All posts tagged: Exterior

The Great Box Gutter Repair Update!

When I was in high school, I became possessed of the notion that I wanted—nay, needed—to join the crew team. I was about 5’2″ at the time and around 100 pounds, yet still my main condition for joining the team was that I didn’t want to be a coxswain. Thinking back, I probably did it solely out of a misguided desire to develop more shapely arms (I did not), but at the time nobody asked any questions. The coach was also my math teacher, and in my school—where activities like theater and debate reigned supreme—it wasn’t so easy to get five kids to willingly spend hours rowing a boat together, especially if it was also part of competitive sport. As long as all of my limbs technically functioned, I was not only automatically accepted to the junior varsity team but also allowed to be a diva about it. And I demanded to row. Soon thereafter, I became the most absurd bowman the sport has ever seen, a position that evidently traditionally requires both strength and a certain amount of skill for things like steering and stuff.

The season started out alright. Practices took place often in the third floor hallway and the stairwell of our school, where we worked on getting in good shape or something. I’m not an especially strong person, physically, but I’ve always been good at things that require endurance and stamina, so practice time suited me. I could run up and down stairs until my legs fell off, or row thousands of fake meters on the rowing machine, and I remember thinking thoughts like “hey, look at me, I am a total athlete. I’m going to be awesome at this whole sports thing.” Many days we’d also go out onto the river to practice in the actual boats. I was less good at this part, but I chalked it up to being distracted by the scenery. We practiced on the Potomac River from a rock formation upstream of Key Bridge down to the Kennedy Center, and floating around in the middle of the Potomac on a beautiful fall day surrounded by, like, gorgeous trees and D.C.’s monumental landmarks was really very pleasant. The part where we got yelled at from a megaphone to work harder and row faster was less fun, but it seemed like a decent trade-off for getting to enjoy the outdoors.

We never did terribly well in the competitions, but that wasn’t all that surprising. Lots of schools seemed to have high school students who looked a lot like high school students on TV look—what with their adult-like bodies and actual muscles lurking between their bones and their skin—but our team was just a rag-tag bunch of kids who weren’t suited for any of the other sports. We never really expected to win, so we were OK with just spending a few hours out on the water playing along. The thing that we hadn’t really anticipated, though, was that fall would eventually give way to the early months of winter. This unrelenting march of time, combined with our ridiculous costumes of sleeveless spandex unitards, began to make everything progressively more miserable. That’s when things really began to fall apart.

One Saturday, we had to go to a competition on the Anacostia River. The thing that nobody tells you about with crew is all of the waiting involved in the meets. You put your boat in the water and row out to somewhere nearby where the race starts, and then you sit. You sit for a really long time in this holding zone until it’s time for your race, which only takes a couple of minutes. All of the sitting and the waiting wasn’t so bad in the warmer months on the Potomac, but it was essentially unbearable on this morning on the Anacostia. First of all, the Anacostia is a horrifically filthy waterway without much in the way of scenery, and on a grey rainy day, the whole thing is a total bummer. Second of all, what might feel like a slightly cold and drizzly November morning onshore felt something like being directed to stand outside naked during a blizzard whilst sitting stationary on a boat in the middle of the river. My shivering approached something not unlike a seizure, my teeth chattering so hard that, if I’d had fillings, I’m positive they would have come loose. I was so cold, and so wet, and so much of my body was exposed, and I was surrounded by so much garbage, and there was no way to make any of it better.

I have no real concept of how long we sat there, but it felt like days. It was long enough that I recall weighing the relative benefits of throwing myself into the trash-strewn water and drowning myself, or at least drinking the river water and waiting a minute or two for the toxic sludge to work its way through my system. I remember hoping that the rain might pick up and I’d be dealt the mercy of getting fatally struck by lightning—something, anything, to end it all in the sweet release of death. What I remember most was the feeling of certainty that this—right there, in that moment—was the most amount of misery I had the capacity to possibly feel. Nothing would ever be worse, and if I survived it, the rest of my life would be, essentially, easy. Until recently, that’s more or less held true.

gutterbefore

I think probably trying to fix this gutter was worse than that. It was worse than anything.

Here is the sequence of events that led to this moment:

1. We have a terrible time finding a contractor who would take the job of replacing our ancient roof who isn’t also trying to take every last penny of our entire renovation budget.

2. We finally find a contractor we can afford. We are able to finance the job and pay it off over several years, but still—it’s a roof. It’s like the most amount of money we’ve ever spent on anything (aside from the house itself), so we really, really want it to just go well. This seems like a reasonable hope to have when you are paying professionals to do the thing that they professionally do.

