How we came to purchase our home.

WPA Photo

A Works Progress Administration photo offers a glimpse of our home's past.

Reproduction Windsor Chair

Finally, a dining room set.

No Power, No Heat.

Our first snow storm and it's aftermath, October, 2011.

Lead Poisoning

Updates to our son's lead levels.

Bit By Bit

My wife's blog on being pregnant, giving birth and raising our first child with all the complications, hardships and joys that life throws our way.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Outdoor Spigot Replacement

A couple years ago, upon moving into our home, our outside spigot was removed to allow the installation of a new sill. That same contractor refused to re-install the spigot for one reason or another (see Structural Repairs, Part II). A friend had the right bits to drill me a hole through our new sill. Once complete, he also soldered the copper pipe back into place. Done, right?

A few months later came time to use the spigot. A surprise awaited me as the spigot was now streaming a leak. I only fear how much water was wasted since I last saw it.

Easy fixes first. These spigots have a rubber washer under the knob that seals the joint. Likewise, there's also one at the end of all garden hoses. A trip to Walmart got me a cheapo set of rubber washers. I come home excited, took out my pliers and wrench, turned off the supply valve and.... broke the nut holding the old spigot together. I just have no luck. Damn thing had been in the sun too long, been made of cheap metal or perhaps my neutrinos weren't spinning the correct way... whatever the case may be, now it was time to replace the spigot.

Sometimes, these things just don't go as well as we hope.

There are two general types of spigots, ones that are threaded on much like a shower head and the other, soldered on. The threaded type are the easiest (obviously). Unscrew the old one with wrenches, clean the threads, wrap plumber's tape and screw on the new spigot. The other type is a bit more complex having a soldered connection which needs to be de-soldered with a torch. Guess which one I have…

I ventured to my big-box-store to get some needed supplies:

  • Propane torch
  • Lockable vice-grip (or pliers)
  • Non-leaded plumber's solder
  • Plumber's flux
  • Pipe cleaner (sandpaper works too)
  • New spigot (obviously)

Warning: If you are not a "handy person", I suggest hiring someone who is. Changing out a soldered plumbing part is not overly hard, but can become dangerous when you factor in the torch. It may be best to have a fire extinguisher nearby, just in case.

Read the directions on the propane torch and get use to turning it on and off. It's imperative that this is done to avoid potential issues later on, such as burning down your house. Do not use the torch around hazardous materials nor in confined spaces (i.e. with no ventilation). Lucky me, my spigot is near my oil tank in the basement with sealed windows...

Tip: The hottest part of the torch is not the tip of the flame and not the metal tip of the nozzle. It's the area at the 1/3 point from the tip of the flame. Without this knowledge, you'll spend more time waiting to heat the metal than needed and you'll also use more fuel than you have to.

Once you are comfortable with using a torch, let's move on to the repair.

Remove the section of copper pipe from the system.

Find the connection couple closest to the spigot. Using the torch, heat the copper connection. Once hot enough, using pliers (not your hand... lesson learned), gently rotate the spigot end of the copper pipe connection. If hot enough and the solder has liquefied, it will rotate and can be pulled part easily. Depending on the thickness of the copper pipe, and amount of solder used previously, the heating process may take some time.

What Not To Do
For my situation, my plumbing is located between the wooden joists, close to the floorboards above. I tried to use a protective barrier to avoid scorching the underside of the floor above, need I cause the above mentioned home fire. I took some aluminum foil as a heat shield. My knowledge of metallurgy is limited so it was a surprise to me when the aluminum became molten and then vaporized. Apparently, aluminum melts quite easily (1,220.58°F) in the heat from a propane torch (3,450°F). So don't use aluminum foil as a heat shield.

De-solder the spigot from the removed copper pipe. 
Same procedure as above. Since our exterior paint is leaded and the old spigot had some paint on it, as a precaution, I made sure I was upwind of any fumes. The de-soldering process heats the copper-spigot connection. I wasn't sure if any leaded paint was present around the spigot but didn't want to risk breathing in vaporized lead.

Clean the de-soldered copper pipe.
Copper tarnishes over time, hence why Lady Liberty is green. For a decent bond, it is best to have a clean (bare metal) surface. Various home stores sell cleaning tools. They look like torture devices, really, with a thick metal wire covered in spiky needles and the other end, a hole with spikes as well. However it appears to you, it's still an abrasive tool to clean off tarnish and light debris from the to-be soldered ends.  After cleaning the ends, the surfaces should look like a brand new penny and slightly roughened.

Apply the Flux.
Flux looks like a jelly paste.  When heated, it sizzles and a vapor is released which should be avoided; something about skull and cross bones being on the label made me assume this.  Really though, best used in a VERY well ventilated area.  Flux works by "attracting" the molten solder throughout the joint. Using a disposable brush, paint the surfaces that are to come into contact.

Assemble the spigot-copper pipe.
Simply insert the copper pipe into the spigot. Twist it a little to ensure adequate spread of the flux.

Solder the connection. 
It is best to secure the spigot and pipe to free your hands during the soldering process.  A clamp or vice should work just fine.  I used a bench vice to hold the pipe steady and the flux around the spigot was just enough to make a snug fit while soldering.  The connection to the system was a bit more complex since there wasn't a bench to work over.  Instead, I jerry-rigged a vice to keep my hands free (see below).  Then, I soldered away after applying the flux.  Its difficult to take a picture while using the torch for obvious reasons (Safety First!).

Test the spigot. Turn on the water and make sure nothing is leaking. Turn the spigot on outside for satisfaction. Done.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

RRP Rule

After the scares with leaded paint, my wife felt that it was prudent to have me take a class in lead safety, just so that I know the current standards in protecting our family from lead dust.  Doing research online, I came across many classes meant for contractors at varying costs.  Some were a week long program for heavy lead abatement (think Hollywood style HAZMAT/alien invasion with plastic rooms and space suit-like attire).  I was not about to spend a week's worth of vacation time to sit in a HAZMAT training class.  Instead, I came across a one day class that, since 2010, has been a requirement for persons to either earn a contractor's license or receive a permit in certain towns.  This one day class is for the RRP certification, or Renovation, Repair and Painting Program.  The one day class instructs contractors on how to identify potential projects where lead may be present, how to test for lead, how to inform the customer of the presence of lead, how to prepare the area being worked on to avoid the spread of leaded dust, how to protect yourself and, lastly, how to clean the work area.  The information is provided by the EPA and is taught by EPA certified companies.  Some states run their own program directly, like Rhode Island and Massachusetts.  In Connecticut, the regulations are set by the Federal government (based out of Boston, go figure?)

