Thomas and Zilpah Ludlam House (ca. 1790)

Thomas and Zilpah Ludlam House (ca. 1790)
Thomas + Zilpah Ludlam House, ca. 1790

Sunday, December 11, 2011

our new Unico heat/AC system

Grace Energy's installers have been here two weeks now, running the duct work, installing the air handlers, and putting the Unichiller, a heat pump made by Unico, in place.  It's been fascinating to watch them fit into often-tight spots (in the very short attic under the original house particularly) to get everything where it needs to be.  Placing the outlets is don't want one over a bed, under an electric outlet, or in any other inconvient place.  For example, on the first floor you have to decide if you might ever want to place a piece of furniture later where the outlet is going today.  On the first floor, they drill holes in the flooring and insert 5" wide outlets (with a 2" wide hole in the center); on the second floor, the outlets are placed in the ceiling.

All of the outlets provided by Unico are a high-quality white plastic.  Now white works just fine on the second floor where the ceilings are painted white.  But white just doesn't make it against our antique pumpkin pine floor boards.  What to do??  I priced unfinished wood outlets on-line and they range from $37 to $78 each depending on the choice of wood.  That gets real pricey when you consider we have 18 floor outlets between the addition and the existing house.

I was told the outlets are paintable, so the guys gave me one to tinker with.  I've done false graining before, so I put down a base coat of yellow ochre (oil-based paint) and waited for it to dry.  Over that I used a  raw umber glaze, adding some streaks of Van Dyke brown and some Venetian Red since our pine floors have some red in them.  I worked these in with a dry brush, smudging and streaking as needed to create a wood-grain look.  This was done out in our workshop.  I'm really pleased with how it turned out and will be painting the rest once I'm sure the guys are done fussing with them.  I'll be able to match them more closely than the sample because I'll be painting them in place.

My false-grained cover looks a whole lot better than the white one against our pumpkin pine flooring!

This outlet is in the new kitchen and shows how the outlet tube is wrapped in insulation.  It will be pushed down into the crawl space and topped with an outlet cover.  The discs to the right are the holes cut out of the plywood on the first floor of the addition and the old floors in the existing house.  I guess they kept them in case we decide we need to move an outlet.

They can't finish until we move the existing kitchen into the addition because the new outlets need to go in places now covered by the refrigerator and the stove!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Enclosed (finally) and ready for Ole Man Winter

The frame was raised July 25th and now, some four months later (Nov. 30th), the addition is enclosed and totally weatherproof.  The cedar siding, its beaded edge planed board-by-board by my carpenter extraordinaire-husband Scott, is finished on both the addition and that part of the original house that was disturbed when the addition was framed.  The cedar shake roof was the first thing we did after the frame went up, for obvious reasons.  The windows are in, as are the front and back doors.  Scott made the doors--nothing in this house (except for building materials like nails, caulk, plywood, etc.) is from either of the "big box" home improvement stores--and the doors are both hung on their antique, wrought iron strap hinges.  The standing seam metal roof over what-will-be the screened porch is in place and the gutters (most of them) are up.  In short, the addition is ready for winter.
The back of the addition has a lot going on, with the bay window, the larger porch (which will be screened in next spring) and a smaller open porch that shelters the basement entry and the back door in the ca. 1975 addition.

The landscaper has begun extending the gravel driveway and will leave me plenty of room to plant (an herb garden? boxwood?) in front of the addition.  Once the new clapboard ages to match that on the main block, the brown gutters will disappear.

Before we can get the framing approved by the building inspector, we need to have the plumber, HVAC folks, and the electrician do their work.  The plumber, who is out west deer hunting, will start in a few weeks.  He came by last week to look over the job and decided he wanted to personally help with the lay-out.  I like to hear that.  One of the few things we thought we would buy from a "big box" store was a corner shower for the bathroom.  I looked them over on-line and picked out the one I thought would be the best for us.  I mentioned our choice to the plumber and he let me know that a local plumbing supply store carried a better-quality brand that could be purchased (through him, at a discount) for about the same price. We checked out his suggestion, liked it a whole lot more, and purchased it through him.  It was about the same price as he said it would be.

The HVAC folks--Grace Energy in Rio Grande--started yesterday.  They're putting in a Unico high-velocity air system with a Unichiller to supply both heat and air conditioning.  They were very happy to see deep crawlspaces and a small (but dry) basement that give them plenty of room in which to work.  We will be so happy to disconnect the electric baseboard heaters when the time comes!

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Joy of Stripping (doors that is)

A house not far from here, one-half of it built about the same time (ca. 1790) as ours, was torn down 10 years ago with the promise to local officials of better things to come.  Of course, the vacant lot is still vacant and the promise to build something new on it was just as vacant.  The older half of the house was built in the early 1700s and I'm really wishing I'd seen both halves before the bulldozer arrived.

A friend of ours had either bought or rescued some paneling and several raised panel doors from the ca. 1790 half.  He put them in storage, thinking he'd use them one day.  Learning of our addition, he agreed to sell us three of the doors and we were thrilled.  They fit perfectly; one for the bathroom, one for the laundry room, and the shortest for the coat closet under the stairs.  All three were coated with multiple layers of paint, the most recent a nice, colonial blue latex that did not complement our color scheme at all.

I'd stripped all of the doors in the main house so I knew I was in for a long, laborious process with these three.  With the weather still hitting the 60s, and chillier stuff coming any day, I decided to start now and get as much done as I could.

