Jul 22, 2010


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Jun 27, 2010

fuck these floors. seriously, fuck them.

I can't get the linoleum unstuck from the floors. I tried steaming it off with a wallpaper steamer. All that happened was that several decades of dirt liquefied and turned into mud. I tried scraping it off with a tool whose specified purpose is that very thing. I just nicked a bunch of the boards and could only get the shit loosened where it was loose already. Sanding it off is an absolutely terrible fucking idea because, as I think I've mentioned previously, it's glued down with tar or something. I bought some acetone but I'm scared to use it because the warnings on the can essentially say my skin will melt off if I ever break the seal on the lid.

I don't know what the hell I'm doing and it sucks. Right now it seems like a compelling idea to try to sell the house for what I bought it for and call the many thousands of dollars of debt I've incurred improving it an experience tax. Everything is waiting on these stupid floors and I'm scared that I'm going to end up laying down tile or laminate or ugly fucking carpeting. I was sure there was a way to get the linoleum off, but if there is, I do not fucking know it.

An additional problem with the floors is the myriad giant fucking holes in them. There are holes in the pine, which is the top layer, and there are even bigger holes in the bottom layer, which I believe used to be oak. These have to be repaired, which involves cutting off and removing the top layer in a staggered pattern called finger weaving. And I don't know how to cut through the top layer without cutting into the bottom layer where it's still good.

This is the worst it's been. If I get the floors done and the master bathroom finished, I'm over the hump. I can call in some cut rate trim crew with a week's notice and get the house to a point where I can sell it with my sanity still intact. That's looking more and more likely. I don't want to be some douchebag yuppie flipping houses in a neighborhood that's already getting gentrified all to hell, but I've never wanted out so bad. I'm not really blaming the floors. I'm blaming my own ignorance.

Update: A lot of the time I think I bitch too much. Case in point. But you know what? It works. I write something like this and am ready to throw in the towel and the universe responds with, "Good LORD. I'm sorry you're too dumb to figure this out on your own. Here's a solution. Now shut up." It's kind of like a very noisy version of meditation. We'll see how it goes, but at least I have a strategy now.

Apr 25, 2010

nait's bible stories

This is sort of on topic. I'm trying to figure out how to put the closet together, because that will allow me to unpack like 33% of my possessions. Describing to Nait how I could buy a unit online that had a shelf with a closet rod connected to the bottom, he related to me the following (paraphrased):

God said to Noah, "If thou installest a closet, maketh thine closet rods of dowel. Maketh them to sit in their U-shaped receptacles, and attacheth thou these receptacles to thine studs. Select thou dowels of 1 1/4" diameter, for this pleaseth the Lord.

"With a block of wood 27" deep, create a shelf for thine closet. Install also some shelves at an angle, that you might rest thine shoes upon them."

And Noah said to God, "But God, I already have to worry about finding all these tigers and shit. Shoe racks? Really?"

And God said to Noah, "You're gonna be doing a lot of running."

Apparently this is from Leviticus, but all I have is Nait's word on that, and he's been drinking beer and mopping up joint compound for three hours.

Apr 24, 2010

walls and floors

The drywall crew - who are basically awesome, though incredibly messy - think they'll be done today. All the walls that should have sheetrock have it, and the walls that weren't busted during the foundation repair have been floated to a smooth texture to match the new ones. The contractors determined once they got in that the ceilings, which were to be floated as well, were too loose to support the weight of the additional mud, so a new layer of sheetrock was applied there, too.

drywall tape

70% of my house is now a blank canvas. I'm going to see how fast and how cheap it's possible to get someone in to spray primer over all the new surfaces. If it costs too much I'll do it myself, one room at a time, with rollers.

worst floor yet

Before I can move all of our possessions out of the kitchen, though, I also have to deal with the floors. In every room except the dining room, pulling up the vinyl has revealed the same rose-patterned original linoleum glued to the floorboards with what seems an awful lot like tar. One flooring contractor who came to give me a bid said it was made of linseed oil and made it sound like the safest, most charming thing in the world. Another said it was probably full of asbestos and he wasn't licensed to even look sideways at it. The plan is still to try and loosen it with a wallpaper steamer. If there is asbestos in it, hopefully the moisture will keep it from getting into the air. My personal feeling is that the stuff with asbestos is probably the stuff we removed from on top of it, while not wearing masks.. One of the thrills of home ownership is getting to play fast and loose with your respiratory health, I guess.