3. Workers begin job by tearing off majority of old roof. It quickly becomes clear that our poorly-maintained box gutters (which are gutters that are essentially built into the structure of the house rather than attached like a regular modern aluminum gutter) had undergone a lot of damage and deterioration and rot over the years, all of which I detailed in all its gory detail at the time. It is devastating.

4. Roofing contractor tells us that there isn’t anything he can do, and I need to find someone qualified to make the repair of re-framing, sheathing, and lining the gutters. No, he has no recommendations. Other than to get it done within the month, since winter’s a-coming. We are in deep shit, officially.

5. I go into panic-mode and delude myself into thinking I can probably rebuild a 34 foot long gutter, two stories in the air, by myself in a weekend. Not my finest moment.

6. I try really hard for like 4 days. It is very cold on the roof, but I spend essentially all daytime hours up there regardless. I have a bad cold. I realize I have very little clue what I’m doing, but I keep trying anyway. I panic more. I descend into madness and admit defeat. I am broken.

processporch

This is where things start to get lots better:

1. I talk to somewhere around 6 contractors. Some of them are very expensive. Some of them are only regular-expensive. I choose a regular-expensive contractor, who is vague about when he can start the job. It is getting more winter-y, and various structural components of my house are basically exposed to the elements. Finally, the contractor hands off the job to another contractor. I no longer really even know what’s going on, but I’ve stopped caring. As long as it gets done.

2. Other contractor, whose name is Shane, turns out to be terrific. He seems to fix things very well. He costs a little less than expected. Things are OK.

I didn’t want to get in Shane’s way, so I don’t really have many process photos, but the one above is the reconstructed structure of the box gutter over the front porch. Look at that! Because the gutters that he had to repair were various sizes and in various states of disrepair, each required different things. The sheathing on these gutters over the porches had completely rotted, but for the most part, the framing members were in decent and usable shape (though he did reinforce them where necessary). Then he sheathed the gutters in a mix of exterior-grade OSB and pressure-treated plywood.

So we went from this:

porchbefore

To this: (!)

porchafter

Check it out! Doing what it’s supposed to do!

OK, I know it’s not the most beautiful thing in the world, and old house purists might be screaming at their computer monitors in horror. There are a couple of different ways to address repairing box gutters, and there’s a lot of disagreement in the old-house-world on the best way. Traditionally, these gutters were lined with metal (either tin or copper), which was painted to help preserve their longevity. Lots of roofers or gutter people who work with box gutters will still line them this way—either with aluminum or copper. Obviously copper gets obscenely expensive, and was just completely out of the question for us, but both metal options have to deal with the issue of expansion and contraction. Properly lined gutters are done in sections with soldered joints to allow for expansion and contraction of the metal under different temperature conditions, but very often these joints fail over time, allowing for water to seep into the structure below. Which isn’t cool at all.

The other option is using a very thick rubber called EPDM (basically pool-liner), which is obviously not historically accurate, but seems to work. Lots of people seem to not like this solution because it’s so historically inaccurate and because using it goes against the manufacturer’s installation recommendations, BUT the general consensus seems to be that in terms of functionality and longevity, it works great. With all that in mind, we chose to go with EPDM, both because it was much less expensive and because it seemed like potentially a better material in terms of avoiding problems down the line. I really hope this was a good choice because I never want to deal with this bullshit again.

dooroverhangbefore

Here’s the overhang over the front door, after all the rotted bits had been removed.

after2

And here it is now! Cool, right? At some point, I’d REALLY like to get better-looking downspouts for this area, since those cheap modern aluminum ones aren’t really doing the house any favors visually, but that can wait. The water is draining like it’s supposed to, and also not rotting away the house from the inside. Success!

biggutterbefore

As for the HUGGGEEE gutter that I spent so long working on, it needed a much more comprehensive reconstruction, including all new framing, sheathing, and lining. Unfortunately this entire side of the house—including the soffit—has bowed out over time (probably an effect of our rafters not having collar-ties, which help keep the pressure of the roof structure from bearing down on the exterior walls), which really threw the pitch of the gutter off. We thought we might have to completely reconstruct the soffit, but luckily Shane was able to just fix the pitch of the gutter with the new framing and avoid a much more extensive re-build. Point is, now the water drains toward the downspout at the end instead of pooling toward the middle.

