All posts tagged: Electrical

Beyond the Laundry Room: Where do we go from here?

OK, NEW RULES. I AM DECLARING THEM:

1. No more tearing things apart.*

2. No more starting another major project until the other major projects are wrapped up.**

*Unless I really want to.

**Unless it seems like maybe it won’t be a major project but instead something quick and easy. I can’t control where it goes from there.

Now that the laundry room is this close to being done, we’re starting to decide which thing(s?) we’re going to focus our energies on now.

If you have followed this blog for a while and paid some attention, it might occur to you that there are a literal wealth of options.

1. The dining room, last seen with a gaping hole in the wall where a door used to be, no ceiling, old electrical, and crazy patterned walls. Doesn’t make sense to do much about this until the electrical is done.

2. The front parlor room adjacent to the dining room, last seen with a gaping hole in the wall from an old stove vent, no ceiling, old electrical, and the coolest corner radiator. It has since become my workshop because I choose to live like an animal and need somewhere to do my crafts. And by crafts, I mean making piles of sawdust bigger than Linus. It doesn’t make much sense to do anything about this until electrical is done. It’ll be so weird to use this room as a proper room someday instead of the place I make baseboards and stuff.

3. The entire entryway/hallway/staircase situation. It’s a huge amount of space but not really a room, but it is the heart of the house and it looks like crap. All the walls are bare plaster now, but they do need significant repair in places and a nice skim coat in others before paint can happen. Since there are already so many holes from electrical being added/removed, I’m requesting that any holes the electrician needs to make for adjacent rooms and spaces come through these walls, where possible. I’d rather have one wall that looks like swiss cheese to repair than a dozen that all need a few patches here and there. ANYWAY. It’s a huge job. I can’t wrap my mind around the amount of joint compound I will use.

4. The mudroom? Which I (mostly) gutted in a fit of crazy? (Did I even mention that??). I don’t even know what to do about this mess. I want to torch it.

5. The downstairs bathroom? Gutted down to the studs. The contents are now sitting in the living room.

6. Our bedroom, where the bare plaster walls are pretty much ready for skim coat and paint…except for waiting on the electrical to be installed.

7. Oh god, don’t even TALK to me about the yard. Someone casually and politely told me yesterday that they do ticket here if you let your lawn get too long. I don’t think we’re at the point where it’s breaking any laws, but it is breaking all laws of taste and decency and looks like an overgrown weed patch. The lawn is one of the few things that is 100% Max’s domain, so if it isn’t mowed this weekend, I guess I’ll be single and ready to mingle on Monday.

There’s more, but I’ll stop there, since I’m going to have a panic attack if I keep going.

Basically, the house is a whole lot of chaos, but it also maybe looks worse than it is.

The electrical I can’t do legally in our county. We have a great electrician who I love and is super affordable, BUT he is impossible to nail down. I can usually get him for like most of a day, and then he’ll come back two weeks later but only if I call him every other day and sound really sad about my ceiling-less rooms and under-electrified second floor. It’s annoying, though, because updating/adding electrical is a big hang-up for getting this stuff done. We can’t close in ceilings or even really repair walls until it’s complete, not only because it’s MUCH easier to run this stuff with open framing but also because I don’t want to make holes in already repaired walls. Let’s just get it done and get on with things!

SO!

I think we’re going to make a pantry.

A quick n dirty, no-major-frills, simple, semi-temporary pantry. It’ll hold lots of stuff, and right now another place to stash things is nice. One of the things about living in a major renovation is that even though you have all this newfound space, there’s comparatively little space to actually put anything where it’ll be safe and clean and hidden away.

pantry pantry2

Here are some fun and attractive pictures of the the outside of the pantry when we bought the house. That door on the left in the first picture of the kitchen when it still looked so scary is the door to the pantry. It used to be the door to a back staircase, which was removed a long time ago. I have zero interest in restoring the old staircase. As cool as it would be, this house just isn’t that big and having two staircases in the year 2014 just seems silly, and it’s already gone.

Probably when the stairs were removed, this closet in the dining room was added. It’s obviously a later addition because the door and trim don’t match even a little.

wallframing

SO, I knocked out the wall in the middle that separated the pantry from this closet, ripped out the door and frame, and framed in the opening.

cavernouspit

Then it looked like this, from the kitchen side. Like a shit-stained cavernous pit of despair and wreckage. There used to be a doorway into the kitchen at the back left corner (the exit of the stairs up from the basement!), which was framed in presumably when they renovated the kitchen last, but they never did anything more with the inside of the closet. So on the left we had about 2/3 of a wall (the plaster on the left is actually in fairly decent shape, wood-paneling-patterned wallpaper notwithstanding), no ceiling, and a wall on the right that was a TOTAL mess. The plaster was all failing and miserable and falling apart everywhere.

