All posts tagged: Demolition

BREAKING: My Kitchen has a Fireplace!


I decided to just tear the band-aid off and fully demo my kitchen. I’m not positive that this was the smartest idea but given that the pantry was already torn out, two of four walls were down to the studs, the ceiling was gone, and the floor was some mix of original tongue-and-groove subfloor in some places, a first layer of plywood subfloor in other places, and a second layer of plywood subfloor with my black VCT flooring in other places, it felt stupid to be holding onto what was left! Which was really just a wall with some cabinets and a kitchen sink.

So now I really don’t have a kitchen, but whatever! At least now I can easily-ish and efficiently-ish level out the subfloor and put in a new floor, run my new plumbing, electric, and gas (YES, GAS! SEE YA, 40 year old electric stove!), insulate, and start putting things back together. I don’t honestly know how far I can stretch my dollars so a real finished kitchen with fancy things like permanent countertops might still be a ways away, but I’m hopeful that I can at least at least get the foundation in place and achieve something usable in the near-ish future. I’m dealing with a lot of -ish right now because I don’t totally know how this is all going to play out. At least I have plenty of time to plan? Which sounds absurd since I’ve been mentally planning this kitchen renovation for over three years. It still changes on a nearly daily basis.


Now here’s a throwback! This is my kitchen after living in my house for about 2 days. Note the brick-patterned vinyl wallpaper! That always struck me as funny since the entirety of that wallpapered part is, in fact, a plastered-over brick chimney. When I bought the house, this chimney was being used to very unsafely vent a hot water heater, but now the chimney doesn’t do anything.

One thing I’ve known and continue to know for sure is that the layout of this space is completely changing. The stove will no longer sit on this wall where there’s very little room for any prep space adjacent to it. The sink is moving, all the cabinets are moving, even the exterior door is moving! I’ll share full plans ASAP when I can pull a sketchup together.


Anyway, first order of business was tearing off the vinyl wallpaper and taking out the drop ceiling. Behind it was this color-blocked plaster which I actually kind of loved the look of, leaving aside how nasty it was.


After lots of paint and stuff, things started to look more like this! See that round hole in the chimney up toward the ceiling? That’s a vent hole for a wood stove, which is how I always assumed this room was originally heated. This house was built before radiators, so the original heat sources would have been in fireplaces and wood stoves.

This is how I was planning to leave things until a bigger kitchen renovation down the road when I could expose the brick, but then I got subway-tile-happy. I thought I’d be working with this kitchen longer than I did (I was expecting it to be about 5-10 years, but the whole side-of-house-restoration and its effect on the kitchen have bumped this priority up significantly!), so at the time doing the extra subway tile seemed like a nice way to enhance this space in the short term. It was. I liked it. No regrets.


I’m sorry to say I don’t have a good picture of it, but here’s what’s happening directly below, in the basement. See how there’s a whole fireplace (which is actually quite beautiful) down here? I thought this indicated that this room in the basement was probably the original kitchen—which could still be true, as there are also remnants of an early plumbing system). Fireplace in the basement, wood or coal stove in the kitchen, and possibly another one in the room above it was what I always imagined.


All of this is to say that I felt pretty certain that the only thing behind my subway tile and the plaster would be a solid brick wall, which I always planned to expose during the eventual kitchen renovation. I had this idea that maybe I’d try to preserve my subway tile and expose just the brick above it (and probably paint it), and I also had this idea that I’d place a longer, lower radiator across the width of the chimney, which I hoped would look great and heat the room better.


Trying to preserve the subway tile was kind of not worth it because the chimney had been furred out on one side so that the kitchen sink would fit snugly in that space, and it definitely wasn’t the best tiling job in the world to begin with, and I did want to see what the whole chimney looked like before committing to keeping half of it tiled, and…who cares, tear it all down.


This is what my 27th birthday looked like last week! My life is so cute.


But look, brick! The plaster came off the brick REALLY very easily using just a hammer and a pry bar. The key is to take your time because old bricks will break if you get impatient and start hammering away too hard. The hardest part is just hauling the debris out of the house, because plaster is super heavy stuff! I’ve brought about 2,500 pounds of plaster to the dump just in the past two weeks.


So I’m chipping away at plaster and tile and all of a sudden I see THIS! WHATTTTTTT. That’s pretty unmistakably the curved top of an actual firebox!! I was amazed. I was stunned. I’d long accepted that all I was uncovering was an old and probably pretty brick wall with a hole in it for a wood stove. I literally had to take a break to get my breathing under control.


Before long…OH HELLO! Obviously the whole thing was bricked over at some point, I guess when they switched to the wood stove set-up, abandoned the fireplace, and plastered the chimney? I don’t really know a ton about this so I have some research to do.


You can see this in the third photo of this post, but there was this funny cut-out in the plaster toward the floor, lined with metal and with this flimsy metal cover. I took the cover off exactly once when I was  painting this wall, saw a dark pit of despair with a bunch of dirt and leaves and stuff, and put the cover back on and tiled around it because I didn’t know what else to do! I figure it’s basically a clean-out for anything that might come down though the chimney or soot from the wood stove.


Now that I could see that it was part of a whole firebox, I removed the metal lining and started tearing out brick!


Inside was pretty nasty! The old soot and stuff was packed in a few feet high, along with some broken glass (??), a bunch of leaves, brick fragments…nothing fun, just yucky.


