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Ironlight 11-01-2011 04:34 PM

Renovating a tired Craftsman house
I meant to start this thread a few months ago but as life would have it, I've been th busy doing the work and too scatterbrained to download photos from my phone to document it. But finally I wrangled my phone into submission and so here goes...

We bought this house in the spring. It's a 1925 Craftsman style house in a nice neighborhood in Washington DC. It's one of those houses that is much bigger than it looks. The first and second floor are 2100 sq. feet, and there is a full unfinished basement as well as an attic that would easily make a good sized office were it finished. But we're downsizing so no plans to do that.

The first order of business was to clean up the basement. It was like something out of Silence of the Lambs when we bought the house as the previous owner, an elderly gentleman who had lived there for over 50 years, had clearly never cleaned it once. After much wetvacing, sweeping, mopping, and general clean up I got to this point:

Not too shabby, but since the laundry is down there and there are three rooms off of this main room, it needed to be a little brighter. So I trotted off to HD, rented a spayer and bought a five gallon can of Zinsser 1-2-3 primer and proceeded to spray the ceiling. Pretty uneventful except for almost passing out from the fumes despite a quality respirator and a couple of big fans. With that out of the way I thought I should give the walls a good coat of Drylok. There are no moisture problems to speak of but it always seemed to me if you're going to paint a basement wall you better use something like Drylok because if you don't and you're wrong, it's a mess. But then I read that one should NOT waterproof terra cotta foundation block because it traps moisture in the material and can cause it to deteriorate. So much for that plan. I'll come back to it later and investigate coatings that are breathable, if such an animal exists.

So the next month or two was occupied with putting on a new roof and putting up a fence around the property to keep in our dogs. And lo and behold, we found out that the previous owner had quite a green thumb. Went from this sight in March with no fence:

To this in June:

My brother and law and I were going to tackle the fence but when I did the math on doing it myself vs. hiring a local fence company, it made sense to have someone else do it. My material cost was over 2/3 their bid so I moved on to the big issue. The kitchen:

Do not be deceived by the high quality picture (from the online tour when the house was for sale). The cabinets date from the 70's and have been resurfaced with speckle paint. The bottoms of some of the draws were sagging and literally worn through. The base cabinets had no bottom shelves...the floor was the bottom shelf. The formica counter was so worn, nicked, and stained that even after half a can of Comet it still looked dirty. By the way white formica is just a plain bad idea in a kitchen. You can see ever last crumb. What were they thinking?

Well the kitchen is small, and oddly enough the largest room in the house is the dining room. It's enormous for a house this size:

We spend 80% of our time in the kitchen and family room so...the plan was hatched to take the kitchen, an ajoining breakfast room, and the dining room and turn it into one big L-shaped open space.

The details of that journey will begin with my next post. But here is a little teaser:

oh'mike 11-01-2011 05:40 PM

I am liking this a lot----the fence really set off the back yard space---

I'm looking forward to the next batch of photos.----Mike---

Ironlight 11-01-2011 05:56 PM

The fence was amaaaaaaazing. I was really shocked. Of course when all the plantings sprang up, that helped a lot as well, but the fence really gives a sense of space and privacy instead of something I feared which was a boxed in feel.

For the past 12 years we lived in a house that had a steep slope behind it and no usable back yard. I'm loving that the kitchen/dining/family area will now flow out to a nice patio. Of course in DC you risk being carried off by mosquitoes six months of the year, but that's nothing that a case of Cutter's can't fix.

oh'mike 11-01-2011 06:03 PM

I've traveled through Mexico a few times and always admired the walled court yards and the comfortable private space they give.

Your yard and its fence give the same relaxing feeling.

Thadius856 11-04-2011 03:41 AM

Liking what I'm seeing.

Keep the photos coming.

Ironlight 11-04-2011 02:32 PM

It seems like in an old house you need to confront two things when you undertake any project of consequence; old materials that were used that have since proven to be less than ideal, and discovering all sorts of prior work, like so much archaeology, as you start peeling back layers.

The main point of this renovation, other than getting a modern kitchen, is to open up the house and making it less of a ratwarren of smaller rooms. Unfortunately, a load-bearing wall sits right in the middle of the spaces that we wanted to join to create our "L" room. And that load bearing wall is sitting on top of a terra cotta foundation wall. Well, a consultation with a structural engineer revealed that terra cotta block has less than ideal load bearing qualities. The LVL that we were going to need, 14' of it, was going to put a lot of load on the end points and the terra cotta was not going to cut it. And so began the least fun part of the project, building two posts in the basement to serve as supports. The floor needed to be taken up in a four foot square area, down one foot. And at one end the post would need to be on the same plane as the wall. I thought about cutting out a vertical channel in the terra cotta and simply filling it with reinforced concrete, using the wall itself as a form but in the end paid to have two steel posts installed.

You don't know what fun is until you are using a jackhammer and a gas-powered concrete saw indoors in a small enclosed space with limited ventilation. Boy am I glad that is over.

