Week 1, Reno/Rehab

The work: there are three things I’m having done on my new/old house. The first is re-converting the “pantry” off the kitchen back into a half bathroom. This is a little room, about 5′ x 7′, taking up part of the back porch space, that became a bathroom to serve the first owner, Henry Whitlock. Once he grew advanced in years he wanted a bathroom on the main floor so he didn’t have to use the stairs so much. The plumbing is “still there” but the codes have changed and the work may not have been the best quality in the first place, so it’s not an easy change. In addition, there was very little insulation to this room, so the energy audit showed it was really leaking heat.


The second thing is related to the first; since I’m moving the fridge out of the pantry, I’ve got to have a place for it. Thus, I’m moving a doorway a bit and putting the fridge in a new corner, along with some cabinets and shelving. Then I’m putting in new butcher block countertops to replace the older tile countertops that are there.

The third thing is updating the upstairs bathroom. This is mostly resurfacing (paint and flooring), shifting a bit of plumbing, and putting in a new tub/shower. This is the only photo I have of the bathroom pre-reno because no one ever wants to record its image for posterity.

April 2013 139

I’ve spent a good bit of time paging through bathroom idea books and images on sites like houzz, without much luck. Really one image for the bathrooms has piqued my interest.

Model For Half Bathroom

Just a nice simple bathroom with some earth tones, clean lines, and quality fixtures and finishes without being too fancy.

Here is a perspective of the kitchen focusing on the new fridge location and cabinets.


So work started Monday. How has it gone?

Monday and Tuesday were scheduled for demolition. Went great. Plastic sheeting up and paper/cardboard down to minimize dust and protect floors. Pantry shelves out, fridge into dining room for now, plumbing and electrical fixtures removed for temporary storage or disposal/donation.


Tuesday more of the same, including removal of some wood with lead paint on it according to federally recommended standards. And the door was moved.


Here is the pantry/half bath, mostly gutted to the studs.


Wednesday, the plumber could come in a day early, so in the morning was plumbing rough-in, but end of day was pretty quiet. Turns out, there was some mysterious tile found a few layers down on the upstairs bathroom floor. Maybe it was asbestos, maybe it wasn’t. Work stopped to figure it out.


Thursday morning, an environmental consultant was out to take a sample for testing and to discuss appropriate removal procedures if it was. Thursday I also saw that the upstairs bathroom had no insulation on the exterior wall. I was a little surprised. Further investigation illustrates there’s no insulation on either the first or second floor. Crap. No wonder it costs $1400 a year for heating oil and $100 a month for electricity to heat the place. Well, we’re not fixing it now. Friday, back to demo of the upstairs bathroom flooring and some of the wall. More trouble: the old plumbing in the upstairs bathroom was a little antiquated and not well installed, which we can now see with all the flooring up. A floor joist was cut (some time ago) and two others were notched out more than 2/3 of the width of the joist. Suffice it to say, that’s a structural issue (fairly minor, as it’s flooring and not a load bearing wall, for example). Fortunately, the construction manager figured out a solution that will meet Town of Blacksburg standards without too much additional work. So some slowdowns this week, but it was a conservative schedule so we’re still basically on schedule.


Good news from the week: the windows are indeed double hung. The exposed cavity for the bathroom window shows two sets of counterweights. I’m having that one reglazed with tempered glass and two rehabbed in my son’s room, so both sashes on all three windows should be functional soon. I’ve had counterweighted windows, but never had the upper sashes functional, so that will be interesting. I’ve been reading Working Windows by Terry Meany, which is a good guide to these. I’d love to be able to work on rehabbing a couple windows when my book manuscript is out. Having discovered that there’s no insulation, I’m glad I wasn’t tempted by suggestions to replace any of the windows, which would be pretty pointless.

Bad news: we’re losing a lot of plaster. Every piece of lath removed or plaster broken up is a dagger in my heart, because we’re not replacing it with wood-lath plaster. Everywhere it’s a thin coat of plaster on gypsum board — better than just painting sheetrock, but not as good as what was there.

Other bad news: budget is nudging up. Much of this has to do with little fixes or upgrades. I used to really like Stewart Brand’s argument that owner- or inhabitant-modified buildings served their users better. Now it infuriates me because, in an older house like mine, there’s often no rhyme or reason (and middling-to-bad quality) to owner-fixes, especially as time passes and the logic of one fix isn’t considered in the logic of the next fix.

Things for the future: rehabbing all of the windows. I’ve a mind to take this up as a hobby. I have always regretted not pursuing a trade. Especially during college I felt like I had chosen the wrong path — or more accurately, had been swept along with my cohort of competitive overachievers into college and without really considering what I wanted. I doubt I could have re-programmed myself in any reasonable amount of time and would probably have always regretted not going to college if I had done something else (or even gone to community college). Also, getting rid of the old brick pile in the kitchen. This chimney, for long-gone coal stoves, was demolished on the third floor when that was finished, so there’s no chance of ever making use of it again. This will wait for any big kitchen renovation.