Anyway, suffice it to say the floors are in rough shape now and it would probably take several thousand dollars to get them smooth and glowing. I'm tempted to remove the linoleum, sand them down rough, and paint them all white. But I guess we'll see what costs what. First I have to get the holes where the boards have rotted or been eaten by termites patched. And I have plenty of painting to do while I consider what the step after that will be.

master bedroom

Apr 18, 2010

a montage to advance the plot

I'm so sore my hands don't work. This morning, when I was only half this sore, I took some pictures of the current state of the house. To summarize, the master bathroom is demoed, all the floorboards are revealed, and everything is fucked. Hopefully someone will begin drywalling this week. Hopefully that someone won't be me.

hope for the best; plan for the worst


where a window used to be

entryway mid-demo

crown molding

near-black walls

storing mirrors between the studs

floor closeup

real linoleum

Feb 21, 2010

notes from a laundry room

I had a guy out to give me an estimate for drywalling the entire house. The figure he came up with was $13k, so it looks like drywall is a skill I've got no choice but to master. In service to my future self:

mostly straight

- Square joints make all the difference. You cannot fake square joints with lots of mud and tape.
- Thickly applied mud will crack. This is only a problem, however, if you're not planning to mud nine more times. Which you probably should be.
- The first coat of mud is the easiest to get smooth, so do not half-ass it and assume it'll work itself out later.
- Sanding between coats of mud may seem like an easy way to make up for half-assing the step above, but this is a dirty trick. You will be sorry indeed if you fall for it and subsequent coats take twice as long because you're going over ruts left in otherwise smooth mud by little cling-ons of dry dust and wet mud.
- The giant bucket of pre-mixed mud is not for amateurs. It is for AWESOME.
- Do not bang plastic taping knives on the concrete pavers outside your house trying to get dried mud off. The edges are smooth for a reason.
- If you have time to take a break, you have time to clean your mud pan and taping knives so the mud doesn't dry on them. You may not, however, have time to run to the hardware store to get new tools after the mud sets up and you've destroyed the ones you were using before by banging them on concrete pavers.
- Mudding a ceiling can be mind-numbing. Dismounting your ladder from the top rung without descending may seem a tempting way to put and end to this, but it's not worth it.
- Joint compound is probably the single substance you encounter in remodeling a house that is neither a skin irritant nor permanent once you get it on your clothes. Wipe your hands on your jeans and keep going.
- Those fancy corner taping knives only work if your pieces of drywall are hung at perfect 90〫angles. Which, let's face it, is un-fucking-likely.
- The best music for drywalling is booty house.
- A ladder is not a good place for you to dance.
- You can keep mudding until the walls are perfect. Or you can do what sensible people do and give up once 50% of the room is covered in mud. And then you can have a beer.


only mudded half the damned room

Jan 9, 2010


Winter is definitely slowing down progress. For months, it feels like, the only major changes have been made by contractors. They're important changes, don't get me wrong, but I feel like, personally, I haven't been doing anything to get this house done.

The exterior walls have been rewired. The laundry room has a wall (something I did do) and is plumbed. On Monday, a crew comes to pump insulation into the walls, and Tuesday they do the attic. There's a new HVAC system in place and a new roof up. But none of these things bring this place any closer to feeling like a home.


I have a very specific plan for the next steps:
  1. Drywall the laundry room and master closet
  2. Tile the laundry room floor
  3. Build the "closet" part of the master closet, the shelves and rods and stuff, and put down carpet or something easy
  4. Move a bunch of the stuff taking up space in the dining room into the master closet
  5. Switch rooms with my roommate, so she'll take the finished addition and I'll take the unfinished master
  6. Gut and remodel the master bath

By the end of this list, I'm hoping it will be warm again. (Some pessimists would have me believe that by the end of this list, I'll be retired.) Once it's warm, I'm going to do what I should have done last summer and pull up all the subflooring. Then drywall goes up. Then the floors get repaired and refinished. Then two bedrooms, a living room, a dining room, two bathrooms, a closet, and a laundry room will be done, save for the trim (which is, like, an eternity away). Then I remodel the kitchen.