The blue came off easily.  So did a flesh-colored coat followed by a white coat underneath.  Below the white was a faux-grained layer that probably dated to the mid-1800s when the wood-look became popular.  As I scraped that off, I was astounded to find a polychrome scheme that sures looks original underneath.  The photo doesn't do it justice.  The raised panels are a lovely yellow ochre, highlighted by a frame of barn red.  The largest raised panels are decorated with a stylized tree/leaf pattern done in the barn red.  The frame around the panels appears to be a lovely off-white.  The smaller raised panels have a random barn red pattern, somewhat swirled.  All three doors have the same decoration and color scheme.

I had planned to paint the doors a nice historic off-white, all over.  But seeing the design, I know now that I have to recreate it, at least on two of the doors.

I should point out that I used the smelly, harsh chemical stripper since I was working outside.  I've used the SoyGel stripper with great success, but decided to use the quicker stuff because I was working with plenty of fresh air.  I have half of a gallon of SoyGel (which is very expensive, but very eco-friendly and very effective) left from our restoration a few years back, and I'm saving that for the wainscot I need to strip in the dining room later this winter.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Honey, could you make me something that looks like this?

Our progress is steady, but slow.  With just me painting and Scott doing everything else (with some intermittent help from his son, Scotty, who is as good a carpenter as his father!), we have started to embrace the idea that the addition will be done in the spring.  We originally thought maybe Christmas.  Sure, we could hire several carpenters and have it knocked out in a few weeks, but the cost goes up exponentially and with Scott retired, what's the point?  It's not like we don't have a kitchen or a bathroom.  Really, we're just missing the laundry room, and I can survive the laundromat indefinitely.

The weather has not cooperated with the outside painting....way too much rain, or the threat of rain, or it's humid and hot, so I've been working on several pieces of cabinetry that Scott made for the addition.  Carpenter that he is, he loves the challenge of making anything out of wood.  All I have to do is find a picture of a piece of furniture I adore and ask him, "Honey, could you make me something that looks like this?"  I am so lucky that he is so talented.

We found a pair of old raised panel shutters in the workshop when we bought the house, so Scott used them--and some old wood in his stockpile--to make a jelly cupboard for the kitchen.  But it's not just any jelly cupboard.  Open the doors and there are three shelves (one designated for my cookbooks) along with 4 drawers to keep batteries, rubber bands, coupons, tissues, and paperwork out of sight.  I decided to paint the cupboard with milk paint (Salem Red) and then give it a crackle finish.  I'll finish up with a raw umber glaze to fill in the cracks and give it an antiqued look.   Right now, it's been coated with the crackle glaze and is ready for the final coat of milk paint.

Scott also made a hanging cabinet for the kitchen with glass doors using old pine that was recycled from a 100-year bridge being replaced.  Its design is based on an early 19th-century piece we saw in an on-line auction catalogue and fell in love with (but knew we couldn't afford!)  The heart pine is beautiful and I knew instantly that this piece would NOT be painted.  I also knew I didn't want a traditional brushed-on varnish finish either.  After much research and poking around online I found the Sam Maloof finishes offered by Rockler.  They're pricey, but are applied by hand and contain a mix of linseed oil, tung oil, and varnish.  With rave customer reviews (five out of five stars), I decided to try it. 

Four coats are recommended and it does take time. A lot of time.  You have to wipe it on generously with a rag, then wipe as much off as you possibly can, changing rags frequently.  This might seem counter-productive, but after four coats, the piece has a patina that is gorgeous.  It's then followed up with one or two coats of a tung oil + carnuba wax mixture (applied/wiped off the same way), also by Maloof.  Everyone who sees the piece raves about the finish.  Definitely time well spent.

I've been finishing this up-side down, so I turned the photo upside down so you can see what it will look like hanging up.

Last, but not least....Scott used the same recycled heart pine to make a "dry sink" base cabinet for the bathroom.  We bought a hammered copper vessel bowl and a copper faucet/fixture to go on top.  Again, the design is based on an antique dry sink we saw in a country decorating book.  I've stained the piece and have one coat of traditional, polyurethane varnish on it thinking that its use in the bathroom warrants a waterproof finish.

Money tree update:  The dollar bill fell off the tree a few days ago.  Scott found it on the lawn, still tied with what looks like the cellophane opener from a pack of cigarettes.  It's tattered, bleached from the summer sun, and has a bite out of it, probably from a squirrel who thought it might be edible.

I've done some thinking about this money tree.  True, we didn't hit the lottery, win the Acme sweepstakes, inherit a windfall, or buy/sell the right stock.  But we haven't gone over our budget (yet) and that's pretty remarkable.  Some things have cost less, others more, but right now it's pretty much a wash.  So maybe the money tree was more about hanging on to what we have, than spending what we don't have.  I'm good with that.  Should I tie it back up?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

We Have Windows!

The addition is finally starting to look like part of the house and not just some plywood-covered box with openings!  Scott and his son Scotty put the windows in today and I'm so pleased with how they look.  I painted the 6-light single sash, all five of them, for the upper 1/2 story.  They're the same barn red (Benjamin Moore--Cottage Red) that we used on the main block.  The first story has 4 windows of double-hung sash and I could only paint one in its entirety before it was hung; the other 3 are about 75% painted (you'll see in the photograph).  We have a box bay window that still needs to be installed (and painted) but that has to wait for a few weeks until Scott moves a porch roof sheltering a back door on the main block that is blocking its location.

The windows are all wood, double hung sash with thermopane glass (separate panes) for energy conservation.  We may also put storm/screen windows up, too.  We're still trying to decide.

