Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Drywall "hot patch"

The master bedroom had one weeny little wall sconce to light the whole room, so I had wiring run for a ceiling light and one of those crazy modern inventions, a light switch.

(Many rooms in the house didn't have light switches -- they were never installed after the switch from gas lighting to electric. See page 4 of this handout for the history of lighting from Rejuvenation.)
To install wiring, the electrician cut two four-inch holes in the plaster so he could fish wire through the wall.

Mike the roofer saw this and asked if I knew how to do a "hot patch." He started describing it, and I thought, yeah, I do! I just didn't know what it was called. I learned it at drywall class.

This method works for many random holes in drywall or plaster, such as a doorknob puncture or, if things are a little crazy at your place, a fist punch.

1. For an irregular wall hole, cut the edges into a square for easier installation.

2. Cut a piece of drywall to match the shape of the hole, but do NOT cut through the bottom layer of paper. Leave two or three inches of paper at the edge.This paper becomes built-in "tape" for your repair. (see below. this is hard to describe)

3. Coat the paper with joint compound. For a ceiling patch, you might want to coat the edge of the drywall, too, as in the above photo (like frosting a layer cake)

4. Install in hole. Smooth paper and cover with a coat of joint compound. No screws needed!

5. Let dry. Sand. Apply another coat of joint compound and repeat until satisfied.

How cool is that.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Home improvement classes

Metropolitan Community College a nice collection of home improvement classes for a reasonable price (typically around $40). Most are a few hours long, some with a hands-on portion.

You learn a bunch of stuff. You can ask a ton of questions. Your teacher might be willing to consult on your project. The tile class included a list of local tile shops and a coupon.

You may conclude you are not suited to tackle certain home projects, but you learn enough to talk intelligently to the contractor you hire.

My conclusions from classes I have taken:
Drywall: No way in hell will I drywall a whole room, but I learned enough to do the hall wall and picked up patching techniques.
Tile: Selecting the proper products on the front end is key. I'll try it sometime (I hired out on the flip because I had more than enough to do).
Lawn care: I'm never going to get around to fertilizing on a schedule. (Hire Forest Green Lawn Care.)

A word of warning: Metro has possibly the crappiest web site I have ever used. It is almost easier to call when you get the MCC schedule flier in the mail.

Here's a few navigation tips if you want to try it online.

Click on: Community Education (Non-Credit) Classes
Select: Home and garden

(The drywall class fills superfast, so register as soon as you get the flier if you want in.)

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Drywalled hall

This was the upstairs hallway, connected to the staircase.

A little water damage, a little plaster damage - the usual.

I got this far when Mike from Xcel Roofing and Gutters (402-345-9235) took a walkthrough when he came to fix gutters on my house. He'd done a minor roof repair on the flip last fall.

He took one look at this hallway and told me to go buy some drywall.

You can keep fighting it if you want, he told me. But it's never going to look good.


I hate drywalling.

My first (and only) project was my 5-by5-foot entryway with 12 foot ceilings. Not an ideal area to be maneuvering 8-foot drywall sheets, a ladder or sanding in the summer.

After that miserable experience, I took a drywall class at Metropolitan Community College, which made me a little more confident.

I figured this was a good project to try again.

There were only two items to cut around on this wall: an outlet and the molding over a door frame. An empty master bedroom gave plenty of space for prep work. The house is already construction filthy, so I could sand and sand and sand.

I used self-adhesive mesh tape this time and found it to be SO much easier than paper tape.

And it's looking pretty good.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Plaster washers

In a few spots, plaster had pulled away from the lathe over the years.

I fixed it with plaster washers, which are small metal disks dotted with holes.

Plaster washer instructions

You put a drywall screw in the center of a washer and drill it into the wall a few inches away from the crack (careful: too close to the crack and you'll lose a chunk of plaster).


The plaster sucked right back to the wall! Very cool.

You then cover the area with self-adhesive mesh tape, which is my new best friend.

Add a few coats of joint compound.

All better! OK, with a few coats of paint, then it'll be all better.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Restore Omaha schedule

Restore Omaha, a workshop for old-home owners, has posted its speakers for the March 1 conference.

The flip is on the March 2 home tour. I just have to finish in time!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Rehabbing old lighting

An old-school electrican once told me that knob and tube wiring can carry a decent electrical load. The bigger problem, he said, is 100-watt bulbs in old light fixtures.

