Sunday, October 31, 2010

Trick or Treat

Forty ghouls and goblins--a record for our neighbourhood!

  1. Butterfly ballerina
  2. Bat
  3. Mad Hatter
  4. Shark Victim
  5. Baby Bumble Bee
  6. Bumble Bee
  7. Grim Reaper
  8. Zombie
  9. Storm Trooper
  10. Ballerina
  11. Pirate
  12. Vampire (with Pirate Mom)
  13. Lady Gaga
  14. Jason
  15. Storm Trooper
  16. Zombie
  17. Dinosaur
  18. Cat
  19. Witch
  20. Ghoul #1
  21. Ghoul #2
  22. Ghoul #3
  23. Nerd
  24. Clown
  25. Jack-o-lantern
  26. Happy Gilmour
  27. Rasta
  28. Bert
  29. An old lady
  30. Vampire
  31. Pirate
  32. Scary thing
  33. Princess #1
  34. Princess #2
  35. Everything ... ghoulish
  36. Baseball player
  37. Stepford wife
  38. French maid
  39. Dead WWII soldier
  40. Jeannie

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Balletic Art of Drywall Taping

The rented drywall lift in action

Hanging sheets of drywall is not difficult, especially with the aid of a few tools easily rented or acquired from your local hardware store: a drywall lift; an electric drywall screwdriver with an integral bit that dimples the drywall just enough to ensure that the screw head is below the surface of the drywall, but not to rip the paper surface; a good long straight edge for cutting--a 4' drywall square works best; a foot jack for wedging the drywall up off the floor enough to firmly abut the piece above; a knife with lots of replacement blades, a rasp for filing ragged edges, and a level.  

DIY drywall toolkit part 1: drywall screwdriver, foot jack, t-square, knife and replacement blades, ear protection, rasp
Oh, and a rotozip type router is also invaluable for cutting around outlet boxes (always cut-counter clockwise or the cut can get away from you), as is a shop-vac style vaccuum that won't be harmed by the fine gypsum dust. And, now that I think about it, we also used two telescoping poles to help support the drywall at ceiling level, So, yes, it requires lots of tools, but hanging your own drywall is a feasible task for a homeowner. 

DIY drywall toolkit part 2: Rotozip, telescoping support poles, level
For our kitchen renovation, we decided to hang the drywall ourselves and then hire a professional to tape the seams.   But here's something we've learned: if you plan to hang your own drywall, be sure to do a good job--no small scraps of drywall, no ragged or uneven seams, no exposed screw heads, no broken paper--or you may have difficulty finding a professional taper to complete your job. All the tapers we've seen in action work with such balletic efficiently (some even work on stilts to avoid having to break their stride to move a ladder around the room!), that they resent any glaring errors of the prior boarding crew that might slow them down. They seem to have an instinctive idea of how long a room should take and how much trouble it should be. Ask for more, and they'll often turn your job down. Believe us, a good taper is a necessity. We've learned that taping is a fluid artform, not a job for plodding amateurs. Like beautiful calligraphy or sumi-e painting, excellent taping requires fluid motion and a deft hand. We've been amazed at how little sanding an expert taper will need to do after the fact. We tried taping a room--once. It was enough to make us recognize that book-learning can only go so far. Some things are better left to skilled professionals. 

With angles like these (and this isn't the half of it), this kitchen needed a professional taper
N, who is the perfectionist around here, is always pleased when the drywalling contractors comment on his excellent job hanging the drywall.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Kitchen Renovation Update--We've Come a Long Way

Sometimes, when we think about the seemingly endless number of steps remaining in the kitchen renovation, we begin to lose heart. But then we think back on how far we've come. ...And we've come a long way, baby.
The original floor plan of the back of the house as it was when we moved in

 It's taken over five years, but after gutting the original kitchen, addressing structural concerns, adding windows, restoring the house to something close to its original 1889 floor plan, and building a new master bathroom so we could remove the bathroom from its inconvenient location within the footprint of the future kitchen without losing the convenience of a second bathroom, we finally have a clean slate to proceed with our kitchen renovation.
Looking east in our new blank slate of a kitchen space

Looking West
Looking East (fireplace)
Last year, when I left off describing our kitchen saga, we'd come to a difficult decision about replacing the joists of the kitchen floor. If we wanted tile, especially tile with under floor hydronic heat (which would mean embedding water tubes in thick concrete), the century-old sagging joists riddled with ill-placed holes would have to go. They did, and with the tremendous efforts of N and my Dad they were replaced with perfectly square, structurally sound laminated beams.

