Sunday, September 30, 2012

Day Eight: Bathroom Renovation Project 15 - layers equal time

We took a day off yesterday, so this seems like a good time to talk about something I've put off: paint layers.

Being in this house very long starts to compel one to think about the past, its past, its past lives. And all the lives of people who lived here before.

And inevitably, for someone who is restoration minded, the attempt to keep the house in good repair and livable condition means that as one works on the house, one is constantly trying to understand the history and sequence of previous work on the house.

One of the few places where layers are preserved in sequence is the paint. Trim can be particularly helpful, because it seems that people resist painting trim. Even when they paint or paper walls numerous times, the trim seems to be painted very infrequently. So despite the fact that the house is over 170 years old, it has very few layers of paint on the trim.

Now I need to insert a parenthetical here, because for a number of decades paint had high lead content. Lead is deleterious to health, in particularly insidious and invisible ways. It can cause neurological issues, immune issues, and other health problems. So it is crucial to protect the environment and the rest of the house by containing the area with plastic sheeting whenever work is done on lead paint, and to wear a face-fitting mask with a filter approved for work with lead paint.

That said, I prefer to chip paint carefully with a hammer and chisel or with a very sharp, small scraper. Besides being the easiest way to remove the paint, studies show that this produces the least dust. The other advantage of this method, is that it makes it easy to identify the sequence of paint layers.

The baseboard in the bathroom is original to the house, and it was fairly easy to identify at least five layers on it, three of them various versions of an off-white.

This photo shows the three most obvious off-white layers. At the bottom, a greyish-white very thin almost milk-paint layer. That is the bottom layer of paint, so thin and bonded to the wood, it is virtually impossible to chip off. Next a more gold-colored off-white. And on top, the current layer, a cream color:

Conveniently for this exercise, in between the off-white layers are two layers of colored paint. A beautiful mint green, which is actually the next to the oldest layer of paint, here seen in reverse on the back-side of a couple of chips:

The second most recent layer is an extraordinarily beautiful turquoise, seen here in the center of the piece of trim being worked on.

And here, on the window in the half-bath, at least two of the same top layers, cream and turquoise, which though you can't see here, are also on the medicine cabinet and door trim:

So, from this exercise, we know that the half-bath has been in the house many years, through at least those two layers of paint, and that the tub we just removed was installed after at least three layers of paint, the greyish-white, mint green and an off-white of indeterminate color, had been painted onto the baseboard. 

Here is a piece of the baseboard that was behind the tub, and underneath it a piece that was not hidden by the tub. Both have the same mint green paint, but the top piece from behind the tub is clearly lacking the more recent turquoise and cream layers.

 From this evidence, I would argue that the half-bath was installed at the exact same time as the tub we just removed--even though the fixtures in the half-bath are newer, from the 1970's. The paint is not.

The upshot of all this? I've decided not to re-use the baseboard trim in the upstairs bath we're currently renovating. Too much of it has been lost over the years, and we would have to piece it with new, which would be distracting. Also, my little heart can't bear to paint over these beautiful layers of old paint and the incredibly beautiful grain of the old-growth pine, which revealed itself after more chipping and some wet sanding:

So, we bought new trim for the upstairs bath that has virtually the same profile. And, because the half-bath has none of the original baseboard in it, I have saved the old trim to put into the half-bath when we redo that someday. It will match the door, window and cute corner medicine cabinet. What I want to do is encase it in a clear coat, so that these layers will be there for the next owners to see, a visible reminder of all those other hands that have painted this house.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Day Seven: Bathroom Renovation Project 14 - Let there be light

Today needs no explanation.

Day Six: Bathroom Renovation Project 13 - Saving the Plaster Walls

Day Six. Dan is up before me for once. And has put a hole in the ceiling for the fan. I hear him mutter something like "Rats!" under his breath. "What?" I ask. "Oh, there's just a beam right over the hole," he says, in that delusively nonchalant way. I look up and sure enough, there's a hole in the plaster and a big ole totally solid beam filling up the whole hole.

