Let the Repairing Begin

I can’t believe I’ve had this house for a full year. This may be a long post with lots of pictures because I really need to get you up to date given I’m now weeks away from getting out from underneath this house.

Getting an approved building permit took months. I started the process in August with an architect and didn’t get approved plans until end of November. Since I couldn’t start building, I focused on vital repairs that had to get done first. I started with low hanging fruit, the 2nd bedroom on second floor. That is where I had floating roof joist and mold because the box gutters had failed due to neglect and rot.

First step was tackling the mold and I used two products to get that job done, Mold Armor and Wet & Forget. I bought the Wet & Forget first, but after doing some research didn’t feel it was a tough enough product for what I was dealing with. I had planned to return it, but decided to use it. I applied both with my pump sprayer, Mold Armor first, scrubbing the wood with a brush after saturating it. The results were amazing.

The house was built with true 2x4s, so I used more of my porch demo beams to replace the wood that should be supporting the roof joist. Even though that wood was gone, probably for years, the new piece slid in with ease. I thought I’d need to jack that joist up, but did not. Fortunately I hit sound wood right at the wall stud, so there was only about 2′ of rot to remove. Unfortunately that stud was in bad shape, but easily cured by laminating it with new 2x4s and 5″ bolts I had left over from my pergola project.

The box gutters I knew would be the first blow to the budget. They are expensive to rebuild and based on all the rot on the inside, I knew that underneath the aluminum siding was rotten wood. The house had three box gutters. One on the front and rear of the asphalt roof; the rear was barely visible from the ground, and the third off the side of the 2nd floor. When I discovered the original porch post the project went from a renovation to restoration, so I decided to pay to have the front box gutter rebuilt. The rear and side I would convert to regular gutters.

I stumbled across Art Phillips, owner of Art’s Roofing and Remodeling, when his crew was restoring the box gutters on a house located on Colerain Ave, one block from me. Based on what I learned from my house, I thought they did a great job, so I got a quote from him and accepted it. Art is a 4th generation roofer and the 5th, his son, is part of his crew. They did a fabulous job. They impressed Adam Sangaret, owner of the house next door, enough that he hired them to do a facelift of the front of his house.

At the same time I started getting bids for replacing the roofs; I had massive leaks in the rubber and the asphalt work looked questionable upon closer inspection. I contacted nine companies and the lack of follow-up from the majority of them blew my mind. Eight of the nine were referrals or I had experience with:
HTK Roofing: Too busy, not interested
Ray St. Clair Roofing: Provided a bid, refused to answer any follow-up/clarifying questions. Stopped responding to calls.
Walt St. Clair Roofing: Came in with an astronomical high bid. He seemed shocked that I was a flipper willing to spend money and I guess he thought I had a ton of it to give away.
Perry St. Clair Roofing: Came out, never provided a bid
Cowboy Jones Roofing: Came out gave a bid, responded to my questions, great follow through. I disagreed with his assessment of the box gutters, so felt he wasn’t a good fit for this project. Very nice African-American owned business I’d consider using in the future; number saved in my phone.
Forest Park Roofing: Did the roof on my Inner Circle home. Short staffed couldn’t commit, stopped responding to calls.
Alma Cochran, AJL Group, LLC: Female/Hispanic owned I was excited at the opportunity. Came to look at job with a crew, but no ladder. Looked through tiny 3rd floor window, could have crawled out , but didn’t. Never submitted a bid.
Lady on the Roof: Another female owned company. Too busy, declined to bid. Would call her in future just because she gave an honest fast response.

The ninth was an out of desperation cold call Google search to HTC Roofing, who ended up doing the work. DO NOT USE THIS COMPANY!!! I will talk about this experience in a future post, but the positive part of the story is I got both roofs replaced for less than my next lowest estimate for just the rubber roof.

