Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Adventure Time!

And I don't mean the mathmatical kind! (100 points of you catch the reference!)

Over the past week or so, I've stumbled across some great "urban exploration" videos on YouTube. Basically, videos of people visiting abandoned buildings, old farm houses, and industrial sites. Some of the houses are simply jaw-dropping, while others are eerie, mouldy, and packed sky-high with years of trash and filth.

So far, I have two favourite channels DaaDeeOh, and TikiTrex (and both happen to be in the southern Ontario area). Below is a sample video from each channel so you can go find them if you want.

DaaDeeOh is one of the first I found, and all his videos are filmed with no voice or commentary. He has some really wonderful finds (also check out the video for "Abandoned 19th Century Farm House at Taunton Rd." which was my second pick to feature).

Abandoned 1870 Victorian House North Durham:

Then there's Pam (TikiTrex), who also has quite a lot of great videos. She tends to be a bit slower, or skips over stuff I'd like to see, but she also has some great house finds!

Untouched Abandoned Farm House:

Having watched dozens of these fascinating videos, one of the things I learned very quickly is that the vast majority of these places are easily accessible. Either the doors are wide open, unlocked, or there's some sort of gaping hole (or window) where you can easily enter to explore the building.

For months now, there's been a boarded-up Victorian just down the road from me (near a busy intersection) that I've really wanted to explore, but in this case, it's completely boarded-up, locked, and inaccessible.

That didn't discourage me, though, and I went out today actively looking for an accessible house I could explore. I decided to walk around the streets in the really poor end of town to see if I could get lucky, and stumble upon an open building.

And I did!

Now, when I say the "poor" end of town, I MEAN it. Some of the houses were in such rough shape that it's hard to believe they are actually inhabited. It's not uncommon to see windows covered in plywood or plastic, so I really had to look for the right clues. One clear indication that a building is abandoned is that the doors and windows are boarded-up, but I often had to double check. I saw about 3 or 4 of these, but none had access. Another good sign is if the power has been cut off.

The house I came across was a lucky break. It is a duplex located on a street corner, where one half has suffered damage from a fire. The half of the house nearest the corner appeared to be completely undamaged.

Going down the sidewalk towards the back of the house, I noticed that the power was disconnected, and I spotted an open door on the back porch (the barely visible screen door), so I decided to go around the house and check it out. In the photo, the porch with the yellow caution tape leads to the boarded-up (burned) half.

Here's the burned half.

It's too bad this half of the house wasn't accessible (and it wouldn't have been safe), because this part is actually much older, and it still had the lovely old wooden windows.

Moving on, I quickly darted around into the back yard, and up to the back porch of the undamaged half. The screen door was ajar, and the door leading into the kitchen was closed, but unlocked. In this photo, I'm standing in the kitchen, and you can see into the small back porch a bit (note old computer chair).

Walking into the house, I was made immediately aware of the sound of running water coming from the basement. The house had been cleared-out, and it was clear that no one had been around for quite a while.

I did peek into the fridge and freezer, and yes there were a few items of mouldy food left behind. Eww.

Aside from this, the kitchen was quite cute, and I like the simple layout.

A calendar next to the basement door was left open on January 2013. I'm guessing it's been empty for about this much time (almost 2 years).

The kitchen is open to the living room with a large open archway (right next to the calendar wall).

As I headed towards the stairs, I noticed that the front door was also unlocked.

The house was definitely fairly old (1920s? 30s?) and you could feel a slant going up the stairs. I had expected the house to smell like fire/smoke, but it didn't really have any smell. The fire was completely contained to the other half (and there was no access from this half, it's literally two separate houses stuck together).

The house is pretty tiny. The entire first floor is just the living room, the stairs, and the kitchen, and the upstairs was even smaller because of the sloped ceilings, with 2 bedrooms, and a small bathroom.

The bathroom was directly ahead of the stairs. It had a toilet (with a chunk broken out of the base), a shower stall (no bath), and a small sink and vanity. The area to the left of the toilet was just a small area of floor with a trash can. Over the top right of the toilet was a small (built-in) storage cabinet, with the rest being an alcove (presumably for a dresser) in the small room on the other side.

Not much was left behind, but there was shaving cream, and a few toothbrushes in the medicine cabinet.

Here's the top of the stairs. The landing is quite small, and it led to 2 bedrooms, and the bathroom. There's a larger room at the front of the house (2 windows over the front porch), and one at the back of the house (1 window over the back porch).

Just about the only thing in the entire house that would have been "worth taking" was this old cast iron floor grate (which matches mine) but it was broken. I'm 99% sure this place will be demolished at some point, which is sad, since it's a cute little house.

Here's the front bedroom, overlooking the front porch, and the street corner. The windows looked pretty new. Note all the junk in the front yard across the road.

Then here's the second bedroom. It was quite small, and it had a large exercise machine in the middle. The bathroom is just on the other half of the left wall.

