Walls, windows, floors

This last week we kicked it into overdrive! Handyman Alex brought a friend on Sunday and together the four of us almost finished putting up all the drywall! We seriously underestimated how long it would take to complete the drywall but I think that will be a major theme of this next year. In other exciting news, we installed lights in all three bedrooms plus the walk-in closet! Some rooms didn’t have any overhead light when we bought the house, and other lights had been ripped down by various contractors earlier this month. I was sick of moving our only lamp around from room to room to work, so I bought the cheapest light I could find and now we have a single light bulb dangling from the ceiling in each room. Let there be light!

Dangling light bulbs!

We also have almost all of the new outlets installed. We need to wait until we close the seams and paint the drywall before covering the outlet and light switch holes with covers. Jeremy and I are going on a long-planned vacation at the end of this week so we’ve asked our handyman to work on finishing the drywall while we are away.

 

 

In other news, we’ve been getting quotes for window and door replacements and floor refinishing. I was worried that our old house would require the more expensive full window replacement, but several companies said that the opposite is actually true—old homes are well suited for the less expensive pocket insert windows. Pocket inserts are less invasive to install and cheaper! Huzzah! We also need to replace our front door and basement door, which is proving tricky because the basement entrance is not a standard height.

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This original window, while cool and old, is barely functional. Time for a new one!

As for the floors, everyone agrees that the original pine floors upstairs are ah.maz.ing and super expensive to purchase new and totally worth refinishing. However the first floor is a different story—we’re probably going to have to replace them entirely for several reasons: they’re already super thin, they’re in way worse condition than upstairs, and they don’t flow into the kitchen or bonus room under the tiles like we were hoping. Either way we plan to refinish upstairs now and do downstairs later after major renovations in the living/dining/kitchen/bonus room. (UPDATE: the fourth flooring company that came discovered there is beautiful pine floors UNDER the messed up oak floors on the main level of the home. Fingers crossed we can just refinish it instead of getting all new floors!). We also have a funny issue with our staircase–each step has a gap where the riser is slightly pulling away from the wall. We are trying to figure out the most cost-effective solution to fill that gap so any recommendations are welcome.

 

 

Meanwhile Jeremy has been spending a lot of time at DCRA trying to get a permit for the structural changes to the house. We hired an engineer to draw up plans for removing the structural wall to open up the first floor and the city is proving very particular about these drawings. Now I understand the term “back to the drawing board!” On Thursday, Jeremy finally proved VICTORIOUS and we have permits for all the upcoming major work we plan to do.

As I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel in the bedrooms, I’m finally starting to think about paint colors and decor!! I’ve been very inspired by Emily Henderson’s series on how to incorporate the Modern Victorian style into our house. I feel very torn between being a basic millennial and wanting everything to be blush and rose gold, versus respecting the history and character of this house which has unique and beautiful Victorian features. We plan to strip the paint off several doors and window trim to reveal the gorgeous wood hiding underneath. I’m leaning toward rich deep paint tones for the bedrooms (examples here, here, here, and here). Maybe I can sneak something close to millennial pink, but more subdued, into the smallest bedroom. We’ll test our paint colors when we return from Europe in October.

Progress in the bedrooms!

Soooo many activities happening in the house right now. We hired our favorite handyman to help out over the weekend because, let’s face it, we move really slow. He helped us add outlets in all the bedroom and change the location of the lighting fixtures on the ceiling. In prep for putting up drywall, we had to carefully pry all the old, beautiful, heavy wood trim off every window and doorframe. We hope to refinish and reuse the original trim because you can’t find that kind of high quality real wood anymore.
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We started to pry off the beautiful door trim so we can re-use it after the walls are done.
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Work always goes faster when friends come to help!
Jeremy and his buds and I started putting up drywall. The bedroom already looks so much better. We bought a drywall lift to assist us to hoist up the drywall and it was a lifesaver. This thing costs $130 on Amazon, compared to renting from Home Depot for $45 per day. We know we’ll get a lot of use out of it as we put drywall up in all the bedrooms. We also bought these cute little guys to help us put up vertical drywall on the walls.

 

 

Drywall is heavy and awkward to maneuver but the lift helps a lot. No room is perfectly square or rectangular, and our old walls and ceiling aren’t perfectly flat or level. Installing drywall requires lots of patience and measuring to get the piece the exact right size. Plus we need to cut out spaces for light fixtures, ducts, closet openings, etc. The process is slow but we are learning as we go. One painful lesson we learned and and tip I would share with anyone doing their own drywall is to purchase a single sheet and test it in your home before buying 30-50 sheets. We didn’t do this, and learned the hard way that the extra long size we bought was too long to fit up our staircase…now we are stuck with 45 heavy huge pieces of drywall that we must manually cut to downstairs before installing upstairs. I’d also recommend buying less than you think you’ll need because it’s just so big and heavy that disposing of excess when the project is over will be a huge headache.
I’ve also been smoothing out imperfections in the plaster wall in the master bedroom. We’ve decided to keep two of the existing walls as plaster and not cover them with drywall because they’re in pretty good shape and plaster has so much more character. Unfortunately one wall had taken quite the beating so I’ve been filling holes with joint compound.
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Before: Lots of damage to repair in the plaster walls
There have been continual delays in turning on the HVAC system that I won’t go into too much detail on—suffice it to say that our contractors are all annoying in their own special ways. All that’s left is installing two outlets in the attic and then they can turn on the air!
All this demo and construction has produced a ton of debris, and we had been piling up old pieces of wood, trim, bags of plaster, and any other construction garbage in the bonus room/addition on the first floor. We discovered this awesome pop-up construction dumpster at Annie’s Ace Hardware in petworth. For only $130, this company picks up the dumpster from your house and hauls it away. It can hold up to 3,000 pounds! Unfortunately with this hurricane coming toward the east coast it meant I had to load it up in the rain on Sunday, but at least now we have our bonus room back!
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My fearless mother helping load the dumpster during the start of the great rains

We moved! And we started to build a closet!

