Fourth-Day Flood (part 1): the 10,000-foot Perspective

Once the ceiling panels were down, it became obvious that this had been a long-standing problem. Boards had water stains, a beam was rotting out, and the upstairs floor was being supported by scrap wood.

Last fall when I wrote about my Hobbit Bath upgrade, I thought I was nearly done with the plumbing issues in our upstairs bathroom–and therefore nearly ready to write a post (or 3) about them.

I was wrong.

Here’s the summary story: Four days after we moved into our 1900s new-to-us home, my best friend had the audacity to take a bath following a day of helping us unpack boxes. When she pulled the plug in the upstairs claw-foot tub, 50 gallons of water flowed around the plumbing, filled the space between the upstairs floor and downstairs ceiling, and rained from the dining room’s coffers for 6 hours.

Sadly our disaster was declared a preexisting condition (in spite of our “clean” home inspection prior to purchase and a joke-of-a-home-warranty), so David and I were left to do several-thousand-dollars-worth of water abatement and repairs. We had no choice…if we wanted to retain our homeowners’ insurance. Ugh.

To summarize a sixteen-month-long investigation: the people who had renovated our house in 2005 did a lot of DIY. Three of the four necessary feet on the claw-foot tub did not fit the tub. So every time the tub filled with water, the feet slipped out from underneath it, cracking the plumbing seals. Then water would flow along the easiest path (around the then-detached plumbing instead of through it) into the ceiling space and destroy the dining room below.

I’m a big fan of silver linings, so in advance of this series of posts I’ll admit that I’m happy with the cosmetic results. The dining room had professional repairs (meaning I got to have a hideous dried-blood-red dining room repainted by not-me) that have since informed my house’s entire decor. The guest bathroom also had professional repairs, in addition to the Amanda-and-David upgrades (it is now waterproof thanks to over 2,000 tiles!).

Stay tuned to read the horror stories and see the beautiful results…

Freeing Our Front Door

Most of the surfaces in the house need to be stripped–they either have old lead paint or one coat of latex sloppily applied before the flippers put the house on the market. Next time I’ll invest in a heat gun instead of chemicals.

Christmas is around the corner, and I’m ready to decorate. I always start with the “outdoor” decorations, which for us are mostly located indoors. I’m that boring person who likes a single candle in each window, a big beautiful wreath on the front door, and not much else. Simple, but appropriate for our 110-year-old red-brick American Foursquare with 48 wavy-glass, wood windows. (Yes, 48 windows. And they all need to be restored and covered by storms before they rot away!)

I noticed this summer that our front door (and back door and basement door and carriage house doors) needed some attention. It had been painted green about 10 years ago, and that paint was failing. I could see layers of other paint beneath the green, and I knew I needed to strip the door for new paint to adhere well and look nice.

I’m getting pretty good at stripping paint. My first project here was restoring a transom window that hangs between our kitchen and mudroom, and it gave me lots of practice with different types of stripping solutions. Based on my window experience, I thought I could strip the front door in about 1 week. It took 3. There were 7 layers of latex paint, lead paint, and stain to dissolve and scrape before I finally hit wood.

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The restored door reveals the original wood details, wavy glass, and door knob plus a new unlacquered brass kickplate…and security system decal.

I almost stopped a million times. As each layer fell in sticky clumps on the drop cloth, I’d stand back and consider if the door was good enough to get some fresh paint. It never was good enough, and I’m so glad I didn’t settle. Because I was shocked to discover this door is solid mahogany, and it deserves to be admired every time it opens and closes.

I used marine-grade urethane and a gel stain that matches the color of the interior pocket doors. It’s dark and rich and only took 4 coats to heal and seal the wood. (Stripping is not a gentle process, especially when you’re working on a vertical surface).

I finished the project by affixing an unlacquered brass kickplate to the bottom of the door, replacing the hinges, and polishing the doorknob and backplates. But all that shiny stuff doesn’t compete with the wood door’s tiny dental molding, wavy glass, and intricate woodgrain. The result is beyond my expectations.

I almost wish I hadn’t ordered that wreath. The door it will cover deserves all the attention this year!

Small Room, Big Project

If you read Monday’s post, it’s possible you think I’ve been hiding under my covers for 4 months snuggling Copper. There was some of that, sure. But my primary coping mechanism in almost any situation is physical productivity. That’s probably because it gives me (1) the grand illusion that I have control and (2) the satisfaction of a job well done.

Back in January we moved from Denver to Chattanooga, and we bought a 100-year-old arts-and-crafts home. It was renovated “to the studs” about 10 years ago, but a LOT of what you can see was slapped together. Window moldings aren’t joined properly; nothing is caulked; paint combinations are atrocious; there is bead board and flat paint everywhere. I knew all this when we bought it. I thought, Sanding, painting, staining–I can do all of that. I’d like to do all of that!

But of course, every little project I’ve started has ended up taking about 5-times longer than it should have due to corners cut by the flippers. Here’s one of those stories:

The Hobbit Bathroom

If you’re over 6’1″ tall, you can forget standing up straight in here. Our below-the-stairs half-bathroom comes by it’s nickname honestly.

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Before

As I was working on the upstairs bathroom (a project that has been in progress since February and deserves a series of blog posts all its own), I thought, While I have the paint out, I’ll go ahead and hit the walls in the Hobbit bath.

It shouldn’t have taken more than an hour because the room is so small. As far as I could see, the only problems in the Hobbit bath were on the walls. The renovators had used flat paint, so years of hand washing at the pedestal sink had put water stains all over that wall. Yuck.

But as I took down the hardware and plastered over old nail holes, I realized there was a reason flat paint had been used. Flat paint hides imperfections, and these walls were full of imperfections. No one had bothered to sand and smooth the new drywall after it was installed. One coat of flat paint had been slapped directly over the lumps and bumps of mudded tape and gritty drywall dust.

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I spent an entire day sanding then washing the walls. Next I primed the whole room, including the ceiling. I had not sanded the ceiling because it looked okay aside from the hairspray on it. Primer would cover the hairspray, right?

Little-known fact: hairspray + Kilz = crackle-plaster. With one roll of primer I had the ugliest textured ceiling you could imagine. It took David’s strength to sand that mess and the rest of the ceiling before I could finally paint.

Whenever David gets involved in a project, it’s a safe bet that expectations will rise. During an ill-planned trip to Lowe’s the weekend of this disaster, he decided I should tile the wet wall behind the sink. Who was I to say no?

So my 1-hour project became a 4-day project, and I’ve had a total work stoppage on the upstairs bathroom. But the results speak for themselves, and I now have the confidence to tile the entire upstairs bathroom.

I figure that will take me a week, so I better reserve a month!