Monday, October 27, 2008

The Joys of Home Ownership

When we bought our house, we of course had it inspected...

Other than a few cosmetic issues (the previous owner seems to have had some rage issues and there are punch and kick marks in most of the doors and a few walls) the house passed without reservation. New roof, new-ish windows, old but working furnace, brand new hot water heater... we were excited. We thought we'd scored big. (We did get a good deal, even knowing what we know now.)

And then about a month ago, when the remnants of hurricane 'H' poured through town, I noticed a brown spot on the drop ceiling of one of the downstairs guest rooms. I climbed up on a chair to inspect, and low and behold, it was wet. So I popped the panel up and saw that there was a slight stain on the ceiling itself that also felt wet. I popped up a couple more and the ceiling there was also damp, though not stained. The spot was about 6 inches in from the wall and strangely centered, so it took me a minute to figure out where it could possibly be coming from, until I realized that the second floor is about six inches inset, and there's a big double window in the middle of the wall up there.

So up the stairs I went into the upstairs guest bedroom (it's a four bedroom house and just the two of us, so there are lots of guest rooms) and measured it out, and sure enough the leak was somewhere in the window. I opened the window and began poking at the frame and found that the sill was really soft and wet. To see just how bad it was I grabbed the edge and wiggled it back and forth a bit, at which point the entire sill fell off into my hand!

In a bit of a panic I called out to my husband who ran in, assessed the situation, and somehow figured out that my main problem right that moment was what the hell to do with the massive rotten piece of wood in my hands.

"Just drop it," he said.
I looked down the three stories to the ground (there's a walkout basement and two stories of house) and said, "Really? Is that safe?"
"What, are you worried about the fern?"
"What if the turtle is down there?" I replied absurdly. There is a turtle that lives in our backyard.
"Hon, just drop it." So I did.

At which point our attention turned back to the big issue: the massive rotted hole in our house. You can see here (this is actually a picture of the bathroom window, the bedroom was worse) the remains of the old sill that has broken off and the shards of rotted wood where the rest of the sill ought to be. (you shouldn't be able to see the white part- that's the siding on the house)

I quickly ran around and checked the rest of the upstairs windows and discovered that 5 out of the 9 window sills were mostly, if not completely, rotten through.

At which point I ran back downstairs and checked all the ceilings and walls underneath the rotted sills. Thankfully none except the one I'd already found had leaked through. When we pulled the windows out on those it turned out they weren't nearly as bad as that first one was, thank goodness!

The question at that point was What now?
Do we call a contractor? We just bought a house- we didn't have money for a contractor!
Which brought us to Can we possibly do this ourselves?
Well, Google helped answer that one. And the answer seemed to be, probably. Since our sill was completely rotted away we wouldn't be able to use it as a template for a new one, and we'd have to take the whole window out to remove it, but the rest seemed simple enough.
SEEMED simple... and once we'd had a friend who knew better help us do the first four, the fifth, and smallest, only took four hours to do!

The Technicalities:
- Use your trusty 13 inch pry bar (the same one that we used to take up the tack-strips from the old carpeting) and a hammer to pry the window frame off.

-Take all the screws out from around the window frame, and try to pull the window out.

- When it doesn't come out, pry out the plastic pieces in the side of the window to find the hidden screws, remove those then pull the window out.

- Use a task saw to cut any nails or screws from the remaining part of the sill that you can't access to remove.

- Slide (or in our case, use a hammer and rubber mallet to beat) out the old sill.

- If you can, use the old sill as a template to cut the new sill from the piece of pre-treated lumber you've purchased from your local home store. If not, measure as best you can, then cut, try, cut some more, try again, chisel a bit, and hopefully succeed in eventually sliding the new sill back into place. It will go in at an angle- that's so the water slides off away from the house- and the angle should be preserved, using wedges under the sill if you must.

- Fill in under the sill, behind the frame, and around the window with insulation as you slide the window back into place. (It was helpful to have two people at this point so that I could slip in the insulation as my husband held the window.) We used the white general purpose insulation.

- Screw the window back in and reassemble all the pieces you previously unscrewed and popped out.

- Once you've managed to remove all the old nails from the trim (whoever constructed ours apparently thought that we'd be hooking bowling balls to our window frames because each piece had about 10 nails in it...) nail it back into place.

- Caulk around your new sill and re-installed window inside and out, caulk generously, and check back to see if gaps have formed over the next couple of weeks. If it rains in the 48 hours after you caulk, a good deal of it will wash away, so you're best off you start the project with a clear weather forecast. If it does wash away, smooth out any bumps and then re-caulk.

- And voila! You're done! Or once you've filled in the nail holes from the new and old nails with wood putty and repainted, you're done. I haven't done that yet myself... it took almost a month to finish replacing all those sills! Not to mention the scraping, sanding, repainting and re-caulking of all the frames that didn't need to be replaced... I'll worry about the interiors sometime this winter!

At some point I'll tell you what we're doing about the ceiling in the downstairs guest bedroom...

TIME: 5 windows at about 4 hours per window, during daylight hours over 60 degrees only took about a month.

COST: About $200
- $30 lumber
- $50 circular saw
- $50 task saw
- $45 one gallon of self-priming interior/exterior paint
- $50ish nails, caulk, screws, wood glue and other sundry hand saws, files and chisels.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Fun in a Different Suburb

About a month ago I received a brochure from the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem advertising their new exhibits...

They had an exhibit on Indian modern art that I wanted to check out to use as fodder for discussion with a family friend that sort of collects and deals it. There were a couple other exhibits that looked interesting, but really I'm just a little obsessed with all things India.
Since it was the beginning of October and before this cold streak hit, we decided to make a day of it, kind of forgetting that the town of the original witch hunts might be a little busy even four weeks before Halloween.

