dcsimg

Writing a Novel--need your expertise!

Here you'll find a wide range of discussions on old-house topics.

Moderators: oldhouse, TinaB, Don M, Schag

Writing a Novel--need your expertise!

Postby GhostStoryWriter on Fri Jun 04, 2010 7:51 pm

Hi everyone. I've actually never restored a historic home, but the characters in the novel I'm writing are trying to restore an American Civil War era home. I need sort of a crash course in the types of projects that are normally done and the concerns (besides money) that people in these circumstances might have. I'd be grateful to anyone who would indulge me with a reply! Here's a few questions I'm trying to answer with my research...

1. What types of repair projects did you tackle first?

2. What would be the most common repairs that would need to be done on an American Civil War era home that has been sitting empty for say...5 years? (One that hasn't been used for family living in decades)

3. What sorts of challenges have you run into, as you tried your hardest to keep the home "historically accurate"?

4. Which repair projects were "too much" for you to handle and required outside help from contractors, etc.?

5. What mistakes would you expect a rookie in home restoration to make (ranging from the distasteful to the catastrophic)?

Thanks so much, in advance, for your help! I've searched the forums and collected information on my own, but it would be wonderful to gather some stories from you that meet my specific purpose.
GhostStoryWriter
 
Posts: 2
Joined: Fri Jun 04, 2010 7:49 pm

Re: Writing a Novel--need your expertise!

Postby Daniel Meyer on Fri Jun 04, 2010 8:21 pm

Hey, a fellow writer! Olah!

GhostStoryWriter wrote:1. What types of repair projects did you tackle first?


Weatherproofing and anything that would lead to further breakdown if not addressed (water leakage, roof).

Then, livibility...got bathroom? Shower? Hot water? Heat? AC?

GhostStoryWriter wrote:2. What would be the most common repairs that would need to be done on an American Civil War era home that has been sitting empty for say...5 years? (One that hasn't been used for family living in decades)


Roof, plumbing, windows.

GhostStoryWriter wrote:3. What sorts of challenges have you run into, as you tried your hardest to keep the home "historically accurate"?


The sheer amount of time everything takes...at least three times longer than I expect...and I used to do this stuff for a living. Also, the "lack of faith" of friends and occasional family about what you are doing or why.

GhostStoryWriter wrote:4. Which repair projects were "too much" for you to handle and required outside help from contractors, etc.?


Haven't gotten to one yet...but it will be the roof. Too big...too much to do in a reasonable time myself.

GhostStoryWriter wrote:5. What mistakes would you expect a rookie in home restoration to make (ranging from the distasteful to the catastrophic)?


Modern replacement windows instead of restoring the originals. Removing architectural details and/or painting trim that was previously stained.

GhostStoryWriter wrote:Thanks so much, in advance, for your help! I've searched the forums and collected information on my own, but it would be wonderful to gather some stories from you that meet my specific purpose.


Our ongoing adventure is here:
http://theoldvictorian.com/blog
CUAgain,
Daniel Meyer
Author. Adventurer. Electrician. Cat God.
http://theoldvictorian.com
http://lifeisaroad.com
Image
Daniel Meyer
 
Posts: 1236
Joined: Tue Dec 09, 2008 12:04 am
Location: Texas

Re: Writing a Novel--need your expertise!

Postby Igloochic on Fri Jun 04, 2010 9:22 pm

The idiots in my story would be purchasing an 8000 sq ft home with ten bedrooms and twelve baths....I'm not sure that anyone in the real world would do such a stupid thing....oh wait this idiot did :)


1. What types of repair projects did you tackle first?

Our laundry was in the cellar, down a pokey set of slippery cement stairs which could only be accessed from the outside. There were no ghosts but there were spiders...I'd have welcomed a ghost if they had a bug bomb....we moved the laundry to the second floor where the family lives. This saved my spouse from either death or divorce (he's well insured so given I'd keep the house, number one made more sense financially).

2. What would be the most common repairs that would need to be done on an American Civil War era home that has been sitting empty for say...5 years? (One that hasn't been used for family living in decades)

Plumbing and electric I'd guess. Roof and foundation possibly.

