Friday, January 22, 2016

No Time to Waste

Poop is gross. Sure we all do it, but it's really not something you want to think about. This rings even more true when it spills onto your basement floor. As we worked on moving the plumbing from one part of the kitchen to another, we heard gurgling in the nearby toilet that time forgot. It was certainly concerning, but we thought we had some time to check that everything was vented properly.

As part of the buying process, I was told to examine the waste pipes inside and outside the house. I spent the $350 and got the plumber to come in, scope the drain with the camera, and give me the all clear. He said, "This looks great, even moreso considering its age." The only portion that was unobservable, he said, was the whole house trap. It is amazing how quickly one goes from knowing nothing to knowing too much.

After someone (me) flushed the toilet (at least it was my own brand), the toilet in the bathroom that time forgot backed up and spilled onto the floor. Not too much, but just enough to be disgusting. After thinking about what to do, I made the call to Roto Rooter and had them come examine to see if something was wrong, namely a clog. I give this guy a lot of credit. For $300 put on a small little glove, the kind that the 3rd grade class I just observed used to look at owl pellets, and shoved his hand into my waste pipe.

No more then five seconds later, he says, "You're entire house trap is gone. You need some work done here. Call the plumber." Fast forward, we call the same plumber who said that all was good other than the unobservable trap (which, it turns out, is observable if you just shove your arm into the right place). I know what you're thinking. Why call the same guy? Well, I needed someone to come over and look and this was the first guy I thought of and was still recommended by a bunch of people. I told him what I thought was wrong and he said, "Yep, this needs to be done." The $64,000 question, "How much?"

$2,500. That included removing the trap and replacing with a straight run and a short-y cleanout. I told you that I learned things. Just words though, nothing more. I asked about replacing the entire run of waste pipe under the floor about 12' to the portion that runs up to the rest of the house. He said, "Don't make a mountain out of the mole hill." $2,500 in less than a day's work. Fudge.

Needless to say, Jess and I did not see this coming. We had a budget we thought we were on, and that just became a bit iffy. Not that we expected all to go without a hiccup, but this was a big nut and would eat into the kitchen/bath reno. (Still not as big as the chimney issue, but that is for another day.) After sleeping on it a bit and getting her family to come down, we spoke about it at length. Something funny happened. My brother, Matt, the semi-pro mudder and local old house historian, pissed in a water bottle because the toilet was unusable. Apparently, that was enough to set my father-in-law into motion. After they went back to CT, my wife gets a phone call from her mother. "Jess, your father and two brothers are coming to replace the pipe and do everything else that needs to be done."

I really hit the jackpot with this family. Knowing that I could not take off work, they still did not care and came down anyway. Over the course of a day, they took a shitty situation and made it whole again. They not only removed the trap, they dug the entire basement run up, replaced the run almost all the way until the second floor. All while I sat observing a teacher pound fractions into 3rd graders spongy heads.

It gets better. They came back today and cleaned up and patched the concrete. All while I sat at my desk. I've learned a lot over the past few weeks. You can either pony up and get someone to do it for you, learn to do it yourself, or marry into the right family. I did the latter.

 The old pipe is there just to give some weight to wood against the drying concrete.

 mudded nicely!

Friday, January 1, 2016

One Step Forward, Two Back?

Today was a typical old-home-owner type of day. First the good news. My brother-in-law shored up the termite damage, as seen below. He did a great job and it certainly looks much better. We did not insulate yet as this area will hold the washer and dryer, so we need plumbing and electrical. Then we will insulate everything and seal it up. We are leaning towards bead board here, so we will not plaster but throw up sheetrock instead.

My father-in-law is pretty good with plumbing, so we moved the drain from one side of the kitchen to another (no pics, will post later). So while that saved me some good money, we move onto the not-so-good, potentially-bad-stuff from today.

