Just bought a 1930s Rowhouse.

Questions, answers and advice for people who own or work on houses built during the 20th century.

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adaminpgh
Posts: 1
Joined: Mon May 26, 2014 10:17 pm

Just bought a 1930s Rowhouse.

Post by adaminpgh »

Hi,

I just closed on Rowhouse that was built in the 1930s, and while it's not falling apart, I'm hoping to do some work on it before I move in. I've been reading this forum for the past month to try and learn more about what to expect with this kind of house.

About the house:

It's a 1930s 2 bedroom, 1 bath Rowhouse in Pittsburgh, looks to be CMU with brick on the outer walls. The interior walls appear to be mainly plaster over block, though I think there might be some drywall around the bathroom. The baseboards are 10" high, and have some interesting detailing. It looks like there was an addition put on at some point later on, and that's where the small kitchen is today.

Probably the most unique aspect of the place is that there are four fireplaces. From what I can tell, these may have been coal burning at one point, and then perhaps gas. There are indications of gas lighting in the basement (abandoned piping, etc..).

The two downstairs fireplaces are somewhat plain brick, with hearths that are at floor level (there is an interesting arch and lath structure beneath the hearth (in the basement) which looks to be what is supporting the concrete/mortar.

The two upstairs fireplaces are more ornate, with columns and capitals, all of which are painted in a heavy white paint. Not sure if this is childgard, or just more of the white paint the PO seemed to have the entire place covered in prior to putting on the market. I'll have to take a couple pics next time I'm over there. The upstairs fireplaces also have pretty good looking gas fireplace inserts. Since none of the chimneys are functional, I'm inclined to perhaps remove the inserts (after making sure the gas line has been decommissioned).

So far, I've made some interesting discoveries:

1 - The house was insulated using Rock Wool from Capitol Rock Wool, and there is a little certificate on the basement wall attesting to this.

2 - Underneath the brand new wall to wall carpeting that was installed when the PO placed the property on the market, there are interesting materials.

On the first floor, it looks to be 3" red oak planks. The wood isn't in the best shape, and there appears to be various damages from throughout the years. Pending a lead test, I'll be refinishing these some time in June (it's about 320 sq feet total, so this shouldn't be too onerous).

On the second floor, it's a little bit stranger: when we pulled up the carpet up there, it was a mysterious flat yellowish substance, over what I'm assuming is a pine subfloor. I wasn't sure what to make of it, but then as we kept pulling the carpet, there was a point where the material was removed and there was a black substance underneath (see pic)
The mysterious substance on the second floor.
The mysterious substance on the second floor.
IMAG0267.jpg (1.02 MiB) Viewed 12005 times
I am pretty sure this is linoleum over asphalt or tar paper. It covers everything on the 2nd floor except the fireplace hearths and the bathroom. Either way, I'm not happy to see it and will need to figure out what my options with it are. I really don't like carpet, and I suspect this may have asbestos (but it's basically in solid condition), so I think I may end up needing to cover it with a floating floor of some sort. I'd love to hear any ideas about it.

Speaking of the bathroom, the PO must have at some point had work done on it. When I looked in the access panel, I saw that while the visible floor is vinyl, the original floor looks to have been a 4" thick mortar bed with penny tile laid into it. It looks as if they essentially broke out a big chunk of it in order to position the drain for the current tub. I'm thinking about turning this into a walk-in shower, so I'm going to have to figure out what the best course of action is for that one.

Removing the carpet on the stairs was a bit of a surprise. The woodwork on the banister and newel base is quite nice, but the stairs themselves are an interesting mix of paint, shellac, and what appears to be a very brittle tread material on the risers. It was obviously on the treads to at some point, but it looks like they removed that. I'm a little concerned this could be some type of asbestos impregnated vinyl or something. A lot of it seemed to just fracture right off when the carpet was pulled. I'm going to have to think about getting that material tested.
Strange brittle tread material.  I hope it doesn't kill me.
Strange brittle tread material. I hope it doesn't kill me.
IMAG0270.jpg (1.17 MiB) Viewed 12005 times
One thing I noticed is that I sprayed the treads with simple green (as a prophylaphtic measure against lead dust), and it seemed to react with what I think is a mastic like material (or it could be the shellac?), and it created a very nasty and harsh fume. My sinuses and mouth felt rough for a day or so. Despite the potential lead dust or asbestos, this was definitely the harshest thing I experienced thus far.

I really wish the previous owner hadn't carpeted over everything in an effort to sell the place. While the condition of the floors are not good, I spent most of the past weekend pulling out carpet and tack strips and staples. They even tack stripped over the tile hearths, which caused some damage to the tiles themselves. Additionally, the shoe molding took a bit of a beating (from the looks of it, the installation of the carpet was even rougher than the removal), which meant needing to take steps to cut down on the lead dust (the trim and the vinyl blinds seem to be the two things that are positive for lead so far).

So, with that introduction complete. I'm wondering about a couple things in particular right now:

1 - I'm going to need to remove the shoe molding to re do the hardwood floors and likely install a floating floor. It's in much rougher shape than the baseboards, and has lead paint (I did the 3m swab test and it turned bright red almost immediately). What would be the recommended way to best remove the shoe molding with the least amount of dust created? I've got an excellent Fein Turbo II w/ Hepa Filter and a ton of simple green, but if there are better things I could do, then I'm all ears. I expect I'll probably just replace this with new shoe molding, as that seems to be what takes the biggest beating.

2 - Anyone ever see anything like the red material on the risers?

3 - What's involved in decommissioning a gas insert and sealing a fireplace? I'm already spending money at a rate that feels crazy to me, but I feel like I should get this done before I'm living in the place.
Attachments
First floor fireplace.  The thing in front of it is a sheet of drywall they had duct taped to the opening.
First floor fireplace. The thing in front of it is a sheet of drywall they had duct taped to the opening.
IMAG0260.jpg (229.31 KiB) Viewed 12005 times

wilburngweston
Posts: 2
Joined: Sat Sep 06, 2014 2:37 am

Re: Just bought a 1930s Rowhouse.

Post by wilburngweston »

Actually, you are thinking too much. That black material is the powder particularly layered before installing the carpets. It prevents carpet from getting spoil from the bottom. I'm presently undergoing flooring work done from carpet repair Denver
experts. Our work basically involves removing carpet and replacing that on the new floors which is pretty similar to yours. So you can consult them even, maybe then can help you with some of their ideas.

PaulGaspar
Posts: 7
Joined: Thu May 31, 2018 1:54 am
Location: Oakland,CA
Contact:

Re: Just bought a 1930s Rowhouse.

Post by PaulGaspar »

Hello, I hope, you are overthinking. That black material is the powder particularly layered before installing the carpets. I don't more discuss for carpets, But If you want to know any idea or information and repair for bathroom tools in your hous. I hope I know, where to get better information.
I love the lasted shower panel for my bathroom.

PaulGaspar
Posts: 7
Joined: Thu May 31, 2018 1:54 am
Location: Oakland,CA
Contact:

Re: Just bought a 1930s Rowhouse.

Post by PaulGaspar »

Hello, I hope, you are overthinking. That black material is the powder particularly layered before installing the carpets. I don't more discuss for carpets, But If you want to know any idea or information and repair for bathroom tools in your hous. I hope I know, where to get better information.
I love the lasted shower panel for my bathroom.

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