Thursday, April 14, 2016

Victorian Farmhouse - Electrical (Day 7)

Before I get into the meat of this post, I have two random "old hardware photos", and a few photos of the foundation work on the exterior.

Here is that other Victorian handle I had seen. It's on the basement door, and it's a different pattern than the other one. This one has a cranked (or offset) handle. You might wonder why there's a rectangular notch in the bottom, and that's because it was cast as both a "right and left" handle. Just flip it over and it's identical for fixing to a different door.

I also re-photographed the lovely handle from the "under stairs closet".

Here's the foundation on the side of the house where the deck was. If you'll recall from one of the last 2 posts, it had been dug out, and all the stones had been cleaned up and prepared for the lime mortar. 95% of this area will eventually be hidden under the deck once it's replaced.

While I was at it, I thought I'd show some of the tree stumps from this small front porch landing.

This VINE grew between two boards to a pretty amazing size. I'd say it was at least an inch and a half trunk by this point.

All the framing under the side door was rotted. I was also surprised to see that the addition is partially on a stone foundation, rather than cement. I'm fairly sure that parts of it are cement, but this section here is stone. The small section of cement on the right was apparently still in good shape (over the stone) so it was left as-is.

I mentioned a while back that there was a HUGE pile of vines, and this is some of it. It looks like just a pile of sticks, but it's actually about a 4 foot high pile of tangled vines.

Most of the work on the farmhouse on days 7 and 8 (April 9th and 10th) was spent on electrical work. As mentioned previously, when this house was first built, it had no electrical, and no plumbing. The house was basically just a stone basement, 2 rooms on the main floor, and 2 bedrooms above. We found no traces of gas lighting, wall brackets, or hanging fixtures (such as hanging kerosene lamps).

The house was first wired for electricity in around 1969 or 1970. The current panel uses fuses (see days 2 & 3 for photos), and the existing wiring is still fine. It's copper with a ground wire, but it has the more brittle cloth type wire coating. While the existing wiring is still good (and a bunch of it will stay) there are many rooms with barely any electrical (one plug per room, no overhead lights, etc).

My job is to save my friends a lot of cash by running all the new circuits for the electrical. When it's done, it will be inspected, and we're putting in an updated panel with circuit breakers. We were hoping to be able to move the electrical panel, or raise it from 100amp to a 200amp service, but costs were going to be much too high, so we're opting to have a more compact panel, and inset it into the wall.

I had started a bit of electrical on day 6, but we had the wrong electrical boxes (octagonal ceiling boxes) and I had also forgotten that we needed some 3-wire for the 2-way switch in the hallway. With the materials in hand, I got to work early, and hooked up most of the hallway lighting (a separate add-on light fixture in the lower front hallway on a 2-way switch). I also hooked up the wiring for the office ceiling light, which you can see here. The bare bulb fitting is temporary.

Office's light switch (in progress). Note the use of plaster buttons to help stabilize the lath boards where needed (especially near outlet boxes).

Front hall light fixture partway done.

Front hall switch 1 of 2 (near living room side).

This switch gave me problems and quite a bit of frustration due to a small wiring error. I had marked down the existing wiring schematic and I knew which one of three wires was my power coming into the box. HOWEVER, as it turns out, I had accidentally confused 2 wires, which messed everything up. I don't think this mistake would have happened if I were wiring everything new and fresh, but this small run (2 2-way switches to a central light) was being added on to the existing circuit that runs the front porch light, and the staircase light. In the end (after a lot of frustration) I figured out where the mistake was, and I got everything working correctly.

Next to the front door were 2 light switches (one for the porch, and one for the staircase light above). Now there are three switches and the third controls the light in the main hall on the first floor (at the base of the stairs just outside the office).

Here's that ridiculous outlet box in the master bedroom.

We discovered the reason why the box didn't fit within the wall. This wall (next to the staircase) is only 1 inch thick. It is barn board tongue-and-groove and it had just wallpaper over it originally (and it now has an added layer of drywall in the bedroom). This box is the second 2-way switch for the staircase light, and we're moving it to the exterior wall next to the window.

