Category Archives: House

Home improvements or the Moat Around my Castle

Last week we had workers here to do all sorts of foundation and waterproofing work on my house.  They are certainly not done but they have given me one unexpected, but really cool feature…I now have a moat around my house.  Although we had a lot of rain earlier in the summer, we have been pretty dry lately.  We were dry until last night that is.  Some pretty good storms blew through and dumped a bunch of rain pretty quickly.  The drainage ditches the workers are building are basically solid clay still at this point and do not drain…at all.  So all around my house, I have a water filled moat!  I love home improvement!

All Jacked Up

Ok, so maybe you are bored with this whole theme of my house repairs.  But really, as expensive as it is, I feel like I need to say a lot more about it.  We got a tremendous amount of work done yesterday.  By “we” I mean the workers, though I was exhausted at the end of the day from “supervising” them.  They got the piers installed and raised the house to close the cracks.  It is also guaranteed not to move again.  I am pretty sure it is stable now.  As they were driving the piers into the ground, they quickly hit solid rock underneath.  You see, the piers are 2 inch (I guess) solid hardened steel bars.  They have a huge drill attachment for a backhoe they use to twist them down into the ground.  So, they started turning the screws and they stopped when they started to corkscrew the piers.  Holy cow!  They twisted huge steel rods!  Anyhow, they said when the piers start to corkscrew, they know they hit solid rock and they stop turning.

(a helical pier)

(driving a helical pier)


Once driven, they add additional hardware to the piers and use a pump and special jacks to apply 3000 psi to the piers.  That, of course, lifts the house.  Once lifted, they tighten the hardware and we’re done!It was very impressive and I’d say the workers earned every penny they made.

(The jacks to lift the house)

(Pumping the jacks to lift the house)

(Applying pressure)

While the piers were being installed, another group was around back digging a huge ditch to install water proofing and gravel to help it drain.  Before the drain, water seeped into the basement during rain storms.  That’s really not a pleasant thing so we decided to get it fixed.  The backhoe operator dug down to the footer which was 7 feet below grade.  Another poor fella named “Tiny” (I kid you not) had to crawl down in the ditch and make sure everything went smoothly.  So the ditch is 30-40 feet long as it crosses the back of the house and continues to the front of the house.  It’s a massive hole and has left a tremendous amount of dirt all over in my yard.  The really awesome thing about it is that we won’t have to mow until next spring!

(My Ditch…and Tiny)

At the end of the day as they were completing the ditch, the backhoe operator hit the water line going into my house.  In fact, he yanked it plum out of the wall of my house.  It was very impressive.  Luckily, we know a really excellent plumber so he had us wet again in an hour.

Things continue today so we’ll see what happens next.  Still, the guys from United Structural Systems seem to be doing a bang-up job!

The Big Dig, Part 1

I mentioned awhile back that we were having some foundation repair work done this summer.  The day has arrived!  A couple of folks showed up first thing this morning…well, first thing for a banker.  Anyhow, they are here and have made a huge mess of my yard!  I am so excited.  I figure they surely must work like I do on home improvements …once I become comitted to the job (i.e. make a huge mess), I see things through.  I figure digging gigantic holes under my house makes them committed.  There really isn’t too much to say yet so I will just share a few pictures and see what happens next!

The Happy Magical Washer

We recently had occasion to buy a new clothes washer.  We used to have one of those old fashioned top loading washers that used something like 70 gallons per wash.  Our clothes washer drains into a huge, old-fashioned laundry sink so we can see exactly how much water goes through it.  Anyhow, we went shopping at the typical big box stores and found a high efficiency, front-loading Amana washer for $489.  On average, this washer apparently saves ~10,500 gallons per year compared to a typical top loader.  Figuring our water bill alone (let alone sewer and electric), this new machine will pay for itself in 4 years.  Really, I suppose it would pay for the additional expense over a regular washer in much less than that.  Anyhow, we jumped at it and got free delivery to boot!

(I don’t know if you can get a sense of how steep this is…when we pull up it at an angle, it lifts one back tire off the ground of the car)

The happy delivery day was last Saturday so we woke early and built an elevated stand on which to set the washer.  We opted to save $150 for the matching stand that was offered.  It’s going to be in our ugly basement so we didn’t care if it matched.  Actually, the stand looks awesome anyhow.