This week we moved out of our beloved apartment. In order to get a mortgage for our new home, we had to rent out our Columbia Heights apartment starting September 1st. The timing is far from ideal but it’s what we have to work with. So we took a break from fixing up the house to pack up all our stuff and move on Friday. Unfortunately our movers were delayed by many hours and the crew finished moving our stuff at 1 AM on Saturday morning.

We decided the best plan is to move our stuff into the basement of our new house and live a nomadic life for the next few months until the house is in a better condition. Our amazing friends have offered to let us stay with them for a few weeks. We have precisely three weeks until we leave for vacation in Iceland and Germany, so it’s GO TIME!

On Sunday, we went forth and framed a wall! The area that we previously destroyed is being reborn as a larger walk-in closet. After watching some DIY tutorials on youtube (I highly recommend this one from Nils the Carpenter), we rented a nail gun and got to work! It took three power tools and 6 hours, but we managed to remove the existing studs and put up new framing for the closet.

Honestly, it wasn’t too difficult. We framed two simple, straight walls without any obstructions in the way (like pipes or HVAC ducts) so it was a great beginner-level framing project.

I’m realizing as we’ve tackled two major projects so far that everything is going to take longer than we expect, especially at the beginning. We literally wasted an hour trying to make the nail gun function and figure out why the circular saw only cut 3/4 through the stud before inexplicably stopping. As we finally got the hang of things and got into a groove, we were done with the wall!

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Behold our powertool!

We rented a compressor nail gun from Annie’s Ace Hardware in Petworth for 30 bucks. The people who work there are SO helpful and knowledgeable. I’d recommend Ace over Home Depot any day.

On Monday, we ripped out the remaining trim in the bedrooms upstairs and detached the radiators in prep for putting up drywall later this week. Before the drywall goes up, Jeremy plans to install more electric outlets in each room and change up some of the lighting.

 

I’d also like to point out that we still don’t have A/C yet! The process of installing the HVAC and upgrading our electric panel has taken much longer than we expected it to, but hopefully by this Friday we will be able to turn the system on!

In which we learn the joys of plaster walls

Jeremy and I have made incredible progress on the house since my last update. After two solid weeks of cleaning the place (and feeling like we hardly made a dent) we moved on to a more immediately satisfying activity…knockin’ down some walls ! On HGTV, everyone always goes nuts for demo day and now I understand why. You literally just knock everything over, pull all the nasty stuff off the walls, and hammer to your hearts’ content. While those home improvement shows may have prepared me for the fun of destroying a home that someone once loved, it did NOT properly prepare me for the reality of a home with plaster walls.

Plaster was the building material of choice before drywall was invented. It was the best method for creating walls, but it was incredibly time-consuming and labor intensive to install. You had to frame the room with studs, then nail hundreds of wood laths to the studs, then slather on the fresh plaster mixture. It lends older homes a distinctive character that was lost when drywall was invented.

All I can say is thank GOD they invented drywall, because plaster is a b*tch to remove. We are doing the same process in reverse. And since the plaster has been dry for 100 years, it literally crumbles into dust as we remove it (side note: plaster dust makes for a nice dry shampoo alternative…even though I’m exhausted my hair has never looked better). We prepared for the activity by buying crowbars of varying weights and sizes, and covering the floor with a big construction blanket. Jeremy plopped two plastic bins down on the floor to catch the falling debris and it worked like a charm!

After about 10 hours of smashing the walls to bits and yanking thousands of laths and nails off the studs, our home is coated in a fine layer of dust. BUT we can see the vision of our master suite coming to life. And we feel so accomplished about how much work we got done.

The reason we are doing this insane thing is that we are taking some space from the largest bedroom to build a walk-in closet.  Apparently people didn’t own any clothes 100 years ago because the closets that came with the house are teeny tiny–this is our solution to create storage space. And honestly, it feels so good to punch this house. Jeremy and his friend Harry literally karate kicked one of the walls in, much to their delight. And our friend Sydney showed up to help shovel up the rubble and ideate our dream closet.

We also pulled off the horrible fake wood paneling only to reveal even worse plaster below. We will refinish the walls with drywall in the coming weeks, so anyone who wants to try putting up new walls is welcome to help! We took a class at Home Depot so we are basically experts and can show you how it’s done.

In the meantime, we plan to frame out and build the closet, re-wire some electric outlets and put in recessed lighting in the next few weeks. Oh and did I mention we are getting our HVAC system this week!? No longer will we toil in filth and sweat….only filth! Here’s to smashing our way into week 3 of home ownership!

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Selfies and safety gear