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.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

"Honey, what is that brown spot?"

I am giving my wife a hug in the kitchen a couple of nights ago and while she's looking over my shoulder spouts out, "What is that brown spot on the ceiling?"  I could feel the hairs on my neck standing up... shivers down my spine.  I know what's above us... and I KNOW what a brown spot on the ceiling means.  

I rush up the stairs, run into the bathroom, opening the vanity doors.  Inside, it was wet.  Small puddles of water on top of my wife's yet-to-be unpacked cosmetic items.  In the center of it all was a small generic brand of baking soda.  It was totally drenched with water.  You could squeeze it like a wet sponge.  Surrounding the baking soda box, the boards making up the bottom of the vanity were soaked too.

As in the mouse post, I took apart the floor of the vanity, coming to the screwed down board again.  This whole board was soaked as well.  Opening it up, I can see the lath below... wet.  Well, now I am seeing the "brown spot" from above.

So what caused this water staining on our plaster ceiling?  I can only make an educated guess.  You see, we took our showers in the morning, humidity remained in the bathroom, like it has previously.  We used the sink like we have previously.  Yet, the staining was seen at least 8 to 10 hours later on Sunday, after three full weeks of the same daily humidity levels.  There are no real leaks coming form the sink.  At least, none that could cause this level of staining.  I ran the water for several minutes on hot, cold and warm. I filled the basin up, allowing water to enter the over flow (as recommended by a forum).  No leaking.  Then I did a tissue test (also from a forum).  I ran the tissue around the valves, drain pipes, etc. as the water was running.  There was a small leak from the cold water valve, but honestly, if this were the cause of all that water, then I must have the biggest shut off valve in the world.  There's no way that a drip an hour (if that) could cause that much staining.  The photo below shows the water droplet forming under the valve behind the handle.

So what changed that could have caused this level of water accumulation?

Here's my educated guess.  My dear wife, wishing to rid the bathroom once and for all of the smell of death left by the home's former owner, purchased and placed a small box of baking soda under the vanity, directly over the screwed down board.  When the humidity built up in the bathroom, it super saturated the baking soda and as we do not have a vent fan to rid the moist air, the little box of baking soda did the best it could. It sucked all the moistness out of the air... until it could no more (poor little guy).  The wooden panel underneath the box began to absorb the moisture from the baking soda... then the baking soda started to pull more moisture out of the air... thus a cycle started.  Taking several hours, it slowly wetted the ceiling below causing the brown staining.

OK, seems a bit far fetched, but can you do better?

11/17/2011:  Update
Seems as though the valves under the sink are leaking, especially when they are on full open...  I have a tray under the sink to catch any additional water leakage, but so far none as I have turned the valves back to less than full open.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Surprise in the Insulation

A couple of days ago, I tasked myself to prepare the basement for the arrival of some special guests.  From the negotiations with the seller, we were able to procure funds to make some structural repairs in the basement.  But, before the contractor arrives, I had to take down the insulation in the areas where they'll be working.  With an old home, you never know what you'll find.  My cousin mentioned to me that he still finds little surprises in his older home.  Well, funny ha ha, so did I.  

Taking down the insulation, I discovered mice... not one... or two, or even a few.  There was a mouse graveyard in the basement insulation with their fecal matter being stored in one area, a habitat in another, a food silo in yet another.  The little guys were organized to say the least.  Around the perimeter of the house, I found holes in the landscape... one can only guess where they led.  

After our special guests have completed their work, I plan on taking down all the insulation, cleaning up the mess and installing fresh new batting.  Is it expensive?  I have no idea, but I have to correct this problem.

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Lack of Furniture

While we had plenty of "stuff" in our apartment, now we are definitely lacking furniture.  Our 763 SF apartment had one bedroom, a living room, a dining area and of course a kitchen and bathroom.  It was plenty of room for the two of us.  We had a hideous couch that we had to move several times and also across the country.  My wife got it off of craigslist a few years ago paying $20 and we sold it for $200 just before we moved!  We sold it so that we could lighten our load as well as the fact that a white vinyl sectional couch doesn't really match the decor of an 18th century colonial.  At the time, we did not realize how much volume that couch made up of our now tiny (in retrospect) apartment.

Our antique home has just over 2,200 SF with a formal living room, family room, formal dining room, three bedrooms, a sitting room, a three season porch.... you get the idea.  Plenty of rooms and no furniture.  So, the wife and I needed to supplement our vacant volume with more "stuff".  First things first.  A couch!

We do not have a dining table aside from a small "table for two" that we found for free.  Our old apartment complex had a freebie stash that people used when they wanted to dump furniture.  Yes yes, we "dumpster dove" for it, but so what?  You can't beat free!  Getting to the point, we currently eat on our coffee table and (ironically) have no couch.  So the couch hunting began.

