Salvage score: cast iron bath tub

I was driving around at work a few days ago and noticed that there was a company clearing trees around a few abandoned houses.  Correctly assuming that this meant the houses would be demolished, I stopped and asked the driver of an excavator (who was conveniently the company owner) if I could check around the house for any woodwork, windows, or the like that I could salvage.  He said it was no problem, and to just let him know what I might like.

The house was something of a mess, and almost all of the woodwork, windows, and flooring were water damaged.  The cabinets were falling apart, though they looked to have been cute once-upon-a-time.  But then I walked into the bathroom and saw a nice, deep, old tub, just like the one in my mom's house.

I went back and talked to the company owner again, and he agreed that we could have the tub.  I then mentioned that I had no way of getting it out myself; I was obviously working, and my husband was at home watching our baby.  Since the house was being demo-ed the next morning, I didn't see any way to remove it.  He (very generously!) said that his crew would take it out and set it off to the side for us.  Awesome!  He also mentioned that they were contracted to demolish a duplex in Mishawaka, and would we like to look at it before they took it down?  You bet we would!  He said there were old kitchen cabinets, woodwork, doors, and windows in it.  He took my phone number and said he'd call me when they were a little closer to the demolition day.

I'm going to stop back by the destruction site today and offer him some cash for his time and effort.  Cast iron doesn't have a high scrap value, so I'm confident it will be more than he would have gotten for the tub at a scrap yard.  I'm hoping that maybe we can establish a good working relationship, and maybe we'll call us before he works on any old house.

Maybe my Aunt Virginia is right and I should have been a Sheeny Man instead of a cop (though I seem to be doing okay at both at the moment!)...

I'm still hoping that if/when we build our "new" house, that we can do it with as much recycled building material as possible.  I don't want a new-looking home; I love the character and quality of old houses.  It also saddens me that when old homes are demolished, so much usable building material is just wasted and tossed into a landfill.  Maybe "sickens" is a better description.  Our society and culture place such a high value on all things new, that I think people forget that there is nothing wrong with things that are old.  Old things still work. Old things are much easily repaired by the layman.  Old things often don't require electricity to do the same job.  Many old things are crafted with much more attention to detail and with a higher standard of quality, and are often beautiful as well as useful.

I like old.  I like knowing that other people have used and found joy in the same things I use.  I like when items have a story to tell, or when I can tell a story about where I acquired them.  It's so much more interesting than just going to the store and picking something out.  I like knowing that I saved just one more thing from the landfill.  Recycling isn't just for cans and bottles!


Kitchen mini-reno sneak peek

New floor, new fridge, new dishwasher!
We're winding down on phase 1 of the mini-renovation in the kitchen.  The floor is no longer scary, and we have a working dishwasher and a fridge that actually fits in the space designed for it.  I'm happy with the way it looks, and it completely changes the character of the room, even though the cabinets and countertops are still the same.  Removing the cruddy wallpaper and paneling wainscot will help even more, but we won't do that until it's warmer outside and we can open the windows to ventilate.

We went with SwiftLock Sierra Slate laminate tiles from Lowes.  I had my doubts, since it got iffy reviews, but we bought 6 boxes and figured if it didn't work out for us, we'd just return it.  The semi-cruddy reviews were due to the planks being bowed.  Even after letting all the flooring sit for about 10 days, there was a noticeable curve to each plank.  But as we slid the planks together, we found if we tapped the long edge with a hammer to help engage the tongue and groove, we had no problems.  The seams are not even visible.  It's so much nicer than the el-cheapo temporary laminate we had in there before.  The planks don't slide around; they all fit snugly together.  It was more difficult to install, since we had to line up the "grout lines" in order to make it look like tile instead of a haphazard mess, but Shayne and I are both very happy with the results.

The only issue I have is that it's more modern than the rest of the house.  It's not so modern that it's jarring to walk into the room, but it's obviously newer than the 1920s.  I knew that was a hazard when we started this project, but creating a more period-appropriate kitchen by replacing the cabinets and unearthing and refinishing the wood floor just isn't in the budget now that we're going to move.  I wanted to do something that was appealing while being totally reversible by a future owner (if desired).  While it's not the kitchen this house deserves, we didn't ruin anything either.  And it does look nice, and I think it's the best we could do while working with the existing cabinets.  It's just not the kitchen I had dreamed of for this house.

In the next "phase", we're going to add baseboard to match the rest of the house, remove the wallpaper and paneling, paint the walls, and install toekicks.  It should be warm enough to open the windows during the day for a few hours within a week or two, so we'll be moving right along.  In the meantime, Shayne is going to install the molding in the upstairs bedrooms, and I'll get busy sanding and staining the few bits of woodwork that are still painted in the hallway.

Oh house, how I want you to be finished....


The tagline of this blog should be...

Instead of, "How our old house changed our lives," our tagline really should read, "How we unfucked our old house, one catastrophe at a time."

Seriously, sometimes I wonder if the people who owned the house before the folks we bought it from did anything right.  D across the street said that Mr. F was "handy".  While I commend them for not letting the house fall down, I have to wonder, fairly often, what were they thinking?!