I know that setbacks are guaranteed, but I was hoping not to find any BIG ones. Towards the end of the day, my father-in-law and brother-in-law said, "We heard some gurgling in the toilet that time forgot." It was happening every time someone flushed the toilet two floors up. No sooner did he say that did the water start bubbling over from the toilet onto the 115 year old floor. It looked like poop and smelled even worse. It was poop. Not good. I suspect it was doing that for a while without overflow, but with 6 people using the toilet today, it pushed it overboard.

Needless to say, something is wrong. Since I am not a plumber, I deferred to other, smarter people. They say it is likely a clog in the main. However, I just had the main scoped prior to purchase and it was clean as a whistle. So, can there be a clog from the upstairs toilet to where the scope went in? Where would the backup be? I was told that water will back up to the lowest point, which is the 50's shitter in question and seen here. There is also some water in the tub, too.

I'm sure this is somewhat common. I'd rather not spend a fortune if I can fix this ourselves but my time is also needed in 1,024 other areas so I need to be realistic if this is beyond me. Any thoughts are appreciated... Or, if you are in the area, I pay in food and booze. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Update to "If You Build It, They Will Come"

Update to IYBITWC....

We saw a dumpster in the driveway of the craftsman house below. When I poked around and looked in, I noticed some original plaster and tile but nothing that could be saved (including some rough sawn boards). When I asked the contractor what was happening, he said they were knocking a wall or two down but the house was staying. I asked about the wood trim and he said, "They are refinishing." As someone who is 5 weeks into rewinding the poor decision to paint over woodwork, I hope they simply mean they are going to dust the woodwork as it is in amazing shape. Sigh.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Termite Update...And a Discovery.

As I wrote about here, the previous owner (the only owner, actually) had termites. While they were treated and seem (hope? pray?) to be gone, we found more carnage behind the kitchen in the hallway leading to the basement. This area is directly above the previously identified damage in the crawl space. I am not afraid to admit, I hate crawlspaces. Add to it that it is a dirt floor crawl space and I am even less enthused. Given the fact that my dolphin skinned hands are likely to suffer damage, I'm now a bit worried. However, the old lady garments (not the "make me randy" kind mind you), mouse carcasses, and broken ceramic pots make it all better.

As we ripped out the back closet, we found a few things. One, we uncovered a window. Who puts sheet rock over a window?  For a broom closet? It is unclear whether the window ever opened, but hey, natural light is nice! Two, the termite damage traveled up the beams under a window. Although it does not look to be too bad or contain any structural damage we cannot fix, it definitely needs to be addressed. I am taking out some hand hewn beams in the kitchen and may replace the rotten wood with those beams, or save them for something nicer and simply put in some PT instead (more likely and reasonable). Our plan for this space is to insulate since it is an exterior wall (and will hold pipes) and make this the laundry space. It will just fit the machines that I am stealing from my parents my parents are getting rid of from their house. They are front loaders and save us a ton of cash. They just don't know it yet.

Yes, the window will be half covered, but it will allow some light and be way more functional. Plus, do you think Jess will really do laundry -or even step foot- in the bathroom that time forgot?

Friday, December 4, 2015

Stairs FTW

We all make tough decisions. Beef or chicken? Blonde or brunette? or eHarmony? Some of those decisions lead us down a path of no return. Some of those decisions will last a lifetime, just ask Jess.

The tough part about buying an old home is the delicate balancing act between form and function. Over the last three weeks I have become a purist snob. "Restoration above all else!" is my rallying cry. Jess is way more level headed and practical. As we embark on this major renovation, we are forced to make decisions about the kitchen relatively quickly. When you walk into a house and the kitchen looks like the next picture, you realize, something must give. One of those lucky doors (all original, all in a row) leads to the butler's (or in our case, maid's) stairs. In the, "I-don't-give-a-crap-tear-it-down-or-replace-it world," the stairs are an easy way to create space for a better, more modern kitchen. Of course it makes sense to tear them out. This house isn't a mansion, I can easily walk to the stairs 20 feet away and be no worse for the wear. Jess wanted them gone. I'd of rather lived with the mouse filled poop ceiling kitchen than lose those stairs.