Right about then, the plasterer arrived. He's a nice guy. "Take your time, Danny," he says. He's Irish as in from Ireland and seems to like my brother's name--probably the only person in the whole, wide world other than mom who can still call Dan Danny. It has a nice ring when he says it, a lilt and a hollow tin can feeling sound. He's got a cup of coffee and he goes back out to his van for his next load of stuff.

Dan gets up on a stool, measuring furiously.

Down off the stool and up in the attic, measuring beams. Back up on the stool, measuring twice, this time. I hear him mutter something to the effect that it better be right this time.

I decamp up the ladder, to poke my head in the attic. Here is the bay where the other hole was, up against the beam. It's a big beam alright:

I look right, to the area where we'd sketched out our Plan B spot last night before collapsing into bed. Looks promising, I think.

A moment later, payday. We're in business.

Soon, the plasterer is hard at work and works all day. So here, without further ado, the shots of the finished work. 

What a difference a day makes. Dan is happy. So am I. So is Capel.

Finally, the time seems right to bring up a square of the tile. 

It suits. Relief. What a day.

Day Five: Bathroom Renovation Project 12 - Forced march to plasterer

We've scheduled the plasterer. He can only come on Thursday. Today is Wednesday. This is a crazy day. When I get home from work, like 7 or 8 in the evening, it's only just beginning, and I can see Dan is exhausted from all the late nights, so I pitch in.

A lot of what happened during the day is relatively invisible. The hole for the new medicine cabinet has been cut and the old hole drywalled in. The electrical in the floor and wall is in, and the boxes for the sconces and outlets are in. Also, Dan very ingeniously ran 2x6's up the wall from the floor to the bottom of the medicine cabinet hole (you can just see the bottoms in this photo, on either side of the sink drain.) That will provide the anchor for the console sink.

Solves a huge problem, because we thought we'd have to cut a hole in the wall from 32" down, to attach a 2x12 support to the studs to anchor the sink.

Hey, I think, he's really getting into it! He's figuring out how to save the plaster walls.

I really wanted to save the plaster walls. I grew up in a house with plaster. Thank you mom and dad.

There's really nothing like the solidity of plaster. It holds the heat in the winter and the cool in the summer. It damps sound from the outside, and prevents drafts. And it has such an interesting texture. To me, it makes a home home.

We interviewed five contractors. The ones that got pitched immediately were the ones who had no interest or ability to preserve the plaster. And ultimately, we probably wound up with Dan because, even to the very best contractors who routinely work in older homes, saving the plaster just seems like an unnecessary headache. "Demo bathroom" the first estimate started with. No, I thought. Not demo. More like surgically remove as little as possible. People just don't get it.

So anyway. It does make for long days, working around the plaster. And now we're up against it. It's eight on Wednesday evening. The plasterer comes at seven on Thursday morning, and everything from shoulder height up has to be in place, more or less.

Nine p.m., there we were, Dan boxing in the stacks in the SE and SW corners.

And we haven't even figured out the ceiling. There's a fan. A ceiling light. Three supports for the curtain ring. And an incredibly small amount of flat ceiling in the room to fit it all in. And what about the beams and joists up there?

Back I go to the graph paper. Then I tape together the curtain ring and Capel gets pressed into service to hold it up, while I put little blue tape pieces where the supports should go.

Then its up on the ladder in the hall, head and shoulders in the attic crawlspace, trying to figure out if the beams and joists in the ceiling will let us put the ceiling fan where we want it.

Everyone else is ready for bed. Me, I'm excited. This is the real thing. When what's on paper gets translated into reality.

"I'll cut the holes in the morning," Dan says. "Wake me up at 5:30."

Day Four: Bathroom Renovation Project 11 - water lines

A lot of progress on Tuesday, though I wasn't around most of the day. Here we see the continued process of leveling the floor. Here, a 2x4 cut and nailed to the top of a joist at the level of the new floor:

And all the water lines put in. So elegant, compared to the rat's nest that we took out.

And last, the medicine cabinet came out, and the position of the new one drawn in on the wall just left of it.