But now! LOOK! LOOK! LOOOOOOOK! In case you couldn’t tell, I’m VERY excited about this discovery. One of my big goals with the kitchen is to make it look and feel more in keeping with the original details found in most of the rest of the house, so being able to uncover this fabulous existing feature is SUPER motivating.

As to what I’ll actually do with it, I don’t know yet! I’ll definitely be adding a hearth stone in front of it (not sure what…I guess conceivably it could either be a slab of something, continuation of the brick, or tile?). The firebox is only a foot deep, so in terms of making it at all functional, I think gas logs might be the way to go here. I’ll call a chimney person to see what can/should be done in terms of a cap at the top of the chimney, probably a new liner, I guess some kind of damper to keep the heat from all escaping out the flue…like I said, research time! I’m just still so shocked and excited that it’s even there that my mind can’t process all this activity at once.

My kitchen is going to be the best kitchen, folks. CAN. NOT. WAIT.

The Solarium is Gone!



So this is exciting: I think I’m done tearing additions off this house! Forever! Tearing off entire structures like the mudroom last year and the second floor bay window this year is, as you might imagine, kind of a big deal. The payoff of restoring at least a close resemblance of the original construction is super exciting, even when it technically means sacrificing a little square footage, but the process can be a little…intense. Which is to say, I’m glad I don’t have to do this kind of thing anymore. We already demo’d the interior of the one-time solarium down to the studs, so it was time to actually get this non-original thing off my house once and for all!


This started with the roof, which was a total mess. I intentionally didn’t have this roof redone when the rest of the roof was replaced almost 3 years ago because I was pretty sure I’d be taking this addition down soon enough. “Soon enough” ended up being a little longer than I thought it would be, so for three years this thing has been hanging off the side of my house, leaking every time it rained (despite efforts here and there to patch certain areas) and looking super nasty.

While the tear-off was going on, a neighbor strolled over and told me that the previous owner would go out onto this roof every single year and smear on a new layer of tar, so this is literally FORTY YEARS of tar-build up that we had to remove! In some areas it was about 3″ thick and EXTREMELY heavy, even when broken into small pieces. Poor house. I gotcha.


The rusty stuff you’re seeing underneath was what was left of the original metal roofing. It’s so corroded that it basically fell apart like an old newspaper.

Underneath that you can see what’s left of the roof sheathing, some of the framing, and the original box gutters. If you need a toothpick or something to jump-start your compost pile, I guess this might be good? But as a roof it was not so good.

On top of it all, you can see Edwin striking one of his sexy poses.


In credit to all the rot, the roof came down fairly quickly and easily. Look! Sky! Cool.


If you can decipher a little of what’s going on with the framing here, you can tell that it’s not so good. The window framing is far from sound, and the entire roof structure was being held up by some short lengths of very rotted 2×4 studs, resting on a horizontal 2×4  stud, and the roof rafters were being supported by…


THIS. Part of the reason I really wanted to get this done NOW was because I feared that the amount of weight in tar, combined with a heavy snow-load might result in this thing literally collapsing. Which would turn its demolishing from an exciting decision I made during a semi-convenient time of year into a huge nightmare.

This is also part of why just tearing this non-original component off the house entirely made a lot more sense than trying to restore it. Bad roof, bad foundation, bad walls, no original windows left…if it had even been possible to salvage, it would have demanded a ton of serious structural work and money and that just never seemed remotely worth it.


We removed almost the entire cornice in one enormous piece which I dragged into the backyard. We’ll harvest various trim pieces and corbels from it in order to build the cornice on the new formerly-missing third side of that first floor bay window! Because the solarium was added onto the bay window, the cornice on the other side and front of the bay remained totally intact! Yay! We do still have to do some roof framing and put a new roof on the bay window, so don’t be fooled! Lots of work ahead.

We took down the walls section by section, using some quick temporary bracing to keep it all from just collapsing onto the sidewalk or back onto the house.


My dining room is looking pretty torn apart obviously, but even with just the solarium’s roof removed, the newfound amount of LIGHT in this space—which has always been fairly dark—was thrilling. I’m still shocked every time I walk in there by how bright it is now that the window faces the outdoors instead of into the super yucky solarium. It’s a really dramatic change in real life. It’s hard to get the same sense in the kitchen because it basically no longer has walls or a ceiling so the light gets swallowed up, but I’m sure it’ll be one VERY bright space when it’s put back together.


The entire demo from start to finish only took about 4 or 5 hours, and we even had the truck loaded and off to the dump before they closed at 3 PM. Teamwork!


So…EEK! This is the first time I was actually able to get a good sense of how the house would look with the solarium torn off. The new kitchen windows were making me nervous without being able to really see them in relation to the rest of the house and the dormer window above them.

I’m getting used to them. They’re 4.5 feet tall, and they look so little! I think the real problem is that I just don’t like that dormer window (it just feels so out of scale with that back part of the house, and the shed roof and the fact that it’s flush with the exterior wall and interrupts the cornice is kinda just all wrong). I wish the new kitchen windows were closer in size to the rest of the first floor windows on the front section of the house, but it felt like the most natural solution was to match the header height of the other windows (so the tops would all align) and shorten them because this is, after all, a kitchen and I need to be practical and be able to fit a countertop under the bottom of the windows. Ya dig? I think it would be nice to put window boxes below those two kitchen windows, too…both to visually elongate them and because, ya know, herbs and stuff!

