Monday, February 28, 2005

Contractors (continued)

Tonight I will write about the second bizarre experience I have had with tradespeople over the past few years.  This one still gets me a little irritated, so I needed to be in just the right mood before I wrote about it :-)

Earlier this week I wrote about Russel, my boarder.  We have made peace with each other, but this was not always the case.  I spent many hours in the first year in this house trying to get rid of him.  It got to the point where I wanted him out of there so much so that I contacted a "professional pest remover."

Mr. Professional confirmed in my phone call to him that what I described was most likely a bat.  He assured me that he had vast experience in excluding bats and this would be no problem for him.  In fact, he bragged to me that he offered a 5 yr guarantee.  He told me he charged for estimates (which I normally will never agree to), but applied the cost to the work.  He gave me a ballpark figure on the overall costs which seemed reasonable.  I knew I was going to have the work done so it didn't seem to be an issue.  After all - I was going to get a 5 yr. guarantee!

I checked his name on Angies List and he had quite a few good reviews (although there were a few not-so-satisfied reviews that I should have paid more attention to...).  I made an appointment for him to come out and give me an estimate.

He arrived on time and I gave him a rundown on the situation.  He seemed irritated that I presumed to know anything about "pests."  After all, I was not a professional.  I started to get an odd feeling.  He walked around my property and then declared that I did not have a pest.  I told him that even in my untrained, unprofessional state I could tell I *did* have a pest in the wall.  He told me that if I insisted that there was a pest, even though he knew better (eyes rolling up into his head), he would do some "tightening up" of the roof, but there would be no warranty.  I was in shock.

I explained to him the warranty was the reason why he was there.  He stood there, clip board in hand and stared at me.  Then he let out a long irritated sigh and told me that perhaps I should just pay him for the estimateand he could be on his way.

Unbelievable.  I was so surprised by this whole little scam, I actually wrote him a check.  He took it without batting an eye.  He evidently made hisliving my charging for estimates and then decalring there was no problem to fix.

I wrote a scathing review for him in Anglies List.  Then I promptly cancelled my subscription to Angies List (you will note the Stalking Plumber also came from them).  This is one of those incidents that I wrote off to lesson learned.

Lessons learned: Do not pay for estimates.  Get referrals from people you actually know.

I hope the next bat he encounters bites him :-)

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Chimney Cabinet

Saturday mornings I usually run out to get my morning latte & a paper.  Sometimes I'll take a swing by the local antique stores on the way home and see what they have sitting outside.  If something catches my attention from the street, I'll stop.

Today I spotted a freestanding, painted chimney cabinet standing outside my favorite store.  I stopped, took a quick swing through the store, chatted with the owner and then stopped on my way out to look at the piece.  It was cute.  About 6 ft tall.  Paint was peeling and the shelves were missing, but it was a charming piece.  A little glass window on the front door.  Decent price.  It wasn't what I have been picturing in my kitchen, though, so I decided to go home.

Got home and started reading the paper.  I kept thinking about how cute that little cabinet would look repainted (or with shellac), with crocheted lace on the shelf edges and my Fire King & Sargadelos dishes peeking out the window.  Maybe some vintage wallpaper inside.  If I decided not to use it in my kitchen as some point, it would easily fit in another room.  I knew I'd live to regret it if I didn't go back and buy it.

Hopped in my car and drove back to the store.  Chatted with the owner about what he knew about it.  1920-30's - probably maple.  He offered me a nice deal (which he really didn't need to do because I'm sure he could tell I had made up my mind).  I bought it :-)

Once again, it sucks not to have a truck to haul my loot home.  But then again, its probably safer that it's not too easy. 

Thursday, February 24, 2005


In the process of working on old houses, I have used my fair share of various types of tradesmen.  Most good, some bad, and some really, really bizarre.  Enough time has now passed where the really bizarre incidents are mildly amusing.  I thought over the next few days I could recap a few of the most odd......

# 1  A new toilet was installed in my bathroom by a PO without regard to depth.  It needed to be corrected.  I have an excellent plumber that I have used for years.  I have no explanation why I do it, but periodically I need to check what else is out there and I hire someone else to do the work. It is always a mistake and I always go crawling back to "my" plumber. 