After having taken the course this past June, I reflected on the two separate contractors that have worked on our home. Only one of them have actually followed the RRP rules.  The crew that did (seen here), did preparatory work by the book.  The other, more recent contractor (seen here), did nothing; even after being told that there was lead present.

The RRP class is one vacation day and around $200.  You're certified for 5 years and a refresher course (4 hours long) is required every 5 years to maintain the certification.  The class was hosted by Fuss and O'Neil, an engineering company in Manchester, CT.  They, specifically, charged $190 (2014) for the class and provided lunch.  The information is public information as it is from the EPA.  Below, I have listed out the procedures that one must take when dealing with a leaded project.  These are the rules as stipulated by the EPA for a contractor to follow.  For the rules of a home owner, scroll to the end...

1.  Upon arrival to the project, ask the owner when the home was built.  If they tell you it was built prior to 1978, test for lead.  If they don't know, test for lead.  If it was built on or after January 1, 1978, it magically doesn't have lead and the RRP rules no longer apply; you may commence work.

2.  Test for lead using EPA approved test kits (seen here and here).  Document the areas tested and record the results.  If negative, RRP rules no longer apply.  If positive, inform the homeowner and provide them with a government sourced brochure regarding lead risks to children (Renovate Right).  Within 30 days of the completion of the project, a copy of the results are to be submitted to the homeowner.  The homeowner is now fully aware that there is leaded paint present.

3.  Purchase:
6-mil thick plastic sheets (100 feet x 10-foot roll is roughly $60 at Home Depot)
Contractor trash bags (again, Home Depot, 3-mill thick 42 gallon bags, 50 count for $26)
HEPA certified shop vacuum (no, not a vacuum with a HEPA filter, that doesn't count!, Amazon, $250+)
Swifter wet mops (cheapest functional)
Swifter dry mops (cheapest functional)
Duct-Tape (extra wide painter's tape is more safe for floors)
An empty spray bottle (for water wash downs)
Protective coveralls, hooded, and booties (roughly $10, per laborer per day)
Sticky pads (120 sheets for $100). 
4a.  If working on a leaded exterior, protect the ground with 6-mil thick plastic sheets a minimum of 10 feet from the building, 20+ feet when at the second floor.  A contractor is suppose to use their judgement beyond 10-20 feet, where working on a third floor, for example, may cause leaded dust to fall beyond 20 feet from the house.  The edge closest to the building should be duct-taped to the exterior to ensure no gaps.  Cover any wall openings, i.e. windows and doors in the immediate area with the plastic and duct-tape.  The plastic on the ground is to drape over all landscaping, including bushes and vegetable gardens.  Ensure that the sheets are weighed down and never work in windy conditions.  At the end of each day, use the HEPA vacuum to remove all contaminants that fell on the plastic.  The plastic sheet can be re-used, so long as it is cleaned daily, kept in good condition and not transported around the building.  Do not remove the plastic while having contaminated material on it, a risk of the debris falling out and contaminating the ground exists.

4b.  If working on a leaded interior, protect the floor 6 feet from the surface being worked on.  Cover all openings with plastic and duct tape.  Turn OFF any force air A/C or heating system and cover with plastic and duct tape any vent openings in the area.  Access to the room can be made by cutting the sealed plastic at one doorway straight down the center.  A flap is then installed (black contractor's trash bag, cut along seams works perfect) and double hung from the door frame.  Place a sticky mat at the entrance to allow removal of any dust from the feet upon exiting.  Clean up at the end of each day using the HEPA certified vacuum. Vacuum yourself before you leave then dispose of any coveralls used in a contractor's trash bag.

5.  Commence work.

6.  Upon completion, clean up is required.  Always work from the top down.  HEPA Vac the entire room.  Then, using the spray bottle, wet the ceiling surfaces and wipe clean with a white cloth.  Keep wetting and wiping until the white cloth remains mostly white.  Then go to the walls and work your way to the floor.  Once complete, carefully remove the plastic on the doorways, windows and vents and gently roll the plastic from the floor ensuring not to disturb any potential dust remaining on it.  Throw them and all the used cloths into the contractor's trash bag.  Use the wet swiffer to mop the bare floors until the white swiffer mop is no longer picking up dirt (still white after being used).  Focus on a 20 square foot area at a time.  The room should be cleaner than when you arrived.  Seal all used contractor bags using a gooseneck closure.  Dispose of in a hazmat container.  

7.  Retest for lead.

If you are a homeowner, RRP rules do not apply (go figure?).  A homeowner can dispose of leaded waste, in their municipal trash, up to 30 cubic yards!  That's insane, but legal.

There are little details here and there that are discussed in the class, but the critical issues are:
Information - be knowledgeable of what you are dealing with.
Test - test, test, test.
Protection - ensure your family (including the furry type) is safe.
Clean - make sure you wipe down EVERY surface.
Disposal - throw the leaded material, wipes, plastic, etc. out in accordance with the law.
More information can be gained from the EPA:  EPA.Gov - Renovation Repair and Painting Rule.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

4-Poster Bed

Since moving into our historic home, so much time has been spent on the physical structure that very little has been devoted to furnishing it (we still have a couple empty rooms).  Our bedroom has a hand-me-down dresser from a college friend that is packed full of our necessities, a solitary night stand from a recycling yard and a metal bed frame sourced from Craigslist.  Rather sparse for a modern bedroom yet my wife has been content (at least that's what I thought).

After two-plus years, my wife had enough.  Her birthday was arriving and when I asked for her preference, instead of the usual textile items, she blurts out FURNITURE!  My wife's wish for her birthday was a piece of furniture for our bedroom.  Having looked through sample sales of period furniture, she gave me a limit of $3,000 (as my wife and I share approval in our expenses, we do not make purchases without the other's approval).  She said that it was time we got something and whatever it was, it had to be for our bedroom.  