3. What sorts of challenges have you run into, as you tried your hardest to keep the home "historically accurate"?
Because our home has unique features not typical in the area, learning what was historically accurate for this house has been a challenge. If your homeowners care, I'd say that they would spend a great deal of time researching at historical societies etc.

4. Which repair projects were "too much" for you to handle and required outside help from contractors, etc.?
My husband is an engineer (they know everything) so everything requires outside help to keep him from trying to do things himself. (Oh F*it is a sign he's screwed something up...I hear that alot). But if we were normal, I'd say that the things I do (plaster, paint, tear stuff up) would be the limit of our skills here.

5. What mistakes would you expect a rookie in home restoration to make (ranging from the distasteful to the catastrophic)?
In an attempt to "fix" the cracks in the plaster here, I'm finding that the PO trips of wallpaper beneeth the wallpaper to hide the cracks. The picture rails are hung far too high and faux golded in spray paint in stripes of gold. The faucet was held on with a rubber band and a plastic plug. The toilets.....gad the plumbing to them is hilarious! lines that kink and swiggle from the wall to the toilet for no known reason possible to reasonable mankind. If there has been water damage, cover it with wallpaper :) Why bother painting correctly? No one really wants to open their windows....just paint over them until tey're painted shut (so common they make a tool for this).

You didn't ask, but we have a "void" between our masterbedroom and the former guest room (which used to be the master suite dressing room). IT's about 8x8 we understand. We're told there is a lady in there which is why they left the void instead of using the space. I'm hoping there is not an actual "lady" in there but just the idea of her spirit.. IF she comes out when we remodel back to the original configuration eel free to visit and interview her. I'm sure she has stories about bad remuddling on the house over the years LOL
The James House - 1889 "Modern" Queen Anne
Image
Igloochic
 
Posts: 629
Joined: Tue Sep 29, 2009 7:16 pm

Re: Writing a Novel--need your expertise!

Postby Igloochic on Fri Jun 04, 2010 11:53 pm

After spending the day removing wallpaper I have decided to reveal to you a little known secret, (in the effort to lend you some credibility when writing this book) one we old home owners NEVER discuss, out of fear or horror, that you should consider including in your novel.

When you move into an old home the projects are overwhelming, even in the well cared for homes that are supposed to have nothing more than superficial projects to be completed, the sheer magnitude of “Stuff to be done” in an old house gets to you, so you start to look for the "easy stuff". Invariably ones eye will turn to the wallpaper....I mean come on, how bad can it be in comparison to the sinking foundation and leaky roof?

After a day spent scraping cracked plaster walls with a knife sharp enough to cut your whoo ha's off should you catch the knife on a deep crack, sending it backwards and downward in a somewhat hazardous and yet elegant sweep (accompanied by the term "Oh F***") one retires to their bed wondering two things...

"How bad could it be to tackle the roof? Sure it's 30 below zero with a 40 mph wind, but really, in comparison to today....How bad could it be?"

And the second thought "what the hell made me want to remove that paper? It wasn’t “that” bad."

It is at this very moment, fueled by a significant amount of liquid courage and severe pain in parts of your body you didn’t know exist, that an old homeowner learns an important fact...
The quality/tastefulness of wallpaper is inversely related to the quality of adhesive with which it is applied.

The 1920's hand painted silk paper will fall off the wall if you look at it. The 1960's cabbage roses entwined with bales of wheat in a field of teacups and coffee pots, applied upside down is best removed with a blow torch.

Please don’t tell anyone I told you this? Only people in the club are supposed to know….perhaps we keep it a secret out of a desire to protect resale value after we elect to go with the cabbage rose, wheat and tea cup theme in the formal dining room?????
The James House - 1889 "Modern" Queen Anne
Image
Igloochic
 
Posts: 629
Joined: Tue Sep 29, 2009 7:16 pm

Re: Writing a Novel--need your expertise!

Postby CycloneOfRed on Sat Jun 05, 2010 7:28 am

IGLOOCHIC!!! WHAT IS THE FIRST RULE OF OHW CLUB!? :evil: You are shunned. :wink:

I would concur that plumbing, electrical, and roof are some of the biggest issues one would expect to deal with. Also cracked plaster. Do a cursory search on repairing plaster on this website and you will see just how common of a problem it is, and how...uummm...fun it is to deal with. And scraping paint. Whether it be removing old paint that is failing, or removing paint from ornate walnut trim that some Previous Owner THOUGHT (incorrectly I might add) would look 'simiply maaavalus, daaaling'.