In this case, I called a new place.  It came well recommended on Angies List.  The guy arrived on time and all seemed well with the world.  I was working from home that day, so I went to my office to work.  All of a sudden from the basement loud 80's music filled the air.  Then the plumber  - now without his shirt on - knocked on my office door to socialize.  I was polite, but indicated that maybe he would want to get to work as I was paying by the hour.  So, he took his tools and spread them all out on my newly finished hallway wood floor and got to work.  He ocassionally got up to strut by my time to the music.....w/o shirt.....w/ dirty shoes to the basement.

I sat in my office and emailed all of my friends - telling them that if I disappeared or if my body was found - they should direct the police to the plumber.

Well, eventually he finished the job and left.  He totally overcharged me for the work, but I was happy to see him go.  Ah, but then I got a call......he accidently left his boombox in my basement.....would it be possible for him to stop by my house that night at say 11pm to pick it up?   I left it outside on my front doorstep for him to collect.

In one of life's little cruel jokes, two days following the work a leak began in my basement in the area that had been "repaired."  I called the company and asked to have someone come out and take a look.  I asked the dispatcher if they could send out another plumber.  The dispatched insisted on knowing why.  I finally told him that the original plumber had made me a little uncomfortable.  I didn't want to get anyone in trouble, but I did not want to see this guy again.

What did the dispatcher do?  He promptly told the shirtless plumber. 

So, for the next few weeks I received stalking phone calls.  He would switch between yelling at me and just sitting silently on the phone.  Fun.   Once again, friends and family were instructed to call police with plumber info. if I met an untimely demise.  The phone company and the police finally put a halt to it all.

It is kind of funny now, I must admit.  He is now commonly referred to as "The Stalking Plumber" in the history of my house restoration. 

I also learned a valuable lesson about remaining loyal to tradesmen that do good work.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Radon Part II

Not much going on today.  Recovering from doing company taxes and a migrane headache (coincidence? I think not).

At any rate, my new, inexpensive radon test kits arrived on Mon.  I put another one in the basement to retest.  (This saga began a few weeks ago)  This is a 3-7 day test.   So, I should have results by next week.  Kind of cool, this company posts them in the internet. 

We'll see.

Monday, February 21, 2005


Okay, not really old house related.  I ran across this website that will make wallpaper borders out of pictures that you send them.  Cute idea.

Border Expressions (sorry, this link is now dead.)

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Photo Albums

I'm working a fun project today that is a tiny bit house related.  Last week my parents ran into a box of old photos and photo albums in their attic.  The photos are of my paternal grandparents.  They are scattered in a bunch of albums that are falling apart or laying in loose piles.  A few of them have identification on the back; most don't.  There are probably a few hundred photos.

So, my task is to organize these photos, label the ones I can, and put them into new acid free photo albums.  Then get my parents to identify the remaining pictures.  I'll probably also scan most of them.  I love this kind of stuff.  I'm not a "scrapbooker", but few things are more satisfying to me than an album of neatly organized and identified photos of people I know. 

I remember the house my dad's parents lived in.  By the time I was born my grandfather had died, but I remember going to that house as a child and looking at my grandma's antique furniture.  I loved going up to the attic and looking at the boxed "treatures" up there.  I can still picture the layout of the house and I could tell you today where almost every piece of furniture sat in the house.  My other grandma lived in an old farm house.  I specifically remember the layout of her kitchen.  I could even tell you in which drawer she kept her kitchen tools.  I thought her flour bin was the living end.  I grew up in a new house, and I thought these old houses were cool beyond belief.

These houses absolutely influenced my love of old houses today.  When I bought my house I knew I wanted a walk up attic.  My couch is suspiciously similar to my grandmother's couch.  I love painting stencils around the wall of bedroom.....and this comes from visiting my (other) grandmother's farm house and looking up from the metal beds at the flowers my grandma had free form painted by hand.

These photos are from about the time my house was built (1920's).  It has dawned on me while I sort through them that many of the photos will be helpful to me and my plans for my house.  How neat would it be to use the design of my grandma's house's entry as a template for un-muddling my front steps?  I've also been eying the mailboxes, flowerbeds and fences in the multiple photos of people standing in front of their houses.

