Thursday, June 28, 2007

Success with paperwork

No exciting action shots for this post, but we did reach a milestone yesterday: the bank officially approved the work we've done so far. Brent, the consultant, came out and looked over our bathroom and other projects and gave us the thumbs-up, meaning that some stuff with our mortgage will move along the way it's supposed to and also that we did not cry in our soup after he left. Instead, we had wine and ice cream! Yay.

Also, while he was at it Brent gave us a demo on applying mud to drywall. Um, he's really good at it. And we're not. I hope we absorbed some of his expertise by osmosis. He can mud a seam in three strokes with almost no sanding required--quite a contrast to the 2 weeks or something we spent sanding, mudding, sanding, mudding in the bathroom.

All in all, it sure is nice that Brent is so laid-back (he didn't even turn on the water in the bathroom) and that we are in good standing with the big institution in the sky.

We're still trying to figure out whether we need to add ceiling joists in the first floor to support our someday-living space in the attic (Brent's advice: rip out everything we have and replace with new lumber--er, probably not) but regardless, we're getting ready to start on the heat system for realz this weekend. Stay tuned!

- Erika

Monday, June 25, 2007

A Sunday on high

Sunday dawned grey: not the best news for roof-painting plans. Still, we blindly pushed ahead. Maybe we just couldn't wait to hang out on the chicken ladder. Plus there was the fact that after power-washing, you're supposed to start priming as soon as possible.

Once all the supplies were handed up onto the roof and the ladders were in place, we got down to it: first sweeping dust and debris off the metal (power-washing left some loose bits floating around), then brushing red primer onto the extreme upper-right corner of the rear part of the roof. John took this first shift on the chicken ladder--one of the scarier ones since it was near the edge and the peak. We realized that it would be tough to bring a can of primer up onto that ladder, so we settled on handing the brush back and forth and letting the person at the bottom be the one to load up the brush. Time-consuming, but better than plummeting.

After that I became the chicken-ladder specialist and John worked on the lower sections. We soon settled into a rhythm; primed the seams with the brush and used rollers on the "pans"--I think that's the right term. Yep, it's red all right! We worked our way from right to left, around obstacles of chimney and roof patch. The chicken ladder was tough to move side to side--has to be slid and worked over gradually, since there's no way you can lift it from the bottom with no leverage. I watched John get better at this trick as the day wore on.

The rain held off and we realized the clouds were actually a blessing since when the sun did occasionally peek out, the tin roof becomes blinding! John slopped a ton of primer onto where the metal roof meets the shingles on the screen porch: a leaky transition that will not last too much longer since we want to rip that porch off at the first opportunity.

Four hours and a two and quarter cans of primer later, the back side was done! We had some water, cleaned off our brushes and rollers, and ate some lunch. "Yeah, it looks pretty silly with the blue house," we agreed. Just in time for July 4, our house looks like a flag! (IMPORTANT NOTE! WE ARE GOING TO PAINT THE HOUSE YELLOW!) But taking the red roof on its own terms, it's quite nice.

Just before eating John checked for the fourth and fifth cans of primer we'd need. Here's the fourth...where's the fifth? Uh-oh. We don't have a fifth. We're not gonna finish today.

Well, we'll use up what we have and see how far we get. The front side of the house is the scary side: bigger drop, longer slope, concrete steps for a landing pad. Again, John took the most dangerous part--I chicken-laddered out, ha ha--and then I took it from there. Being on top of the dormer was fun, and that part was really rusty so it felt very good to put a nice coat of latex on there. A few drops of rain; nothing much.

We ended up getting most of this side done too, but we were scraping the bottom of the can and there were still several panels left undone. Tomorrow, tomorrow...

We were beat. Cleaned up the stuff, took a shower, and headed downtown for margaritas and burritos. Came home to lay around and look through all our photos of the renovation so far. (They're not all on the blog, folks--maybe someday we'll publish a "never-before-released" edition.) It's so crazy to look back to when the bathroom was a filthy pit and the trees were bare and our supply room was relatively empty. Things have changed! As we got toward the end of the photos I started to nod off and every time I did, I'd get an adrenaline-laced vision of being at the top of the chicken ladder or right on the edge of the roof. Strange, because I didn't feel nervous when I was actually up there.