This was back in January. Nothing happened since then.

Stop judging me.

BUT! This week! Things occurred!

1. I put Max to work on gutting the right wall down to the studs, since this is the wall we’ll drywall and I wanted the electrician to have super easy access to make his whole job faster, in the hope that he could then dedicate himself to other things.

2. Max managed to remove most of the plaster and some of the lath, so roundabout 2 in the morning the night before the electrician showed up, I finished the job myself. What are you gonna do. (save me from this abusive relationship)

3. My friend John and John’s Truck and I went to Lowe’s and bought DRYWALL! This was incredibly exciting. I drive a ’02 VW Jetta that can fit in the trunk, at most, four salted almonds, so any time I get to haul something enormous or approaching me-sized, I get VERY jazzed. I feel really empowered with my drywall stock.

4. The electrician came and roughed in all the electrical in the pantry. HALLELUJAH.

SO. In order, a photo journal.

maxemo

This is, without question, the sexiest outfit Max has ever worn. He took off the Tyvek suit after about 4 seconds (too hot!), but it makes me happy when he takes on something renovation-related. He can totally handle demo.

drywall1

On the dining room side of things, I was itching to get the drywall up over the framed in doorway I’ve been staring at for 5 months. First, I had to clean up the edges of the plaster. To do this, I used a 4′ level and pencil to draw a clean, square line around the doorframe.

oscillating

Then I used my new VERY FAVORITE TOOL EVER, this oscillating tool I picked up from Lowe’s. Admittedly I cheaped out and got the most inexpensive one in the store, which I made a semi-serious resolution to stop doing, but I have to say…this thing is AMAZING. It comes in handy CONSTANTLY now that I have it. It has lots of different attachments (sanding pads, rounded blades like this one, straight blades of various sizes for wood and metal…), and it seems more than powerful enough for me.

ANYWAY, this thing is perfect for making clean cuts in plaster (or drywall) quickly. I’ve actually asked the electricians to start using it when they’re here and making new holes—they seem excited to have a tool that makes the job a little easier and less messy, and I’m excited to have less repair work to contend with afterward.

Anyway, for this wall, I pretty much just ran the blade up my pencil line until I hit the lath, and the unwanted plaster fell away and the remaining plaster stayed beautifully intact. Like so:

wallprep

I proceeded to use my nail gun to nail scrap pieces of lath to the new framing, like large shims, to bring everything out to the same level.

drywall

I marked all my studs on the wall above so I would know where I could safety screw the drywall into, cut the drywall to size, and screwed it up. Cleaning up the edges of the plaster really allowed for MUCH more precision, which should make the patch job much easier when I get to that!

The drywall is about 1/8″ below the surface of the plaster, which is perfect. After the seams are taped and mudded, I’ll skim coat the whole wall and it should be pretty much imperceptible once it’s all said and done. I’m sort of excited about it. For now, even just having the drywall up feels VERY WEIRD after looking at the gaping hole for so many months, and makes the dining room feel less janky. And to think, someday it’ll even have a ceiling!

Don’t ask me how I’m going to patch in that elaborate baseboard. Fuck if I know. It’ll be OK.

As you can see, there is a coaxial cable sticking out of the wall, as well as a space for a new receptacle next to it! YAYYYY! Right now our coaxial cable comes in through the basement, up a radiator pipe, and into the front room that way. My hope is that the credenza (or some piece of furniture, undecided) will sit on this wall and hold our modem and airport and crap, all concealed, and we can get it out of the front parlor room. We also plan to split the coaxial cable down in the basement so that we have cable hook-ups in a few rooms, just in case, but those cables need to be run another day.

It’s also exciting to have another outlet in the room! The dining room has ONE outlet currently, and I have a plan to add one more, so that’ll be three. I know that’s still less than modern standards, but I think that’s OK. I’m not sure how many we could possibly use!

