Demolition (Week 5)

The workers were only here for one (less than full) day of work this week, so there wasn’t a whole lot of progress. When they were here, they removed the remainder of the flooring, and began demolishing the brick foundation wall around our cellar.

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I watched them remove a beam from the top of the bricks. After that, I watched (and videoed) as one of the workers kicked the wall down. At the end of the day, I mentioned that I had seen him knock it down. He said that they hadn’t been planning to take it down that day, but that it was so unstable, they were afraid that it might just fall down from the wind.

Because the cellar under our remaining house is now completely exposed to the elements, and because the downstairs furnace is disconnected, our main level is really cold. As in, it was 41 degrees in our living room on Saturday morning. The timing is pretty bad, because it happens to be really cold outside right now. This wouldn’t be a problem if it was 70 degrees every day. From our cellar, you can look up at the underside of our floorboards. As a result, our floorboards in the living room and dining room are just a smidge warmer than the outside air that is underneath them.

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Peter put in our storm windows last weekend to help with the cold. We also bought an extra space heater to use downstairs. Thankfully, we have heat upstairs so our house is not frigid everywhere. It was apparently too cold for our fish though. The heater in their tank was unable to keep up with such cold temperatures surrounding the tank. We found them both dead Saturday morning.

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Staying warm while eating breakfast. (We are working hard to keep our children warmer than our fish.)

We have been using space heaters to keep warm downstairs, but we keep tripping a breaker when we forget to turn the space heater off before we use the microwave or toaster oven. A lot of our house is on only a couple of circuits, which get overloaded easily (like when you simultaneously try to make toast and warm a room up 20 degrees). Peter did some minor electrical work on Saturday to help with this. There was a circuit we had put in last year that was no longer being used. It was still connected to the breaker box, though (the breaker was off – no worries). Peter pulled that cable through the wall and back into the closet under the stairs where the breaker box is. Then he found an old outlet that had been in the kitchen that was still connected to a useable (not ancient) wire. He spliced them together, turned on the breaker, and, ta-da, power! We were a little nervous testing it, but it works, and now we have an outlet on its own breaker, so it won’t get overloaded. We are living the good life now!

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Peter has learned some skills from all of these projects.

Demolition (Week 4, part 2)

Jonah has enjoyed watching the demolition.

Jonah has enjoyed watching the demolition.

Let’s just start off with a quote from the contractor’s end-of-Wednesday update: “Found some amusing framing under your landing today.”

Amusing framing. Under the landing. This is the landing at the top of our stairs, the landing that hangs out a bit over what was the mudroom. The landing that we kept mentioning during the design and demolition process to make sure everyone understood that the renovations would remove the room underneath this landing and that it would somehow have to not fall down. We weren’t quite sure how it was supported anyway, since the exterior wall of the landing was directly above and perpendicular to an exterior doorway – not typically the best place to support the roof of the house.

So, amusing framing, continued: “It looks like someone pulled up the flooring at the top of the stairs, and then installed a hinged prop to support that same flooring off the ceiling paneling below! We did some testing to ensure that it is safe for the night, and will add some supports tomorrow.” With that reassurance, we treaded lightly when accessing the stairs.

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Amusing framing, view from below

Here is my hypothesis about how this amusement came to be. It works on the assumption that the mudroom was originally a side porch, a theory that is supported by various bits of evidence, such as the doorway between the hallway and the mudroom looking like that of an exterior door. I think the upstairs landing originally jutted out over this back door, which must have provided a nice covering for that entry. When the decision was made long ago to enclose the porch (a relatively easy job since it might have already been enclosed on three sides), whoever did it had to remove the original supports for the landing in order to accommodate the new exterior doorway. To avoid having the landing or the doorway collapse, they made the ceiling of the room strong enough to hold up the landing above. The hinges remain something of a mystery to me, but the contractor’s hunch was that they may have been used in an attempt to avoid disturbing the original (and still functional) knob-and-tube electrical wiring.

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On the right side, you can see some old shoes they found in the attic. Sadly, I don’t think they saved them for us.