The entry hall is narrow, so Scott decided to have the door and window share the same stud.  This is also typical of early heavy timber frame houses in southeastern England, a location from where many of Cape May County's settlers came!

 I've also started finishing some of the cabinets that Scott has made for the kitchen and full bath.  I'll post photos of them in a week or two.

Hurricane and Earthquake

I haven't written since the earthquake and hurricane arrived the same week in August.  That week I was in Atlanta, helping my daughter move into her first apartment as she prepared to start her first job after college graduation in May.  Scott called me the day we arrived in Atlanta to say there'd been an earthquake.  No damage to the addition or the house, thankfully, and we didn't feel it in Atlanta.

Then, when we were shopping in IKEA for furniture (that's another story in itself) Thursday afternoon, he called to tell me they were ordering a mandatory evacuation of Cape May County by 9 a.m. Friday morning.  My heart sank.  I was 14 hours away (by car) and could do absolutely nothing from Atlanta.  We have 2 cats and a dog; our dog was at the kennel while I was away, but the kennel was just 1/2 hour north of us.  I thought of all the things I would take if I'd been home, like my computer (I work at home and my work life is on that darn thing), my family photos that date back to the late 1800s, etc.  I felt better once my daughter and I got back to the hotel and I could watch the Weather channel--they predicted that the hurricane would be a category 2 heading into a category 1 by the time it reached us.  This house, which is more than 200 years old, has seen lots of hurricanes of that category and has (obviously) survived them all.  Its heavy timber frame made of oak is so much more strong than construction today, and the addition is timber framed as well.

Scott, and many of our friends, decided to ride out the storm.  I'm sure if it was predicted to be category 4 or 5 he would have left.  He covered the addition window and door openings with plywood, also the windows on the northeast side of the main house.  He took the screens out and put the storm windows in.  It took him two full days to get everything just so, and whatever he did worked because the worst we had were some downed branches to clean up.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Framing and Reclaimed Flooring

While Scotty and Jamie finish the roof, Scott (with some help from our friend, Al) has been framing the addition.  We're talking a lot of 2x4 studs and plywood sheathing here.  Incredibly, the addition--with door and window openings now--is really starting to look like something and we've only had the timber frame up for 3 weeks now.  Until we have the windows in place, we're keeping the side walls covered with tarps.  The windows (double-hung wood sash with true divided lights and thermo-pane glass) are here and I started the prep work on them today, filling screw holes with PC Woody. 

We are HUGE fans of PC Woody, a 2-part epoxy that is phenomenal when it comes to filling holes in wood.  It sands easily and now comes with colorants if you want to match a particular wood.  The windows are made of Spanish cedar and I'll be priming them with an oil-based primer.  A painter friend of ours swears by a latex primer, but I'm wary.  I'd rather use an oil-based primer (under a latex paint) that I know from personal experience works, than try something new and be unhappy with it a few years from now.

Scott scored a great find this week with just enough reclaimed, antique hard pine flooring to do our kitchen.  These boards are beautiful...up to 14" wide, unpainted on one side, but very very dirty.  I know all about scrubbing boards, so I'm not intimidated.  I'm anxious to see if the boards are pumpkin pine like we have in the main house.  There are some flaws, damaged areas, dings, etc., but we'll use PC Woody where needed.  Below is the pile that Scott has "stickered" to air out.

The reclaimed wood floor boards.  The opening in the stud wall to the left is for a bay window.

The Wonders of White Nail Polish

This post doesn't really relate to building our addition, but it is germane to any old house owner whose white bath tub isn't quite up to snuff.  Ours is about 35 years old and wasn't used much until we moved in two years ago.  But somewhere along the way it got a 3/8" chip right by the drain.  A 3/8" chip doesn't warrant an entire bathtub resurfacing in my opinion when the rest of the tub looks good.

The first time I tried to fix the chip I went to the hardware store and bought the porcelain-repair epoxy stuff.  I mixed it up per directions, put it on in two coats, let it dry thoroughly between coats, and admired my handiwork a few hours later.  The fix only lasted about 2 weeks...I started seeing rust stains under the white coating and then the whole patch fell off.  Well, I thought maybe I hadn't sanded and cleaned the area thoroughly enough, so I went back, spent another $6 and tried it again.  Looked good again.  Two weeks later, same deal.  So, I got to thinking what else could I use?  Then it occurred to me that white nail polish just might be the answer.  And if it didn't work, I could remove it easily with nail polish remover.  I'm a big fan of easily-reversible fixes.

So, I went to CVS, bought one that was about the same slightly-off-white shade as our 35-year old tub and tried two coats.  Four weeks later, it still looks great.  The plastic bumper on my white Prius has a few dings that need some cosmetics, so I'm going use it there next.

The patch is located at about 1 o'clock.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

cedar roof and a Rainhandler gutter

For the past week and one-half, Scott's son, Scotty, and our friend J.P. (Jamie) Hand have been putting on the new cedar shingle roof over the addition.  The main block has a cedar roof and we felt that the addition should have one, too.  We got our Canadian cedar shingles from a supplier in Lancaster County, PA and also the copper-coated lead for the valley flashing.  The valley flashing is very, very expensive, so we asked around for alteratives; someone mentioned terne-coated steel, while someone else thought they'd heard of a new-to-the-market plastic-based flashing.  In the end, we decided that we didn't want to skimp on the roof since the roof protects everything under it!!  So, we went with the copper-coated lead.  The guys used a wood mallet to bend the edges of the flashing and found that the old-fashioned, hand-held break worked better than the new one!

Scott walks past the addition while J.P. Hand (to the left) and Scotty (on the right) work on the scaffold as they start to lay the cedar shingle roof.