gutterafter

There she is! The beast. Again, not the most glamorous looking thing in the world, but it really does fine from the street, which is what’s important. Even though it might have been easier to just sheath right over the box gutters and attach regular modern gutters (which is what most people do in this situation), I’m still glad we decided to restore this original feature. Even though we didn’t go all-out and line them with fancy metal, we were still able to preserve the original shape and structure of the roof and cornice (sheathing over it would have meant a sudden change in the pitch of the roof because the angle of the edge of the roof to the edge of the gutter is different than the overall angle of the roof, if that makes sense…if it doesn’t, just trust that it would have looked totally awful). And instead of tacking on new gutters, we were able to maintain the original crown molding that tops off the cornice. Because I think the cornice is definitely one of the best architectural features of the house, I’m super happy it wasn’t compromised because of all this.

GutterBeforeafter

Speaking of the crown molding, you might notice that it’s missing! Unfortunately the original material was badly rotted and unsalvageable, so it’s being replicated now (so cool!), since it’s not exactly something you can find stock. In the spring, we’ll attach the new crown, finish fixing up a couple of damaged corbels (hello, generous slathering of Bondo in the after picture…), caulk, and paint everything.

postandbeam

Even though I really wish all of this hadn’t happened the way it did, there were a couple of silver linings. The first is that I really like the contractor who did the work, and it feels good to have a trusted professional in the arsenal when we need more stuff done that I can’t do myself. The second is that after trying to deal with the gutters myself, all the interior stuff feels like small potatoes. Maybe it’s not so fun to rip out a plaster ceiling, for instance, but it feels comparatively super easy and fun compared to crying on the roof. Third, it gave me a chance to really see and understand more about this house! I used to love old houses pretty much for completely superficial reasons (doors! moldings! pretty things!), but it’s fun learning more and more about how and why things were build the way they were. It’s sort of weirdly empowering to be able to explain and diagram exactly how our box gutters are built, and it’s kind of exciting to see the “guts” of the house that are usually covered up, even when the circumstances might suck. Take for instance this peek at the pegs joining together our timber framing! It’s cool because it further supports that our house is definitely older than we originally thought—the listing said 1895, but this style of post-and-beam construction went out of fashion in the mid-19th century, when sawmills brought about during the industrial revolution allowed for smaller, more precise dimensional lumber and homes became cheaper and faster to build as a result. The amount of craftsmanship that went into just the structure of this house is so remarkable.

We still have a ways to go with the roof (a couple more roof surfaces and a few more gutters haven’t yet been addressed…ugh), but I’m glad this stuff got taken care of in time for winter. Even though looking at these gutters might be way less satisfying than, say, the bathroom renovation that we might have spent the money on otherwise, this was an essential repair that needed to happen now, so I’m glad it did. Sorry, bathroom! I’ll aim to get to you by at least 2030.

House
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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.

My Roof Might Kill Me.

When we closed on our house, I bought this book called Renovating Old Houses because I figured it would be chock-full of interesting and valid information that would come in handy as a new renovator of an old house. Reading through the book later on, I was quickly filled with an all-consuming sense of dread: what the hell have I done. While informative, the book basically chronicles everything that can go wrong in an old house——which is to say, everything. Everything can go wrong in an old house. If it isn’t the foundation, it’s the roof, and if it isn’t the roof, then it’s the framing. The electrical will probably start a fire, the plaster will fall apart, and——of course——the asbestos will kill you eventually. I read through about half of it before I felt that it would be better for my mental health if I gave the book a little break for a while to recover from my house-hypochondria. All of a sudden, I couldn’t just see all the beautiful old things——instead, only a collection of problems, or potential problems, and a future full of regret and failure.

Old houses are difficult beasts by definition. They were built at a time before standardization, and before modern construction methods. Sometimes, that’s a good thing. Other times, it’s a massive pain in the ass.

roofold roofold3 roofold2

We knew the roof was a problem before we bought the house, and intended to have it replaced in the near future. It wasn’t until we started living there that the “near future” became somewhat pressing. I came to be one of those people who dreaded sudden shifts in weather——each new rainstorm bringing slow (and…not slow) leaks of water into various areas of my home. We did our best to do some temporary patching, but we knew the roof needed to be replaced ASAP. Because of the way our home was built——a main section with various additions over time——we have a few different types of roofing. The main pitched roof was clad metal shingles (probably installed in the 1920s?), and all of the low-slope or flat sections were covered in sheet metal, covered up over the years by rolled asphalt roofing or gallons of tar. Metal roofing is really beautiful and extremely long-lasting, but unfortunately when it isn’t properly maintained (painted every few years, that kind of thing), it tends to corrode. It corrodes further when the repair method is covering leaking sections (or the whole thing!) with loads of tar——it works well for a while, but is a very temporary solution until the tar cracks and buckles and separates from the substrate (and further corrodes the metal). This “temporary” repair method has probably been used on our house for…oh, 50 years. Not awesome.

