Saturday, April 28, 2012

Rome wasn't drywalled in a day

It's been a while since our last update, which isn't to say we haven't been busy but that we haven't finished anything yet.  We were faced with the strange complication of the ceiling in the former office being higher than the rest of the room and the wall being bumped in a little.  Matt consulted with his co-worker Jim Schmidt and I badgered fellow graduate student Brian Ell about what we should do.  Everyone seemed to think that ripping down the existing drywall, adding to the depth of the studs/joists and then re-drywalling was the appropriate plan of action.  Cut to Matt and I mid-drywalling and cursing at life a few days later...but I digress.

When we did our home inspection we found evidence of an active termite infestation.  A big part of our contingencies for the seller were killing all the termites and repairing any structural damage they caused.  So when we opened the wall and found this nonsense, we weren't too surprised but it was still scary to see.

It appears that the paper backing of drywall is super delicious.  We haven't found any live termites in all the rooting around we've been doing.  To make sure the studs/header/footer were still solid we pounded on them with hammers quite a bit. This is probably the caveman equivalent of what a professional might do.  So no one worries, we do have a contract with a termite company that we'll keep up with.

Furry Creatures
Once the drywall on the walls was down, we started in on the ceiling.  I am extremely thankful that we were wearing goggles and masks when we did this.  Upon removing the first panel we were showered in years of mouse poop.  Cringe.  After I stopped running in circles beating the poop off of me, we carefully finished the job.  We pulled the out of date insulation also which was bagged.  We noticed that a larger critter had likely been visiting the house at some point.

To support our idea that this is damage from a squirrel, we had been finding acorns in the insulation we pulled out of the wall.  I have been referring to the animals as "mouse and squir-ell", pronounced like the villain from Rocky and Bullwinkle, or as my brother called him "Billwinkle."  Once all the terrible horrible insulation was down, we added some upgraded insulation (R19) even though the wall/ceiling are interior.

TK, who I bother all day by
g-chatting about building
plans and design.
The people who put up drywall on TV are magicians or there is trick photography going on.  It is really difficult.  My friend TK (real name Katie, but she'll always be TK thanks to rugby), an interior designer who works at an architecture firm, said drywall is no joke and wouldn't hold it against us if we tapped out on the project.  To start, we made a dead-man to support the drywall pieces for the ceiling, which looks like a gigantic T.  We spent no less than 45 minutes trying to properly cut and install a single piece of drywall on the ceiling.  The evening ended with no drywall installed and us thinking about looking on Angie's List for a drywall installer.  The next day at work I got encouragement from Brian again, that jerk, to keep trying and a promise he and his wife would help us.

Brian and Lina Ell at their Summer
2011 weddin'
With a batch of chili started in the crock pot, Brian and Lina arrived for a Sunday of drywall.  I don't know how we would have ever done this without their help.  Matt and I used an....unconventional (?) technique to align the bumped out studs in a single plane.  We used a laser level and shined the beam across the length of the wall to where the studs would hit the floor/ceiling.  Turns out, this is not the ideal use of the level and it's most accurate with the beam parallel to whatever you're doing, not perpendicular (how we were using it).  This resulted in one stud being off by at least 1/2" from the surrounding studs.  There was much cursing and removing the drywall panel and adding shims and putting the panel back least 5 times.  Matt and Brian did the drywall portion of the work, with Lina and I as support staff.  Once it came time for the taping and mudding, Lina and I took over because we know what we're doing and we do this all the time...what?

Lina and Winter, supervising
Brian, saving our lives

Matt was impressed with his own arm size here, take note

Cutting the hole for the HVAC vent, sporting another nerdy shirt.

A few more coats to go
Loitering after a job well done!
 Asbestos Bonanza?
Our plan for this room is to remove the carpet, pad and then the layer of tile to expose the concrete slab.  We'll then apply leveling compound and tile over it with super non-slip tile that will hide dirt.  Not so fast though.  We didn't really get a good look at the underlying tile until today, and it looks quite suspect in the asbestos department.  While fiddling with it I had my respirator on, not to worry.  It is brittle, but doesn't qualify as "friable" which you always worry about with asbestos containing materials (ACM).  Friable means that the material can be crumbled or pulverized using hand pressure, thus releasing fibers into the air...this does not apply to our tile, or historically to vinyl asbestos tile.  More info here, we suspect we are category I, non-friable.  The tiles are quite poorly adhered to the floor and we've popped some off accidentally already.  Step one is to send a sample away to be sure of what we're dealing with.  Assuming it is asbestos, we are going to remove the tile using precautions prescribed by the state of PA, and probably more because I can be a little type A about these matters.  I am forecasting hearing a lot about how this may be a bad idea.  How I approached the situation prior to any research was "lets dig a bunker and hide until some professional shows up to handle this for us."  After researching with Matt, this is something we can do specifically due to the nature of the tile.

Aaaand if it's not asbestos containing....hooray for us!

So a lot has been happening around here, and there is still a lot more to do.  This week I will go into Home Depot and attempt to haggle with them for a discount on the tile.  We are buying enough to cover all area's of the first floor that we'll be remodeling (the Pit, laundry room, powder room, foyer and kitchen).  The tile is neutral enough to go with whatever wacky colors we put on the walls.  Speaking of colors, Behr is much better at describing them than I am.  I was thinking of a "warm mud" type color...the color that Behr calls "pumpkin toast."  I doubt I can ever work in their color naming department.  Here are some choices, feel free to respond which the one that looks nicest on your monitor.

