"Before" picture

"Before" picture

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Our home-improvement resume, part I

People who we talk to about our remodel have two basic reactions:
(1) Are you crazy?
(2) That'll be awesome when it's done, but are you crazy?

If you know us at all, then you know that we are indeed crazy and that the craziness extends to much more than our home-related DIY projects. But, our insanity aside, we do have experience with home projects that have taught us important things such as that they
  • are messy,
  • are more expensive than you account for,
  • take longer than you figure on, and
  • will make you stressed beyond your wildest dreams.
Case in point #1: When we bought our house we had hoped to move in after relatively little work, but we double-rented our apartment for another month just in case. That turned out to be a lucky break since once we got into the house after closing for a much closer look at the details, there turned out to be some work that needed to be done before the house was truly inhabitable.

First, we changed the locks. A relatively easy step and one that all new homeowners do (or should do). Here's Ken getting his lock changing on:

But that was just the beginning of our experience as first-time homeowners of a roughly 50-year-old home. Let's see if you can spot any problems, say, with the master bedroom. What did you notice first? The eye-searing pink paint on the walls or the disgusting black patch of God-knows-what on the carpet? We'd known about the paint, of course, but the moldy patch of carpet had been hidden by furniture during our walk-throughs. Thanks, seller.

How about the living room?
It's impossible to tell from the picture, of course, but those gorgeous blue plush carpets were soaked through with dog urine. (You probably weren't even looking at the carpets, though, because you were admiring the window treatments that were included in settlement. We sure made out like bandits there. We waited all of about 30 seconds before sticking those nicotine-stained treasures in the nearest trash can.)

And what's that on the walls? Is that wallpaper? Why, yes. It is wallpaper. But not just one layer. Oh, no. The three previous homeowners of this house apparently wanted to increase the R value of the walls at the same time that they redecorated, so they just layered paint and wallpaper and more paint and more wallpaper throughout those 50 or so years. Which meant that to do the job right, we had to take all those layers off and get right down to the drywall. So we left the stinky carpets on the floor to protect the hidden hardwood floors from further damage and got down to business.

Along the way we were like archeologists, identifying the eras that the various color schemes came from. All of them uglier than what came before. There was sea-foam green somewhere in there.

We started the job of stripping the wallpaper using just hand tools and that gunk you spread on the wall to loosen the paper's glue, as I am doing in this picture,

but it quickly became clear that this was a bigger job than that process could handle, and we had to call in reinforcements in the form of some off-duty firefighters who had the knack for spraying the whole interior of the house (because every room had the multiple-layers-of-wallpaper problems) with a mist of water and scraping for all they were worth. At one point our main floor looked like this: and then this:
Somewhere during this process I began to think that maybe, just maybe, we had made a six-figure mistake in buying this house. There were tears, which I wiped away with my claw hands, damaged by all that damn wall scraping, and bullied onward. It was too late to look back, after all. For better or worse, we were homeowners.

In the end, there were about 8 total layers of paint and paper on the walls and (brace yourself) THREE layers on the living room ceiling. The freaking ceiling! WHO, I ask you, WHO wallpapers a ceiling? Baffling.

Eventually we got through the worst of the wallpaper scraping nightmare and moved on to problem #2: the gouges in the walls. After all that spraying, soaking, and scraping, the walls had not escaped unharmed. So the next stage of the process looked something like this:
I lost count of how many 5-gallon buckets of spackle we went through (again, with help from some firefighter friends of my FIL), but the quotes we'd gotten from plasterers ranged from $450 to $4500, and we were a bit skeeved by the discrepancy between the estimates so we decided to make this yet another DIY project.

Finally, we got to the part where we could primer the walls.
And then we painted, and it started to look a little like home. And don't forget that while my photos are mainly of the living room/dining room areas, the same processes of scraping, spackling, sanding, primering, and painting were going on in the master bedroom and upstairs hallway as well. We had a lot of help from friends, and we are grateful not only for their help but also for them staying our friends afterward.

As for the second and third bedrooms, well, they were in somewhat better shape. We painted over the wallpaper in both because there were limits to how much time we had to get the house move-in ready, and for the second bedroom that worked out just fine. In fact, the wallpaper has held firm in that room to this day. We were not so lucky in the third bedroom. The primer and paint soaked into the wallpaper and loosened it from the walls, taking some chunks of drywall with it. Leaving us with no choice but to gut the room down to the framing and redrywall it ourselves. From that experience I learned that drywall is very heavy, especially when you hold it over your head to do the ceiling. And that I'm not good at taping seams.

But with walls cleaned up and repainted, the last major step was to rip out the carpeting (now filled with all sorts of debris) and redo the hardwood floors.

I'd say Ken did a bang-up job, even though most of it was done during the wee hours of the night, after which he'd crawl back to our apartment, pass out, and get up in the morning to go to work. Check out his results:
Glad I stuck it out and stopped crying over what I'd thought would be an endless money pit. With the walls and hardwood floors taken care of, the smaller projects remaining included putting up hated but necessary wallpaper in the kitchen and bathroom to hold the crumbling walls together until the day would come to gut those rooms (and the day is coming), redoing the kitchen floor with peel-and-stick tiles to make it slightly more durable and attractive, and painting the kitchen cabinets to cover the ugly wood they were made from.

It was much more work than we bargained for, but we were able to get enough of the big stuff done to move in on the last day of our apartment lease.

Having survived our first home-improvement project, the following summer we tackled the next one: the raising of the Garage-Mahal. Which will be the subject of my next post. Thanks for reading!

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