We sat there each night scouring EBay and other sites for authentic period pieces.  For decent period pieces, even at our limit, it was just a little out of reach.  Not to mention fears of potential leaded paint and, along the same lines, protecting an $8,000 dresser from a hyper toddler.  We decided to shy away from true antiques.

We moved on to our bed frame.  A year or so prior, our bed and box spring sat directly on the floor.  It was a habit from our former days of apartment living when buying furniture for a year-long rental wasn't needed.  Also, our cat loved clawing the underside of the box spring (even climbing inside).  Then, however, our cat matured and as being on the floor invited spiders crawling over us at night (ew), we purchased a basic metal frame and elevated our bed away from the arachnids.  Now, it was time to have a formal bed frame, no more low-rider beds in cahoots with spiders and manic cats.  It's time for a mommy and daddy bed.

$3,000 is a lot of money for most people (it's a lot of money for us as well).   I realize that we do not live centuries in the past, but I would like to stay true to the appearance of the past and there is an associated cost with that level of quality.  There really isn't any sense in owning an 18th century American home and filling it with modern Japanese art (like our previous owner).  In my opinion, for a home that a person owns, their furniture should compliment it.

In a prior post, I commented on D.R. Dimes.  Though beautiful furniture, their pricing was just out of reach.  So I searched online through various vendors for reproduction furniture.  I came across quite a few and many having the same prices close to D.R. Dimes or of mass produced varieties that just look too "modern" for our home.  I finally came across a furniture maker who's pricing is much less than that of D.R. Dimes, but still of a quality equal to the of the famous maker.

Out in Lancaster County, PA, is a furniture maker with an impressive inventory of reproduction pieces.  Their site, GreatWindsorChairs.com, shows off their collection of period pieces for every room of a historic home.  They are not IKEA-like furniture with particle board components.  Like with many things, authenticity and quality do not come from low-cost chains.  I ventured to their site, found their bedroom furniture and noted a little highlighted blurb about discounts being available.  I submitted a questionnaire through their site and soon received a call... that's when I met Michael Rice.

Michael was patient with me.  I was flopping back and forth with choosing between the available tiger maple or cherry wood construction (trivial:  both were the same price, another differential from D.R. Dimes).  In the end, I settled on the tiger maple with a canopy shipped to my living room.  Pricing was great.  Michael described to me that the discount applied to their current inventory only and returns were not possible.  They had a tiger maple king size canopy bed in stock at 10% off their regular pricing.  Shipping was through an outside delivery service for an extra fee.  All together, $2,990.50 was charged to my credit card.  Within two weeks, the bed was in my home and I came in under our budget.

It took roughly 2 hours to assemble as each part was nicely wrapped heavily in bubble-wrap.  Unwrapping the parts was time consuming.  Once all exposed, assembly went quickly.  It's easier with two people (per the directions), but with the other able-bodied person caring for our little one, this was a one-person job.  Besides, it was her birthday...

All the parts came wrapped in bubble wrap, held together with tape.

Each bundle was labeled making it easier to grab the right part during assembly, eliminating the guess work.
Unwrapped headboard and corner posts.  I used the bubble wrap as padding.
Bolts that secure the posts to the rails.  They came with a tool to aide in installation.
Final assembly of the parts.  I had to use books to support the rails during the "two-person" stage while attaching the bolts.

The partially assembled bed.  I couldn't place the canopy on top because the finials that attach the bars are too tall for our room.

Being in an old home with (plus or minus) 7-foot ceilings, a four poster bed with 7'-4" posts was not going to fit.  Discussing the height issue with Michael, I learned that the finials can be easily trimmed.  They are basically a decorative peg about 6 to 8 inches in height that support the canopy.  No screws, no bolts; just a solid piece of maple, turned on a lathe.  I measured the clearance that the finial needed for installation above the canopy.  It's simply the length of the peg from the bottom of the finial.  That distance was measured on the top of the finial.  I drilled a hole into a price of squared scrap wood to hold the finial.  I then used a miter hand saw to cut off just enough from the finials to fit our ceilings.  The final appearance is more sedate than the original form, I actually like it better.

Removing the top of the maple finial using a common hand miter saw.

A cut finial compared to it's former size.  The removed top allows just enough room for the installation and it's appearance actually looks quite attractive.
I am very pleased with the bed frame from Great Windsor Chairs.  The quality is impressive.  It is solid maple and the "tiger" finish is absolutely gorgeous.  The bed as a whole is not 100% hand-made.  It's a hybrid of machine and hand tooling.  Considering the much greater expense with a completely hand made piece (and with a toddler around), I'm OK with a hybrid approach to the construction.  Having said that, what really is quite exciting are the details that a lay-person may over look.  On the flat surfaces such as the head board and even the canopy frame are the tool marks from the hand plane used to flatten the components!  I realize that reads a bit dorky, but those "imperfections" just add to the quality of this piece.  It truly is an heirloom to pass down and money well spent.  It also satisfied my wife.  Take a look at some of the details below:

Photographing very fine details in wood is harder than I thought.  The light has to be just right to reflect the undulations for the camera lens to capture.  Above, the bottom bar of the canopy support show the marks left by the hand plane.  Simply awesome.

Finial installed a top a corner post with canopy bars.  I think it looks great!

Lamb's Ear detail of the corner post.

Bolt cover detail.  Some manufacturers offer metal covers for an added expense, these were included and pre-installed.

Rope hole detail.  For an added touch of authenticity, a large diameter rope can be added to mimic a rope bed.  

Headboard closeup.

The king size canopy bed from GreatWindsorChairs.com.  With the cost of the bed being what it was, there was no more room left in the budget for a quilted colonial blanket.

Disclaimer:  I have not been reimbursed by Great Windsor Chairs, nor by Michael, for writing this entry.  I have received a 10% discount which is readily available to any consumer when Great Windsor Chairs advertises a sale.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Parlor Renovation, Part II - Window Sashes

A continuation from Parlor Renovation, Part I.

