Slow and Steady Progress

The last couple of weeks have been filled with lots of cleaning and preparing and random small tasks that they don’t show on HGTV.


So I only managed to get one general contractor out to the Mulberry House to give me an estimate on adding an extra bedroom and bathroom, and he never actually got back to me with numbers. But we were approached by a couple who lives down the street with roommates and next door to his parents, that is hoping to rent from us and they don’t mind that the house has only one bedroom. So the plan for now is just to clean and fix everything up without making any layout changes.

And it turns out that cleaning and fixing is a big job. HGTV always makes a point of showing demo but then never show cleaning.

Crime scene

I didn’t take an after picture, but this wall looks a lot less with a murder scene now.

Wallpaper removal

And all the wallpaper has been removed from this wall above the kitchen cabinets.

Pressure washing front walk

Andrew pressure washed the front walk, which we’re still going to have to fix because it’s quite uneven in parts, but at least now it looks prettier.

Kitchen sink shut off valves

In the above picture you can see Andrew working on installing shut off valves under the kitchen sink. I mentioned a while back that after fixing the major plumbing problems, a drippy sink faucet was the only remaining plumbing problem. I managed to replace an o-ring on the cold water valve, which hugely slowed the leak but did not completely resolve it. But in order to fix even that much, I had to run back and forth the the main water shut off to turn it on and off to test my repairs. So I decided a slow drip was good enough until I decided what kind of replacement faucet I wanted, but either way, we needed to install shut off valves under the kitchen sink.

But after installing the shut off valves, Andrew thought they were leaking just a tiny bit so we shut off the main water when we left the house for a couple days.

Rusty pipes

When I turned the water back on a few days later, I could not detect any moisture at all, so my best theory is that the the leak never existed or the rust sealed the leak? Either way, no more leaking!

Chimney sweep

Meanwhile, we did decide to do the crawlspace vapor barrier ourselves so step one is the removal of debris, which included a bathroom sink, a fertilizer spreader (I think), and a shocking number of styrofoam cups but is mostly comprised of random bricks as well as debris from the old fireplace. So there’s a big pile of bricks and trim and plaster and soot that I’ve been working on cleaning out. So above is a picture of me after removing a few loads of fireplace debris, and after removing my safety glasses and face mask, which were also covered in soot.

After I get all the debris cleared, the next step is going to be scrubbing everything with bleach before laying the vapor barrier.

Old crawlspace door

There are also a bunch of little projects that needed accomplishing, such as putting a lock on the crawlspace door, and painting it in hopes that it lasts a little while longer.

Gold crawlspace door

When I was getting ready to paint it, I realized that the only outdoor paint I had was gold spray paint. Why not? The hardware and the bottom trim layer cam out looking kinda gold, but the rest of the wood just looks newer than the unpainted version.

Panel box ready for painting

Before painting the crawlspace door, I actually cleaned the rust off of and painted the electrical panel box.

Painted panel box

I love how shiny and new it came out looking!

Most of these seemingly random tasks are to correct items that were specifically called out on the home inspection report. Obviously adding some siding to where there is none to the right of black electrical panel box is another to-do item. Replacing broken crawlspace vents and possibly the dryer vent are other to-dos. Lots of little things.

In addition to cleaning, we also took some things apart, mostly to prepare for eventual painting. This was the first door knob I removed. About half of the doors in the house no longer latch, and I’m guessing the twenty million pieces that came out and the condition of the remaining wood might be an indication as to why. I’m hoping I can reuse these doors, but accepting that if I do, I’m also going to have to have a huge backplate to cover up the mess they’ve been hiding. And that’s likely going to have to be these backplates unless I can find some cheap salvage ones because new ones are a wee bit too pricey for my blood.

Chiseling paint

Also in the category of taking things apart to prepare for eventual painting, is the removal of cabinet hardware and outlet and light switch covers. Because these items and their screws had been painted over multiple times, we (mostly Andrew) spent the better part of a day chiseling paint off of them so that we could then use a screwdriver to remove the screws then pry the hardware and covers off.

We finally got rid of the giant pieces of furniture left in the house (the City of Kannapolis actually picks up large items at the curb along with the trash every second week!) The safe is obviously still very much in the way but supposedly there are finally plans to move it.

Giant dumpster

And this unreasonably large dumpster showed up to help with the removal of most of the contents of the shed, which is apparently happening this week by family hoping to find a few sentimental or otherwise valuable items.

What did you clean this week?

Fixing the Plumbing

Stopping leaks is a new form of censorship. – Julian Assange.
But also wood floors, cleaning, and meeting with general contractors.

Previously at the Mulberry House:

So the first thing I did this week was to get that pipe capped. I’m thankful that I gave up when shopping for a cap and just hired a handyman to deal with it. We were able to work as a team whereby he army crawled to the leaky pipe, capped it, and then had me turn on the main water shutoff valve to see if the cap worked. It did. But that meant that water pressure built up in the other pipes and found it’s way out in another part of the crawlspace. Since I was still at the main water shutoff, I was able to shut it off as soon as he saw it leaking.