It rained hard most of the night. Not optimal for the primer. But the roof is still red.

- Erika

The Master Blaster

Friday. Looking down the barrel of a big weekend. The weather promises to be mostly sunny. The plan: pressure-wash and prep the roof for priming, and prime it.

I used my lunch break at work to make one more trip to the roofing supplies place and make the big purchase: 5 gallons of red primer, 8 gallons of paint. Left work at three to rent the pickup truck and pressure washer. Pickup truck? It dawned on me the day before, when I learned that a 3,000psi pressure washer is powered by gasoline, that this thing wasn't going to fit in the Rabbit. And, the van is sitting in the yard awaiting a spare moment to replace the water pump. So, we rented a pickup truck to pickup the rented washer.

We woke up early Saturday morning and visited with our friendly local farmers down at the market where we stocked up on veggies and goat cheese. Picked up our mild detergent at the hardware store for the pressure washer, and by 9:30ish we were planning our attack on the roof.

The pressure washer was left in the bed of the truck since the 50' hose seemed long enough to reach all points on the front side of the house. I crawled out the attic window and onto the roof and Erika passed the wand and hose up to me. We went over a few safety and procedure details such as when to hit the kill switch on the machine and keep an eye out in case I come tumbling down.

Erika yanked the pull string a couple of times and the machine fired up. The first step was to spray the soap onto the roof. Easy enough. After I had sufficiently soaped up the first quarter of the roof, I switched tips to the zero degree oscillating tip. Makes swirlies, acts like an orbital sander. Machine restarted, trigger pulled. Whoa! Heavy. Blasted many years of dirt away. Blasted chipping paint. Blasted away a layer of paint. Wow. I continued blasting (sometimes just sticking one hand up into the air and blasting the thing skyward, just for fun) until I figured that was enough. At some point I thought to myself that we could've used the 3,500psi model since 3,000psi isn't as powerful as I thought. I changed my tune after I fired it at the wooded ladder and watched the water cut deep circular grooves into the plank. Good thing I didn't test this on my foot!

Next we had to employ the chicken ladder so that I could get up on top of the dormer. The chicken ladder (you'll hear more about this in the Sunday story) is a 2x6 plank with several small 2x4 steps and a few longer ones at one end which you use to hook over the ridge of the house. You use this to climb the steep pitch of the roof. I was a little shaky on this thing at first, and a little uneasy way up at the top of the house on the dormer, but it was really nice. The top of the dormer is the rustiest part of the roof. Soaped 'er up, blasted 'er down. I was soaked by this point. The wand had a worn o-ring and I was as wet as if I had been swimming with all my clothes on.

All in all, it took about four hours to pressure wash the front half of the house. Oh yeah, I might add here that I was doing all the washing because Erika was still recovering from a fevery cold, which is the same reason why the other night when I patched the roof, she wasn't up there with me. That was the worst night of her cold I think. Anyway, four hours for the front.

Took a quick break for some water and then drove the truck around back and began work on the rear of the house. The roof at the rear of the house is in worse shape than the front. First, there's the major patch that I made. Second, there is tar at pretty much every standing seam where the roof makes the transition from pitched to relatively flat. Third, there is a sick amount of tar and leak where the roof transitions from metal to shingles, over the back porch. I had to be careful not to blast this all away. I missed a few times though, and did blast away some old maintanance, but it's nothing I can't fix better than whatever madmen worked on this house in the past.

After I was done up there, the first thing I did (after pounding a couple pints of water) was inspect the kitchen under the old major leak to see if my patch work held. It certainly did. No leaking!

Dried off and trucked north of Charlottesville (a 50 minute drive) to return the equipment. Picked up the rest of our groceries on the way home, I decided to treat myself to a nice steak. There would be no priming this evening. Back home, I got a fire going, cracked a beer, and sat on the grass while Toes (our cat) explored some more. We made salads with all the stuff from the farm and Gale's goat cheese, roasted up some fresh whole beets and onions, pulled the steak off the grill (an old oven rack balanced atop a few bricks and a cinder block in the fire pit), had a nice dinner, and thought about our shiny roof.

Tomorrow, it will be red.