Guess what I have here?

The electrician suggested not using anything higher than 60 watts in an old fixture. Or you can rehab them by installing a new socket.

In this case, the light fixture was a metal ring that surrounded a socket that screws into the ceiling -- easy enough. In others, I've replaced a socket that snaps into the center of a fixture.

It costs a buck or two and takes 10 seconds. Any store with electrical stuff should have these items.

For more complicated fixtures, a lighting store can re-wire them.

Finding wires

I've got this incredibly modern light socket in the staircase hall (Don't panic: The black stuff looks like coal dust from the old furnace, not soot from a fire).
The old knob and tube wire shoots out of the plaster like a sprout in a summer garden. I can't see which direction the wire comes from.

I need to shore up that cracked plaster on the left with plaster washers and drywall screws.

But that wire snakes somewhere behind that plaster, which could put me in for a literal shock if I'm not careful. Hmmm ....

A guy on the This Old House discussion boards pointed me to stud sensors with a built-in wire finders: Zircon makes 'em and sells 'em for $20-$50 at Lowe's.

I run it along the ceiling and it will beep when it senses a live wire. Cool.

Online salvage

Island Girl Salvage, located online and west of the Chicago-O'Hare airport.

Describe what you're looking for and they'll keep an eye out for it through their Search & Rescue.

Electrical basics

I just found this great link for basic advice on electrical systems. It explains how the system works, how to trace circuit breaker problems, etc.

The Home Problem Solver:

Saturday, January 19, 2008

New heights

The view from today's stairway improvement project:

The thought going through my head:

How in the hell did I get myself into this?

Online advice

Here are two discussion boards for old-home owners to share advice and ideas:

This Old House Discussion Boards are thoughtfully organized into several dozen specific topics like Walls & Ceilings and Drainage & Gutters that helps pinpoint advice quickly. You can "subscribe" to a specific discussion and have future postings e-mailed to you.

Old House Journal Talk is organized by mainly by era of home. Bungalow expert and author Jane Powell doles out advice there.

Stairway to hell

The upstairs is what made me think my flip could be a future meth lab without my intervention.

The roof was replaced around 2000, but the accompanying plaster and wallpaper damage was never repaired.

This dormer over the staircase was a little nauseating.

Some extremely patient, flexible and slightly psychotic soul wallpapered the whole thing in a green and pink plaid, decades, maybe a century, ago.

This was the area of the house I worried about the most, fearing the sagging wallpaper had buckled plaster behind it.

Well, surprise!

The old water damage had loosened the paper. With a sophisticated tool called a "broom," I was able to smack down much of the paper and see the walls weren't that bad after all.

It's a neat floor plan for a one-and-a-half story house, with the staircase tucked to the side on the main floor and the dormer used as head space for staircase.

That layout also puts the ceiling 20 feet above the bottom stair, as you can see from the remaining wallpaper scraps I had left to tackle yesterday.

Fortunately, my friend Laura has let me keep her articulating ladder on permanent loan.

I soaked the wallpaper with water by using a mop. (See: Wallpaper removal tips) I flipped over the mop and scraped with the other side.

I did need to pull a Stretch Armstrong to reach a few spots with my wallpaper scraper. I'm sure OSHA would approve moves such as "stand on ladder on tiptoe."


Friday, January 18, 2008

Upside of down housing market

This flip is not expected to be a big moneymaker. I knew this from the start.

The potential for big profit will be sucked up by a 100-foot long retaining wall (if the ground ever unthaws for it to be installed). The old one was built incredibly wrong, and the foundation kind of relies on it.

So why bother?

The flip initially appraised at $48K, about half of what houses have been selling for on my street. Prime material for a crap-ass rental, which could mean methheads, domestic screaming matches and junk cars in the yard.

With neighbors like that, I could easily lose five grand or more when I go to sell my own house. And I would be miserable living here in the meantime.

Now my potential flip profit depends on the ridiculously unstable housing market.

Good news:
  • It likely will be sold to a first-time homebuyer so the purchase won't hinge on the buyer selling their current home.
  • The price will be in the lower $100,000 range, which features a lot of craptacular homes (certainly very few with a new kitchen that doesn't have gross white laminate cabinets).
The latest silver lining:

Much of the flip financing is coming from money I had set aside for investments.

