There’s a mummy in our attic

Dear reader:  At the risk of me causing you feelings of general icky-ness, I’ll let you know now – if you continue to read today’s post you will shortly see pictures of a few dead animals.

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but not here

I’m not talking anything overly gross or graphic – just a few critters that made our attic their final resting place.  If you follow us on Facebook, you’ve already seen the picture of a starling that met it’s maker in our roof – so it’s nothing worse than that.

It certainly not unexpected, either.  We bought our previous house directly from the builder and I can’t begin to tell you how many mice and voles we caught in the ten years we lived there.  Even the brand new, shiny, modern construction practices and materials were no match for those determined rodents – so obviously over the past 100-plus years, a few varmints would find their way into our old island home.

not here, either

not here, either

So with that being said, we’ve obviously gotten through the layers of drywall, plaster and lath and are now exposing the insulation and framing.  That’s when we uncover this….

"I'm not putting my hand in there!  YOU put your hand in there!"

“I’m not putting my hand in there! YOU put your hand in there!”

and this….

A-maze-ing.  Get it?

A-maze-ing. Get it?

There are innumerable tunnels, burrows and nests in the insulation.   What more could a little critter want than to be cozily nestled in a pocket of warm insulation?

We found birds.  Lots of birds.  Big ones, little ones, whole ones and partial ones – but they were all old, dry and dusty.   Each kind of like a little avian Tutankhamen – if you can imagine our insulation was the desert sand and our attic a pyramid.

Here.  Here they are.

Here. Here they are.

Then there was the squirrel.   Yep.  Vanessa didn’t know exactly what she was holding in her hand.  A big clump of “hair.”  A wad of chewed up newspaper.  And then the revelation: teeth, nose, eyes….OHMYGAW-

sorry you had to see that

sorry you had to see that

I almost felt sorry for the little guy.  Almost.  Then I saw this.

What a dirty....

What a dirty….

And this.

little....

little….

And this.

RAT!

RAT!

That little bugger could have destroyed the house before we even got to buy it.  Wires stripped of their casing all over the attic.  Not a big problem in the broader scope of our repairs – we were going to rewire the majority – if not all – of the house anyhow.

But I digress.  So, demolition continues.  Soon, we’ll have the majority of the second level exposed and ready for repairs.  I’m so looking forward to getting to build something rather than tear down.  But there’s still quite a ways to go.

As soon as the weather warms a bit and the ground thaws, we start on the foundation.  Really, it’s the first thing we need to do in the reconstruction of the house.  After we raise the house and jack the floors level again, we can start the framing and drywall repairs.  And I can have something else to write about.

I hope you can bear with us through the demolition.  Perhaps not the most exciting or interesting stage of a renovation, but just as necessary as any other step.  I’m already planning the next few posts and I’ve got a few interesting things in mind.

In the meantime, I just finished setting up our Facebook page.  Please look for Our Old Island Home on Facebook and “Like” it.

"Like" it

“Like” it

I’ll be using our Facebook page to fill in some of the gaps between these blog posts – daily updates, photos and some of my favorite renovation ideas we find around the interweb.  We’ll also be having an occasional contest or giveaway – so remember:

FacebookOur Old Island Home“Like” it…..or else, ol’ mister bird-mummy will haunt your dreams!

"Don't close your eyes"

“Don’t close your eyes”

It’s a dirty job

Say it with me….

Smash.  Toss.  Cleanup.  Repeat.

And so it goes.  Gutting still continues on the second floor.  We’ve pretty much finished the interior walls and started dropping ceilings now.  That’s tough.  I mean ripping off drywall is one thing – but we have the original lath and plaster buried behind a layer of drywall that was also plastered over.  It’s all heavy and it’s all overhead.

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It may seem tedious, but I rather remove a layer at a time, cleanup and dispose as we go, rather than rip it all down and try to clean up the “wreckage”.  It keeps the work area clean, and makes disposal much easier.