When we had the dishwasher installed, we found that the water supply and drain lines were both the same diameter of pipe.  That made the supply line too big and the drain too small.  Also, both were some sort of cheap flexible plastic pipe commonly used in trailers and campers, not braided line for the supply and a strong, flexible hose for the drain.  Don't even get me started on the pipe arrangement for the dishwasher supply and drain.  Our installer also noted that the supply lines for the back porch bathroom was clear plastic tubing of the type normally installed for ice makers.  He said it wasn't designed for long-term, full-time use, and he was surprised that in its 20 years of use, it hadn't yet cracked.  What's even weirder is that they ran copper supply lines to the washer out there.  Why use copper for part of it, and cheap, crappy plastic for the rest?

Because of the goofy plumbing, he couldn't actually hook up the dishwasher supply line.  We have Shayne's plumber friend coming over tomorrow to straighten everything out.

Seriously, people.  Is it so hard to do things right the first time?!


Demolition auction score!

A few weeks ago, Indiana University at South Bend (IUSB) had a demolition auction of 30 houses that they were razing to make way for a parking lot.  Almost all of the houses had been used for student housing before they build their current apartments, so they weren't in good shape from a historic standpoint.  But there were some neat features and details that were auctioned off, including woodwork, built-ins, kitchen cabinets, plumbing, and flooring.  I was unable to attend, due to my work schedule, but my wonderful mother went for me.  She scored us a set of built-in cabinets ($165) and a house-full of woodwork ($25).  She also networked with some salvagers who would be happy to sell us anything that they recovered.

Yesterday, Shayne and I went to "our" house (1026 Bellevue) and claimed our built-in bookshelves.  They were ridiculously easy to remove, though they had been banged up a bit by folks who had won other items in the house.  During their removal, I found that the bookcases had originally had lights installed.  We had to rip out the wiring, but the little light fixtures inside are still intact, and we may restore them at a later time.  We also saved some baseboard of an unknown wood species (for some reason I think beech, but I don't know why), but almost all of the doors had so many holes for handles and locks that they weren't worth saving.  There was a neat old closet cupboard that I would have loved to take with us, but we don't have the space to store it.  We also didn't have space in the truck to transport it.  It was BIG.

Salvaging always makes me sad.  I'm glad that we (or someone) is dismantling the houses so that the materials can be reused...  But to see them torn down to make way for a slab of asphalt just seems silly.  I could probably write an entire pity-party post, but I'll spare you all my mental anguish.

When we got home, the original plan was to store the built-ins in the garage for some future house.  Though they were only about 2' wide, they wouldn't fit in the doorway between our living and dining rooms.  But I asked my ever-so-patient husband to bring one of them inside for me, "just to see something."

After a bit of furniture shuffling, we now have two new additions to our living room:

(Please excuse the grainy picture.  The lighting this morning is not the greatest)

It would be ideal if they were twice as wide, but I think they look nice.  To casual observation, you don't notice that they're not part of the room.  I'd center them on either side of the window, but each cabinet has a hole on the side where the doorway woodwork is supposed to fit.  I can just see our cat and baby thinking that they are the greatest new place to hide...

Here's to another bit of rescued house history!


Ready? Or not?

Having my best friend living in Japan, just about 150 miles southeast of Tokyo, has made the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear reactor event in Japan just a little bit personal for me.  The area she is in hasn't been badly affected by the disaster, though there are rolling blackouts, possibly contaminated water, continuing earthquakes and aftershocks, as well as the potential of a nuclear disaster fairly close by.  For me, it would be like all of this is happening in Chicago.

And I don't know about you, but that seems just a little too close for comfort.

I look at my supplies in the basement, the shelves of food, mylar bags of water, stacks of batteries, canisters of propane, and my camping supplies, and I feel deeply that it just isn't enough.  Granted, we are better prepared than many.  Some folks, through necessity, ignorance, or complacence, have only enough food for a few days or a week.  Others have built fallout shelters in their backyards.

How much is enough?  Is it a year's supply of food?  Raising your own meat?  Living off the grid?  I don't really know what level of preparedness would make me feel "ready".  Maybe I never will.  Lord knows, I have no plans to build a bunker!  If things got that bad, I'd be ready to meet my Maker and be done with life here.  But there's a middle ground, somewhere between tin-foil-hat-crazy and la-de-da-oblivious, that I'm searching for.

And so we slowly build up supplies, buy ammo, grow veggies, can food, and learn new skills.  I may not ever be "ready", but I'm doing what I can.  And in the meantime, those shelves of food and bags of water might just come in handy.

Do yourselves a favor, folks: Prepare.  Have a plan.  Don't just be another victim waiting on FEMA to come save you.  We all know how well that works out.  Be prepared.  You just never know.



I realize this is kind of silly, but it's a perfect indicator of the way our society thinks.  Last week, Shayne and I went to Lowes and spent about $1300 on a new dishwasher, fridge, and flooring for our kitchen.  I am excited about our mini-remodel, and happily told just about anyone who would listen about our plans.  Nearly everybody's response?  "Oh, you got your tax return, huh?"