There wasn't really much to see in this house. No interesting old fixtures, no interesting old junk, so I headed back down to the first floor. Here's the calendar which gives us an idea of when it was vacated.

Throughout the entire explore, I was really surprised to see no signs of vandalism (other than the broken toilet upstairs, which could also have been accidental). This is a house you can just walk right into, and it's in a very sketchy neighbourhood, and it's in near perfect shape.

The only place left unexplored was the basement.

It looked quite dark, and I really didn't know if I should go down there or not. I came prepared with a small flash light, so looking down, the stairs looked very solid, and I decided to go have a look.

Again, I'll mention that there was the sound of constantly running water coming from the basement.

The basement actually wasn't too dark, since there was a small window, but it was very low (5 feet high?), and definitely a bit creepy (though I wasn't really creeped out).

I thought it was neat that it had a tree-trunk beam, similar to my house.

It also had bits of old knob and tube ceramic insulators (making it definitely old, 1930s or earlier).

The entire floor was covered in crushed stone (I'm guessing it's a dirt floor?), and the rushing water was coming from this disconnected water pipe next to the hot water tank.

The main water line (and the shut-off) was just next to the bottom of the stairs, but the valve didn't seem to work, so I couldn't shut the water off.

Otherwise, nothing really interesting to see in the basement. As I came back into the kitchen, I noticed that the pipe from the washing machine hookup (just to the left of the closet in the first photo) was also leaking onto the floor.

Overall, a very neat little adventure. It's really too bad about this little house. I think the burned half could be knocked-down and this half rented out, but who knows what will happen to it. It might be fun to find out who owns it, but I don't think I'll bother.

After the initial thrill of this house, I also tried to get into this wonderful old foursquare nearby, but without any luck.

As you can see, both electric meters have been removed, but there's also a power line going to another spot in the porch (an old fuse panel?) which I think isn't hooked up (but who knows). The general state of the house seems to indicate that it could be abandoned (look at the roof!) but the front door (leading to 2 separate doors) was locked, and I wasn't 100% sure if it was empty or not. The entire front porch was piled with old junk, and so was the alley way on the left. The mailbox was also crammed full of old faded mail.

I did keep looking for other houses, but my adventuring was ended by the weather. It started to rain, so I got on the bus and headed home. I'll definitely be keeping my eyes open for other house exploring opportunities. I know I missed a FANTASTIC opportunity to explore an old house 2-3 years ago. It had an open side door, and it looked empty (and gorgeous, with unpainted woodwork, old grates, hardwood floors, etc), but I chickened-out and it was demolished not long after that.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Apartment Renos

For the past few weeks, (at work) we've been renovating and painting my boss' rental units (two of three which are in a building right in front of our shop). Basically, the main floor tenant moved out, so we fixed-up the main floor apartment (gutted the bathroom, changed the light fixtures, fixed a few doors, and painted everything). Then the basement apartment tenant moved into the main floor apartment.

Now that I've been working in the basement unit, I can't help but really appreciate my tall ceilings, and large, ornate casings. The basement apartment's ceiling ends just about an inch (or slightly less) above the thin colonial casings (the standard ones you tend to see everywhere). It's not too bad for most people, but when you're 6' tall like me, it just seems really low. I much prefer having a ceiling high enough that I can't touch it.

I should take just a moment to point out that the building is quite nice, and sturdily built. It dates from around 1936 or so (according to my boss, and also according to the dates on some of the oldest drywall fragments found). The main floor still had some of the original (thick) mouldings, including a beautiful archway in the hallway.

While I'm at it, here are some of the renovation photos (first floor apartment). To make it more simple (fewer photos and explanations) I've set these up as grouped "before and after" shots.

Here's the bathroom. This was gutted to the studs. New drywall, new floor, etc.

Completely new tub and surround. The old tiles were quite nice, and came off easily, so I salvaged 95% of them, as well as the old ceramic towel bars.

This entire wall was knocked-out (including the closet on the other side) and completely rebuilt to fit the vanity here.

Another shot of the new vanity. It's kind of neat because it has a bottom drawer, which works well if you have plumbing coming off the wall.

We installed a larger door so that the washer/dryer could fit inside.

Here's the much improved kitchen (doors taken down, painted, and everything reassembled)

Lastly, two photos showing some of the nice old details. Not many of the old mouldings remain, but what's there was quite nice.

Anyhow, that random side note aside, the only other house news I have to report, is that I've done more work in the back staircase (attached to the garage). I've pulled- down some of the insulation, and relocated the light fixture at the top landing. After this was done, I replaced the insulation, and finished attaching my vapour barrier.

I also installed wooden filler strips along all the necessary doors and window openings. Normally the window openings come up flush with the drywall, but in this case, the original window openings had been modified, or not meant to work well with a drywall installation, so the strips were needed. These strips just give a clean edge where I will be able to attach the finished mouldings, and decorative "stop mouldings" around the inside "jamb" to hide the insulation round the window insert edges. I'll show this in more detail later.