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The drywall comes down in 2′ x 4′ sections – which we fire out the window into the front of the disposal bin.  The plaster comes down in pieces not much bigger than the palm of your hand – shovel that into buckets and send it down the chute.

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Then pop off the wood lath.  We’ve thrown out a lot of the lath – most of it is damaged/rotten/broken.  Anything around 12″ makes great kindling for the woodstove – but we have saved the whole pieces.  I’ve got a few ideas to repurpose this reclaimed wood in our home.  I’ll keep those ideas close for now – but it’s safe to say it won’t be the last time you’ll see this lath in our house.

The plans I have for you....

The plans I have for you….

Once we have the remainder of the ceilings down, the attic will be exposed in all it’s glory.

Magnificent, isn't it?

Magnificent, isn’t it?

It’s actually not a bad space.  Although previously never used for anything but storage, I’m sure we can come up with a few ideas.  The brick chimney will be removed as part of the renovations.  It’s old, cracking and likely won’t respond well to being lifted off it’s foundation when we raise the house in the spring.  Besides, we’ve already relocated our woodstove to an exterior wall with a new insulated steel chimney/flue.  A bedroom is not an option in the attic as we won’t have room for a staircase (making emergency egress a problem) – but another use wouldn’t be an issue.  There’s plenty of room to walk around in there.  Perhaps a music room for me to practice without disturbing Murdoch.

"He calls that music?"

“He calls that music?”

Needless to say, we’ve chosen a difficult path.  And it’s certainly not for everyone.  Demolition is dirty, heavy, hard work – but for us, this is a source of tremendous satisfaction.

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And of course, the full-home renovation is almost like building from scratch – you get to make the house exactly what you want.

I like what a friend of mine said recently: “you can judge a day by what it looks like when you blow your nose.”  Or in our case, “what you shake out of your respirator.”  It’s a dirty job – but I’m glad to do it.  Soon we’ll be up to our knees in insulation – I guess that’s better than all the horse hair they used to add to the plaster.

WHOA, Nelly!

WHOA, Nelly!

Links to the past

So at the risk of sounding redundant, demolition continues on the second floor.  For the next short while, our life will consist of: smash, toss, cleanup, repeat.

Looking better already

Looking better already

But I have to say, demolition is fun.  There’s something therapeutic about putting a crowbar through a wall.

Hulk smash!

Hulk smash!

Still, there’s a part of me that is somewhat apologetic about destroying a previous generation’s hard work.  I’m not overly nostalgic, mind you, but now that the “tarnish” is slowly being removed, the craftsmanship of the homebuilder is rising to the surface.  Behind those seven layers of wallpaper and who-knows-how-many coats of paint, the original lath and plaster is still present, albeit deteriorating.  And as we tear through each layer, I imagine the builder – cutting and fastening the lumber framing, installing the thousands of lath boards and applying the coats of plaster – all by hand, no less.

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To be honest, I think we saved this house from the brink of destruction.  After a couple years of sitting vacant, a house can quickly fall into disrepair.  Our old stone foundation will be replaced this spring – which will likely be our single-most expensive repair in this whole process.  With the sagging foundation, the old plaster walls and ceilings are cracking and loosening.  That, along with some water intrusion from the roof, makes localized plaster repair impractical.  While it would be nice to save the old finishes, a complete gut now affords us opportunity to address some insulation issues and upgrade the wiring.  And that’s the direction we’re taking.

Vanessa getting plastered

Starting with the spare bedroom and bathroom, we detach the trim, strip away the old plaster and remove the underlying lath.  No rocket-science here – just grip and rip.

Removing the lath

We’ve completed the interior partition walls.  The ceilings and exterior walls are next.  I’ll have to get into the attic to remove a few things left behind from the previous owner before we drop the ceilings, however.

What have we here?

What have we here?

During the demolition of the bathroom, we also removed the knee-wall installed in a previous 1970’s renovation.  How do I know the bathroom was renovated in the 70’s, you ask?  Because this was behind the wall.