It was agreed that I would strip the window sashes to save on cost in preparation for the work to be done to our southern parlor window.  It was a simple task (isn't it always?).  I purchased paint stripper, a scraper, a dust suite and a lead vapor rated painter's mask.  I setup my area in the driveway placing a disposable plastic tarp on the pavement, two horses atop and dawned my space suite attire.  I retrieved the sashes from the back porch and while carrying them to my work area, one of the rails loosened and nearly fell off.  Well, there goes stripping them...

Turns out, the bottom rail on one of the sashes was rotted at the joint and had come loose.  My tail between my legs, I called Sunderland and requested his opinion.  He felt that it was an easy fix of a job costing roughly $300.  As usual, I wanted to make sure I was getting the best price.  After he explained what that cost entailed (replacing the bottom rail and re-glazing the three bottom panes).  I told him to never mind the whole window altogether and simply focus on repairing the rot and water issue with the frame.  I sought to replace the window sashes outright.

I searched online and came across Caroline Sly of Ashfield, MA.  She is a one-woman shop and claims to make windows by hand (among other wooden assemblies including stringed musical instruments) and after contacting her, she offered to stop by and show a sample of her work.

Prior to her arrival, we exchanged emails.  We spoke of early expectations and I learned just how affordable she is.  As my readers will recall, I always say that money is a matter of perspective, so what does affordable mean?  Well, if Sunderland Period Homes was willing to repair my one lousy reproduction window sash from the 1960's for $300 plus another $400 to weatherstrip with vinyl/plastic strips both sashes; Mrs. Sly was hand-making TWO sashes, with antique glass from the 19th century and weatherstripping of a similar nature for $425 (un-painted).  $700 to repair one reproduction versus $425 for a new period reproduction.  

I'll take your silence as a nod of approval.  She's a godsend when dealing with a constant barrage of high prices.  Mind you that pieces from Mrs. Sly are a custom one, so what may be of one charge for my home, could be different for yours (meaning, you should contact her for specific applications).  Here is her site: www.CarolineSly.com.

Her work speaks for itself.  Is it perfect, no.  Is it affordable?  For us, yes.  There are little issues I have with her work, details that would annoy me tremendously if Sunderland had done it, especially with his level of pricing.  She gave her opinion with details and listened to our desires.  It took her a week to create the pair of sashes, glaze them and deliver them to our home.  The glazing was still pliable when she dropped them off.

I was hesitant on informing Mr. Sunderland of my purchase.  After all, he is working on our home and has the means and methods of creating windows.  I would not want to offend him by taking business away.  I tried to keep things simple and simply asked that we did not install the weatherstripping on the old sashes and that I'll deal with them later.

But Mr. Sunderland kept on badgering me about the window, that it needs to be repaired or it will not function correctly, etc.   He was right, of course, yet, his pricing is just out of reach for my sanity.  In the end, I relented and confessed the real reason for foregoing the repair of the old sash.  Once my secret plan came to light, Mr. Sunderland really didn't say much.  He didn't seem to mind at that time and I invited him to examine the new sashes. 

Sunderland Period Homes strives for perfection in the details, at least that's the impression.  So, it wasn't until several weeks later that Mr. Sunderland felt compelled to give his full opinion of the sashes.  He examined the window and began pointing out all the inconsistencies in workmanship as well as the structural integrity of the window.  He said that the rebates for the glass were too shallow and that the panes of glass would fall out in time.  He added that the sashes were over tightened while being assembled which warped the sash.  He continued on for a short while, honestly aggravating me quite a bit.  I cannot afford to have Mr. Sunderland do as he pleases on my dime.  I'm not a wealthy person, I'm simply a family man paying my bills with an interest in historic homes.  So, with whatever little extra income we have goes towards our home.  If the expense is too great, something has to give.  I'm not a bottomless pit...

In retrospect (and I'm not an expert) I find it a bit hard to believe that a joiner from the 18th century would have made such perfect sashes by hand with wood sourced from one's backyard that would've passed Mr. Sunderland's critique.  It's been a while since that discussion and I am still annoyed by it.  I'm sure he's also annoyed at me for telling him that he's just too damn expensive for us, literally.

These sashes may not be perfect, but you be the judge.  Do they live up to your expectations?  Here are some closeups as they looked when Sunderland saw them:

The left sash is as Mrs. Sly delivered it, fingerprints and smudges from the glazing process present (so what?).  The right sash was cleaned and prepped for painting.  I think I am satisfied.

Mrs. Sly is due to come back to install the weatherstripping and fitment within our frame.  As of this posting, our agonizingly slow repair is as a result of yours truly having other priorities (a.k.a. LIFE) getting in the way.  As an update can be made, I'll post it up.

Miscommunication, one of the most annoying things in life.  Between the window sash ordering, scheduling, dealing with Sunderland Period Homes, the lead problems; I must've misunderstood Mrs. Sly when she and I discussed installation.  She was unable to install the window sashes due to age (70+ years to her credit).  So I sit here completely beside myself since the promised windows were delivered without weatherstipping pending installation (hence my assumption of her installing them).  Well at least the price of the window, as is, is still more affordable than a repaired replica.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Dining Room Area Rug

With our parlor currently being renovated (very slowly), and there is only one other way to get to the back of our home, our dinning room is getting quite a bit of foot traffic.  I've become concerned that our old floor is being beaten more than required.  On top of that, our toddler has been running around the room playing and wrestling.  My mind goes crazy the level of damage that can be done to these unprotected pine floors.

My wife and I have been on the lookout for rugs locally and from various other online sources.  I came across the "souvenir" shop at Colonial Williamsburg and found the Leaf Green Garden Maze area rug (seen here).  We liked the look of it and as it was designed based upon a sample from Colonial Williamsburg's archive is a major plus.  The manufacturer is Capel Rugs and is constructed of 100% Olefin.  
I know what you're thinking.  What is Olefin?  I had no idea until I looked it up.  It's a synthetically made fiber that has several advantages.  It is abrasion and fade resistant and also resists water & mold.  Hence why this rug can be used both indoors and outdoors.  Cleaning up is much easier than on a "normal" carpet but I can imagine that fluids would pass through it much more quickly than other materials.  

