Sunday, November 29, 2009

Restoration of a Queen-Choosing the Queen You Wish To Serve-Part II

The next thing you'll want to check out is the type of electrical system in place. If the house is still on a screw in fuse box, you'll want to give this some serious consideration. A fuse box usually indicates that the knob and tube wiring is still in place and that no updates have been made. Although someone may have installed new wiring in places, the load is still being carried by screw-in fuses that are designed to blow when the power load is too heavy for the fuse. Pennies behind screw-in fuses that keep blowing are probably one of the most common causes of electrical house fires houses with old wiring. Often, the outlets don't accommodate the grounding plug of many of the items we use today and modern household power usage on these old systems is asking for trouble.  For your larger power-consuming appliances at least, (central heat/air units, stoves, refrigerators, even microwaves, computers, and TVs)  you will want to have a modern 200 amp service installed to run those items.  As you work on the various rooms, you can rewire them and move them to the new service at a later date.  The primary danger in knob and tube type wiring is that it wasn't designed for the heavier usage of modern life.  It's ok for standard lamps and most overhead lighting, but as the load increases, the wires get hot and electrical fire can result.  Bottom line is, take it easy on any old wiring you will be using and don't put pennies behind the screw in fuses!

If there is a central heat and air unit (around here they're gas or electric, so I can't give any information on oil or steam units) you can find out how old the unit is by checking the information on the sticker if it is readable.  I was told that the date of manufacture will be part of the serial number, but I have found it in various places on the tag, so if nothing looks like a month and date in the serial number, check the model number if it's not there either, keep looking.  The date of manufacture is printed on the sticker somewhere.  On our old York units, the mfg date is in a separate area of the sticker.

As you can see in the area circled in red, this particular unit was manufactured in August of 91.  While it works, it isn't efficient and is experiencing some problems that cannot be corrected.  It's well past its life expectancy and will need to be replaced.

This one is newer-June 96, but is also failing as the air function is completely out of service.  The life expectancy of a unit is about 12 years.  At the 12th year, the air went out.  Annual maintenance also comes into play when extending the life expectancy of a unit.  A unit should be cleaned, inspected, and serviced in the spring before the summer season and again in the fall before winter.  Neglecting the annual maintenance tends to cost more in the long run as the unit will need to be replaced sooner.  It's a good habit to get into.  A quality well-maintained unit can last up to 20 years or more.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Restoration of a Queen-Choosing the Queen You Wish To Serve-Part I

This week we discovered that one of our favorite houses in town has come up for sale by owner.  It's a fantastic Queen Anne that sits back a ways from the road on a two and a half acre lot in town. 

Some friends who own an antique store that we frequent have been looking for a larger home and have yet to find the "perfect" fit.  When they heard this one was for sale, they called and we went to have a look.  If there was a house in town that I would want to live in besides ours, this one would be it.  But a house can look nice from the street and still be a bad deal.  So, here's a list of some of the things to look for when considering an old house.

One of the most important considerations is the roof.  If the roof is bad, everything below it may be compromised.  In our area as well as many areas of the south, termites are always a concern because our summers are humid and water that gets into the house may stay moist longer than in other climates.

Water runs downhill.  If there's any kind of water penetration, it's going to go into the house somewhere and not necessarily straight down.  A leak in a roof may look like it's coming from a corner, but may actually be coming in from an entirely different angle and running down the trusses until it reaches a nail or other protrusion then drops onto the ceiling below or runs down the wall at a framing point. 

Plaster falling from the ceiling is often an indication of a leaking roof.  Wallpaper falling off the ceiling isn't necessarily an indicator, so while it looks scary, you'll want to investigate further.

Chimney, valley, and wall flashing are some of the most common points of water penetration into old houses. Over time, the old flashing can just deteriorate at the bend and even though the roof looks good and the area look flashed, under the shingle there may be nothing left at the junction.

Check for sagging in the middle of the roof.  This can generally be seen from a distance and can be pretty easy to spot.   An inspection of the underside of the roof from the attic will help determine how severe the problem really is whether it's cracked trusses or possibly a bad foundation.  So...