While we were poking around doing some electrical, Pierre was up in the attic to pull the wire. We also followed the wires to see which ones went where, and how they passed them. Most of the upstairs is all on one breaker (fuse), including the staircase light, master bedroom, and spare room. The only separate circuit upstairs is the bathroom.

The attic is in similar shape to mine. Lots of signs of old water damage, and old hornet nests. Behind Pierre are the remains of the original chimney, which would have come from a wood stove in the living room, up through the ceiling into the spare room, and then up into an elbow and into the chimney. The top of it was removed a while back, and you can see the roofing tin in the top corner (they didn't patch the hole with wood).

The attic of the main house is largely just a big triangular area, but there's a bit of a peak where the gable is (which I didn't photograph). This shows the area over the master bedroom.

Our last little adventure of the way was to take a peek behind the paneling in the kitchen addition. All three of us were THRILLED to find that under ALL the thin plywood, wallpaper, and mac-tac are solid wood tongue-and-groove walls on all four walls!

Hopefully all the mac-tac will come off as easily as this section did (like a big giant piece of masking tape). They still make a nearly identical tongue-and-groove if we need to patch anywhere, but this will look awesome!

I'm excited to see what's under the ceiling panels, but it's possible that the ceiling is also tongue-and-groove. If that's the case, we'll do the walls a different colour to break-up all the stripey effect. The floor is apparently also nice solid wood (under linoleum and plywood).

Lastly, we finally decided that the old grate in the living room ceiling was going to be removed and patched.


After removing the ring and patch:

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Victorian Farmhouse - Days 5 & 6

With the following post, I'm now all caught-up with what's happened so far at the Farmhouse. For those who are curious about the "proper timeline" I'll just post that here (mostly for my own documentation):
Day 1 - March 20th
Day 2 - March 26th
Day 3 - March 27th
Day 4 - March 28th
Day 5 - April 1st
Day 6 - April 3rd

I think I'm headed to the house again this Saturday, but I haven't confirmed this yet.


On day 5, we really didn't get much accomplished. We went shopping for some electrical supplies, and did a bit of planning, but no actual physical work on the house. I think we actually only got to the house around 4pm. On the 6th day, we demolished the ceiling in the front hall (where the staircase is), and I started working on the electrical. Angie & Pierre also picked up a plain white vanity top for the bathroom, and a toilet.

For the most part, we're still waiting for the electrician to show up, as well as seek advice for a few plumbing issues (mostly to do with the kitchen, I believe).

As usual, before I continue, some more mixed photos.

I'm pretty obsessed with old houses, so I'm constantly documenting as many of the little details as I can. Original hardware, construction details, and millwork are the things I really focus on. Since I'm used to working in fine cabinetry, I have just about every woodworking hand tool you can imagine, and this includes one called a profile gauge. You might have seen one of these at some point before, and not really known what it was used for. It's nothing more than a series of wires held in a tightly tensioned frame. The wires are pushed against a shape, and this gives you both a positive and a negative on each side:

Using the tool, I took tracings of all the historic mouldings in the farmhouse (with the exception of the plain rectangular ones upstairs).

Here's the list:
1. Secondary original casings
2. Primary original casings
3. Later casings on the living room archway
4. Later casings on the Kitchen addition doorway (as well as around the basement door in the kitchen)
5. Original rosettes
6. Later (non matching) rosettes on living room archway (on the office side)
7. Trim detail on staircase wall
8. Original baseboards on main floor

I think the only other thing that would be fun to have is a tracing of one of the staircase fretwork brackets. They're a fairly standard pattern, but it would be fun to have a life size copy.

Here's the "thumb latch" side of the "under stairs closet" door. Not the best picture I'm afraid (due to the lighting). There's one more of these on another door, but I think it's a bit different. I'll have to have another look. I don't remember which door it was.

Angelina posing with our hoard of crown mouldings for 40$!

As mentioned earlier, all the cement that had been slapped around the exterior of the stone foundation is being chipped off by our historic mason, and it's all getting repointed with lime mortar. It will also look a lot nicer with the stonework showing. This is the area where the small deck was.

The foundation in the basement (when I first saw it) looked a lot like what you see here. You could see that the stones all looked fine, and that the wall was straight, but almost all the mortar was gone.