An important note on historic rugs.  From my understanding (which is limited), rugs were of two types in the 18th century, if used at all.  There was the braided type in ovals and circles and then there was the canvas from sails.  Sails were woven canvases of hemp or flax sheets.  Obviously, Olefin would never have been found in an 18th century home (it was invented in the 1950's).  It's woven appearance is similar to a thick canvas, like a sail.  Texture-wise, it takes some getting used to but with it having the appearance of a sail-like material, it fits well with our home's historic details.  Also, there is no pile, just a flat non-fuzzy canvas.

The internet is full of various prices for the same exact item.  I searched and searched and found this source: Brick House Rug Center.  The shipping was free and took less than a week from their warehouse to CT.  It came wrapped in a thick plastic sleeve, but was compressed during shipping/storage and has ripples from the folds.  In time, these should flatten out.  The rug came with a cleaner from the manufacturer as well as a non-slip pad (needed as this rug is slippery on a wooden floor).

And one last bit, the coloring from the seller's site, as well as that of the manufacturer show more green tones.  The carpet I received seems much lighter being a mixture of green and white.  I'm not sure why, with exception to computer screen coloring.  Maybe there was an error in shipment/manufacturing or perhaps this is what it is.  Below is a comparison with the coloring of our pine floors.  The difference is not too far off to make us cringe but is a bit of a let down.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Parlor Renovation, Part I

August 4, 2012...

"OK!  I know it looks bad, but it looks worse than it really is.  I swear!"

That's the only thing I could say to my wife when she came into the parlor.  It's only a hole in the wall, right?  A frown, and the look of "what did you do now" was the kindest of greetings one could receive...

From the survey of our parlor, a rubber-cement glued wallpaper could be seen hiding the water damage plaster underneath (thanks to the previous owner).  As I peeled away the God-awful wallpaper, I opened a can of worms....the wallpaper was holding together the damaged plaster underneath.  In my unknowing nature at that time, the "loosened" plaster fell out and I had continued to remove what I had thought was damaged plaster resulting in a gaping hole in our exterior wall.

Before , left:  Rubber cemented (and painted) wallpaper.         After, right:  Wallpaper removed, punky plaster exposed.

Wallpaper removed, "loose" plaster gone (lathe saved) and the window trim removed (some damaged), I found myself dug deep into a pit.  My knowledge was limited, my hopes high.  I wanted to do the work myself, pride took the better of me.  I continued to knock "loose" the surrounding plaster away.  In the end, I was left with an annoyed wife and crushed pride.

More wallpaper being removed, wetted areas are now visible below the window.

Without the knowledge to repair my deeds, the wall sat there for the remainder of the summer, fall, winter, spring... yes yes, and then summer.  I must have sub-consciously buried the plan to have it fixed for each time I said out loud to my wife that I am busy and can't do this or that right now, she would interject and say, "Like the hole in the wall?" It was painful to have to be reminded of my error or lack of ability.

I removed the wall paper entirely, along with the two sashes, sill, molding and punky plaster.  Notice the solid piece of wood at the window sill height that is where the original chair rail would have been.
August, 2013...

I had a plan (in my head).  I needed to learn how to do repairs on my own home yet books only showed vague interpretations of other jobs but I am a visual and hands-on person.  My plan was to contact Mr. Sunderland of Sunderland Period Homes.  I had the idea that since he's employed several talented persons, perhaps I could hire but one to show me how.  I wanted to learn how to do this and that and thought that perhaps I could "rent" one of his carpenters or plasters for a day to show me the ropes.  An email was sent off.

View from the southeast corner of the home towards the west.  The window is just west of our coffin door.  Notice the slight bump that is just below the window.

South exterior wall.
South exterior wall, window and coffin door.
Mr. Sunderland was confused by my questions and request.  He asked to come over and I can surmise that his trip was to evaluate a future job as oppose to a learning experience for the home owner.  We spoke of several topics while he was at our home including making our coffin door functional, adding a chair rail, siding, identifying a possible structural issue below the window... oh, and yes, the window and plaster mess yours truly created.  The idea of instruction was thrown out the window very quickly as Mr. Sunderland was too confused (perhaps on purpose) to follow.  So, we discussed how he would repair the window and bring it to new (along with the aforementioned items).  As I walked Mr. Sunderland to his car, we discussed a budget.  After pricing out how much a new window was from a few sources, to include the sashes and frame, (minus installation) I figured that a repair for such a window would surely not cost anywhere near the estimated $2,000 for the uninstalled package.  Considering our finances, my wife and I decided that $2,000 seemed a reasonable maximum amount to repair that plaster wall, reset the window sashes and stop the water leak.  Mr. Sunderland nodded as if he understood, yet said that it may be a bit more.  It was a one hour chat and an email to follow within the week that blew my mind, and not in a good way.

Here was the estimated total (are you ready for a jaw drop?):  $6,800.00

My mouth dropped open, I even imagine a bit of saliva dribbled out as I was dumb struck.  My wife had to cover my child's ears as, in my delirium, extraordinarily colorful words expelled from my drooling mouth to such extent that my opinion of Mr. Sunderland dropped dramatically.

I emailed/called Sunderland Period Homes to explain to me why it would cost nearly $7,000 to fix a leaky window and patch the plaster?  Here was his response, in layman's terms:

$2,600 is for the chair rail restoration.  The rail had been removed by a previous owner and replacing it would bring the room back to an original appearance.  The cost included the materials and labor which involved scribing the wood chair rail to match the uneven plaster wall along three walls (the fourth being paneled).  I'll pass on a scribed chair rail, saving myself 30% of the estimate upfront.

$600 is for removing paint from the existing reproduction sashes on one window.  Ah, thanks, but I'll spend a few hours over a weekend doing that myself...

$400 is for weatherstripping the two existing reproduction sashes.  What?!  It costs less than a dollar a foot to purchase!  There's no way that labor could be that expensive!