After this amusement, work continued pretty quickly. The rest of the roof and roof framing came off, with the exception of a bit near the landing, and the walls came down. Amanda watched the back of the house disappear before her eyes this week, and had a hard time tearing herself away from the window where she could watch the progression.

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That last picture in the series above is from Friday morning after they had already done some work. Amanda left for about two hours and when she came back, it looked like this:

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She was sad to have missed that part of the demolition. The guys also scraped up a few layers of flooring from the laundry room. At one point, Amanda heard a shout and looked out the window. Under the linoleum they had found a very loud pattern (maybe older linoleum?). The kitchen floor is still intact, so we will soon find out if that pattern is under there too.

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Over the weekend, we worked on getting electric wires out of the way so the foundation can come down. Amanda’s dad rerouted a gas line that ran through the part of the cellar that will be torn off. The demolition should be complete this week. Soon we will get to watch as they build our new foundation and watch the house begin to rise up from there.

Looking across the old floors.

Looking across the old floors.

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The back of the house looks like this now. Jonah suggested that it could be a deck. It would also make a good stage.

Demolition (Week 4, part 1)

We are making some visible progress now (and by we, I mean the workers)! On Monday, they did some demolition in the kitchen, the dumpster got emptied, they boarded up our doorway to our small attic, and they removed part of the chimney from the back of the house.

The demolition in the kitchen allowed us to access the kitchen again from our side entrance. They removed the wall between the half bathroom and pantry that we had put in last year. Now we don’t have to stick the camera in a hole in the siding to be able to see in the kitchen.

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A couple views of the kitchen.

The chimney stuck out the top of the small attic, but, from what we could tell, it didn’t serve any purpose. It had been cut off at the ceiling of the kitchen. It had a vent going through, but the reason for that is a mystery. We know that some rain probably got through it, because the kitchen ceiling leaked there occasionally. It’s possible that it originally vented a fireplace or cooking stove in the kitchen, but there haven’t been obvious signs that that is true.

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The door (in our bedroom) to the small attic had gotten very difficult to open and close in the last month or two. It was leaving pieces of lead paint on the floor every time we used it, and it was not particularly good at keeping out cold air. They took the door off and replaced it with a piece of plywood.

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They also happened to leave the light on in the attic, but we no longer had a way to access it. Peter noticed it when we turned off our bedroom lights that night: the blue tape around the edges of the plywood was glowing. Once we were pretty sure that’s why it was glowing, we ignored it and went to sleep. When the workers came back on Tuesday, they were able to turn the light off by removing the roof to the attic. (A bit of a dramatic way to turn off a light!).

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The other thing they did on Tuesday was move the outdoor compressor part of the heat pump. My dad came over and disconnected the electrical box, the workers moved the unit over a few feet (onto our neighbors’ property), and my dad reconnected/rerouted everything in a way that it wouldn’t be affected by demolition.

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We weren’t sure how the demolition would go, but I guess I pictured them brining in a big piece of equipment and kind of tearing it off. There has been no big equipment. They have been deconstructing the house more or less in the reverse order of how one would build a house. This careful way of doing it is probably because it is attached to the part of the house we are keeping.

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I love getting to see it come apart bit by bit and see the bones of the house and the multiple layers. It’s neat to see some history of the house unfolding as they take it apart. I wish that we had more time and ability to be able to repurpose some parts of the house. I hate for all this (possibly 114-year-old) wood to just be thrown in the dumpster, but I don’t really know what else I would do with it. Documenting the story here may be the best way to preserve it.

Demolition (Week 3)

Not much work was done on the house this past week either. Our building permit was reissued Tuesday afternoon (yay!), but the crew was already scheduled to work somewhere else on Wednesday. So they came Thursday and cut an opening for a new door to the closet under our stairs, since we are losing access where the current door is.

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Before: stylish HVAC intake.

The wall they were cutting into most likely has lead paint on it, so they had to put up plastic all around the area. Because of this, we weren’t going to be able to access the kitchen during that process, and they recommended that we just not be home that day.

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They were just starting to put up all of the plastic as we were leaving.