Eventually we found a roofing contractor (long story, not worth it) who came in at a reasonable price (and offered financing options), and we scheduled the work. Things were going super well, like so:

Roofattic

Oh yeah, did I ever mention that our whole house is insulated with brick and mortar? Well. It is.

roofing

roofbeforeafter

And then they weren’t.

The problem is our house.

Remember that thing I said about old houses being difficult and complicated? Well. Unlike modern homes, our house is outfitted with a built-in gutter system called box gutters, which is part of the whole structure of the roof. I made a simplified technical drawing to illustrate. Excuse my chicken-scratch.

diagram1

Basically this means that the gutter itself is built into the cornice of our house, as opposed to the  regular aluminum gutters that contemporary homes have. The gutter structure is built out of wood and then lined with metal (or sometimes rubber, if it’s been redone recently). The problem with this elegant solution to water drainage is that a lot can go wrong over time——the house settles, a leak develops in the metal lining, or if you’re like us, both! Both awful things have happened, meaning that water leaked into the gutter system for a really long time and caused a whole mess of rot.

I was aware that this could be a problem, but every roofing contractor who looked at our house (not just the ones we hired) proclaimed our box gutters A-OK and good candidates for a quick re-lining job.

HA. HA. HAHAHAHAHAHA. *bursts into tears*

I’m the sort of annoying homeowner who lingers around whenever work is being done on my house, so when I climbed up onto the roof to check on the progress, I immediately saw some problems. The original tar-covered metal lining had been partially torn off, and underneath was a horror show——nothing but remnants of the original gutter structure remained, mostly comprised of completely rotted little splinters of wood.

rot

And it wasn’t just this gutter (although——hopefully——this is the worst). It was all the gutters that they’d exposed. Luckily at this point they’d only torn off half the areas of roofing (and gutter lining), so I immediately told everyone to stop what they were doing so we could assess the situation before opening up more cans of worms. Good move, Kanter.

Basically what happened to this gutter can be explained by this second (exaggerated for dramatic effect) technical drawing I composed for your viewing pleasure.

diagram2

The box gutter SHOULD  slope within the cornice down to a terminal at the end, where water is then released onto the ground via a downspout. But on our house, over the course of 150 years, not only did the gutter lining develop leaks, but the entire wall of the house (and the cornice) bowed out, causing the cornice to settle with a slope at both ends toward the center. Water began to leak through the gutter lining, and then settle in the middle, rotting some of the wood of the cornice and continuing to eat away at the gutter structure. Just terrific.

To make things even more fun and exciting, this kind of repair is beyond what our roofing contractor could address——it’s really carpentry, at this point, and a fairly specialized type of repair. So basically they covered all the exposed gutters with ice & water barrier and told us we needed to fix it ourselves or hire someone who could, and it needs to happen within the next month or so, before there’s massive amounts of cold and rain and SNOW to ruin our house/life.

The whole thing was absolutely devastating, honestly, and I don’t say that about a lot of things. I panicked. I went to the hardware store and bought some tools and supplies and wood. Then I got on the roof and basically didn’t get off for three days. It was cold. I might have been sick, both physically and in the head. It was awful. I wanted to be dead, but I thought maybe I could fix it myself and really, really didn’t want to deal with contractors or pay contractors lots of money to do something that my pea-brain thought I could maybe conceivably handle myself.

meonroof

I really tried.

EFFORT

At various points I thought I was doing super well and maybe I was an amazing carpenter/roofing prodigy, but Sunday night basically ended with me shivering on my roof, head in my hands, trying to figure out what to do next. I needed to come to terms with the fact that this is just beyond what I’m capable of dealing with by myself, for the following compelling reasons:

  1. I don’t really, actually know what I’m doing. I don’t think this repair is exactly rocket science, but it’s dumb for me to think I can do it correctly without any real knowledge of how to do it correctly. I’m not sure I can possibly make things worse, but I also don’t want to do it all wrong, cause further damage, or need to have it all redone in the next few years because I was too stubborn to hire somebody the first time around.
  2. I have no time for this. There are a lot of exposed gutters right now, and I’m under no illusions that upcoming rain/snow aren’t going to make all of this SO much worse. I need this to be fixed quickly, and doing it myself is not going to make it go quickly.
  3. There’s a problem of scale at work here. I’m one person, and even if I knew how and had the time, I can’t fix this many linear feet of gutter, half of it while balanced precariously on a ladder.