Scotty uses a wooden mallet to flatten the edges of the valley flashing.

Scott Sr. holds the old-fashioned break that he used to turn the edges on the valley flashing.  He also used it to bend the flashing in the middle to sit properly in the valleys.

The guys will be done with the roof in another day or so.  I should mention that Jamie is really good at laying a cedar shake roof; he's very particular about the shingles and will reject those in the bundle that are "boxy" (curled) or are otherwise imperfect.  He also staggers them properly and does the right overhang.

The Rainhandler gutter was something we finally in ordered in June and Scott put it up a few weeks ago on the front elevation of the main block.  In case you're not familiar with it, it's a fairly new gutter system that broadcasts the rain away from the building using a series of staggered, slanted aluminum strips that attach to the fascia board.  They used to advertise in Old House Journal, but I found them doing a google search. We ordered the brown color and before ordering consulted their very well-written directions on-line.  We determined we needed to buy spacers as well so the rain would hit the strips just right.  It took Scott a few hours to install them and we couldn't be happier.  They shipped quickly and were packaged safely for the trip.  They look great!  You really have to look closely to see them, and since we're 100' off the road, I'm sure most folks don't even notice them.  I think they're prefect for historic buildings, the facade (front elevation) at least.  We have some drainage issues in the back of the house (thanks to the new septic system), so we're going with traditional gutters back there.

The Rainhandler gutter as installed on the front of the house.

Money tree update:  I'm up to three free donuts at Acme.  At least they're tasty.....

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The timber frame addition is up!

On Monday (July 25th), four timber framers from Riehl's Construction in Lancaster County, PA arrived a little after 8 a.m.  They brought two trailers of oak timbers, chain saws, tool belts, a variety of hand tools, and a lot of energy!  We provided a large cooler filled with ice and cold drinks, a box of donuts for the morning snack, and many interested spectators who came and went. 

The framers went right to work, unloading the mostly-precut timbers and preparing them for raising.  After double-checking Scott's layout (they didn't believe him when he said he was within 1/32", but they discovered he was right!) and confirming the ceiling heights, they cut the bottoms of the 7" x 7" square posts to the proper height, mortised them into the girts, and stood the first pair up about 90 minutes later.  It was incredible to watch them using a combination of modern tools (chain saws, saws-alls, drills) with old-fashioned chisels to get the tenons on the posts and girts just the right size and shape.   It took some finesse on the forklift operator's part to stand the first set into place against the original part of the house.   Two hundred years ago, each set would have been raised by many men pushing the beams up with long poles.

Scott protected the plywood- covered first floor with a tarp; pulling it off was the first thing they did.

They're standing the first set of beams against the original house.  It took all four of them.

After the first set was up, the rest were placed like a carefully-choreographed dance.  They only had one page of drawings, but that's all they needed for our smallish (16' x 28') addition.  I know they've done this hundreds, probably thousands of times, but it was awe-inspiring to watch.  And when they hammered the pegs into the holes I almost got goose-bumps (hey, I'm an architectural historian after all).

The joists for the first floor overhead, bundled together, are lowered onto the frame for placement.

Hammering one of the pegs (treenails) into place.

Two hundred years ago, the wives of all the menfolk would've prepared a huge feast of home-cooked food to be eaten during the house raising.  If only I had the time!  Instead, I took their lunch orders and grabbed some sandwiches from the closest WaWa, along with with a box of Entemann chocolate chip cookies.  There are some things I love about life in the 21st century!

Four and one-half hours later (not including a half-hour lunch break) the frame was finished.  Their part, at least.  Scott and his son, Scotty, then put up the rafters after they left and had them finished (except for the valley rafters) just before the first drops of rain started to fall.  Thank goodness our good friend JP Hand loaned us a huge tarp to keep everything dry until the wood shingle roof goes on and the clapboard is in place.

Our friend Al looks up at the beams over the kitchen-to-be.  The opening to the right is the stairwell.

Right after the framers left, Scott and Scotty started putting the rafters up.

My dear husband is working his tail off in the addition as I sit here and write this.  My contribution to the project will begin in another few weeks, once the windows arrive.  I'm the designated painter (I love painting believe it or not) and we want to have the divided-light windows and their frames primed and painted before Scott puts them in place.  I also have to paint the kitchen cabinets and finish the bathroom vanity that Scott made a few months ago.  (Wait till you see them!!) Yes, I will be busy indeed and all of this while still working full time.  Guess it will be lots of nights and weekends, but that's how we managed to restore this house before we moved in two years ago.

In retrospect--going the timber frame route was perfect for us and the ideal solution for an addition to our historic, ca. 1790 timber-framed house.  Exposed joists and corner posts are not for everyone.  It is a fast and less-expensive way to frame a house or an addition, and we couldn't be happier with the result.

We still have a long way to go.  Roof, walls, floors.  Plumbing and electric.  And, we're installing a Unico duct work system with a Unichiller so we can have AC and heat that is way more efficient than the electric baseboard we use now.  There will be plenty more to write about.

Money tree update--nothing yet beyond the free donut from Acme.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Foundation Finished!

I'm still surprised that I'm writing today (Saturday) that the foundation is finished.  Scott poured the concrete on Tuesday, the mason (Les) came Wednesday, and by Friday afternoon, DONE!

Les is a great guy...he's been a mason all his life, but he also carves decoys and has a few acres in asparagus that he sells.  He also collects antique tractors.  He's retired, but said he'd help us when the time came.  Scott had everything laid out for him, so all he had to do was "butter" the blocks and bricks, then set them.  The block work went up easily and so did the antique bricks (which I helped to clean) that were put around the upper row of blocks.  They match perfectly the antique bricks that were used around the foundation of the original house.