There is also another huge pile of pictures that my grandfather took while building the electrical transformers in Mexico, Cuba and British Honduras during the 1920's.  I also had a great uncle who worked as a chauffeur-care taker at the Reynolds estate in Long Island during this time and there is a stack of interior shots from the mansion.  How interesting is this?!!

Off to get my scanner working...... 

Friday, February 18, 2005


Every now and then a tv show appears in the lineup that has something of interest to old house owners.  "Everyone Loves Raymond" has the great old stove.  "I'll Fly Away" had my old 1950's refridgerator.  While the rest of the world follows the show's plot, we check out the house.

Well, I have a new one on my list. The new show "NUMB3RS" on CBS Friday nights.  The father's house has some very nice a a&c items.  So, far I've seen the diningroom (look at that buffet!) and the kitchen (great with the exception of the ugly dishwasher). The furniture and lights are also pretty spiffy.  I keep missing the scene where they show the outside of the house.  But I'm thinking large bungalow, foursquare or prairie. 

Besides its actually a pretty good show. The math genius reminds me of my grad school statistics teacher.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005


I have an upcoming business trip to Portland. I do these trips a few times a year and usually exend my stay in the city for a weekend in order to see the sights. In anticipation of this, I sent away to the Portland Dept. of Tourism for maps and other brochures of interest. They came last week. So, I spent some time going over the highlights of Portland and Oregon in general. It seemed like a fun city & state and I started to look forward to the trip.

Maybe a drive up or down the coast, I was thinking. Then I put the maps away to watch American Idol. Some of my best thought seem to occur to me during the commercials.

OMG, Portland is the home of Rejuvenation and Schoolhouse Electric! How did I not remember this until now?!

I guess you know you are an old house junkie when one of your tourist stops are vintage lighting stores :-)

Tuesday, February 15, 2005


When the wild animal living in the wall cavity of your house has a name, you have admitted two things:
1) Your animal exclusion attempts have sadly failed.
2) You have lost faith in your ability to get the little guy to move out.....ever.

My bat's name is Russel (really Rustle, but who wants to burden their children with oddly spelled names?). He has now lived in my wall for the entire time I have lived in the house....and probably long before that.

During my time in this house I have sucessfully rid it of countless squirrels, a racoon, flying squirrels, an ocassional spider and garden grubs. Russel has defied even my best efforts.

To give you an idea of his cleverness, in spite of spending two years carefully studying this I have been unable to even figure out how he even enters his home. He's confined to wall space in a corner between two studs, behind lathe and plaster and surrounded by blown in insulation.....and I'll be damned if I can figure out how he gets in & out.

I have spent hours standing in my side yard staring at the wall.......additional hours on a ladder staring at the roof and gutter. I'm sure my neighbors think I'm nuts. Last summer I had a friend nail down the eaves shingles (I'm afraid of heights) on my roof. In desperation, I even called a "professional." He told me no animal could be getting in there, took my estimate money and left (the rat).

In this process, I find I have become a tiny bit attached to the little guy and will even admit to worrying when I didn't hear him for a few nights in a row.

What's that saying.....when you can't beat 'em, join 'em :-)

Monday, February 14, 2005


It's pretty common advice amongst old house folk that a person should live in their house for a while before making any drastic changes. Sometimes the house tells you what it wants. I have found this to be true in many cases. This advice also saves you from ripping something out in haste in your first week in a house only to cry over it for years after it has hauled away to the dump.

My kitchen has been disorganized since I moved in. One of the main areas of disarray are my cabinets. The top cabinets are quite shallow - pretty typical for a house of this vintage. I had been storing dishes in the upper cabinets and food things in the lower cabinets. One stack of plates took up most of the space in one cabinet....and in the lower cabinets I could never quite see what I had stored there.

One day last week it hit me clear as day. The food stuff (spices, soups, boxed food) could fit so neatly in the upper cabinets. I just needed to go to Target and buy those little cabinet "steps." Sure enough, I was able to transfer the entire contents of a bottom cabinet into to half of the shelves of the much smaller upper cabinets. And now my dishes are nealty stacked in the lower cabinets.