Honestly, once everything is put back together and painted and done, I’m sure I won’t even be thinking about this anymore. It’s FINE. The front part of the house is the real showpiece here, anyway, and that’s going to look goooooood.


LOL LOL here is a half-hearted attempt to Photoshop the previous picture into a better idea of where things are headed, so we can all stay motivated. You don’t have to pretend that it’s very effective or convincing but WHATEVER, at least you can see where the windows go and stuff. The real thing will be significantly better looking, I promise.

It’s starting to get cold, which is freaking me out. Pls pray.


So, remember the ongoing saga regarding that weird room on the back of my house that I wanted to disappear? For SOME REASON (delusion, lack of forethought, unwarranted optimism…same shit, different post) making an entire addition on the back of a house just go away is more work than I gave it credit for, particularly when no bulldozers are involved. Imagine that.

So last time we talked about how I’d already gut the interior and removed the vinyl siding from the exterior and was gearing up for the full demolition. I could have probably saved quite a bit of work and time by renting a dumpster and disregarding the fact that there were any salvageable materials here, but that would be so…sensible and unlike me. #liveauthentic



Demo actually kicked off with opening an even bigger can of worms and removing the vinyl siding from the entire back wall of the house. The interior space of the mudroom (soon to be exterior space!) didn’t have vinyl, so this seemed like a logical step. It’s not a HUGE wall, so this’ll also be a good testing ground for restoring the clapboard and removing more and more of the vinyl down the line.

This may be interesting to only me, but I swear it’s slightly important. See how in the before picture, the vinyl goes all the way up to the base of the cornice, but underneath it is actually a pretty substantial flat board that runs perpendicular-ish to the clapboard? What do we call that? I don’t think it qualifies as a fascia, but anyway…it’s something and it’s created endless hemming and hawing over what to do with the back of the house. My guess is that this second floor space was built as an unfinished attic and there weren’t doors or windows up here at all. Later on, the space was finished and that little casement window and that door were cut in and installed. To me they look funny and wrong with the corners cutting into the…fascia?…board like that, right? Like they shouldn’t be there. I’m not as anal about the back of the house as I am about the two street-facing sides, but I do want it to look nice and not weird. Now I’m wondering if the best option is to replace the door and window with two pretty narrow and slightly lower matching windows that won’t interfere with the original trim and cornice like what’s happening now. I don’t even know. Obviously it would be ideal to decide, order the windows, install them, and THEN go through the hassle of fixing up the clapboard, but given that it’s already September and I can’t make up my mind, that probably won’t happen.


Anyway! Mudroom demo! That’s what we’re talking about here! Demolishing this room started with removing the roof. It was an old metal roof covered in layers of tar, but still leaked in spite of that. All in all, it came off pretty easily (and the scrapyard still took it, even with the tar!). We had to remove a piece of clapboard on the house because the roofing ran up under it, so that’s something I really have to fix stat.

Removing the roofing revealed that the beadboard ceiling below it was actually in much better shape than I expected! This roof was VERY leaky so I expected a ton of rot and water damage but it was in really good condition. YAY!


Starting at the front of the space, a helper and I removed the boards one by one from the original 2×4 roof framing. It took a little patience to get the boards up intact, but I think we had them all up, de-nailed, and stacked nicely within about an hour.


Boom! Hellllo, first floor bathroom ceiling! The first floor bathroom used to be a very small porch, but that beadboard wasn’t really salvageable during demo so I’m glad this was. Dimensionally I think it’s the same (or close to it) but the boards themselves are a bit thicker. I like the idea of putting a wide-plank beadboard ceiling back in there as a nod to what the space was originally.


Removing the clapboard took quite a bit longer. I might have gone a little overboard, but wood clapboard like this is quite different than what’s readily available nowadays, so I just decided to hold onto EVERYTHING that wasn’t rotted in the hopes that my stockpile will save me if/when I have to patch in missing or rotted boards on other areas of the exterior down the line. They’re all piled neatly in my basement, like you might find in the home of someone who has truly lost all grip on reality.

Sometimes they whisper to me.


So, uh…this looks insane. I don’t know. Exciting-insane but also just insane-insane. Just a little paint, right?


For reference, here’s that same-ish angle from when I first bought the house. I know, it’s just like one of those Spot the Difference! games where you really have to hunt around.

(it’s the plants.)


So, that’s pretty much what the back of my house looks like now. Peeling paint and missing clapboard and utter shambles and complete craziness. I know, but you have GOT to get your jealousy under control. I can feel it from here and it’s making me uncomfortable.


I left the floorboards and framing underneath in place for the time being so that the back door doesn’t open out onto a few-foot drop, but that’s going to go soon, too. Mekko doesn’t understand the difference between this and a back porch, so she thinks we’re living in major luxury. Little does she realize this will soon also disappear and everything will be awful again. Living with me is way fun.

