First up was making some slight modifications to the electrical rough-in, which I didn’t think through especially well when it was first done. Countertop outlets had to be lowered a tad and switched to a horizontal orientation (my preference), sconce locations had to be slightly changed, and I decided two ceiling lights would work better than one. But since everything was essentially there already, this was all quite simple work! Yay!
Obviously, the world is not normal right now. But aside from the uncertainty over countertops (WE MIGHT GET MARBLE, AFTER ALL! Pls pray.), things haven’t been too terribly different than normal—the biggest exception being that I’ve had to be more conscious of planning ahead. While most hardware stores are operating as essential businesses, obviously it’s still best to avoid going anywhere whenever possible. This has meant a lot of online ordering, and trying to be precise when planning work order so that we have what we need when we need it! I’ve also been trying to order as much stuff as I can think of at one time to cut down on shipping/delivery charges and interactions. Which has meant some very large purchases.
So the first thing to be delivered? SO MUCH INSULATION. I went ahead and ordered as much insulation as I think I’ll need for all the exterior walls of the house (roof/ceiling work was hired out, but walls are on me!). This felt like a slight risk because I ordered like 25 gigantic units of a product I’ve never used before: Rockwool!
Now, getting an insulation plan approved for this house was a total pain. Ultimately, here are the options that were pitched and seemed to be acceptable to our building department:
1. Spray foam. This would have cost a fortune (like, $11,000 on top of the $7K+ spent on the ceiling/roof), and made it nearly impossible to make changes to exterior walls (like where outlets and switches might sit), which I tend to change sometimes in the course of construction.
2. Flash-and-batt. The “flash” is a thin layer of spray foam applied to the backside of the sheathing for air sealing, and the “batt” is either batt insulation or blown-in insulation that makes up the extra space. This was less money but also very expensive and not very DIY-friendly.
3. Blown-in cellulose. This could be a DIY endeavor, but it sounds miserable and I would have highly preferred to hire it out. That said, depending on the product being used, it seems like an invitation for pests like mice, and it seems to have a tendency to settle over time, leaving the top of walls uninsulated, which I’ve never really understood. My gut does not love this idea.
4. Classic fiberglass batt. I have hated fiberglass bat pretty much since I started doing this kind of work. Rarely have I opened up a wall with fiberglass insulation that wasn’t either moldy, compressed with moisture, or had become a home for mice. From my understanding, fiberglass basically never degrades in a landfill, and it makes you itchy, and install isn’t complicated but can take some time.
5. Rockwool. This is what I went with, and I am SO GLAD I DID. I mean this with all the sincerity I can muster for insulation: I love this stuff!
At approximately 70% recycled material, it’s way more environmentally friendly than fiberglass. And install was SO EASY. The batts come sized for walls with 16″ on center studs, and are very easily cut with a serrated bread knife (of all things!). I’ve also heard an electric carving knife works great, but I don’t have one and honestly that seems like overkill. It also just gets held between the studs by friction, which means no stapling or other reinforcement!
While wool-based insulation is a thing, Rockwool actually has nothing to do with wool. It’s made from volcanic rock(!), which through some magic gets “spun” into something closely resembling wool. For this and other reasons, it’s mold and mildew resistant and unfriendly to a variety of pests that like to take up residence inside insulated walls, and fireproof. Prices may vary regionally, but in my neck of the woods it’s almost exactly the same price as fiberglass batt, too. What’s! Not! To! Love!
Anyway. It took me and Juliet maybe an hour to insulate the whole room? So! Easy! Make yourself a cocktail and have your kids do it for you.
Since my local building department has suspended interior inspections, luckily they were able to accept photos as an alternative. And with that squared away, it was time for drywall!
As usual, I hired Edwin to do the drywall work. He has keys, so he was able to let himself in and out of the house without me being present, and then Juliet and I could go in later and sanitize (just in case!) and get back to work. To streamline ordering, we used mold and mildew-resistant drywall throughout the kitchen. I neglected to order enough 1/2″ green drywall (the green paper indicates mold and mildew resistance across a few different brands), so we supplemented with some extra 5/8″ PURPLE drywall I had leftover from my own kitchen walls! I asked him to leave the bottom 3′ on the side walls without drywall because I have another plan for that!
With the walls squared away, it was time to address the FLOORS!!!
Floors for this house have been a source of long-term debate and anxiety. I wrote a whole post about it years ago, and continued to debate it up until the night before we started laying them!