Ok, so the happy day came and we prepared the space.  The delivery guys called and we warned them (as we did when we bought the washer) that we live on top of a seriously steep hill that kills big trucks.  “Yes, ok, we’ll consider that”, they said.  Of course, they sent a couple of fellas up in a huge delivery truck anyhow.  They couldn’t begin to get the truck up our driveway, but they did manage to get it up the road.  We hauled the washer to our house and got it hooked up.  I dropped them a tip and waved good-bye.  I secretly watched as they started to back the truck back down onto the main road (our road is a dead-end, one-lane road with no turn around for a big truck).  Sure enough, the steep road claimed their truck.  The driver got the back end stuck on the main road below.  He hit the gas and it dug in good.  He tried to rock it back and forth and sent up an awesome plume of tire smoke and dug a big hole in my road.

(That’ll leave a mark!)

The police came as traffic was snarled in both directions…for 20 minutes.  My neighbors were stuck on our road unable to get out as well.  It was so much fun.  Anyhow, the driver finally was able to burn enough off of his tires and my road to get a grip and the truck slammed down off of my road and was able to drive off to a special location where the policeman had a talk with the driver.

(It’s better than the movies!)

So, the new washer is awesome.  It uses a ton less water.  We can tell based on watching the laundry sink fill up (or now, not fill up) as it spins.  This new machine spins and whirs and makes all sorts of musical sounds (click here to hear the music it plays when the cycle is done).  It’s a happy, magical washing machine.  We all like to sit and watch it go through its cycles as it washes.  We have even watched an entire cycle more than once…a cycle is 54 minutes…pitiful.  Anyhow, if you buy a new washer, consider an entry level front loader.  They aren’t much more expensive than a top loader and are so cool!

This is criminal

I mentioned awhile back that our house is older and has all sorts of issues.  Slowly, I have been working my way through it remodeling as I go.  We’ve had a sag in the floor between our bedroom and the master bathroom.  I was planning to remodel the master bath but decided I needed to address the sag before I did anything else.

As a part of that, I planned to opened the cieling and install a new lintel and window near where I had everything opened.  This weekend was the moment of truth.  Since I was so anxious to get started, I woke up early on Saturday and took the family out to eat.  We messed around and went shoopping (I hate shopping) and did all sorts of other stuff.  Finally, I could put it off no longer.  After lunch, I opened the cieling…and cried.

The master bathroom had been remodeled sometime in the mid-1980s we think (based on the decor).  They added a gawd-awful garden tub and a stand-up shower.  Whatever genius did the work directly caused the sag when they added the new drains during the remodel.  My floor joists are comprised of 2×10 boards that run between load bearing walls.  The genius who installed the drain pipe cut 5 inch notches in at least 7 of those boards to run the drain pipe (there may be more…I have to open more cieling).  So, the original builder figured that the house needed 2×10 boards for support but the remodeling genius decided it was overkill and cut that in half to install the pipe.  The original builder was right.

So I got the lintel and window installed but now I (probably) have to remove the drain pipe and install new 2×10 boards to properly support the house.  I’ll have to jack a large portion of the floor to undo the sag as well.  I’d like to find the guy who originally did the remodel.  I think what he/she did was criminal.  At the very least, I’d like to swat the genius right on the nose with a newspaper…or a 2×10!

Pictures of my wife in the bathtub

Hey, what kind of pervert are you anyhow? Did you really think I would put those kind of pictures on my blog? Well, yeah, I see your point. I mean, with a title like that, what should I expect, right?

Just kidding my blog friends. I thought I would share with you what I got Emily for Mother’s day while at the East End yard sale last weekend. Yes, you read that right, I got her Mother’s day present at a yard sale…the day before Mother’s day. I am that kind of guy.

