That's Me Scraping Moss From the Roof

We were fortunate that the Ghetto Brick was not the asbestos type, but we knew that an even greater evil lurked beneath the fake siding – lead paint. As I tore off the brick, I had fears that the siding would be in such bad shape that it was not salvageable. I also worried that the paint would be so orange peeled that no amount of primer and paint could make it look half way decent. In the end, it wasn’t too bad, but I also had to settle for less than perfect. Eventually, I consoled myself with this: “it’s a hundred year old house; it shouldn’t look new.” I suppose many of you are familiar with that thought. Whether it is true or not was really inconsequential because we didn’t have the money or time to do the job “Right Way.”

If I could afford to do the job, I would have torn off all the siding and paid the toxic waste dump fee. Period. Here is why: 1) no amount of containment tent, masking etc., is ever going to do much more than put a minor dent in the amount of lead paint chips and dust that is going to blow all over the neighborhood and anybody who tells you differently is probably making a living in the new cottage industry of lead paint removal; 2) there isn’t a vacuum sander or planer made which will adequately contain the lead dust, adequately remove the all the old paint from the corners, or save enough time and labor to make saving the siding worth while; 3) the woefully thin narrow lap cedar siding will be woefully thinner when the project is done; 4) the best way to blow in insulation is from the outside, so why not have the siding out of the way;  and 5) the end result will be near perfect and good for another 100 years with little more maintenance than fresh paint. 

So, in my opinion, the right way is to tear off the lead painted siding, expose the ship lap plank sheathing beneath it, repair or replace it where necessary, drill holes freely to make sure insulation is blown into every void or wall cavity (maybe even get a thermal picture or two in the process), wrap the house in Tyvek or new 15# tar paper, and then nail up the new siding. But if you are going to do that, you are going to need deep pockets.  I estimated 10,000.00 for the siding and related materials alone.

Primer On

So what’s the poor man’s method? Very minor scraping of only the worst peeling paint with a manual paint scraper on a calm day. Use plastic to contain the chips and the corners of the wall you are working on and 5 or 6 feet from the house. Then sweep and clean all hard surfaces (side walks etc) and plan to scrape 3 inches of dirt of the top and haul it to the dump.  Next, tons of primer. I used 15 gallons on just two sides. Get a cheap knock off of the Fein oscillating saw (I got a Dremel for a hundred bucks) and use it to patch siding where necessary, you can even replace small sections quite nicely wherever there is an insulation hole drilled. Finally, learn to live with less than a perfect paint job. Once I have finished all the trim repairs, caulking and filling, and added the color, I think it will look pretty good from the street. Sure if you get up close you’ll be able to pick out plenty of flaws, but that’s where the old “Hey it’s a hundred year old house” comes in handy.

All the lead paint issues are way to big a topic for one post, so I’ll be addressing more of them later.

Posted by: cdpenne | May 10, 2010

What’s Ghetto Brick?

Good bye ghetto brick

Fortunately for us, our version did not contain asbestos!  If you are wondering about this issue yourself, you can be resonably assured that if your fake brick looks like an asphault shingle (with colored rock granules) on a fiberous board (Masonite) then you do not have an asbestos issue.  This type of siding was much thicker  (1/2″ Masonite with 3/16″ asphault shingle) than the cementious version. The other fake brick sidings manufactured at the same time (1940’s -1960’s) which were cementious and did contain asbestos,  are thinner (3/8″) and brittle.  They would look much like the cementious tile backer boards and sidings manufactuered today, but which don’t contain asbestos.  We did not know this when we bought the house, and pretty much assumed that when the time came to remove the siding, we were going to tent off and go through the whole containment regimen. It sounds easy right?  Just drape some plastic over your entire house and make sure no speck of dust can fly off down the street.  Don’t forget to spray the stuff down so that it is less likely to become ariborne, but don’t use too much water because that has to be contained too. How do you tent off an entire house and still use the front door? What if the wind blows?  Nevermind trying to keep the wind from blowing your newly constructed tent down after you’ve built it, how do you build it to begin with?  What manner of tape could possibly hold a 40′ x 200′ piece of plastic to a porous granular surface like a roof shingle or fascia board?  And don’t forget the tent has to cover the ground where all the debris will fall as well?  Too much time considering how I was going to be able to pull all that off by myself made me all to willing to consider the alternatives- tear the stuff off on a rainy day when no one is looking, or put it off entirely.

