Building a wall that America actually needs

As I mentioned in this post, our living room was ready to finish once the plumber replaced an old pipe in the wall. So over MLK weekend, our dear friend Elizabeth came over and helped us close in the wall. This was my first foray into compounding which felt super intimidating for some reason.

Walls may just look like walls, but so much work goes into it. To make a wall look like one long, flat surface, you need to hide the seams between each sheet of drywall using tape and compound.  But we didn’t want to pay a handyman to do this type of work so we did it ourselves!

Compound is essentially light weight cement powder that you mix with water and then slather onto the drywall. We used the type that dries in 20 minutes which allows you to apply all three layers of compound in just one day (rather than waiting 90 minutes or 24 hours for other types of compound to dry.

The first step in our journey to finish the wall was to screw drywall into the ceiling to cover the hole the plumber made.

IMG_3683

Then we screwed strips of metal corner bead onto the outside corners, which protect the corner if anything bumps into it.

IMG_3688.JPG
Screwing in the corners

IMG_3677.JPG

Then we got to work compounding over all the seams, screws, and corners. It was not hard at all!

We put tape on the seams by plopping a dollop of compound on the drywall and then gently pushing the drywall/putty knife down along

IMG_3697.JPG
Very proud of my corner

We bought a fun tool to help with the inside seams that worked like a dream! It’s hard to make these inside corners look like crisp 90-degree angles but with my new tool friend, it was super easy!

After two applications of compound, we sanded it down using sanding blocks (which covers everything in a fine compound dust). Then we painted. Then Jeremy cut and installed the baseboard trim and quarter round.

The whole project took about 2 full days to complete, and my god it almost looks like a normal house!!

We built that wall!
We built that wall!

For comparison sake, we would have paid our favorite team of 2 handymen around $1600 to complete this task. I’ll take free over $1600 any day of the week! #Winning.

 

 

 

 

My life as a drywall expert

Two months ago, Jeremy and I installed drywall for the first time in two bedrooms. It was a true learning experience, and thankfully now we are able to put that knowledge to use!

The main floor of our house has gone through EXTENSIVE changes in the last month: We removed all the plaster from the walls and demolished the fake chimney, hired a company to remove the load bearing walls and replace with a single column and 3 support beams, had a team of four electricians rip out all the old wiring and install new wiring + recessed lights + light switches + outlets. The main floor is finally ready for us to close in all the open walls, beams, and column.

EATF9626.JPG
We need to close in all the open beams and columns with drywall

IMG_3185.JPG

Last Monday, I got to work measuring the 4 sides of the support column, making sure to cut out square holes for the light switches and outlets. I felt SO proud of myself for getting it correct on the first try! Jeremy installed each side like a pro as I moved on to measuring and cutting the next side, until the entire thing was closed in!

By the end of the day, we had successfully closed in the column and were feeling very proud of ourselves!

IMG_3145.JPG
Successful closing of the column!

The next day we tackled the slightly more complex job of the beams. In no time, the first beam was covered!

IMG_3186.JPG

Successful closing of the beam! Please ignore all the crap around the room.

We are waiting to finish the other beam because the electrician needs to come back tomorrow to fix a tiny problem with a dead light switch. In the meantime, we hired a handyman to compound all the seams closed and the next step (hopefully this weekend!) is to start painting the walls!

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.

20180921_084524.jpg
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.
20180906_192328-e1536851484185.jpg
We started to pry off the beautiful door trim so we can re-use it after the walls are done.
20180909_133438
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.
IMG_2295
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!
IMG_2370.JPG
My fearless mother helping load the dumpster during the start of the great rains