Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Our intentions for the house

Some people have asked us what we have planned for the house. A few contractors have commented outright that we obviously must be intending to gut the entire inside (plaster, trimwork, flooring, etc...) to start over with a fresh, modern look. I find their opinion amusing, and a little sad. We expect to have to remove some plaster and possibly some woodwork during our time working on the house, but we bought the house because of all of it's original features, not just for it's location and size.

Our intentions are to update the house with lighter paint colours, probably leaving most (if not all) of the original trim work unpainted. We'll sand the floors and choose a stain colour that complements the other woodwork without making the rooms look too dark. We'll update and add lighting to rooms that need it. The electrical, plumbing, and heating systems will be completely updated to modern standards. We might add A/C at some point (probably via a high-velocity unit in the attic).

I should state that we are not restoration purists. We don't intend to restore the bathrooms and kitchen to their original state. Those rooms have been altered over the years and don't look anything like what they originally looked like. We'll modernize the kitchen and bathroom spaces to include features that we want to have. That means new cabinets, tile or other flooring, modern fixtures, and new lighting. We'll also paint and repair the external render and likely change the colours of the Tudor-style features.

The things we'll try to restore and not just rip out are the original windows (where they remain), the wood soffit and fascia, the damaged wood work in the second floor sunroom (off the den), the wonky and uneven flooring (throughout), and the pocket doors.

We'll even (eventually) replace the front PVC windows with more historically accurate windows, ideally wood with true lights to match the other original windows.

I thought it would be useful to clarify our position on restoration vs. renovation for our new house.

False ceiling in office

Here are a couple pictures of the false ceiling I mentioned in yesterday's post. You can see the bead board original ceiling above the drop ceiling.

Here is a shot of the outside of the sunroom/office. The small transom windows above the lower set of windows is contained in the drop ceiling space and has insulation wedged up against them from the inside. Once we have the drop ceiling fully down, those windows will help bring in natural light into the space.

Pocket Doors

We have two sets of pocket doors that are roughly 7'6" tall and 6' wide (3' each). They are located between the foyer and the living room and the living and dining room. They are painted on the living room side, and have the original stain on the other side.

Here are the ones between the foyer and living room:

Here are the ones between the living room and dining room:

They are currently really hard to pull in and out of the walls. They rub the trim in a few places and a couple of them scratch the hardwood. I noticed that they don't look like they are properly on their upper tracks, some of the pulleys are not engaging, and the locking latch mechanism is painted over on one set. We'll probably try to do some restorative work on them prior to finishing the hardwood floors so that we don't damage the hardwood once it's refinished.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Discoveries about the house

Just a few notes on some things we've found out in the last couple weeks about the house:

1. There used to be a servant's stair case where the powder room is beside the kitchen. They converted the space into the powder room (probably during the 1940's) and closed up the top of it where it came out onto the main mid-floor landing (where it joined the main stair case). The powder room wasn't properly vented (unfortunately), so the plumbers have added a air-admittance valve (AAV).

2. There used to be a sink in each of the front bedrooms on the second level. These were added after the house was built (we think), again, probably in the 1940's. They were removed at a later date. The plumbing is still intact under the floor and in the walls, and the sinks were properly vented up to the attic.

3. We have hardwood flooring under the kitchen and foyer vinyl floors. We peeled back the vinyl in a couple places, and under some additional linoleum (probably from the 40's or 50's, the hardwood floors from the dining/living areas continue throughout. This bodes well, since we plan on tearing up the vinyl. We've added refinishing the flooring on the main level to the list of things to do before we move in.

4. We found a some old photographs and the original deed for the house. This is pretty exciting, as it gives us some insight into the original owners and the chain of ownership through the years (it appears that there were only 3, possibly 4, owners prior to us. We also know what the original windows looked like on the front of the house before they were replaced with PVC windows. More on these in a future post.

