Friday, February 29, 2008

Ups and downs

Friday afternoon was a roller coaster in the last big push before Sunday's Restore Omaha tour.

Down: My final pile of scrap metal was still there, a day after Scrap Metal Bob offered to pick it up.

Up: Bob, a gnarly old guy who's sweeter than he looks, came wheeling around the corner an hour later in his pickup. He complimented the work on the house (he's fixed up a few himself) and gave me a reference for a real estate agent. "Tell him Bob said to only charge you 4 percent," he grumbled.

Down: Hmm, why is the grout behind the toilet darker than the rest? Huh, it's wet. Oh, crap, the toilet is leaking.

Up: The leak is an easy fix (rusted tank bolts, for those who care) that Blair said he'd do.

Up: Blair from Howling Dog Construction finished installing the porch railings.

I continued through a list of detail work: install house numbers and mailbox, tighten woodwork over window, caulk, more caulk, paint some more, etc., as I waited for the last contractor, the electrician. I needed two ceiling fans installed upstairs and several small light fixtures.

I have been stood up, ignored and abused by a series of electricians on this project.

By 1:30, I was nervous that they wouldn't show. My anxiety grew all afternoon.

At 4:30 p.m., J.D. from David's Electric called apologizing that his last job took longer than expected. He asked to come Monday.


He offered a reduced rate. I explained it was more about timing than money. I'm on a home tour this weekend, I explained. Is there any way? Please?

J.D. caved, warning I'd have to pay time and a half and it'd take a couple of hours. He called in a second electrician to help. I said, thankyouthankyouthankyou.

They showed up a little after 5 p.m. and had everything done by 6:30.

J.D. later confided that he took the late gig because I had a pleasant voice (who knew?).

In the end, he only charged me for an hour at the regular rate, asking me to keep them in mind for future work. Woooo-hoooooo!

David's Electric rocks! (402) 553-1565

Contractors I like

Everyone always asks for recommendations for contractors. Here's who I've used and been happy with:

Blair Bishop

Howling Dog Construction

He has been my main contractor on the flip, drywalling the ceilings and renovating the kitchen, bath and porch.

General home improvement:

  • Michaels James Home Improvement and Remodeling, 208-6521

See Small retaining wall: He tackled a stone retaining wall for me but does a variety of home improvement projects.

  • McDonald's Home Improvements, 334-7419
McGyvered his way through an atypical wood floor patching project at my house.

Drywalled the entry to my house and installed crown molding and baseboard

Best of the blog

See how these copper-plated doorknobs came back to life
in littleitalygem's most popular blog entry.

Most popular entries:
1. Removing paint from doorknobs
2. Architectural salvage
3. Plaster repair links

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Kitchen glory

Ooooooooh! Look at the kitchen!!

Stainless steel appliances!!!

Man, this has come together well.

Maple cabinets with a cherry stain, which I selected to contrast against the refinished yellow pine floors.

Sage green tile backsplash, impressively installed by Blair the contractor. (You should see his work where the tile goes around a jog in the wall. Amazing.)

Copper faucet and cabinet hardware to match two old bin pulls (yet to be installed on drawers) that I found on a random drawer in the basement.

And to think I had doubted these choices ... (Refer to green-tile freakout and anguish over appliances.)

Flue stopper

This ductwork went up to an old vent that was behind the stove and already was closed off with a few sheets of lead. So this low-hanging, five-foot run of ductwork bit the dust today.

To cover the hole where the duct connected near the furnace, I used this thing, an adjustable flue stopper, which has a flexible metal clip to fit a variety of sizes.

Bits n' pieces

All the little pieces are coming together for the Restore Omaha home tour Sunday. But it's a lot of little pieces.

Every day, I work on the house up to one-and-a-half hours in the morning before I go to work and up to two hours after work.

This morning before work, I will remove metal ductwork in the basement, put the last coat of paint on a porch railing and touch up the quarterround, which got chipped a little during the wood floor sanding, in the master bedroom.

I am looking forward to a day in my life that does not include painting.

Well, it's 6:50 a.m. I'd better get started!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Porch railing in

Update: (Yes, observant friends, railings will be added on the sides.)

Blair from Howling Dog Construction built this railing from scratch.

They are made of eight million tiny pieces. Each spindle sits in a groove with a tiny piece of wood filling the groove between each spindle. I know this because I painted these suckers.

I have no idea why someone would want to spend their time doing this, but thank God he works for me.

That's downtown Omaha in the distance. The brick building on the left is Grace University's dormitory and administration building. A great neighbor.

The old metal columns and railing, which appeared to be 1950s vintage, are headed for the scrap yard. (Need scrap metal pickup? See Scrap happens)

One of those days

  • The woman I hired to clean the house through Craig's List did not show. This was after rescheduling once due to her car problems and suffering through 10 e-mails and phone calls -- after she came out to give an estimate. She sent a text message an hour and a half after her appointment saying she was at the hospital with her mother. So I will start my day today by cleaning.
  • I tipped over a vase of flowers during lunch then tripped over the porch railings laying in my dining room while rushing to get a dish rag.
  • Lowe's called, wondering why my appliance delivery for Monday included a gas range and a cord for an electric range. (Answer: Because that's what the salesman said I needed.)
  • I noticed several splotches of oil paint on the newly refinished wood floors. Gasp! Where did they come from? I walked over to inspect them and then noticed more behind me. I spun in a circle like a dog chasing its tail.
Like that moment of realization in the horror movie -- "the calls are coming from inside the house!" -- I realized I was creating the mess at that very moment.