You may or may not be curious what the current plans are for the covered back porch that was supposed to be happening this summer, and the answer is no way, no how. The backyard ate up more money than I realized it would and I have less money than I thought I would so that project is getting shelved hopefully for next spring/summer, which I think is actually a good thing. I don’t have to TOTALLY freak out about the back of the house—patch in some clapboard, strip/scrape, prime, paint, ya know—but I have a second now to reevaluate what I want back here and hammer out the details and all that before embarking on a semi-major construction project. I like most of the original plan, but I’m already thinking I’ll probably nix the second floor balcony concept and scale down the first floor part a little to bring it into better proportion with the house—like big enough for an outdoor dining table and a couple chairs, that kind of thing.


Oh! One of the majorly super exciting things about this whole mudroom disappearing act? The amount of LIGHT it brought into the kitchen! This kind of stuff is hard to convey in pictures (you can go look at the original kitchen reveal here), but it makes a huge, huge difference in real life. The eventual plan is to someday probably enlarge the window that’s currently over the sink as well as add two additional windows in the kitchen, but until then, seeing the light stream in from the door that goes to the used-to-be-mudroom is so nice. When you’ve spent two years seeing a dark brown abyss through that door and having a kitchen without a lot of natural light, this is awesome.

Framing the Cottage: Part 1!

I realize that this is maybe not the most exciting post to kick off 2015, but hey, I don’t make the rules!

Just kidding. I MAKE ALL THE RULES. On this blog anyway. Live it, love it.

Anyway, happy new year, folks! I feel like I’ve been hearing this from almost everyone I know, but 2014 sort of felt like a jumbled confusing mess of craziness and turmoil and general lunacy and I’m happy to see it go. 2015 is going to be better. I don’t know exactly how and I don’t know exactly why but I feel it in my bones and I feel it in my loins.

Between all the holidays and travel and stuff that comes with the end of the year, I stepped away from the cottage renovation for a few weeks to work on getting the library/living room to a done-ish state in my own house. I should have a working camera by the end of the week (long story), so I’ll take a bunch of pictures then! Taking that amount of time off from the cottage wasn’t really how I intended things to go, but getting a little more of our own house in order has made such a big difference. Worth. It.

When I bought the cottage, I figured I could reasonably slow my roll on our own renovation while I worked on that one, but what really happened was that I didn’t do anything in my own house while I was working non-stop on the cottage. And as much as I like renovating, coming home at the end of the day from one construction site and walking into another turns out to be something less than fun and relaxing, so minimizing that feeling a bit has already made me feel exponentially better about things. It also gave me some time to think and plan and fine-tune how I want the cottage to pan out, which is also fairly motivating. I’m ready to jump back in!


SO, let’s get back up to speed, shall we? The last major thing that really went down with the cottage renovation was framing—turning the SketchUp models (here and here) I’d been playing with for a couple months prior from virtual reality to reality-reality. Originally, I thought that the framing would be a pretty minimal task: shift and widen a doorway here, remove a non-structural wall there, add a half-bath…nothing too crazy. But as demo progressed, it became increasingly clear that everything was more involved than I anticipated. I’m sure this shocks exactly nobody reading, so I’m not sure why this sort of thing is perpetually so shocking to me. I learn slow I guess.

Because the cottage is essentially the product of an original (I’m guessing circa 1850s) structure and three later (I’d wager early 20th century) additions, things had gotten funky with the structure over time. Exterior walls became interior, but the new openings were never properly supported by framing. The wall that didn’t look like it was load-bearing in the early inspections definitely was. There were places where it sort of seemed like the house probably should have collapsed, or at the very least shown some significant sagging/settling, and I’m still sort of impressed that neither of these things ever really came to pass. Point is, it was a big job requiring more experience and know-how than I could reasonably claim to have, so again I brought in my main man Edwin (and his cousin, Edgar!) to take the lead.

When I asked Edwin what materials he thought we’d need to get started, he thought for a second. “100 2x4s and 40 2x6s…to start.” I thought he was kidding. He was not kidding. It seemed like an insane amount of lumber at the time, but (spoiler) it didn’t end up being nearly enough! I thought I more or less grasped how this framing party was about to go down, but I understood…nothing.


Not that this is all that relevant, but the first day of framing will pretty much forever go down as the craziest day of the cottage renovation. Edwin was ready to start the job before demo was entirely complete, so I met Edwin at Lowe’s when they opened to buy the lumber, then came back to the cottage, unloaded everything, and delegated demo-duty tasks to six other people while Edwin and Edgar got to work…it was just chaos EVERYWHERE. Lesson learned: 8 people is too many for me to manage at once.

Everyone cleared out by mid-afternoon, and Edwin, Edgar, and I got to work on the kitchen floor. I know that for most people, the whole point of hiring contractors is to do work that you aren’t capable of, don’t want to do, or don’t have time for, so it makes sense to stay out of the contractor’s way while they do their thing. I take the opposite approach, though: I watch, I ask tons of questions, I assist wherever I can, I ask to use the tools…I’m sure it’s hugely annoying, but it’s such a good way to learn! I feel like I can absolutely take on some of the smaller framing projects in my own house now.


Back to business: the kitchen floor had some serious water damage and rot issues happening in the back corner—probably due to a combination of plumbing issues (the old sink was in this region) and that window sitting wide open while the house was vacant. I’d prepped by taking up all of the wood flooring (it was either fir or yellow pine) and about half of the subfloor to expose the joists. I was planning to salvage and reuse the wood flooring that wasn’t rotted, but sadly the salvageable boards got thrown away that day by accident. BUMMER. I had too many cooks in the kitchen! The boards weren’t in very good shape and were coated in old linoleum adhesive (which, yes, could have contained asbestos…), so it’s not a HUGE loss, but I still get grumbly thinking about it. Everything was just so nuts that I didn’t even notice until the next day!