So the boys and I stayed out for about 8 hours, and when we came home, the two of them were excited to run in and out of the new opening.We also came home to find the end of the hallway boarded up so that we could no longer access the mudroom and half bath (which was already unusable) from the inside of the house. We can still walk around the outside of the house and come in the side door until they tear all of that off.

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None shall pass.

As of right now, there is just a rectangular opening, waiting for a door. We found out on Wednesday afternoon that putting a door in would cost us extra. Because we are not having the contractor do the entire project, our contract does not include interior doors and trim. When the contractor took those out of the budget, he did not add this particular door and trim back into the budget. So we had to approve a change order and agree to pay the additional cost for them to go ahead and put the door in (and theoretically, we won’t have to pay for it in a future “door and trim” contract). The workers did not come back on Friday, so we still just have an opening. It was a little frustrating to have to go through a process in order for them to add the door back into their plans. That frustration may have come through in Peter’s snarky messages to the contractor, but he seems to have toned it down a bit now.

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After: convenient access to junk storage.

The other excitement from last week revolved around our dumpster. We have a large dumpster in the alley behind our house for all of the waste created by this project, including the back of our house. Tuesday afternoon I noticed someone standing in the alley looking at the back of our house. He left as soon as he saw me watching him. The next afternoon there was a bunch of additional junk in our dumpster. We know it wasn’t from our house, because no one had done any work on it in a week. My suspicion is that the man I saw lives close by (or is starting a restaurant nearby), noticed the dumpster, and decided to save himself some money by dumping his trash in it. I was so mad about this, but the contractor said “dumpster poaching” is pretty common and there is not a lot that can be done to stop it. If that is why the man was checking out the back of our house, I guess that is better than some of the reasons I had come up with.

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Any insulation that has come out of the Pink House would not be that clean.

At the end of last week, it had been just about three weeks since the work was supposed to begin (and actually started a day later). During that time, actual work has been done on a total of five of those days. Hopefully things speed up from here; otherwise, this will be a very long process!

Demolition (Week 2, sort of)

Not too much to report this week, because we had a slight setback. There was some kitchen demolition on Monday and Tuesday last week, to the point that now there are several small holes in the outside of the house that lead directly inside. Since we can’t access the kitchen any more, these holes allow us to get a peek at what is going on inside.

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Our refrigerator (in the dining room) is on the other side of the green board.

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It appears that we had a little bit of insulation in the kitchen over there in the corner. Not sure it was doing us much good.

The pantry doors I spent so much time on are in the dumpster. All the cabinets and most of the drywall are gone, and the laundry room window is boarded up. We haven’t heard too many squirrel sounds, but I’d think it would be a pretty enticing hideout for our furry friends. When sticking the camera through one of the holes, Amanda unintentionally captured at least one soon-to-be-displaced resident:

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We’ve heard these creatures called different names, but we refer to them as camel crickets. They are regulars at the Pink House.

The toilet is in the back yard (drained enough so it won’t freeze and burst, we’re told), and the bathroom sink is in the mudroom, waiting for work in the closet under the stairs to be finished (see last paragraph below) so it can be stashed there while the mudroom is demolished.

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Here is a blurry picture of our toilet, wrapped in plastic, sitting in our backyard.

The setback was on Tuesday. We got a note from the contractor saying that City Hall had called and said to stop work on the demolition. The City had somehow issued the permit without actually reviewing it fully; it had only been reviewed by engineering and not building or zoning officials. The contractor had to return the permit, and we are currently waiting for it to be re-issued (with a promise that they will review it as quickly as possible since they screwed up). I guess this is an example of easy come, easy go, since it took an amazingly swift 1.5 days for the permit to be “issued” the first time. It is also a real disappointment for me, since I know several people in this particular city department and want to trust in its general competence.

So, not much has happened since then. Which is too bad, because on Wednesday we were expecting to have them cut a new doorway into the closet under our stairs. The closet contains our electrical panel, so we need to have access to it, but its current access point will be blocked by demolition. (We need access to it because we routinely trip breakers, especially now that there’s way too much plugged into two outlets in the ditchen.) It also happens to be our largest remaining storage area that is not the attic. And because there’s lead paint on the area to be cut, the work required that we move most of the stuff out of that storage area. Which Amanda had done. Before we got the “stop work” news. So a lot of the junk that was piled up in that closet is now piled up in the living room, for a week or so instead of for a day or so.