ANYWAY, back to the pantry…brace yourselves…

pantry1

Ouch, so scary!! Someday it will be nice and bright and cute. Promise. Although the light really does make the condition extra apparent and extra horrifying…

newspaper

I did find this scrunched up piece of newspaper in the wall—the Kingston Daily Leader from July 8, 1936. Cool! I’m going to try some methods to flatten it out. No piles of money (yet), but plenty of old newspapers and masking tape in this house! The date is probably also a good indication of when the staircase was removed, and makes sense given the context of the Depression and the house being divided into multiple living units.

lights

We have LIGHTS! It’s so weird being able to really see this room without a flash light or work lamp. Clearly there’s been some water damage or something over the years to that top part of the back wall, but all of the framing looks great. The space is 8′ long and less than three feet white, so two lights seemed to make more sense.

outlets-pantry

We also have outlets! YAYYYY! The receptacles aren’t in place yet, obviously, but the wiring is. I had the electrician install them at countertop height as sort of a last-minute decision, just in case this room does eventually become part of the kitchen and somehow it isn’t necessary to demo it again? I know, I know… #wishfulthinking

floor

I gotta say, I’m super excited about the floor in here. It’s not original since it would have been open when the stairs were here (so probably installed in the 30s), but it is beautiful unfinished pine! I’d love to sand and seal it.

beadboard

Naturally, I seem to do nothing these days that does not involve messing with the kitchen again…and this time, I set my sights on the weird beadboard panel above the pantry door! I sort of love this thing, to be honest, just because it’s so strange and creative and weird, but I love the idea of restoring the transom window more. Soooo…

transom

BOOM. Sorry kitchen. (Again). But with a little extra work and a pretty piece of glass (I have a good idea!), there will be the prettiest little transom window over this weird little door. It’ll allow a little more natural light into the pantry while also providing a little ambient light in the kitchen when the pantry light is on. It’ll be nice!

So, yay pantry! We’re waiting until more of the electrical is done elsewhere, then getting it all inspected, and then we can start closing up the walls! This will be a good chance to try drywall for the first time and maybe test some techniques I’ve been pondering for the ceilings. It’s nice to start small like this and learn on the way before taking on the bigger jobs. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

BUT THEN. CEILINGS. YOU’RE ON MY LIST.

Home Buying Moment: Oh No, What Have We Done? The First Year of Owning and Updating an Old House.

I am blogging on behalf of Trulia, but the views expressed here are solely mine, not Trulia’s. To learn more, visit: http://on.trulia.com/postcards.

I was raised primarily on a diet of HGTV and TLC, back when TLC used to produce shows like Trading Spaces, where for $1,000 and the chance to be on TV, a stranger might give you a tasteful new living room or intentionally pour bags of sand onto your basement floor, depending on the episode. Later in life I became enamored with the endless teachings of the Sovereign Queen Goddess Martha Stewart. At some point I discovered the Internet and found all of these kooky people blogging about their home renovations online. I casually studied architecture in college. And…that’s pretty much the start and end of my qualifications to own and renovate an old house. I grew up in new construction, and aside from some things I’d picked up here and there, I had no idea what I was doing. 

Now that we’re coming up on a whole year of homeownership (that just flew by, didn’t it?), the folks at Trulia asked me to take part in a series they’ve put together about the most defining home buying moments—from making compromises to finding the right neighborhood to making an offer. For me, one of the biggest moments maybe wasn’t even really a moment at all, but more a sense of panic and impending doom about how little we knew in relation to how much had to be done. Both before and after we bought the house, there was just so much we didn’t know. It was completely terrifying. I had no idea how people bought houses. I had no idea I needed a lawyer. I had no idea what a boiler was. The thing I kept having to remind myself (and keep having to remind myself a lot of the time) is that knowing that you don’t know how something works is usually way scarier than finding out. This stuff isn’t rocket science. Once the mystery is removed from so many aspects of homeownership—from financing to renovating—they generally become way more approachable and easier to handle.

With that in mind, I thought I’d put together a more comprehensive post about some of the things I’ve learned in the first year about upgrading an old house, and maybe offer up some suggestions that we’ve taken advantage of (or tried to) to make it a little less daunting both mentally and financially. We have a ton of work ahead of us and I don’t think the learning process will ever end, but the house is still standing and we aren’t completely broke (yet!), so I guess we’re doing OK. Every house is different and comes with a different challenges, but a lot of what we’ve done in this first year is pretty typical of older homes. Let’s dive right in, shall we?

house

BEFORE YOU BUY

Our “house-hunting” story is so short it’s laughable. We weren’t looking for a house, or even thinking about buying one. But then we found one—on a weekend away from Brooklyn while staying at a house that our friends had rented around the corner in the Hudson River Valley city of Kingston, NY—and became completely obsessed with it in a way that’s honestly hard to describe. For us, this was never about buying a house—it was about having the opportunity to take care of this house, specifically. I loved everything about it: the original layout of beautifully-proportioned rooms, and all of the original features like moldings and doors and windows and plaster walls and radiators and even a beautiful marble fireplace mantel. And, honestly, I was attracted by how much work it needed. It was split up very awkwardly into two apartments, and we felt passionate about restoring it to a single family home and renovating it in a way that would be careful, deliberate, and respectful of its history. And even though the attachment I felt to the house was completely absurd and illogical, and that we didn’t really feel like we were in any position to buy a house, we both felt like we had to at least explore the option. If we never took that first leap to find out and it had eventually sold to somebody else, I honestly believe that I’d still be obsessing over it now. And probably five years from now. Maybe ten years. Maybe forever. I was in love with the house from the second I saw it, and immediately felt responsible for it even though it wasn’t ours. I know that might sound like overly-romantic nonsense, but it’s the truth.