Somewhere in there, outside stuff will happen as well, but that's not on as strict a timeline. I'm not going to landscape anything until all the demo's done, because with giant dumpsters in the yard, what would be the point. I would like to demo the shed out back, though, if only to get a better idea of the back yard's potential. I'd also like to replace the chain link fence so the dogs can't see every cat that wanders by and flip out. At some point, I want the addition to have a green roof, but that's so far away it's just masochism to let myself think about it.

So this is what I've been doing pretty much since the holidays started ramping up - a lot of thinking and damn little else. Today I contacted some remodeling contractors, because I want the master bath done by the time my first permits come due for inspection, which is mid-February. If I do it myself, I'm worried it'll be more like mid-June. Then again, the sun is out and at the moment I'm finally feeling motivated to paint the cabinet I've been building for the past month and install its doors. So who knows. Maybe hibernation's over.

Nov 19, 2009

the fallacy of screwing things up on your own

My sort of mantra of late is, "We could have effed this up by ourselves for free!" Technically, that's true. We're real good at effing things up around here. Check out the exemplary job we did effing up the trim for our new window and its adjoining siding:


However, the truth when I admit it is that we're capable of a whole different order of effing things up. I wouldn't put it past us to eff things up in such a way that the entire house falls down on our heads.

I've got a couple of loans this week for things that it is probably possible to DIY. I feel ok with this, because, really, you can DIY anything. The person you hire to do the job that seems intimidating is just another person, and at some point he or she - like you - knew absolutely jack about heating and air conditioning systems or torch-down bitumen or whatever. On the other hand, he or she has been practicing and you have just been sitting at your makeshift kitchen half deep in a bottle of wine reading home improvement manuals featuring photos of people who are suspiciously kempt and five-fingered. So while you may feel like a bit of a failure when you consider all the things you're hiring out, some resigned, less romantic part of you recognizes that this is just good sense.

When this whole renovation thing is done (and I am fully aware, thank you, of the curse I've put on myself merely typing out those words) I may be expert in some aspect of home improvement. Maybe even a couple. But there is no way I plan to be at this long enough to become expert in all of them. Therefore, I am strongly considering paying someone who goes by "Shorty" (no last name) to cut a hole in the ceiling. The attic needs to be enlarged so the furnace can fit up there.

There doesn't seem to be anything really complicated about enlarging the attic. A beam needs to be cut. Some electricity stapled to the beam needs to be moved. A header needs to be attached across the cut beams to the adjoining beams. Simple, non-technical. The reason I am screwing around on my blog at the moment instead of performing this essentially straight-forward task is that IT'S THE GODDAMNED CEILING. And, as previously mentioned, I don't want the roof to collapse on my head. Whenever we get anywhere near structural-with-a-capital-S, my DIY resolve goes soft on me and dudes named Shorty-no-last-name telling me things I already know begin to sound convincing.

Part of me is certain that I will hire Shorty, he will do the work late, and the ceiling will be left noticeably sagging. And that when that happens I will stand underneath a ragged hole with my hands on my hips, looking up and saying, "We could have effed this up for free on our own." And I'll be pissed, but I'll still think it's kind of funny, because when the worst happens, the worst won't actually be that bad.

Nov 14, 2009

the insurmountably insignificant

I know I've already said it, but this week has cemented my belief that the DIY impulse is born out of frustration with contractors. We hired the drywall guy on Monday and he began the two-day job on Tuesday. Today he finished up, leaving us to do the final sanding. The quality of the work is far from perfect and he made a huge mess of the brand new tile, but I verified that it'll all clean off and paid him, just so I wouldn't be stuck waiting around for him to finish the work.

The hall bathroom - only shower for the four of us living here - now has walls, and those walls are primered. Tomorrow we paint, and then hopefully I can get the plumber to come install the toilet and sink Monday.

