Week 9 – They’re Starting to Build!

This process has been so slow, but on Friday, they finally started doing some building! The first part of the week was spent with more excavating. Digging takes a long time, but it isn’t very exciting in pictures. They worked on Monday and Tuesday, even though it was very wet. They had to remove water from the area with buckets before they could work one morning. On Wednesday, they dug the footers (it looked like a moat around the remaining dirt).


Thursday afternoon, they poured the (concrete) footers. The boys and I were gone for a couple of hours in the afternoon and happened to miss this part, which was sad. Footers are exciting because they are the first step towards something being built instead of torn down or just moved around.


Friday morning was a flurry of activity, when I think I counted ten men here at one point. There were five guys from the masonry company, two surveyors, and three guys from our contractor. We think they were doing a “footing inspection” to make sure everything was how it should be (level and staying within the zoning setbacks) before moving forward.

Then the really exciting part started as they prepared to build with concrete blocks. They started with the blocks Peter got a couple of weeks ago and then used multiple pallets of blocks they brought in. It was fascinating to watch, and I had a hard time tearing myself away from the window.


I watched as they built part of our basement wall block by block. I was happy to see them checking each block with two different levels, on all sides, to be sure that each one was level. By the end of the day, they had more than a quarter of the block basement walls complete (part of the basement walls will be concrete blocks and the rest will be wood framing).


One of our workers thought they might be done with the blocks by the end of Monday. I think the process will move much faster now that they are building, and it should be even more exciting to watch. Of course, there will probably also still be some setbacks that slow things down (holidays… blizzards… why did we do this over the winter again?).


This weekend, Peter has been removing old ductwork from the crawlspace. We will be putting in a new heat pump and are putting in all new ductwork as well. The old ductwork had some holes in it, was very dirty inside, and Peter found a number of dead camel crickets inside the old ducts (reinforcing the decision to replace the ductwork). Peter also stuffed some insulation in the vents, to reduce the amount of cold air coming into our house.


Can you see camel cricket legs? Lots of them?

A bonus story for you: one day this week, the workers removed the jacks that held up the house, leaving only the big temporary beams. That evening, we were eating dinner in our ditchen when there was a really loud pop, and the house vibrated. The workers were gone for the day, so we could not blame the sound on them. We were sure that it had something to do with the construction and that our house might possibly be falling down (either that or it had been a gunshot pretty close to our back yard). We went upstairs to the one window that looks out back, but couldn’t see anything because it was dark. Peter was putting his jacket on to go outside and see what he could find out when our neighbor appeared at the door. He asked if we had heard the loud pop. We told him that we had, and he somewhat sheepishly explained that years ago, a friend had given him some small fireworks. He had decided to pull them out and use them that night, but did not expect it to be so loud and powerful. He said he was going to go soak the rest in water and throw them away. We were grateful that he had come over to explain; otherwise, we probably would have worried all evening that a support beam had cracked.

Week 8 – A Door and Digging in the Dirt!

Two main things got done last week: 1) Our closet under the stairs got a door (yay!) and 2) Some dirt got hauled away.

We had been eagerly awaiting the door since the new closet opening was cut several weeks ago. We were having a birthday party for Micah on Saturday and asked if they could get the door in place before that, so that wandering children would not be tempted to explore the closet (it was also very helpful for stowing piles of junk). We had a couple of different options for doors. We have a new door that we removed from the half bathroom, but it was too small for the opening. We have two (larger) doors that we had removed from the house when we moved in. We had hoped to use one of those and just have them cut it down to the correct size. We thought it would be neat to be able to reuse one of those doors; it would obviously already match the house. The carpenter, though, worried that the amount they’d need to cut one of those doors to fit the hole would weaken the door structurally, so reuse was not an ideal option.


What we ended up using was a door donated to us by the carpenter (thanks, Aaron!). He also has an old house, and he said he had an extra door that he wasn’t using (as apparently everyone with an old house does?) that he thought would work well for us. They spent most of the day creating a door frame for it, measuring lots and cutting a little. They were able to use the hinges we had bought a year ago for our half bathroom door. At the end of the day everything was in place, and I love the way the door looks in the wall under the stairs. I think it matches well, especially given that it came from a different house.


With a fresh coat of paint, it will match all of the other very thickly painted wood in our house.

The door frame, however…. Well, it’s plumb.* It seems like this would be a good thing, and I suppose it is. The problem is that the wall under our stairs is not plumb. It is apparently leaning. One wouldn’t notice the leaning stairs if one were looking down our hallway, except that now we have a plumb doorframe that shows just how much the stairs lean by jutting out from the wall a couple inches at the top.


Look at that plumb door frame!

So. I kind of wish that they had just built the door to lean and match the stairs, but there is probably some ethical code in the world of carpentry that prohibits them from building a new door that leans from the beginning.


It only sticks out two inches from the wall…barely even noticeable! ;-)


Okay, maybe it’s a little bit noticeable. But it’s functional, and that was the main goal.

The other thing that happened this week was excavation of dirt in the backyard. The crew only worked on it on Monday and Friday, but they took away quite a few loads of dirt. Between the excavating and the rain, it has gotten pretty muddy/slippery back there (as in, I slipped and almost fell in the mud while trying to get back there to take pictures). They have to dig down a few feet to make room for the new basement that will be under the kitchen. They still have some more to go, but hopefully the weather will cooperate and it will be done soon.