All of this was basically driven by insanity is what I’m saying. But with old houses, that’s kind of important. Upgrading and renovating isn’t easy—emotionally, financially, socially, you name it—and I think you need to be a little nuts and a little obsessed to feel, at the end of the day, that you’re doing the right thing. And that you need to keep doing it.

Still, we weren’t complete idiots, and it certainly wasn’t as easy as just wanting it a whole lot. We had to think carefully about whether we were up for the challenge, and whether it seemed like a sound investment. If things went horribly awry, could we put it back on the market and walk away relatively financially unscathed? Could our relationship and lives sustain such a big upheaval? We felt like the answers were yes, but at that point there was just a lot of gut-trusting, blind passion, and leaps of faith. Those types of questions don’t really come with easy or simple answers. They still don’t some days, but that’s a whole different post.

While the process of buying the house was, as usual, incredibly stressful and time-consuming and intense and full of surprises outside of anyone’s control, it actually wasn’t as horribly difficult to navigate as I thought it would be. Our real estate agent was also the seller’s agent (the “seller” was an estate, the members of which all lived elsewhere…the previous owner of our house passed away a couple of years prior). She gave us lots of support and guidance throughout the process, and was invaluable for recommending home inspectors, local contractors, local lawyers, etc., and taking us through all the steps of making an offer, securing a loan, contingencies, and all of that. This is the part of the process when you receive the most support and guidance, so use it! Ask TONS of questions about anything you’re unsure about. Agents are smart people. They know lots of things.

Aside from the expertise of your real estate agent, the most informative aspect of the pre-sale shenanigans is the inspections. You’ll probably get lots of inspections.

Because we felt very serious about the house, we hired a home inspector to come for our first walk-through.

I should note, I suppose, that all of this basically goes against traditional wisdom of home-buying. The seller’s agent, by definition, has the seller’s best interests at heart, and showing up for an initial walk-through with a home inspector basically lays all of your cards out on the table: we want this house—badly. But for us, I think it was a good thing. The seller’s agent was clearly excited about us and our evident infatuation with the house, and I truly believe that the genuine relationship we built with her really stacked the deck in our favor as we moved forward in the process.

ANYWAY—back to inspections. Typically realtors will have recommendations for a good home inspector, who will walk through the property and take note of any visible problems. Ours cost about $500. Inspectors are a great wealth of information, and should be able to answer all sorts of questions, bring up and discuss issues that they see, and even give ballpark estimates of how much certain repairs might cost. Of course, you should always verify these estimates with contractors, but it’s helpful to get a sense of whether the property is even worth pursuing further. The home inspector should prepare a detailed written report, which will not only be helpful for your own reference, but will often be essential information for insurance companies and banks. If the inspector notes things that were not disclosed or noted by the seller or seller’s agent, these might be helpful points to negotiate on the price. Based on what we gleaned from our home inspection and how long the property had been on the market, we felt comfortable submitting an offer of about 20% below asking price—which after some back and forth as various estimates came in is exactly what we ended up paying.

Assuming the home inspector’s report doesn’t leave you running away screaming, you’ll want to have a few more inspections and estimates to get an idea of what you’re looking at financially. In addition to a pest inspection to check for wood-destroying insects (which homeowners should ideally have done annually—I think it was about $100) which came up clean, we also walked through the house with both a locally licensed plumber and a locally licensed electrician. Both of these contractors should also be able to point out causes for concern, and help you formulate a list of probable repairs and upgrades you’ll need to make after closing. They should then provide written estimates for the anticipated work. For us, it was helpful to talk through best-case and worst-case scenarios with both of these contractors and get estimates for both. We also had three roofing contractors come to give estimates on replacing the faulty roof. All of this was free, and we’ve since used both the plumber and the electrician for all of our work—they’re great guys, and they’ve been with us since the beginning.

You may want to do additional inspections for radon, lead, and asbestos. This is kind of personal and kind of based on the house and location. Our house is almost 200 years old—it definitely has lead-based paint, and it does have asbestos in the typical places (like around some of the heat pipes in the basement), so testing for them was sort of a pointless expense. Both lead and asbestos do not present a hazard as long as they’re left undisturbed and intact, so there isn’t really any reason to invest in full-on lead or asbestos abatement in most cases.