The house told me what it wanted :-) I can't believe it took me this long to figure out what it was saying.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Road Trip

I'm a bit of a purist when it comes to restoring my house. I wouldn't dream of removing or drastically altering anything original to my house. If it is missing, I spend a fair amount of time finding a historically accurate replacement.

However, my purist tendancies don't extend to furniture. I like a vintage look. I like antiques. I also like funky newer stuff. I'm not one to fill my house with strictly Stickley.

My furniture is a combo of pieces I have brought home from travels, items passed down to me from my grandmother, new pieces with a vintage look, antiques I have hauled home from shops and sales.

This is why I like Mudd Lake. Its a fun store. They carry a huge range of furniture items and house it all in an old barn. Its also a fun drive on a nice day.

We hit the low 50's last week and the sun was shining. My cabin fever is in full swing. So, I thought a nice drive out to Mudd Lake would be fun. I talked a friend into sneaking out early and drove through the small towns and farm fields that make up the trip. Not far out of the city, but just enough to make you feel like you've gone somewhere.

I didn't find anything I absolutely needed, but did get a nice lead on furniture makers that will do custom work on free standing kitchen an excellent price.

Friday, February 11, 2005


When I sold my condo, I got into the habit of keeping track of the selling price of houses in my neighborhood. I still do it. Its fun to see how much money you are making :-) I also think its a good thing for a homeowner to know.

I keep track of "for sale" signs in my neighborhood. I also quickly scan the open house ads in the Sunday paper. Periodically I go on MLS (multiple listing service) and really check out the houses for sale and their prices.

This is interesting, but its also fun. Some of the services allow you to look at "virtual tours" of the inside of the houses. So, you can see how other people decorate their bungalow.....or you can see the layout of other houses.....or you can see the terrible remuddling job that explains why the house has been on the market for a year. Its like going to a bunch of open houses.....without having to get up early or out of your jammies.

Almost every realtor has MLS access on their website. Anyone that knows me, knows I am not a fan of realtors as a whole (I like the for sale by owner process). So, this is in no promo for a realtor. But, the best MLS access I have found is via Edina Realty. They have a very nice search function.

If you limit your search to houses built between 1900 and 1930, you end up with a nice list that is heavy on bungalows. Then its just a matter of getting a cup of coffee, going down the results list and snooping away :-)

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Conspiracy Theory

I sometimes think it might be a conspiracy.

Just when I complete a task on my TO DO list another one appears.

I recently posted about finally refinishing my crown molding.

Well, today the little latch holding my mailbox shut broke.

Cross one off the top, add one to the bottom.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Suspected Asbestos

I have an old gravity furnace in my house. When I bought the house, my intention was to immediately yank out the furnace and put in a new, high efficiency furnace and central air.

After being in the house for a few weeks, I had a heating guy come out to service the unit & make sure it was working properly. When I mentioned replacing it, he told me to reconsider. Turns out my old monster is fairly efficient and probably has another 80 yrs in it. He also told me the furnace was original to the house and started out as a coal furnace (there is a coal closet a few steps away). He showed me the little door where coal was shoveled in. Of course, I thought this was amazingly cool.....and I developed an appreciation for life in the 1920's that necessitated getting up at all hours to keep your furnace running.

It was converted to gas in the 1950's he guessed. Well, I was sold. The furnace was a keeper. I named him Grendil.

So, entered my next problem. When they installed the furnace and its web of venting pipes.....they coated it with what I believe to be an oh-so-efficient, yet oh-so-hazardous, asbestos insulation. Not a safety issue as long as the insulation remains in good condition.

Well, over the years I have noticed a bit of flaking on the pipes. I suspect it is the layer of paint that someone put over the insulation years ago.....but have decided it was probably best to encapsulate the asbestos at some point.

Last week I sat down and did research in earnest. Here are my options (not meant to be advice to any other homeowner, just my personal experiece. Your situation & results may vary.):

1) Remove all insulation. This is costly, doesn't add any value to the old furnace and ultimately "ups" potential exposure to asbestos as fibers become airborne during removal.

2) Paint. A few places suggested this. However, it was done at some point in my house and the paint (as paint does) is now peeling.