The boys have enjoyed watching the digging.

On Monday, we saw that they had unearthed some sort of clay pipe in the backyard. We are wondering if it might be an old sewer line. We know that our current sewer line is pretty old and is made out of terra cotta, so maybe this used to be part of that. We are assuming/hoping it’s no longer in use!


When the workers left on Friday, they put up a silt fence at the end of our yard to help keep the dirt from washing out of our yard and into the alley. This was good, because it rained some this weekend. Thanks to the rain we ended up with a little pond in the backyard.


Bonus work this weekend: my dad and Peter removed our 30-year-old furnace after Micah’s birthday party. The workers told us it was in the way of the excavation and would need to be moved (good thing we were already planning to get rid of it!). It had already been disconnected from the gas line and the electrical box, so it just needed to be detached from the ductwork and pulled out of the cellar. They managed to get it done pretty quickly, since it wasn’t anchored to anything. And now we have more metal to take to the metal recycling center!


*For those who don’t know what “plumb” means in this case, Merriam-Webster defines it as “exactly straight down or up, in a perfectly vertical position.”

Week 7 – Making Sure the House Doesn’t Fall Down

Last week’s work mostly consisted of adding supports to the remaining part of the house to make sure that it doesn’t fall down during this process. The previous owner placed jacks to support the rear wall of the house, and those have to come out in order to build a masonry wall (concrete blocks) in their place.


The big beams that we mentioned in the previous post are now doubled up and fastened to the sill along the back of the house. On each end, they are supported by a jack placed on a stack of 4x4s that reminds us of Jenga. A smaller version of the same type of beam is hung perpendicular to the big beam to support a short section of the center wall of the house, which is load-bearing.


The intersection of the beams.

We didn’t hear about it, but the contractor also rerouted a few feet of the waste line that drains our temporary kitchen sink. After demolition was mostly done, we had noticed that this pipe was still sticking out of the back of the house, supported by a rope deftly attached to the remaining stub of the old roof. We had wondered if they would just build the masonry wall around the pipe, but it was probably easier to reroute it. As long as we can use the sink, we’re happy.


Thanks to a truck borrowed from a guy named Brad and a load of concrete blocks donated by another guy named Brad, Peter delivered a small load of materials for the masonry effort. It was a fun challenge to maneuver Brad #1’s truck up the alley and into the back yard in order to unload the leftover blocks from Brad #2’s deck upgrade project.


While we had the truck, Peter also loaded it up with an assortment of scrap metal: ductwork, railings from the old stoop, lengths of galvanized pipe, window screen frames, and a 20-year-old window air conditioner. The truck sat loaded on the street over the weekend, waiting to go to the scrap yard, and oddly, someone stole a single piece of pipe from the bed. I hope they put it to good use.

We have two little boys and a large piece of equipment in our backyard...this was bound to happen.

Taking advantage of the fact that we have a Bobcat in our backyard.


Also, it snowed last week.


Demolition (Week 6)

Demolition is pretty much complete! Soon we should start seeing things being added rather than just taken away!

The most noticeable change over the past week is that there is now a Bobcat parked in the yard. Also, the alley is once again clear, because the dumpster is gone. The side of the house is clear, too, because the concrete stoop is also gone. That was part of the masonry demolition, which also removed the remaining brick foundation piers and walls and some concrete block foundation walls that were probably put in a few years back to try to counteract settling of the brick foundation.


Goodbye, stoop.

Speaking of settling, we had an on-site meeting with the contractor this week to discuss that very topic. Now that everything was gone, they could measure exactly how much the center of the house had settled compared to the outside walls over the past century or more: Three inches. The question for us to answer: Should they jack up the house to fix the settling before building the addition, or stabilize it and tie the addition in as is? They explained that either way, the house would be stable when they were finished, and the addition would be built square and level. It just might be three inches lower than originally planned.

Three inches is kind of a lot when things are supposed to be square and level. There are a few places in the Pink House where the floors are noticeably slanted, and there are some doors/window frames that aren’t square. However, the floors being slanted isn’t something that bothers us much, and the worst doors and windows are either already gone or will be gone as part of this project. Given that the cost of fixing the settling would approach $5,000, and considering that the design made it fairly easy to tie in without addressing the settling, we decided to skip it. The house gets to keep its wavy floors (they add character, right?), and we get to keep that money (at least until the next unexpected change).


The back yard looks like a construction site!

At the end of that meeting, a lumber truck arrived to deliver some beams to be used for shoring up the house during construction of the new masonry foundation wall. When the truck driver asked for help, I don’t know what I was expecting, but I was not expecting the 20-foot-long behemoth that they lugged into the back yard from the street. After watching three guys struggle with the first one, I tried helping with the second. I didn’t know our house was big enough to require such a big beam.


I’m not expecting a whole lot of work to be done this week, with it being Thanksgiving and all, but we should be seeing that Bobcat go to town on the yard soon. Digging out the basement will also require that the yard be leveled out, and I’ll be interested to see how they deal with the tree roots without destroying the trees.


Standing in the old cellar/future basement.

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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.





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:


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

attic door

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.


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.


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.