Edwin and Edgar used a reciprocating saw to cut the existing joists roughly in half (they were structurally fine on the other side of the room), removed the rotted pieces, and placed an LVL beam perpendicular to the original joists. “LVL” stands for Laminated Veneer Lumber, meaning that the beam is made up of many thin layers of wood sandwiched together with super-strong adhesives. They’re much stronger, straighter, and more uniform than regular framing lumber (which is typically a soft wood like pine, fir, or spruce), and less inclined to bow or shift over time. Cool! Once the LVL was in place, Edwin nailed through the back of it into the ends of the joists, and later went back in and added joist hangers for extra stability and maximum support.


After the LVL was in place, a new 2×8 was installed against the inside of the sill plate, and the new joists were run between the LVL and the new 2×8. That kitchen floor is going to be SOLID. I decided to just go ahead and rip up the rest of the original subfloor, figuring it would make plumbing/heat easier to install and would just be easier to put down a new uniform plywood subfloor rather than patch in around the original tongue-in-groove one and end up with any inconsistencies in depth and whatnot.

At some point in here, Edwin and Edgar also completely rebuilt the interior kitchen wall—the one that’s shared with the dining room. It’s a load-bearing wall that had NO support on one side where the doorway was and inadequate support on the other side where the pass-through was. What a mess! Now it’s strong and solid, though!


Before the day was out, we worked on placing the other LVL beam up at the front of the house, where the load-bearing wall in the center of the new living room was being removed. Sometimes when removing load-bearing walls, the beam will just go beneath the joists that need to be supported, but with only 7.5 feet of ceiling height in here, that wasn’t an option! Instead, the beam is getting pocketed up into the ceiling—running alongside the existing joist, which runs perpendicular to the joists that need to be supported. This stuff is hard to explain, so apologies if I’m speaking gibberish here!


The next day, Edwin and Edgar face-nailed the beam to the original joist, further secured it using large bolts (I think 12 of them?) and then secured the perpendicular joists to the beam with metal joist hangers. Considering that this load-bearing wall was previously being supported by about 3 2x4s, it’s MUCH stronger and more solid now!


Then we turned our attention to building and installing the new basement steps! YAYYY! The old basement stairs were horrifying and only accessible through a trap door in the kitchen floor, so both for the sake of space in the kitchen and to promote the basement as accessible, usable space (laundry machines and other utilities will live down there), I made the decision to relocate them under the main stairwell. It wasn’t a huge deal, but it wasn’t a small thing, either! The opening had to be cut out (yes, it was terrifying to watch Edgar go at it with a Sawzall while he was standing on the parts he was cutting away, but these dudes play fast and loose and I like it) and framed in, and a doorway had to be framed in on the kitchen wall for access to the new stairs.


Then we had to build the stairs! I thought this would consist of either buying pre-made stringers or cutting our own, but instead the stairs are just two 2x10s (Edwin said he wanted 2x12s, but I swear that’s not what he told me when I went to buy the wood!) for the stringers and smaller lengths of 2×10 for the treads. The treads are secured by nailing through the stringer into the short edge of the tread, if that makes sense—super simple. They’re very sturdy, though, and Edwin assures me that they’ll pass inspection, so I guess we’ll find out!


Then it was on to re-framing the wall between the dining room and the new coat closet/half bath! This is the kind of thing I was talking about before—I figured this wall was more or less fine the way it was (it’s been standing for 150 years, right?) and we just needed to shift the doorway over a bit, but NOPE. The entire thing got rebuilt better and stronger than it was before. That’s actually true of every single interior wall in the house—they all had some problem or another that just made it easier and smarter to start over, even though a lot of the walls didn’t change locations at all. Now the only original walls in the house are the exterior ones, which is pretty insane!

Anyway, the basic process of removing and replacing these load-bearing walls was essentially to throw together some temporary support on either side of the original wall to bear the load while the wall was removed. After the old wall framing was removed, the new one could be assembled in its place (with fancy things like standardized stud-spacing, solid lengths of wood, headers, etc.), and then the temporary supports could be removed. It was actually fairly simple, even though it sounds pretty overwhelming. So anyway—the photo above is of the guys putting the temporary support in to hold up the dining room ceiling.


Here, Edgar is nailing in the new header—you can see the temporary support walls on either side of them.


Framing in the half bath went pretty quickly, and that was about it for the first floor! The house is a DISASTER, though! Between the framing happening at such a fast pace and not really having adequate time to completely clean out the house after the demo, I seriously have my work cut out just to get ready to dive into the next phase.


Not that this is terribly convincing or at all good-looking, but JUST FOR REFERENCE, this is the same view in the SketchUp model, just so you can get an idea of where you’re oriented. Make sense? It’s really exciting to see the the framing in real life, at least in person—it’s nice to finally get a sense of how the space will feel when things are done!