The trees by the front porch are GONE! I was very happy to see these go. We still need to remove the rest of the dead vines. One of the vines actually grew THROUGH the small section of decking.

Here's another corner of the foundation.

Right, so back to the front hall ceiling. I originally really wanted to save all the original plaster work in the house since it was in pretty good shape, and there's not all that much of it (2 1/2 rooms). The decision to remove this ceiling was not a rash one, but rather a practical one. First, the adhesive was taking an eternity to scrape off. Even if we did scrape off all the glue, the ceiling still had a popcorn texture to sand down, and then re-skim coat and sand. Second, there was a large and poorly patched hole from an old heating grate or stovepipe in the centre (not easy to see). The third issue with this ceiling was the nail in the coffin; we had to run electrical through here, and there isn't easy access from anywhere else. Not just one or two wires, but several wires and boxes. Clearing out this small ceiling means that we can easily pass electrical into the office w/o damaging anything in there (original plaster walls and ceiling).

Pierre and I demolished this ceiling in about 30 minutes, but it took something like 2 hours just to clean up all of the aftermath. In the process we also managed to completely clog the furnace filter. Pierre loves to yank out nails and screws from boards, so I had him save all the lovely old square nails from the lath boards. I can use the nails for repairing clocks or antiques.

With this ceiling open, we now have easy access to run electrical into the office, as well as to a new light fixture and 2-way switch which will hang in this hallway. You will notice a gap in the strapping (which is 1 1/2" thick solid white ash, btw) and that's where a round vent or a stovepipe went through the floor. This corresponds with the patch in the master bedroom floor above.

This is a fixture that may end up going in this hallway. We don't like the newer (and very frilly) shades, but the fixture itself could look quite nice here. We will likely shorten the chains a bit). This is one of 2 fixtures that Angie & Pierre picked up at an auction for 15$. The house never had electrical originally, or even hanging oil lamp fixtures, so it's hard to say what would look best in here. Once the electrical is installed, the fixture can easily be changed later (and as often as we like). It would be fun to find some fairly "period correct" lighting (since there will only be 2 hanging light fixtures on the main floor, and one in the staircase that are very visible in the oldest parts of the house, but for now, money is being allocated to more important projects, so lighting can always wait a few years. This fixture is from around 1910-1920 and cost them nearly nothing.

Unfortunately I didn't get very far with the electrical. I had forgotten that we need 2 lengths of 3-14 wire for the 2-way switches, and we also bought the wrong type of hexagonal light fixture boxes (I got the kind made for conduit cables rather than standard Romex wiring).

I did, however, get several boxes ready.

I had to make a small(ish) hole in the hallway wall to drill through the top plate to pass the wires. I was also not sure if there were horizontal braces in the wall (so far just the standard "fire wall" at 48"). Because old plaster walls have so many lumps and inconsistencies, the stud finder tends to be very unreliable.

Pierre stayed busy by installing plaster buttons where they were needed (near casings and electrical boxes, as well as on each side of any cracks). He also helped me pass wires in the walls and ceilings, and took out around 1000 nails from the old lath.

I didn't love the idea of cutting an outlet box into the original tongue-and-groove wainscoting of the living room, but I also can't stand not having enough outlets in a house. Code also requires a certain number per room, and per wall. Luckily I can cut nice clean holes with my multi-tool. I can't imagine how much of a pain it would have been without it.

That's it for now. Hopefully the next time we're at the house I'll be able to get a lot more of my wiring installed. We still can't tie most of it into the panel until we know if it's being relocated, but there are lots of connections and boxes I can install in the meantime.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Victorian Farmhouse - The Torso In The Woods! (Day 4)

Day 4 started off with another trip to the Habitat Re-Store. We had been several times already, but we were still looking for several items for the house (tub, toilet, vanity, counter, etc), and since they were having a sale on mouldings, we decided it might be worth it to dress-up the house a bit with some crown moulding on the main floor. The mouldings were on sale for 1$ per length. Let me repeat that for emphasis: ONE DOLLAR! That's crazy cheap! Do you know how expensive mouldings are? The drawback is that all of their mouldings are basically in 3 or 4 giant messy piles (like 4 foot high piles). Lots of it is damaged, but the bulk of it is just fine, so you really need to sift through it.

