Kitchen upgrade 2

It’s time to reveal the other side of the kitchen, this time from the outside.


This is the part of the house visible in the old picture at the top of the blog. In that drawing it’s white and has a stairway going up to the second floor.

Today, it may seem like an optical illusion that there’s a dip in the center of the picture… but it’s not. The siding looks rotted because it is – we knew that – but  the real damage was only apparent after opening it up. We brought in Randy again and after removing the trellis holding up the evil wisteria, they opened up the wall.


If it looks like there’s nothing holding up the wall, that’s because there isn’t. There wasn’t. The beam running the entire length of the kitchen (from the door to the porch in the first picture) was rotted away. It was essentially gone and the posts resting on it had rotted away too so the wall was literally hanging from the roof instead of being held up by the foundation.


Here’s the same wall with the rotted bits cut away. Notice the jacks under the posts. They were able to add a couple inches of height to the center.

One interesting clue to the history of the house: the entire opening between posts (from the left ladder to the post just to the right of the right ladder) has a single beam across it. That’s also the part of the kitchen with a floor that’s thicker than the rest of the floor boards. What I showed in the Kitchen upgrade 1 post is to the right, on a regular floor. This suggests the left side had a large door, maybe a barn door for a carriage.


The foundation wall was reinforced and the wall rebuilt with room for the two original windows and a larger french door. As they removed the rotted siding, they ended up going all the way up to the top and over to the corner. This allowed for sheathing and house wrap to be put up before new siding.


We had new cedar cut to match the boards on the part that wasn’t rotted. The work continued all the way up to the trim at the top, so things are looking much straighter now.


There is still another trim piece needed (had to be custom made to match) and gutters to be added, but I’m long overdue for posting this update.


Toni primed all the siding you see here before it was put up, and if you look close you can see a footprint or two from the dogs. Paint is next!

Kitchen upgrade 1

Time for some before and after pictures. If we go back to before we moved in – with a cameo by Mitzi – you get a good feel for how dark the room was:


Shortly after we moved in, the stove light lets you see how yellow the tiles were. The rest was orange and brown:


We’ve already had posts about fixing the stove door and replacing the dishwasher, but for much of the time there were also a variety of paint colors on the wall:


Yes, that’s brown window trim on the edges of the picture. After comparing the samples in all different lights, the top left was finally the winner and Toni got busy:


It’s a big room – this picture is basically from the middle. We’ll save what’s behind the photographer for another time. For now, let’s just enjoy the view looking this way!

Bottles in the Ceiling

img_1200 The living room looks great now. The walls are painted, the windows and trim are painted, the electric is upgraded (at least some of it) and the fireplace works. The one part that doesn’t look finished is actually the most interesting part.

First, a look back at where we started. The floors were dirty and the walls were pink  – even a pink ceiling. This picture is from our first tour of the house before we bought it.


I think the first trip over after we purchased the house included two beach chairs for furniture.

Toni experimented with a few color choices, leaving patches of paint up to see how they looked in different light.


Once decided, it still took days of detailed painting work. There is a lot of trim in that room!

There are a few minor details still to be finished, like new glass for the wall sconces and a better radiator cover behind the couch, but it’s looking good.

One part that won’t be changing is in this next picture, where you can see three holes in the ceiling. The far left one in the corner is electric; we think it’s connected to a switch on the wall and may someday be used again. The other two are corks in the ceiling.


At first, I thought they might be old gas pipes for lighting, but they’re not pipes. They’re bottles – upside down in the ceiling and corked up.img_1202

The previous owner said they were witch’s bottles, but we had never heard of such a thing.

Another explanation was a fire extinguisher, along the lines of a shur-stop fire “bomb”. Hayward’s Hand Fire GrenadeThese were filled with salt water or with a highly toxic chemical that would help snuff out the fire. In reading about them, I found instructions for museums on how to dispose of them safely since they were too dangerous to display. Not what we wanted in our ceiling. But these weren’t sealed bottles. They just had a cork, so that didn’t seem likely.

Today I happened across an article in Archeology that seems to confirm the idea of witch’s bottles. It sounds like they’re not common in the United States, but were sometimes found in England. Buried in the foundation or hidden in the house, sometimes upside down and sometimes filled with the owner’s urine. Being upside down and with a dry split cork, that last part doesn’t seem to apply in our case, but the rest of the story seems to fit.

Another article described them not for capturing the spirit of someone that died in the home, but rather to protect the home from evil spirits.

Maybe that’s why the room feels so happy now.

What were they drying?

The neighbors want to put up a new fence, so I removed the part of our old split rail fence that goes along their property. But there was one other thing that had to come down before they put up the fence and made it harder.

First, it was nice of the neighbor to check. It wasn’t clear from the survey exactly who the fence belonged to, since it meandered across the property line a bit, but we have the same style on the other side of the yard so was clearly ours at one time.


Next to it was what I can only think was a clothes line post. But what a post – two 2″ iron pipes anchored in a lot of concrete. Each concrete footer was at least a foot across and I stopped chipping away with the sledge hammer after getting down more than a half foot under ground.