And look at that stock market tank!

To improve my outlook, I am tracking how much my IRA has lost in the time I've had the flip.

After yesterday's stock plummet, I've lost nearly 7 percent!

That makes the flip's potential profit seem like a smart investment.

If I'd kept that money in the stock market, I would have lost money! Granted, I wouldn't have spent my free time covered in plaster dust, but ...

I cannot say enough good things about this software to track flipping financials:

Flipper’s & Rehabber's Cash Flow Analyzer Pro

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Architectural salvage

If you're going digging for treasures, bring:
  • The measurements for what you need. At the beginning of my flip, I put a list of items I was searching for (bathroom sink/vanity, duct grates) and the dimensions in the "flip notebook" I carry in my purse.
  • Digital camera. Bring photos of what you're trying to match or snap ones of your finds.
  • Notepad to jot down measurements of what you find or prices for comparison shopping.
  • Tape measurer. I now keep a keychain-size one in my purse.
Best deals:
Joe's Collectibles
1125 Jackson St (entrance from alley)
(402) 612-1543
Overall: Flea-market style antique store
Salvage items: Old card catalog cabinet full of miscellaneous hardware near the counter; doors; salvaged lumber; and other miscellany.
My buys: Three bed slats to hold box springs for $1 each; bead-chain glass shade for $14.

Second Chance Antiques
1116 Jackson St (across the street from Joe's)
Omaha, NE 68102
(402) 346-4930
Overall: Antique store with a whiff of snobbery
Salvage items: Organized selection of hardware near the cash register and miscellaneous salvaged wood in the back.
My buys: A half dozen yellow pine, tongue-and-groove floor boards that perfectly matched the upstairs floors of my house for $10. Granted, they had a coat of prison gray paint, but nothing a belt sander couldn't resolve.

Best selection:
A&R Salvage
(warning: its web page looks like a work in progress:
The entry for architectural masonry says:
"A tangy and fruity accompaniment to any meal. The extra hot one means extra pain!" Seriously. )
2820 Vinton Street
Omaha, NE 68105
(402) 346-4470
Overall: A true salvage yard -- this place is an unheated building and open-air salvage yard. Dress for the weather.
Salvage: Stained glass windows, doors, storm windows, old tubs and sinks, woodwork, hardware, duct grates, brick pavers, the tangy fruity architectural masonry and way way more.
My buys: Prices reflect their niche market.
Two yellow pine door casings to finish the above-mentioned floor patching were $14 a board! But if you need something to match, you'll pay.

D & B Metal Polishing & Antiques
6571 Maple Street
Omaha, NE 68104
Overall: Two roomsful of lighting that look like inspiration for Rejuvenation's copies.
Buy an antique fixture as is or pay to have it rehabbed and the metal replated to your taste.
Salvage: Exclusively antique lighting, glass shades and hardware
My buys: Nothing, but it's fun to look. The bead-chain shade I bought at Joe's would sell for $28 here.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Beeswax metal polish

This Old House suggests sealing metal hardware by rubbing it down with beeswax. Needless to say, Menards did not have it in stock.

You have to carefully target your online search to find this. There are a kazillion hits for beeswax polish, a liquid polish for furniture.

Somewhere I stumbled across a blog talking about purchasing beeswax at craft stores.

Michael's sells it around $15 a pound for candlemaking.

A pound? Christ, I couldn't need a pound of this stuff, and I'm not going to take up candlemaking. (seriously, who the hell makes their own candles?)

A few more searches landed me at Draper's Super Bee Apiaries, which sells beeswax in smaller increments and lists the many uses as "Easter Egg decorating, sculpting, lubricating of thread and nails, waxing bowstrings, coating on waffle irons, and many, many other craft uses." Who knew.

I finally landed on a site that will be helpful in other ways: Kilian Hardware.

It's an old-fashioned hardware store with great old house stuff like sash cords, weights and pulleys; mortar made for old brickwork; glass door knobs; and lots more.

And quarter pound blocks of beeswax.