I wanted to go for a classic Roman Ogee (like the second crown in the photo below), but there wasn't enough of that profile. Instead, I saw that there was a lot of a large cove crown by Alexandria Mouldings (the first crown in the photo below). My aunt had used this in her dining room, and it's a nice looking crown moulding. The two edges look nearly the same, but there's a tiny Roman ogee on one side, and a quarter-round on the other. I've often seen people install this crown either upside down, or where they mix up the tops and bottoms (which looks really terrible). The top has the small Roman Ogee (as shown). You *CAN* put it the other way, but I'm very picky about how crown mouldings should be installed, and if I see it the other way I'll say that it was installed upside down.

This crown sells for around 25$ for an 8 foot length (about 3$/foot) at Home Depot. We spent the better part of an hour and a half sorting through enormous piles of mixed mouldings, and we pulled out about 40 lengths (varying from 8 to 12 feet long). Roughly 400-500 feet of mouldings. Angie paid 40$ for the lot. In the bunch were a few that I picked out for myself. Had we bought all this crown new, the total would have been well over 1000$ plus taxes for all the mouldings we bought.

Heading to the farmhouse after the Re-Store, I spotted something quite creepy in the woods. I spotted it on the short length of road leading towards the farmhouse. It was still morning (maybe 11am?) and there had been light rain most of the morning. You can imagine my shock when I spotted what looked like a small ghostly torso poking out of the ground among the trees! The fact that it had been raining made the contrast show up between the figure and the darkened trees. Angie said that there was supposed to be the remnants of an old graveyard in that area and that I had probably seen a tombstone. More on this later...

Demolition work continued in earnest on day 4. We focused on finishing to remove the drywall in the bathroom, as well as getting the tub out. Before I get into that, here are a few more miscellaneous photos.

Some of the floor boards in the living room will need attention. These are 1 1/8" thick tongue-and-groove pine directly over the log beams. No subfloor. The plan from the start was to cover over this with plywood and new hardwood (which made me really sad), but that could be changing! Angie and Pierre and now considering fixing and refinishing the floor, rather than spending a couple thousand on a new floor. We will see how nice we can make the floor, and whether we can patch some of the larger gaps in the wider plank section. Apparently the kitchen addition also has nice old heart pine plank floor under the linoleum.

We want to shrink down these HVAC corners as much as possible (like I did at my house), so this corner will need to be patched.

The bottom part of the old side/front door was gutted. It mostly had chunks of styrofoam and pink insulation filling the void. Not much else can come out without opening up the door opening completely (we're not quite ready for that yet, but it's coming). This will look SO GOOD once a door goes back in here. I have an old door that might work well here. The current plan is to install an antique door on the interior, and a more "weatherproof" modern door on the exterior (either a screen door or a full-glass door with a white metal surround.

Note the slight height difference between the door top and window top. I see this ALL the time in old homes, and I always wonder why they didn't either install the windows 2 inches lower, or a door 2" taller to make them equal. I suppose it really doesn't matter since there's about 5 different door and window elevations in this room already.

We're still waiting to find out if it's possible to relocate this electrical panel. We're thinking of hiding it under the staircase in the closet that's there. If we can, the plumbing and HVAC will be hidden in a shallow drywall box, and we'll continue the tongue-and-groove wainscoting, chair rail, and crown moulding across it to blend everything together seamlessly.

On day 3, we had started to remove the ugly 1970s paneling on the walls of the upstairs hallway. I was NOT expecting what we found underneath it. This is the first real "surprise" from this house for me.

All of the walls on the second floor are planks of wood, covered with wallpaper. No plaster. It's been like this since it was built.

Here (in this blurry and crappy photo) you can see where the plaster from the first floor (coming up the stairs) ends part-way into the gable window. It ends flush with the "plank walls" and the original mouldings of the window are nailed evenly on both halves. I just find this odd. Wood expands and contracts, so I can't understand how the wallpaper would have lasted very long. It's rough unfinished wood, not tongue-and-groove with a bevel detail or a bead like what I'm used to seeing as a finished wall material.