$3,200 is for (quoted from the estimate):

  1. Flash the header window with lead.
  2. Attach wood lathe properly under the window.
  3. Plaster over existing lathe.
  4. Re-install sash and window trim.
  5. Remove exterior storm window.
  6. Strip paint from exterior window frame.
  7. Restore shape of exterior sill.
  8. Remove siding at left, right and beneath window to assess condition of sheathing.
  9. Install new 30 lb. tar paper around and under window.
  10. Install "ice and water" for water proofing around window.
  11. Caulk edges around window frame and re-install siding with rosehead nails.

In addition to the above items, he wrote up an estimate for "custom made interior storm windows" to replace the exterior aluminum units currently installed, restore the clapboard siding and restore the coffin door.  The other estimates combined grossed around $46,000.  All I wanted was to stop the water leak, but at least I can see where Mr. Sunderland's pricing is in other aspects.

I bit the bullet.  I signed a contract with Sunderland Period Homes for the $3,200 + (and yes, plus the outrageous $400 for weatherstripping).  I must seem insane to you, honestly though, I have a reason.  After asking for references, I spoke with a few of his former and current clients.  They all shared one answer.  He is insanely expensive, but he gets the job done right once.  This gave me an idea.  I figured, if I am paying an excessive amount of money for this small job, why not be present, mentally record what would be done and, replicate it on the other 20+ windows that need some sort of repair.  The work will be done for me and I'll be educated in how it's being done by a qualified crew.

My readers, when the job is complete, and time allows, look for a how-to for waterproofing and restoring a leaking 250+ year old window and frame (to be updated in 2014).

Side note (but important):  After the fiasco with my son's lead levels, I decided to take a sample of the underlying paint from our parlor's newly exposed surfaces.

D-Lead test samples.
The test came back negative.  It is assumed that while removing wallpaper, I had inadvertently released this trace amount of lead into the air.  I can rule out this room as being a cause for the lead in my son's system.  See this post:  Lead Poisoning, for the full story regarding lead issues.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Rice Cakes

They're delectable, aren't they?  Unwrap the plastic bag, pull out this wafer of Styrofoam, take in a sniff of that caramel or that artificial sea salt scent and savor the texture and feeling of eating a rice cake.  

Ok, most of us don't really do that.  In fact, if you were like me, you'd rather reach for any other treat besides flavored rice cakes... unless your a ravenous mouse intent on being an organic flotation device.

Yes, they've returned.  These pesky rodents just love an old home and rice cakes.  Having had rats as pets in high school, my wife (OK, me too) is (are) hesitant on ridding our home of mice using poisons, especially with one and a half children running around.  So, instead, we purchased a mouse trap that takes care of the deed and seals itself upon contact.  No mess, just throw the whole container out.  Much better than the "instant" (as in instant death) chocolate milk-like powdered bags filled with poison that our predecessor left for us to find.  

This past month, while entertaining our son, a whiff of death emanated from the floor boards.  The smell was similar to one of my first posts where a rather large carcass of a mouse (perhaps mouse-rat hybrid) was stuck under the bathroom vanity (What is that Smell?).  The whiff was so putrid that being downwind was enough to make me seek it out.  

I ventured into the basement, trying to sniff out the tell-tale scent.  No luck.  There was no trace of the scent, there was a dried dead mouse, yes, but the strong pungent smell of death was only present in the keeping room above, not in the basement.  After throwing out the dried fuzzy-wuzzy, I brainstormed.

My next thought was that the putrid relative of the dried fiend was trapped in the insulation, much like those discovered previously (Surprise in the Insulation).  I went at it (again).  I took down the insulation that I had replaced.  To my dismay, bay after bay of secure insulation was ripped down in search of that deathly critter.  Again, no luck!  After taking down all the insulation, there was no sign of it!

I returned back to the main part of our home, itchy as all hell, with no discovery to report.  So we sat there, in the keeping room, on our couch, smelling rotting flesh.

Then, it occurred to me.  Could it be possible that a mouse was lurking on the ground floor, crawled into the couch, got stuck, and died?!  Oh how nasty!  Just the thought was making me want to vomit, not to mention, throw out our nearly new couches.  I tore apart the couch.  The smell was there, but not.  It kept coming and going.  I gutted the couch cushions.  Every last bit of polyester stuffing was gone.  Once the couch looked like a deflated balloon, I thought, I would find something, the smell was just that strong.  I used a shopping bag wrapped around my hand as a precaution.  Here's what I found:

A big fat NOTHING!

We could still smell that putrid scent.  At least its not from the basement or the couch.  The wall, however, had the strongest smell.  The wall directly behind the couch, the only wall to have the original windows still in place.  I followed the scent but there was nothing under the baseboard, outside the window or in the window.  

It's been a couple weeks and the smell is long gone.  The corpse was never found.  I doubt the critter awoke like a zombie and left searching for it's next meal.  My best guess is that the rodent was hiding somewhere in the foundation sill when it died.  Either just under the clapboards on the outside or in one of the baseboard plumbing chases that were drilled through from the basement side.  I guess the only comfort is that the smell is gone, for now.

Then come the noises.  Oh, you thought I was done?  No, there are now noises.  Behind the keeping room's fireplace paneling last night, we heard a scurrying.  Yes, a fat mouse had gotten wedged as it was climbing the bricks behind the paneling.  I was able to peer behind the panel but was unable to see anything so I assume he's now relaxing somewhere above.  

Also, at night, while sleeping, sometimes, we hear the furry beast munching on a nut over our heads.  The attic, much like the floor above the keeping room is hollow.  The floors are roughly eight inches plus in depth, a playground for these guys.  I fear that I may have to pull up all the floor boards in the attic, search out any openings up there, put in new un-compressed insulation and reseal.  Then, the same thing for the basement.  I should also go around the perimeter of the home and find any other openings.  I'd really hate to start putting out poison...

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


We've all been taught at some point to be wary of wild berries.  Boy/Girl Scouts teach the basics of wildnerness caution.  Parents who are aware of such things do so as well.  But what if your nature experience is limited, never having becoming one with earth?  Despite the commercials showing Wild Berry Passion as the flavor of the moment, there's nothing flavorful about poison berries.