- John

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Roof patch

Finally, time to patch the massive leak in the roof. At one point in time a chimney stood there, in the back of the house, penetrating the roof. That was demolished at some point, and eventually replaced with sheet metal flashing, many bolts, and a vinyl vent cap. Oh yeah, and years and years worth of tar and caulk.

I got up on the roof with most of the supplies and tools needed. Erika brought me more as I called out for them. Got up there at around 6:30PM and started removing the bolts.

This was nerve-racking work. I didn't know what I'd find when I pulled this old patch off, and I wasn't even 100% sure that I'd know what to do in building a more effective patch.

Once it was off, I spent a couple of hours with the putty knife and wire brush cleaning the horrible mess.

Ultimately, this and a couple of neighboring roof panels will need to be replaced. Without a doubt. Some of the seams are completely rusted out, and some of the panel a little down stream is also totally rusted through, held together only by some compound that I wisely stopped short of removing.

Once it was cleaned up, I sat upstream from the nearly 24"x24" gaping hole in the roof and thought "be the rain, be the roof."

Here's what I ended up doing: I cut a piece of 12" wide sheet metal flashing to fit lengthwise between the seams (24"). That was sealed to the roof about 8"-10" downstream of the hole. Then I cut another piece and overlapped it by several inches, a little further upstream. Did the same with a third piece, this one now covered the first few inches of the hole. Then I layed down the 24"x24" square of 19 guage galvanized steel over the entire hole. Actually, this needed to be trimmed an inch or so, which wasn't easy with my stubby sheetmetal shears. I cut my hand no less than 5 times in 24" doing this. Once that was set and sealed, I added another piece of flashing upstream and overlapping a few inches. Finally, a fifth piece of flashing was added at the top. With this one, I was able to slide it under the existing horizontal seam of the upper roof panel.

So what we're left with is basically like a shingle system where every piece overlaps the next as the water runs down it. The left the standing seams at the edges as the only place water could get in. So, I sealed and tooled and sealed along those seams.

Why should this patch work and the old one not? Lots of reasons. But I think that by not trying to mold to the existing seams is one trick. The other trick will be the Geocell 2300 Tripolymer Construction Sealant (love saying that) that I used. It remains flexible, which is key. Tar does not. Metal roofs do a lot of flexing with temperature, wind, and traffic.

By 10 o'clock or so I was down from the roof. Filthy and tired. A couple of hours later I was in bed and just falling off to sleep when I noticed lightning in the sky, far off. Consequently, I awoke every 20 minutes as the storm drew closer. Part of me wanted it to hit us hard, part of me wanted another day to check my work and finish up. By 2 AM, the storm was dumping on us. I got up with the flashlight and went to the kitchen and looked up at the patch. No sign of leakage. Back to sleep. No sign in the morning either.

Was it just a dream? Did it really work? Tonight I will give it one more nice bead of sealant and then tape some paper up to the ceiling so that we can really monitor this.

- John


Vent removed:

Cleaned up:

After (Now I know these pics are terrible but I was ready to get off the roof by now. Tonight I plan to clean this up and I'll get some better shots):

Looking upstream:

Looking downstream:

Weak in review

OK, real quick:

Last week was not your bang-up dramatic get a lot done kind of week, but we did accomplish some stuff. We finished drywalling outside the bathroom (though there's still another round of mudding and sanding to be done there), put foil tape around the edge of the big new window for weatherproofing, did some little things to touch up the bathroom and edge it closer to being finished, and solved three unexpected problems:

1. No fridge. Our new one arrived on Wednesday. It came with ice cube trays. It keeps our food cold.

2. No phone. The line went dead last Sunday. John spent a whole evening cleaning little contacts and poking around and got it up and running again. [incoming message: hey, John here... What a mess the phone line was. Indeed I did clean up all the contacts at the phone jack itself, but then, as replacing the jack entirely didn't solve the problem, spent the next night tracking down the malfunction. As it turned out, there was like 60 feet of abandoned cable on that line. I removed it all from the screw/grommet connectors outside at the box and cleaned the connections up nicely. Voila, a clear dial tone! John, out.]

3. No overhead light in the living room. This too was fixed by JG. In so doing he discovered that part of our wiring system was even more outdated than we'd thought, about which more later.