Unfortunately this time, the water arrived in the crawlspace via the air ducts, and it got to the air ducts from a giant puddle on the kitchen floor, and it got to the kitchen floor from the dishwasher. Forgive me for not taking a picture of this. But the result is that we disconnected the dishwasher and will ultimately get a new one, which I’m not too sad about because this one looks pretty ancient.


We got confirmation that there are wood floors under the linoleum. So if I can get that 1319 pound gun safe out of the kitchen, we can rip out the linoleum and see about refinishing the hardwoods!

Much of the house looked a little like a crime scene so I also spent a fair bit of time this week cleaning with the intention of being able to use it as a covid vacation home, occasionally staying for a few nights at a time rather than spending over four hours in the car every day that I want to work on the house.

Crime scene

I’ll admit that that particular corner of the kitchen still looks pretty much the same, but I got the bedroom and bathroom to a point that feels acceptable and I’m working on other areas now so we can “move in” this weekend.

Lastly, I started meeting with general contractors to get estimates for adding a second bedroom and bathroom. I haven’t quite finished the drawings to show how I’m thinking of making that happen, so maybe watch instagram?

Have a great rest of the week!

The Sandwich Approach

The best tool for cleaning gutters, advanced drainage solutions, our first plumbing problem, lock picking, and lead paint.

My poor little brain is still drowning in ideas (or lack thereof) of what to do with the Mulberry House. Should we keep it as a 1-bedroom or add a second bedroom? And then should we also add a second bathroom? And should this be done by way of an addition or just rearranging a few walls? And should we try to expose the old chimney? Should we get all new kitchen cabinets and counter tops or should we just paint the old ones? Will there be old hardwood floors under the fancy kitchen linoleum and if so will they be salvageable and if not, what kind of floors should we put in there?

But alas, I’m getting too far ahead of myself. Before thinking too much about the fun stuff, I need to make sure we have a sound structure to begin with. And I need to get that 1319 pound gun safe out of the kitchen. And the boat off the driveway – did I mention the boat? That was last registered in 2001?

The previous owners of both objects apparently want them and promise to retrieve them soon so …. we’ll see.

But back to the structure. Let me explain the sandwich approach to renovating old homes: you start with the roof and make sure it’s not leaking, then focus on the foundation to make sure it’s solid, then focus on everything in between.

The roof is great. It apparently got new shingles maybe 5 years ago… maybe a little longer, but they’re in great condition. The gutters needed a little cleaning as there was a garden growing in them so I spent some time doing that, but it’s not super fun to sit on a dark roof in 100 degree sun.

Cleaning gutters with a spatula

In related news, a spatula is a great tool for cleaning out your gutters. So I’ll keep working on that next week and hopefully get all the gutters and downspouts cleaned out. And then the next part is the drainage on the ground.

I’m kicking myself for not having a good picture of this so let me draw you a picture.

As you can see, the grey gutters catch the water from the roof. It is then funneled down the grey downspouts into the black corrugated drainpipes. The black pipes then carry the water along the front of the house, turn the corner, and then dump the water into the foundation on the sides of the house. I believe that the gap in black pipe in the middle is supposed to collect runoff from the front walk and redirect it to the sides of the foundation as well.

Creative drainage solutions

This is a closeup of the front walk flanked with black pipes. Of course the reality is that these pipes are most likely completely clogged, but even if they weren’t, water from the front yard is all going to drain straight into the foundation. And this advanced drainage solution, even in perfect condition, is just deflecting which part of the foundation the water enters through.

So another “sooner than later” project (once I get all the gutters and downspouts and drainage pipes cleaned out) will be to move the drainage pipe exit locations such that the water flows away from the house.

The home inspection noted that “the crawlspace area has been subjected to prolonged exposure to excessive moisture conditions” but didn’t note any wood rot or decay. My updated drainage solution will hopefully be a big first step to help manage the moisture in the crawlspace.

Step two in crawlspace moisture management will be the installation of a vapor barrier (basically a giant sheet of plastic that sits on the crawlspace floor and against the walls to keep water out). I met with four different crawlspace / waterproofing / air quality specialists to get recommendations and estimates. The recommendations and estimates I got ranged from $707 for a 6 mill vapor barrier to $8021 for a french drain, sump pump, dehumidifier, new electrical outlets, and completely sealing the crawlspace. The other two estimates came in at $2666 and $3478 for mold remediation and a 10 mill vapor barrier. So it’s quite the range. Andrew’s trying to convince me we should deal with any present mold ourselves and then just spend $700-1200 on the vapor barrier.

So there might be more of this crawlspace outfit in my future:

But before we even do that, there’s a third step in crawlspace moisture management, which we’re actually going to deal with first.

The picture further up, with the puddle in the crawlspace, is actually a result of this. It’s a pipe that just ends, wide open, and gushes water as soon as the main water is turned on. Thankfully the water has been shut off for four years or the house would have floated away by now.

We think this pipe used to lead to the washing machine but it’s unclear why it no longer does. So I’m having a plumber come out today to just cap it so we can have running water until we figure out what other plumbing issues we need resolved (there are several) and want to change.