Which brings me to my next point...

If you want to make this book truly accurate, the projects don't necessarily matter. (While our plumbing and electrical do need work, we have our original, 130 year old steel roof, and it is doing just fine...every house is different in its problems, strengths, weaknesses etc.) What really matters is they constantly rant against, deride, curse and hold in general ill regard the Previous Owner (after all, whatever miserable, hellish task you are tackling at the moment can most likely be laid at their feet). There is one member of this forum that refers to her P.O. as 'sainted'. I assure you, she is the exception to the rule.

Good luck with the book!

Kevin
Last edited by CycloneOfRed on Sat Jun 05, 2010 7:40 am, edited 1 time in total.
Laws of Home Repair:
1) It will be more difficult than you think.
2) It will take much longer than you think.
3) Murphy's Law is in effect tenfold.

Image
CycloneOfRed
 
Posts: 275
Joined: Fri Jan 15, 2010 10:25 am
Location: Ionia, Michigan

Re: Writing a Novel--need your expertise!

Postby CycloneOfRed on Sat Jun 05, 2010 7:33 am

Oh!! And maybe you can have your characters search out help on a modest little forum (nudge nudge wink wink) where they meet exceptionally friendly, if somewhat eccentric people, who tell them just what to do!
Laws of Home Repair:
1) It will be more difficult than you think.
2) It will take much longer than you think.
3) Murphy's Law is in effect tenfold.

Image
CycloneOfRed
 
Posts: 275
Joined: Fri Jan 15, 2010 10:25 am
Location: Ionia, Michigan

Re: Writing a Novel--need your expertise!

Postby Texas_Ranger on Sat Jun 05, 2010 7:39 am

You know... actually it's worse! Blow torches, plaster walls and wallpaper don't mix, expecially if said plaster is applied directly over brick! The paper blackens superficially, but that's it! (Yes, I actually tried that! Well I was 16, my family wasn't much help with that part of the project and I had a 1000 sq. ft. apartment papered floor to ceiling including the ceiling... I'm surprised they didn't paper the inside of the kitchen built-ins and I was working on the bathroom - nothing combustible anywhere in sight, so I figured I'd try just or fun. Heated the paper with a soldering torch for a few minutes and got a fingernail sized black spot. Nothing else.

Well the most hilarious cheap fixes done by the previous owner...
- black mold on kitchen walls. Cover with aluminum kitchen foil and paper. Never mind that the wall behind the foil was still wet and eventually the whole thing came loose, all that matters: no more visible mold.
- screw holes in walls: see above.
- tile roof, tiles rest on wood slats (purlins) nailed to the rafters. Rafters are too short at the bottom, well just drive a few nails into the short end of the rafters to support the purlins. Never mind that it's going to sag and threaten to crash down... (if you find it hard to get a mental picture of that tell me, I can post a photo)
- on the pitfalls of ancient, PO improved wiring see Dan's blog entry, that was one of the best I've ever read!
- all kinds of patches made using old tin cans and other misc sheet metal (such as holes in wood floors covered with carpet)
and many more I don't remember right now.

Typical order of work:
- weatherproofing and structural (roof, foundations, framing). Settling causing huge cracks, joists hacked in half to accomodate plumbing or completely rotted, maybe whole sections of house eaten by termites, load-bearing walls removed to accomodate an "open floor plan", roofs consisting of 3-4 layers of asphalt shingles over plywood over wooden shingles and the whole shebang is failing and falling apart (though not something that needs to be redone completely "right now", the guys over at Casa Decrepit had a few nice blog posts on how to temporarily fix such a roof if replacement is just flat out impossible right now (can't find the posts regarding the roof right now, but have a look at http://www.casadecrepit.com/). Plaster destroyed because of old leaks, comes crashing down from the vibrations as you close the door. Or someone walking above. Or whatever. Falling plaster can actually break a toilet bowl (if the ceiling is high enough), causing water from the leaky tank to go onto the floor instead of down the drain, cause a water stain on the ceiling one floor below and... yeah, it happened to us.