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Before cleaning it out.

The pause in the work is frustrating. It would have been a little less frustrating if the work had stopped before the washer and dryer were gone and before they disconnected the downstairs heat in anticipation of removing the intake, which is located in that closet. Hopefully they will be back in the next day or two and can resume tearing things apart.

Demolition (Week 1)

We did a couple of things in preparation for the work to start in earnest last week. Amanda removed the tile backsplash from the half bathroom, less than one year after installing it. We plan to reuse it in the new half bathroom. I removed some of the kitchen floor, searching for any old hardwood floors underneath. We found some older tiles, but were not able to discover any old wood that we could save.

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Another important thing we did before the kitchen would be gone was to have one last dance party. I’m not entirely sure how they got started, but for a while, we were having regular dance parties after dinner. Jonah came to the realization last week that we would no longer get to have dance parties in that kitchen. So we squeezed in one more.

The first day the workers came, we were told to write on the walls and indicate anything we wanted them to save. I dutifully went around with a permanent marker, noting lots of items we wanted to keep. So much of the electrical was brand new from our projects last year that it would be a shame to lose it.

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The house is still half-naked, but now it’s starting to lose some of its insides too. I came home from work Friday to find the old kitchen sealed off from the rest of the house.

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If we wanted to get in, we’d have to move the fridge, remove the plastic, and blast through the boarded-up passageway.

No walls have been demolished yet, but the appliances are out and some of the kitchen cabinets are in the dumpster.

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Our old kitchen sink and part of the counter we put in are now set up in the dining room (along with the refrigerator and shelves forming a makeshift pantry), which Amanda has now christened the ditchen. It’s a little cramped in there, but this morning, I was able to eat breakfast and operate the toaster oven without leaving my chair. “Cozy,” a real-estate agent would call it.

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“I got your water hooked up again,” the contractor told me when I got home Friday. He continued: “Well, I had it hooked up a couple times before, but this time it’s not leaking.”

The first of many hiccups is that we can’t find our sink strainers/stoppers. Last I saw them, they were sitting on the counter in the old kitchen. We assume they are still there, but we can’t get to them (see above). Not a big deal, but we had to wash dishes in one of the pink hospital tubs, probably the one I washed dishes in at the hospital almost five years ago after Jonah’s birth. There was also a leak from the kitchen sink drain (the J-trap, which as far as I can tell is equivalent to a P-trap, which my middle-school brain thinks is one of the funniest plumbing terms there is).

The shed is full, and the living room is recovering from being a disaster area. We are excited to see the changes that this week holds!

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The Half-Naked Pink House

The asbestos removal crew came on Wednesday and spent about six hours removing the pink asbestos shingles from the part of the house that will be demolished. It was rather loud.

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Before

We knew the awning over the side stoop would eventually be part of the demolition, but the asbestos crew ended up removing it on Wednesday in order to get to all of the shingles they needed to remove. Now we can take it to the metal recycling center and make a few cents.

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They were dressed in full body suits to protect themselves from the asbestos.

After they left I went outside to see what the house looked like without the pink shingles. We assumed we might find the original siding underneath the asbestos. It appears that the house was wrapped in black paper before they re-sided it, but it does seem to have the original siding underneath that. Peter decided that the house looks half-naked right now.

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The white trim really pops now!

We had been assuming that there wasn’t any insulation in the walls of the back of the house. Based on the picture below, I would say we were wrong. There is at least some. We are hoping no small animals decide to take up residence in the wall in the next week or so while the house sits like this before the kitchen comes down.

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From the way the old siding is cut, it looks like these two windows may have replaced a single lower one.

As an added bonus, the crew ended up clearing the alley behind our house so that they could back their van up to our yard. Prior to this, one could only get a vehicle as far as the house two doors down from us. I don’t think our contractor had been planning to clear the alley, but since these guys did it, it will make jobs easier for future workers.

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Jonah asked me to take this picture of him with the house. He was a bee.