What with all my fretting and planning, I knew this house was going to be a lot of work. However, despite all my planning with regard to demolition, electrical wiring, plumbing and sheet rock, I overlooked a not insignificant area of work that would have to be done. As I hauled debris out of the house, and then hauled various tools and materials into the house, my peripheral vision and unconscious brain helped bring to my attention an inescapable fact – the grass was growing. I could ignore it no longer.

I am very lucky that my g/f actually likes to mow grass!

I had never even considered the extra ‘chores.’ Chores are a chore with every house, whether they are new, or very old. Needless to say, one can easily spend an entire weekend mowing the lawn, raking leaves, pruning and gardening, and hauling debris. I don’t mind the work, and actually enjoy it, most of the time. I can be outside, get exercise, and feel productive, all without having to think too hard.

Hauling yard waste, like a medieval peasant.

But I have work to do, I have the weightier projects of home renovation on my plate. I can’t fritter and waste the hours mowing grass, and pruning dead limbs from bushes and trees.  Nonetheless, I now find myself doing precisely that.  I am fortunate to have help, and it is actually Marci who is mowing the lawn, while I prune, rake leaves and clean the gutters. I’m not sure how much I am enjoying it.  I already have a house with chores to be done, and I should be working on the inside of this house.

As with every project, even household chores apparently, they take on a life of their own. Cleaning the gutters was no exception. Why did I think it would be as ‘simple’ as climbing up and down the extension ladder, and leaning over the edge of the roof, to remove the leaves?

'Not for use with water" should be the warning.

Even when I managed to get the many years of leaves out of the gutters they still didn’t drain. So I took them apart, only to find that whoever installed the gutters didn’t realize that water was going to need to flow through them.

Lawn mowed, grass and leaves raked, trees trimmed, gutters cleaned and repaired, and yard waste hauled off – a long weekend for sure.  

A simple cleaning, with tin snips and pliers.

“How is the house coming along,” you ask?  Well, I just had a rewarding weekend, albeit down a side path that I hadn’t seen coming.  As with many things, I guess, it is a matter of recognizing the adventure, and enjoying it.  I am determined not to focus on trying so hard to finish that the whole experience becomes one big chore.

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“How is the house coming along?” I’m asked.  I have been hearing that a lot lately, which is very kind of people to inquire.  However, despite working very hard (tiling, painting, plastering and other maintenance), nothing appears to be getting done.  ‘How is this possible?’ you think.  Well, instead of working on the King Street house, I am working on the Church Street house – Padstow, Cornwall, England

Church St., Padstow

I am very fortunate that my parents bought a ‘summer house’ in England 40 years ago. My brother and I have now taken over the helm of maintaining it.  We had the benefit of summers and vacations there for all these years with nary a thought of what it took to keep it looking so good – we just vacationed.  Amazing really, now that I think about it.

Both my brother and I worked on our own houses back in the states, and considered ourselves pretty handy, but somehow we never thought of what it took to maintain Church Street. Mum never said or asked anything.  She just got on with it.  So English.  So Marci, my brother and I recently spent 3 weeks there, continuing to undertake and coordinate much-needed maintenance and updating. And unlike my Mum, I am talking about it. Blogging about it.  So American. 

Working on Church Street is special.  A childhood home, an ancient home by American standards (even compared to King Street), and the work is so different and challenging.  Metric!  Need I say more?  But of course I will – I’m blogging about it for goodness sakes.  The building techniques are different, the materials are different (17 mm. plywood sub floor?!?), and the regulations

fun tearing out old floor to then install tile

tile floor done and ready for fixtures

are amazingly different.  Who is this EU they keeping speaking of?  Slate, stone, masonry, lead flashing, wood preservatives, 220 volts, and no power tools except what we borrow.  And did I mention it’s all in Metric?  It’s an adventure, and, when we finally manage to satisfactorily complete a project, very rewarding.
The added bonus, in addition  to working on projects with my brother (who stateside lives 250 miles away and has his own busy life), is that our breaks from work entail glorious walks along desolate beaches, atop 100 foot cliffs, and through fields of cows, sheep and various crops.  As I type this I think yet again how fortunate I am.  What a great trip. Back to reality, though, and back to King Street – as soon as I catch up with work, bills, life.  Now if only I can remember how to  get back there ….