The next thing to look at is the foundation.  Foundation problems are often water-related as well.  If it's a brick foundation, time and the elements can break down the original mortar between the bricks as well as the bricks themselves.  Failure of the external brickwork doesn't always mean the house is going to fall down any time soon, as the brickwork around the foundation is sometimes purely for aesthetic purposes.

To make a good assessment of the foundation, getting under the house and inspecting the piers around the foundation as well as those supporting the floors will give you a better idea of its true structural integrity. 

This is an area under of what appears to be the foundation for our front porch.  If a person were to give it a little kick, the whole wall would fall down.  It looks quite bad, but in reality, the entire porch is supported on piers from below and this brickwork is merely a cover over the open space between the porch and the ground, much like latticework can be seen on old houses.  It doesn't actually support anything, so an urgent repair isn't required.
Failure of brick pointing-also part of our foundation.  Some of it is clearly from the tampering of the wall during vent installation.  The other is probably moisture related.  There are a few spots like this around the house, but nothing to get in a twist about.   

As you look down the wall you can see where there is a small bow where the brickwork touches the aluminum band below the siding where the whitish streaks are.  Something is amiss here but isn't affecting the entire wall and under pressure, the area doesn't move, but is something that should be corrected if there is any additional movement.

The roof and foundation are the two most important things to consider as failure in these  areas are the most compromising to the house, making any other improvements a waste of time.  From above, roof leaks will ruin the floors, walls, and ceilings, and from below, jacking up part of floors to make repairs may crack walls and ceilings, change the operation of doors and windows and totally undo any repairs you've made.  Making these repairs can be expensive, but are the most important things that need done.

The following information came directly from the Bonded Applicators, Inc. website and helps identify things to look for regarding roof condition.

Warning Signs of Roof Failure

Warning Signs of Roof Failure

Look for...

  1. Shingles that curl on ends.
  2. Shingles that show signs of buckling
  3. Shingles that are missing altogether.
  4. Roof debris in gutters and yard.
  5. Excessive amounts of granules in your gutters.
  6. Frequent roof damage due to winds.
  7. Leaking at roof penetrations, vent pipes, and skylights.
  8. Signs of leaks at wall-ties and chimneys.
  9. Loose metal counter flashings at chimneys.
  10. Age of your roof is 20+ years old.
Here is some pretty interesting information regarding foundation assessment.  Lots of good information on the site on variety of other topics as well.

    Friday, November 27, 2009

    Restoration of a Queen-Introduction

    Growing up, working on old houses was just part of life for our family.  Even as children we participated in taking old houses and making them our home.  Eventually, we ended up as a family of 6, so the old houses provided something newer houses did not-lots of rooms.  Most of the time, we each had our own room, even my baby sister. Back then, our job was mostly confined to stripping wallpaper, choosing the new paper for our own room, and pasting the sheets while Mom and Dad hung them.  I'm not sure if it was those experiences that made me into an old house addict or just something in the blood, but I just love an old house, especially one that has seen better days that I can apply the skills I learned by experience and turn it into something lovely.  I understand that I have a savior complex and tend to favor the misfits and maybe this is a manifestation of that tendency, but to take what most people considers an eyesore and turn it into something they respect-or even to change their thinking about old houses and point out the elements that make an old house special is probably one of the things I find most fulfilling.

    Over the years, many people have asked for advice on the topic of old homes, restorations, what to look for when considering an old home, etc. and these are the questions that I enjoy answering.  I prefer to use the word observation rather than advice as I'm not a qualified expert on anything except my own experiences and research and I feel that since each situation is different and people's needs and desires differ, observation allows for flexibility of choice and advice feels like I'm telling them what they should do.  I hate it when someone tells me what I should do, but for me, observation and providing options are always welcome. 

    Today, I discovered some new friends that have recently purchased their first home, an 1895 Queen Anne, and are ready to get busy making her their beautiful home, so this series-and I hope to have the time and energy to actually make it a series-is to share my thoughts and experiences to help them (and anyone else looking for this type of information) make more informed decisions on their old house journey.