The picture above is of the entryway into the house (this room and the one behind it have now been combined into one living room) when I first bought it, and you can kind of see the flooring! We ended up having to pull up nearly all the original flooring on the first floor of this house to deal with the crawlspaces, but naturally I saved everything I could for future use! And now it is the future!
The original flooring on the first floor of the cottage was in rough shape, and it was different in the dining room and kitchen than in the front two rooms, which just made things feel choppy and disconnected. Sadly the dining and kitchen floors got tossed by accident during demo, so only the living room floor got salvaged. That flooring was in the best condition anyway, but I wish I had the rest of that old flooring right about now! Like any salvage rescue mission, some pieces get too broken to be salvageable, so you end up with less square footage than you started with. But after some careful measuring, it appeared that I would have enough of this salvaged flooring to cover the the whole kitchen floor!
Now, ideally I think the wood flooring would be consistent throughout the first floor, and my plan was to run it back-to-front rather than side-to-side to give the illusion of slightly more space, but that would require me to have enough flooring to cover the entire first floor…which I don’t have! I think I have a hook-up for antique fir flooring that can make that happen (IT WOULD BE SO NICE), but that was before shit hit the fan with the pandemic, which has thrown all of that into question because work has halted on the old building it was being removed from.
SO. SO SO SO. I switched gears. I decided the best use of the original living room floors (3.25″ exposure yellow pine) would be the kitchen, and HOPEFULLY the (2.25″ exposure) antique fir boards will materialize at some point for the living and dining spaces. Everything can run side-to-side, and it will be FINE. It feels appropriate for the kitchen to have a more modest floor, anyway. So that’s the new plan!
*Funny(?) note: I did some ultimately inconclusive research on whether to use an underlayment over the OSB subfloors, and decided it wasn’t a bad idea. So I raided the garage and came up with a partial roll of tarpaper roofing felt, and another partial roll of what I thought was a different roofing product that seemed comparably suited. Only later did I realize this second roll was not a roofing product, but weed-blocker landscaping fabric. So…fingers crossed that the dandelions can be kept at bay from growing on the kitchen floor? Quality work, Daniel!
Laying the flooring was a labor of love, made much easier with the assistance of my quarantine-roommate Juliet! Each board’s tongues and grooves were caked in 100-ish years worth of dust and grime, so we used a wire brush and scrapers to clean those parts up before install. We spread it out over two days, and it probably took about 10 hours total to go from bare subfloors to this!
If you are not convinced, that’s fair. This was a haven of splinters and does not look good. But an hour or two with a rented drum sander later…
This is when things started feeling very exciting! Look at that grain! Look at that warmth! Look at that character!
This is about where I decided to call it and stop sanding! I don’t have a lot of experience refinishing floors, so I get nervous about taking too much off. What I particularly love about old wood flooring is how long the individual boards typically are, so some of these go all the way from one side of the room to the other! Over 15 feet!
For finishing, I debated a few different things but ultimately went with sealing the natural color rather than try to lighten (or darken, but I don’t like the way pine stains so I never considered it) them—it just feels like that kind of house. So I fell back on my old faithful (which I had ready to go in the basement) poly—Bona!
There are various Bona floor finishing products, and wading through them can be confusing. The basic gist is this: first goes stain (if desired), then one coat of sealer, and then 2-4 coats of poly. The sealer can also act as stain if you like their options. I’ve used ClassicSeal and NaturalSeal in the past—ClassicSeal will make the floors look essentially the same as if you wet the raw wood with water, and NaturalSeal has some white pigments to preserve the lighter freshly-sanded look. There is a lighter option and a couple darker options as well.
There are options with the poly as well, but I’ve used Bona Traffic HD a bunch of times and it’s really an excellent product. Like an epoxy, it comes in two parts that you mix together to activate it. Application couldn’t be simpler, and it dries quickly so you can move on with your work without much delay. I like the satin finish! It’s sold at some retailers but not locally for me, so I always order it on Amazon—except that one time I found 3 gallons at the Habitat for Humanity Restore for about 95% off retail. Score!
Look how finnnneeeeee those floors look! I think the biggest challenge with this house is giving it back some historic character since everything is essentially brand new, and having these well-worn floors restores my faith that that’s possible!
I have a good feeling about this one. Hopefully the timing of these deliveries doesn’t throw things off, because I’m loving this momentum!
Are you tackling any bizarrely-timed projects during this global crisis? I’m curious how other folks are spending their time. As has become my usual habit, you can follow the ups and downs of this kitchen renovation over on Instagram Stories! Daily updates! It’s a raucous good time.