I have mentioned before that our house was built in 1939. A lot of the house is still reminiscent of 1939 but the main bathroom screams 1985. It was a good year, no doubt, but as bathrooms go, it was not a bright age. There is a gawd-awful garden tub that we can’t even fill with our hot water tank (let alone afford to fill it)! There is way too much wood and a good heaping scoop of ugly on top just to tie it all together. We started tearing into the bathroom just because we were sick of looking at the ugly (plus I accidentally drilled a hole in the waste pipe from the upstairs bathroom that ran through this bathroom…but that’s another story). Anyhow, we have plans to modernize our bathroom in an old fashioned style. The garden tub is out of the question. The ugly bits everywhere must go. We hope to make it similar to how it might have looked when it was built. But before I can fix up the bathroom, I need to jack up and level the floors, install new windows and do all sorts of work on the floor below.

Ok, so that’s a long-winded way of saying that the bathroom is on the list but won’t be getting fixed super soon. Imagine my surprise as I walked down Quarrier Street on Charleston’s East End and saw a glorious claw-foot bathtub out in a front yard. I have seen all sorts of claw-foot tubs around with crazy prices and lots of dents and bruises. I was certain that I was going to have to settle for a beater or else spend thousands of dollars to get a new faux-antique tub which sort of ruined my idea of old and cool (and it especially offended my sense of thrift). I tentatively approached this mirage-tub. Surely my eyes were deceiving me. The price…too good to be true. It’s condition…in need of a new finish but without structural blemish. Did I mention the price? I didn’t want to look too desperate, hoping to get a deal. I ran right up to the homeowner and fell at his knees, begging him to let me buy his tub. He smiled and chomped down on his cigar, preparing to deal. We came to an agreement and I came back later with 3 men and two small boys to help me load this widow-maker into the back of my man-van. If it weighs 5 pounds, it weighs 400.

We managed to get the tub back out of the van and into my front lawn (in perfect style!) where it will have to sit until I get the main bathroom in such condition that the floor will support the weight and there is room to install the tub (i.e. we get that garden tub out of the bathroom and into the front yard). In the meantime, we’ll enjoy our front yard tub and rest easy knowing that we scored the coolest claw-foot tub in the United States!

Installing a window

In our house in TN and our house here in WV, we have been “blessed” with houses that had old, junky windows. When we first bought our place in TN, I wasn’t terribly confident in doing somewhat major home improvement projects, but one December, right after we moved in, I broke the window in Isaac’s room. We couldn’t have my young son’s window broken all winter, but I was too cheap to hire someone to put in a new window so we decided that I should have a go at installing a new one on my own. My first experience at it took a little time and a lot of shaky nerves, but since then, I have replaced tons of windows and tackled all sorts of projects.

(before and after…can you see the width we gained by removing the old framing?  Hover your mouse over the pics for more description)

So, that leads me to the current house, here in Charleston. This house was built in 1939. Because of that, it has all sorts of cool quirks and neat craftsmanship. It also seems, however, that it has some pretty strange features and things that are not really up to snuff. Adjacent to our family room on the bottom floor is a small craft room and a full bathroom. One wall of these rooms is below grade. It turns out that the original builders did nothing to drain or waterproof around those walls. Water has been leaking in to those rooms probably since it was built. I started gutting the room and found all sorts of fun stuff like a rotted wall (which I will replace), crumbling plaster (which I am removing), and lintel-less windows.

Typically, lintels are used to reinforce the span across a window. The floor joists from the room above are spaced evenly and rest on the support of the wall in the room in which I was working. In most houses, a lintel carries the weight of those joists across the window span so their weight doesn’t press on the window itself. Of course, my house is not most houses. Rather than a metal lintel or even a board or two laid on edge (which is strong), my floor joists were resting on a single 2×6 board laid flat (the weak way). “So what?”, you may be asking yourself. The thing is, after 70 years of weight and kids bouncing up and down and too much furniture, the “lintels” and starting to seriously sag and look awful. Eventually, the windows will be seriously affected as well.

So, as a part of the process of fixing the room, we decided to replace the windows and to install a proper lintel. If you ever get a wild hair to replace windows in your house, it is very easy…and you can save a ton of money! Anyhow, Saturday, I ripped out the old window. We had preordered a special sized window to fit in the opening. There are many ways to measure a window depending on your fit. You’ll need to remove the interior trim to see exactly what you want to remove/leave so you can get a proper measurement. Professionals sometimes will leave the trim when they measure. That’s usually a giveaway that they will be leaving a lot of the old window’s framing. The old framing as well as the frame from the new window often leave you with a much smaller piece of glass than the original window. It usually looks ok, but you get a lot less light through. I measured the exact opening without any of the old window to maximize the size of the window.