In the end, a sawzall saved the day. I dug out enough to get the saw level under ground and cut each pole off. The rest of the footing is now buried. Someday, we may want to look back at these pictures and see exactly where. img_1191

Week 7…

We’re well past week seven, but it looks like there’s at least one more leak I didn’t talk about yet. That’s the little plumbing leak in the dining room.

It wasn’t actually leaking in the dining room. That would have been too easy. It was leaking inside the wall and flowing *under* the dining room. For quite some time apparently. We opened the wall up before Christmas and it took until just a couple weeks ago to finally get it repaired. img_0776  img_0781The plumbers were going to have to go on the metal roof to fix it, and they wanted to wait until the snow melted. Go figure. It just hasn’t been easy to find a couple days this winter when they could work on it.

Inside the wall, the cast iron pipe had split. In some cases, that can happen as they get old. In this case, though, even a little water from the upstairs bath would leak out of the pipe. But if it was a vertical pipe with a split, it seemed like more water than I would have expected.

When the plumbers were finally able to get here and had the pipes opened up, I asked them to check the line below the dining room. It was clogged. The plumber was not able to clear the pipe. They put almost 100′ of snake in to it, but still the water wouldn’t flow. Since it’s the smallest of “crawl” spaces (only a few inches between beams and dirt), that seemed like a potential risk for major upheaval if that had to be dug up.

We called in a different plumber and they were able to get it opened up, and water flowing. The first plumbers came back shortly after and finished the work. We now have new PVC piping in the upstairs bath – and a working upstairs bathroom. Something we haven’t had since before Christmas! Cheers all around!

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It’s still an open wall in the dining room and a patch of rotted floor that needs to be replaced. That’s right up there on the list… but not top of the list, unfortunately. Right now, we’re waiting on estimates for replacing the soffits under the new roof. They are rotted away and birds have been flying in to the attic. I patched it temporarily, but that’s top of the list. Then comes the wall in the kitchen.

I haven’t talked about the wall in the kitchen yet? Hard to keep up…

It must be spring

At our old house, I was planning a fire pit for boiling maple syrup. We had two acres of woods and lots of maple trees. We don’t have that here, but there is one big old maple and a commercial range hood over our not-so-commercial stove. With the temperatures above freezing during the day and below freezing at night, it was time to see how it would work.


The first batch is shown on the left next to a grading sampler that’s probably hard to see. Light amber. Last night I finished the batch on the right: dark amber. Same tree, later in the season.

You’re invited to sample! (Just call first) Toni has some good whole-wheat pancake mix from King Arthur Flour…


Grounded outlets, now available in the living room!

With the trim painted, the old brown outlets stood out. They were also two prong un-grounded outlets with old cloth wiring into the wall. Like a lot of other wiring in the house, the wiring from the panel box was updated but the branch circuits were mostly left in place.

img_1111I was surprised to find that the cloth-covered wiring did have a ground wire in it. Those are the black cables in the picture, and the ground wire is tied to the junction box. That box was probably grounded in the same way when it was originally wired. Unfortunately, the “updated” wiring from the panel box didn’t do that. They just left the ground wire loose.

That’s now been updated, so we have our first new circuits! Right in the reading corner of the living room too, so it’ll make a nice place to plug in the electric blanket next time it gets down to zero degrees.

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Let’s hope that’s not for a while – we just opened up a new hole in the kitchen wall to check on a beam…

Week 6 – Leak 6. The roof!

An update from on top of the house.

First, an image of the yankee gutter, the internal gutter system that involves cutting in to the rafters to make an indentation for the water. It’s an interesting idea, but if there are any leaks at all you don’t get leaky gutters – you get a leaky roof.


Once the old metal was taken off, all the rafter tails under the yankee gutter had to be sistered with new wood.


Except for that, the boards were in good shape. From inside the attic, with no sheeting on yet:


From across the street. They had to cut up the rolls of sheet metal to get it off the roof and into the dumpster.


Work continues…

Ghost of a stairway?

Always new clues. What we think we know about the house constantly changes, and this back wall of the house may show a few layers: img_1039y

First, it took us a while to notice the obvious clue: there used to be a window there. This is the back wall of the cobblestone house, in what is currently the stairway to the basement. The stairs go outside the house and in through a doorway in the basement wall. You can see the view out through that door in

The vertical structure with the light on it is just wood. What we didn’t notice right away was the horizontal structure near it. That’s stone. The same stone that’s under all our other windows. At some point, there must have been a window there, which was covered over with more stone somewhere along the way.

What struck me the other day as I looked out the kitchen window was the stairway above a neighbor’s garage shown here:


The slope of the stairs up to the second floor… I’d seen that slope before on the same back wall:


If that image is oriented correctly on this post, you’ll see a tip of a yellow broom handle in the bottom left corner. From the top left there is a hint of a sloping line down and to the right. In the first picture with the window sill, you’ll see it continues down to what is essentially a continuation of the foundation wall out away from the house.

That could easily have been a stairway up. But where to?


Up to the little dead end hallway upstairs maybe? The indoor image is down the upstairs hall that goes along the back wall of the cobblestone part of the house, which is up the steps to the left. The window is directly above our current basement door, so could have easily been a door in to the second floor. But how was it laid out from there?