1974 to be exact

1974 to be exact

I’m still not sure if this room was always a bathroom or if the room had another use previously.  Either way, the space hidden behind the knee-wall was part of the room previously and by opening it up, we gain almost twenty additional square feet in the bathroom.  I’ll take that.

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While we could date the bathroom renovation, we haven’t been able to accurately date our house yet.  We know that the house once served as the manse to the local Methodist church, which was built around 1878.  A local historian also provided a picture from 1920 of Pleasant Valley in which you can see our house in the distance.

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So, for now, it’s safe to say our home is somewhere around 100-135 years old.  I’m still waiting to find that special “something” left behind from the original homebuilder, giving us a link to the past showing the true age of this old island home.

My sore elbows are telling their true age

My elbows are telling their true age

Where we’re going

So with demolition now underway on the second floor, I thought I’d show you where we want to take our renovations to our old island home.  Last week I posted the floorplans and a couple of elevations of our house as it currently stands – you can see it here: https://ouroldislandhome.com/2014/01/20/best-laid-plans/ .   This week, I’m going to post the new plans showing some of the changes we want to make – more on that shortly.

Yesterday, I had some lumber and plywood delivered from Castle Building Supply just outside Kensington.  Since we’re just gutting the second floor for now, I had the disposal bin dropped under the Master Bedroom window and I built a garbage chute with some of that lumber – from the window right into the bin.

Ignore that sofa - it's left from the previous owner

Ignore that sofa – it’s left from the previous owner

We’ve been pulling off all the old doors and trim before we get to the dirty stuff – lath and plaster.

....and bathroom fixtures

….and bathroom fixtures

Vanessa’s also been saving all of the old cut-nails from the trim.  She already has plans to incorporate them into her jewellery making.

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We’ve been looking at a lot of island homes like ours.  The truth is, the “island-ell” style of our farmhouse was obviously very popular back in the day.  It’s hard to drive anywhere without spotting a house like ours.  Unfortunately however, a lot of them have been renovated beyond their original design and charm.  You could say they’ve been “ruinovated.”  Some others have been abandoned and left to decay.  Still, there are those old homes which have been maintained over the years or restored out of their ruinovation or neglect and brought back to their original glory.

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Like these gems

Fortunately, our house has not been overly renovated – although it has suffered from years of neglect and some poor design choices.  The exterior is close to what was original (as far as I can see) with a couple small changes inside and out.

Main Floor

Main Floor

Main Floor:  The functionality of each room will remain essentially the same.  The Front Hall/Entry remains as-is although we’ll likely build a closet into the nook under the stairs.  The previous owner had laundry hook-ups in this space – and I’m now using the nook for my drafting table.  We’ll change the front door system and add a transom window over it.  A number of the older homes like ours also have a portico (porch roof) over the entrance – we’ll do the same.  The Parlor/Living Room to the left will get a new bay-window (very typical of this style of house, although missing in ours) and the triple casement window on the side (previously added and now in desperate need of replacement) will be changed to two double-hung windows.  The French Doors from the entry Hall to the Living Room were also a previous owner’s addition and will be removed and a more open-concept at the Hall/Parlor/Dining Room junction provided.  A new set of Garden doors will open from the Dining Room onto a new covered rear-yard deck.  Vanessa’s Craft Room opens to the left of the Dining Room.  The Kitchen excites me – new cabinets, fridge, wall oven, cooktop, apron sink and an island fills the space.  We have a small banquette in the corner with round table for in-kitchen eating and a coffee bar between the two new front windows.  The front porch now extends to wrap around the side of the kitchen providing a secondary entrance into our new addition.  This multi-purpose space serves as a combination of Mudroom, Laundry, Pantry, Washroom and Summer Kitchen.  We love to cook and entertain and this layout will serve us well.

