Refreshed from vacation and hyper-productive

It’s been one week since we returned from our fabulous vacation and SO much has happened in the house.

For the first time in a long time, I feel calm and in control of the next few weeks. We know exactly what we need to accomplish between now and December first. The list is long and highly aspirational but at least it lays out our plan.

Meanwhile, last week the DC government came to the house and inspected all the work we’ve done so far and gave us the green light to keep going with our MASTER PLAN! Next week a company is going to remove the load bearing wall that goes the length of our main level. We were told we could save $3-4K if we did all the demo work ourselves—by demo I mean removing all the plaster/lath/drywall on top of the studs in the wall. So dammit, remove it we did! Of course we had tons of incredible and much-needed help from friends (thanks to Julian and Matt for channeling your brute strength to smash through all the walls) and stripped all the walls bare in just two days! Unfortunately, demo produces a LOT of garbage. In just two days, we filled 3 Bagster dumpsters (with a combined capacity of 9,000 pounds)!

 

Our house came with a fake fireplace. We knew it was fake and assumed it was just a thin brick façade. Turns out it was actually a full-sized fireplace made out of genuine (heavy) brick—except it was not connected to the adjacent chimney and therefore completely inoperable. Jeremy destroyed it with a small jack hammer while Matt and I helped him carry them out of the house. Cute enough, a previous owner had installed a fake log with a built-in light bulb (for warmth?). All of this work has helped to expose several square feet of living space that had previously been occupied by a useless pile of bricks.

On Sunday, our friend Lauren came over and helped us think out plans for our kitchen remodel. Always invite your architect friends over on the days you are finalizing plans for a kitchen remodel. She also helped us yank all the nails out of the window and door trim that we want to re-use. After marking on the floor where we envision the new island, we took a field trip the greatest place in the world.

IKEA!

We are designing our kitchen using the frames of Ikea’s kitchen cabinets but covering them with the beautiful doors from SemiHandmadeDoors. Their doors are heavier, thicker, and more customizable than the options at Ikea, but still in the mid-level price range. And lucky for us, Ikea is having their annual kitchen sale in two weeks!

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Our rough plan for the new open kitchen

I love Ikea. It’s like a playground for adults—with meatballs!!

 

Vacation highlights

We spent a week in Iceland and Germany with our good friends David and Catherine. It was a much needed break from the house, which was honestly starting to kill me.

Iceland was fabulous. I felt like an animal that had finally been let out of a cage after 2 months of being locked in our construction site. Iceland is a place to enjoy the wonder of mother nature.

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We drove all around the southern part of the country and took in some of the most incredible views I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing. The cold air was refreshing and we actually got to see the northern lights!

In Germany, we spent three days partying it up at Oktoberfest in Munich.

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Oktoberfest is similar to a state fair except LOTS of beer and sausages. We made friends with some delightful people and came away with these incredible outfits to wear on Halloween for the rest of our lives.

We ended our trip in Berlin, where we learned so much about the fascinating history of this city. We also had a drink at one of the best bars in Europe. All in all, it was a great, restful, fun, and adventurous week that we sorely needed to remember what life can be like without construction looming in the background. Our next big trip will probably be our honeymoon in April, so please send any recommendations our way! I’d like to go glamping in the Amazon but I could be convinced otherwise.

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

Exactly how do you remove radiators, anyway?

Our HVAC system is almost fully installed! We are so excited to turn on some A/C in this house! It has been very frustrating dealing with our contractor! Starting all this work in the hottest and muggiest month of the year has resulted in some unpleasant working conditions, and we are so looking forward to cooling off a bit. We decided to install a mini-duct HVAC system, which takes up significantly less room than traditional HVAC systems–here you can see the small ducts that we plan to hide behind a little wall that we framed. We have to wait for the city to inspect the system before we finish the wall with drywall.

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Mini ducts squished behind a mini wall we are building to hide the duct work

Our new HVAC system left us with 8 defunct radiators and a huge boiler in the basement to dispose of. Our radiators are huge — each weighing in at over 400 pounds of cast iron. They are connected throughout the house by iron pipes that weave between floors and walls and ceilings. We were afraid we’d have to cut into the (soon to be refinished) wood floors to remove the  pipes. Apparently cast iron used to be highly valuable and junk haulers would pay homeowners to remove them to exchange for cash at scrap yards. Due to changes in the global economy, cast iron is essentially valueless now. So we couldn’t figure out who to hire at a reasonable price to take these damn things out of our house!

So how exactly do you remove a huge, heavy radiator? It took a while to figure out how to remove them and who could haul them away, but Jeremy finally found a solution! Jeremy removed the radiators from the pipes by using a huge wrench and/or cutting it free with a reciprocating saw. Then he simply turned the pipe that was sticking up through the floor to detach it. It took a four men and two trucks to haul away all that cast iron, but they’re finally gone!

 

A crew of four dudes hauled away the radiators and boiler for the meh price of $550.

Unrelated: Our basement is quite content acting as a storage unit for all our possessions as we crash at Liz and Harry’s place this month. I realized I never shared how we cleaned it out. After searching high and low, we simply could not find a company to clean out our truly filthy basement. So god dammit, we did it ourselves! Jeremy and I wore ventilators and went to work sweeping and vacuuming all the dirt and cobwebs from the basement. We even had to scrap the floor to remove some mud that flowed in during a rain storm (we think we fixed the water issue for now).  It’s still not my favorite place to spend time but it’s better than before.

 

 

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

Formulating a plan of attack

These last two weeks have been exhausting. On week days, I go from a full day of working at my office directly to our house to clean and scrub it of the remaining filth. Meanwhile, Jeremy works half days and then after lunch, he heads to the house to clean and devise a plan of action for the next month. My goal in these last two weeks has been cleaning the house as much as possible. Cleaning is such a time-consuming chore, but it’s always more fun when friends help out!