Unfortunately, we had 3.5" of rain Thursday night, which washed a lot of dirt into the hole around the outside of the foundation.  Scott spent this morning digging it out so it can dry and he can paint the exterior of the blocks with tar.

Scott's using a steel I-beam down the center of the foundation to help stiffen the joists.  He told me this morning we could hold a dance in there without the floors bouncing!  You can see the foundations for the I-beams in the photo.  You can also see the sewer line for the septic system.  Actually, this is the old septic system that we're still using; we'll connect into the new one when the plumber comes in a month or two.  It was disconnected for 6 hours each day when the mason was here, but with a porta-potty on site the inconvience was minor.

Scott will put the sills and joists in this week.  Either late this coming week or early the following week, the timber framers from Lancaster County, PA (Riehl Construction) will come and raise the oak heavy timber frame.  I'm told it will only take a few hours.  You can believe I'll be photographing the whole event.

How wonderful to write with no major snafus, drama, mistakes, etc. to relate.

framed, rebarred, and ready to pour

complete and ready for tar, sills, joists
 Money tree update:  We're still waiting for a huge cache of money to come our way.  I did, however, win a free donut at Acme.  They're having a big summer sweepstakes where you collect tokens to paste onto various prizes.  The tokens come with store coupons, too, and I won a free donut.  I guess it's a start...

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

You know what they say about the word "assume"

We installed the new septic system without too many glitches.  The next step is to dig the trench for the foundation, line it with rebar, and then have it inspected before pouring the concrete.

George had given us the plans (approved by the county health department) for the septic system he put in 30+ years ago when he moved the house here.  The plans showed that the 750-gallon tank was located exactly where the addition is to be built.  A few weeks ago, Scott went out with a long  metal-rod probe and hit what he thought was the tank right about where the plans said it was.  We assumed that was its location.

Well, this week, Scott started digging exploratory holes to see exactly where the tank is in relation to the trenches we need to dig for the foundation.  And guess what?  The tank is no where to be found.  He found the exit pipe and followed it for quite a ways past the house, past the end of where our additon is going, and way past where it shows on the plans.  We still don't know where it is.  The probe must've hit a rock that Scott mistook for the tank.

This is good news and bad news.  Good news:  it will be easier for us to dig the new foundation knowing we don't have the old tank to either remove (heaven forbid) or demolish in place after having it pumped out.  Bad news:  we probably could've revised our plans so we didn't have to spend  the extra money to install a new septic system.

Lesson learned:  don't trust the plans given you for earlier work you can't see.   In our case, what was installed is way different from what shows on the plans.  I wish we'd gone looking for the old septic tank before we contacted the engineer to design a whole new system for us.  Maybe by posting this, you won't make the same mistake we did.

Scavenger Hunt, part II

I mentioned in a previous post that we were scavenging historic building materials to use in the addition.  I'm a firm believer in the saying that a historic building is a green building because of the investment in labor and natural resources that the already-built house represents.  The same goes for building components.  Recycling materials is a green option to filling your cart at one of the big box home centers.

We've got historic doors from a ca. 1800 house that we're recycling and they've got their original door locks.  Scott, cabinet maker that he is, decided to make a base cabinet for the bathroom sink using heart pine boards that had been submerged for 100 years while standing sentinel for a bridge abutment.  A co-worker saved them from the dumpster when the bridge was re-built some 10 years ago and Scott brokered a deal to get a few hundred board feet.  A local sawyer (now retired) believes that the planks were sawn from trees that were already 100 years old when placed as part of the bridge 100 years ago.  They are knot-free and beautiful, and the cabinet is spectacular!  We're putting a copper basin sink on top with copper faucets and the casual look is just what we wanted.  I'll post a photo once it's in place.

George left us some beautiful old floor boards of both hard pine and cedar in what is now Scott's workshop.  Those will get placed underfoot in the kitchen, but we don't have quite enough so we're looking for some more. 

If we can't find any, I may have to make old boards out of new ones.  Something you don't know about me is that I'm a painter, trained by my mother who was a professional "Early American decorator."  I learned theorem and tole painting from her, but then discovered a passion for realistic oil painting in the style of Philadelphia's well-known Peale family of artists.  I'm self-taught in the art of faux painting and I honed my talents restoring our old house.  For example, Scott filled the holes in the exposed joists (drilled there for electrical wires) in our living room and I faux-painted knots over the patched holes in the beams to match others.  Folks cannot tell which ones are original and which ones are fake.

We're also reusing historic bricks for the foundation and I learned first-hand yesterday what it takes to chip mortar carefully, very carefully, from used bricks.  The old lime mortar is fairly easy to remove, but the "newer" stuff with Portland cement takes strength, finess, and a whole lot of patience.  I'll leave those for Scott to clean!

George also left us a pile of used, historic bricks that were left-over from building the foundation of the original house when it was moved here in 1975.  But, many are broken and I worried that they'd have to be thrown in the dumpster.  We spent a few days in Williamsburg last fall and during our meanderings in the historic area, I looked down and noticed I was walking on a sidewalk made largely entirely from broken bricks.  Perfect!  I took several photos and will be modeling our patio and sidewalk of used bricks following the random patterns I saw there.

