Wednesday, August 30, 2006

fire waiting to happen

Some of the wiring in this house gives me nightmares. There are a few electrical outlets connected with Romex wire and installed in blue plastic boxes and we had 2 GFI outlets installed, but now I'm finding outlets jammed into wood planks without a protective box and there was a fabric-wrapped wire snaking up through a couple of two-by-fours with the light switch inserted into a cutout section of a LOAD-BEARING post. And then I come across something like this that really freaks me. I uncovered this section of bare wire while cleaning out a rat haven of acorn shells and such piled about four inches deep on an inside wall. I was lucky I didn't touch it while cleaning out the rat debris. We've put out cakes of rat poison which disappear quickly so we assume rats or squirrels are absconding with them. Last Saturday we were met with the unmistakeable odor of decomposing bodies. I hope it's rats and not cats.

Monday, August 28, 2006

status update

I haven't been keeping up this blog as planned; it may be more sporadic than I thought, but after spending both my weekend days tearing out boards and sheetrock, I can't work up much enthusiasm to sit at the computer. I'm hoping I will build up some arm muscles, as I'll be able to put them to good use. There's more damage than I expected, but apparently that's to be expected in old houses. Have I already said that? It turned out the ceiling in the kitchen was being held up on one side by a termite-riddled plank and after I removed the plank the ceiling sagged. I finally got to look in the attic and saw the ceiling was being held up only by a couple of two-by-fours nailed weirdly to the rafters, so I'm going to have to pull the ceiling down as well. We had a contractor look at the kitchen and he will probably give us an estimate this Friday. We're just going to have him do the basic construction: moving the wall, insulating the ceiling and replacing the sheetrock, and new wiring. I will apply the texture to the sheetrock, do the painting, and install the cabinets and vinyl floor. It may take a month for me to install the cabinets, but we need to save our money for the things we can't do.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

demolition continues

Now I'm getting down to some of the bones of the house. The termite damage extended farther than I expected. It appears to extend upward along 3 studs and then spreads to the left and right when it reaches the kitchen ceiling. The base wall is made of six-inch-wide planks of soft wood and the top two planks were so damaged I could snap them with my hand. In some places the boards were nearly paper-thin. I got most of the damaged boards torn off and now I hope I can save some of the undamaged planking for use elsewhere in the house. Imagine my surprise when I found the wall on the other side of the studs (living room wall) is also planked. It is covered with some kind of mesh-like material that's been plastered over. I can only do about 3 1/2 to 4 hours of work before my arms and shoulders start to give out, so there's at least 2 more days of work before I get this wall torn down. It's also more time-consuming when you're trying to save the wood so it may be three days.

I found yet another layer of wallpaper and an assortment of wiring from different eras including loose wires that I didn't want to touch in case they were live. I hadn't thought to bring a voltage tester with me. A few of these older wires were threaded through the studs via a hollow metal tube. I'm sure I'm going to be finding a lot of code violations. I found one electrical outlet simply jammed into the hole cut into the wood without any kind of box around it.

I got a book by George Nash called Renovating Old Houses: Bringing New Life to Vintage Homes that's already proving useful. Now I may be able to date the old wiring I found to add to my historical as well as my structural info about the house.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore...

I'm in uncharted territory!

As my minor demolition progressed in the kitchen I started to realize I was going to have to get a different mindset for dealing with this house. This house is truly Old and folks did things differently in The Olden Days. It was one thing to "fix up" my Oak Cliff house, a 1940's tract house built as a single unit with a floor plan laid out in a blueprint; it is quite another thing to work on a house that was created in pieces, beginning in an age that lacked modern plumbing and electricity. I guess I was subconsciously expecting to find 2x4 studs spaced neatly under plasterboard; instead I found these rough horizontal boards covered in layers of newspaper. I haven't determined if these pages came from a newspaper or a magazine as the paper is so brittle it almost disintegrates as it's being handled. I found one small piece of paper with "March 1933" on it, so it seems likely all the layers of wallpaper and burlap were pasted on sometime after that date.

I need information! What should I do with bare wood walls? Should I preserve them and hope they add character to the kitchen or should I just slap on some drywall and make it modern? I'm gonna have to get myself educated, it seems.

Monday, August 07, 2006

yukon do it!

The paste that held everything together has mostly lost its stickum power and I was able to uncover most of a large piece of burlap behind the wallpaper. It was from a 100 pound bag of flour manufactured by Yukon Mill & Grain of Yukon, Oklahoma. I found that by 1915 Yukon Grains was the main business in this small Oklahoma town (current population 21,000) and it received its "official" charter in 1921. The company suffered a series of lawsuits brought by angry stockholders (can't translate the legalese or I'd tell ya why) in the 1940's and was acquired by Shawnee Mills in 1970. So I'm guessing this bag was pasted up sometime between 1921 and 1970.

old photo of the mill from a vintage postcard.
Go to the Yukon Flour Mill for more pics & info on this historic structure.

oh, yeah, as all you CW music lovers probably already know, Yukon is the home of Garth Brooks.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

first discoveries

We began work on the house yesterday. We worked outside for a brief time, my mom sawing down an unwanted fig tree which had intermingled with an ancient rose bush and me digging up a few of the many bricks scattered in the yard and piling them neatly next to the fence. It was after 2 pm and the temperature was soaring to its maximum of 103 so it wasn't long before we were overcome and had to retreat indoors. Thank goodness the air conditioner works!

I then began demolition of the kitchen, starting with the small built-in drawer & cupboards on one wall. There was a lot of termite damage to a vertical support which had been concealed by the trim around the door. It was old damage, like that of the joist under the kitchen floor that had been removed just the week before, and my main worry was how far up the damage extended. I found that whoever had constructed the cupboard had used corrugated cardboard for the sides of it. After the trim, shelves and cardboard were removed, I started on the wall. The top layer was a material not quite plaster and not quite drywall. It was about 1/4 inch thick, maybe less, and showed signs of at least 3 layers of paint: white, yellow and dark green. Under this plaster-like material I found the first layer of wallpaper; actually the last layer if you look at it from an archeological point of view. It was an unusual design, not too bad on the eyes, but what was peculiar was that it was apparently pasted to a burlap base made from flour and cornmeal bags. I guess this is how they attached wallpaper in the days before pre-pasted papers were available. Instead of scraping off the old wallpaper, which was probably a nearly impossible chore, folks would paste up a burlap bag so the next layer of paper would have something to adhere to.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

My New Baby

Here's a photo of my new new "old" house. This was scanned from something the inspector gave us so it's not as clear as it could be. I've held off posting anything about the house or even telling many people about it as I wasn't sure I was going to get it and I didn't want to jinx the deal. The house was built in 1900 or maybe earlier. It has been empty for the last four years and no one has really cared for it for much longer than that. Now things are looking up for this little abode as I'm hoping to give it the TLC I think it deserves. The foundation has had a lot of work done to it and there's a brand new roof but it will be at least several months before it's really ready for me and my mom to move into it. I'm hoping to keep up a blog about the renovation; maybe I can pass along things I learn.