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Monday, April 30, 2007

ten points if you can figure out what's going on




PRODUCT USE: Building/construction product



COLOR: natural wood

PHYSICAL FORM: solid wood board

ODOR: faint pine or no odor



SHORT TERM EXPOSURE: Wood dust may cause: irritation, allergic reactions,


Saturday, April 28, 2007

hey, bungalow people

So I'm looking for some good pictures of a classic bungalow feature -- a wall that's got an opening framed by columns, which in turn are resting atop short built-in bookshelves. I've got a couple of images, but nothing quite what I'm looking for, and I know it's out there, I've seen it! But in all the ones I can find, the bookshelves are too tall, or the columns don't go all the way to the ceiling, or there aren't bookshelves, just a bit of wall. Help!

I want to do this to the wall between our dining room and our living room, but I have to convince Don, and for some reason he can't picture it when I explain it -- so I need pictures. Help me out, y'all.

Friday, April 27, 2007

tra la, tra lay, the month of may

I've run out of pictures and I have rather a lot of work to do today, so I think for today's post you get a list. Here are some things I plan on doing this month:

-This weekend: I'll be doing laundry, writing my final paper for my 'Visual and Verbal Rhetoric' class, working on several proposals for work, and watching Don mow the lawn.

-Next weekend: I plan on heading to the Fairie Festival at Spoutwood Farm (in Glen Rock, PA, about an hour north of Baltimore) on Saturday. This is the 'original' fairy festival in this area. I'm trying to convince Jason to go with me, since my usual cohorts are both busy that weekend.

-The weekend after that: Probably nothing, although I might head over to the 32nd Street Farmers Market to see what they've got on Saturday morning. Also, I'll call my mother on Mother's Day. I promise.

-Thursday the 17th: The semi-quasi-bi-monthly Baltimore Blogger Happy Hour. I will try to be there, even though it's all the way out in the county. Plus, when I asked ACW if he was going over gchat, he abruptly signed off. Totally a bad omen.

-The weekend of the 18th: The Maryland Faerie Festival. Lindley and I will be there again this year -- we didn't get accepted as vendors, unfortunately, but we'll go just to enjoy ourselves (and take cute pictures of kids dressed up as fairies).

-Memorial Day weekend: Balticon 41. I'm going to try to be there for at least one day this year.

I don't think I'll be going to Intergem in Chantilly this month -- it conflicts with the Faerie Festival and it's a long way to go to spend money I shouldn't be spending on beads. Besides, there's one in Timonium in June.

If you want to catch up with me at one (or many) of these events and/or places, either leave a comment or drop me an email at jamailac at gmail dot com, I'll let you know more specifically what my timing is going to be like and give you my number if you don't already have it.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

restoration and renovation

A lot of the housebloggers I know are restoring their houses, not renovating them. If you don't know the difference, generally speaking, restoring means that you are trying to make the house look like it did when it was new -- which was usually quite a long time ago -- and renovating means that you're just plain changing it. There's no definite division -- a lot of renovators try to keep the historic touches that make their houses unique, and a lot of restorers put in modern amenities like central heat and modern kitchens -- but you can usually put yourself into one category or another for the most part.

We definitely fall into the 'renovator' category. We talked about it when we first bought this place; it was built in 1920, has some historic bungalow charm -- we could go the restoration route. But over the years, Don's family made so many bizarre changes that it's hard to find the bones of the house anymore -- and we really didn't want to anyway. We discovered that we were more committed to making the house a place that suited our tastes than we were to restoring the house with historic accuracy. The big factor there, of course, is that our tastes and lifestyle just don't match the house's original architecture. Neither did Don's family's, apparently, since they changed it around so much. So we decided to create an open floor plan, replace the hardwood floors, take out the funky old windows, and generally just change everything around.

There's one place, however, where we both mysteriously found ourselves in full-on restoration mode: the staircase. Neither of us wanted to bring it up -- we each assumed the other wanted to replace it, to renovate it and make it new. There's nothing truly remarkable about it -- the rail is solid wood with layer upon layer of paint on it, and the newel post, when we moved in, was a simple straight column made of thin, cheap wood. But when we took off the outer casing of the column, we discovered the original post underneath -- falling apart, almost utterly destroyed, but still recognizable. And it's perfect!