Working with historic buildings professionally as an architectural historian, I've learned that our forefathers and foremothers didn't waste a thing.  Houses were moved regularly; in fact, I found a reference dated 1767 that mentioned a house here in Cape May County being moved by a wealthy land owner to a different location.  Houses were also recycled for different purposes, too, often becoming barns or shops, and vice versa once their original use was outdated.  Similarly, the joists in what is now our kitchen were re-used from a much-earlier house and then recycled in ours around 1830 when the kitchen lean-to was rebuilt.

I like to think that Scott and I are following in the footsteps of those Cape May countians before us who wasted nothing and had no idea they were living the "green movement" a few centuries ahead of time.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Money Tree

Our house addition officially started last week, with the construction of a new septic system since the existing one is directly under the addition we plan to build.

Day two into the septic project saw the arrival of two dump trucks at 7:30 a.m. that morning.  Their job:  remove the clay-infused dirt in the septic field then truck in sand to fill the septic pit.  I was here the morning they started and watched anxiously as they navigated down our narrow, stone-paved driveway to the back yard where the septic system was being installed.  Because our house is perilously close--3'--to the driveway, I was worried that the house might get accidently "nudged" by a passing truck.

The first run went fine, but the second run didn't go as well.  One of the drivers, waiting for the other truck to get filled with the septic field dirt, backed down the driveway, got off course, and bent over a 5" diameter red maple tree.  The tree didn't break, thankfully, but the root ball was dislodged and the trunk was scraped.  I saw it happen and then watched the driver realize, with horror, what he'd done.  He pulled away from the tree, but it didn't snap back upright.

I wasn't mad.  Honestly, if this is the worst thing that happens during this construction project, I'll be happy.  More than happy.  The driver felt awful and apologized profusely.  It was his first day back after a layoff (I didn't ask for how long because a lot of folks here have been affected by the economic downturn) and he was worried my anger might cost him his job.

I reassured him that I knew it was a mistake and that all I wanted was for him, or his company (a landscape gardening firm) to fix the tree.   Someone came out a few hours later and righted the tree.  Done deal!

But the driver still felt obligated to "pay" for his mistake.  He offered me money, which I promptly refused.  An hour later, he tried again, saying he wanted to pay for my next cup of coffee.  Again, I reassured him that the damage had been fixed and I wasn't worried about it.  He then announced that since I wouldn't take his money, he was going to tie a dollar bill to the tree and it would become our "money tree."  It would bring us good luck, and money, during the construction project.  I was intrigued, but thought it was all in jest.  By golly if he didn't pull the dump truck under the tree, climbed on top of the cab, tied a dollar bill to a branch, and left, wishing us the best.

That was on Tuesday.  It's Friday and I still haven't seen any unexpected money.  Maybe I should play the lottery, something I don't normally do.  Will the money tree live up to its promise?  Time will tell and I'll let you know.  Old houses are supposed to be money pits, but with our money tree, perhaps we'll buck the trend.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Designing the Addition, part II

Having agreed on a footprint (16' wide by 28' deep), Scott and I set about planning the components of the addition.  Two friends of ours, who also own historic buildings in Cape May County, had used a timber framing company from Lancaster County, PA (Riehl Construction) to design a timber frame addition for their historic houses.   Our ca. 1790 house is built with a timber frame; everything is pegged together, with exposed corner posts in most rooms, and exposed joists overhead in the kitchen.

Riehl Construction has done some phenomenal buildings, from modern houses to barns and everything in between.  The cost was considerably less than hiring someone to frame the building, and the look cannot be beat, with exposed beams overhead and  exposed corner posts.  These exposed framing members are characteristic of most Cape May County houses built before 1830.  We have exposed joists in two of our rooms, and corner posts in several, too, so we like the look and it is appropriate for our house.  We met with them and quickly decided to have them build a heavy timber frame for our addition.  Decisions, decisions.  What kind of wood?  Oak, heart pine, or something else? (we choose oak)  Shouldered corner posts or straight?  (we choose straight) Decoration on the joists? (we chose a 3/8" bead)

We didn't want the addition to look exactly like the main house, just inspired by it.  Three hundred years from now, we want it to be clear that the addition we built was erected in the early 21st century, not at the end of the 18th century.  The original, ca. 1790 house has straight corner posts wrapped in beaded edge boards, so we chose straight ones, not wrapped, for the addition.  The original house has cedar posts and joists so we chose oak (if you read my book, you'll learn that in Dennis Township where we live and in neighboring Upper Township the oak was of inferior quality so locally-grown cedar was used).  The exposed joists in the oldest part of the house have chamfered edges, so we choose beaded edges.

Below is the smallest bedroom in the original part of the ca. 1790 house; just 6' wide, it has two straight corner posts, both wrapped in beaded edge boards.  One of them is seen here behind the bed.

We also wanted to use true divided-light windows, but with energy-efficient Thermopane glass rather than the single glass we have in the original building.  Again, we found a wood window maker in Lancaster County, PA who could make these for us, and the frames as well, at a cost considerably lower than what we priced at Lowe's and Home Depot (and those were full of plastic and vinyl).  He's making them from Spanish cedar which is highly resistant to rot.  The downside is that we'll have to prime and paint them, but the look cannot be beat, so we both agreed the extra work is worth it.

Other details that will make our addition special have to do with being scavengers.  Actually, George (the man we bought our house from) was a scavenger extraordinaire.  He took parts from houses that were being torn down in the mid-1970s to build the 16' x 20' addition (living room with master bedroom above) to our historic house.  He told me where the winder stairs came from, the wood paneling, the joists overhead, the wide cedar and heart pine floors, the rafters, the doors, and so on.  I have it all written down for passing along to the next owner several decades from now.

