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.

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.