Thursday, January 27, 2005

Ballooning the House

After ripping down the ceiling in the basement, our suspicions were confirmed. Our house, built in 1916, was constructed using Balloon framing - not the platform framing style used today.

What does this mean? (This may sound too technical) The wall studs run all the way from the sill to the top plate in the attic. The second floor joists (our weak 2x6s) are nailed to the sides of the studs, rather than having the studs stop in a top plate and the joists sitting on those as is done today. Balloon framing was used very little after 1930 because of the difficulty of finding good, long old-growth wood pieces and the fact that balloon framing was a fire hazard.

Scott and I tested this open framing style last weekend by going up into the attic and pulling out about 4 inches of insulation on one of the exterior walls. Then, with Scott watching in the basement below, I dropped some plaster pieces down the chasm. "Ouch! Quit throwing things at me!" came floating up to me from below. Sorry Scott :)

Not only did we verify the balloon framing, this test also told us that there is absolutely no insulation between the studs of the exterior walls!! Its amazing our house stays as warm as it does on the first floor. That plaster/lath must be a good insulator (then again, we haven't received our first gas bill yet).
So I did some research on adding insulation and we are thinking about using blown-in cellulose insulation (click for details) which turns out to be:

  1. great for retro-fitting
  2. environmentally friendly (made from treated recycled newspaper)
  3. more effective than traditional insulation
  4. Most importantly, cheaper! :-)

We'll wait to do this until we start ripping out upstairs though.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Free toy inside

Several weeks ago I saw a post on the Craigslist Chicago Free Stuff bulletin board from a guy in the loop giving away construction materials - lumber, plywood, insulation, conduit, etc. I called him up immediately, but never heard a response. Well, he finally called back yesterday saying if I still wanted stuff, come and get it. So I sped downtown after work and loaded up my 'Scort with as much as I could fit in there (thank god for hatchbacks).

But 4 x 8 plywood sheets just would not fit. So I had to call Mark and his pickup truck in for backup. Braving howling winds, sideways snowstorms, and confused cardrivers, we made it down and loaded his bed with all sorts of miscellaneous flat lumber. Some of it was good.. most of it was poor but will make a good wall covering for the garage. :) Thanks again for helping Mark!

The place we took it from, 120 Kinzie, was in the heart of the loop, but the building was ancient (1880s). It felt like we stepped into the twilight zone. The place was a marble tile factory for 50 years, and who knows what before. When taking the old elevator (rollup gates and all), we weighed too much so mark had to jump out. This elevator broke down later, and the guy had to tighten the belt - which spanned the basement to the motor - about 12 feet - and was made of cowhide. That's one long cow! All three levels of this place were a little creepy (good place to film a movie, right Mark!) but I just couldn't get over the fact that it was in the middle of downtown.

Anywho, the guy gave us a hand loading up the truck and we were on our way. Those of us on tight budgets gotta love people who help freecycling! :)

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Ashes to ashes, Dust to dust

Has this door ever been opened?Now I know how an archeologist feels when uncovering people's lives.

While the basement was still dirty I thought it would be good to clean out the ashpit for the wood-burning fireplace. When we made the offer to buy the place, the POs had mentioned that they never opened up the ash cleanout door in the basement. Which probably meant the lady before them hadn't done it either.

So, with my shopvac propped nearby to catch the fallout, I opened the door to find layers of ashes packed flush against it. With shovel in hand, I proceeded to dig through the remains. I filled up an entire contractors garbage bag full of the stuff before I was done, and found a lot of other things too. It's amazing how much of the POs lives had gone down the chute.

Layers packed in the ashchuteDuring our home inspection, the inspector noticed cracked flue tiles up in the chimney. Well, guess where those landed? That's right! There were some very large flue pieces, concrete, and brick about 6-8 inches up. Then, I found the swivel panel that is supposed to go in the fireplace itself. A few more layers of digging revealed.. A metal sculpture of a grasshopper! Still intact! How bizarre, I thought. Little did I know. (We have since discoverd this is a symbol of welcome and was commonly used as a doorstop in the 60's - ed.)

More and more ashes filled up the bag and I actually found some paper that wasn't burned. I shined the flashlight in and saw it was some kind of box. After carefully pulling it out with the shovel, I discovered it was a box for an inflatable penis! "The Emporer"... And the price tag ($64.95) was still on it! I can just imagine the lady trying to burn the box (but of course the high gloss paper doesn't catch on fire easily), and her son comes in. Whoops! Quick lady, just throw it down the ashchute! :)

Layers packed in the ashchute

I tried to take a photo of all the stuff that came out with my cellphone digital camera. Look at the size of those... Clay tiles. yeah. Unfortunately, you can't see the details of The Emporer (far left) due to the crappy resolution. But at least it keeps this website PG.