Again, all houses are different, but at this point everyone should have a fairly comprehensive idea of what the house needs. You’ll have to figure out a loan and insurance and go back and forth endlessly on whether you can really afford it and there will generally be a lot of freaking out for weeks or months on end. You’ll sign a lot of things and feel like you’re throwing large amounts of money around willy-nilly and it will be insane and scary…and then you’ll get the keys. The whole team of people who helped you get to this point will give you a pat on the back and congratulations and then they’ll disappear into the ether and you have to start really figuring stuff out.

GENERAL UPGRADES

Aside from the fun and exciting cosmetic stuff that makes for entertaining blogging fodder, there were a few things that we needed to take care of ASAP:

1. Locks! If the existing locks are nice and new-ish, you can have a locksmith re-key them. We replaced all of ours with new, very secure ones. Prices obviously vary based on quality and whatnot, but our lock upgrade was about $120 per door, including the labor of the locksmith.

2. Security! While a home security system certainly isn’t mandatory, it gave us a significant amount of peace of mind to have one installed. Again, prices will vary based on what company you go with and what kind of equipment you use, but our system was about $800 in equipment, plus a monthly service bill which is about $60. Installing a central station security system and smoke detectors (meaning that if they trip, the police department or fire department are automatically called) also got us a nice discount on our homeowner’s insurance. Home security systems come in both wireless and hardwired options now, so it isn’t horribly expensive or invasive to have one installed if the house isn’t wired for it!

3. Smoke/Carbon Monoxide Detectors! Our house came with one smoke detector and one carbon monoxide detector. That’s not enough! At least in New York State, residences must have one smoke detector in each bedroom, one in each common area on every floor, and one in the basement. There also needs to be a carbon monoxide detector in the basement and on any level where there are sleeping areas. Unless you are building new construction or doing significant renovations like completely gutting a house, battery-operated or plug-in smoke/carbon detectors are OK. Nicer smoke/carbon detectors are about $50 each.

THE ROOF

 roofbeforeafter

It’s often said that the roof and the foundation are the most important parts of a healthy house, and it’s true! Our roof was kind of a mess—a mix of sheet metal and metal shingles, all covered in layers of tar. The age and condition of the roof can make securing a homeowner’s insurance policy and a mortgage difficult, and basically we had to have it replaced ASAP. We got three estimates months before, but estimates are generally only valid for 1-3 months, so we had the same companies come back to give us new quotes after we closed. The new quotes were much, much higher than the original quotes, for lower quality materials no less! It was awful. I resented the companies so much that I didn’t even want to try to negotiate and work with them. I did find out some good stuff because of it, though!

1. Big-box hardware stores such as Lowe’s and Home Depot subcontract all sorts of work to local contractors (siding, windows, etc), including roofing! The difference between going through a place like Lowe’s and directly to the contractor might seem insignificant, but it isn’t: the big box store pricing is regulated, so they can’t arbitrarily jack up the price just because they think you can pay more. Even if you don’t end up hiring them, I highly recommend getting an estimate from Lowe’s, if only so that you have a baseline idea of what a fair price is for the job. The estimate is free, and I found them great to work with. I could easily dedicate an entire post to roofing (maybe I will—are you interested?), so I’ll move on…

2. Because roofing is significantly expensive, bigger roofing companies often offer financing plans for the job—so even if it’s more expensive than you were anticipating or have cash on hand for, you may be able to work something out directly through the company. Additionally, Lowe’s offers a consumer credit card with low-interest extended payment plans, and they’ll work with you to increase your credit limit to cover the cost. Roofing prices vary drastically by the size of the house, the materials, and the scope of the job, but the point is this: get lots of quotes, ask for references, and remember that you don’t necessarily need to have $10,000+ in your pocket to pay for it. Even if you have a great home loan with a comfortable renovation budget (or just a bunch of money in the bank), you still may want to consider financing stuff like this separately if you’re comfortable taking on another monthly payment, especially if you have lots of work ahead of you. Surprises (like rotted box gutters!) happen!