The wood floors have been the singular focus of my ire, and their filth seems to know no end. After trying and failing to clean the floors with a dry/wet mop and wood floor cleaning spray, I resorted to a much more physically aggressive plan of attack. With a good old fashioned bucket of soapy water and two heavy duty brushes, Jeremy and I scrubbed every inch of the first floor of the house.

Of course we’ve hit some hiccups already. Our drywall contractor seems to have disappeared even though his task is only half finished and he left some power tools at our place. He also left a bunch of trash bags in back yard, which covered the drain and caused rain water to back up in the yard and creep into our basement. I have resorted to sending him daily text messages that alternate between angry/threatening and friendly/jokey (to keep him on his toes). I’m taking bets on when we will see him again.

There is so much to accomplish in this house, and after spending time here the last two weeks, we now have a list of priorities areas we hope to accomplish in the next month:

Upstairs, our focus for the next month is on updating the electric outlets, installing recessed lighting and ceiling fans in the two larger bedrooms, installing new walls, floor trim and ceilings to replace the crumbling plaster, and building a walk-in master closet! If anyone wants to help demo plaster walls, please let me know!

Downstairs, we plan to open up the floorplan by removing some load-bearing walls. An engineer will draw up the plans for us tomorrow, which we will submit to DC for a permit. We’ve been told the permit process for removing walls is relatively quick (fingers crossed!). Then we’ll work with a crew to actually remove the walls and install beams to hold the weight of the house up (definitely not something we should should do ourselves).

Once the first floor is more open, the real fun begins. In the fall, we hope to design and execute a new kitchen and a small powder room on the first floor. We also want to turn the addition in the back of the house into become a sun-filled breakfast nook. Those dreams are still very far away. For today, let’s focus on the small victories: We have a new roof. We know how to use a shop-vac. The floors are starting to look clean. The house smells much better. Next week, we get an all new HVAC system and upgraded electric panel.

Today is for small victories and biohazards…

Our house is empty of all the junk! A crew of 6 men and two women worked a total of 88 hours (including 8 truck-filled trips to the dump) to empty the home of 50+ years of possessions, douse the bathroom in bleach, sweep up the dirt, and dust off the cobwebs. And WOW what a difference it has made. If the home looked like this the week it was on the market, I am positive it would have had multiple bids that drove the price up. If you’d like to know how much these services cost, I’m happy to share!

The cleaners were able to sanitize the bathroom and kitchen, which is a great start! However, they simply were not equipped to provide the deep cleaning services that the house so desperately needs, which is where we come in. I started the slow process of cleaning every surface in the house on Wednesday night. I’m cleaning windows, door trim, window trim, floor trim, floors, around electrical outlets, in shelving, counter tops, cabinets. If you can see it, I’m cleaning it. This is how I felt:

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I bought one of everything in the cleaning aisle at the hardware store and got to work. I think it might take 100,000 hours to clean this house but I’m determined to do it!

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You can mop anything if you believe hard enough

Meanwhile, Jeremy got to work ripping up the carpet in the upstairs bedroom. It was smelly and filthy and not a good look. In just one day, he removed the carpet and pad, and with it, he removed most of the horrible smells emanating from that space. I will post the after once we mop up all the dust.

I’m realizing that our basement will need a serious deep clean from a company that cleans up biohazards. I won’t go into the gory details, but it doesn’t seem safe for a civilian to breathe in the air down there, and basic home cleaning services are not appropriate for what lurks below. Luckily a family friend works for a company that specializes in cleaning out the homes of hoarders, and they are on the case! Keep your fingers crossed that they can get the job done in the next week!

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Basement in need of a serious clean-up

Jeremy and I have so many things to think about that it makes the mind boggle. I keep telling myself to hold on to the small victories and just go day by day. For today: the top layer of grime has been scrubbed off, the carpet was removed upstairs, the drains work in the back yard, and there is no longer a hole in the basement door! Even better, the roofers started to rip off the old broken roof and replace it with one that keeps rain out of our bedroom!

Where to start?

signing papers

Today we closed on the house. It was not an easy process because the family that lived there for the last 65 years was still there down to the last minute trying to get all their stuff out. But after several frenzied and confusing hours, we were able to close the deal and get the keys. The house is still a mess but its our mess now.

The junk will be removed from the house and it’ll get the deep clean it so deserves early next week. Then…we get to work.

Where to start? A little real estate lesson for you first time home-buyers out there: it’s impossible to get a mortgage on a home that is not livable. So in order to buy this home, we were required to include a bunch of renovations on top of the loan for the house. So this month, our goal is to achieve the following:

1. Install a new roof to replace the old one! The old roof is…not doing so hot. See exhibit A in the upstairs stairway landing. The beam in the attic gave up on life and cracked in half, which I’ve been told is not ideal.

Big old hole in the ceiling

2. Bring the home into the 21st century with an electrical Heavy Up. This basically means updating the electric panel so the home has greater capacity to power things that didn’t exist 100 years ago (like dish washers, washer/dryer, AC systems, hot water heaters, etc.). Gone will be the days of the power outages when you dry your hair while someone is using the microwave.

3. Replace broken boiler system with a brand new HVAC system, including for the first time in it’s illustrious 100-year history, AIR CONDITIONING! I know a lot of people have a lot of opinions about the benefits of radiator heat over pushed air but this is my blog so I don’t wanna hear about it. We decided to remove the boiler and radiators for several reasons that were right for us, and that’s all that matters.

On top of all that, we were required to rent out our current home in order to get the mortgage for a new one (because we decided not to sell our current home). So we must.be.out. of our current place by September first. Where will we go? Only time will tell.