A. Pumpkin Toast
B. Flaming Torch

C. Marmalade Glaze
D. Amber Glow

We like bold colors, so what?  More to come as we continue getting our act together.

It gets worse before it gets better right?

On the areas we've roundup and spot-seeded we
made sure to put down straw to retain moisture.
So now that we've destroyed the yard killing weeds with round-up, its time to start fixing it.  So far we have overseeded with a nice Kentucky bluegrass (midnight), as well as spot seeding the area's we've Round-upped with a mixed store bought Scott's random junk.  Our plan is to bring the yard to an "acceptable" level this summer, then in the fall we'll kill all the weeds with a 2,4d herbicide, wait a few weeks for it to clear, then overseed the entire lawn with a mix of specialized breeds of Kentucky bluegrass I've selected using's data.  I'll be using blueberry, bewitched, bedazzled, midnight II, and moonlight SLT (I swear they get a 12 year old girl to name these breeds).  According to all the nerdy horticultural articles I've read this should result in "winning" the yard... if not... we'll tap out and hire a professional.

The weed graveyard
In trying to keep the yard not terrible this year, we've been weeding every day after work for about 20 minutes.  Amazingly every single day, there are new dandelions. We came home from work the day after mowing and there were 4" tall weeds. Halley immediately blamed me for "missing" large chunks all over the yard... I meekly suggested that they had grown that fast. We were both wrong. While dandelions do grow fast as hell (I plan on doing a time lapse later to show this) they are also lawn ninjas! They grow a good 4-6 inches horizontally then pop up and attack. We now search very carefully around any dandelion as there are almost always lurkers ready to attack.

We have also cut back the shrubbery around the house a lot.  The bushes are nice and mature, but they were encroaching on the walkway a bit.  They look a bit Dr. Seuss-esque now, but they will come back nicely... we hope :)

I'm not sure if this before/after helps or hurts our case... but here ya go!


Last weekend Halley's dad came over to help us remove the stumps left behind by the large bushes out front. We spent a good 2-3 hours making a tiny bit of progress before we tapped out and hired a professional with a stump grinder. $150 later they are gone! :)
Stump grinder.... well worth the money

The nice midnight Kentucky bluegrass we planted last month is finally coming up (this grass takes about a month to germinate) and it looks great!
Very surprised I didnt kill this grass

In keeping with the "outdoor" theme of this post, we recently got a nice teak outdoor patio set in preparation for all our upcoming pool parties :)
Ooooooo, Ahhhhhh

The only things left for our "outdoor" projects this year are a couple of trees even Halley's dad (the lorax) approved removal of, some ground cover we would like to plant, and weeding... much more weeding...

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Ch ch ch changes! (Sing it like David Bowie)

So today we started renovating the room we've been calling "the pit."  It is an informal living room that is a step and a half lower than the rest of the first story because it's been built directly on concrete slab.  It has wide openings to the kitchen towards the rear of the house and to the foyer in the front of the house.  On this level there is also a dumb little office and a coat closet.  All these rooms feature wallpaper on the walls and ceiling, yes even in the closet!  Our game plan is to remove the wall separating the main room from a dumb office.  Here is the starting point:

I will take this time to point out we ran a carpet cleaner over this nonsense twice and the absurd skid marks from years of recliner use are permanent.  And don't judge our mess, we're just trying to spread all of our belongings from the ~680 sq.ft. apartment to the ~2,400 sq.ft. house.

We did a lot of climbing around  in the attic and himming and hawing about whether the dividing wall was load bearing or not.  Matt is trying to get me to pay attention to some detail about the ceiling joists, I am slacking.

The drywall removal began and went pretty quickly.  We used the sawzall (favorite tool by far) to split the studs which weren't even actual 2x4's and Matt used his mass to pry the footer off of the nails that were in the concrete slab.

Done for the night!

There is a slight difference in the ceiling height and wall depth in the office vs the main room.  I think we'll handle this by adding some wooden strips to the ceiling/walls to support a new layer of drywall that will be level with the rest of the room.  We can't think of another way to handle this properly or hide it decoratively so comments are welcome!  Hopefully more to follow soon, assuming we're not too beat.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Catch up

We haven't updated in a bit due to us finally taking the time to unpack. We have most of the office and kitchen unpacked and setup.

Our new oven came and I have to say it looks pretty damn impressive (pics to follow for the install). When investigating the install process, we found the line going to the old cook top was only rated for 30amps (it was just a gas cook top) This new oven has gas for the burners, and electric for the dual ovens so its going to require a bit more juice.

We had an electrician come out because I had a sneaking suspicion that we needed to upgrade our service (we are running on 100 amps, its an old house) The electrician agreed, and we are now stalled on this project as we wait for PECO.

We had our first run in with gas plumbing putting a new shut-off valve on the line going to the new stove. No explosions :)

I am still slowly working my way through the houses electric. I now have a full map of all the circuits in a nice happy visio diagram. I've also started replacing all the light switches in the house (for aesthetics as well as saftey... some switches would spark and not work so well)

I think the next large project (while the stove/oven is on hold) will be the lower living room (which Halley has lovingly named "the pit")

Slow and steady progress :)