Several months ago, in glee, my wife and I planted grape vines purchased from a local discount grocery chain.  A few weeks ago, my wife spots grapes growing for the first time.  She becomes quite excited and shares a photo of the newly formed grape to her social media network.

While waiting for our little grapes to ripen, my wife noticed that these "grapes" looked funny.  She accidentally knocked a branch off and tried to save it by placing it in a glass in our kitchen.

Looking closely at the orbs, she searched online for immature grapes with nothing looking like these solid green balls.  Eventually, she realized that this plant is not part of the grapevine where she found it, but instead a part of a deadly poisonous weed called Nightshade.

It's "berries" are jambed full of tiny seeds, one plant can produce 80,000 seeds!  The seed pods and leaves are poisonous.  Some "herbal people" harvest them fort their  "medicinal" properties.  As we're not shamans, we've plucked out as many as we could after discovering their true identity.  They were growing next to the vines of our grape plants so hence my wife's confusion.  In fact, they were found next to our back door, around our rose bushes, by the coffin door and randomly throughout the perimeter of our backyard.

I curse the previous owner for being so lax with her yard maintenance:  free growing poison ivy/oak/sumac and poisionous nightshade should be against the law.  They all spread easily and, with a ripened nightshade looking like small berries in reds and dark blues (green, unrippened), they appeal to children.  With my little guy sticking whatever he can into his mouth to taste, you can imagine our fear with having him in our back yard.

Nightshade, specifically Black Nightshade, causes these symptoms:

Your mouth dries up and your pupils dilate.  You get diarrhea and vomiting along with obvious stomach pains.  Your pulse either sky rockets or plunges and some people go into shock.  Your breathing slows as well.  Next, you get a fever and start to hallucinate (hence the "medicinal" property). Your hands go numb, you get a headache; worse yet, some go paralyzed.  Oh, and your whole body sweats.

Sounds great, doesn't it?

Good news is, these plants are pulled out easily.  Their roots are shallow, wear gloves as a precaution, grab the base of the stem and pull it out.  It may even be better to place a plastic bag over it so that none of the seeds fall off.  Place the plant directly into a covered trash can to ensure the least amount of exposure to others and thrwart birds seeding the yard.  Thoroughly wash your hands afterwards.

I went a step further and warned my immediate neighbors.  They have a child and dogs.  And for my pet chicken owners, Nightshade seems to cause irritation in very small quantities but most chickens seem to know to stay away.  But, in large quantities, it can cause eventual death.

Lead Poisoning

My son, a walking, talking little bundle of joy reached his first birthday on June 27.  The following week, we visited our pediatrician for his first annual check up.  It was at this time that a lead test was given for daycare and perhaps per state regulations.  A finger prick was all it took for the screening.  A reading of 5.4 micro grams per deciliter was found.  The fact that anything came back was a shock since we had thought there wasn't any lead in our home.  With a reading of 5.4 mg/dL, we began to panic.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had a "level of concern" for any child under the age of 6 years who's blood lead level (BLL) was above 10 mg/dL.  In 2012, that level was reduced to 5 mg/dL.  A full blood test was ordered for our little man the following Monday.  A couple days later, the results were in.  His actual BLL was at 11 mg/dL.  The doctor actually apologized to us because she said she would have to inform the State.  We had no idea what that meant.  Could it mean that the State will come and take our child away?  Are we horrible parents for wanting to live in an old house?  Could we go to jail for child endangerment?

While waiting for "something" to happen, we went out and purchased over $100 worth of additional lead test kits to locate any source we could.  We purchased the following:

3M's LeadCheck Instant Test Swabs $9.97 for 2 test pack (times 3).
Klean Strip's D-Lead Paint Test Kit $28.97 for 6 test pack (times 2).
PRO-LAB Lead Surface Test Kit $9.98 for 6 test pack.
First Alert's Premium Water Lead Test $10.67 for 1 test pack.
Klean Strip's D-Lead Paint Surface Cleaner $6.97 for a 32 oz. bottle.

I wanted to find every trace of lead that I could find.  With the above tests, however, the following was discovered:

The keeping room was tested extensively.  It was the main room where our son spent the majority of his time.  The walls, ceiling, floor nails and random splats of paint came back negative.  I used the D-Lead Paint tester for all painted surfaces.  I then used the LeadCheck sticks for random spots.  I didn't have enough for everything, but I tested what I could with those.  The only light fixture in the room was tested, and boy did it come back positive.  Some of the black painted surfaces had chipped away and exposed the tin underneath.  The theory was, since the light was located in the direct path of the A/C, dust either on the lamp or being blown by it, becomes leaded and rains to the floor.

I made it a priority to remove that light.  A run to my local big box store was made, purchased a lead-free replacement and exchanged the two.  I removed the old light by first gently wrapping it in a plastic bag, unscrewed the decorative plate from the ceiling, detached one wire at a time placing a nut on it for safety relocated it to the porch should the State require it for any reason.  I then used the D-Lead cleaner to wipe down the ceiling and floor beneath just in case.

The replacement light was installed rather easily and actually doesn't look that bad.  It even has the ability to point up or down; currently it's pointing up for maximum light.

As noted in a previous post (Lead Testing), our exterior paint is leaded.  The interior was not, as far as I could tell at that time.  I traveled around the house, this time, taking more samples using the above swabs and sticks.  The original hardware in the home, i.e. door latches, came back positive for trace amounts of lead.  The HL hinges as well.  A lamp in our old kitchen, highly positive.  Who would've thought?

Concerned, I started calling many agencies, offices, and contractors.  I knew that lead abatement is not cheap but learned that there are programs that can assist a home owner.  That was my goal:  finding assistance in locating the source and eliminating it.

I Googled lead testing companies.  These hired groups use a hand held scanner called an XRF device that can scan down through 36 layers of paint, locate lead and calculate the concentration.  I received estimates from $800 to $1,200 to scan my home plus the cost of additional types of tests like dust swabs.

One company, a prospective lead inspector, mentioned a financial assistance program existed at the Connecticut Children's Hospital called LAMPP.  He had suggested that I try contacting LAMPP since he'll get their business anyway and perhaps because he can charge the full rate as opposed to an individual rate for me.  I did not care what went on behind the scenes, we were worried for our son but if the scanning can be done for free, why not? ... So I thought.