5. The coach house (attached to the school buildings) has a full second level, with floor boards, insulation, and a TON of scrap wood and discarded furniture. We removed some nails holding the second level exterior entrance door closed, used a ladder and went inside to take a look. There is an old tricycle, some doors original to the house (yey!), and just a ton of other junk that was clearly placed there rather than thrown out. We'll get around to clearing it out (someday). There appears to be some raccoon activity in there as well, but I'm not sure if it's recent.

6. The sunroom (was used as an office by PO) has a false ceiling. We planned to re-attach the old radiators in the second level of the sunroom, and the plumbers needed access to the area where the radiator pipes come out in the ceiling of the lower sunroom. We removed a portion of the drop ceiling and discovered another 2 ft of ceiling height and a nice bead-board ceiling above. There are even some transom windows in there that are closed up with insulation that can be cleared out when we get the whole drop ceiling down.

More to come...

New Boiler and Hot Water Heating

I thought it worth while to put up a brief post on our upcoming hot water boiler replacement.

This is our current boiler:

The home inspector says it's probably around 85 years old. Maybe a bit younger than that. It has BTU ratings for coal, hard -stoked (Anthracite coal), and oil. It was converted to natural gas in 1983. The concrete block half-wall you can see behind the boiler conceals a large (12' x 3' diameter) abandoned oil tank. This was removed prior to closing and the floor and surrounding areas were tested for oil leaks (and came back clean thankfully).

Starting next week, our plumbers (who have been working on our supply and drain lines) will be switching over to getting the new boiler installed. It is a 93% efficient natural gas unit called the NTI-200. It is a condensing and modulating boiler, so it is very efficient and can adjust it's BTU output based on how much heat is needed (usually based on outdoor/indoor tempurature differential), rather than just having on/off modes.

The other nice thing about the new unit is that it will mount on the wall, taking up less space, vent to the outside via small PVC pipes, rather than taking up a chimney flue, and also heat our hot water. We'll be getting a 40 gallon indirect hot water tank. The boiler will heat the water through an indirect heat transfer method, and the water will be stored in the 40 gallon tank. If the hot water gets low, the boiler will fire up and make more, on-demand, up to 5.5 gallons/min, which means more or less infinite hot water. It is considered one of the most efficient methods to heat hot water. The current gas bill for the house is averaged at around $370/month (over the entire year). In addition to the new boiler, the 'extra' furnace in the old school rooms will be shut-down permanently, so we expect to save 30-50% of our gas bill (the 'extra' furnace is a really inefficient model).

I'll post a picture of our new boiler once it's installed.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Progress and Pictures

Christmas has been busy for us, travelling between Ottawa and Toronto to visit with family and running errands for the new house.

We've planned out the interim kitchen and purchased cabinets and appliances to be delivered in the next week or so. The plumbers have made progress on replacing the supply and drainage pipes for the second floor bathroom. They're starting more work tomorrow and will be busy with the rest of the plumbing and then the heating system work for the next week or two.

As promised, here are some pictures of the house.


Living / Dining Rooms:


Second Floor Den:

As you can see from the photographs, the house has a lot of wood work and other character features. This is what made us fall in love with the house. There are a lot of other parts that aren't as pretty; I'll get some pictures of those up shortly. Stay tuned...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Update and Layout of 1st floor

Since our last post, we now have a vacant house! The sellers spent most of Sunday with a large crew and many trucks emptying out the main house. They came back and picked up the last of their things on Monday morning.

On Monday, we had an energy audit done. We have a lot of updates planned and wanted the energy audit to be performed as early as possible so that we can apply for grants for our upgrades. Since we're getting a new boiler installed (possibly as early as next week), we needed the energy audit so that we can apply for the $1200 grant from the federal and provincial governments for a high efficiency boiler. The audit didn't reveal any surprises. The blower test couldn't get a proper reading, likely due to the volume of the house and the fact that there are a lot of broken windows. Insulation in the walls is R16-R18, which is great news, and we have room for improvement with insulation in the attic and knee wall spaces. We await the final report from the audit.