ELECTRICAL

Admittedly, electrical issues are one of the most intimidating parts of even thinking about buying an old house. A lot of people think that they need to have every last bit of wiring removed and replaced immediately, but in general that isn’t the case at all! Knob and tube wiring is generally considered a real hazard and should be removed, but “newer” types of wiring are often in fine shape, even if they’re very old. Even if the outer casing on old wires looks cracked or frayed inside an electrical box, remember that the ends have been exposed and messed with since their original installation, and the stuff going through the walls is probably in much better condition. A good, honest electrician should be able to give you a sensible evaluation of the age and condition of your wiring, and the urgency of replacing it. The advice from our electrician was basically to replace what we could, when we could—but no hurry. Still, there are some things to know…

1. Outlets! Lots of old houses will have ungrounded two-prong outlets. Obviously the modern standard is 3-prong grounded outlets, and having two-prong outlets everywhere gets annoying really fast. Consult your electrician about upgrading the outlets—in many cases, two-prong outlets can be swapped for 3-prong simply by grounding the new outlet to the metal box, or replacing it with a GFCI receptacle. GFCI receptacles are fairly expensive (about $30 each), but a basic grounded outlet is really cheap—like $1, a bag of grounding tails is something like $7, and a receptacle tester to make sure everything is wired correctly is like $3-4. This kind of thing is within the abilities of any normal homeowner with a little research, or your electrician might charge you $10-$20 an outlet to do it for you. Not a huge deal.

breakerpanel1

2. Main Electrical Panel! Lots of old houses have scary old service panels. Both fuses and circuit breakers are pretty much equally safe when operating effectively and wired correctly, but your electrician and home inspector should know which types of panels to watch out for. Our house was split into two apartments, so there were 2 separate breaker panels. One was fairly new-ish, and the other was an old Federal Pacific panel with Stab-Lok circuit breakers—which has pretty much been a known fire hazard for about 30 years because so many of the breakers were defective. Yikes! Luckily, replacing a service panel isn’t a huge deal, either. Existing wiring can be removed from the old panel(s) and tied into a new one. Along with a few assistants, our electrician had the whole job done in less than a day, and it cost $1,400.

service

3. Service to the panel! A very, very typical upgrade to old houses is actually increasing the overall amount of electricity running to the house—usually from 60 or 100 amps to 200 amps. As times have changed, as have our electrical needs, so many old houses are just under-electrified and not equipped to handle all of the things that we expect to use electricity for (appliances, computers, lighting, A/C units, etc. etc.). Included in upgrading the panel was also upgrading our service from 100 amps to 200 amps—meaning that not only do we have a new huge panel with more space for new circuits than I think we could possibly ever use, but enough electricity running into the house to power it all. It all runs through a fancy new grey PVC pipe, through a new meter pan, and into the new breaker panel in the basement.

servicedrop

3. New Service Drop! The electrician is only allowed to work on electrical from the point of attachment (where the power line attaches to your home) downwards, however. So even after we had our panel and the wires feeding it upgraded, the wires from the pole to the house were still ollldddd. I think we were the last house on the street still rocking uninsulated triplex wire! I called the utility company to find out how to get that wiring replaced, and it only took them a couple of weeks after the electrician submitted some paperwork for them to come out and replace it. As far as I know, in most places this is a free service, assuming the utility company also deems your service drop outdated and in need of replacement.

PLUMBING

 plumingdisasters

1. We dropped about $1,300 right off the bat on fixing various plumbing issues: buying and installing a new toilet, replacing leaky valves and a large section of the waste line—that kind of thing. The house had been drained while it was vacant, but extreme temperature changes are still very hard on old plumbing, even when there isn’t water in them. Cracked sections of cast iron pipe can be patched in with new PVC. Where we’ve had to replace plumbing, in general we’ve replaced with PVC for waste lines and PEX for supply lines, which is much cheaper than copper (and, supposedly, lasts longer and is less prone to damage).

boiler

2. New Boiler! The biggest plumbing issue (and headache…) we had to deal with was the heat system. The house had a very, very old oil-powered boiler, but the oil tanks had been removed and remediated by the estate prior to sale (note: if there are oil tanks on the property, those should also be inspected for leaks prior to buying. You do NOT want to deal with remediation!). The cast iron hot water radiators seemed to be in fine shape, but they would need a new boiler to make them actually radiate heat. Because natural gas is much cheaper and cleaner than oil and natural gas boilers are more efficient, we decided that the smartest thing we could do was to convert our heat system to natural gas. Luckily, Central Hudson currently has a gas conversion program specifically for homeowners looking to convert from oil to natural gas, but do not have current gas service. Running gas from the main to the house is essentially free (you do have to pay a $500 deposit, but it gets returned after your equipment is installed), but would normally cost a few thousand dollars without the program. I’m guessing this sort of program is happening in a lot of places, though, so definitely check with your local utility company if you’re interested in doing something similar!

From there, it was a matter of installing the new boiler—which, thankfully, ended up doing double-duty as our tankless hot water heater for the whole house. It’s worked out great, by the way. This is another very expensive upgrade, but prices vary significantly based on the type of equipment used, the plumber, and the size of the system (our house is about 2,400 square feet and we have 11 radiators). Our upgrade came in at just about $12,000—which is a whole lot of money. But at least in New York, there are rebate programs in place for installing high-efficiency equipment, so we actually got about $1,500 back after our plumber submitted the paperwork.