We went to your usual big name furniture warehouses and were not impressed, while also being overloaded with colors, styles and sizes (not to mentioned the vulture salesperson with the greasy slicked back hair).  We traveled up to an hour to see these stores and we scoured craigslist (which was filled with retail advertisements).  Then, after our move, my wife looked up a New England based furniture store called Puritan Furniture.  They had a branch just a mile from our new home.  We stopped in with an hour left before they closed and saw this couch.  This is Ashley Furniture's Signature Design Dallas Chocolate Sofa and Love Seat (that's a mouthful).  It's the appropriate look.  Not ultra modern, but not overly dated.  It has a couple of touches from yester-year, but sleek enough for an updated look.  Those slightly old fashioned touches were button holed dimples.  The buttons aren't there but the dimples make for a nice touch.  Oh, and the accent pillows were included.  Total price for the love seat and couch was $1,015.62, delivered.  We were using our plastic moving boxes as seating... our bums are much happier now.

For the future... 
I am in love with my wife.  Ok, with that being said, I also love D.R. Dimes.  They make reproduction furniture using the same methods as those "back in the day".  Absolutley gorgeous!  We went to a reproduction showroom and came across this tiger maple table along with eight chairs surrounding it.  All hand made right here in the USA.  There was a price tag hanging from the corner and I was thinking for a hand made piece, this price seemed quite reasonable, cheap in fact.  Almost to good to be true.  Oh, wait, I said it....

I go up to the salesman, a nice man who also sells his hand-made furniture in the store, and asked him about the price.  The conversation went something like this:

"Excuse me, is this the price for the whole set?"
"Ahhh, no Sir ...dramatic pause... that's just the table," with an obvious look on his face.
Well, well, the price calculated was in the $10,000 range for the table and eight chairs!  Each chair was around $800.

But the piece of furniture that we have yet to own and need is a bed frame and is of course absolutely gorgeous at D.R. Dimes.  A canopy bed made in tiger maple in king size will run you.... well, us... a hair over $3,800, shipped and assembled in your home.  Each post is hand cut to be narrower at the top than the bottom.  No lathe work here... everything is hand made with hand tools!  Furniture like this is passed down through the generations, much like our home.  Unfortunately, we need generations of wealth to furnish this home exclusively with D.R. Dime's products.  Oh, and the dresser in the background (actually called a highboy) is in excess of $10,000.  A decorative desk (not show but called a secretary), $18,000. Remember that you truly are getting what you pay for, high quality products that last for generations.  We keep telling ourselves that in time, we'll save up and furnish our home bit by bit, perhaps not with D.R. Dimes, but similar.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What is that smell?

My wife loves to take the hottest showers.  Sometimes, the water is so hot, her skin turns red making her look like a freshly cooked lobster.  Our lovely home did not come with a bathroom vent, aside from the window.  And since the weather in New England is starting to drop, that window "vent" is shut.  So it was likely, I suppose, that I assumed that when a rancid smell in the bathroom became noticeable, that it was due to mold.

The bathroom vanity counter is made out of a particle board laminated with, well, I don't know what it is really, but some sort of decorative laminate.  The sink is not sealed to the counter, in fact, if it weren't for gravity, it would float away.  Likewise, I also thought that with the excessive humidity, combined with water splashed from brushing our teeth and washing our hands, that the lousy particle board counter was beginning to rot.  Looking under the counter, I could see dark areas of prior water staining around the faucet (which does leak).

I started making plans to install a vent, as well as planing to post it's installation in here.  I began talking to the guys at work, getting ideas and taking measurements.  I began to also stress about poking a hole through my 250 year old roof....

Yet, each passing day, the smell grew.  It wasn't so obvious at first, but was growing exponentially.  The bathroom is next to our bedroom and after the second week the smell began to seep into our living quarters.  I began to worry that I had a major problem.

Much to my wife's chagrin, last Saturday evening, while we had guests due to arrive, I decided to source the root cause of the smell, hoping to find a patch of mold that I can easily eradicate with my top secret bleach/water formula.  I went to the bathroom, and became a blood hound.  I followed the smell... not the shower.... not the baseboard... not the toilet.  Vanity.  I opened the doors... a breeze of rancid air filled the bathroom.  This is one hell of a mold spore.  I took everything out of the vanity but couldn't find the mold.  The bottom of the vanity has tongue and groove boards, like they were recycled from an old flooring project.  Took them out.  Whoa... now it's stronger. 

In the back of the vanity, where the drain pipe leads into the false floor was a paper bag, with red writing on it.  The corner of the bag was torn off and a white powder was around it.  I saw it before, but since it looks like a coco bag, thought, well, the previous owner may of been a bit eccentric... drinking coco in the bathroom... geez.  Anyway, I took out the bag, read the bold red lettering.  POISON!  DO NOT EAT!  Maybe it's not coco.