3) Cover with plastic or duct tape. Both unattractive alternatives.

4) Hunt down the polymere encapsulate coating that was vaguely referenced in EPA documents.

I chose option four. My first plan of attack was to call every paint & hardware store in my city. No luck. I then called the heating supply stores. Again, no luck. So, I started a mammoth internet search....

Much to my surprise and delight, I was able to locate just such a product. Tuffide (and Binder-kote). It is manufactured by TKO Waterproof Coatings. Yeah! This is the same company that creates Krack-Kote (the plaster patching material).

This will be a summer project for me :-)

Monday, February 07, 2005

Paint By Numbers

I ran across this idea months ago and just never got around to it.

Tomorrow I am sending in my order form for a paint by numbers kit of my house. You send this company a photo of your house (or whatever) and they create a paint by numbers kit for you to complete.

I use to love those kits when I was young, so I figured it would be fun now. Ok, I admit it. I'm a geek. They aren't cheap at $60 for a 11/14 canvas, but it will keep me out of trouble for a while and that's worth something. The kit includes the numbered & outlined canvas, 42 paints, and brushes.

Thursday, February 03, 2005


Most of my magazines are up for renewal. Seems when I moved into this house I went through a phase of house magazines. I need to decide which to dump, which to continue, and which to order new. Here is thought process so far.....

Before House: Instyle. Cosmo. Glamour. The Economist (I'm an international politics geek). Worth. Travel (my before house hobby). National Geographic.

Current: Old House Journal. American Bungalow. Martha Stewart Living. Martha Stewart Food. Midwest Living (yawn).

New Mags Being Considered: This Old House (hate the show, but have found the mag. helpful), Cottage Living, Southern Living. Fine Homebuilding (interesting, but expensive).

Mags That I Renew Automatically: Martha Stewart Living (sigh, I love that magazine).

Mags That I Buy Off the Rack and to Which I Should Probably Just Subscribe: InStyle.

Mag I Wish Existed, But Doesn't (and not at all related to old houses): A Lonely Planet/Let's Go type travel.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Stained Glass Workbench

For the past year I have been working on my stained glass projects where ever I could find room. My dining room table. My dining room floor. My basement. My living room rug (that I hauled home in a backpack from China). It was an accident and many tears waiting to happen.

Christmas of 2003, my dad gave me the pieces for a home-made work bench. Specifically made for my projects :-)

Assembling the work bench kept getting interrupted by other things. But, finally (a year+ later).....with help.....the work space is finally assembled.

Maybe now I can finally finish the lampshade that graces the home page of my website :-)

Tuesday, February 01, 2005


I finished restaining and finishing the crown molding in my living room. When I moved into my house the crown molding and base molding in both the dining room and living room looked faded. Mysteriously, there was also no finish on the wood.

I have wondered, while laying on my couch watching tv, if one of the previous owners stripped paint off the crown and then just reinstalled it. We will probably never know.

At any rate, I restained and shellaced the base molding in both rooms as my very first house project. I redid the dining room last summer and finished the living room this week. It looks nice. The only thing I have left to do in those two rooms is add a base shoe to the base molding.

Sometimes its easy to forget these small projects that you do along the way and then never have to think about again. You forget what was there and what you have accomplished.

I have a long list of things to do for my house. Sometimes that becomes your focus and you think you will never finish. I take an enormous amount of pictures and notes while I complete my projects. Still, its amazingly easy to forget (sometimes this is a blessing when faces with new projects).
So, this week I think I'm just going to enjoy these two rooms and remember:

......patching the cat pee stains on the floor, sanding & refinishing the floor, patching plaster everywhere, painting, cleaning wood, finding the new dining room light (and getting it properly installed), tracking down the locksmith who didn't insist the living room door needed to be replaced - finding a new door set - having it installed, weatherproofing all 17 windows, repairing & reglazing the storms, getting the telephone cord that ran up through a hole in the floor back on the wall, replacing the old wiring, finding new electrical outlet face plates to replace the cream plastic ones, cleaning out the heat vents & returns (gag), finding curtains & hardware that fit the windows (and removing the aluminum blinds)........

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