Second Floor

Second Floor

Second Floor:  The big change up here is the Master Bedroom to the right of the upper hall.  This big bedroom currently has no closets or storage of any sort.  We’ll add closets and dressers built directly into the knee walls under the sloped ceilings.  The addition of a large dormer at the back will greatly improve our view and add lots of natural light to the room.  The front dormer looks onto the street and the side window over our driveway – but the new large window dormer at the back (complete with window seat) will open up our view to the valley.  The Bathroom gets a full overhaul with freestanding tub and toilet moved under the sloped ceiling.  A shower with glass enclosure and vanity are added to the other side.  I see white mosaic tiles on the floor and subway tiles on the wall for a bright, crisp classic look.  The huge closet in the spare bedroom was mostly removed along with the chimney flue.  This opens up the room nicely while keeping a portion of the closet (accessed from the hall) for linens.  The front bedroom will now serve as an Office/Den and the storage closet remains at the front of the Upper Hall.

Front Elevation

Front Elevation

Front Elevation:  The addition of the bay window and a portico at the front door give some “heft” to the main cape at the left side of the house.  This provides some balance to the ell with the front porch extending around the side of the Kitchen.  Oversized window casings and corner/frieze boards will add some depth from the fairly bland trim and “shutters” of the original.

So, there you have it –  the “bones” of it, anyhow.  You can see our direction.  In the near future we’ll be posting some of our design choices – the trim style, doors, cabinetry, flooring and tiles, etc.

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For now, the gutting continues and we’ve got a lot of the thankless jobs still ahead (cleaning, insulation, plumbing and electrical rough-ins, framing repairs) before the beautification happens.

Until then, I will continue to resist the urge to use our garbage chute as a slide.

....or perhaps a fireman's pole from the bedroom to the kitchen?

….or perhaps a fireman’s pole from the bedroom to the kitchen?

Best laid plans

It’s been a very long time.  I honestly couldn’t tell you the last time I actually drew anything on my drafting table – let alone actual plans.  Needless to say, that’s changed this past week.

I've missed this

I’ve missed this

I’ve drawn the floorplans and elevations as the house currently exists.  I’ll take you on a little tour in a moment, but first let me tell you a bit of history.  I don’t actually remember a time when my drafting table wasn’t in our household – and I don’t mean in the time Vanessa and I have been together – I mean EVER.  The drafting table was my fathers and I guess it’s something that’s just been passed along to me.  My Dad was a homebuilder/general contractor when I was growing up and I remember “playing” with all his drafting tools as a kid.

Later, I spent many late nights working on drafting projects during my post-secondary Architectural Technologist program – although my actual career choices didn’t require much of my “hands-on” drafting skills.  I was an estimator at a large timber-frame construction company, worked in the building departments at both the Town of Richmond Hill and Town of Ajax in Ontario and was an Associate Project Manager for a restoration contractor in Durham Region (alongside my brother) when we left Ontario for PEI.

So, last week, I set up my drafting table and started with the current layout of our house:

Main Floor

Main Floor

Main Floor:  closest to you is the front of our house.  The front door opens into the main hall with the stairs to the second floor on your right.  To the left is a set of double French doors leading into the Living Room (which we’re currently using as our bedroom while we demo and renovate the upper level).  The hall leads to the Dining Room (currently our Living Room) and the small room to the left is where we built the temporary washroom.  I’m guessing that previous owners probably used this room as a den or office.  We’ll likely turn it into Vanessa’s Craft Room where she can finally have a dedicated space for knitting, sewing and jewellery making.  To the right of the Dining Room is the Kitchen.  Probably the most important room to Vanessa and I, it currently has sparse cabinetry and minimal storage.  We’ve also had to use this space to install the hot water tank and laundry facilities until the renovations allow these items to be relocated elsewhere.  Off the back of the Kitchen is a small Foyer with a Powder Room that we’ve taken apart and is currently being used for storage.  The long room off the back Kitchen hallway is….well….I’m not sure.  Some previous owner of the house built this addition for some purpose – storage, most likely – and it’s not in the best shape.  No foundation, no heat, un-insulated, sinking on one side and a leaking roof makes this addition not useable for anything other than we what have been using it for – a glorified mudroom/entrance/storage area.  This addition, back hall and Powder Room will be removed as part of our main floor renovations and replaced with a more appropriate rear-entrance/mudroom/laundry room.

