It’s a very cold December now, and we still don’t have heat. We’re subsisting on electric radiators, both oil-filled and baseboard. However, it dipped down to 10° over the weekend, and they just weren’t cutting it. When I got up Saturday morning, the thermostat in the living room said it was 53°. Sarah decided that we needed to insulate the attic. She said she would do it, but I’ve heard that song before and I know how it goes. With no insulation to speak of, the little heat we did have was going right out the roof. We don’t plan to remodel the second floor for another year or so, so even once we have real heat we’d still be losing a ton of it.
We debated buying the mineral wool batts we plan to eventually put between each floor, but they’re pretty pricey, and we weren’t sure how well taking them out and putting them back in later would work. Ultimately, we went with blown in cellulose because it was drastically cheaper, plus we had some Menards rebates from buying the subfloor that made it even more affordable. Including the machine rental we were out of pocket about $65, so it won’t take much heat savings to recoup. Sarah and I spent the rest of the morning pulling all of the random boards out of the attic (it’s been weeks since we had a scrap wood pile!). Her parents and nephew Aaron showed up in the early afternoon. There were some unexpected delays in getting everything, though, and we didn’t wind up getting the machine set up at the house until 7 pm. It was crunch time, but fortunately the machine was quick: we blew through 20 bags in 30 minutes. Each bag covers 40 square feet with 6″, rated at R-19.
We discovered that in our rush to take out the boards, we had knocked out the kitchen electric circuit, so I had a follow up job of fixing that. I wound up having to replace a length of BX cable over cloth-wrapped wires with one of our newer cable segments from the massive pile in the basement. Unfortunately that necessitated taking down the ceiling fan in the kitchen to get everything re-wired, but that’s all done now. The house is still cold, 64° as of this writing, but it’s not as bad as it was, and hopefully soon we’ll have real heat. The radiators were delivered earlier today, so now it’s all up to Lester (our radiant heating installer). He’s in the basement right now, hooking stuff up.
All right, back to the chimney. In Part 1 I got up on the roof on a particularly stormy and unseasonably warm day (at least is started that way), took the top of the chimney off, and patched the roof. This was followed up later in the week with removing the portion of the chimney in the attic. A couple Saturdays ago we took out the second floor portion, which has the added wrinkle of us living there. To prevent dust and debris from coating all our stuff, we started by taping up some plastic sheeting.
With that in place I started work up in the attic, taking out a few feet of bricks before finally breaking through the plaster. At that point I switched to the second floor and a step ladder. Sarah spent most of the day on brick duty, where I lowered buckets of bricks down using our pulley system and she emptied them into the first floor, though she did try her hand at brick removal. I wound up doing most of it with a pry bar, forgoing the air hammer and the accompanying dust and noise.
We needed to get the whole thing done and patched in a day because it’s gotten cold outside and a giant hole into an uninsulated attic when you’re already relying on electric heaters because you don’t have heat is a really bad idea, mmkay? We finally broke through into the first floor around 7 pm. With that milestone reached it was on to framing and drywalling, which I think we wrapped up around 10. Sarah’s in charge of getting it mudded and painted. So far we’ve got the first coat on. I picked up the flexible paper corner bead and we like it better than the metal corners.
From there it was on to the first floor, where I took down another eight feet of bricks early last week while Sarah broke mortar off of bricks we’d already taken out. Will was over this past Saturday and finished it off, getting the top of the chimney down into the basement. Along the way we found that the best process was to knock the mortar off the bricks straight into the chimney. It’s bad enough hauling down buckets of bricks without having to also deal with the heavy, dusty, crumbly mortar. There’s an opening at the base of the chimney in the basement where we can just shovel the mortar out and take it into the back yard in a wheel barrow.
Our back yard has gotten even more attractive as of late. Now in addition to the giant mound of clay from the footings that’s been gradually melting (currently covered in leaves), the paint bucket planters, the garbage cans full of compost, and the scrap metal, we’ve added a tarp-covered stack of OSB, both a pile and a giant stack of bricks, and a pile of mortar. It’s quite the beautification program we’ve got going.