Now I know why archeologists say that peoples trash is often the best way to put together a picture of their daily lives.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Moving along slowly

Not much happening this weekend. Unless you want to count MOVING. We're slowly packing up our condo and bringing it over to the new house. I can't believe how much stuff we have accumulated in a few years.. We may need to have a moving sale to unload some of this stuff! We're almost through the carload of boxes Jay's sister gave us last month. Time to take another trip :)

In between moving, we did get one improvement done over the weekend. To mprove the drainage, we poured a bottle of liquid plumber down all the drains. It should work at least until we can rod them out.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Warm again? Makes me think of stripping...

For the second time in two weeks, it's 60 degrees in Chicago in the dead of winter. I knew global warming would eventually turn Chicagoland into a moderate climate, but this is ridiculus!

Anyway, it's made me think of summer. And summer makes me think of things to do outside. One task on our plate is to strip, prime, and paint the wood eaves, fascias, and soffits of our house. They are in really bad shape. So I did some research and found a great article on This Old House that discussed traditional paint removal methods, and also brought up a couple of interesting new products:

  1. Removall - a water-based chemical stripper that doesn't attempt to dissolve the paint as other chemical strippers do but instead breaks the bond between paint and substrate. Very Eco-friendly and nontoxic, but sounds pricey. [read TOH review]

  2. Silent Paint Remover - Interesting new techno-heat gun that uses infrared heat instead of normal heat. This ensures the wood isn't damaged by someone who doesn't know what they're doing (me), and also actually helps seal the wood by drawing any residiual sap to the surface. Sounds pretty cool!

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Village Hall, Take 2: Zoning Restrictions

Apparently, the original builders of our house decided to put us 2'6" from the lot to our North.

Apparently, the closest a structure can be is 3 feet. And any changes to a structure must be more than three feet away.

So in submitting the revised plans this morning, Jay learned that in order to build a dormer upstairs, we have two choices:

  1. Move the dormer addition back 7" and figure out how to structurally engineer this since the weight will no longer be on the existing exterior wall.
  2. Request a zoning variance before the infamous Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA)

Fortunately, Jen has much experience with the ZBA as a result of a 9 month ordeal at her previous employer.

Unfortunately, it can take 2-3 months to schedule a hearing, and then longer to approve the plans.

Fortunately, Jay was able to persuade the village to allow our permits to be done in phases - all other work first, then the bathroom and dormer addition second (pending ZBA approval).

Unfortunately, we still have to wait for the village to look over the Phase 1 plans before beginning any work.

Fortunately, they are all pretty familiar with this project as at least 7 people have viewed these plans now in Jay's presence.

Unfortunately, we also have to figure out some kind of drain tub system for the laundry room upstairs. This is to protect the house in the case that the washing machine ever leaks / breaks / overflows.

Fortunately, adding the kitchen remodel and hot water heater replacement to the scope of work cost only $50.00.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Scope Creep... and High School Flashbacks

As we thought about creating partitions in the basement, it wasn't long before "Basement remodel" became more formalized. Since it's already in the building permit application, and since we've already paid for the square footage, we might as well plan it out in detail...

As we thought more about expanding the kitchen into one of the bedrooms and moving the doorway, it wasn't long before "Kitchen remodel" became more formalized. Since we've already paid for the square footage, we might as well plan it out in detail and add it to the building permit...

So today Jay took the day off work, and summoned up architectural drafting skills not used since 1993. Wow. Ten years. Although he won a statewide competition in high school for a wall section drawing (mostly because he was the only one that put in a border and title block), he was uncomfortable making changes to the drawings his mom had made. But once things heated up, he took off.

Jay drew up the elevations that the Zoning dept wanted (how the house looks when standing in front, and when facing the dormer), and also modified the basement/foundation plan and added a first floor revision plan to reflect the kitchen redesign.

One thing Jay realized after drawing the elevations was that there would not be adequate headroom in the shower area for the dormer addition. Doh! So he had to flip the toilet and shower upstairs, and the eraser dust was flying!

Long hours and lots of lead was spent today, but we finally have the revised "final" plans to take to the village tomorrow morning. Can't we just work on our house? This red tape is becoming suffocating.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Beam says Thankya Big Big!