While the roofs were being replaced, I turned my focus on the elephant on the porch, the gapping hole on the right side of house that would allow you to walk into the living room without using the front door.  It looked bad, but for some reason I got a sense that it was not a big deal to fix.  The contractors I called thought otherwise and I was getting quotes ranging from $3500-7000.  I decided to call the structural engineer that I worked with on my house.  My instincts were correct.  The corner post wasn’t even load barring.  He told me to remove the rot and replace it with pressure treated wood that I wood laminate together to create the width and height I needed.  Armed with that I did the repairs myself.  It took two about two weeks of evenings and weekends, but it was thousands saved.  

The first weekend I worked on replacing the termite impacted mudsill (not sure that’s the right term).  The house rest on a solid 6″x8″ beam and I needed to replace about 4′ of it on the front, another 2′ on the side.  One wall stud on the front was resting on that area and it had termite and rot damage on the lower end.  As I did on the 2nd floor, I laminated it with a new 2×4 to strengthen it.  To create the mudsill I bought 2×8 pressure treated wood beams and ripped them down to 6″.  I glued and screwed 4 pieces plus a piece of 1/2″ plywood together to create the 8″ height.  I cut away the rot and set the new beam in its place.  I used construction adhesive to attach the beam to the stacked stone and not shown in these pictures I also used nails plates to connect the new to the old.

You may notice that the concrete porch is gone in the above pictures. The company that closed the hole in the foundation that I talked about in The Whole Porch and Former Outhouse Gotta Go removed it without a contract or my permission. That is why I did not let him do the project. I told him my priority at that moment was closing up the house, but he seemed to think otherwise. I paid him for his demo work, but ended communication with him. The positive outcome of his strong arm tactics is that I was able to get termite treatment done without needing to core drill through the concrete. Terry Murphy with Termites R Us did the treatment.

The next weekend I tackled the corner post and side of house. Unlike on the front, the rotten mudsill on the side of house impacted one floor joist. No rot or termite damage on the joist, but it was not resting on sound wood. As with the mudsill the new corner post was created by laminating pressure treated wood. The post was 4×6. The engineer said I didn’t need to make it exact so mine was 4×5 1/2 because I bought 2×6 beams.

I had to remove an approximate 12′ section, basically up to where the porch roof and the hole that caused all this damage was. With that easily and securely in place I turned my focus on the side of the house. To make that repair I had to have the existing electric meter removed from the house, which created the need for a temporary electric pole. I chose this route over pulling out my generator for electric. That was a pain working with when I used that with my house. The rot did not, thankfully impact wall studs on that side. I used the first stud as my guide for removing the rotten sheathing, but I nailed a new 2×4 to it for attaching the new sheathing. Because I was so focused on this work and I was alone I missed some photos, but at this point I know longer had a second entrance and new sheathing is in place level with the front windows. I could see rotten sheathing under the vinyl siding above windows, so my work was not done.

My cousin Greg made himself available to help me remove more of the vinyl siding. I was really curious to see the condition of the framing around the second floor front windows. A pleasant surprise was finding the original moulding still in place and evidence that rosettes were once in the corners. Greg was nimble and strong enough that he was able to hang out of the small third floor windows and remove even more vinyl with the long crow bar. I screamed with delight when he revealed the original fish scale cedar shingles and evidence showing where corbels and more rosettes once adorned the roof line. Channeling @nicolecurtis “why in the world would anyone cover that up.” We ended that day by installing Tyvek house wrap on the lower front of the house. I had to add more sheathing to side where I made the repair to build it out even with the asphalt siding before that wrap could be permenantly attached.

There was still more rotten sheathing above the door and windows that I needed to replace, so that was the next task and it was made more difficult because of the unstable ground. I got it done and decided it was time to get the concrete repair work done. I learned that concrete companies have minimums to keep the rate low. They’ll bring less, but your cost per square yard goes up. With this knowledge I did not only the porch, but sidewalks and added a parking pad in the back to provide the future homeowner with off-street parking.

Based on the additional rot found and wonderful discovery of the home’s original features I decided the only course of action was to take the entire front of house down to the sheathing. This was the 2nd blow to budget and unexpected expense. That meant removing the remaining asphalt and original wood siding then replacing any damaged sheathing. I never sought bids for this as I knew I could handle demo if I could figure out how to deal with the height. I decided to rent a boom lift to let me do this work. With that equipment I could also remove all the vinyl siding from the side and rear of house as the rebuilding of the windows (taking them back up to their original heights) couldn’t happen until the vinyl was gone.