We both love the look -- the clean lines with classic bungalow charm, simple structure and geometric shapes. But the post isn't salvageable (seriously, pieces fall off of it when you touch it). So we'll rebuild what we have to and save the rest. Don's dad will build us an exact replica of the post in his shop, while I strip all the paint off of the stairs and railing and pull out the staples (!) that were used to hold the old carpeting in. We'll buff and sand and stain and polish, and when we're done we'll have the staircase that our house deserves -- beautiful, original, lived-in, and just right for us.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

alas, ye floors

We were originally really hoping to save our hardwood floors. They're original to the house, and in most places the wood itself wasn't in truly horrible condition. Unfortunately, one of the major structural problems we found ourselves needing to address was the fact that every single floor in the house was severely out of level -- to the point that when I sit in my desk chair in the office, I roll backwards constantly! If I don't catch myself or lock my foot around the desk, I'll find myself all the way across the room in relatively short order. It's like that everywhere. The upstairs landing in particular had a huge dip when we bought the house; this is what we found when we tore up the carpet:

The thing is, even though those floorboards look like they're in pretty good condition aside from the whole massive-tilt issue, they have to come up. There weren't any subfloors in the house (hence the subject matter for my last I don't even know how many posts). So to level the floors so I'll stop rolling around the house every time I try to get some work done, we have to install new, level joists and a carefully leveled subfloor.

All that said, we thought we could still save the floors and maybe carefully put them back over the new subfloor, with a little fiddling to eliminate the obviously warped ones. Unfortunately, when the demo crew went to pull up the boards, we discovered that they're so old, dry, and hard (the boards, not the guys) that they crack and splinter no matter how carefully they're pulled up.

So, new floors it is. Or will be, someday. For now, we live on plywood.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

don't be alarmed

Please don't freak out. I'm working on making some changes to the blog (those of you who are bloglines-ing me or reading me through some sort of feed or whatever won't even notice). I'm putting it into a three-column layout to accomodate some (gasp!) ads. I know, I'm such a sellout. Aside from that, the new layout adds some space for other things, like tag clouds and the like, which I'm fond of. Eventually I'll put together some kind of banner for the header, too. Maybe I'll get really crazy and buy a domain name. Stay tuned.

those clever nailmakers

This is a duplex nail.

It's called that because it has that little mutated head on top of it, so that it has double heads. Kind of freaky. Duplex nails are great for when you need to do something temporary, because you just nail it in up to the first head and can use the second head to pull it out later. Like, for instance, if you're cutting a board that is as long as your room and have to stick it through the wall for balance!

You just nail a piece of scrap wood to the studs with duplex nails at the appropriate level, and boom! Instant -- and temporary! -- sawhorse. Fantastico.

Monday, April 23, 2007

how to add cross bracing to your floors

There's no special secret to cross bracing. No special material, no special technique. You may remember the old cross bracing between our joists -- it was made of spare pieces of hardwood flooring. For the new cross bracing, Don and his dad just used spare pieces of joist beams, since they had it around from putting in new joists (this technically makes it "solid blocking", since it's just one piece of wood). They measured carefully and cut a piece of the board exactly to fit in between each joist (yes, you have to measure each space, since they are all going to be a little different) and then just nailed it into place.

The one thing they did differently than the old system was to actually add more cross bracing. Originally, the bracing just went in a straight line across the middle of the room. What we did instead was to install cross bracing at every seam in the subfloor. Every place where one sheet of plywood ends and another starts is reinforced with cross bracing all the way across. Basically, this winds up meaning that there's a row of cross bracing going across the entire space every four feet (since plywood comes in four-foot-wide sheets!). It makes the floor a lot more sturdy.

Good construction starts where you'll never even see it. Doing it right the first time means we won't have to go back in and do it again, and what we're building will last a long, long time. Adding the cross bracing every four feet certainly adds some time to the process, but it also creates a really strong foundation for everything we're going to build on top of that subfloor.

And heaven knows we don't want
our grandchildren going in and renovating this house many years from now and complaining about us like we complain about this stuff!

Friday, April 20, 2007

business cards

If you're curious about some of the process that goes into designing products for businesses, you should hop over and check out the Anapurna Girls blog -- I've just put up a post detailing the design process I went through putting together our business cards.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

he's no duff

When Don and his dad went to install that first piece of subfloor, they discovered that they needed to do a little bit of work first. See, when they sistered the new joists in, the old floor was sooooo un-level that sometimes the top edges of the new joists were above the old ones, and sometimes the old ones peeked over the edge of the new ones. So all of the places where the old joists were higher than the new joists had to be planed down. Rather than going and getting a power planer or anything sensible, Don decided to use the reciprocating saw to just slice off the bits that needed to go.