None of this stuff, of course, is on our work writeup from the bank, but we are homeowners, there is no landlord to call, and one simply must have a fridge, a phone and a living room light.

This all led into the arrival on Friday of Rebekah and Chris, John's sister and her husband, fresh off the Blue Ridge Parkway and itching to end their summer vacation with a little hard labor. We hung out on Friday, went to the farmer's market Saturday morning, and then got down to business.

The women's team tackled the shingles. (I like that sentence.) After John took off the rest of the asbestos shingles around our new attic window, Bek and I started measuring and thinking about how these new ones would fit. I'd bought the bundle of cedar shingles the day before and they made the attic very aromatic as we worked. This involved thinking about how we'll trim the window, reading installation instructions meant for Spanish-speaking contractors, keeping Toes from sneaking up into the attic, and other rocket science that I won't bore you with here.

Long story short: we got everything laid out and numbered, figured out the best tool for trimming the shingles (jigsaw), and decided the dormer had dried sufficiently from that morning's anti-asbestos soaking to be able to put the vapor barrier on. This we did. And it was good. And then we had a very late dinner and went to sleep.

Next day Bek and I trimmed those suckers up, cut notches in the ones that would fit around the rafters, installed dummy shingles behind the bottom row to hide the foil tape, and nailed everything up. Hey, there it is! Eventually we'll paint it to match the rest of the siding and it will be a spot of texture on the front of the dormer.

Bek is not only really good at thinking about how to put things together, she's easy to work with and fun and cool. I'll think of her every time I look at that dormer! Chris did an awesome job too and I'll let John tell you all about that.

She and I also moved a huge pile of dirt and started a compost pile.

- Erika

Okay, this is John, "telling you about that."

What can I say? Chris and I managed to upgrade the electrical system in the front of the house (living room, porch, and bedroom). Chris worked his ass off. Seriously. There's no stopping him. We used some heavy telephone wire (a casing with a dozen or more wires in it) to fish wires in and out of the walls. He perfected a method for securing the phone wire to the existing black Romex wire by tying and taping. We'd loosen the existing wire in a wall cavity, then give it a good pull until the phone wire came out with it on the other end. Then the new wire was tied to the phone wire and pulled back through the wall to the fixture or outlet or switch. We separated the circuit into two separate ones, living room and bedroom, and for every outlet we upgraded we replaced it with a double (two outlets become four). Feels great to see 3 prong outlets throughout the house now (except for the studio/office space that currently functions as a tool room, but we'll get that later).

My favorite circuit that we discovered is the one with no beginning and with no end. It's just a loop. How odd.

I just want to toss my words of thanks here to Bek and Chris. Really, we could not have had such a successful weekend without them. Thanks guys, we love you!

- John

Monday, June 11, 2007

We can see for miles and miles

After getting another sheet of drywall up on Friday (it's on an exterior wall so we also insulated and vapor barrier'd behind it) we awoke Saturday to a long-awaited task: putting in the big window in the attic!

But first--we had to take advantage of our new proximity to the farmer's market, which is only a couple of miles away in Nellysford. What a luxury to just roll out of bed and right down the hill to the big white tent. We visited our friends from Double H (bought lettuce, ciabatta and beets, and they gave us a taste of their first tomatoes -- completely ecstatic!), bought some eggs from another table, and said hello to a few people I know from my days manning the Double H table in years past. Nice to feel like there's a little bit of community here. We've also been introducing ourselves to most of the businesses in Nellysford as the occasion arises, and a few neighbors too.

Back to the house, stocked up the cooler with ice since our fridge won't arrive until Wednesday, and started sizing up the window project. Measured the window and the rough opening and got an idea of how it all would fit together. We'd have to add some framing on top and bottom, and we'd have to trim away some siding on the outside to make room for the nailing fins on the window.

John tossed the hose up onto the roof so that we could wet down the asbestos shingles and keep them from splintering into our lungs as we removed them. We also put up plastic to keep fibers out of the house and he wore the respirator as he pulled the shingles away. Then he took the circular saw and trimmed away the planks that form the house's sheathing.

We measured and cut two 2x4s to add to the frame, but after nailing the bottom one in, we realized we wouldn't have room for the top one. That's because the top part of the rough opening is significantly saggy--half an inch lower in the middle than at the ends--and more space is eaten up by some unevenness on the bottom. But we still needed something up there, so we found a 3/4-inch plank and cut it to fit.