Oh well, that can wait for another day. We still have impressive piles of bricks and mortar in the first floor that need to be hauled out, along with the rest of the mudding, sanding, and painting to get the second floor looking respectable again. We’re planning to use some of the bricks to make the base of the columns under the front porch. The rest we’ll probably sell.
We’ve been at this for a while now and habits form quickly. When I say “this” I really mean the blog more so than the house, and when I say “we”, I mostly mean the royal me, since Sarah’s been way too busy with grad school to indulge in things like blogging in a long time. I’d like to take a step back for a moment and think about what “we’re” trying to accomplish.
When we started the house remodel (and the blog), writing entertaining posts was fairly simple since we could focus on how laughably awful the house was. It was filthy, everything was done wrong, and a sort of accepting despair was just how to get through it. Over time, as we clawed our way through the detritus and filled up garbage can after garbage can after dumpster after dumpster, it slowly stopped being quite so awful and disgusting and became more like a normal construction project. As that happened, the entertainment value sort of faded away into the mundane plodding details that it really is. Sure, we had interesting things like 3D floor plans and events like demo parties and steel beam installs, but the fun in the writing was slowly drained away.
Thinking back to the start of the blog, though, one of my goals was to improve my writing. I’ve got lofty, far-off goals of writing seriously someday, and they tell you that “writers gotta write” to get any good. As posting went on, my concern shifted to trying to clearly explain what we were trying to do and why, and seldom doing so succinctly. It seems like a lot of things we do require explanation. Why do that? Why do that now? Why do that the way you’re doing it? Teasing apart the thinking and doing behind the complex 3D jigsaw puzzle we’re living in takes some words, some paragraphs, some time.
In thinking about my audience, though, I have to consider a few things. One, my blog is not a how-to, and never will be. As I’ve said before, I don’t know enough about what I’m doing to teach someone else to do it. Two, if you’re reading this you’re either interested in home improvement or you know us personally, and probably both. Three, if anyone wants to know the details, the whyfors and howtos, they can ask in the comments. In short, the dry, specific details aren’t nearly as important as making it worth reading.
Even if the projects we’re tackling aren’t exciting, they can still be interesting, and a lot of that is how it’s presented. I’m going to make an effort to write more entertaining posts, and I hope you like them enough to read them and not just scroll through the pictures, and for those that have already tuned out, I apologize. I never meant to bore you.
Prominently located in the center of the house is the chimney. For the last hundred and sixteen years it served boilers, hot water heaters, and at some point stoves on each floor. One by one these things have been removed and replaced with direct vent appliances. Direct vent appliances are not only more energy efficient, they’re also necessary when the house is air tight, as we hope ours will be once everything is spray foamed, taped, and caulked. Air tight houses can experience negative air pressure, which on a regular flue can cause backdrafts that force exhaust into the house. In a direct vent appliance, the combustion air and exhaust are piped in and out with PVC through the wall. As a result, the chimney becomes superfluous.
Back when I developed the floor plans, I realized that the chimney needed to go. It’s central location was handy for all of the things that used it, but now it’s smack in the middle of what will be our new kitchen. Since we’re starting work on the subfloor, with all the rest of the framing to follow, it’s time to take it out. That means we start at the top and work our way down.
The top is obviously up on the roof. I’m very fond of climbing, and starting from an early age I’ve been going onto roofs. Not long after we bought our house I got up on the roof of the back porch, and that’s when I realized how steep our roof is. It’s also very high up. With a half-exposed basement and ten-foot ceilings in both floors, the eaves of the roof are more than 25 feet up and the pitch is 12/12, also known as 45°. As a result, I hadn’t been on the roof until recently. I figured out I could climb up the edge, using the old DirectTV dish as a foothold to get to the hip where the roof slopes down at the center of the gable. From there I could get up to the peak and scoot along it to the chimney.