One of the things I spent stupid amounts of time on during this period was de-nailing and stacking/sorting alllllll the many pieces of trim (from around doors and windows) that came out during demo. There isn’t anything wrong with it, aside from the filth aspect, and reusing it will keep it out of a landfill and save me some money when I get to installing molding. Pulling nails out of old lumber is generally pretty easy—the trick is to use end-cutting pliers (I have these) and pull the nails out from the back. Trying to hammer them back through the front usually just causes more damage to the wood and is more labor intensive.


Since the cottage isn’t very big, this stuff needs to get OUT so that there’s space to work and maneuver! This is maybe about half of it—I still have to go back and sort and haul the rest! On the left is the old framing lumber (FOR WHAT I DO NOT KNOW) and on the right is trim. Now it’s all festering in my garage until it’s time to bring it back over to the cottage, but that’s a little while off. There’s still a ton to do before I’m at that point, clearly!

Obviously, getting the framing done is a HUGE step in the right direction. I’ll talk about the upstairs next time, but the next steps are getting the heat system in, plumbing, electric, insulation, and then finishing work like walls and tile and fixtures and all that fun stuff can start. YAY.

Diary time!

Day 24: Met Edwin at Lowe’s at 7 to buy lumber, nails, and joist hangers. Dump truck came in morning, worked on filling with debris until 2. Unloaded truck with crew and Edwin and Edgar started repairing kitchen floor and reframing interior kitchen wall. Went to Herzog’s for LVL beams and 2×8 and 16′ 2x4s. Loaded scrap metal in Edwin’s truck and went to scrap yard with Chris. Sent all workers except Edwin and Edgar home at 3. Edgar and Edwin and I finished framing interior kitchen wall and header and then dry fit LVL on load bearing wall in front.

Day 25: Edwin and Edgar and I worked on framing basement stairs and kitchen floor. Went to Herzog’s to buy more lumber.

Day 26: Worked on cleaning house alone, pulling nails from trim, and organizing things for next work day. House was a disaster!

Day 27: Painted sunburst pediment outside, caulked/bondo’d around door, and painted deck.

Day 28: Edwin and Edgar are back, working on removing load-bearing wall and re-framing wall and opening in dining room.

Day 29: Edwin and Edgar remove load-bearing wall, frame in downstairs half-bath. I went to pick up more lumber in morning and chased mess rest of day.

Gutting the Cottage.


Here’s how I thought things would pan out with the cottage:

1. Finish the exterior.

2. Take a week off from the cottage, maybe.

3. Gut the interior.

4. You know, the rest of it.

It was all going to be very orderly and civilized.

That’s not what happened, though. Instead, it rained. That’s all it really took. I was about halfway through building the planters outside and I had some extra hands with me, and after an hour or so of working outside in the rain and the mud, I’d hit my limit. It was wet and cold and I had to just call it. Screw civility and order! Let’s wreck some shit.

Demo-ing the interior of the cottage was bittersweet. I feel like a normal gut renovation usually entails removing beautiful and/or salvageable materials and sending them to a landfill, only to be replaced by new stuff that will never have the same quality or character as what was there before. It’s wasteful and destructive and horrible, generally. But that doesn’t really apply here. I’m pretty sure I saved everything worth saving (and probably some stuff that wasn’t), but there wasn’t much. I hated sending so much stuff to a landfill, but it really was trash—broken, beyond the point of repair, with no potential for reuse. Sad.

BUT. It was all very very exciting, too. I’m guessing the house saw a pretty major overhaul sometime in the 40s or 50s (and then some other changes later on), so everything was finished in (very, very damaged) drywall. The kitchen was already pretty much gone, the bathroom fixtures were all inexpensive and lightweight…considering the entire interior of the house had to go, none of the work was all that grueling. And stripping the scary cosmetic stuff away felt good. Underneath the damage and grime and mess, this house looks more or less like any other house. Probably way better than my house would look without walls! It already looks way better, at least to me.


Remember where we started off? That kitchen…shudder. It was bad news.


See? Better! The studs and joists and sheathing are all in good shape, which is great to see. This isn’t how windows and doors are framed nowadays, but they’ve been holding up fine for a long time and I’m not worried about them. It should be grandfathered in when the framing gets inspected. The whole house is balloon-framed, too, meaning the studs on the exterior walls go all the way from the sill plate above the foundation to the top plate below the rafters. Also not how things are done anymore, but it’s sort of fun to see! It also makes running electrical a little easier, which is nice I guess.

You can’t tell from the picture, but the opening to the kitchen from the dining room has NO support! None. This is a load-bearing wall, and the studs are just cut off at the ceiling. That’s not good! It’s sort of surprising there isn’t a sag (or, you know, the whole thing didn’t collapse). It’s totally fixable, though…just need to beef up the opening and add a header and we’ll be in business. That was actually part of my plan, anyway—to make this opening a *bit* smaller and more defined. Right now it’s sort of trying and failing to be “open-concept” and I don’t want that for this house. Even though this renovation is going to be about 90% new (I reserve 10% for the floors, doors, and windows), I want it to feel old and authentic to what could have been here.  I’ll obviously talk a lot more about that later. Like probably too much. Like probably so much that you’ll want to set me on fire.


ANYWAY. It was very hard to take a lot of pictures during demo, partly because I was covered in grime and pulling things apart and partly because maybe millions of photos aren’t that necessary. Piles and piles of debris. That’s pretty much it.