 
 

It’s in the papers on an almost daily basis, yet another house or business broken into, resulting in extensive damage.  It’s no longer the infrequent break in by a  drug addict, selling stolen electronics for pennies on the dollar to buy a fix.  Or a burglar, taking more valuable property that can be sold to ‘the right connections.’  It’s an unfortunate reflection of our times (caused in part by a lack of work and high scrap metal prices), that more people are willing to commit burglary to tear out copper plumbing and other metals. 

scrap metal galore

Sadly, one may get $200 for stolen scrap, but cause thousands of dollars in damage. And to think, I have a whole house full of metal, which needs to be torn out and scrapped.  As a matter of fact, the house has all sorts of scrap metal, including old electrical wiring, obsolete iron gas pipes, split copper plumbing, cracked cast iron radiators, sheet metal around the furnace, and so much more.  Oddly, the scrap metal is the most valuable thing in the house, and the only reason I lock the door. 

the scraps

I am curious how much money I will actually get for the all the scrap metal.  Whatever I get (to be put toward the renovation) will be appreciated, drop in the bucket though it may be. The cast iron radiators weigh sixty to a hundred pounds each, and there are ten of them   The cast iron tub must have weighed a couple of hundred pounds, which has now, thanks to Evan and the sledgehammer, been reduced to manageable pieces.  There is also the odd steel tank that was bolted to the basement ceiling (shown in the photo above, standing on end), the purpose of which is still a mystery to me.  All of the various metals are getting cut out, separated, and neatly stacked. 

oil tank - rest in peace

There was an old oil tank in the basement too, which seemed to have some oil in it as well.  I can only imagine the oil was quite old since the last form of heat in the house was a natural gas furnace.  The tank was quite large and very heavy.  I couldn’t imagine its value in scrap being more than $50, and I would also have to do something with the oil.  So I put an ad in craigslist.com, offering it free to anyone who would haul away the tank, and the oil.  Sure enough, craigslist came through and there was great interest. 

for every 'knob' (and tube) wire insulator there are many feet of very old wire

Funnily enough, I happened to share a mutual friend with the first person to contact me.  We didn’t know this when he came to look at the oil tank though, and we both did not remember that we had actually met before (I guess we are both bad with names, and faces).  After looking at the tank, he wanted it.  However, we had to coordinate our schedules, for a time that I would be able to let him in, and his son would also be available to help.  This scheduling was quite difficult, and I ended up having to miss a party for a friend’s son celebrating his first birthday.  As we strained and grunted hauling the tank out of the house, he mentioned that he would rather be drinking a beer poolside at a birthday party for his friend’s son.  It clicked.  Too funny.  I had to agree. Small world. 

Dayton was grateful for the tank and oil, and I was very grateful to be rid of it.  As it happened, the oil tank, even drained of the oil, was even heavier than I thought.  Fortunately, he had the right equipment – a strong son (and a rolling car jack, iron pipes, and a strong back).  Since I helped him remove the oil tank, I asked if he and his son would help me remove what I believe to be a double soapstone sink from the basement.  

10 ton sink

For those that don’t know, double soapstone sinks weigh more than a not so small elephant, and believe it or not, are about as awkward.  Despite the rolling jack and iron pipes, his son, and his strong back (and my herculean contribution, of course), the sink really didn’t move very far at all. Luring it with peanuts would have had the same result.  The weight of that thing is actually quite remarkable. 