So we drove for an hour, following signs in from 95- they've done a really good job marking the roads until the last major turn onto 1A, which is completely unmarked- and followed the signs in for museum/mall parking. We didn't really bother looking for street parking on the way in because really, how bad could it be? Well, the only garage in town was charging $20, cash only, to park for any amount of time. $20! In freaking Salem! It's cheaper than that to park downtown Boston on the weekend! And we hadn't gone to the bank yet... So we drove back out around on to Rte 1A and found street parking about 6 blocks from the museum for free. So much better.

Toby the cat wishes to add: 87 yu66vcm

All over town the tourist attractions had awnings set up for a block in each direction leading off their entrances heralding the crowds to come. Trolleys packed to bursting plied up and down the streets as we hurried to the museum. Fortunately, however, for the most part the crowds hadn't yet arrived, and none of those that had were headed to the art museum. There was no line to get in, and for most of our visit we had the place virtually to ourselves, which was pretty cool.

The Gateway to India exhibit I had been looking forward to was a little disappointing. There were a couple pieces- like a great MF Hussein piece that was an interpretation of a Bollywood poster- that I liked because they reflected something very specific to India, but most of the rather small collection looked like lots of other modern art that could have come from any city in the world, except possibly for a greater than usual use of the color saffron. I admit, though, that I'm not a huge fan of modern art.

There were two other exhibits- the Maori tattoo photographs and "All My Life" which was a collection of contemporary pieces by Native American artists- that were really very good. The latter particularly surprised my with its breadth of sources, and the sharp wit with which the artists depicted the contradictory plight of Native Americans in America today. Definitely worth the drive over and the price of admission.

After the museum closed we decided to wander down to the water front to look at the boats.
The East Indiaman Friendship was also closed for the day, but Haris (who is a sailor as well as a bit of a history buff) enjoyed gazing at the rigging for awhile.

When it began to get dark we headed back up toward town to grab an early dinner before driving back home. I had seen on the town website that there was going to be live Irish Music at O'Neill's Irish Pub from 4- 7:00, so we asked directions ("Excuse me, do you know where O'... umm... O', or McSomebody's... hang on I wrote it down... it's an Irish pub with live music...") and a helpful local pointed the way. O'Neill's turned out to be one of those quintessential Boston Irish pubs with lots of heavy woodwork and red paint, fantastic local beers on tap, a roaring fire and- as promised- a trio of fiddles and flutes roaring away in the corner.

I would love to find a place like that a little closer to my house- there used to be a nice one on Rte 9 in Framingham called Desmond O'Malleys (the bar, not the restaurant) that had live music four nights a week, and I LOVED going and hanging out there in the evening where everyone was playing games and singing along with the drinking tunes (and occasional U2 cover,) but it burned down.

The food (at O'Neill's) was if not good then at least perfectly adequate (I had fish and chips, Haris had a burger), the pint was Guiness, and the atmosphere cheery. A very nice end to a fun day out.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Autumn in New England

This whole weekend was one of those lovely fall weekends...
where if you sit inside and lament the 50 degree temperatures you'll be convinced it is miserable and freezing, but if you get out and do some vigorous activity it will be a gorgeous fall day. Happily, we took the latter route.
Mom came over around lunchtime and we decided to trim the apple trees. We have two in our front yard that gave dramatically different crops this year (one gave two stunted apples, the other gave about 50 variously stunted and squirrel eaten apples.) I looked up online how to go about it a couple of days ago (trim off anything that grows straight up, and encourage those that curve out and up away from the trunk,) but I've never trimmed a fruit tree before, so I was glad to have Mom's more experienced, discerning eye.

Unfortunately, I didn't think to take a before picture, or an after picture for that matter, but my brilliant husband got excited enough to go in and grab the camera when Mom managed to convince me to start climbing. Or maybe it was more my conscience that convinced me.

We only had an 8 foot ladder, and these trees had been growing unchecked for some time, so there were some large branches that needed to go above the 8 foot line.
I should say, because this story will be more remarkable if I do, that I am terrified if heights. Terrified, like in high school when we were required to pretend we were gymnasts (for phys. ed.) and we were asked to do a "routine" on the balance beam, my legs would turn to jello and I would try desperately to find some way, ANY way to beg off.

Haris (the aforementioned husband) first said, "I could probably reach them if I climbed up."
And then Mom said, "I love climbing apple trees, these are good ones to climb, too!"
And a few things flew through my mind:
- Haris is quite a bit heavier than either Mom or I am, and these trees are not very thick.
- Mom is quite quickly reaching that technical "senior" age, where falling from an apple tree would be a rather bad thing.
- Both of them have full time jobs that they need to go to in order to pay our respective mortgages.

Which lead me to say, "I can go up." And surprisingly, I did! Up the 8 foot ladder, into the tree, and up a few more feet of branches. Mom handed up the saw, and down came the branches!

We didn't end up taking off as many as we originally intended to because a) when I got up there I realized they were MUCH bigger than they seemed from the ground, and b) we'd already taken off about a third of the tree, which is really all you should take at a time. Oh well, more fun for next year....

On another note, here is where our cat Toby now spends the vast majority of his time:

That would be the heating vent right behind him. Does anyone know if heat eventually flows THROUGH fur? Or is all that expensive oil fueled energy ending right in my friendly fur ball? Hmm...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Troubled Times

Hello my loyal readers...

I wish to apologize for and explain my long (and continuing) absence from the Blogosphere. My computer has died. Well, actually, the power cord to my computer has died (all right, was killed...) I hope to find a new cord for it fairly soon and be back up and running. In the meantime, I am afraid that my posts will be minimal, and photo-less.

Until then I remain fondly yours,
Madame Meg