Yep, I had paint on the heel of my shoe.

My dainty hoof had knocked the freshly painted stair riser.

This occurred, of course, in the middle of one of those - "I should finish the touchup in the front room, wait, my brush is in the kitchen, oh yeah, I moved the paint downstairs" - tromping all over the main floor with my painted shoe.

I took off my shoes, wiped up the paint and called it a day.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Covering water stains

The upstairs plaster had some nightmarish water stains from leaks before the roof was repaired years ago.

This spot was in the guest room between the door to the hall and the door to the closet. It comes as no surprise that this is next to the chimney, a common spot for leaks.

Yes, that's masking tape covering a section of missing plaster (See Roll the Tape for more charming uses in this house).

UPDATE -- 2/25/08 -- I discovered masking tape under the toilet rim! Ding,ding, ding! We have a winner for Craziest Tape Location in the Flip.

Scraped and sanded, this is what I had.

I use MH Ready Patch as a base on deeply damaged plaster, then joint compound for top layers (it sands easier).

Sometimes I put a coat of primer on discolored plaster during repairs because the coloration distracts me from where the repair work needs to be done. Sometimes I miss spots, other times the plaster looks so ugly I can't tell I'm nearly finished.

This is what it looked like after patching, a coat of regular latex primer and a coat of high-hiding latex primer I had from a previous project. (See guide to primer selection)

An oil-based primer did the trick in one coat. I used H2Oil-Base Primer, which I'm using on the porch columns and railings. It claims to clean up with detergent and water, but I found a few things that make it go faster.

Cleaning H2Oil-Base Primer:

  • Put dishwashing liquid directly on paint brush. Rub soap into bristles with your fingers and a paint comb. Keep rubbing. Wash under warm running water.
  • Use Goof-Off Hand Cleaner (available in Menards paint department) to remove paint from skin. (Works waaay better than soap on this primer.)

Plaster resources:

When you want to hang a picture, never use nails! Pounding a nail into the wooden furring lathe can loosen the keys of the plaster and cause sagging or bowing of the wall. Always use screws in plaster walls, predrilling each hole. A piece of cellophane tape over the spot you want to drill can keep the surface of the plaster from spalling.

The Park Service has a ton of great material on historic repairs.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Other renovations

I am down to uninteresting, ticky-tack tasks now that I am nine days from being on the Restore Omaha historic home tour.

Small plaster patching. Fixing previous paint goofs. Trying to avoid screwing up the floors while I work.

So here are some other renovations to read about while I do tedious stuff:
  • The Omaha World-Herald profiled Prouty Place Dos, one of the commercial buildings on the Restore Omaha tour.
  • The World-Herald business section featured the law firm Kutak Rock's renovation of its historic building near the courthouse in downtown Omaha.

Anyone who has dug into an old home can relate to the Kutak story, as workers uncovered surprises hidden by previous renovations and years of grime. For instance, as they scrubbed the exterior, they were surprised to find the pillars were actually white but had been darkened by decades of dirt.

Monday, February 18, 2008

"Great" stuff

Lessons from patching the basement:

* Do not store bagged cement products in damp areas.

I even checked the label before storing them on my garage floor, which gets damp in the winter from snow melting off my car.
No warning. So I figured the bags were moisture proof.

Guess not. At least it's a cheap mistake.

* Wear gloves when using Great Stuff spray foam insulation.

I was using this foam to fill cracks in basement walls and around windows. You squirt it in, and it expands within an hour to fill the space.

Now I will admit, I noticed a label near the spray nozzle, "Always wear gloves."

I ran out of gloves while painting the woodwork with oil paint.

Great Stuff didn't really specify why I needed gloves.

So I figured, "I'll just be careful." Mm-hmm.

I sprayed the gaps, then set about cleaning the hole in the floor where the coal room used to be, which still had a gallon or so of tiny coal shards.

That afternoon, I got in the shower to wash up and couldn't get my hands clean. Even with that "orange soap" they sell at Menards.

Two-thirds of my hands were stained mostly brown and in some spots pitch black. I should have taken a picture, but I left my camera at the flip and I was too surly to retrieve it.

I scrubbed with dish soap, mineral spirits, vinegar. Nothing.

My darkened hands were a DIY-ers' Scarlet A for not following instructions.

I consulted the Great Stuff web site. Under directions for use,

"Extremely sticky. Prevent skin and eye contact."

"CLEAN UP: On solid surfaces, uncured foam dissolves with acetone. For skin and solid surfaces, cured foam must be mechanically removed or allowed to wear off in time."

Mechanically removed? What?!?

