Sanborn maps in that they show individual homes and lots, with a considerable amount of detail.
That said, I do have the 1903 Sanborn map, and it shows the house and lot looking like this:
As mentioned in a previous blog, the detached buildings at the rear of the lot were replaced by a brick garage at some point. The attached structure at the rear of the house, that was some kind of covered deck or porch, and is now a halfway modern deck. But the little attached, angled structure, its bones are still there. I believe it was once a porch, although it was converted to more of a 3-season room at some point many years ago.
Both the halfway modern deck and the 3-season room are in rough shape, and candidates for replacement this summer. The challenge is that 1, it doesn't make a ton of sense to build a brand new deck and then rehab the interior of the house, dragging tools, materials, etc., into and out of the house and across the new deck, and 2, while the porch is a somewhat smaller project, assuming I'd replicate its original size, shape, and function, there's 1 critical detail to deal with: I'd have to stand up 20', maybe 24' 6x6 posts - 2 of them - as part of the construction. Standing up a 16' 6x6 with 2 dudes is no picnic; I don't know how in the world I'd stand up a 20-footer or a 24-footer by myself.
So...do the thing that doesn't make sense to do right now, or do the thing that I don't know if I'm capable of doing...those are the choices. I think I'm going to go with the second one; if I can't figure out some way to Rube Goldberg a couple giant posts into place, the engineering degree I have isn't worth the paper it's printed on.
The deck just doesn't make any sense to do, although it definitely needs to be replaced. And because I haven't ruled out replacing it this year regardless of how the porch situation shakes out, let's talk about the deck for a minute.
I haven't put a tape on it, but it's a moderately-sized deck, maybe 10'-12' x 16'-18', although the stairs eat into that real estate a little bit. Regardless, the deck is pretty rotten. Like, really, really, rotten. And the decking...I've never seen anything like it. Whoever built it, rather than use something traditional, laid down plywood and then thinset brick veneer over it. That's sort of a horrible idea for a variety of reasons, but whoever did it, they get points for creativity.
As you can see, it's nothing but rotten wood and brick veneer. And, while I was sort of surprised to see metal post bases used, the concrete piers the posts sit on are undersized by modern standards, so really...it all needs to go. And at some point, it will. Except for the back door millwork and transom window, that's going to stay and made to look like new.
The project that's more likely to happen sooner rather than later is some sort of replacement of the small, enclosed porch on the side of the house.
Can you spot the parts that most likely date to at least 1903, if not the original house construction date in the late 19th century? I think the corner posts are original for sure, as are the decorative brackets up in the corners. It's tough to see in the pic, but the soffit and fascia appears to be original, as does the floor framing. Granted, it all needs to be replaced at this point, but it's still kinda cool to see those things last as long as they did.
Similarly, can you picture this thing as it may have looked originally, before the fiberglass panels, aluminum, louvered-glass windows, and painted red stairs were added? It's a small little space, but the amount of detail - even the posts have chamfered corners - included in it is pretty cool.
That's the exterior. The interior looks like this:
There's a tile floor, with some kind of pebble tile around the perimeter, a ceiling fan, and a bunch of paneling. It's a collection of mismatched stuff, none of which really reflects the craftsmanship that had to have gone into the porch as it was originally constructed.
However, 1 thing somebody did after the fact that I'm kind of OK with is they relocated the door accessing the porch from the house.
The space is pretty small and impossible to get a full door height pic, but the door on the left is the existing door (obviously), and the window on the right, that's where the original door once was. Somebody closed up the original doorway and moved the door around a corner. The original doorway is super tall, has the arched top, and probably looked pretty cool way back when. The new door is just a rectangular opening, nothing fancy. However, where the door sits now is an exponentially better location than where it sat originally, as it frees up more usable space inside the house.
So, that's the porch. In a perfect world I'd leave the existing roof as-is, and just redo everything underneath it, probably building more of a covered deck than a screened porch or 3-season room, but these are details to be worked out later.
Unless the guy who determines whether or not I get an occupancy permit makes some noise about the porch, then I may have to figure those details out very, very soon.
One of the biggest draws to the property I purchased is the yard, which covers something like .215 acres. For the suburban or rural folks that may not be a whole lot of land, but here in the city that's a pretty massive lot. And with the house sitting all the way on one side of the lot, the yard feels even bigger than it really is.
When talking about a house rehab, I don't know that too many people - myself included, normally - get real excited about the yard. The exciting parts of a house rehab are the architectural details that are saved and built around, the designs, the construction, etc. Right?
Normally I'd agree. But with having 2 dogs, the yard is kind of a big deal. Or at the very least, getting the yard under control so the dogs can run around in a halfway safe and sane manner is a big deal. Before I get to that, let me introduce the dogs; you'll probably hear about them from time to time.
The little one, that's Freckles. She's currently about 7 months old, meaning she's 4,000% puppy. I got her 5 months ago, and was told at the time that she was a lab/pointer mix, which so far seems pretty believable. She's a total daredevil, and really my main concern as far as the yard goes; if there's something to get into, jump off of, chew on, climb, eat, kill, bring into the house, whatever...she does it.