Do you know anyone who may be interested in a well used 400+ pound double maybe soapstone sink? Back to trusty craigslist.com.  It will be interesting to see who I (re-)meet this time.

dumpster delivery

A massive 30 yard dumpster has been delivered to the house.  It’s a huge metal behemoth, which measures 22’ long, 8’ wide and 6’ high.  I was given a chance to laugh at myself again by offering to help the driver guide the dumpster into place as it was rolled off the truck.  He curtly told me that he had done it before, and then proceeded to place the dumpster next to the house (for ease of heaving debris from the windows) closer than I had imagined possible.  Good thing I was there to help.  

empty and waiting

The weight allowance is 5 tons!  I haven’t done sustained strenuous, dirty, physical labor all day, day after day, for a long time.  And gutting a house requires just that.  I question how my aging desk bound body will manage.  Have I mentioned that my 19-year-old nephew is here to help?  My brother says he is fit from lifting weights and jogging.  I am too (sort of, well … not really), but demolition work is a different kettle of fish.  It requires physical strength, of course, tearing out, and then carrying, endless loads of debris that may eventually add up to 5 tons.  It also requires a certain mental fortitude, and a lot more protective gear, than one needs in the gym.  Dirt and dust will be trying to find its way into every pore and alveolus.  What with kids nowadays (grumbles this old man), and my aging body, I wondered how we would fare.  A 5 ton dumpster for two weeks, Evan’s help for 10 days, and a house to gut.

Marci suited up

Evan, Marci and I donned tyvek suits with hoods, goggles, respirators with mold filters, gloves and shoe covers.  The sweat started pouring out of us just from wearing the gear, never mind actually working.  We had the required tools as well – sledge hammers (15 lb. and 3 lb.), regular claw hammers, crow bars (big and small), flat bars, bolt cutters, shovels, battery-powered sawsall, brooms, garbage cans and old spackle buckets.  I figured we’d better start slow, and build up as the week went on.  After five hours on the first day (including 50 minutes for lunch and breaks), we were all knackered and gladly quit for the day.  We also enjoyed the opportunity to look at some of the old ‘treasures’ that came out of the walls and ceilings – but more on that later.  Our clothes were soaked and dirty.  When we got home I grabbed some soap and shampoo and we headed for the creek.  This became our daily routine. 

suffocating dust

We worked 8 of the 10 days, only managing an average of 5 ½ hours a day.  Although we maintained only a moderate work schedule, we managed to fill the dumpster – and then some.  The final weigh-in came in at 6.07 tons! Saying that we tore out and dumped an average of 1,500 pounds of debris a day sounds much better than only 5 ½ hours of work a day!  Just as importantly, we managed to swim, fish, walk or bicycle every day together.

morning break day one and all smiles

Thank you, Evan, for your help, your friendship, and not quitting on me and the work!  (there are certain advantages to flying in one’s help from 500 miles away and the spare bedroom being the only home they have!).

We ended up tearing out a lot more than I initially intended.  I was originally thinking that some parts of the house may just need repair, and not

cast iron tub demo

absolute demolition.  I am not one to do things by half measure, though.  So when decisions had to be made on whether or not to tear something out, I erred on the side of tearing it out and replacing it with new (when in doubt, tear it out?).  The bathroom was one of these decisions, including taking out the cast iron tub (the enamel finish seemed beyond saving).  Evan’s initial enthusiasm to smash it up also helped in the decision.  He quickly found out how strong and resistant to a sledgehammer those tubs are!  I had to tell him to be careful at one point, fearing that he may drive it, intact, through the wall, out into the yard (as opposed to breaking it into manageable pieces).  He’ll think twice before volunteering to do that again! It may require more work, and cost more, but hopefully the increase in rent or sales price will make it worth it.  Regardless, I will know it is new, done right, and will last much longer.  So now we are pretty much back to the studs, in the kitchen and bathroom too.  Ah well, what else am I going to do with myself?  Watch TV?  Why not renovate an entire house instead!

success - a full dumpster

Unfortunately, despite a full dumpster, the demolition is not done.  It is now a matter of having to slow down and figure out what else must be removed, and taking care while doing it so as not to create more work down the road (such as having a ceiling collapse on me!).  I must also figure out the process of the remodel.  For example, some floors need to be leveled, which will require

exhausted

jacking from below.  Obviously this must happen before installing new windows or sheet rock.  Sitting at a desk for a bit and figuring out this process, and how to proceed, is what I do best!

Congratulations!  We are the proud/scared new owners of a real fixer upper. 