I’m not the sort of person who cries in moments of self-pity and dejection, but if I were, I would be. I know I try to keep things light and fun and happy around these parts (and I debated even writing this post), but honestly? This feels awful. I feel like I’ve destroyed my house. I know it’s just a dumb cornice and some dumb gutters, but this all feels overwhelming and insurmountable and sad.

We’ve had a couple of contractors out over the last few days who are familiar with rebuilding box gutters, though, and I think things are looking up. One of them in particular I LOVED, and his quote was actually relatively affordable, so hopefully he’ll be able to shuffle his schedule around and I’ll be writing a big update a couple of weeks from now about how he is amazing and solved all of our problems and I didn’t even have to sell my organs or anything AND my house has wonderful and reliable drainage that I’ll never have to touch again.

Hopefully. Fingers crossed, big time.

OK. Make me feel better. What’s the worst thing that ever happened during your renovation? Ready, go.

Tour: The Exterior!

aerialview

At long last, the exterior!

frontview

This is our house from the street! When we first saw the house over the winter, there was about a foot of snow on the ground and it was impossible to tell what was going on with the yard, but by the time we closed, the yard had become completely overtaken by tall grass and weeds. Over the first couple of days, Max worked really hard to mow the grass and clean up what we have. It’s really important to us that after 2 years of vacancy, the house finally looks like somebody is taking care of it. That goes a long way in the neighborhood, too.

Even though the exterior needs a lot of work eventually, we’re really lucky that it already looks pretty cute without doing anything major! The bones are there. Most of the houses in our neighborhood are on smaller properties and lean toward more traditional Victorian details, but ours has a larger piece of land and looks pretty different architecturally from everything around it——which, to me at least, might be another indication that it’s older than a lot of the surrounding houses. We’ve yet to pinpoint a date, but we’ve done some preliminary research. I’ll write a post about some history when we know more!

ANYWAY. At some point, probably in the 70s, vinyl siding was installed on all the exterior walls, but the original clapboard is right underneath. Even though I want to rip all the vinyl off and restore the clapboard RIGHT NOW, we’re definitely going to wait on that for a while. Since the vinyl is white, it doesn’t really impede on the look of the house very much, and we have no idea what we’re going to find underneath. As with the inside of the house, it just isn’t wise to start exposing anything that we’re not ready to deal with yet. Sometimes people tear off vinyl to find the clapboard in great shape and easy to restore, and some people end up with lots of rot——and then tons of time and money——to restore it. Obviously, when the time comes, I’m hoping that we find the former, and I’m also hoping that whatever nice moldings used to exist around the windows are still there.

frontdoor

I really love the crazy entry with the crazy columns, which are repeated on the porch off to the side. The banisters extending between the front columns and the house are definitely a newer addition, but they’re OK enough for now. The concrete needs to be re-faced at some point and the steps could use a little restoration, but nothing is so far gone that it all needs to happen this instant.

I love the front doors. I’m debating trying to strip the doors and stain/seal them so that they’re natural wood, but that might also make me insane. Maybe they just need to be black? I like a “pop of color door” as much as the next person, but I really don’t think it’s right for this house.

knob

Cool hardware, just for fun. The locks still work!

side1

I love the little wrought-iron fence that covers the front and part of the side of the house. So cute! When we can finally landscape, I really don’t want to have any sod at all at the front of the house or on this side. We have plenty of yard in the back, and grass is a pain to maintain (WE JUST MOWED THIS.) and isn’t the most environmentally friendly choice. Can’t you just see it with beautiful luscious gardens all along the front and side? It will be so nice.

side2

The side view of the house is where it kind of starts to look a little bit Frankenstein. My guess is that the original house had one bay window on the first floor, and later (when the side porch and kitchen sections were added), that second bump-out on the top was also put in. But I don’t know! I’d love to find an old picture of the house from this angle.

sidegarage

There’s a garage! Crazy. We can’t actually get in to the garage from the street because of the fence (it doesn’t appear to open in front of the garage door!), but eventually I’d love to set up a little workshop space in the garage and use it as an actual garage. I have no idea if the garage is original to the property, but it is really old. Evidently when the house was on the market, some improvements were made to the garage (apparently it was falling down…yikes), but it seems very solid now. It even has a new roof!

backmudroom

This is the mudroom from the outside. See how it’s weird and big? See how the window is tiny and strange? See how there’s that awful set of exterior stairs and that silly little flower bed? See how there’s a huge weed/tree growing from the crawlspace underneath?

