This Old House

If you’re finding yourself on this update we hope that you already read THIS POST that provides a lot of background information about how we became owners of a 105 year old craftsman farm house in the Yakima Valley of Washington State.

I really wish we could document and share this process as thoroughly as the tiny house because there is so much beauty and hilarity and lessons in the process of these tasks but we are using every bit of time and energy just to accomplish them while raising our daughter  so the documentation has been limited and sporadic. I have a feeling that this  post will lack the flowing articulation we try to write with and may be a bit ‘drier’ as I try to cover the many projects we have going on in an attempt to create a thorough account of the work we have done in this home for future reference.

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The thing about owning a house like this is that you automatically become stewards of a piece of history and hopefully have the skills and patience to ensure it receives the love it deserves: which in our circumstances was required immediately.

One of the first things we intended to do was refinish the hardwood floors. When the professional came to give an estimate he quickly recognized something our untrained eyes had not when purchasing the house; these floors had already been refinished more times than they should have been and the wood was splintering where there was little-to-nothing between the surface and the female groove below, even exposing the nail heads at times.

‘Leave it or replace it’ he told us.

We scoffed at the idea of replacing the hardwood and sent him on his way with a ‘thanks but no-thanks’ but over the following weeks we found ourselves not allowing Aubrin to walk barefoot because of those occasional splintering areas and protruding nail heads. This was not how we wanted to live our lives in our new house and realized that there was no better time to do a substantial project like hardwood floor replacement than before we were actually living there. I sheepishly called back the professional and explained that we had a change of heart and just like that this house showed us it was going to be anything but quick, cheap or easy.

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38239107_10101223373337269_4929398549042429952_n To save money we took on the task of ripping up the existing floors and made a few interesting discoveries. The floors we were walking on were not the original hardwood and instead were a skimpy 3/8 thick t&g wood flooring likely installed 25 years ago when a bunch of other work had been done, including the second floor master suite addition. This explained why the floor was spent after only two or three sandings and also led to the next discovery. Because of how thin that finished flooring was and in an attempt to make it equal the height of the original red fir in the bedrooms they had installed 1/2″ furring (spacer) boards between the sub-floor and the finish floor. This meant that we had to essentially rip out two floors in order to get to the original diagonal 1″x 8″ ship lap sub-floor that would be our starting point.

Those would not be our only discoveries however and in classic ‘this old house’ fashion we found many sub-floor boards that were broken and two weird low spots in the dining room that could not be accessed and addressed from underneath because of a finished ceiling in a small basement space directly below.

We went about cutting out and replacing the broken sub-floor boards and devised a rather time intensive, but kind of beautiful shimming strategy that brought the two low dished spots up to level with the rest of the floor. If you ever find yourself walking through our dining room and feel nothing out of the ordinary I want you to remember this concealed artwork that made the floor level.

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It was about this time that we decided to continue the hardwood flooring into the kitchen for a seamless flow from one space to another. The necessary amount of hardwood was ordered and we went to work tearing out the kitchen, which WAS one of our main renovation goals for the house but we didn’t anticipate it happening immediately as a task intertwined with the installation of new hardwood that we also did not anticipate. Making matters more dusty was the slight alteration to the opening into the kitchen. To avoid a mid-wall seam between new drywall and existing lath and plaster we removed the entire walls plaster back to the corners where the joint would be much easier to hide. In doing so we discovered a second chimney buried in the wall that we are going to try to leave exposed by framing it in walnut and adding a few shelves in front of it.

At one point I thought I had developed a good solution to efficiently cutting a clean corner line that involved a high speed angle grinder jerry-rigged to a small shop-vac that was duct-taped to my waste. The outcome however was less than desirable and both me and the house were covered in dust. [I have since learned of the oscillating multi-tools that are a much better option for this and many other tasks thanks to a generous housewarming gift from our friend MACY MILLER.]

So here we were, trying to enjoy the feeling of being new homeowners while working our asses off to essentially tear the house apart. We were spending money and moving backwards….the house was empty and dusty, with plaster dangling from its lathe substructure like skin peeling off a skeleton.

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Lastly I spent a few hours screwing down every single sub-floor board to the joists below to eradicate the occurrence of squeaky floors with every step. This worked perfectly and was finally an unexpected perk that was only possible because we were replacing the floors.

It was finally time to give this house back the floors it deserved; 3/4″ x 3 1/4″ solid red oak and the excitement of this endeavor began to creep back into the project as the floor came together piece by piece and I was even able to make a new air return duct grate out of left over oak flooring.

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The stain and top coat meant the floors were finalized and we admired its beautiful sheen for a very short time before it was time to cover them up for the foreseeable future. Because of how much work we still had to do and the fact that we had to build an entire kitchen on top of the finished floors we covered them with a thick cardboard material so that if (or when) a hammer or other tool is dropped it will not damage the brand new floors.