The closing went relatively quickly.  I performed my role splendidly – I brought a large check and, without complaint or query, signed every document put in front of me.  The check was instantly broken down into smaller digestible checks to feed to all the open mouths (seller, realtors, title company, water authority, school taxes, county/township taxes, attorney’s fees, etc.) – eleven in all!   

The forms are prosaically wonderful.  The seller was a bank, and one would swear that they have a whole department of struggling scriveners dedicated solely to creating the most absurd yet somehow marginally plausible documents.  It must be rather fun really.  I can picture it now, a head popping up amongst the cubicles, calling out above the din of a sea of fretfully tapping keyboards: “Listen to this. How about a ‘Signature/Name Affidavit,’ which the buyer would of course have to sign (an old joke, but knowing chuckles all around), wherein the buyer would have to certify that their legal name and signature is in fact the signature that they are using at the closing?!”  There would be hoots of admiration and approval mixed with those of jealousy, having failed to come up with such a simple, yet obvious, additional form.  Some wag might then call out, suggesting an ‘Affidavit to the Signature/Name Affidavit,’ which may get booed down as sour grapes or imitation, yet stored in the minds of many for a more appropriate later date.   

tyvek suits, respirators, gloves, and goggles for all

Check proffered, forms signed, deed recorded.  As my realtor said, this may be the deal of a lifetime.  I’m thinking it could be the death of me.  Either way, I have a feeling this blog could go on for quite some time.   

The unequivocally good news is that my nephew Evan has arrived from North Carolina. Now that the deed is done, we will start work forthwith.  I have purchased the necessary safety equipment, including tyvek suits with hoods, dust masks with mold filters, goggles, gloves, and shoe covers.  Let the demolition work begin!

Yes, I am still dithering.  In the meantime, summer has sadly come to an end. Mowing the lawn is with an eye toward keeping it short for ease of raking.  The leaves are starting to accumulate, and I have probably mulched them with the mower for the last time.  The rake and tarp (for hauling leaves to the curb) are going to have to make an appearance.  The black walnuts are falling in earnest.  We have been picking them up for a few weeks now so that they don’t damage the blade  of the mower.  Despite our previous efforts I still managed to gather over 200 more black walnuts on Sunday.  I also still managed to find a few more with the help of the mower blade,  which became apparent with the occasional loud bang and shredding sounds.

As for the garden, it is sadly on the way out too.  This weekend we enjoyed a ‘fall harvest’ of a  few acorn squash and a butternut squash, as well as a handful of tomatoes. The squash are fun, especially since they grew randomly throughout the garden as a result of our ‘not fully composted’ compost (as did some tomatoes).  The tomatoes have lost a lot of their flavor, and pale in comparison to the spectacularly flavorful tomatoes of July and August.  The sunflowers are mostly done flowering.  They are, however, leaden with seeds.  Since we had so many sunflowers, I think that the birds may be enjoying the seeds for quite some time to come.  I presume the squirrels will get in on the act too. That should be fun to watch over the coming months. 

The shining lights still in the garden are the zinnia.  The zinnia are great in the summer, with splashes of vibrant color everywhere.  Now, coming into fall, they  continue to bloom, and there are more on the way. The last holdouts on life in the waning garden.   Although we may have recently seen the last of the hummingbirds, there are still some bees listlessly buzzing around and making the most of the pollen. The zinnia have been a real hit with the humming birds, butterflies and bees, but I guess it’s time to put away the humming bird feeder and bring out the bird feeders full of seed.

A little walk from the house along the Brodhead Creek brought some more sights of fall.  The last of the Monarchs enjoying a clump of butterfly bushes was a very nice surprise.  Although most of the flowers are gone, there are still plenty of flowers remaining.  The butterflies flitted about, from bloom to bloom.  I will have to remember to get some cuttings in the spring. 