UPDATE: A half pound of beeswax plus shipping is $11. Or you can snag a pound for $11 at Hobby Lobby. I guess I'll be making a small candle when I'm done.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Copper cleanup continues

Bookshelves painted

The house has quite a bit of plaster damage, which I presume is from leaks before the 2002 roof replacement. This spot was in the top of the dining room's bay window.


A few coats of patching plaster, a few rounds of sanding, two coats of primer, one layer of paint and it's all better.

Before, Dining room bay

The dining room's built-in bookshelves take on a whole new look with a coat of chocolate brown paint. (and will look even better when I get that woodwork painted)

Brushing up

I spent all day yesterday touching up the main floor painting.
Climb up ladder, paint, climb down, scoot ladder five feet. Repeat.

For six hours.

Paint trays at the end of the day

I like to have a pack of 1/2-inch flat stencil brushes on hand. I buy them in the wallpaper stenciling department at Menards.

They're obviously smaller than a regular brush and have firmer bristles, making it easier to deftly paint tight areas.

They were the perfect size to paint around the scalloped edge of the moulding over the doors and windows.

Here's a primer on paint brush types in a slideshow format from This Old House. They even make one for painting radiators.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Removing paint from doorknobs

The flip has all its original, interior door hardware, but of course, it had been painted.

I decided to see what was underneath to determine if it was worth cleaning them.

Step 1:
Use a utility knife or razor blade to chip paint out of screws, around edges of screw heads and edge of backplate. Remove hardware from door.

Step 2:
Place in Crock-Pot.

I had to upgrade from my old "dip"-sized crockpot because the backplates at this house are much larger than mine. They fit perfectly in this oval one from Menards (on sale right now for $15.)

Step 3:
Fill crock with water, covering hardware by at least one inch.
Add a tablespoon or two of detergent (I use liquid Tide).

Step 4:
Turn on high for 8 hours or overnight.

Step 5:
Remove from crock. THEY WILL BE HOT. Use pliers or old tongs.
Hollow knobs may fill with hot water, which may drip all over the place if you aren't careful (speaking as someone who isn't).

Fresh from the crock
You can see how the top layer of paint has loosened.

Voila! Layer one peels right off.
Step 5:
Let hardware sit until cool enough to handle. Peel or rub off loosened paint. (I use paper towels.)

After first rub down

Holy crap, look at this copper-plated glory.

Up until this point, it took me longer to get the hardware off of the door than it did to remove the paint.

Step 6:

Continue cleaning as necessary. I use Noxon metal polish cleaner to remove tarnish.

I also just got a Dremel rotary tool for these projects. You can buy a set of attachments specifically for metal work like this.

The Dremel brush whizzed paint chips out of the details in a flash, but I still needed to remove tarnish by handcleaning with Noxon before polishing with a Dremel attachment.

(Caution: Soft metals like copper and brass need a special brush.)

I figure it will take about an hour to clean each set, but the results look like they will be worth it.

Only 10 more to go!

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Primer anguish

This is the "painting from hell" room, the study/bedroom off the dining room.

I had to sand most of the walls after priming because my friend Laura and I were dumb enough to think a paint sprayer was a good thing.

Do not be fooled. It was so exhausting I didn't even write about it at the time.

She borrowed her dad's paint gun, and I loaded a five-gallon bucket of primer onto my childhood wagon for her to pull behind her.

The paint gun spit funny on the upper wall, so she sprayed the lower wall while I rolled the upper. The gun is ridiculously noisy, so it takes all the socialization out of painting.

Then there was a clunking noise followed by a horrible smoke stench.

It turns out that you are only supposed to hold down the spray trigger for some crazily short period of time, like 20 seconds.

Shouldn't this be in larger type in the instruction manual? With a big arrow?

So, apparently, the 45-minute constant spray overwhelmed the little machine and fried out the engine.

The gun had been almost spackling the paint, leaving the walls textured instead of spraying a smooth coat, so I re-sanded the lower portion of the walls.

Now THIS wall is acting up.

This wall initially was covered in paneling, which was held up by both nails and adhesive. So I sanded off stripes of adhesive, patched plaster cracks, then primed.

Now some of the primer has peeled.

So today I sanded the wall AGAIN. My friend Mark suggested a good wipedown before re-painting.

At least the other side of the room looks good.

UPDATE: My problems were solved with a good wipedown of the wall because it had been heavily sanded. I used this method on the walls upstairs that had lots of plaster repair and sanding.