During the floor installation process we also turned our focus to some outdoor tasks. We wanted to be able to leave the house for a week without having to worry about the plants and grass so we installed an 8 valve automated irrigation system that utilizes both drip emitters for the plants and sprinklers for the grass. There was a large part of the backyard that was a combination of tree roots, dilapidated raised beds, and white landscaping stone. We had initially planned on tearing it up and replacing it the following spring but when a friend who was doing the same thing with his yard called and asked if we could use over 400 sf of left over sod from his project we said sure!

The thing about fresh cut rolled sod is it needs to be installed and continuously watered within 24-48 hours. This left us with the lower end of that range to tear up the existing surface (which happened to be way more gravel than expected) acquire and lay down topsoil and then install the sod, which we somehow accomplished in a back breaking 36 hour period.

We then worked the backyard fence line which contained six rather large stumps from cut down trees. The stump removal process is one I’d rather forget; what seemed like days of swinging a pick and sledge hammer and using a hand saw and shovel to slowly undermine the stump and sever its roots in order to finally pull the stump free and roll it away. One by one they were removed and replaced with new shrubs. Some edging pavers created a clean separation between grass and the fence landscaping and the backyard was starting to come back to life!

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Living in a tiny house has definitely enabled us to see new ways to maximize space and productivity as we lay out our plans for the property, both inside and out of the house. We decided to create a garden area in the one corner of the property and in doing so tore off a small non permitted shed type extension of the house to make room for two large raised garden beds trimmed out with cedar shingles. The reason we chose to do this task so early (when they won’t be used until the spring) is because we wanted a useful place to put the dirt that we are removing from the courtyard in order to drop and level it’s grade before installing reclaimed brick hardscaping.

One thing that I always loved growing up was having a sandbox and we hoped to provide one for Aubrin, but instead of one of those tiny little plastic things, we wanted to create an immersive experience; a sort of garden sandbox oasis. We found the perfect spot near ‘the hobbit hole’ we described so eloquently in the LAST POST and went to work on our new creation. Once the sandbox was dug and lined with landscaping fabric we built seating our of salvaged wood on three sides and then began stacking rocks found throughout the property on the forth side until it evolved into a full blown rock wall back-drop to the garden sandbox. Knowing that it would inevitably become climbed we are constructing it using hidden mortar joints to add structural integrity while keeping the aesthetic of a dry stacked wall. The two pipes sticking out of the top will eventually hold a horizontal wood slat screen of sorts to complete the back drop and provide a visual buffer between out yard and the neighbors roof. While the wall is an ongoing project Aubrin couldn’t wait to use the sand box so we filled it with 1000 lbs of sand, one 60lb bag at a time…. (it really doesn’t look like 1000 lbs)

The last project currently being worked on is probably the most difficult, time intensive and expensive; the kitchen. Now that the new floors were in we could begin building the kitchen on top. The three hour trip to the Portland IKEA for our cabinets was laced with nostalgia as I had done the exact same pilgrimage when building the tiny house, but this time I was super prepare with a detailed plan:

  1. Sneak out of tiny house before 6 am while Aubrin and Mom slept
  2. Put on podcast and watch the time melt away and enjoy a Columbia Gorge sunrise.
  3. Walk into IKEA at 9:30 when the cafeteria opens, thirty minutes before the rest of the store opens.
  4. Crush the two dollar ‘Swedish-American’ breakfast (sans meat) and inhale more coffee.
  5. Walk directly to the kitchen staff and snag a computer upon store opening and be the first to have our cabinet order assembled in the warehouse.
  6. Pick up our order and watch frustrated couples try to tetris their overzealous purchases into their undersized vehicles.
  7. Head back to Washington state stoked on a tax free kitchen cabinet purchase!

It’s worth noting that I did order the two peninsula cabinets the wrong depth and had to repeat the above 7 steps a couple weeks later, shaving even more time off of my previous record.

It has taken a few weeks of free time to slowly put the kitchen together in large part due to the customization we’ve had to do some of the IKEA cabinets. The trade off for inexpensive, smooth functioning IKEA cabinets is their limited selection of standard sizes. This means the cabinets for our odd sized corner location and unique farmhouse sink had to be ‘hacked.’ In this instance we ordered the standard size larger than our needs and cut them down to fit our applications.

Other over ambitious moments have also added to the slow down like buying a 12′ long by 2″ thick walnut slab from our friend at ATLAS & CEDAR and processing it (cut, plain, sand, join, finish coat) into four “L” shaped shelves that slide over concealed support pegs in between the upper cabinet and wall.

We also decided to replace the old, single pane, double hung window that was painted shut with a new double pane fixed window and then add a range hood that was lacking in the original kitchen. It is kind of unique experience to have a window behind the stove and it looks right at the sand box and hobbit hole. It also means that we had to use an island style exhaust hood that hangs from the ceiling rather than being mounted to the wall which will turn out to be a pretty sexy moment in the kitchen that will be even more beautiful when our custom backslash tile continues up around the window and behind the range hood to the ceiling.

Shortly before this post we slide in our new appliances that we have slowly ordered over the past few months and finally have a glimpse at what our new kitchen will look like!

Of Note: The cardboard counter tops are temporary…:)

 

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