This is the middle section of the upstairs, which is the oldest section of the house.  The ceiling here is LOW—like 6’8″, so on the agenda is sorting out the framing in the ceiling and hopefully gaining at least a few inches in the process. It’s nice to see the chimney, but it needs some repairs and I think I’m going to have to repoint it. I’d like to maintain it, though…it’s one of the few original things left in the house and I think exposing the brick will add some nice texture and character to the renovated space.


Check out that cobweb situation! I wish it had been possible to get better shots of this stuff, because the structural stuff up in here is bonkers. The roof in the middle/oldest section of the house pitches oppositely from how the roofs in the front and the back pitch, leaving some very strange framing in the middle. Nothing was done correctly when the additions were made, so a lot of the framing just got hacked away at over the years instead of properly supported and whatnot. Half of the rafters are sort of just floating there, and the collar ties are floating on the floating rafters, and the whole thing is just insane and bad.


This is the new view from the big bedroom in the front to the back! See what I mean about nothing really being supported in the middle there? But it’ll be OK. The framing job is definitely going to be more extensive than I’d really bargained for, but it’s all fixable. It’ll be solid as a rock soon enough.

By the way, that opening on the right side in this picture, close to the stair banister? That’s the doorway to the old bathroom! The whole thing is GONE and it feels so good! This master bedroom is going to be so amazing without a big bathroom carved into it. I’ll put together a post soon with before/after floor plans so you can get a better sense of this stuff. I’m sure this is a little confusing.


So…the debris piles were MASSIVE. There were very large vent holes in the floor in both the front and back bedrooms (to allow heat to travel to the upstairs), which proved SUPER helpful during demo since we could just throw almost everything through the holes and down to the first floor.

Since I sort of jumped the gun on demo, I wasn’t totally prepared with, say, a plan to get rid of all this waste. I’d asked about dumpsters at the Department of Public Works back in mid-September when I first started working on this house, and it sounded simple enough. Since this property doesn’t have a driveway, I’d need to get a permit to place the dumpster on the street, but the folks at Public Works made that sound fairly fast and painless.

Then it came time to actually get the dumpster, and it was not fast and painless. Everyone I’ve dealt with in Kingston city government has been wonderful (and very supportive of this project!), but I think the Public Works folks are a little underfunded and overworked and even just getting a call back was a little difficult. Not having a dumpster was starting to become a problem on my end, since the house was so overloaded with debris that nothing could really get done. And then I finally did hear back and…no dumpster. They’d decided that the street was too narrow to place a dumpster even for a very short period (I offered to fill it in a day or two), so I’d have to figure out something else.

Entire house, completely gutted. No dumpster. How. Why.

This was not terrific news.

The only work-around I could really think of was putting the dumpster in my driveway and somehow transporting all the waste from this house to my house, but that seemed a little insane. It would probably have taken like 30 Bagsters to clear out the whole house, and since those wind up running about $200 per bag here, that was also not a good option. So the only thing left was to take it all to the dump ourselves.

One of the guys who’s been working for me mentioned that his dad had a small-ish trailer for the back of his car that we could use, and my wonderful contractor Edwin offered up the use of his monster truck, so that’s how it started.


Nice, right? We parked the truck right on the sidewalk, hoped we wouldn’t get ticketed (we didn’t), and brought stuff out on wheelbarrows. We had a few people and two wheelbarrows, so it worked out. A couple people worked on filling the wheelbarrows, and a couple of people moved them from the house, up that wobbly ramp, and into the truck. It wasn’t horrible! Then we strapped a tarp over the whole thing and drove it off while a few people stayed behind to load the trailer. The dump (technically, the Transfer Station) closes at 2:15 in the afternoon here, so we only got three trips in on the first day, but it made a surprisingly big dent in the mess. I should probably get myself one of those trailers at some point. So handy!


The dump was nuts, by the way. I feel like every single person should be required to go to the dump at least once. Schools should take field trips there. It’s not like I’m totally unaware of where my garbage goes, but it’s a different thing to really see it in action and on this kind of scale…and Kingston is not a big city. Huge trucks bring huge loads of garbage into this huge warehouse space. Then huge backhoes push it around and into a pile. Then other huge backhoes take the pile and drop it into a huge hole in the floor, where a huge tractor-trailer is parked. When the tractor-trailer gets full, it drives the trash out to…I don’t even know where. A landfill in some other part of the country, probably. It’s impossible to even fathom the environmental impact of all of this…and the fact that it’s like this here pretty much all day, everyday, and there are places exactly like this everywhere else, too. The whole thing makes my head spin, obviously.

So anyway. Be mindful of your waste. Compost. Recycle. Freecycle. Don’t tear down old houses. The end.


I did scoop up a couple of treasures from the dump, though! Can you believe someone was throwing these away? So frustrating! The thing that was really aggravating was that one of the workers told me I technically wasn’t allowed to take them, but he’d make an exception. I mean, I sort of understand that they can’t really have people rifling through the dump around heavy machinery and stuff all day looking for crap to take home or take to a scrap yard and get paid for, but come on. There must be a better way! The whole thing is just upsetting. But anyway. I don’t even know if I’ll end up staging this house for sale or what, but a pretty vintage fan and beautiful antique sewing machine for free? Don’t mind if I do.