Running water is nice on 100 degree days and also when you have a bladder as tiny as mine.

The electricity has been on for all these years and we were happy to learn that the air conditioner works, though we’ve only gotten the house down to 74F so I’m not sure how well it works. And Andrew reassembled the refrigerator which also appears to work, though we’re not sure how well as it didn’t make a ton of sense to leave it running with no one living there.

Andrew also unsuccessfully worked at picking the lock to the storage shed.

I trimmed a bunch of trees and bushes to keep them off the house and out of the way and managed to fill eight bags with branches and leaves. Exciting work, I know.

And to end things on a fun note, I tested the paint for lead.

Lead paint test

It’s super easy. Basically like a pregnancy test. You get this little stick, crush point A and B, shake it, squeeze lightly until yellow juice appears on the tip, rub and squeeze against the test surface. If it turns red, you’re pregnant.

Lead paint positive

And of course it’s lead. If it just stayed hidden under two other layers of paint, it would have been fine, but unfortunately the newer paint has been peeling off the walls, exposing the lead paint. And in order to get the wall smooth enough to repaint, I’m inevitably going to release particles of lead dust into the air if I’m not careful. It’s not a huge deal but I’ll have to be more careful about making sure that everything stays wet while I work, which will cause the lead dust to fall to the ground rather than floating in the air. And I’ll have to always work with a mask and other protective clothing.

Or we can just paint everything this color and hope no one notices how uneven the layers of paint are:

Introducing the Mulberry House

Meet the Mulberry House, our new preservation and renovation project. Come on, I’ll give you the grand tour.

This sweet little thing is ours!

The Mulberry House

She was originally built for mill workers in the early 1900s, though I’m struggling to determine the exact date of construction or who lived there. But most recently Andrew’s grandparents lived there. But that’s enough history for now. Let me show you around!

This is what you see when you first walk in the front door. In the back you can see a built in bookcase and to the left of that, there is definitely an old chimney that I’d love to expose. Let’s walk over to the built in.

Ok, so looking back to the front door from the built in, there is a door straight ahead(ish) which is the bedroom, and a door to the right. Let’s go through that one.

So here’s the kitchen. You can see that on the left side of the kitchen, the ceiling drops to be a more standard modern height ceiling. I’m thinking I want to put a wall there … possibly to add a second bedroom, possibly just to create a laundry room and large pantry.

But let’s look to the right.

The cabinets are grimy and dated, but seem to be in really good shape, so depending on my mood and budget, we may try to save them. The door you see belongs between the kitchen and living room and is a solid wood door so we’ll definitely plan to keep all the doors.

Now let’s approach the sink under the window, turn around, and look to the left, (basically to the right of the picture above).

Isn’t that a beautiful 1319 pound gun safe? And the 12 layers of different coloured paint pealing from the walls? I *think* the blue paint might be lead so I’ll test that next week.

Now let’s turn back around toward the washer and dryer, so the sink will be on our right, and the living room will be on our left.

The doorway to the living room is on the left end of that seam in the linoleum floor. Just past that (and behind the fridge) there is a another door which leads to a small walk-in pantry. The fridge door sits against the back wall and to be honest, I’m not sure if that’s where the fridge was originally placed or where it was. To the left of the fridge door is an opening in the wall that doesn’t have a door. Let’s go through that opening and turn to the right.

Immediately to the right is a door leading into a mudroom. Watch your step as the floor drops an inch or two and the ceiling drops too. Go straight through the mudroom to get to a storage closet or turn left to go out the back door.

I’m considering knocking out all of these walls and connecting these three tiny spaces to the space where the washer and dryer is currently located to make that second bedroom I mentioned, but figuring out the logistics of normalizing the floor and ceiling heights while taking out the wall behind the fridge door which I’m pretty sure is structural makes my little head hurt.

So, let’s just turn around.

Go back through the door to get out of the mudroom and then take an immediate right into the bathroom.

It’s a pretty basic bathroom with a vanity on the right, toilet beside that, and then a tub/shower against the back wall. I suspect we won’t keep the grab bars and the bathroom has a few updates that weren’t quite finished so we’ll definitely have some aesthetic work to do in here.

Now let’s exit the bathroom through the door to our left.

Just for context, here’s the view of the bathroom from the door we just left through.

This is view of the bedroom from the bathroom. I know it’s hard to tell, but it’s a fairly big bedroom and I love that blue paint. The ceiling in this room clearly needs more than paint to make it look pretty so I’m considering doing beadboard up there.

Let’s go further into the room towards that green chair and look back.

You can see the bathroom door on the far left, then a small closet with an above the closet cubby, and then a door back to the living room.

So this bedroom clearly needs some more closet space. And I should mention that if we can figure out how to turn that back corner into a bedroom, we’ll probably take some space from the living room behind that closet to make a second bathroom and then close up one of the doors to the first bathroom, leaving it connected to just one of the bedrooms as a master while the new bathroom would most likely open to the living room.

So now we’ve walked in a big square which makes this house perfect for playing tag. And that’s the end of our tour. If you got lost, don’t worry too much, I’ll work on putting together a floor plan to share with you soon.

But what do you think?