Took it a little easier today. We still have the remnants of a 10 inch snowfall in Chicago, and as I crushed through slush on the way over, I came up with a plan to tame the possibility of making the dirt airborne again. Snow! So I filled up about 10 buckets worth of the white stuff and pushed it around in the basement.

The snow did a decent job of solidifying the dirt, and I pushed it towards the floor drain. Lots of squeegeing later, I had a black lake forming where the floor drain once was. The drain worked when I tested it earlier with a cup of water, but it drained really slow once the slush melted on top of it. Looks like we might have to get John to rod it out someday.

Afterwards, I unpacked the house jacks and set them up under the main wooden beam between the existing wood posts. The sagging that had been going on for decades had become quite extreme, especially under the kitchen. It almost looked like each length of the wood beam was smiling. So while visions of denistry danced in my head, I ruined each smile by making each jack snug underneath the beam.

We didn't want to bring the beam back to level right away because we figured since it took the house 90 years to settle, it probably wouldn't be too happy if it went back to straight in 9 minutes. Our plan is to let the house adjust and turn the jacks a little bit each week until the floors on the first floor are corrected. Then we begin sistering the joists.

In any case, after the jacks were all in place I took a step back and it already looked like things were better. In fact, upstairs there seemed to be less bounce going on. To help spread the structural loads, we may just need to build a partition wall in the basement under the entire beam once it is level.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Demolition Derby

Fear of mixing alcohol and power tools prevented us from having the demolition derby on New Years Eve as promised. Or perhaps the alcohol just prevented it from coming up in our minds. In any case, today was the rescheduled date, and Scott and Sara helped us set to work on destroying the basement's original wood lathe and plaster ceiling.

Scott's first strike under the living room

This was harder than it first seemed. Not because of strenth required, but because:
a) it was overhead
b) all electrical was attached to this (we had to remove and reattach to joists)
c) decades and decades of FILTH

We were outfitted well with safety gear - gloves, goggles, masks all around - but it was no match for the decades of dirt collecting above. Shortly after the first swings the air was laden with a gray hue of plaster and dirt. Within an hour, all of our masks, originally white, appeared as if they were dipped in charcoal. Opening the windows and door and turning on a high powered blower had only a mediocre effect. There was nothing we could do but grin and bear it.

Lookit all that dust!

We ended up working hard from about noon until 5 and got 2/3 of the basement done. The other part is the tool room / utility area, and we need to wait to move stuff out before doing that area.

One thing we did discover to our delight was that the dumpster has a door that opens! Allowing us to just walk in and load it up. Yay! Lots of buckets were emptied there today.. it's probably 1/4 full already.

After the dust settled, we could see that the first floor wall that is under part of the master bedroom (thus carrying a lot of the weight) was resting on a floor joist over the main beam that had been CUT OUT. Not a little, but a lot. Some Prev.Owner had destroyed all but 2 inches of the 2x8 joist to add a heating duct in the wall above. Doh!
Only 2 inches of the 2x8 remain
No wonder the floors sag so much! We'll definitely be turning that wall vent into a floor vent and fixing that hole (more sistering).

After working, we all broke in the shower and tried to wash off the grime from every crevice. It was moderately sucessful. I still showered at the condo later though. :)

Thanks for your helps Scott and Sara!!

Friday, January 07, 2005

Stop! it's the Zoning Police

Well that didn't take long.

The village's Zoning Administrator promptly called at 8:30 this morning right after he got to work to let us know the plans we submitted were incomplete. Apparently since we we want to change the outside shell of the building by constructing a dormer, we need to submit before and after drawings of both the North and West elevations! ARgle bargle.

It won't be too difficult, but it will be tedious. Especially to get all the measurements. Woo hoo! Should be a fun weekend!

Actually, we've recruited friends to help demo the basement ceiling (lath and plaster) since we're going to need to sister all the joists in there to give the floors more support and a better solid feeling. So Scott, Sara, and Mike are coming over tomorrow to wreck things.

In the meantime, we had two (2) inspectors over today. One was the insurance inspector, who basically just needed to take a picture of the electrical panel and the furnace. Odd, but it was over quick.

Then came Rick, the village construction inspector for a pre-construction inspection. He gave some good pointers for remodeling the basement and reinforcing the main structural beam in the basement, as well as tips for the dormer addition. Perhaps best of all was his encouragement to add the kitchen remodel into the scope of work now rather than later. I'll ask the village about that when I resubmit the blueprints (with elevations) next week.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Village Hall, Take 1

Well, I spent my lunch hour today down at the village hall submitting the plans my mom drew up and filing for the General building, HVAC, Plumbing, and Electrical permits. We got it all baby. The way they calculate these things is by the amount of square footage affected by the proposed alterations.