Funny, under frequently asked questions, the first question:

"How do I get the foam off my hands?"

"If the foam has not cured or hardened, use acetone or fingernail polish remover (with acetone). If the foam has hardened, there is no solvent that will remove it. It will not harm your skin and will wear off in several days. To remove cured foam from skin, use a pumice stone (available at most drug stores) and warm, soapy water. Then apply petroleum jelly to soften your skin."

Can you imagine some beefy guy in a flannel shirt with blackened hands going to Walgreen's and asking for a pumice and nail polish remover?

Nail polish remover was minimally helpful. I scrubbed and scrubbed with a pumice, like a Witness Protection Progam enrollee trying to erase his fingerprints. My hands now look only mildly dirty.

ALWAYS WEAR GLOVES and don't play with coal afterward.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Top floor

Master bedroom

Upstairs guest bedroom


This staircase is turning out to be a showstopper.

It had been one of the most hideous places in the house with damaged green and pink plaid wallpaper shedding from the walls and very worn stair treads.

Now these gorgeous golden steps curl upstairs under this creamy arched plaster ceiling.

Columns installed

Blair the contractor spent the afternoon installing new porch columns with an old-fashioned look to bring the house closer to its original style.

Before - at purchase last summer

I can't wait to see it with the new railings Blair made!

More tasks

My home workshop has expanded. Now I've got a metal hardware polishing operation in the living room while the wood floors dry in the flip.

Why did I shower today?

Friday, February 15, 2008


Monday - Caked in linoleum goo

Wednesday - Freshly sanded and puttied

Friday - After one coat of poly. Ka-zow!

Living and dining rooms

Front room

Floor progress

The guys from Rains Wood Floors sanded the original yellow pine floors in the whole house in three days. They generated six garbage bags of sawdust.

Thursday, they started applying polyurethane to the floor. They will apply three coats, with a day of drying in between.

That means the floors will be done by Sunday morning, taking only six days instead of the original estimate of 10. Yay!

Do you think they don't want me in there?

View through the front door window

Just peeking in the windows, the floors look great. Not that these pictures, taken through the windows, reflect that very well.

View from the back door window

This is the kitchen. The door (which still needs a coat of paint) goes to the basement. The fridge will be in that nook left of the door.

Ideally, you should do all your painting before the floors are refinished. But I wanted to make sure the floors were done in time for the house to be cleaned and appliances delivered before the Restore Omaha tour March 2.

I staged my painting schedule so that the areas left to be done have a small amount of floor to be covered during painting: Doors and a few closets. I'll just have to be careful for a change.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Porch part painting

This is my dining room for now.

I had planned to paint the porch parts over in the flip basement but decided this would be warmer, cleaner and more convenient.

The oil-based primer went on last night.

Now they need two coats of oil paint before Saturday.

Fixing Our Historic House: Detailed instructions on exterior restoration

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Porch restoration

Sometime over the years, the original wood porch columns and railings were replaced with retro metalwork.

Two of the columns were sold at the family's estate sale. I nearly threw up when I saw them tucked in the old coal room with price tags on them, but what could I do? I hadn't even talked to the family about possibly buying the house yet.

My best guess is the missing third column suffered weather damage, leading to the scrollwork replacements.

I've decided to make it look original again by replacing the columns and railings.
I waited until recently to decide to see how my budget was doing and what my resale price might be. I think (hope?) I can get more for the house than I originally anticipated (cross your fingers), so I decided to go ahead.

Custom-made railings by Blair

Being a sucker for an old house, I figured I would feel guilty if I didn't do it. Every day I would drive past the house, I would kick myself.

That metalwork just isn't right. A first-time homebuyer, the likely purchaser, probably would never tackle that project. Blair the contractor was willing to do it for a reasonable price.

Purchased columns

Now I have to paint these things this week so Blair can install them this weekend.


I bought the paint-grade wood "round nontapered colonial," similar to the columns sold at the estate sale (at least I know what the originals looked like). They were $95 each. They came in eight foot lengths, then Blair cut them to fit. The cap and plinth are purchased separately for $31 a pair.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Bottom floor

The evolution of the kitchen floor ...

June 2007, as purchased
I know, it's hard to notice the floor among all that knick knack goodness. Note the puddle of liquid seeping from the fridge. That was fun.
Underneath the fridge

The kitchen had been renovated in the 1970s. The yellow linoleum was laid on top of red, black and white linoleum, which thankfully had been nailed instead of glued to the floor. It came up in minutes.

August 2007

The nailed linoleum matched the above wallpaper, which was unveiled when we removed the 1970s cabinets.

This morning


This is the bare wood floor after sanding today.

There were no serious stains underneath all that floor goo! Lots of nails, which were pulled and the nail holes filled with wood putty, but nothing worse than that. Whew.

Wood floor guys

They're here!

Chad Rains and his crew arrived this morning to start refinishing the original yellow pine floors throughout the house.
The floors look nasty after months of paint splatter and construction dust.
The kitchen floor (pictured above) is in the worst condition, after years of hiding under two layers of linoleum.
But their drum sander will rip right through the hardened goo.