At this point John had a great idea: to call our friend Alex and invite him over to help us maneuver this beast into place. We probably could have done it ourselves but it would have been quite a logistical pain. Luckily for us, Alex was up for it and came right over blasting Lil' Kim up and down Stoney Creek.

Some more chiseling away of siding, some stapling of plastic as a vapor barrier over the now-bare sheathing, and we were ready to carry the window upstairs. Alex and John did it without a hitch and got it out the opening to lay on the roof.

Dry fit, shimming, another dry fit, caulking, leveling, here we go! Alex went inside to be on shim duty and John and I lifted the window in and started nailing. We adjusted as we went, got it as level and plumb as possible, nailed all around and there it was! Many of the nails had to be carefully punched in since there wasn't enough room for the head of the hammer between the window and the old sheathing. (That's gonna make trimming this thing interesting...that's another day, though.) It was all so much easier with three people to fetch tools, pass stuff in and out, and do the lifting.

Time to wiggle back into the attic, go downstairs and have a beer on the lawn while admiring our work.

It's great to have a friend like Alex who will come over at a moment's notice, help you with something major on your house, and identify lots of your trees while he's at it. Thanks, Alex!

- Erika

Friday, June 8, 2007

Checking in

Ah, Friday.

Let's recap the week:

Although we had a night of relaxation planned for Monday evening, I really couldn't help slithering through the crawl space to get under the bathroom and inspect how everything was holding up after a couple days of regular-to-heavy usage.

I sliced open a section of the plastic vapor barrier where we had spliced and repaired the main waste pipe 12" before it exits the house and felt the dirt and joints for wetness. Did the same thing back upstream a bit, where the soil stack T's into the waste pipe. All good all around. Had Erika run the water in the shower and sink and flush the toilet. Everything's holding tight. Hooray! I sealed the plastic back together and crawled back out from under the house.

Straightened up inside a little bit and had a relaxing dinner in our dining room and took it easy for the rest of the night.

Tuesday we continued to catch up on rest, had a nice dinner out with some friends. Oh, and our phone line was turned on!

Wednesday we forced ourselves back into motion. We picked up our big ol' window from the glass shop. This is an 89" long beast comprised of a double-hung on either side of a large fixed picture window. We'll install this in the attic dormer this weekend. We got home and saw that the refrigerator was no longer working. Erika ran out for ice, I talked with my folks about how to try and fix it.

We figured out how the access door in the wall behind the bathtub was going to work, then we got a sheet of drywall up on that wall (this is on the outside of that bathroom, how 'bout it!).

So then, we tried to get the refrigerator working again. Pushed it out, took the back off to vacuum and check the fan and pump. Vacuumed out a large old mouse nest (complete with mummified mouse), then vacuumed the coils and put it back together, plugged it back in.

Thursday morning, still no cold air blowing in the freezer or refrigerator. We did some quick researching into efficient units and did some thinking about "what's the smallest we can live with," and ended up at Sears after work. They had one of the units we had researched - looks fine. Will order it Friday. Where's our landlord? Hmm.

Picked up a couple of sheets of drywall, some caulk, and some accessories for this weekend's window install. Came home and got up on the roof to take some detailed photos for a roofer that I've been consulting with. That's one of the next major projects.

Next, we put up a couple more drywall panels, working our way along the exterior wall of the bathroom.

Friday, we'll complete the drywalling and rest up for the window install and various other weekend activities.

Gotta say though, it feels nice to quit at 11 and not have to drive 35 minutes back to another house. Catching up on sleep!

- John

Tuesday, June 5, 2007


A rainy Sunday. The breakfast table was set in the living room. We ate pancakes and felt a little lazy.

As soon as the dishes were done, tomato sauce ingredients were being prepped, the oven was being troubleshot, the plywood subfloor outside the bathroom was being measured and cut, and the bathroom was receiving its second coat of detail paint.

We boarded up the attic door and window, cut wood to fill gaps in the floor left behind by the removed heating ducts, continued to paint, scrubbed the bath tub, and cooked sauce. The Dads rigged a plastic sheet to the leaky part of the roof to consolidate the multiple drips and channel the water into a single bucket by the kitchen (we usually use two or three cannisters to catch the water here).