On Tuesday, the plumbers arrived and got right to work on removing the galvanized steel water supply piping. They quickly revealed various issues with the plumbing that needed to be resolved, so we've given them the go-ahead to replace/update plumbing. They came back on Wednesday and are done everything except the 2nd floor washroom upgrades to the waste/vent pipes and a bit more galvanized piping removal. They won't be back until Monday now as we have to finish gutting the washroom so they can access all the pipes.

I still haven't taken a lot of photos, but one thing we wanted to post was the layout of the main floor. This is as it was on the day of closing. Here it is:

To explain the above layout, we should mention that the house was at one time owned by one of the local universities (before they were even a university). They ran their original college out of a large building across the street and when their attendence exceeded available space, they purchased several homes in the area and converted them to school buildings. This is why the layout shows the three large additions at the back of the property. The largest of them is the old 2-storey coach house that is likely original to the house. The other two are actually a single structure divided into two classrooms constructed as a single-storey concrete building with flat roof. We haven't decided what to do with them yet, but the water going to those buildings is turned off and the furnace is soon to be turned off.
Potential ideas for those outbuildings are to remove the large coach house (which is in disrepair anyways) and turn that area back into yard space, then convert the other building into a garage (on the right hand side) and other space (family room, workshop, etc...?) on the left-side. The fact that plumbing and heating exists in that space is a bonus, as long as we leave the connections in place until we decide what to do with them. Whatever we do, it will take some thinking, because as soon as we remove them, we can't rebuild other structures (such as a garage) in the same place since the buildings are right on the lot lines and we'd have to apply for variances.
I'll post some pictures of the empty house shortly.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Well, we visited the house last night and much to our dismay, the previous owners had not taken all of their belongings out of the house yet. Probably around 60% of their stuff was still in the house. We met with our real estate agent and then talked to the sellers. They've agreed to remove everything by 6pm Sunday.

So, after visiting the house today, we didn't do much other than take some measurements and do some investigation. We created a hole in a closet on the 3rd floor to get access to the attic space. We wanted to have access for Monday, as we're having an energy audit done and one of the things they look at is attic insulation. We have about 1-2" of loose fill insulation, it looks wool or an older variant of fibre glass. The good news is that we don't appear to have any vermiculite insulation up there.

Also, we made a small hole in the wall in a room on the second floor to determine if our house is a brick veneer over wood framing, or if it's a double-brick structure. After removing a very small section of plaster and lathe and making a small hole in some thin paper, we discovered that there is wood strapping over what looks like a barn board material. I used a 1.5" hole drilling attachment on my drill and exposed the same loose fill insulation that is in the attic. That fills a cavity behind the barn board that is probably 1" thick. Then more barn board. We left it there, we're not sure if there's double brick or not behind there. The cavity doesn't seem thick enough for framing and I doubt they'd have two layers of framing. I'll do more investigation tomorrow.

We also figured out the location of the gas lines, and how we might put in a small laundry room in an old sunroom off the kitchen, and how to rework the kitchen to make it usable. We still haven't made any decisions but this is all part of the process.

Lastly, we discovered a tile floor section in front of the chimney bulkhead in a second floor room. It appears that at one time, they had a working fireplace there that was removed. We might consider putting one back on.

I refrained from taking photos of the interior as I wanted to wait until the house was empty. I'll take some more tomorrow, provided that the sellers have removed everyting by then.

Friday, December 12, 2008


This is the first post of our new house blog. We have just closed on our new house today. I'll have more pictures after we get into the house tomorrow, but for now, here's a shot of the outside.

We're having difficultly deciding on exactly the style of the house. We know it was built around 1915. It's mostly brick as you can see, but has some Tudor style wood and render in various places on the exterior.

We were drawn to the house by the (never-painted) trim-work on the inside, the size of the house, and the challenge of restoring and updating an old home such as this. I'll post pictures shortly of some of the historical elements.

There is lots to do, and some things to undo. The house has an interesting history which we'll post more of soon as well. We hope you will join us in following our journey as we renovate our new home.