Dust, debris and decisions

The Old House Web

Upstairs apartment kitchen, before...

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and after.

New wood set into old frames

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Temporary "stairs" to attic

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Stair detail, unpainted

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Stair detail, painted gold

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Stair window detail

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The view of Main Street

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Uncovered treasure

Wednesday, Dec. 8, 1999

Ah, the joys of trading old dust for new. It's been a month since we took possession of the Victorian we're restoring, and the demolition of the two upstairs apartments is complete. My phenomenal crew of Scott, Ian and Phil are on the loose downstairs, beginning to tear out the bedroom and bath of one of the two remaining apartments.

The tubs they took out upstairs weren't the current generation fiberglass ones, but 1/2" cast iron, each weighing around 500 pounds each (225kg). I'm almost glad I was at work at the time, as they related horror stories of bringing them down the narrow front stairs and almost taking out the banister. Thankfully, everything we wish to remain intact still is.

To refresh you on our plans, the upstairs apartments will become four bedrooms and two baths, while the two downstairs apartments will be transformed into the kitchen, office and living space.

Tools of the Trade

We've found some essential tools of the restoration trade. The dust mask is probably the most important, next to eye protection. It's nearly impossible (or I haven't figured out a good way yet) not to throw debris into your face when you're pulling off boards and stripping drywall and lathe. If you don't have plastic or glass in front of your eyes, you will run into problems.

Every night I fill one or two shop vacuum drywall bags with old bits of plaster, nails and dust -- lots of dust! It helps to have two sizes of vacuums, too. A 12 gallon/3 hp vacuum stinks at large chunks of plaster and nails, but excels at removing dust from the carpets and getting items from small, enclosed spaces. A second 10 gallon/6hp model with a 2.5" tube, on the other hand, sucks up all but the largest pieces of drywall and plaster, as well as most nails on the floor.

One tip: Use collection bags with your shop vacuum. It didn't take me long to reach my frustration threshold when I first tried to vacuum drywall and plaster dust without these optional bags. In only three minutes the corrugated circular filter that goes around the motor was hopelessly clogged. Then I'd have to shut down and spend the next 30 minutes with a brush or nail digging fine dust out of the folds in the filter.

To prevent the downstairs from being completely overrun with dust, we put up a plastic sheet at the top of the stairs. It helps, but the dust still leaves a light film on the various surfaces down where we're living. To help keep things clean, we bought a HEPA air cleaner, which we run constantly down in the living area. This has helped tremendously.

Details and Decisions

First, by request, the details of the woodwork on the stairs. The first picture shows the dark finish. The next picture shows the gold painted part. Also shown is the detail on the lower stairway window.

In the kitchens, we've found small windows set into the much larger rough-lumber (original) window frames. Thankfully we have most of the windows in the basement, and will be replacing them during the restoration process. What were they thinking when they removed them? Speaking of "them" we found some signatures in a closet with a date of 1973. Could this be the date the 'renovations' took place? We think so, since this is an original plaster wall with original trim.

We also uncovered the stair cutout for the attic steps, just where we thought it should be. Those will be replaced, soon, too. With the attic and first floor staircases opened does this place ever get cold at night!

Along the left wall is another window which was completely boarded up. I'm surprised this is only a window; I was actually expecting a doorway here. Once again, the telltale sign is new lumber set into a much older frame. This time, kitchen plumbing crossed the former window area. This, too, will need to go.

An expected find in the bedroom wall common with the living room was the rear chimney, which originates in cellar and pokes up through the attic. What wasn't expected was the plugged hole, perhaps from a wood stove.

To replace or not to replace? Uncovering ghost windows, halls and stairs raises some questions. In our new master bedroom, for example, we uncovered the original window openings. The additional light would make the bedroom beautiful, and the view out to the backyard would be spectacular. However, we're wondering just where we would put furniture if all the walls were windowed from floor to ceiling. Decisions, decisions...

Random thoughts...

Seeing the house opened up really gave an impression of just how large the attic space is! There are some are some defects which need to be fixed, (such as old ceramic insulator wiring in the floor joists), but this promises to be a room with a lot of angles, nuances and character. I just wish there were some way to preserve the exposed timbers which arch over the center or the room.

Have I mentioned before that ripping out is dirty, nasty -- but fun -- work? We do take occasional breaks to enjoy the view of Main Street, which even on a rainy, miserable, foggy day is exceptional.

We found some other gems when cleaning out, including the vent cover for the vent on the second floor.

Next installment: How Steve and his family spent winter break.

To see more of Steve's pictures, click here.

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