For hard to reach areas such as the staircase ceiling, I used a broom and gave them an aggressive sweeping. I had no problems after that.

Built-in boost

A coat of chocolate brown paint made this built-in bookshelf pop in the dining room.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Progress by paint

What a difference three days worth of painting makes.

The view from the front door:
Sage green in the entryway,
looking into the den/bedroom in butterscotch
toward kitchen with sage green backsplash

Living room looking into dining room,

both in taupe

Dining room in taupe,

looking into study/guest room in muted gold

For paint color decisions, see Painting to sell

The lights are a line of oil-rubbed bronze with golden speckled glass, surprisingly from Menards.

Paint products that suck

* Kwal paint.
When I saw Kwal paint at Habitat's ReStore, I recognized the name as the brand of polyurethane used by my wood-floor refinisher uses.

Kwal also has a stand-alone store, which led me to think it must be of the quality of Sherwin-Williams or Benjamin Moore.


I used two different types of Kwal paint on primed plaster walls, but both needed two coats.

The 10x11-foot bonus room off the entryway sucked up a whole gallon.

One gallon of Sherwin-Williams paint covered TWO rooms this size, both the living and dining room, in one coat plus a little touchup.

* Bin Zinsser primer.
I sought the advice of the salesperson, and I read the label before purchasing this. This is not ultra cheap stuff.

I will admit, I did not scrub all the walls with TSP as recommended, so maybe that was a fatal error. But I did sand the walls.

The primer has peeled off in some spots, particularly on a wall that had been behind paneling.

Most of the spots are on the interior, load-bearing wall, often over a heating vent, so temperature must be a factor, but ugh.

I'd try another product next time.

Restore Omaha

Yesterday was a big day for my little flip.

It was approved to be on this year's Restore Omaha home tour March 2.

If you own an old home, Restore Omaha is the place to be. The first day, March 1, features workshops for people who own old homes. It's inexpensive, $35, for a wealth of information.

I've heard national and local experts show how to rehab old windows, explain the history of kitchens and figure out the historic paint colors of your home. (this year's schedule)

The exhibitor area features booths for contractors, historic organizations and vendors catering to old home owners.

Lob questions at the "Ask the Expert" booth for advice on what's troubling you. Throughout the day, you'll stumble across other homeowners who have tackled whatever project is vexing you. (previous handouts)

The second day, March 2, is an afternoon of self-guided tours of historic buildings. South Omaha is the featured area of town this year.

My flip is on the tour!

While most people who attend own homes already, I figure they will be able to appreciate the work and hopefully pass the word to potential buyers.

Plus, I get the show off all the work. :)

Flippin' organized

If you're flipping, obviously you should be keeping your receipts, but organize them further so you can find things fast.

I split mine into manila folders by company: Lowe's, Menards, contractors, and miscellaneous (mortgage payments, utilities, etc.).

In each folder, I keep them in order by date, slipping the most recent receipt into the front of the folder.

Yesterday I combed through my pile of supplies and realized I had a few things I could return. It took me less than a minute to find the receipts.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

ReStore rejuvenated

Omaha's Habitat for Humanity ReStore has been reorganized.

If you haven't been, it's tons easier to shop, particularly the tile department.

Tile shopping used to require Twister-like moves to get around the heaps scattered on the floor and pushed up against a wall.

Now everything's up on shelves and even labeled. As of Monday, they had lots of new-in-box floor tile, including several 12-inch American Olean in neutral colors.

They also had quite a few upscale ceiling fans and new Pella windows.

I loaded up on Sherwin-Williams paint at $5 a gallon.

Back in action

A couple of extra projects at my real job sucked up my free time and set me behind on the flip. I had only a few days in the last two months to work on the house.

Now I've got two weeks off of work to play catchup.

I kicked it off today by painting, an easy way to give the illusion of serious progress. Then I capped it off by looking at old pictures to make me feel like I'm getting ahead.

Dining room, as purchased

June 2007

Dining room, after ceiling tile removal

September 2007

Dining room, patched and primed
October 2007

Dining room


The dining and living room paint, two gallons of Sherwin-Williams Callahan Taupe, was at Habitat for Humanity's ReStore for $5 a gallon.

The back room, which can be a bedroom, is a pale butterscotch color.