There is only about 20′ between my house and my neighbors, so I needed smaller lift. I gave all the dimensions to the rental company and of course they sent the wrong size machine. Since it was their mistake, I was able to have the machine for a day before they picked it up. It gave me and my cousin Greg an opportunity to remove all the vinyl from the back of the house. For the life of me I don’t understand why they covered two windows on the rear of the house when the vinyl siding was installed, probably some time in the 70s. The person I purchased house from, it seems, was going to leave the upper left window covered. He actually put a brand new window in the upper right, but as you can see from the filler above it he had no plans to restore the original height. Clearly he had no plans to remove the siding. From the inside it appears he was restoring the first floor window, but again not capturing the full height.

The right lift had a smaller bucket and it was articulating, so from this point forward I became a solo act. I had it delivered to the front and with a quick learning curve on the controls I was able to to remove the remaining asphalt and wood lathe siding from front, the majority of vinyl siding from side, patch any areas needed in the sheathing, scrape/prep the cedar shingles of the fascia to apply exterior wood primer, hang missing rosettes from corners of 3rd floor windows, missing trim from above the windows and complete the Tyvek wrapping. Yes, all this by myself, I am woman hear me roar! This project went great with the exception that the weight of the lift caused a crack in the new sidewalk. I was told it was cured enough and could handle the weight, but clearly it could not. Fortunately since the steps didn’t pass inspection due to not being uniform heights I was able to get that section of sidewalk repaired at no cost since the steps was contractor error and had to be redone.

The final project I’ll cover to close out this post is the installation of new siding on the front. Again, since this is now a restoration I decided to use fiber cement siding (LP Smart Siding specifically) on the front. It would replicate the look of the original wood lap siding allowing the original window molding to be pronounced.  My house is only 16′ wide and LP comes in 16′ lengths, so that is why I chose it over another brand.  It meant I’d have no seams on the front. I got primed siding vs. painted because I would need to paint the front to match the vinyl siding.  I was able to take my vinyl siding sample to Sherwin Williams to have them color match it.  Their machine is able to tell you which of their paints is a close match.  My vinyl siding color was Cypress, a light green.  Due to Covid the darker forest green, which I would have preferred due to it being the original color of house, was not available.  Sherwin Williams had two greens that were close to my custom color, At Ease Soldier and Honed Soapstone.  I pulled the companion colors for them and decided I liked the color combination of Honed Soapstone best.  My exterior color pallet had been chosen; Moderne White, Aged White, and Subdued Sienna and my custom green.

Huber Lumber Co. recommended Jaime Spencer with Spencer Construction to install the siding. They did a great job. I tried to get at least one coat of paint on the boards before they hung them, but the delivery was delayed by a day and with the cold, the paint didn’t dry fast enough to get it all painted. From the beginning I was pleased with their work ethic and performance. With the vinyl siding gone from the side of the house I discovered the side door once had a portico over it. I started discussions with them to rebuild that, a new landing for the side door, and the front porch. I gave them a positive review, paid the before the job was finished (by only a few hours) and thought I had a great rapport with them, but they fell off the face of the earth after the siding. Repeated calls and emails went unanswered, so they became a one and done. At this point I knew I was creating something special. Inez looked stunning half painted and without the porch.

With permit in hand now I could focus on the inside and simple projects, framing. Although the windows still posed the need for more exterior repair.

Time to Bless This Flip

I’m tired. I honestly feel like I’m working multiple full-time jobs, so keeping my post up to date has just not been possible. Progress is happening and I will back track and write post to share this experience. I think people can learn from my naïveté. If you can think of an extreme roller coaster and the thrills and chills it provides, that has been my experience thus far on this flip. The looks on the face of the two front seat riders are point on. I hope I’ll be all smiles at the end.