The end results:

With that part out of the way it was time for demolition. Pretty straightforward although plaster lathe and the 18" of loose cellulose insulation above the ceiling that needed to come down was only slightly more enjoyable than the concrete saw.

An lo and behold, a frightful sight was revealed when the load bearing wall was taken down to the studs:


The hair on the back of my neck literally stood on end when I first saw this. It instantly explained why the floor above sloped more than 2" to the guessed it...where the deflection was in the break in the doubled cap plate. Built a temp wall in the opening really fast right after this photo was taken for fear that the horsehair in the plaster was actually what was keeping the house standing. :)

Elected to simply delete all of the wiring to this part of the house and run new wiring:

Got that done, ran new plumbing as we were swapping the locations of the sink and stove, insulated and was ready for close in:

Meanwhile, after building two temporary walls and finnegling 4 14'x16" LVLs in through the side window and installing, the opening was supported:

And with this came the first gotcha. I used 6x6 PT posts. The specification was for a 6x6 PSL posts. The inspector received a blank look, followed by the reddening of my face. Two steps forward and one step back.....

Thadius856 11-04-2011 04:40 PM

Hrm. Is that BX you removed? Hope you're recycling it. :)

Ironlight 11-04-2011 08:45 PM


Originally Posted by Thadius856
Hrm. Is that BX you removed? Hope you're recycling it. :)

Yup! Indeed I am. :)

oh'mike 11-04-2011 09:00 PM

That wall you removed had been modified some years back---badly.

Is the upstairs floor back to level? You cured two ills with that job.

Ironlight 11-04-2011 09:19 PM


Originally Posted by oh'mike (Post 764027)
That wall you removed had been modified some years back---badly.

Is the upstairs floor back to level? You cured two ills with that job.

Heavens no. I contemplated jacking it back up but after some consultation concluded that would make matters even worse. I was told it was best to leave it alone and not invite fatigue on nails, not to mention cracking all the walls upstairs. The beam is tight to the lowest joist and the rest are shimmed to their existing height.

oh'mike 11-05-2011 08:28 AM

I would have been inclined to jack it up---but I'm not on site---

Ironlight 11-05-2011 08:32 AM

This is actually how far I had gotten when the inspector came. It was the close in inspection so I had to have all the framing done. I had to build a temporary wall on top of the the kneewall to demo out the post and install the PSL. A full day of work lost :(

I decided to take this opportunity to run in-wall speaker wire with wall mounted volume controls, all of it feeding into a SONOS system in the basement. More details on that when I get to setting it up but here are some of the wires and controls:

Of course it did not occur to me that I could just run four-wire speaker wire and so run almost half as much cable. So it goes.

This picture also shows a) the rerouted hot water heating pipes to the bedroom above. They needed to go up this wall and then over the top of the LVLs. The picture also shows some of the weird renovation construction. The other side of that plywood is the butler's pantry and has sheetrock on it. I can only think that they needed the dimension of the plywood or simply had it on hand. Who knows. The strips of sheet rock on this side on the studs are to bring the patch to the same thickness as the existing plaster and lathe.

All work an no play makes Jack a dull boy. Took in a Hot Tuna concert at The Birchmere.

Boy can they still play, even 70 years on.

Then smoked some pork shoulders for pulled pork the following day...what better to do when snaking wire than to run out and check on the smoker now and then.

And I think I need to tackle this today. This is the bus stop in front of our house. There were daffodils in center in the spring but I have not touched it since we moved in and I get nasty looks from the neighbors:

Ironlight 11-06-2011 08:53 AM

Small victory:

This was a nice distraction from trying to figure out what to do about what is emerging as a real problem. Getting the new drywall even and parallel to the existing plaster wall in some places is proving extremely difficult. These are areas where the light rakes a cross the wall from a nearby window and if they are not flat it's going to look like a$$. It does not help that the house basically does not have a single right angle or flat wall in it to begin with. I'm thinking I might have to take the rest of the wall down to the studs and put up new sheetrock along the entire thing, on at least two walls. NOT happy about that at all. I had hoped I was close to hanging up the dust mask.

evane 11-07-2011 12:08 PM


Looking good, love love old Craftsman Bungalow's, they are not too common here in Buffalo unfortunately.

Ironlight 11-07-2011 12:09 PM


Originally Posted by oh'mike (Post 764210)
I would have been inclined to jack it up---but I'm not on site---

Mike the difference is over 2.5" from the lowest joist to the highest...those at the exterior walls. Above that low point is the wall between the master bedroom and the walk-in closet (a deleted bath, from the looks of it). The doors and trim and everything upstairs have been adjusted over the years to adapt to the sagging. I was told that if you want to correct something like this you have to jack it up over a month or so, a bit at a time, to prevent fatiguing and failure of nails, and to be prepared for substantial repair work from setting it right. And the kick was that it would ruin the ceiling in the red room which was redone at some point. I just did not have the time and the appetite for that. I think were it any area other than the kitchen I might have considered it.

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