I realized that while I could get up there, I obviously couldn’t do it carrying shingles and bricks. Not only that, between the roof activity, the attic, and even the second floor portions of the project, we’d need a way to shuttle bricks down and materials and tools up. The old window counterweights and the accompanying pulleys struck me as the perfect solution. I built a double bucket pulley system so that there would always be one bucket down and one bucket up, reducing idle time for both the person up top and the person down below.
Sunday, Sarah, her dad Mike, and I took out the portion of the chimney above the roof, starting with the large blocks and working down with a hammer and brick chisel until it was below the roof line, then patching up the hole with boards, plywood, tar paper, and shingles. The shingles were leftovers from when the roof was redone, sometime before we bought the house. As a result they were brittle and hard to work with. That combined with my inexperience and the nature of patch work meant it was an ugly job, but it should be water tight until we properly redo the roof.
Yesterday evening, with the bucket pulley moved indoors, we got to work removing the angled section of bricks in the attic. Not surprisingly it went much faster than the roof work, with the whole thing removed in a few hours. The bucket pulley continued to work well, taking down about six bricks per load, with Mike breaking off chunks of mortar and stacking them in the first floor until we can get it hauled out to the back yard.
As we continue to move down, the second floor is next. That will be a bit more involved, since we’ll have to work around living space and not make too much mess, plus repair things when we’re done. We’ve managed to avoid having to work in the second floor for the most part, but it can’t be completely avoided. That work is slated for next weekend.
We’re making headway on a number of different projects. The window company replaced the broken pane in our new front door. The pattern of the privacy glass is a bit denser than the original, but it’s close enough. We got the clips and tape we needed to finish up the bay windows. The new clips are different than the other ones we had, so I had to do a bit of swapping to put them to best use, but the bay windows are now fully installed and flashed and Sarah put Great Stuff into the gaps around the windows. We need to go back around with the backer rod, but things are looking just about done on the window and door front.
Lester hung our new boiler on the wall in the basement and he’s run the venting for it, but there’s still a lot to be done. I ordered the radiators and Lester is getting all of the assorted pumps, valves, and pex we need to hook them up. It’s gotten cold fast, and we’ve been relying on electric baseboards to keep the house warm. It’s going to be a pricey electric bill this month, but hopefully we’ll have heat in the next few weeks.
Speaking of radiators, we disconnected the old radiators on the first floor and moved them to the back. We still need to get them out of the first floor, but one step at a time. Once we’ve got the upstairs radiators out as well, we’ll call a local company to sell them to. Hopefully someone else can use them.
We’ve also cleaned up the wood pile on the first floor. Most of it was from the old windows, including frames and trim. All of it was painted, most of it was rotted, and between the dimensions and all of nails, we haven’t been saving it. Some wood that is in small pieces and doesn’t have paint we’re saving for firewood, other stuff is more usable as fireblocking or future framing. In any case we’ve got some sorted stuff that needs to be moved to the basement, but it’s otherwise taken care of.
I’ve been talking to contractors about leveling the joists and putting in the new subfloor. I’m playing phone tag with one, another told us it was good enough and didn’t need to be leveled, and the third gave us a quote that was more than we expected. I’m contemplating doing the back section myself and seeing how it goes. If nothing else it would reduce the cost and give us a place to put all of the stuff.
Our neighbors in the crappy house to the North moved out and the house was bought by a broker who is planning to convert it into a single family, though probably a lot faster than we’re doing it. We’re excited that there will be a nicer house next door, but it will also be a little disheartening if there’s is started and finished and ours is still putzing along.
Finally, our next big project is removing the chimney. I went up on the roof for the first time and took stock of things. It honestly doesn’t look like it will be terrible. While I was up there I took down an old antenna that was literally in the chimney and not attached to anything. More scrap metal! We’re planning to tackle the section of chimney above the roof this Sunday. The goal is to get enough taken out that we can repair the roof. At that point we can take it down from the inside, floor by floor.
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