You probably missed this the first time (or I didn't photograph it), but please take just a moment to admire the lovely decorations on the bathroom door. A little girl shitting in a bucket, and a little boy peeing in a pot. *LOVELY*. (Just picture me rolling my eyes in the most dramatic fashion) Pierre and I had a brief, but hilarious conversation involving these questionable decorations. It went something along the lines of: "I can't believe someone not only went through the trouble of carving/modeling these, but then making a mold from them for mass production, but then people ACTUALLY BOUGHT them. On purpose." I think it's fair to say that we're not holding on to these. I'm not opposed to certain fun and quirky items, but these are just... no.

Here's part of the hallway with that same fruit wallpaper border (you'll see it again farther down). This is about the 7th or 8th layer of wallpaper. The sloped portion had large flakes that came free, and we could see a lot of the previous layers. Behind this is just more of the rough wood planks. Water damage was from old roof leaks. Behind this is just some 2x4 framing, more wood (roof decking) and then the metal roofing. This sloped ceiling and wallpaper continues directly into the bathroom, and all the way around into the hallway again. I believe this was originally just a decent sized landing at the top of the stairs, which was then closed-in to make a small bathroom.

This is the ceiling in the upstairs landing. The hatch leads into the attic.

This is also the upstairs landing, showing above the master bedroom door. You can see the plank walls continue everywhere upstairs. The two bedroom doorway walls have a layer of 3/8" unfinished drywall over them. We haven't decided if we want to leave everything as-is, or pull the casings and baseboards, and shim all of them so they land over the drywall. I guess I could also suggest peeling all the wallpaper layers and painting the raw wood walls. That could look cool? But soooo much work to remove all the wallpaper. It will be everywhere.

This is the light switch for the stairway light (just over the window). This is also the switch that pokes out of the wall into the master bedroom (see next photo, which is a repeat).

Mental note: take a proper photo of the box. The electrical box for the switch actually sticks out of the wall completely by about 3/4" because the plank walls are only about 2" thick.

We don't want to "thicken" the wall, so the switch will be moved to the exterior wall next to the window at the top of the stairs.

Detail of the beautiful Victorian door catch on the master bedroom closet. I assume we'll be stripping and cleaning all of the original old hardware. A latch like this is actually quite pricey. I've seen antique ones for upwards of 40$, often with the keeper missing. The door doesn't currently close, since it rubs along the bottom, but that's an easy fix.

This reminds me a lot of my house. An outlet so far into a corner that it was partially covered with the paneling. We're moving this to a better spot.

Here you can see the simple upstairs trim. It is just square stock with a small bevel on the interior edge. The tops of the side casings are actually cut with a back bevel to match, rather than just cutting mitered corners. If you look closely, you'll spot some square nails. Note the nailed-on drywall (with plank walls behind this). Also note that the door's stop mouldings are just plain rectangular stock. Very very simple. At this time, all the money was spent on nice finishes and casings for the main floor, and only basic and utilitarian casings upstairs (and in this case, no plaster upstairs either).

Matching simple baseboards.

Here we see the aftermath of the bathroom gutting. I was happy to see that all the plumbing is up-to-date ABS and copper (no ugly surprises here!)

We are waiting until the last minute to pull the toilet, since it's the only functional one we have at the farmhouse. There's just two small sections of drywall left in this corner. Note the location of the heating vent. Everything is a fairly tight squeeze, but it's also pretty well planned.

The floor in the bathroom is actually in fantastic condition, so we've opted to keep it and paint it along with the rest of the upstairs floors. So far we're going for light grey (same as the master bedroom currently). All the floors upstairs are 1 1/8" thick tongue-and-groove pine (better quality than my floors, which are only 3/4") with nice tight joints.

Note the familiar wallpaper.

This added short wall is for the plumbing and electrical. It is not structural, but helps raise the height of the wall (which is especially helpful over the vanity for the height of the mirror). Note that the vanity light was hooked into a regular rectangular box. I didn't know you could do this, but they had a light fixture tie-bar that worked just fine with this setup.

There's also a false wall on the back wall of the bathroom for the bathtub's air intake/vent.

This was full of insulation (which you can still see stuffed on the right) and lots of mouse droppings.