Although the dormer itself is only a couple hundred square feet, we need to do a lot of structural reinforcement and correction first. Especially in the Master Bedroom.

Believe it or not, the current joists in there are only 2x6 joists - and they're spanning above the living room which is 17 feet long!! The max span for floor joists is generally considered 1.5 feet times the width. So 6 times 1.5 = 9 feet. The current joists are almost spanning twice that length! No wonder it feels like you are walking in a salad bowl when going across that floor!

We also want to fix some structural supports in the basement underneath the living room and under the kithen. SO they pretty much figured on calculating the entire living area of the home, except the middle of the first floor (dining room/office). In addition to the 47 electrical openins being added / changed upstairs, and the plumbing fixtures... the total bill came to $1200! And that is including other items like replacing the garage door, running HVAC, etc. I couldn't believe it was that much. We may just have to change our scope of work to include the kitchen remodel too (we were originally going to include it in a few months) since we've already paid for the square footage!

I must say that despite the outrageous costs and rules, the people working at the village are pretty helpful. I think they tend to treat me better as a homeowner than they do the contractors who come in there and do things on behalf of other owners, but the structural engineer and administrative people have been very helpful in making sure everything that needs to be on the plans are on there.

Now, the plans are kicked over to the zoning people to get approved before they can go through the plan review part and receive official approval. Unfortunately, we can't technically do any work until it is approved - that includes demolition. The only thing we are allowed to do is remove carpeting. Yeah right. ;-)

The Trash Man Cometh!

Jay arranged to have a dumpster unloaded in our backyard today, and elected me to let the guy in and pay him. We have a 10 cubic yard dumpster for as long as we need to fill it up for $275. Probably won't take long though once we get all that ugly panelling removed. Lookit this ugliness in what will be our office:

Interestingly, you can see in this picture that some Previous Owner's love of arches. These things get carried throughout the whole downstairs area - to the point that they even built one in front of this door frame, so when the door is closed, you see an arch from the dining room!

Monday, January 03, 2005

Plans (cont.)

"Now that we have covered Kitchen remodeling, what other grand plans do the two of you have on your new house?"

Glad you asked!

We really miss having two bathrooms, and with four bedrooms (even three if we remove one to expand the kitchen), we really need to get another one in there. Plus, we don't really feel like going up and down two flights of stairs for each load of laundry.

So we're planning to put a 13 foot shed dormer on the north end of the house, to feature a new bathroom. Good thing Jay's mom is a bath designer and his stepdad is a plumber! Talk about a match for the ages :) She is presently furiously transcribing the vision into reality on the drafting table so Jay can take blueprints over to Village Hall tomorrow and submit plans for the permits. Thanks so much Vivian!!

Anyway, the photos are to big for the blog, but here are links to our plans (will open in new a new window).

View Existing First Floor

View Existing Second Floor

View Revised Second Floor

New Bathroom Plan:

Kinda rough, but at least it gives you something to go on :)

Did you see those Winder stairs? Man those things are scary going down - especially if you're carrying anything and can't see below you.

We'd like to try and expand those out and make a landing as shown in the Proposed drawing, but they may not meet the 36" width required by code. We'll have to see on that.


Ok, it's about time you got some more info on the house. It's currently got 4 bedrooms and 1 bath. Our idea is to remove one of the bedrooms to combine it with the kitchen for a Kit/Family Room combo. This would also give more counter area in the kitchen. We also want to add another bath in a dormer upstairs.. but more on that later.

We're lucky that Jen's dad builds cabinets, and now that he's retired, he has free time to help us! Thanks Ken!! So after some discussion, thinking, field trips to home depot and menards, and more discussion, the three of us came up with a finalized kitchen design this weekend:

The main differences are:
1) Remove the exising wall on south of kitchen and replace with header beam

2) Move door from current location (behind fridge in this image) to the Breakfast nook.

We kind of lose the Nook aspect and it becomes more of a mudroom, but it was a compromise in order to get a better functional kitchen and countertop area.

Since Jen's dad is making the cabs, we just need to do the work and get new appliances (Stainless Steel baby!). And with the inevitable post-New Years sales, there's bound to be a good deal somewhere.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

all is quiet on New Year's Day

uargh.. need more sleep.
please turn off the sun.

crap. must get moving. Jen's dad is coming up tonight to plan the kitchen.