But, again, this isn’t necessarily something you need cash on hand for. Central Hudson’s gas conversion program has its own financing, and local banks and credit unions also often offer home heating loans. Additionally, New York State has NYSERDA—the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, which is geared in part toward helping homeowners understand and finance energy-efficient upgrades to their homes. I didn’t find out about this until it was too late (impending winter really put a deadline on the boiler replacement!) but it’s a great program: starting with a free home energy assessment, working through the program may qualify you for cashback incentives, special financing, or even grants to help pay for the upgrades. I definitely plan to get an energy assessment through NYSERDA soon, and I’m hoping it helps us make other energy-efficiency upgrades more affordable!

PHEW. I could probably go on and on and on forever, but those are the major things we’ve encountered and had to learn alllll about in our first year of homeownership! It’s not all flowers and rainbows and fun, but that’s OK. Even in moments of panic and uncertainty, I still completely love our house, I love Kingston, and I’m really happy that we’re doing this.

If you’ve bought an old house, I’d love to hear what you can add to this list! And if you’ve bought a house at all, what are some of your most memorable home buying moments? If you need to jog your memory, cheek out all the home buying moments postcards!

Light it Up!

So, due to having zero time and zero energy and no exterior electrical outlet and the house feeling like a construction zone and 3/4 of our family being Jewish (in fact, I am counting the dogs), we did not do anything in the way of Christmas decorations this year, outside or inside. Instead, we did the early-stages-of-renovation alternate version where we change up our seasonal lighting scheme by having some electrical work done.

How’s THAT for holiday cheer?  So festive, even if the neighborhood may not realize/notice it. It’s subtle.

houseinsnow

That photo was taken on Saturday night, when we were getting a ludicrous amount of snow in Kingston! Snowy Kingston is so super pretty, and even though we’ve done almost no exterior work (well, half a roof counts I guess, but you can’t see it from this angle…), the house looks beautiful. The house was covered in snow the first time we ever saw it last December (almost a year ago!), and it feels really good to see it this time around looking more and more like a place where people live and a place that people love.

ANYWAY, the point of this photo is the new exterior lights! Look how bright it is!

oldlightporch

Obviously this is a picture of the hole left behind by the old light fixture and not the fixture itself, but I guess at some point in the 70s or 80s, the previous owner had one of these beauties installed here. It was the only exterior light, meaning that the house was pretty under-lit, generally. Aside from being a crappy size and style for the house, the placement of the fixture sort of didn’t make sense and marred an otherwise (potentially) very beautiful entryway.

newporchlight

Yay, new light! Obviously I have to patch up and paint that old hole (ASAP, before creatures colonize it…), and obviously this “fixture” is only temporary until fickle me can find one I really want, but having it centered over the overhang makes everything a million times better. The impetus for doing this right now was that I had to coordinate the electricians to come on the same day as the roofers so that they could run the new electrical from above, while the roof was torn off. Otherwise, they might have had to cut holes in the original tongue-and-groove ceiling, which was not going to fly. Both the roofer and the electrician were skeptical of this Extreme-Contractor-Coordination Plan, but it totally worked because I’m a bossy genius.

This fixture was slightly more presentable when it had a shade, but unfortunately it fell off roughly 5 seconds after I secured it and climbed down from the ladder. Dumb cheap lighting.

BUT THAT’S NOT ALL.

newporchlights

There’s lighting over the porch now! For the first time ever! So exciting!

When it’s dark out, this new lighting goes a loooonggg, long way toward making the house look taken care of, which is really exciting and really important in a neighborhood where that often isn’t the case. I’m also excited for when it gets warmer again and we can chill on the porch under our new lights. These lights are on a dimmer switch, so they’re perfect for lighting up the house or just providing a little ambiance when we’re hanging out on the porch. And who doesn’t love ambiance? Can’t get enough of that ambiance.

The fixtures that are there are just these guys from Lowes (which actually aren’t so bad, especially for the price, if you need something generic that looks historic and whatnot) but I think they’re a bit under-scaled, which bothers me. The original plan was to put a hanging pendant in front of the door and two flush-mount or semi-flushmount fixtures over the porch, but after living with the temporary lighting for a while, I actually think I want to nix the pendant and just have three matching flush/semi-flush-mount fixtures. Greek Revival houses were built to resemble Greek temples, and I think adding a hanging fixture would kind of disrupt the architecture. All the columns and the cornice and the trim details (of which there should only be more when we remove the vinyl siding…) are dramatic enough, so I think all the exterior lighting really has to do is highlight all that stuff.