The process looked a lot like leveling out a cake for decorating. Just... noisier.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

don't worry, he doesn't do ALL the work

Sometimes Don's dad supervises!

Note the disapproving expression. I'm pretty sure this is right before he asked Don what the hell he was doing (again).

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

garden inspiration

If I had a garden -- okay, if I was at all capable of growing things without immediately killing them -- this is what I would want it to look like.

we're the turtle, not the hare

Slow and steady wins the race! The first few pieces of subflooring are in. There are three or four more joists to put in in the dining room and family room, and then the living room and foyer need to be done, but right now, when you step from the kitchen into the family room, you step on solid floor. It's so exciting!

That's Don screwing in the first piece of subfloor (and making fun of me for asking him to face the camera a little more while he was doing it).

I'll post something a little more detailed about the process later this week; my workload has abruptly picked up so I'm busy trying to cross things off of my to-do list. But I took LOTS of pictures this weekend while the menfolk were working (they kept yelling for me to come downstairs with the camera because they were doing "something interesting" -- once it was snapping a chalk line, good lord). So don't worry, more is forthcoming.

Friday, April 13, 2007

why you shouldn't renovate with kids

Because your kids will grow up thinking that living in a house under construction is totally the norm, and just as you are almost done with your own house and ready to relax, they will call you up and say, "Hey! Want to come over and work on my house now?" And then they will give you all the hard, dirty jobs, like taking out the expansion tank from the radiator system, and while you are doing that their spouse will take pictures of you and post them on the internet.

A big thank you to Don's dad for all of his help with our projects, even if he did say he's going to start charging me for all the pictures I post of him.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

for a construction day, they produced a lot of demolition debris

Before Don and his dad could get started on the floors, they discovered that they needed to do some further demolition work. Specifically, they had to remove all of the wiring that had been run through (and I do mean through) the joists in the basement.

I don't honestly know if this is standard practice or not; I don't believe we'll be doing it if we rewire (I think there are little brackets you can buy now to attach wires to other things without drilling through them) although Don, as usual, is the final arbiter of what we're going to do in cases like this (and by "Don", I mean "Don's dad").

In any case, they lost a good part of the morning by having to do this, cutting down on how much floor work they could do, but it wasn't such a great loss, since they wound up getting a massive head start on the electrical work that needed to be done.

For those of you curious about the procedure, they first turned all the electricity off in the house (putting a severe damper on my plans to do my design homework). When you do this, and are working with the breaker box, keep in mind that the main feed into the box is still going to be live. Don't touch it. Next step was to start cutting and pulling. They did this in a mostly-organized fashion, room by room, and followed each line all the way back to the breaker box. Once a breaker was empty, they removed it from the box (sorry, I have no idea how to do this -- maybe Don will comment with his technique, since I was upstairs being cold the whole time [edit: see Don's comment here]).

A large number of breakers were emptied and removed from the box, which is a great start on the rewiring work we need to do. So, not such a loss for the morning.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

how to level your old floors

Don and his dad got started on the process of making the floors on the first floor level this weekend, so I had them explain it to me (twice) so that I could explain it to you folks. The first step, of course, is to have some fraternity boys come rip out your floors for you.

Once you are down to the joists, you need to acquire some string. Take the string and use a line level to secure it above your first joist in a level position. You may have to do some triangulating to do this; Don tied one end of the string on the far wall, then took it diagonally over to his first joist in the center of the room and lined it up, then strung it diagonally all the way over to the near wall of the room (yes I know that's not really what triangulating is, I couldn't think of a better word). Just drive a nail in wherever you need an end of the string to be, and tie the string around it. And don't forget to put your line level on before you tie it off. Then you can fiddle the string up and down on your nails until it's level.

The next step is to "sister" your first joist. Sistering a joist means that, rather than removing an old, unlevel joist, you take a new one and put it in right next to the old one, attaching the two together for lots of support. Obviously, you use your now-level string to determine the level position of the new joist. Once you've gotten the first joist in, you can use that to determine the level of the next joist.