I rough fit the window (to make sure I hadn’t screwed up the measurement) which fit, and prepared to jack the floor joists of the room above so I could install a proper lintel. Jacking up a floor is a bit of a big deal so if you do it, be sure of what you are doing. The actual weight of a house in a given spot is actually not too great (I mean, you wouldn’t be able to hold it, but Superman easily could). I used two 2-ton bottle jacks to lift the 3 1/2 foot span of the window. Part of the key of jacking a house is to spread out the weight. The jack has a quarter-sized piston that carries the weight. The pressure of the jack’s piston, if applied directly to a piece of wood, would punch right through the wood. I had a few pieces of steel to spread the weight of the piston across the 4×4 wooden post I used to lift the house (see the pics). The nice thing about wood framing is that you can hear the house and wood fibers as they move. They are not likely to fail all at once. I felt at ease operating the jack directly below the area I was lifting.

Anyhow, I lifted the house slightly and slipped the new lintel in place. I slowly let the house settle again and the new lintel was level and eliminated the sag above the window. After that, installing the window was a breeze. I just set it in place, shimmed it as necessary to make sure it was level and plumb, and installed the four screws through the sidewalls of the window into the brick (you do the same thing if you have a wooden house, by the way). After that, I caulked around the exterior, applied expanding foam insulation in the gaps on the interior and reapplied the trim, window sill, etc.

It truly is as simple as that to replace a window. Every bit of the work can be done from the inside (though if you can get exterior access, it is much easier and more fun). Of course, anything I say here is how I do it and your experience may vary. I am not a professional so don’t take my word for anything. Still, with a little research and some effort, this is definitely a job anyone who is a bit handy can do!

I nailed it!

My foot that it…but I am getting ahead of myself.  You may recall that I have been putting insulation in my crawlspace and my attic. I finished that and have moved on to the next project.  Since none of our house is insulated, I decided to just pick a room to gut, insulate and remodel.  We have a goofy little craft room off of the family room and it seemed like a good place to hone my skills.  It is fairly small and seemed like an easy room to start.  So we hauled several hundered books out of the room and cleared the floor.

My therapist has suggested I use imagery and meditation to ease my woes and destress.  Smashing the plaster celing out with a hammer seemed much more my style though.  So I committed to destroying this room.  Who says men can’t commit?

I smashed every bit of plaster out of the ceilings.  I started pulling the wanes coating off the walls and that’s when things got interesting.  The room is 2/3 under ground and water has, apparently, been seeping into that room since it was constructed in 1939.  There was 2 inches of cement (I guess) over the cement block walls (and under the wanes coating) that crumbled from the water.  Actually, the half of the cement that was wet crumbled…the remainder that was dry is as solid as a rock.  Of course, I will need to chisel the remaining cement off of the walls to make it smooth enough to insulate and re-cover.  Besides having to remove the cement, I also need to fix the seepage so we will have to dig around the back corner of the house to install French drains.  It seems like this was supposed to be a simple room on which to start…hmmmm.

We looked at the windows and found that there are no lintels either so I’ll need to jack the floor above and install new lintels in the lower windows to prevent sagging.  Since the two windows in that room are lintel-less, I am sure that the door and 3 windows in the family room suffer the same problem.  That room is next.  Anyhow, it seems like this was supposed to be a simple room on which to start…hmmmm.

I finally stopped crying and decided to start cleaning up the mess I made in the demolition.  You may remember, though, that I seem to have an issue with my feet which proved true again.  I stepped on a nail in the process.  My tetanus is up to date from when I got a rusty nail in my head when Abigail was born (unrelated).  Anyhow, the problem this time is that the nail not only entered my foot, but also broke off.  It seems like this was supposed to be a simple room on which to start…ARGGGGHHHH!.

It’s not easy going pink

I had great plans for the weekend…mostly revolving around my laying out in the hammock under a shade tree, sipping an ice cold lemonade…WAKE UP WARREN!  You live in a 70 year old money pit!  Plus it’s winter and snowy…you’d freeze your…toes off in a hammock!  So, back to reality – I don’t think I have a free weekend between now and 2017.  