    So, congratulations Emily and Tedd on "The Queen!"  You're in for an interesting and rewarding ride!

    Friday, November 20, 2009

    Mini Lumbar Support

    I puttered around this evening and made this little baby.  It's 9" x 12" also lined with a feather/down insert in the medium-weight woven upholstery fabric (on both sides) left over from the bigger pillows.  It's quite firm which is good for support and great for using in the small of your back.  I had to try it out.  Now I'm going to need to make one for myself to use while I'm sitting here at my computer!  I have another one ready to make with red tassels.

    Thursday, November 19, 2009

    Intruder Alert

    Apparently, no one has told this guy that all animals that call our patch of ground "home" have to be neutered!  This is one of our two nightly visitors.  He climbs down out of the trees in the evenings and feasts on pecans that the squirrels have dropped during the day.  While he's out doing lawn clean-up, I wish he'd learn to use the leaf-blower too!

    Playing with Pretty Fabrics

    Actually, I bought these fabrics to make some pillows and such for a charity gala event.  Well....I didn't get them done in time but finally hemmed the last pillow this afternoon.  They turned out nice and are supposed to be products to sell, but Donnie has his eye on keeping them.  He's SO bad!

    I made two tasseled pillows and a square tasseled table topper.  The backs of the pillows (that can be used either side facing out) are made of the same fabric as the table topper so it's all a matching set.  There is-was-a mantle scarf as well, but it had a little incident with the iron on the backside and will need to be slightly altered before it can be finished.  Oh well.  I don't like those faux silk fabrics anyway.  If I remember right, the guy at the fabric store said they were made out of old plastic grocery bags.  Figures.  I'll show it later once I've fixed it.

    The pillows are 20" square, lined, with feather/down inserts and the best thing about them is that if you want to actually use them, you can!  Might want to take it easy on the tassels though.

    The table topper and the backs of the pillows are a chenille with the pattern woven in.  While the soft side is the one that is meant to be facing out, it can be flipped to the backside which has an equally nice pattern on it with a bit more sheen.

    Yeah, we have a bunch of places around here where we could use this particular set.  If they don't sell, they'll be accessorizing our place!

    Tuesday, November 3, 2009

    Leaves, Leaves everywhere!

    This is totally off the wall, but a tip I thought might be useful to anyone that actually reads here.

    Our yard has 8 huge pecan trees-thus the name Pecan Place.  This year we've been "blessed" with a crop of pecans that I actually plan to do something with besides give them away.  In the past, I've always raked the leaves and filled the big trash cans up to take out to the curb to dump.  With the pecans involved, I have to rake gently and the process is ridiculously time consuming.

    Last year we bought a push mower with a bagger.  This year I decided that I'd test a theory of raising the wheels on the mower as high as they would go and mulch the leaves.  In theory, the draw of the mower would be strong enough to suck up the leaves but leave the pecans.  It works!  Once I've done the initial mowing, I pick the pecans that I can see then run the mower across the lawn again with the bagger-still in the highest wheel setting.  It sucks up the leaves but not the remaining pecans.  If it weren't for the pecans, I might never have thought of this, so that's why I mention them.

    If you run the mulching mower across the lawn once and chop up all the big stuff (this even works when mowing the grass in problem areas too-like bermuda or zoysia for instance) then mow it over again with the bagger, it chops the big stuff into very fine stuff and you don't have to empty the bag nearly as often since more of it fits in the bag.

    This morning, the leaf pickup truck removed a pile of leaves from an area we raked over the past few days.  The pile was about 5' high, 8'wide, and 12' or more long.  The area I mowed using the mulcher and the bag had as many leaves as the pile they just picked up.  With the double mulching, I not only have access to the pecans, but the pile at the street would fit in a kitchen trash can and is far less unsightly than that huge pile.  The real bonus is that it took a fraction of the time and didn't cause any physical pain.  Now if everything in life could be so simple!

    Just a useful tip I felt like passing on.