Oy vey. I don’t know. SOMEDAY (most used word in the post?), I actually think it would be nice to shrink the mudroom by about half the depth, move the door to face the garage, and then put a set of stairs up to it on the wall where there’s currently that tiny window. Does that make any sense? As it is, the mudroom is silly-huge (about 9′ x 10′) and just looks like such a janky little add-on.

backofhouse

This picture is taken from the back corner of the yard. Those steps to the second floor! I want them to disappear. I’m sure they were required by code when the house was two units, but since we’re converting it, I’m guessing it will be OK to take them out. Obviously we’ll make sure and permit properly and all that…when the time comes.

That big tree (some type of maple? maybe?) is really nice, but unfortunately it’s kind of rotted at the base and probably needs to be removed. This makes me a little sad.

So. The asphalt. BEHOLD:

backyard2

Remember that thing I said about the house being covered in snow when we saw it the first time? Amazing what a foot of snow will make disappear. Apparently, between making the house into two units and owning several cars, the previous owner decided that paving, like, half the yard was a great plan. We’ll definitely come up with a whole landscaping plan before totally getting rid of it, but I’m pretty sure it all has to go. How hard is it to use a jackhammer? Honest question.

You can kind of tell in this picture that on the backside of the garage, there’s a pretty sizable flower bed made of cinderblocks. I call it our weed garden! For the sake of our verrrrry preliminary attempts at landscaping, I think it would be worthwhile to clean this planting bed up, pull all the weeds, and maybe plant some veggies or something in it. Right now, it’s crazzzzzy. Some of those weeds are taller than me.

There’s a small strip of land on the outer edge of the garage, too (about 5 feet), which is also completely overrun by weeds. I think I’d like to put gravel in this area and put a compost bin back there.

asphalt

That back fence is like a crazy jungle nightmare mess. I did a little exploring and found that there are actually a few nice-looking bushes/trees hiding in all of that, along with a bunch of daylilies bordering the pavement. That neighbor also has a wood fence, which is nice for privacy, so I’m kind of anxious to at least get this area a little cleaned up.

backyard1

Finally, some grass! Once we’re able to replace the chain-link fence, I’d like to plant some more privacy trees lining the fence to the right (behind that green house is a very low-traffic commercial business, which would be nice to block out a little bit!), then probably reserve a lot of this area for grass. The whole reason we were so excited to have so much yard is because it gives Mekko enough space to get her ya-yas out, and I’m sure she’d appreciate not running all over asphalt. Although she also doesn’t seem to mind at all.

sideyard

The side of the house is where the best part of the yard is——just some grass and that big tree. The house doesn’t have a dryer, hence the clothesline. I’ve never made a habit of air-drying my laundry, but I have to say, it really works! Everything smells good and dries fast and it’s kind of awesome. We definitely want to get a dryer, but it’s kind of nice that this option is here, at least as long as we have the tree.

sidebathroom

The window on the left is the laundry room, right is the bathroom, and far left are the big living room windows. Sorry if you’re so lost!

But look! Somebody had a little garden here at one point. And a huge affinity for Hosta. Hosta and day lilies is how this yard was landscaped. Definitely room for a little more diversity.

The little slate path bordering the house is super cute. Max bought those little solar-powered outdoor lights for a few dollars a piece, and they actually make a big difference to the look and feel of the yard at night. They work really well, too.

porch

Back at the front of the house is the porch. I love the porch! We need to get some furniture or something for it, but it’ll be nice to hang out on. The people in our neighborhood have been very friendly and social, so it’ll be nice to sit out there and chat with everyone. There are some nice plants in front of the porch. A couple of them are a little too big and overpowering, but we might be able to prune them back or relocate and replace with something else, too.

I know this yard (and the exterior, generally) are going to take a ton of work and a lot of upkeep and maintenance and a future full of back-breaking labor and weird sunburns and probably an inadvertent brush with poison ivy (or several), but we’re so excited. Almost as excited as Mekko, who has eased into her role as Squirrel Patroller with all the tenacity and panache that Linus puts into sunbathing.

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