By the way, given the amount of protection the cornice/fascia provide, the electrician assured me that it wasn’t really necessary to get exterior-grade lighting for here (as long as it’s flush-mount), which is exciting. I still might, just in case, but exterior lighting in general is tough. Like super hard to find anything that isn’t so ugly. Looking at interior options that would look good outside really opens up the options in a huge way.

BUT THAT’S NOT ALL. Stuff happened inside, too!

lightinentry

Remember this, in the entryway? Well. It was the only light source in the entire downstairs hallway. The hallway is over 30 feet long and kind of narrow, and having one teensy sconce trying to light up the whole thing was just not going to cut it.

I went back and forth a lot on whether or not to keep the sconce, and in the end decided to get rid of it. I know! First of all, it was connected to some pretty old wiring (lots of our wiring is pretty old and there isn’t really anything wrong with it, but it still feels good to replace it whenever it makes sense…), but I also felt like the space wouldn’t really be lacking anything without it. It isn’t original to the house (though it may be original to the house having electricity), its placement was sort of arbitrary, it wasn’t effective…blah blah blah. I still have it in case we want to use it elsewhere!

wallafter

Part of the reason I haven’t really made any headway in the hallway is because I wanted to wait for this electrical work to be done, and I’m glad I did! Look at all those holes! Now I can finally start to patch up and repair the walls, which will be so exciting. It’s going to be a longgg process, but getting this entryway/hallway situation checked off the list is going to be a huge accomplishment. 

ceilingfixtureafter

Yes, this light fixture is also completely terrible, but the fact that it’s THERE and that it WORKS is all I really care about at this moment. It’s centered in the entryway between the front door and the base of the steps. The ceilings are almost 10 feet here, so it definitely needs a big amazing chandelier. It’s going to be soooo good.

backofhalllight

In the back of the hallway (man, these pictures just get scarier and scarier…), we added another light that’s on the same circuit as the one in the front of the hallway. The shade for this one also fell off and shattered into a million pieces (I promise I’m not an idiot; these light fixtures are just really poorly made…), but for now it’s not like it’s even the worst-looking thing in this photo. So.

I think for here, I’ll probably do something pretty small and flush-mount, so as not to compete with the big guy down at the other end of the hallway. Just something that does the job…

upstairslightoldandnew

Then UPSTAIRS, I asked the electricians to move the existing light. It was basically centered over the area at the top of the stairs (in front of the bathroom door), which was annoying for two reasons:

1. The ceilings upstairs are only 8 feet, so putting a chandelier or pendant there would have been tough/impossible.

2. This is the only light source in the upstairs hallway, which meant that the other end of the hallway was super dark.

newupstairslight

Moving the fixture over the stairs solves both of these problems! Now that it’s more central, it lights up the entire space a bit better, and since it’s over the stairs, we have plenty of head-room to hang something way more exciting than that little crappy thing with grapevines etched into it.  I just kind of eye-balled the placement, and if I could do it all over again I might move it 6″-1′ back toward the bathroom, but it’s done now so I’m choosing to think it’s perfect!

cree

Before I end this long, rambling post about things that probably only I could get excited about, I wanted to mention my new(ish)found favorite lightbulb: the Cree bulb. This is a big deal in my life.

FINALLY, FINALLY, FINALLY, there is an energy-efficient bulb that is:

1. Very energy-efficient. It doesn’t even get warm when it’s left on for hours and hours, which is my scientific way of knowing it’s good for the world.

2. Not terrible to look at, like acceptable to put in a regular lamp or anything where it’s still mostly covered. But SO much better looking than a CFL.

3. Dimmable. For real dimmable. Actually dims really nicely.

4. Lasts forever. Package says it will last 20 years. That just seems ridiculous, but I guess we’ll find out.

5. MOST IMPORTANTLY: it gives off nice light! Like actually! OK, it’s still a teensy, tiny bit different than a good ol’ incandescent, but I’m the pickiest person alive and I have zero problem with the kind of light this bulb gives off. I basically can’t stand ANY kind of CLF, halogen, or other types of LED’s, so this is huge. Just make sure you get the SOFT WHITE, not the daylight.

We’ve been using these bulbs wherever we can and they’re really great. At about $12 a pop at Home Depot they aren’t exactly inexpensive, but the idea is that the energy savings over time (and, in theory, not having to buy any new bulbs for a couple decades…) helps them pay for themselves. That math is too complicated for me, but I WILL say that it feels good to FINALLY have found something that’s better for the environment and doesn’t make me want to gouge my eyes out with an icepick.

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