Also on the property when we bought the house was a former 1-room, ca. 1850 schoolhouse (also moved by George to the lot in the 1970s) that was filled to the rafters with historic building materials, not to mention a lot of junk also, that he had saved for "some day."  We found at least 20 doors (paneled and board and batten), part of a late 18th century corner cupboard, a ca. 1810 jelly cupboard (now restored and used for a book case in my home office), weather vanes, antique floor boards, and a whole, whole lot more. Much of this will be used in the addition. 

But, we've also played scavenger hunt, too.  A friend had rescued three ca. 1800 paneled wood doors from a local house slated for demolition about 10 years ago.  They'd been collecting dust in his barn and when we offered to buy them, he was happy to see them go to a good home.  Scott loved the fact that they had their original hardware and locks.  We've got a place for all three on the first floor.

Below:  one of the three doors that will be recycled in the addition.  In the right light, you can still see the marks of a hand plane used to smooth the panels.

George also came over one day, a short, one-board door tucked securely under his arm.  Truly, one board about 18" wide.  "The door belongs in this house," he declared, as we were patching plaster in the parlor one very hot July day.  I don't recall where  the door came from, but it's a beauty.  It originally went to a closet under a winder stair, and we're going to use it under our stair to the second floor in the addition.

Coming up next:  The Money Tree (true story)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

What Design? Plus Septic System Woes...

Having determined that we needed an addition, it was clear from the start that although we knew what spaces were to be created, we couldn't agree on room and addition sizes.

My feeling is that I don't want to build something small only to regret it later.  From the start, I envisioned a 1 1/2-story addition with 2 bedrooms (one to be used for storage) on the second floor; the first floor would have a generously-sized kitchen, along with a normal-sized bathroom and laundry room.  To get that roomy kitchen, I figured a 16' wide by 30' footprint that gave us a 16' x 15' kitchen was perfect.  Plus, with the stair, we could have a coat closet at one end and a pantry at the other tucked under the risers.

My husband disagreed.  He thought a 1-story addition, with storage under the rafters and a 16' x 22' footprint was perfect.  We'd eliminate the stair, shrink the footprint to just a kitchen, laundry, and full bath. Ever practical, he also thought--rightfully so--that it would cost us considerably less than what I was considering.  After much discussion, tinkering with floor plans, and analysing costs, we decided on a 16' x 28' footprint, 1 1/2-stories tall, with the 2 upstairs rooms I'd wanted.  The kitchen is 2' shorter than I'd hoped for, but I'm a big believer in compromise.

Scott drew most of the various sketches for the building permit application.  Having built custom homes, he knew just what pitch to make the roof, how to frame the walls, floors, and the foundation, what height the stair steps had to be, and so on.  I contributed floor plans drawn on the computer with a decades-old (1996) home architecture program that is simple and reliable.  I also drew the elevations on the computer using another decades-old drawing program that I still use with my professional work.  The plumber, HVAC contractor, and electrician added their plans, too.  We submitted everything last week and found out today (a mere 4 days later) that everything was approved!  We should have the permit by the end of this week.  Cause for celebration!

The good news, though, is always tempered by the bad, and with us it is with the septic system.  I mentioned earlier that the ca. 1975 septic system is exactly, precisely where we want to build the addition.  So, it must be moved, and in order to do that, we had to hire an engineer to draw the plans to be submitted to the county health department.  The bad news started when he came out to dig the test pits, two of them, and found an 8" layer of white clay not far from the bottom of the mandatory 10' deep bed.  Mind you, we live at the Jersey shore and the majority of the dirt they dug through was sandy. Clay is not easily permeated by water (read sewage here), so it must all be removed and replaced with sandy soil.  The cost to do this was a shock (read almost 20K), but if we want to do the addition, it has to be done.  The plans were submitted and we got our septic approval a few weeks ago.  And, we had to have that approval before we could submit the plans for the building permit. 

Lesson learned here:  whatever time you think it will take to get your approvals, double it.  We started the septic process at the end of January and weren't approved until 4 months later.  Some of this had to do with laggardness on behalf of the engineer while the rest was county bureaucracy.  When you're at the mercy of others, you quickly learn that your time frame is not their concern.

They started digging the septic field today and I'm told that tomorrow will be a continuous parade of dump trucks hauling out the "bad" soil and then replacing it with the good.

The layer of white clay is clearly seen near the bottom of the hole.

Up next:  More Details, e.g. energy efficient windows for historic building additions, timber framing, scavenger hunt for historic building materials, and more.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Why an Addition?

The largest part of our house (16' x 30') was built about 1790.  The first floor has a parlor (now my home office) and a kitchen, the latter originally in a 1-story lean-to that was rebuilt about 1840 and raised to match the 1.5-story height of the main block.  The second story has two bedrooms, a hallway, and a bathroom. A 16' x 20' addition built in 1975 added a living room with a master bedroom above.

The house--original + addition--had a total of 4 closets when we bought it.  Two closets on the first story were quickly given over to other is now a much-needed half-bath, the other is used for the cats (litter box plus food).  The second story has two closets also.  One in the bathroom and one in a bedroom, both of which are used as they were intended.  Scott added his 'n hers closets to the master bedroom; L-shaped, they enclose the winder stair from the living room.  With no coat closet, I comandeered a ca. 1920 cedar-lined wardrobe for that purpose and put it in the smallest bedroom.

I'm sure most fellow old-home-owners can relate to the various storage bins (plastic and cardboard) that are hidden under the three beds behind dust ruffles.  I'm glad that antique beds are tall and have lots of space under them!