What is happening on the house front?  I thought you’d never ask.  I continue to fret, of course.  I did speak with my brother again about my nephew flying up for a couple of weeks.   My nephew is apparently ready, willing and able.  Not that my nephew and I have spoken directly to each other about it. Arrangements such as these appear to be fine left to others.  Regardless, I would love to have him visit, and he may be okay with it too.  Kismet?  Perhaps this new house enterprise may come together after all, despite my reservations.

flotsam on the brodhead creek bed

One often thinks of the past as a ‘simpler’ time.  I’m sure those who lived before us would not think of their lives as more simple.  Imagine working farm fields and tending to livestock for 16 hours a day.  War, whether it be with the middle east, the far east, europe, or right here at home, has always been with us.  And think what you will about our current state of health care, I wouldn’t trade it for the ‘good ol’ days!’   The ramifications of the decisions one faced in the past were much greater  than the myriad, yet relatively inconsequential, decisions we make today.  Yet, as the decision date looms, I continue to struggle with whether or not to cancel the agreement of sale to buy the King Street house. 

As I struggle with the decision, I continue to do my homework. I have been getting prices for sheet rock, electrical and plumbing supplies, and a huge dumpster for demolition debris. I also spoke with the borough zoning officer about various permits. Surprisingly, he was familiar with the house.  The house is nestled in the midst of the densely populated borough, surrounded for miles in every direction with lots of houses on rather small lots.  However, he recalled seeing a reproduction of an old hand-drawn map of the area, and believed the house was depicted sitting by itself surrounded by farmland.  Knowing the area as it is now, this seemed absurd. 

Standing on the front porch of the house, with cars and trucks whizzing by, and houses all around, the idea of being surround by quiet farmland seems impossible.  However, if one actually thought about it, blocking out the present, noting the kernels of history dotted throughout the county, the image started to seem entirely possible.  We’ve all seen ‘ye olde’ post cards and historical photos, depicting life of years long passed.  I have often looked at the old photos of Stroudsburg that are hung in various businesses around town, wistfully imagining an earlier time (I was tempted to say ‘a more simple time,’ but I don’t think the early settlers were finding life very ‘simple.’). 

There are records of a Dutch settlement on the Delaware River in 1659, and established settlements within a few miles of Stroudsburg in 1727.  Despite attacks and massacres between Indians and white settlers, the area continued to grow. Stroudsburg was well on the way by the late 1700’s. Monroe County was formed in 1836, carved out of Pike County to the north and Northampton County to the south. It was named after the 5th President, James Monroe, who died in 1831.  The imposing Romanesque stone courthouse in the middle of downtown Stroudsburg was built in 1890. (www.livingplaces.com). There is one photo I am particularly fond of, which shows a tree-lined street leading to the courthouse, ‘busy’ with horse and buggy traffic. It’s fun to think that a former owner of the King Street house may have ridden a horse through the fields (now seven blocks) to town.

courthouse

I am starting to realize why this decision is a struggle.  It’s not that I don’t want to do it, because I definitely do.  I want to use my hands and my back, working with wood and other materials.  I will also learn from doing the project.  It involves every aspect of home renovation, and will surely be a test of all that I know.  There is also sure to be a test of mental strength as well.  The difficulty of learning what to do, and long days of hard labor, will be further weighted with self-doubt and second guessing my decision.  For whatever reason, testing myself, both mentally and physically, is a common thread in my various endeavors.  This home renovation project will be no different in my apparent quest to test what I am made of.

No less important, there is something to be said for breathing life into an old house.  Many generations have lived in this house, building it, maintaining it, adding to it, and renovating it.  I have worked on old houses before, and I like the idea of being one of many people to work on a particular house, becoming part of its history.  Often times one will find a message in a wall, someone memorializing their project.  Or a scrap of newsprint from a time not often thought of anymore.  Many people before us have lived our lives.  They have experienced our various joys and sorrows.  To skin one’s knuckle on an old hand hewn timber, or admire a new wooden floor, as surely happened 110 years ago as well, is to somehow become a part of history, working in that earlier time.

Coming back to the present, though, should I really do this?  The house does not have any historical value.  It does not have any significant woodwork or other features attesting to its age.  The house is simply old.  It would be a renovation, not a restoration.  Is the investment viable?  Can I afford it?  It’s all well and good to test the strength of my back, and the strength of my spirit, but to possibly do it all for a house that won’t sell, or the rent won’t cover the expense, that is a test I don’t want to take.