Some of my long time followers will remember that for my house I held an event called Bless This House Gathering, where I held a reception and invited family and friends to write words of encouragement/scripture/positive messages in the walls before I closed them up. I can’t stop progress to throw a party now, but I am inviting everyone who wants to email me any positive message and I will print and place them in the cavities before drywall begins. I’m hopeful I’ll be at that stage in the next 6-8 weeks, sooner if possible.

I am still amazed that people from around the world, 60+ countries, have read my blog. I’m looking forward to receiving international entries, so I hope they will come through. This is my home away from home most weekday evenings and weekends, so if you’re local, have my cell or personal email(s) (that way I know, I know you) and you want to stop by and handwrite your message, send me a text or email and I’ll make that happen.

Thanks in advance and here are a few pics to show the progress being made.

The Whole Porch and Former Outhouse Gotta Go

$1000 is what two contractors wanted to demo what remained of the porch off the front of the house. I felt I had done the hard part already, the front and side rails. I decided to save that money and tear down the ceiling myself. One of the contractors offered advice, go purchase some sheets of plywood, cover the windows, and take a sledge hammer to the two post and let gravity have its way. Such a manly way of handling things. I took two weekday evenings and a more systematic approach. I had a gaping hole on the front of the house that needed sheathing and I knew I’d have another hole on the rear of the house to close up once the bump out on the back was taken off, so I looked at the porch as building material, IF, the rot didn’t go much further. The decking for the roof ceiling was the same material as the house sheathing, old pine 8″ tongue and groove. If I could keep the pieces long enough I could use them to patch.

When I’m working alone on a project that could cause injuries taking photos is low on my priority list, so again my apologies you can’t see the true progression. The guys that bailed out my demo day were able to get all the bead board ceiling boards out. I could have saved some of the boards for a woodworking project, but they were so filled with paint that I pitched all of it in the dumpster. It left me with just true 2×4 rafter studs, the tongue and groove sheathing, and the metal roof. The metal roof was attach to a ledger board that had clear signs of rot across about a third its length. I installed a temporary 2×4 post in the center and selected a spot on the house where I thought I’d hit sound wood.

Using my reciprocating saw I cut through all the layers starting at the house and working my way through the box gutter. I then freed each 2×4 rafter in that area, which freed the sheathing. Any nails that held the metal roof to the sheathing had rusted and weakened rendering them useless. It really didn’t take much effort. With all the wood and weight gone I hit the left post with a sledge hammer and the metal roof folded down. I used a a crow bar to free it from the house. The next evening I returned and followed the same steps on the remaining section. $1,000 saved, no injuries. It was clear to me that from the porch ledger board down I would need to take the house down to the sheathing and I was contemplating doing the entire front. It was starting to feel like a Good Bones TV show house.

Before I could start tearing off the back I needed to close the hole in the foundation that was made, I’m guessing, when the house was plumbed for indoor plumbing. What was once an outhouse became a plumbed toilet. That was a fine idea for the early 1900s, but why someone would think it was fine to keep it and add a shower pan and vanity to make it a 3pc bathroom in 2010 is beyond comprehension. I knew I was going to need new sidewalks and a porch top (with the center post removed all the weight transferred to the outer post causing the porch to crack on each end), so I called a friend who a few years earlier had her driveway and porch done. I am not going to mention the company by name as ultimately I did not use him and I would not recommend him, but he came through in closing up the hole. Actually he even helped me out by hauling away another load of bagged debris.

The window, wood, is the structure that was the toilet, located outside of house.

Criminal is the word I’ll use for the decision to leave what was once an outhouse as one part of a three piece bathroom that sacrificed half of a kitchen. I so wish I had taken pictures, but I was focused on tearing it out in a timely manner as I needed to make sure I had time to close the hole.  I found one that I took to capture original wallpaper, but the wood you see in the background was the toilet room.  The wood structure wasn’t crafted to any modern code and yet newer insulation had been stuffed in the gaps. It was a hot mess that was fortified because the poorly constructed frame had been covered in asphalt siding, a thin layer of foam insulation and then vinyl siding attached by what seemed like 1000s nails. I thought it funny that the owners who installed the asphalt siding wanted a toilet with a view (see glow on left), but the owners who installed the vinyl siding covered, but did not insulate or close the opening on the inside. Can you imagine how cold it must have been using that toilet in the winter. At any rate, it took me the better part of a Saturday to rip the structure off. My footing was precarious as I was working over an open pit that was once a latrine.