LAMPP is a grant based assistance funded by HUD for lead abatement.  Being a grant, our out-of-pocket expense would have been minimized or none at all, according to the inspector.

I became quite excited.  I called the LAMPP program director but no answer. I called another number and left a message and I waited for a call back...

Meanwhile, I received a call from a doctor at the Connecticut Children's Hospital.  She was called by our pediatrician to help answer our questions since this particular doctor was an expert in lead poisoning.  Our conversation was long and we learned that the majority of lead was found in the form of dust, not paint chips.  She told us to stop vacuuming as it may spread the leaded dust around and to wet mop our floors weekly.  Every weekend now we use a wet swifter mop to wet mop our 200+ year old floors. I mentioned the LAMPP program to the doctor on the phone. She personally knew the director and said she'll have him contact me.
Within 10 minutes, he called.

The director had plenty of knowledge of his program, as he should.  He essentially said that I do not qualify for assistance as I did not match the majority of the eligibility criteria:

1. Have a child under the age of six.  


2.  The home would have to be built before 1978.  
Double Check!


3.  The home is located in a pre-approved city/town.  
My town is not listed.


4.  For a family of three, the combined income must be less than $58,500 ($65,000 for a family of four).  
I guess I'm too rich?


5.  Have a child on Medicaid.  
He's not and we're also not on welfare.


6.  Be in Section 8 housing, earning a combined maximum income of $38,500 for a family of three.  
See Nos. 4 and 5.

Needless to say, I wasted days of research and phone calling for nothing.  I am too "rich", located in a "prosperous neighborhood", able to afford our own health insurance and own our own home without any government assistance.  I pay into the system so that other's can take advantage of it...


My wife was able to get somewhere with the State's Health Department.  We were directed to our town's own "Registered Sanitarian".  Honestly, I thought I was communicating with a licensed garbage man?  I never thought such a title ever existed.

I contacted this "Sanitarian" thinking that perhaps, since he's from our town, we may be able to find assistance for abatement (this ended up being a mistake).  He requested a copy of our son's blood lead levels and wanted to conduct a walk through with his supervisor.  Great, we thought!  We're making progress.  Perhaps we can get a grant to get rid of all the lead!

They came, and pointed out the gaps in our floors.  They started to explain lead dust and that a packet of sugar sized lead dust is enough to cause permanent brain damage.  Imagine my wife's dismay... They added that we should purchase an EPA certified HEPA vacuum (around $500).  And were warning us that official testing for lead could lead to unintended consequences.  What does that mean?

Our parlor is in the midst of repair with damaged plaster and a window off it's frame (it's an ongoing project that I'll have to elaborate in a later post).  They saw the window framing exposed, the planks as well, and started indicating that I was poisoning my son.  They also started to roll their eyes when I described my job:  engineer currently working near bridges being painted = assumed lead paint.  It's really a brand new bridge, for the record, so no leaded paint.  They left after a 15 minute tour then promised to come back a week later to swab for leaded dust.  Before they left, however, they asked me to seal the parlor up, just in case.

Their return was witnessed by my wife who saw them take a sample from the floors of the old kitchen below that old leaded lamp (since replaced - see below), the parlor, the dining room and our son's bedroom floor.  They also swabbed one window sill in the dining room.  The window swab was more of a proof that the lead is infiltrating into the home from the outside.  The sanitarian proceeded to open and close the sash, then swabbed the sill.

Upon inspection when I got home that day, there's a white layer of paint underneath the horrid dark green/blue present on the sill.  There was also tiny pigments of pink and sky blue.  These were all in a track of peeled up tape from our weatherization routine (Getting Cold...).

For the record, I've never tested that particular window sill for lead, just the similarly colored trim around one of the two doorways in an area most frequented by my son, the keeping room.

A week later, the swab tests came back.  Any concentration of lead particulate above 40μg/sf equates to a red flag (that's 40 millionths of a gram of lead per a square foot):

Dining Room        less than 20.0 μg/sf (undetectable)
Baby Room          less than 20.0 μg/sf (undetectable)
Front Entry        less than 20.0 μg/sf (undetectable)
Old Kitchen                  22.0 μg/sf
Parlor                       39.5 μg/sf
Window Sill                 505.0 μg/sf

OK, we're all now freaking out!  The Sanitarian gave us a warning.  We have to wet sand all the chipped window sills and repaint them to seal any leaded paint present, simple, but a temporary solution.  We'll also have to possibly replace our 250+ year old window frames and sashes should the leaded paint remain detectable after being painted over (insane and also another post to come).

Once these hopefully idle threats are over, I plan to strip all the trim in the house and eventually the exterior paint.  Please, Mr. Sanitarian, GO AWAY!  Your temporary fixes are temporary and your idle threats will bankrupt us!

We're waiting to hear back from our doctor regarding our son's latest lead test.  If his numbers are very small (or hopefully nill), then we know our methods of wet moping have been successful and the Sanitarian can just.... go away (as politely as I can write here).  

Lesson learned:  Do not ask for assistance from the government.  I love my son and do not wish him harm.  But I've been reading and hearing horror stories form owners whom have gone bankrupt or lost all their savings after being forced to replaced windows, siding, etc.  Let me deal with this on my own terms since I am obviously not wealthy enough to hire a certified lead abatement crew to abate our home entirely, nor do I qualify for a government handout.  I can't even sell the home because of our knowledge of lead being present (not that I want to, mind you).  I hope this temporary fix for the State will suffice and I can get on with stripping each window clean, as a cost effective permanent solution, over time.

My son's latest BLL results are in.

July 3, 2013:  Screening = 5.4 mg/dL 
July 8, 2013:  BLL = 11.0 mg/dL
July 15, 2013:  BLL = 10.0 mg/dL
August 7, 2013:  BLL =  9.0 mg/dL
October 14, 2013:  BLL = 5.0 mg/dL
December 30, 2013:  BLL = 3.0 mg/dL
June 25, 2014:  BLL = 4.0 mg/dL