Note the original baseboard behind the plumbing.

The bathroom wall (with the door) is obviously newer). The house originally had an outhouse.

A better photo of the wallpaper border.

Behind the tub, more original baseboard and a thin little ribbon wallpaper border. We will probably scavenge this piece of baseboard since it's easy to access. We can use it on the "door/hallway" side of the bathroom wall.

I've never seen a tiny border like this before.

Another one of the "problem spots" in the floor of the office on the main floor. The stone foundation ends just past the furnace vent. Then the floor dips quite a bit. Also note the dramatic paint peel on the baseboard. I want to do as little paint scraping as possible, but some areas like this will need work and touch-ups.

The longer I look around in such an old house, the more little quirks I find. I noticed when I was upstairs that the casing on the window didn't seem like an exact match to the others. I had taken a tracing/pattern of the casings on the main floor, and they had a bevel on the interior. The ones on the single window upstairs (the gable window) had a Roman Ogee. I went to look around again, and then I noticed that many of the original window casings also had the ogee. It seems like there are two nearly identical mouldings, and someone at the lumber yard got confused. I soon found not only two different profiles, but doorways with a mix of the two.

Bevel on the top, ogee on the left. Door to the "under-stairs closet" on the main floor.

Doorway right next to it (front hall):

It's important that I note: the rest of the mouldings are identical, it's only the interior edge that is slightly different. Maybe they ran out of one style?

This is the old Victorian door latch on the "under-stairs closet". I neglected to photograph the other side (with a thumb latch) but I have a photo of it for the next post. This should clean up nicely.

This is yet another very old casing that was added later. It's old enough that it's also installed with square nails. This leads into the kitchen addition, and it's also 7/8" thick (same as the other original casings). We have a few extra pieces of this casing, but not much. Angie is going to see if one of the nearby mills has a cutter to reproduce the original trim. If so, we might opt to replace all the ones that don't match (and make extras for the kitchen addition). It will all depend on prices, and whether or not they already have the knives. New knives can be made, but they generally cost upwards of 300$.

Here's the keyhole escutcheon detail on the upstairs doors. We'd love to find 3 more of these in the same pattern. Check your parts drawers and contact me if you've seen these anywhere! We also need a few matching rim locks (see previous post for a detail photo of those).

Here's a view through the bathroom door. The pink room is the master bedroom, with the stairs on the right. You can see we didn't continue to remove the rest of the paneling up the staircase's ceiling.

More trees and shrubs continued to be trimmed and removed. All the cement on this corner of the foundation (and elsewhere) will be removed by our historic masonry guy to do the mortar PROPERLY on the stone foundation. This area has already been dug out a few feet for the work.

There was lots of debate over this curved tree. Half the people wanted it gone, and half the people wanted it to stay (I was in the "leave it there" camp). In the end, we decided it could stay (Angie & Pierre would love to put a swing on it), but it would get a serious pruning to make it look "sexy" (her cousin's exact words). There were a few additional large limbs weighing down the tree on the right that would have filled the rest of the photo. Behind the pile of branches you see is also a huge HUUUUUGE clump of wild raisin or Virginia Creeper vines. This thing is so big and so old that the trunk on it (yes, TRUNK) is the size of a small tree. Tangled along with the mess of vines is the remains of a steel wire fence. HEr cousin found that out while attempting to cut some of the vines.

There's lots more tree cutting and clean-up to do around the property.


On the trip back to Cornwall, Pierre and I stopped to see the creepy figure in the woods. The rain had dried up, and the eerie morning light had lifted, but the statue still looked pretty creepy. Picture just quickly catching a glimpse of this as you're driving by:

The photo above is roughly what you'd see from the edge of the road. The rest of these were closer (I walked out to grab a few photos).

No graveyard was found, just this strange and eerie looking figure.

The feet were just off to the left, but no legs could be seen. I don't know how far he's sunk into the ground. The ground seemed pretty firm, so I don't think the legs are there.

I assume this was a garden ornament, since it looks like a fairly modern cement casting. It's just not exactly... pretty, is it. He seems to be bald, and wearing a coat with a buckle around the waist. Anyhow, that's the torso in the woods.