Well, our story, or rather this chapter has a happy ending.  After resarching on the internet, but finding no conclusive enough evidence for my wife that I wouldn’t be putting our daughter at risk, I called a couple of the Hazmat testing services in and around Seattle.  The answer I received was that they would be more than happy to test it, but that they had tested numerous samples of the same stuff and never found asbestos.  This already confirmed what I suspected and read on the internet- I had even seen a commercial job right in the heart of Fremont where the Ghetto brick had been torn off without any special precautions.  It was enough to convince Nicole, so game on!  With a little clean up crew help from my uncle-in-law, I was able to completely tear off two sides in one day.  And that’s as far as I got.  The other two sides still have the crap on them. 

Piles of Ghetto Brick

Piles of Ghetto Brick

This whole process of tearing into the outside of the hosue when the inside was still so far from being complete and was only just livable was instigated by my insurance company.  They sent me a nice letter one day which basically said I had 60 days to clear the moss from the roof, trim back the neighbors tree from overhanging our eaves, repair or replace the siding, and paint, or they would drop my policy.  Meanwhile, I’ve been nearly six months out of work, we are already behind on all our bills and have no income, let alone expendable funds for a home repair project.  So hearing that I wasn’t going to have to pay a bunch of extra money for asbestos containment was the best news I’d heard in a while.  Some realtives gave us a gift card to home depot for $500 dollars and that was enough to cover the the primer, wire brushes for scraping the moss, a rope, harness and D-Ring, paint brushes, and other materials I needed to satisfy the insurance company.  Our families came through with a loaned paint sprayer, and a buch of cedar trim to replace what had been torn off.  But I only sent the insurance company pictures of two sides.  The other two sides will be done this summer. 

The two pictures above show the original unpainted cement plaster (being from the South West I hesitate to call it stucco0), the original narrow lap cedar siding in resonably good shape, and a bit of the old world detailing which had been torn off in order to make a flush surface to nail the Ghetto Brick on to.  One wonders why anyone would chose to use this stuff?  I am not quoting but I imagine the sales pitch was somehthing along the lines of ‘never have to paint again,’ and maybe they tossed in a line about insulating and sealing it since the stuff does have a fraction of an R-Value and was properly called Insul-Brick.  Maybe people just thought a brick house looked more afluent.  Whatever the reasoning, the stuff only did two things in my estimation- make the house ugly, and preserve the original siding.

Posted by: cdpenne | April 21, 2010

The light at the end of the hall

The light at the end of the hall
The light at the end of the hall

I wanted to post this picture because it is one of my favorites and because it serves as a reminder of the motivation behind all the early work we did. After nearly 7 months living away from my wife and daughter, the pressure to find a house to buy, and then to get that house ready to move in to was immense. As the previous pictures show, we had a ton of work to do. If I were to simply put in a slide show of the all the before photos, or if I look at them now, I still think the task must have, should have, been insurmountable. But with the proper motivation, it is amazing what one can accomplish. In this picture, Zoe is happily jumping on the air mattress which was my bed for 2 months while we worked on the house. She can sense that we are close to having the trailer with all our stuff (and hers), which has been in storage for 3 months, delivered to our new house. She is also allowed to wander round the house more or less freely for the first time, since we are reasonably comfortable with our lead containment endeavours. The floors have just been finished and the smell of the Swedish has subsided. Despite the miserable weather which had persisted through the fall of 08, the sun made an appearance, lit the newly renovated master bedroom and showed us a glimpse of what the room could be with its South light. In short, this picture captured a moment which will forever bring a tear to my eye because it was that turning point, the ultimate hump day, where we forgot for a little bit the burden of what had to happen and caught a glimpse again of what could be; it was the gold at the end of the rainbow and the light at the end of the tunnel (in this case hall) which would fuel further efforts to this day. Yes, the room still has primer for paint ( at least it is bright white) but it has a king size bed which we all (two adults, a kid, a dog, and two cats) share. It also has some beautiful vertical grain fir cabinetry which serve as a replacement to the wing wall closets we removed. And it still has that beautiful Southern exposure which takes every little bit of sun our grey Seattle sky offers, draws it in, and turns the room into a sunny paradise reminding me to this day, of that day.

Posted by: cdpenne | April 15, 2010

Yeah, We Really Did Have to Demo.

The worst of the worst

This is a closet!

I haven’t had much time to post anything lately so that’s why the 8 days since the last post.  Since starting a new job we are right back to the old dilemma.  When employed, there isn’t enough time to work on the house, not to mention write about working on the house.  When not employed, there is plenty of time but no money.  In the end, that is what makes these projects take so long.  If I had my old crew working for me and enough money to purchase the materials, this house would be the ‘belle’ of the block in less than a month.  Ahhh dreams.  