I used the true 2x4s I salvaged from the front porch to stud out the opening. I used the porch roof sheathing to close the hole. Two layers of the sheathing brought the opening even with the original wood siding of the house, which was in pristine condition. That would have made a nice feature wall in the toilet room, but not nice enough to keep it. Another layer of sheathing will be needed to make that section even with asphalt siding. The vinyl will be replaced as underneath it are two windows that had been covered. WHY??????? Based on bids I had gotten I’ll claimed that I saved myself about $6,000 doing this work myself.

The Taj Mahal in Comparison

I have wanted to work on another old house ever since I finished my home. I put in offers on a few, but lost them all to higher bids. When 3067 Sidney Avenue, next street over from me, went on the market I jumped. From the sidewalk it look to be in decent shape, I have driven on street many times and never noticed it was vacant as the grass was always cut. The inside was a different story. I would learn the seller had purchased it in 2010, started his flipping work, but then stopped in 2014 and let his permits expire. He was asking $110,000, which was way too high for the visual condition. He had his electrical and plumbing roughed in, but his plan was flawed; seemingly based on maximizing the number of occupants (at closing he told me he wired 3rd to be two bedrooms, so potentially a 5 bedroom house). I offered $60,000, was rejected, but came back at $75,000 with no inspections. I really wanted this house…..I needed this house.

My $10,000 fixer was the Taj Mahal in comparison to true condition of my first flip. They have in common starting with no plumbing, electric, or HVAC, but even with the crumbling foundation at my home the bones were solid. I had a brand new roof. I knew there was a roof leak at Sidney before I purchased, but the extent of the leak didn’t manifest until after the close and I entered the house after a hard rain. The floor of the back bedroom was saturated and that leaked down to the first floor kitchen which leaked down to the basement. The rubber roof had about 15 holes in it. Laughably at closing the seller said I could fix that myself. Although not as severe, the asphalt roof over the third floor showed signs of leakage too. Depending on which roofer contractor you listen to the box gutters were shot too (spoiler alert: the box gutters were shot too). Oh yeah, I had snakes in the basement. The pics make them look bigger than they really were. I just hope I never run into their parents.

I’m a house restorer, not renovator, so the one thing I had decided to do from the first walk through, before purchasing, was to restore all the windows back to their original heights. All of the original wood windows, except for the two in the front, had been removed and the openings reduced in size. There was filler, approx 18″, above every window, but you can see where rosettes and moulding once resided. There were two windows on the back and the only window on the right side of house completely covered. This meant I would need to remove the hideous faded yellow siding (oh darn) from the entire house to make the proper corrections.

I had this naïve notion that under the vinyl siding would be perfectly preserved original wood siding that I’d clean up and then paint as I could see mint condition original siding inside the the toilet room the seller left as part of the full bathroom he was creating on the first floor. After the closing I started pulling the siding from around the front door just out of curiosity. Unfortunately it revealed that under the vinyl was fake brick look asphalt siding and under that the original wood siding not in mint condition. The margins on this project would not allow for the removel of all the asphalt siding, so I would need to re-side the house once the windows were reframed.

I stopped removing the asphalt siding, but continued pulling the vinyl when suddenly the right corner of house crumbled to the ground. I thought the entire porch was going to fall on me. Uncontrolled water has got to be one of the worst enemies of any home. For years the down spout from the roof gutter was left to dump water on the corner of the house and to make matters worst there was a hole in the metal roof of the porch right in that area too. The vinyl siding was the only thing keeping the house in tack. The rot had gone through the asphalt siding, the wood siding, all the way to the corner post of the house. My first project was connecting a corrugated extension to the down spout to channel the water away from the corner.