Second Floor

Second Floor

Second Floor:  to the right at the top of the stairs is (what will eventually be) our Master Bedroom.  One window in a dormer looks out the front of the house and a window in the side gable looks over the driveway.  The washroom is at the top of the stairs, with a small vanity, tub and toilet.  The second bedroom is on the back corner of the house with a big closet and the chimney coming up through the room.  The front room is the third bedroom, although we’ll use it as an office/den.  There is a small walk-in closet in the upper hall towards the front of the house.

Front Elevation

Front Elevation

Front Elevation:  very typical styling of a PEI “island-ell” farmhouse with the front dormer and round-top window and has some decorative gingerbread trim around the front porch.  The shutters are not original, nor functional, nor real shutters – just some boards fastened and painted for a decorative treatment added some-time in the past.

Rear Elevation

Rear Elevation

Rear Elevation: nothing special here.  The back addition makes for a poor view and will be much better once it is removed.

In addition to documenting the current use and layout of the house, I’ve been sketching the changes were going to make as things progress the next few months.  I hope to have these plans posted in the near future.

I’d love to hear some of your feedback and suggestions or answer any questions you have (at least to the best of my ability).

Well, it’s begun….

….sort of.    Really, we began the repairs and renovations to the house on the day we purchased it – November 15, 2013.  But TODAY, our disposal bin was dropped in our driveway and demo has started.

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One man’s junk….

If you’re now looking at the dates, yes, it’s been two months since we bought the house.  Don’t judge me, we’ve been busy.  Up until now, we’ve been preparing to start the renovations and make the house livable – if not somewhat comfortable.  And the snow.   Oh boy, the snow.

There were a number of things we needed to do in order to live here – not the least of which was to dig a new well and build a washroom (an outhouse, while a throwback to simpler times, wasn’t an option).  That’s where we began.

15 storeys deep - two streams

15 storeys deep – two streams

Here’s where I need to give you some background.  Our house needs a complete overhaul.  I’m talking foundation-to-roof overhaul.  When we inspected the house, we were pretty comfortable with the structure – everything was straight and true – no sags in the roof, no racking walls, no inter-dimensional vortex in the crawlspace to drag you into some parallel universe.  Well, I’m assuming that last one is true – so far, so good anyhow.  So, to start, we’re going to live on the main floor, gut the second floor, start the foundation and roof repairs, move upstairs and then tackle the main floor.  Easy, peasy.

So, the new well was relocated and dug, trenched to the house, new pump and pressure tank installed, decommissioned the old well, installed new piping to the temporary washroom (now in what was originally the Den), installed the tub, toilet and vanity, plumbed-in the washer and dryer (in the kitchen for now) and installed the new hot water tank.  Well, that takes care of the plumbing-related stuff.  In addition to that, we painted the Living-Room-now-Master-Bedroom and the Dining-Room-now-Living-Room, installed a new wood burning stove in the Living Room and put-up two cords of firewood and shopped for and bought a new car.  Throw in Christmas and New Year’s – it’s been a very busy two months.

Yeah.  That and the snow.

PEI: "Canada's Summer Playground"

PEI: “Canada’s Summer Playground”

We moved to PEI in the earliest and snowiest winter in recent memory.  In three weeks we had six major snowfalls.   The field in our backyard had at least 4 feet over it.  I know that because there is an old oil drum with a broomstick poking out of it – and it was completely buried.   The snowbanks were shoulder-high in the driveway and I was starting to get a bit desperate.  I simply couldn’t throw the snow any higher.  Then the thaw happened.  In less than two weeks, the snow is all but gone.  A few days of above-zero temperatures, rain and winds of 60-80 km/h (gusting to 100) made this winter wonderland a soggy, muddy mess.

But hey, that’s part of the adventure.  We’re going to have lots more mud before it gets better (wait till we start digging a new foundation).

quicksand1