Everybody working at once, on various jobs that needed to be done. It's amazing how much gets done this way. It would have taken Erika and I a week or more.

I returned the pex crimpers that we had been renting from the hardware store and gave 'em the news that we were moved in and the water was running. They greeted us with their usual generosity and encouragement. Picked up a loaf of bread and another bottle of wine to go with dinner.

Some more straightening up and sweeping and we moved the table into the dining room. There was some lounging around the porch and kitchen, taking it slow by late afternoon, some of us looking over the work write up and assessing what is yet to be done. (The work write up is our official renovation plan, per the bank.)

We feasted on a cheese-rich baked ziti with fresh sauce, garlic bread, and fried eggplant w/ vinegar. Listened to Blind Faith, Fela Kuti, Black Sabbath, and the wedding pre-dinner mix. Sat around the table for most of the rest of the night.

The evening climaxed with an event that we had been dreaming of for months: the first shower!

Yes, we were downright giddy, Erika and I. We attached the shower head and stood there looking at our bathroom, savoring the moment. Wow.

The water pressure is great, too!

It was magical. Everyone took a turn getting clean. Sleep was next.

What an a amazing and special weekend!

- John

Moving day

When we woke up Saturday morning around 7:30, the first or second thing I thought was "It's June 2nd, we need to get out of here!" All of our ingredients and tools for the pancake breakfast had been moved to the new place, as had all of our toilet paper. A cup of coffee down our collective hatches and the work crew ramped back up to ant-like cooperation.

The last of the large household items were disassembled and moved out: the couch and the bed. Toes the cat now knew that this was for real, especially when her litter box left the building. She sought sanctuary behind the dryer and remained there while we transformed from moving company to clean up crew.

Swept, mopped, wiped, and cleaned. Loaded the last of the yard items: cold frames, tarp of horse manure, favorite tomato staff with dried morning glory vine and deer skull ornament, giant cactus, and the sycamore branch that marked the natural alter of our wedding ceremony.

Erika and I took a short walk to the crest of the hill in the pasture, overlooking the route that we had processed down with our wedding guests and took a few minutes to reflect on our love for this place. We made our way back across the yard to the garden and cut a couple of fine heads of lettuce that had voluntarily sprung up and gave the signal to our family that we were ready to hit the road. We went back inside to collect Toes and brought her to the van, a few sad meows when she realized what was going on. She wasn't the only one.

The caravan moved out, I detoured to leave a forwarding order with the post office, and we met up at the house.

Everyone got to work unloading and tinkering around the house. Our dads diagnosed the water heater problem as being a faulty element. With my list of a few specialty hardware items needed from the valley, my mom and I cruised out to buy a new coupling for the burst water pipe and some new water heater elements.

Many things had happened by the time we returned: Erika and her dad had moved a long-standing pile of bricks, my dad had taken care of the leaky sink drain flange, Erika's mom had begun painting the bathroom wall up by the ceiling.

The Dads got to work changing out the water heater elements - very stubborn, those were, and the culprit was immediately apparent...burned out and rotted. I shimmied under the house and reconnected the water pipe with the new fitting. Moms and Erika were tending the flower garden on the south side of the house. Erika bedded some tomato plants, yay!

Dad fixed the leaky tub drain. Mom was cooking up some barbecue sauce. The place was active as ever. I caulked the shower/tub and made a mess of myself in the process.

The fire pit was lit up and things chilled out a bit - this is around 6 I guess. It felt good to step back and see folks congregated on the front porch, mom and dad back by the fire pit. I walked to the top of the yard and just looked down and felt good. We raked the wood embers over a bit and set up a grilling surface between four bricks and a cinder block and mom put the chicken on.

Once the picnic table on the back porch was set, Erika's dad put a bottle of champagne on it. He removed the wire retainer from the cork and went around the house and just then the cork popped itself and rocketed straight up into the air. We had some beautiful toasts. Feasted on grilled chicken, potatoes and eggplant, lettuce from the garden, bread, and finally, cookies. After dinner, we took seats around the fire pit and got the flames up higher. I was sleepy and excited that we were about to spend our first night at the house. Everyone together.

- John