A full day's work.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Day Three: Bathroom Renovation Project 10 - eensy teensy spider

So, first order of business Day Three. Stabilize the beam. We've decided to splice plate it, which you can see below. I did some reading in the middle of the night when I couldn't sleep. I've got a book, Renovating Old Houses. It's pretty good. It suggests that if a beam has an old split that isn't getting worse, best to leave it. If it's getting worse, it should be stabilized. Depending, it could be drawn together, but that's not always better, because the wood has a tendency to get used to its shape. Splice plates, it suggests -- which also happened to be Dan's first suggestion. So, after we all sleep on it, and then read the book and look at everything again, we agree on splice plates.

Also, because the the entire house has sagged a bit to the middle, the joists have been pulled out from the beam and are within a quarter to a half inch of falling out entirely, so we also reinforce the joists where they meet the beams in this area. 

I say we. I was at work.

So I'm at work Monday morning, and I get a call. Dan is so diplomatic. He doesn't say, "We have a problem." Has probably learned over the last decade never to start that way with a client. Instead, he tells me this and that, and we're having a pleasant conversation when it turns out that he's figured out why the wax ring on the toilet kept breaking and leaking. Oh, cool, I think. Another explanation for a vexing problem.

Turns out that while the whole house has sagged in the middle, the cast iron stack, which is rooted in the concrete floor of the basement, has not. And so now, the stack is higher relative to the floor than it used to be. And why is that a problem?  Again, not that Dan ever uses the word problem. Well, because it means that we can't get enough of an angle for the drain, especially since we're moving the toilet and tub a little further away from the stack.

I see it in my mind's eye. A tub that won't drain. Not my idea of a quality job.

So, Dan concludes, he's going to have to cut into the cast iron stack and install a Y lower down. I hear the uncertainty in his voice. Suddenly something he said the night before rings a bell. He's worried that the weight of the cast iron stack above the cut will be too heavy for the PVC Y.

"So, why don't you cut the stack and just pull everything out above the cut?" I ask. 

"Really?" He says, the relief in his voice palpable. Probably, though again he diplomatically doesn't say so, he never thought that conversation would be so easy. I've pushed back pretty hard on every attempt to exchange existing construction for something new or especially anything PLASTIC in this project.

"Yeah," I say. This one seems like an obvious decision to me, though I don't know why. Just an instinct. I certainly don't want the drain to give way one year after the floor is closed up and tiled over.

He sounded so relieved.

It was only later when I was in the middle of another meeting that I thought to worry about him up there on the roof trying to pull the damn thing out by himself ... but smart thing, he cut it in several places and only threw a third of it off the roof. "Made a nice dent in the yard," he comments, nonchalantly, that night.

So nonchalantly that I never thought to go investigate. Yikes! I think when I'm making my toast two days later and look out the kitchen window.


And double Yikes!!

But here is the new Y, in the coat closet access panel directly under the bath:

And the rest of the drains, also showing how the problem joist has now been sistered and the ugly hole that cut nearly through it has been reinforced. The sister is higher than the joist, at the level of the new floor.

And why is it a "sister"?  I wonder, writing this. Sisters and brothers. Close, you know. It is a kind of reinforcement for the self. A reinforcement and a doubling that makes us stronger. Not unlike a good marriage. Tho different.

And a "template" of the tub, for placement. This isn't the footprint, it's the diameter of the top of the tub.

And the night before, he later showed me, while I'd been up on the first floor reading about split beams, he'd been up half the night reading the specs and temporarily putting together the freestanding plumbing for the tub. 

 It looks so cool. We're starting to see the thing come to life.

Day Two: Bathroom Renovation Project 9 - Can we date this thing?

In the demo, we found newspapers in two places. Exciting -- at first. Is there a date? Will it date some of the work on the house, maybe even the original construction, we wonder? So, yes, and no.

Here is an interesting use of newspaper wadded up to plug a knothole in the baseboard. Very curious.  Not totally surprising use of newspaper. I'll bet the mouse was disappointed.

I carefully unwadded it and alas while there is a date in one of the bits--it's 1946. So this was a late mend. Still cool.

Pieces of a newspaper found under the floor. Again, tho old, not contemporary to the original construction. A close-up look shows several dates in an obituary, the latest of which is 1910.