A few things happened on the way to my victory. One, everyone that's ever been in this house remembers the stairs. We went to a neighbor's estate sale (more on that in a future post) and she remarked, "Oh my god, those stairs! We searched every nook and cranny and wall in our own house hoping to find a set!" Another wise soul said, "Those stairs are a hallmark of a great, old house." Comment by comment, Jess saw the light. Two, the removal of the drop ceiling to reveal nearly 10 feet of height made a huge different in the space. Whereas in the past we worried about cabinet space, that was no longer a problem. Although it is clear that we will have to spend more on bringing the cabinets to the ceiling (don't forget the crown moldings!), it will solve that problem. Three, never underestimate the ability to wear someone down with a combination of bullshit and whining. Mixed evenly, of course. After a few weeks, she said, "Keep the stairs. They'll be great."

It's not that she didn't want to keep them, it's just that she's right - the house is more functional without a second set of stairs. No matter, though. Victory is mine.

Beef, brunette, and for those of you keeping score at home.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

If You Sell It, Builders Will Come

There is a reason we bought into this neighborhood. The charm, schools, location, and access to the city for Jess' work were all contributing factors. There is a certain pride that comes with being the oldest house on the block.

We know this house, owned by one family, was built when the family moved out from a Harlem brownstone for more land and a different type of life. As the neighborhood began to expand quickly thereafter, the houses were built with similar care, love, and craftsmanship. As the area matured and houses turned over, many of the houses remained well into the 20th century. As with any well-educated area near NYC, the lots themselves become very valuable and even moreso as owners let their homes fall into disrepair. When houses need more than the typical work, we have a recipe for "knock downs."

Sadly, the house two lots down fell into this category. When we spoke to the neighbors across the street, they remarked how happy they were that we bought and that our house was so beautiful, yadda yadda yadda. When we asked about the house two lots down from us, they said, "It was nice but not of the same ilk of yours or some of the others." Well, that got us thinking, what did the house look like? Was it that badly neglected? Below is the house, as of 2012, via Google Maps.

Our hearts sank when we did this search. It's as nice as ours, moreso in some respects, and deserved saving. When we dug further, the house was purchased and then demolished by an architect! Interestingly, the former owner (her granddaughter) of house we purchased, used this same architect to draw up plans to blow out the back of our house. When the plans proved too costly, the owners sold and bidders came forward. While I rolled my eyes at the idea of writing a letter, it proved important as one of the owners (the estate was owned by a son and daughter after their 106 year old mother passed away in March) did not want to see the house razed.

As soon as we moved into the house we noticed that the fatigued yet beautiful craftsman, stucco exterior house next to us was having an estate sale. My brother and wife and I were excited that we would have a chance to see the interior, talk to the owner, and maybe collect some period appropriate/local ephemera. While we found those things, we also found out some potentially disturbing news. They were selling their house. While we were excited that the house would be rehabbed/restored, we quickly realized it could be disastrous in that the house was bought before it could go to market for all cash. In this neighborhood my gut tells me it is a knock down, despite other owners saying otherwise. While the houses that replace them are nice, I guess, the danger of losing this old, established neighborhood one house at a time is really sad. The house in question is below.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Bathroom Time Forgot

I just wanted to quickly show the bathroom in the basement. If I haven't mentioned this before, it's where our future children will lose their minds with fright. It's awesomely horrible. Delightfully morose. Best of all, most of this spot is original. The bathroom was provided for the first maid, whom research indicates was Katherine Rush. We have plenty of history to divulge but it will take significant time to write, so we will do so when we can properly do so.

Here is the view prior to entry, which was behind the washing machine and dryer area.

A simple paddle socket light above the clawfoot tub.

The awesome fixtures.

The original towel bar.

The room is partitioned and almost looks like bead board. But, something I did not notice until my brother told me, was to take a look behind the water heater.

Creep closer, through an oasis of spiders, my nemesis.

To a rumsford!

Boarded up with a piece of wood. Our guess was this heated the house originally in some capacity. But what a treat! Just when you think you have found all the cool stuff, you find a fireplace. I really do love this house. 

The huge stone slop sink with cast iron legs next to it will have to wait.