Replacing the floor joists
An engineer and home builder couple once told us that over-building (that is, using materials far in excess of code) was the mark of true amateurs.  That's us! 
And we do love our house--too much not to use the best materials we can. 

Not only did the new joists reduce the floor deflection enough for us to lay tile, they also gained us almost 2 inches of headroom in the basement (which had been lost to the sagging of the old joists).

Luckily, while my dad and N were doing that, I was far away looking at castles, wandering through ruins, art galleries and cathedrals, and enjoying the beautiful city of Krakow, Poland, with my friend E.
A castle in the Pieniny mountains, the courtyard at Wawel Castle, and a self portrait walking
through an art installation at the National Gallery, Krakow
Sigh. Okay, back to work.

After joists came the subfloor: 5/8" tongue and groove plywood secured with construction adhesive and then screwed down into the joists.

Tool Tip: If you have a project that will require a lot of glue, or are engaged in long-term renovations, we recommend you spend the $100 or so it will cost to buy one of these guns: 
Foam gun and sub floor adhesive canister
If you clean the nozzle with acetone and store it upside-down when the canister is in place, you'll never regret it. We used a foaming glue specifically for subfloors that doesn't leave a raised bead of glue (like PL), especially in cool temperatures, but spreads out evenly on contact with the applied surface, assuring even coverage and good adhesion. Trust us, we have learned from experience that any tool that saves wear and tear or prevents injury to any body part is worth its price.  We wish we'd made this purchase several years earlier.

After the subfloor came framing. Then wiring--for lighting, speakers, outlets, range and hood, and future wi-fi (the lighting/wiring required a detailed plan). At the same time came plumbing for two sinks and a separate waterline for unsoftened water. Plumbing costs, if you don't already know, mount quickly, and are a bit of a wild card. Budget for more than you expect. Oh, and then a new gas line for the range. And after all this came insulation--sprayed-in foam to a depth of 3 1/2". Did you know that every insulation company has a proprietary colour of foam?  We've had icy cool blue, but this insulation was pink.
Pink foam insulation
Pretty, huh? Considering that most of our walls were previously uninsulated and where we did have insulation, it looked like this:

Insulation circa 1880--Yes, paper bags of straw!
--any insulation would be wonderful. The R-value of the sprayed insulation should be about 5 per inch, which might just make up for the new large window and longer replacement windows we added. And, since I'm on the topic of insulation, I'll mention that we also applied sound insulation, in the form of mass loaded vinyl, to the toilet stack which still runs through the wall in the kitchen.  

The toilet stack insulated with a sheet of mass loaded vinyl

It seems to have worked.   Then, after months and months of this tedious infrastructural work, and many cheques to many trades, we hid it all behind big blank expanses of drywall. And, like a bad dream, it was all forgotten...except of course for the photographs. You know, I can hardly stand to write about's like dredging up a murky past.

To be continued...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Apropos of nothing...

I think I might just quietly revive our neglected little blog. To be honest, I've missed writing this semi-public chronicle of our home renovations (among other things). Because we're acting as our own general contractors and more often general labourers, our renovations are still far from complete. Looking back at the blog, I see that I never did post any photos of our completed bathroom, and now we're in the midst of collecting quotations for kitchen cabinetry, so I'll have much to tell. And maybe, just maybe, there will be someone out there to advise us when we need it. More to come.

Sugar maples glow outside the sunroom windows and scarlet Boston ivy climbs our gray brick walls.