Friday, May 28, 2010


So now that I'm in the big house, I walk back and forth a lot between the front of the big house, down the back stairs and out the back door, into the carriage house and up those stairs to the apartment, which is still where the bathroom, kitchen, and remainder of the family is located. Not to mention, downstairs in the carriage house, the family room and my shop (actually just tool and materials storage, as I don't have a proper workbench).

I go through this door a lot, which is between the mudroom and the back stairs. It was originally the back door to the one-story back addition, probably originally the kitchen, and the "mudroom" is basically just a later back porch that has been enclosed - one wall still has the siding of the earlier back room, and the other wall is the brick of the earlier earlier back room. (This house tended to accrete back into further and further back rooms.)

Now, the problem with this door is that the frame had somehow managed to move to the east (that is, into the house) by about 3/4". The problem had obviously been of very long standing, because it had been caulked and some plaster added, clearly in an attempt at winterization. So naturally I popped the trim off, nailed a couple of 2x4 bits to it, and took the maul to it - which worked wonderfully! In about five minutes, I had it back where it was supposed to be!

Unfortunately, all the plaster around the door frame kind of fell off; the old box gutters were attached to the eyebrow that had a squirrel living in it last year (scroll down), and so there was obviously a great deal of leakage through the wall.

So I took the opportunity to go to Menard's and make an exciting new purchase: a bag of base coat plaster!

Anybody who's been reading this blog for any length of time (a year already!) knows that I favor solid construction and masonry. The only problem is that I've never done any of it, so I'm learning as I go. This was therefore a gulpingly novel step. My first real plaster job.

Incidentally, the old basecoat plaster on this wall probably dates to about 1890 (the date I believe this back room was added, along with the dining room bay), and yes, it is mixed with what appears to be human hair for strength. Which I'd read about, and is only marginally creepy.

Lesson #1 about plaster: you need a lot of it. A base coat about half an inch thick over a couple of square feet of wall is a lot more plaster than my usual half-hour tuck pointing quantity of mortar. So this first bag of base coat is going to go fast.

But the first part of the base coat turned out extremely satisfactory in terms of solidity. Here's a picture. I'll update you when I try the top coat - right now I'm knocking out all the crappy bits of plaster on the back stairs and putting a base coat into those (rather extensive) gaps.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

I'm in the big house

A hueueuege milestone, one year and two days after my arrival - I moved my office into the upstairs front room of the big house.

In case you're wondering, that dot on the wall between these two windows appears to be the fitting for the original gas light. I mean, I can't be sure, of course; I can't find the pipe where it starts, but that's my assumption. If true, it's the only such fitting I've found in the house.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

One room spiffy and clean

One room nearly done (the carriage house bedroom). First picture is the picture my sister took the day we closed; the second is the one I took just now after lots of paint was applied, the new window is trimmed and painted, and a new light fixture is in place. I guess you see the baseboard heater as well. (The door is still stripped here and needs a new knob, but it's always exciting to paint things and the room won't be this empty again any time soon.)

Friday, May 14, 2010

Remember that first window?

My first window removal, June 11, 2009. I finally trimmed and painted it, May 13, 2010.


Friday, May 7, 2010

The bathroom window! Trim! Paint!

According to my notes and project documentation (digital cameras timestamp your pictures - who knew?), it was August 31 when I started the replacement of the bathroom window. The sill was a sodden mess of humus, obviously not having been maintained for decades - and north-facing, so never getting properly dry. Here you see the initial state immediately after removal of the remainder of the existing sashes (they had no glass in them when I bought the place - just some exterior Visqueen, sigh). I doused the whole thing in bleach and dried it with the heat gun; it smelled like wet dog.

I scraped off everything spongy, leaving a 1.5-inch-deep cavity under the inside sill which I filled with urethane foam. I painted the outside sill with a Zinsser fixative-slash-primer - I plain love everything Zinsser makes, really a better life through chemistry kind of company!

The result was something pretty sturdy for the next few years; the wood that remained was still pretty solid. Here you see that intermediate stage after about three coats of that primer. It's thin stuff that soaks into the substrate and makes a solid surface. I love it.

That's the view from the outside before any paint was applied (I don't think you've seen the north face of the carriage house yet, and that's the top of the outhouse, which is built exactly like a brick outhouse). Once this much was done, I filled in the cavities with caulk and painted the heck out of it; two coats of my oil-based exterior trim paint. The result looked like it hadn't been neglected since the Nixon Administration, so I figured it was time to pop in the window.

Then I went into hibernation.

Well, fast-forward to now. Unfortunately, I got a little out of the habit of photographing everything, and it appears I didn't take a picture of the untrimmed interior - suffice it to say it had yellow foam sticking out, and you can see what the interior trim looked like. My wife put down the imperial foot, and beautification thus became the order of the day. Fortunately, the paying work had come to an abrupt halt on April 16th, for the usual lack of any discernible reason (the translation industry acts seasonal - but scaled to a year from some other planet, perhaps one in a binary system without a stable orbit). The upshot: I had both motivation and time. It was time to trim.

Trimming was complicated by the fact that the window was actually an inch too narrow for its frame (I didn't want to spring the extra $100 for a custom size for one lousy inch). So instead of a simple quarter-round trim on the edges of the pocket window replacement, I used 1x1s left over from the roof job last summer. You can see here that the trim paint had to be stripped, too - like all the trim in the carriage house apartment, it's latex applied on top of oil. Sigh. Without primer, of course, so it just peels off. Here you see it peeled off.

After much heat-gunning, the oil coat underneath was also removed (well, mostly), and the fully-trimmed window is now ready for painting. An unfortunate lens artifact makes it look like the carriage house is a lot less square than it actually is; the window does not actually bulge like this in real life.

Here you can also see the blue plastic wall tiles of the bathroom. A much later followup job will be to take those off, scrape their glue, and paint the entire wall with a resilient bathroom-appropriate paint. They're pretty horrendous.

Zinsser 1-2-3 primer sticks to anything, including the residual oil paint left on this trim, and since I'm using an interior latex, priming is important. Priming also shows us just how many nail holes have been knocked into this window over the decades; so I caulked them all up and laid down a thin bead along all the seams of the trim as well.

The next day, the topcoat - et voilĂ ! A lovely trimmed window just like Mama used to make. Now I only have one window (the kitchen window) to replace, and a total of four to trim and paint; I've started stripping the paint on the bedroom window this week.

This window is literally so nice it gives me a thrill to look at it, even a week later.