Like all projects on this house, they never are as easy as they should be.  Let me tell you about my latest project.

First, remember back a few weeks.  I had just finished insulating my crawlspace under one half of the house.  We’ve had a pretty cold winter and our house has virtually no insulation.  Under the house, there was no question about the insulation…there just wasn’t any.  But our attic was another story.  When we first moved in, the flooring covered all but the edges of the attic floor.  I spotted old rockwool insulation so assumed that it ran in the space between the edges as well.  We noticed, however, that the master bath and the extra bedroom were always cold.  You guessed it, someone, sometime had cheated.  They insulated the edges where folks could check on the insulation…but nothing in the middle, you know, the other 85% of the attic under the flooring.  

So, first off, we started by pulling out all of the junk that we hauled from our attic in Nashville where it was stored and never used.  Most of that, we finally pitched this time around.  I pulled up the tongue and groove flooring in the 10’x20′ attic and started installing r-38 insulation.  Why is all insulation pink, by the way?  Does anyone really know?  Anyhow, while I had everything torn up, we decided to move a light in the extra bedroom into the center of the room rather than it’s previous location, 2 feet off center.  Do youknow how distracting that was?

Anyhow, I had to go buy a junction box…and then back to the store to buy another since the project got slightly more complicated than I had planned.  I had all the power in place and we had planned to just put the old light back up.  With the economy as it is though, we decided to do our part and help stimulate the retail sector.  We went back out to buy a ceiling fan as a replacement.  If I am counting correctly, that is trip #3…today.  I got home and prepared to hang the new fan and discovered that I had to buy different  screws (trip #4) as the ones I had were not long enough to do the trick.  I got everything installed and flip…nothing good.  The fan made a heck of a noise.  I know it was wired and installed right, but I wasn’t going to wait for flames to prove any point…back to the store..still counting?  Trip 5.  The bad fan came with bulbs by the way – more on that later.  So, I got everything re-wired and insulated.  I patched the hole from the old light and got everything cleaned up.  I was so excited to turn on the new lights.  Remember the first fan…the one that came with light bulbs.  Well, the second one, the better looking, higher end, more expensive one, didn’t come with bulbs.  It requires the small base bulbs which, of course, we don’t keep around.  One more trip out to the store – yup, #6.  It’s not easy going pink…

Finished in the bathroom

Nasty old bathroom

When I first started this blog, I mentioned the bathroom on the top floor of our house.  During my vacation around Christmas-time 2007 (yes, 2007!), we decided to tear out everything in the bathroom and start over.  The house was built in 1939, but I am pretty certain that the bathroom had been there since 1743.  Anyhow, we pulled out what appeared to be 265 year old nasty and started over.  Of course, nothing in the room (or the house for that matter) is level or square.  Welcome Warren to the story.

Nasty old bathroom Nasty old bathroom

We had installed bamboo flooring in our place in TN and had a box of it left which we brought to WV when we moved.  Of course, I measured and determined that we needed one more box…rats.  So we ordered one more box and started about re-flooring the bathroom in bamboo.  If any of you have ever installed solid wood floor, you know it is pretty easy – if you have a level and square area in which to lay it.  No such luck in our place.  Actually, it is still not hard, even with a mobius strip-like room…it just takes a little longer.  That’s my story and I am sticking to it.

Bathroom nirvana!

So last weekend, I finally finished the last of the work in the bathroom.  That’s right, a mere 393 days later and the bathroom is finished!  Now the floor got installed in one day, but I had to wait a year to…uh…make sure it settled properly.  It is such an incredible improvement over what we had.  As I looked back over the pictures of the original, I am shocked…mainly shocked at how awesome I am for fixing it!  Well, actually, I am shocked at how awesome my wife is for living in the craziness until we got it done!  Bathroom nirvana!

I guess I am on a cute little program kick the last few days, but here is a program that will tell you the number of days between 2 dates or the date a certain number of days from today.  That’s how I knew how long it took me to get the bathroom finished!  Anyhow, as always, this program is free, but not to be used for anything but fun.