Just below the entry into the false floor, where the poison pouch was, was a screwed hatch.  Curiosity held me captivated.  I unscrewed it... and... well I found the source of the rancid, putrid smell.  A fuzzy, brown mouse.  Well, to be more precise, a dead mouse.  For the next half hour, I wore a mask, grabbed my needle nose pliers, removed the carcass, vacuumed the mouse's former home, sprayed as much ammonia based cleaner as I could, dumped the carcass and vacuumed derbies as well as the paper towels used to clean the cavity into a doubled plastic bag. 

On my way down the stairs, wearing my mask, carrying my fresh carcass, I ran into our guests, made the very quick greeting and continued on to the trash bin.

Thanks to the former owner for this wonderful surprise.

PS, what cat owner leaves rat poison within their cats reach and also within the same reach as your buyer's cat.  I am quite offended by her carelessness.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


My wife and I just purchased this beautiful center chimney colonial.  Our move-in date was October 1st and I've only now had the chance to start this blog.  My intention is to document our struggles, sweat, tears, blood and joy with this home while not only being a novice in antique homes but also first time home buyers.

We started our search after taking a tour through a local historic museum.  We just fell in love with the amount of character present in the home and the amount of history.  There is something vastly unique about an antique home that you just cannot find in the money making developments of today's homes (aka "cookie cutter").  These antique homes were built to last for the family, not necessarily to make money.  And since they are still around after 200+ years, you know that it was built quite well.

Like most couples, we were glued to HGTV watching shows like Holmes on Homes, House Hunters and First Time Home Buyers.  We learned a bit from these shows, especially from Holmes on Homes.  We kept seeing the horror stories of freezing pipes, leaking windows with numerous water problems, ripped off home owners, etc etc.  And all this from brand new homes with no character.  That's when we started to think, what is the point?  You invest money in a home that should be perfect, only to find that not only is it not perfect, it's going to cost you more to fix.  Sure, you can have the developer fix their mistakes, but hey, they're in it for the money, right?  Besides, why would I trust them to do it right a second or even a third time when it should have been done right the first time.  Unfortunately, cutting corners is the game plan and finding a reliable contractor is hard to do.  If we're going to be spending money eventually, why not spend it on a building that is apart of history?

So our search began.  We looked at several homes throughout the New England area.  Though the market is ripe for buyers, sellers are unwilling to sell or settle due to being "underwater" and the selection of historic homes are few.  We saw immaculate homes, homes needing restoration, and ones that should have been torn down years ago.  One particular was the "Rose Red" of antique homes.  This home was an 18th century colonial with the interior stripped and 60's pine paneling put up with floor boards that were obviously from the same period as the "new" walls.  Room after room after room was added.  It actually sickened me.

We first saw our home online back in February of 2011 and it was listed at $289,000.  We put in an offer in March which was rejected.  Then the home owner took it off the market in June and re-listed it in July with another agent for less than what our offer was.  Go figure?  I saved the real estate listing photos from both realtors, the photos can be seen here.

We later found out that this home was on the market, on and off, going on three years with a starting price in the $360,000 range.  Each re-listing was less than the previous.  The home owner was in her late seventies and wanted to downsize but was unable to find a buyer, until we came along.  After seeing the professional photos taken by her new agent, we jumped on the chance to make an offer again.  Our offer was finally accepted at 5:54 PM on July 8th and here we are!

We knew that an antique home required special eyes and we used a home inspection company with expertise in antique homes.  According to them, our home was in good condition (for its age) with a few issues standing out. 

1)  There is radon in the basement that had a reading of 5.0, 4.0 is the federal EPA limit.
2)  There is evidence of current Powder Post Beetle damage in the basement.
3)  There are several beams that require replacement due to the Powder Post Beetle activity.

We asked the seller to bring in a licensed contractor who specializes in these homes to create an estimate for repair.  We gave her a list of contractors supplied by a state funded historical society, which she ignored.  Three weeks later, an estimate was given in the amount of $2,800 that was made by a contractor that does not have true experience with post and beam construction.  We were quite shocked at the estimate and  requested a contractor of our own choosing to come in (from the same list we sent her).  Our chosen contractor charged a $345 fee to view and estimate the property, which was split with the seller.  This final estimate was $13,320.  Sometimes it pays to spend a little to get the right person.  After much negotiation, the final was:

$275,000 selling price with the seller paying for:

1) Repair of damaged beams in basement.
2) Installation of a radon mitigation system in the basement.
3) The spraying for powder post beetles.

The home was built in circa 1760.  I do not know more than that at this point since the local historical society is lacking in specific documentation for this home.  We plan on making a trip to view the original records in town hall when time presents itself.