Anyway, this picture is actually the master bedroom closet formed by the East wing wall.  Where the slope of the ceiling goes below 8′ (approximately mid span between the ridge and the exterior or knee wall) the original builders plop in a wing wall and call the resulting space a closet.  Well, that’s  just what we call it now.  Back then they probably just called it storage.  Inside this tiny room there is no finished floor, just the 1 x 6 plank sub-floor.  Also, there is no lathe or plaster but once again 1 x 6 plank.  In the back you see plumbing for the upstairs bathroom which was re-modeled sometime in the 70″s with the cheapest material and hardware available.  Also, there is some old gas pipe which at one time would have been heating fuel for the upstairs as well as piping for the kitchenette that was installed when the house was divided into two apartments.  The wall paper is old newspapers, some dating back to the early 40’s.  We saved some of them, plus some other treasures, and intend to put together in a shadow box coffee table. 

Master closet
Would you hang you clothes here?

 This next picture is the corresponding closet on the West side from the opposite vantage point showing the small window looking South.  I think the lady of the house (the previous owners) must have demanded that one of the closets be somewhat cleaner.  Both these pictures were taken the day we took possession of the house and before any work had begun. 

 When I am trying to explain to people just how dilapidated the house had become, and I feel the need for a visual aide, I like to show these two pictures.  The other worst of the worst is the up stairs bath and that will be the subject of the next post.  Then I promise I’ll start adding in a few pictures of some progress made.
I’m afraid that I’ll probably have to settle for progress already made.  The prospects for making much headway this summer are grim.  But who knows?
In a long week end, I could get the rest of the Ghetto Brick torn off the outside and maybe trim and siding repaired.  Or maybe, I could demo the up stairs bath and do the rough plumbing.  We’ll see.
Posted by: cdpenne | April 7, 2010

Did we really have to demo?

The non-bathroom

The non-bathroom

We don’t know yet the history of this bathroom and I don’t know enough about 100-year-old building techniques to say, but it has been a bathroom since the early 50’s when the house was actually divided into an upper and lower apartment, if not from the very beginning.  Behind the sink in the right corner is the back wall of a closet which is off the dining room, but that wall has not always been there.  So there might have been a second entry to the water closet off the dining room.  It is possible the house was built with some early version of the flush toilet as there were numerous patents awarded in the early 1900’s for toilet developments.  Also, there was some very old cast iron drain pipe which traveled the entire width of the house from the South West corner, where the bathroom is located, to the South East corner and then North to the middle of the East wall where the main vent stack is located.  What was left of the steel drain pipes from the sink and bath feeding into the cast iron drain were lead soldered and there was no additional vent stack for this bathroom despite the long travel to the main vent stack.  All of this is evidence of some pretty old plumbing.   When we bought the house, I knew that the tub was no longer plumbed and that it had been used as large potting station for many years.  I knew also that the faucet feed valves had been shut off due to a leak which was simply never fixed.  I did not know that the original old cast iron drain pipe had a 3″ rise in it not 5 feet “down hill” from the toilet.  That meant the drain pipe had 5 feet of pipe right under the toilet that never emptied and it had been that way for 35 years or maybe more.  You can imagine I didn’t relish the thought of cutting it with a Sawzall or breaking it apart with a hammer!  Neither did my help!  It didn’t take long to decide to tear it all out and start over.  We added a vent stack, changed the drain pipe to ABS, extended new copper water feed lines, relocated the toilet, tub, and sink, and added new sub-floor, tile, wainscoting, and paint.  We kept the 1915 American Standard tub, and found and old true pedestal sink at the Re-Store.  The sink is the one of the best parts since it doesn’t attach to the wall or even lean against it.  It is held to the floor with two 3′ long pieces of 5/8 stainless steel all-thread, and the chrome exposed faucet feed lines rise up from the floor.  I promise to put up a recent photo as soon as I take one, but for the next few posts I’ll be concentrating on the conditions of the house when we bought it.

Posted by: cdpenne | March 30, 2010

Moving in Day- yeah right!

Actually start of the demolition

Here comes the dust!

In our addled brains, we thought we could just clean things up a bit, and move right in, leaving the restoration chores for a time when we had funds and time.  Well, under the carpet was asbestos linoleum tile and chipping lead paint.  The cabinets in the kitchen were so foul they went straight to the dumpster.  The basement was still full of garbage, decades old canned food items, and rat carcasses.  It quickly became apparent that there was only one person who was going to be moving in- me!  And I was going to be sleeping on an air mattress, boiling water for coffee on a hot plate, and spending all my time away from work demolishing most of the interior.