The next big chunk is usually demolition of all things in the way of further renovations - depending on the condition of the house that might be paneling all over, drywall over plaster or beadboard, rotted wood, falling plaster, suspended grid ceilings, linoleum on floors, vinyl (danger: may contain asbestos!),...
Carpet might be handy to protect the floor while everything else is ripped apart though.
Bees or wasps inside the walls and ceilings can be nasty there.

The next big chunk is usually plumbing, AC and gas lines followed by wiring. At this point (or even earlier) rookies might be talked into unnecessarily gutting the house by contractors who don't want to be careful around walls and prefer to work on new construction which is of course unfinished and easier to access. Oh and one of the worst things I could imagine: let all doors, windows and trim go to the landfill because it might(!) have lead paint! Saw that happen on at least 2 blogs (I quit reading them afterwards).
Unexperienced renovators are very likely to hire contractors for this category of work (and well-advised to do so if you ask me, as hard as it might be to find good contractors who know how to work on old houses).

Then you have insulation. Quite a few options to choose from, some DIY, some not so much (closed cell spray foam for example). Supposedly a New Zealand guy tried to improvise foam insulation just spraying his wall cavities with spray foam. The foam expanded and popped the siding right off :D Typical snag if you take the classic batten insulation: odd sized framing, causing hundreds of extra cuts.

Now it's on to the cosmetic work. Patching plaster (usually a DIY job as plasterers have become awfully rare in the US) or drywalling if whole sections were stripped (one regular poster here decided to attempt plastering whole rooms himself though!).
Sanding floors.
(Stripping), sanding and painting/staining/shellacing doors, trim, stairs,..
Paint walls and ceilings. Possible snags: calcimine/distemper. A water based paint that softens whenever it gets wet and when it's old it usually bubbles and lifts off once it gets wet. In the good old days you scraped and scrubbed it off every time you repainted (I still do that even though I usually skip the scrubbing).

Big no-no on the exterior: vinyl siding and windows.
The bad thing with electricity : it almost always works.

http://whatapigsty.blogspot.com
Texas_Ranger
 
Posts: 2355
Joined: Mon Feb 09, 2004 6:42 am
Location: Vienna, Austria, Europe

Re: Writing a Novel--need your expertise!

Postby khwils on Mon Jun 07, 2010 9:21 am

The smell, old house renovation has a funk to it especially if it has been sitting for awhile. Surprisingly they all smell about the same. My wife can't stand it and says I smell like the old house I'm currently working on after I've been in it for even a short period of time. we can smell the current one from outside! The more it is ripped out/moved about the more it smells. The smell lasts until the very end it seems like.

I had a friend come over and look at one house I was working on, he's done a few houses hisself. He walked in the front door took a deep breath and said "Ahh, renovation, I don't miss that smell.

Kurt
khwils
 
Posts: 793
Joined: Tue Mar 04, 2008 6:21 pm
Location: Kankakee, IL

Re: Writing a Novel--need your expertise!

Postby nanook on Mon Jun 07, 2010 1:09 pm

i've got a wonderful idea. come help me and get first hand knowlege
nanook
nanook
 
Posts: 75
Joined: Wed Sep 16, 2009 12:34 pm

Re: Writing a Novel--need your expertise!

Postby melissakd on Mon Jun 07, 2010 1:55 pm

Oh, yay! This will be fun! I'm happy to meet you and look forward to helping out any way we can.

My Rookie Mistake: Undoing anything quirky the PO did, before I figured out why they did it. (Actual examples: Why is there Saran Wrap over the window in the front door? Why is the drainage gutter full of dirt? THERE IS A REASON. See page 2 of this thread: viewtopic.php?f=2&t=23346&p=201412&hilit=door#p201412 )

MelissaKD
Image
The Thaddeus W. Bayless House
Built between July 1863 and January 1865, major add/reno between 1890 and 1902
Style = Mutt
melissakd
 
Posts: 3468
Joined: Sun Nov 11, 2007 4:29 pm
Location: Indiana

Next

Return to General Discussions Forum

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Google [Bot] and 1 guest