With Old Houses: it’s always something

After that crazy rain and hail storm the other week, we noticed a wet spot on the floor of the rental unit.  Just what we needed right now, a leaky roof!  When we had our home inspection, the inspector did point out a few areas to keep an eye on so we were not completely surprised.  The roof is in decent condition and we have been counting on the fact that we wouldn’t need to do any major work to it for at least 2-3 years.

It looks like at some point there was a skylight in the roof that was removed and capped with a piece of plywood when the asphalt roof surface was last replaced. Unfortunately, the crew didn’t do a great job covering the old skylight. Instead of building inclines and running the complete asphalt sheets over the skylight they cut the sheet and spread flashing cement over the seams created. Over the years the flashing cement on the corners has worn down and now there is a small leak.

Lucky for us our architect came to the rescue.  He is something of a waterproofing dynamo.  On Saturday he and I took a trip to Home Depot to pick up some Karnak Flashing Cement and Cotton Fabric.

The fix was easy enough. Using a trowel we simply spread the Karnak across the top and sides of the skylight cover. We laid down the cotton fabric across all the edges–this just gives it some strength. And finally, we put more flashing cement over the tape. He recommended spreading it out away from the edged areas, “like icing a cake” in his words.

Apparently, over time the flashing cement will get harder but never completely harden. This way it can hold the seal while the building flexes between freeze and thaw cycles.

The long-term fix for this is to weld an aluminum cover for the skylight. That sounded a bit expensive but would probably last 20+ years. In the end, this cost us only about $30, 1 hour of work and it should last a few more years.  Not a bad DIY project.

Dip N’ Strip

As we push on completing small projects within the house, we turned our attention to the built in shutters.  After refinishing only one half of a set of double doors, it became apparent that we can’t refinish all the doors and shutters ourselves so we began looking around for companies that do it for you.

So a few weeks ago we headed to New Jersey to visit Dip N’ Strip.  No, it is not a “gentleman’s club,” it is a company that strips paint.

We decided that we would strip a set of parlor floor shutters to see what condition they were in under all that technicolor paint (you recall the red and blue fireplace mantle) and to help us decide whether the others are worth doing as well.

Parlor Floor Shutters – Before

Dip N’ Strip is a family owned company located in Hackensack, New Jersey–less than an hour’s drive from New York City.  They can strip wood, cast iron and metal items including: doors, furniture, fireplace mantels, radiators, garden furniture, and architectural elements like molding, medallions and cornices.  The owner, Jim, told us that he gets a lot of business from folks renovating old brownstones in NYC who want to restore old elements rather than replace them.

In our heads we had envisioned that dipping would mean that the shutter is dipped in a solution and pulled out and ta da!, a paint free shutter.

In reality, it is much more work.  The shutter is immersed in a giant tub of paint stripper solution for several hours after which they use scrapers and special scrub brushes to scrape the paint free from the surface.

Once the paint is removed, the item gets moved to a giant vat of hot water where it soaks to remove all of the solution’s residue and is taken out and left to dry.

Here are the after results:

We were very pleased with the outcome.  The shutters will look great once we put a nice new coat of paint on them (the wood is not really in good enough shape to just stain it).  The service at Dip N’ Strip was great and the staff was knowledgeable and courteous.  The shutters were available for pick up after only a week.  We would definitely use them again.

In fact the area around Dip N’ Strip had a bunch of remodeling supply companies that would be worth checking out.  Curious to see if granite countertops are cheaper in Jersey than NYC.

Later we will be doing some cost comparisons between stripping and restoring trim and molding work versus replacing it.  We would like to keep as much original detail in the house as possible but later as we move walls, some of it will likely be damaged beyond reasonable repair and some of it is already damaged with nail holes, dents, and of course endless coats of paint.

Dip N’ Strip generously stripped a panel for free and we paid for the other.

Filed with the DOB!

You may be wondering why you haven’t heard from us in a while (or maybe you haven’t–it’s OK).  It’s because we have been busy trying to get our Alt 1 paperwork filed with the Department of Buildings so we can start demolishing the old extension and putting in the new. It has been a stressful 3 weeks. The renovation roller coaster is in full effect.

You may recall that we were waiting for the results of the Letter of No Objection application that was filed by the sellers.  It was rejected by the DOB–allegedly.  The most frustrating part is that we don’t exactly know why because we did not file it or receive the results even though it pertains to our property.

So now we have to go through the costly process of getting a new Certificate of Occupancy because the DOB does not recognize our house as a legal 2 family even though the Finance department has had no problem collecting the taxes for the 2 residences over the years.

Filing is a difficult process and basically requires you to hire a person called an expeditor to help you because the process is so confusing that the lay person could never do it on their own.  Expeditors are basically building code experts.

In our case, we hired all our providers a la carte.  Some people hire design/build firms and now I get why.  These firms have the architect, structural engineer, contractor and expeditor all in one package so you, as a home owner, don’t have to negotiate and coordinate all of them as you do if you hire them individually as we did.  Of course design/build firms are usually much more expensive too.

The Tests

When we thought we had everything ready to file–guess what, we still had the asbestos test to do.  This required taking samples of all the areas of the house that will be demolished, sending them to a lab and then of course waiting several days for results. Ahhhh… another week of delays.

Do you see that hair sticking out of the side of the plaster in the photo below?  It is horse hair that they commonly used to mix in with the plaster compound.  Nineteenth century horses did not have it easy.

On the upside we were lucky and no asbestos was found. This would have meant a big abatement bill to get rid of it. Instead we’ll have a normal demolition cost.

Once the results came in our team pulled together about 10 forms(we had already done the pit and soil tests) with various government looking acronym/number combination names such as TR1, TR4, EF1, PW1, PW1A, PW1B, and ST1. This packet looked just like a TurboTax generated income tax return. We sign some, our architect signs some, our engineer signs some others, we write some checks, it all goes to the expediter and viola… it’s finally filed!

TIP:  Don’t buy a house that needs major renovations unless your marriage is on solid footing–you will be arguing constantly!  Seriously, just deciding whether to put in a ceiling fan can take a whole evening’s discussion.

When we first started this blog we talked about how it felt like a roller coaster ride, well it’s been upside down lately and let’s face it–we haven’t even started.