And then there's the distinguished old man, Roscoe. He's a hair older than 11, and like Freckles, I got him when he was about 8 weeks old...so we've been buddies for quite some time. Per a DNA test, Roscoe's a combination of 6 different breeds, the dominant one being lab, but not by much. He's done so much hiking and adventuring with me that he's got 20 lifetimes of mileage on his legs and, as such, he moves around a lot slower than he once did. But he'll still enjoy the yard, and stay pretty busy smelling all of it.
Now back to the yard...
Running the full length of the front yard is a cast iron fence; all things considered, she's in phenomenal shape, gate and all. The front yard ground cover is nothing but ivy, which I'm OK with, but it's run wild for a few years and needs to be cut back some.
Then there's the tree...THE tree...in the front yard. It's massive, and by all rights, has several large limbs that have no business still being attached to the trunk.
The picture doesn't do justice to just how big the thing is. It appears to be a maple tree, although I'm no good at identifying wood species until a tree has become lumber. But it's got limbs that grow horizontally - or below horizontal - and run for 20, 30, 40 ft, and with a little breeze, those things sway pretty good.
There are a few smaller trees in the front yard, and some things that I can't tell if they're legit plants or giant weeds, but the ivy, the fence, and the tree, those are the main features.
And then there's the back yard, which is a total jungle. It appears as though somebody had the place lookin' good at one point, and probably put a lot of time and effort into getting/keeping it that way...but the past few years have not been kind. And the trees in the back yard, trees, plural, are even bigger than the tree in the front yard.
It's hard to even get decent pics of the yard, there's green stuff - some of which is very pointy - everywhere and it's tough to discern one thing from another.
Because so many of the trees hang over the house, I got up on the roof to inspect the situation up there. It wasn't good. Dead limbs, mountains of acorns, decomposing leaves...it's been a while since anybody got up there and cleaned anything off.
But like I said, the amount of brick patio and walkway areas indicate that somebody put some time and effort into this thing at one point. Unfortunately, at some point I'll have to pull up all the brick and redo all of it because it's heaved and settled and been uprooted to where it's nothing but a giant trip hazard now.
That's the yard. Massive trees, ground cover jungle, cast iron fence, and brick, lots and lots of brick. It'll be a project, and a big one that I'll have to tackle in phases.
But she's got possibilities, and where I'll start doing the bulk of the work...because if I don't give Roscoe and Freckles a decent yard to hang out in, Roscoe is liable to take naps in the middle of my indoor work area and Freckles may eat half my tools.
A few days ago, I bought a house.
I'd been looking for something to buy for the past couple years, off and on, but nothing ever materialized. Truth is, I was looking for a unicorn, and unicorns just aren't that common. When I did spot one, either I couldn't get the financing lined up or I got outbid. It was a frustrating process.
But like I said, the big hurdle was mostly my search criteria.
I wanted a really, really old house.
I wanted something that needed to be rehabbed.
I wanted something for which I could get an occupancy permit without a ton of work.
I wanted something that was bigger than 1,000 sq. ft., but not bigger than about 2,400 sq. ft.
I wanted something that was in a decent neighborhood.
I wanted something that was affordable.
That right there, that's the unicorn list, and one night about a month ago, just before going to sleep, I found a place that checked all the boxes (and then some). Yada yada yada, now she's mine.
The house I purchased was reportedly constructed in 1878, although I haven't confirmed this just yet. What I have confirmed is that in 1876, the house didn't exist; it was built somewhere in the yellow area depicted in the 1876 map below:
Back then the area was considered "the country", although it was developing quickly and would be fully urban within 35 years. While the house doesn't show up on the Compton & Dry map from 1876, it does show up in the 1883 atlas:
The little place I just bought was the first structure built on its block, and there wasn't anything else around it at the time. But by 1903, it had a neighbor:
That's my house on the left, which shows the brick house (pink denotes a masonry structure) and a variety of wood-framed (yellow denotes wood framing) accessory structures. Per the 1903 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, the house had 2 covered porches; the one attached to the rear of the house was replaced at some point with a deck, although the bones of the angled porch on the side of the house still remain, potentially. There's a similarly-shaped covered porch there now and the posts and roof structure appear to be significantly old, but the walls and floor have been redone over the years. Regardless, both the porch and deck are in rough shape now.
The 1903 map also shows a 1.5-story structure, probably a stable, and a small 1-story building just south of it. Neither building exists today, although the 2-car masonry garage that sits in that area now appears to be fairly old, and is one of the rare instances where I'm happy that an original structure was replaced with something more "modern".
The other noteworthy item from the 1903 map is the lot lines; the house I bought sits on a double lot and at some point, the lot between my house and the neighboring house became part of the property as well. As such, my lot runs from the west wall of my house to the west wall of the neighboring house, giving me almost a quarter of an acre. It's a beast of a yard, and one that will require extensive work just to get under control.
Anyhow....that's a little bit of the house's background. As I slowly begin rehabbing this place, I'll get into all the details here, and there will be plenty of 'em. The inside of the house, which has 11' ceilings, still has a lot of really, really old - if not original - architectural features, and plenty of mysteries to uncover. If you want to follow along with my house rehab shenanigans, check back here for updates!