That's a fairly simplistic explanation of a slightly complicated process, but that's basically how you do it.

How you navigate your way across the open joists that now comprise your only floor is, of course, up to you.

Monday, April 09, 2007

easter weekend

It sounds like lots of you had pretty fabulous Easter weekends, which is awesome. Go you. Here on Louisiana Avenue, on the other hand, we were cold. Very, very cold. I'm not sure who ordered this April cold snap but I really think it ought to be sent back to the kitchen.

We did finally borrow some space heaters from Chez Brinkley, and since we put them in the bedroom the cat has not moved from her little curled-up ball on the bed as close to the nearest heater as possible (although last week we found her curled up asleep on a towel on the floor with one paw delicately resting on the o-ring she found in the basement, which she's been carrying around with her for days).

In order to avoid the cold (mostly unsuccessfully), we did an assortment of things -- we went out for Mexican food on Friday night, and I did the laundry (finally!) on Saturday morning while Don and his dad started work on the subfloors (more about that tomorrow, I think -- I don't have time today to do it justice). Then I shivered hopelessly in bed (we didn't get the heaters until Saturday night, and I think you can guess on whose shoulders that particular bit of poor planning falls) while they continued to curse and hammer things downstairs. Then another night out to eat.

On Sunday we bought Don new shoes at the only store in the entire city that remained open (don't even get me started about how we utterly failed to find me a dress for the formal in two weeks), and then went to his parents' house and ate Easter dinner and played Cranium. Then we scuttled back into the modest warmth of our space-heatered bed and collapsed.

Someday, weekends will be restful again. Someday.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

on bearing walls and floor joists

One of the things that was something of a surprise -- and a challenge -- to us was finding out which walls in our house were bearing walls. Since we wanted to make rather large holes in various walls to create a more open floor plan on the first floor, we need to know which walls might make the house fall down if we touched them. Pretty sensible of us, I think. Anyway, normally the easiest way to tell which is a bearing wall if you've got a little access to the innards of your house is to see which way the floor joists run. The bearing walls will be the ones which are perpendicular to the floor and ceiling joists (if I were better at physics and spatial relationships I'd be able to explain why this is true to you, but I'm not, so I'm just telling you what I know [somebody who is smarter than me will undoubtedly weigh in in the comments, keep an eye out]).

Anyway, so when we first pulled down the plaster in the dining room and family room, last May, we were surprised and a little dismayed to find that our handy little tip didn't work. See, the floor joists on the first floor run in the complete opposite direction of the floor joists on the second floor. Which is
not supposed to happen. I mean, it's not like a horrible disaster which might cause the house to come crashing down around our ears or anything, but it's not really normal, either. And of course it made it awfully confusing trying to figure out which walls were load bearing.

As it turns out,
all of the walls in the dining room are load bearing. So it didn't really matter anyway.

Anyway, now that the floors and ceilings and walls and stuff are all gone, I thought I'd try to get a photo of this little architectural phenomenon for you.

Somewhere to the left of the photo frame, the floor joists on the first floor actually somehow change direction. Like it's okay to do that or something. Not okay, floor! Not okay!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

how does your cat feel about all this violent transformation?

She is annoyed.

Actually she's taken to searching the basement for interesting things. If it's something she likes, she stows it in the upstairs bathroom (Don stepped on an o-ring this morning). If it's something she thinks we would like, she deposits it next to the bed for us (last time she did it, it was a four inch long roofing nail, which I promptly stepped on).

Monday, April 02, 2007

pictures are all up

Okay, the full set of photos is now up on Flickr here -- I added all the photos from Adam's camera. Go ahead and take a look.

Here's my favorite of the new ones: Don just starting to tear up the very first floorboard!

demo day

I've uploaded the photos I took on my own camera of Saturday's demolition to a Flickr set here. Keep checking back, because I took photos using Adam's camera, too, and he just emailed them to me. I'm going to upload all those to the same set late tonight, after I get back from dinner with my mom. His memory card is bigger than mine (that's what SHE said!) so there's a bunch more pictures from him.

Some highlights, for those of you too lazy to click the link:

Don got his hand stuck under a radiator.

Bobby and Scott headbutted a hole in the living room wall to start things off (because they are really, really cool).

The floors are really, really gone (that's Don's dad working on tearing up the last floor to go, in the family room).