We do have a very small basement (16' x 10') that gives us a place for the hot water heater, the well pump and water conditioning tanks, and plastic shelving where we can store paint and other items that need to be protected from freezing.

But, it's still not enough.  I have my own business and I need a place for overflow books, copies of books I've written, and files in filing cabinets, also the decades of back issues of magazines I own, Early American Life magazine among them.   And what about the Christmas decorations, family photos, genealogy files, etc.?  We have no attic, so storage is at a real premium.  Thank goodness for a storage unit, but the monthly rental cost adds up over time and it is so inconvenient when you want something immediately.

I also have no laundry facilities...correction...I do, but they're in the dingy, snake- and mouse-infested basement (accessed from the outside only) that also has no dryer vent or plumbing for the washer's gray water.  George left us a 30-year old stackable washer and dryer, never used, and so deteriorated that the rubber gaskets are barely there.  I'm now on a first-name basis with other "regulars" at the local laundromat.  The only good thing you can say about using a laundromat is that you're done with a week's worth of dirty clothes in less than 2 hours.  The downside is that emergency cleaning has to be done by hand and then air dried.

If all that wasn't enough, we also want to stay in this house as long as possible.  We're nearing 60 and thoughts of handicapped-accessible living are a factor in our needs, too.  When we can't climb the stairs anymore, we'd like to convert my office into a bedroom (I'll be retired by then anyway) and be able to live on the first floor.

Last but not least, we love to entertain, but our present kitchen is so small that we have to move the antique kitchen table into my office (pushing back all of the furniture in there against the wall) so the table, with drop leaves open, can seat 8.  Hardly ideal, but it works for now.

With all of these concerns, it was obvious that an addition was the solution.

NEXT:  It's all in the design:  what size (we didn't agree); what lay-out and floor plan (we agreed), plus septic system woes.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Bit of Background: How This Historic House Became Ours

I'm an architectural historian so I work with historic buildings every day.  I'm blessed to absolutely love what I do for a living.  I first saw this house--the one my husband and I now live in-- about 10 years ago, when I was doing a survey of the earliest buildings in Cape May County.  I'm not talking about the Victorians in Cape May City; every one knows about them.  I'm talking about the houses that date to the late 1600s and early 1700s, built when the county was first settled by New Englanders; no one knew about them until I published my book about them (but that's another story). 

The Ludlam House was vacant, and I learned that the man who owned it, George, lived in the much bigger ca. 1806 historic house next door.  I pulled into the driveway, unannounced, and knocked on his door one day.  After explaining my professional interest in his two historic houses, he welcomed me in and we became friends, our shared love for old buildings giving us an instant rapport.  He hired me to put the "little house" on the National Register of Historic Places, my study ended, I published my book (yes, this house is in it) and I moved on to other projects.  But, I couldn't get the little gem, as I came to call it, out of my mind.   

It was built about 1790 and is standing at its third known location. George, an antiques dealer, moved it here in the 1970s, restored the exterior, installed new plumbing and wiring, insulated it, and built a somewhat shorter addition using recycled parts of historic buildings about to be demolished.  Just as he was ready to restore the interior his wife passed away unexpectedly.  A few years went by and he eventually remarried, but his new wife fell in love with the much, much larger historic house next door.  They bought that one and used this one as a warehouse for his antiques.  It was always his dream to someday restore the interior, but days, months, years passed until my husband, Scott, and I approached him in 2007 with an interest to buy it and restore it.   My youngest had just left for college and we were ready to take on a new challenge. George was nearing 90 and was finally accepting that he probably wouldn't ever finish the house's interior, so on a handshake (literally) we struck a deal and the house was ours.

It took us almost two years to restore the building.  Decades of neglect mandated a new cedar roof and a total repainting of the exterior trim.  Shutters George had collected, but never used, were restored, painted, and hung on appropriate hardware.  Windows were reglazed and repainted.  Window sills had large areas of rot which were filled with epoxy and repainted also.

I'm a lucky woman.  My husband, Scott, was a custom house builder (he always liked the look of historic buildings but had never restored one before) who turned to bridge building in the early 1980s when the housing market took a nose dive.  I only knew him as a bridge builder, so his talents as a restorer of old houses were a question mark to me until we bought this house.  Turns out he's a meticulous carpenter with talent galore for fixing anything.  Sure, we butted heads a few times, particularly when he wanted to use new, inappropriate ways to do something (like use spray-on insulation under the crawl space) but once he understood that whatever we did had to be reversible, we proved to be the perfect restoration team.

The interior had not been touched since the 1930s.  Honest.  The house hadn't been lived in since then so we found a well-preserved (but much painted) interior that retained all of its ca. 1790 details--fireplace mantel, handrailings, board and batten doors, wood wainscott, random-width floor boards that had never been varnished, plaster walls in bad shape, and all original trim--just waiting to be restored.  Using soy-based stripper, gallons of paint and varnish, countless hours of elbow grease, a dozen boxes of latex gloves, and several buckets of plaster repair material, we finished restoring the interior just as our other house sold.  What timing!  (And in the worst real estate market in decades). The house was meant to be ours.  We moved in and have been here almost two years now. 

Last year, we received an award from the New Jersey State Historic Preservation Office for the high quality of our restoration.  George came to the ceremony, oxygen tank and all, and was honored for his part, too, in having the vision to save it.  He died a few months ago, a dear neighbor and friend whose historic house we cherish.  We love it here, but.......

Next--why an addition?  (Think no storage, two years of going to the laundromat are two years too many, tiny kitchen, etc.)