In addition to painting, tomorrow's work schedule includes demoing the 6'x7' area off the kitchen that's been designated the laundry-room-to-be and patching the wall outside the hall bathroom which is still covered in OSB and plastic with legitimate looking siding material.

There's a problem, though, in getting so close with the bathroom. It's a distraction. I need to be thinking about self-leveling concrete and instead I'm thinking about crown moulding. It's hard to move on to the next task because the bathroom is finally at a stage where I can envision how it'll look finished. I want to lay slate tiles down on the seat of the window and trim the door, as much to cover up the places where the paint and drywall are flawed as to indulge any kind of Martha Stewart impulse.

Fortunately, I can't get too dangerously off track because two big tasks are now underway: the roof and the HVAC. I meet with the bank next week to confirm that I have financing for both of these, which should be the last mind-boggling expenses that'll be necessary for a while. They'll also allow us to survive the winter. Even though I'm paying both of these contractors sums in the quintuple-digits, both jobs involve a significant amount of work on my end, both in coordination and in several things that need to go on in the attic.

The attic currently has loose insulation, with a modest R-7 rating. To qualify for the HVAC loan, I have to bring it up to R-38. I could just pile insulation on top of what's there, but there are some ceilings we don't want to drywall, and so it would be preferable to have something in the attic that won't create so much dust. Therefore, the very ambitious plan is to scoop out all the existing insulation while the roof's off. 1,400 square feet or so. I'm trying to look at it as an opportunity to get to know the one part of the house I haven't personally entered yet (I'm scared of heights and especially of ladders), but I think the more realistic view is that it's an opportunity to get insulation all over my yard while simultaneously not actually getting the attic clean.

It's daunting, especially because financing the very crucial heating system depends on it and because this all probably has to happen by the beginning of December. I have the beginning of next week off, though and, although I cringe at the thought of hiring anyone else, I know where the day laborers hang out.

Nov 6, 2009

week one

who's coming over for dinner?

I think it's pretty telling that the last thing in the Google search box in my browser's toolbar is "austin pan am recreation center." Apparently a recreation center isn't something with a pool and showers, but I didn't know that and, a week ago, was searching desperately for the latter.

The shower is usable now and that fact alone makes the day before Halloween feel like it happened a month ago. The same bathroom's now been rewired, we've put a new faucet in a sink from Craigslist, and the plan tomorrow is to install a new insulated window. Once there are boards in the wall to support the medicine cabinet and sink, the drywall guys will come, followed by the plumber (because - having just replaced that room's rotted subfloor - I'm not taking any chances with leaky toilets). Once completed, that room will be worth something like six grand, and it's just one room. It's not an HVAC system or a new roof, things that have been bumped up to Emergency Status since we moved in and nearly froze to death overnight.

The list of things that need to happen before the new year is staggering. The next full room to tackle is the laundry room/master closet. That may sound like a trivial thing to be worrying about, but we're going through a lot of clothes. Tonight, while the rest of Austin is downtown at Fun Fun Fun Fest kickoff parties, we pulled down the drywall on the living room ceiling, which started to collapse during the last heavy rain. As with every other room in the house, the ceiling had been wallpapered with foiled linen, which had been containing the bands of dust that seeped through the cracks between the ceiling boards over the years. The carefully aged and sifted dust permeated everything by the time we were done, and now the hallway to our glamorous new slate bathroom is an air quality hazard.

I can't remember ever being this exhausted. I've been through difficult housing situations, but there was never any responsibility attached to them. I can't run away from this, and so it consumes my every waking thought. Each day that passes that I don't hear back from the roofers or the bank leaves me more frantic and distracted, and I do stupid things like buying two plates of tempered 3/8" glass of Craigslist (which I hope can somehow be made into shower doors).

Despite all the complaints, though, something feels weirdly right. The neighborhood's great, despite the high crime and the stray dogs everywhere. Living with roommates again is surprisingly comforting. And this house, and discovering everything I've discovered about it just pulling down drywall and ripping up floors, makes me feel connected to history in a way I never have. That right there may be the only reason I haven't lost my mind. The evidence is here that someone else went through all of this before. Whole generations of someones. And we haven't pulled their bones out from behind the shiplap, which means they made it.