Believe it or not, as bad as it looked I wasn’t overly concerned because the plaster on the inside at that area was in tact; showing no signs of water damage. Now that was not the case in the upstairs bedroom where the floors were wet from roof leak. That plaster was peeling and flaking so I decided to start removing it. For the life of me I don’t know why the seller cut channels in the plaster to run his electrical and plumbing instead of taking the whole house down to the studs. What I uncovered was wood erosion and mold, so extensive that the first roof joist was floating. I knew then I’d need to go down to the studs in the entire house. It would be my only way of knowing the full extent of years of neglect the house had endured. Now I am starting to feel concerned and I most definitely over paid for the house.

Earlier I said I needed this house. This house needs me too. I can see the finish clearly in my minds eye and she’s going to be beautiful again. What isn’t as clear is if she’s going to yield profitability, but as my sign states….I’ll do it right or not at all.

Serving Her Purpose

People that have followed my three year restoration journey have frequently read things where I talked about my vision for my home. Recently the vision of hosting friends as overnight guest materialized when my former employee, but more important descriptor friends Vicki Schwartz and her husband Steve spent a long weekend with me. Vicki worked for me when I ran the “good” visitor center that used to be located on Fountain Square in what is now Graeter’s Ice Cream. That center closed in 2005, but I have maintained a friendship with Vicki and her husband ever since. So much so that when I’ve traveled to North Carolina anywhere close to Winston Salem, which is where they live now, they have hosted me at their home (once by myself, once with a teenager, and once with my two dogs, now that’s friendship). They come back to Cincinnati at least once a year and they got to see my house during construction, I didn’t have walls yet. I told them then when it was finished they must stay with me on one of their visits. Covid delayed that opportunity by a year.

They got to stay in the Janet Suite and I gave them a key, so they could come and go as they pleased. They arrived on a Thursday night after an eight hour drive.  I was prepared with cheeses, ham, turkey, and a variety of chips; something light as I thought they’d be more tired than hungry.  What Steve had a taste for was a peanut butter sandwich, so thankfully I had that in the pantry. Vicki joined him and had PB&J.

Of course they loved the house.  I’ve shared pictures of the finished product, but they said the images didn’t do it justice.  They truly did not want me to put up a fuss.  For breakfast I had fresh baked muffins for them.  Steve just needed two cups of coffee and Vicki brought her own tea bags.  Friday they spent the entire day out visiting other friends.  I had not gotten a chance to give the yard a fresh cut, so I did that.  It warmed my heart to see clearly how at ease they felt in my home.  I loved seeing my “bathroom of positivity” (decor is filled with positive motivational statements) so lived in.  Friday night they had dinner with friends, so an easy day of hosting for me.

Saturday was hang out day for me and Vicki and Steve got to visit some of his car friends (he has a vintage Alfa Romero that he’s had in the Cincinnati’s Concours D’elegance many times).  Vicki was part of the original docent class for the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, so she wanted to go there and hoped she see any of her former fellow docents.  We lucked up and caught James (Jim) Brock as he was arriving for his shift.  Before moving to Winston Salem Vicki hosted her docent colleagues at her home, so I quickly offered to host them next year when Vicki and Steve make their trip in 2022. They had recently lost one member of the original class, Verneida Britton who also use to work for me at the Visitor Center, to cancer.

Saturday evening I hosted a Visitor Center reunion cook out.  Our boss, Joan Kaup, and two other of my staff, Carolyn Sherman and Sandra Bowen came with their husbands.  I am the age now that these ladies were when they worked for me.  Sandra and I recently reconnected when she came to my first open house (I didn’t know she was following the journey), but Joan and Carolyn I have formed friendships too.  What was amazing is that it turned out Vicki and Steve knew Joan’s husband Rick from when he lived in Mariemont (where they lived) with his first wife and Vicki actually use to work for Sandra’s husband.  It turned out Vicki’s and Sandra’s tenure didn’t overlap.  It was an evening filled with great conversation and no concerns about Covid-19 as the entire group had been vaccinated.  It was nice to remember that I actually had some enjoyable years of employment at that start of my CVB career.  I’ve gone on road trips with Joan, Carolyn, and Vicki as a testament that friendships can be formed at work.