Oh! Somehow I didn’t get a picture, but the city did end up throwing me a bone and letting me use a city dump truck for a couple days. It was the smallest of the city dump trucks—essentially the capacity of 2 pick-ups—which was the biggest thing they were comfortable parking on the street. They also waived the typical fee (which I think is like $50 a day) for me, presumably due to my good looks and charm, which was super nice and they totally didn’t have to do. So I only had to pay for the disposal fees, which are calculated by weight, and it made things a little easier since I only had to load the truck, not unload it on the other end. Thanks, Kingston!


I also made a couple of trips to the scrap metal yard! There ended up being a fair amount of metal left in the house…the old baseboard radiator covers, a few of the radiators themselves (which are a copper pipe with aluminum fins attached), and a little bit of copper plumbing. The scrap yard is a little more heartening than the dump since you get paid for what you bring (based on the type of material and the weight), and everything is getting recycled, but it was still maddening!


I spotted this beautiful antique wood stove sitting at the top of a scrap pile (terrible picture, sorry!) and offered to buy it back (for what purpose, I don’t even know), and they wouldn’t let me! So frustrating. Again, I sort of get the liability issue and all that, but it seems more than a little ridiculous that beautiful, probably still useful items can’t just be reused instead of melted down or whatever. Right? I’m aware that lots of scrap yards actually have shops where they keep stuff like this so people can do that very thing, but that doesn’t exist at either of the two scrap metal yards I’ve been to in Kingston. Super annoying, right? I’m just glad I didn’t see any clawfoot tubs or I might have actually had a heart attack.

So anyway. Getting rid of the garbage was in many ways a bigger project than the demo was. All in all, between 1 Bagster, 3 loads in the city dump truck, and 7 pick-up truck loads, I’ve had to dump about 14,000 pounds of trash. That’s a lot of trash. I feel shitty about it, but I don’t think there was really any way around it.  All of the disposal came out to the tune of $853.64, which is a decent amount of money but probably about half what it would have been if I was renting a dumpster on top of it, so I guess it all came out for the best. I also made back $254.10 in scrap metal (who woulda thought?), so that helps offset the dumping cost a bit.


But hey look! After lots and lots of sweeping and clearing and sorting and mess, the house is pretty clean. It stayed this way for about .5 seconds, though—framing actually began the same day as the last day of demo work! Madness! So it felt like as soon as one mess was kind of almost cleaned up, another mess started. That’s kind of just how it goes. A huge part of my life these days is just managing mess. I go through a lot of respirator masks. And contractor bags. And I come home looking like I’ve been down in the mines all day. It’s way cute.

That big pile of wood in the corner got saved, by the way! I was really careful about trying to get all the trim out in full pieces and save it all, which ended up being a TON of wood (this is just one of multiple piles). A lot of it is very dirty and some of it is flakey and it’s all very multi-colored, but there’s nothing really wrong with it and I figure I can probably reuse a lot of it when the times comes for that! Keeps it out of a landfill and keeps me from having to buy all that trim which would end up being very costly. It’s mostly just 1×4 or 1×6 or some weird size in between, but I figure I can always rip pieces down, maybe add some detail with my router, that kind of thing. I’m sort of excited to see what can be done with it all. It’s like a big puzzle! In the meantime, I’ve finally finished pulling all of the nails out of it all so that the pile can be a little more orderly and easier to manage.


Diary time? Are we over this yet? I feel so woefully behind but I’m trying to catch up!

Day 15: Worked outside with Chris setting deck blocks while Kodi, Mike, and Mikey worked on moving dirt to my backyard. I worked on planters with Kodi while Chris began demo’ing pink bedroom with Mike. Need to pick up 4 more deck blocks.

Day 16: Chris and Chris on demo duty inside. Mike and Mike on excavating yard outside. Me and Kodi finished planters. Edwin came with power washer. Took a break to move bluestone hearth into my library. Cody and I began installing decking. Finished excavating yard with Edwin’s truck. Cody and I finished deck but are one board short.

Day 17: Chris, Mike, and Mike worked on demo-ing master bedroom. Cody and I ran to Lowe’s to purchase plants before they are out of stock and 21 bags of topsoil for planter boxes, along with missing deck board. Finished deck. Unloaded soil and sent all workers home at 12:30. Went to Department of Public Works to try to get dumpster. No luck.

Day 18: Demo’d upstairs bathroom. Sealed planter boxes, spread topsoil, and planted plants. Guys worked on clearing backyard and disassembling shed. Laid bluestone path to door. Entire crew has head cold, including me.

Day 19: Got mulch and pea gravel and pavers for front walk. Edged garden bed, planted, and mulched. Continued clearing backyard.

Day 20: Day off. Everyone is sick. Ran errands and started working on restoring front casement windows. Plan to boil hardware overnight.

Day 21: Kodi’s dad came with trailer and we went to dump with demo debris. Edwin brought truck. Got 3 trips in before closing at 2:15. Went to scrapyard with metal—$129. Went back and continued demo-ing interior.

Day 22: Worked on clearing out and gutting basement. Separated salvageable wood from garbage wood, pulled nails from walls studs and ceiling joists. City dump truck coming tomorrow.

Day 23: City dump truck came in morning. Filled twice. Demo’d more of interior and loaded stuff from backyard. Started removing rotted kitchen floor and tin ceiling for paint to be stripped. Plaster ceiling discovered above—will demo tomorrow.

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