No.  No, we didn't.  Actually, we haven't even filed yet.

We're not rich, by any means, but we are pretty frugal.  We save money.  Every month.  It's not always easy, and there are often things I'd rather do.  But we have a savings account with more than $5 in it, and we used some of our short-term savings to buy our appliances.  If our tax return never materialized, or if we owed on our taxes, we still would have bought the appliances, because it's one of the things we've been saving for.

Like I said, I know it's silly.  But it bothers me that the general attitude of people is that you don't save money for large purchases, you wait until the government gives you your money back.  Sorry... We don't live like that.


Decluttering update

As you may recall, I set a goal to remove 2011 items from my home in 2011.  I started off strong, and was over 150 items by early January.  Then life happened, and I got a little sidetracked.  But I'm still plugging away, donating baby clothes, tossing old magazines and catalogues, and sorting through my cupboards and cabinets.  I don't have a comprehensive list compiled, but I am keeping track.

I'm up to 230 items as of today.

It's addictive.  I want so much to get rid of more things and downsize further.  I want to toss all our DVD boxes and put the discs into a binder, but Shayne would have a fit I think (I'm scared to even ask).  We are going to buy a external hard drive and record all our CDs to mp3, then donate the CDs.  We ditched our $60/month cable package and switched to Netflix over the Xbox.  Just little things, but it frees up space and money.

I think it's finally starting to hit home for us that we are going to move.  Although we don't know exactly when, and we certainly don't know where, it's looming on the horizon.  And I really, really don't want to pack up all of the crap we've accumulated and move it with us.  I've done it before.  Twice.  It's not an experience I want to repeat.  The less we have, the easier the move will be, and the less we'll have to work at "staging" our house.


Improving the kitchen

I think today we're going to go spend some money!  Our dishwasher has a chronic flooding problem, plus it never did a great job of cleaning dishes.  I think its day has finally come, and we're going to replace it.  While we're at it, I'm feeling like we should ditch our existing fridge as well.  It doesn't match either of the black/stainless appliances in the room, plus it's just a bit too big for the space and covers over the back porch/mudroom trim.  I figure we can sell it on craigslist for $100 rather than have the Big Box store haul it away.  Then when we go to sell the house, all the appliances will match.  I think we're also going to get some laminate "tile" flooring, since the flood ruined the el cheapo laminate "wood".  Since we don't anticipate any more water issues, the new floor will go a long way towards sprucing up the room.

Once it's warm enough outside, I'll remove the wallpaper and paint the walls sage green.  The ceiling tile will be removed and replaced with drywall (the plaster is beyond saving :(  ) once we replumb the bathroom.  And we'll get new countertops and sink.  It will be more modern looking than the rest of the house, but I think if I'm careful, I can incorporate some arts and crafts touches that will tie it in nicely.  It's far from the my dream kitchen, but I think the results will appeal to more buyers without clashing with the rest of the house.

It's a hard line to walk.  I had so many ideas and dreams of how I wanted this house to look.  Part of me cringes at the idea of a "stylish" kitchen, and I feel guilty for doing something not quite in keeping with the house's character.  But honestly?  Most of me is glad to be doing something, anything, that will help this house sell.  I'm also excited to have a kitchen that doesn't look like crap, even if it's not precisely what I had dreamed of.  It will be clean, the floor won't be wavy and bumpy, and I won't be ashamed to have people over.

I'm so tired of living in a half-finished work zone, and I'm ready to get this done.  Even if we live here for another 5 years (please God, I hope not!), it will be ready to sell.  It won't look like a construction zone.  I can get rid of my endless cans of shellac, denatured alcohol, and paint thinner and start really living here.


Making an herbal healing salve

Disclaimer: I have no idea what I'm doing.  I got instructions from various places on the internet, then sort of winged it.  If you do something like this, please do your own research!  This is not a how-to, it's documentation of what I did.

I've been interested in decreasing our dependence on chemical medicines for a while, but most pre-made herbal remedies are expensive.  They also seem to come in larger portions than I know I'd need, and I really don't want to spend all that money just for something to sit on the shelf and go rancid.

I have a huge dependence on Neosporin at the moment, owing to my dry and ever-cracking cuticles.  I also see lots of cuts and scrapes in our future as Ethan plays outside and gets his hands and knees scraped and bruised from falls.  I decided that the most beneficial herbal remedy to start with would be a healing salve.  I placed an order from BulkHerbStore.com with this in mind.

 Two days ago, my box arrived.  I had ordered lavender, calendula, yarrow, and comfrey for my salve.  I also got yellow organic beeswax to help solidify my oil.

I got a half-pint jar and put equal portions of yarrow, comfrey, arnica, and calendula into it, packing it in pretty tightly.  I then added a bit of lavender powder for its calming scent.  I poured equal parts olive oil and melted coconut oil into the jar until it was full.

I put the jar on a dishcloth in my crock pot (to prevent scorching), then filled the pot with water and turned it on "low".  I let it sit about 24 hours.  I've heard to "cook" the mixture for as little as 8 hours and as long as 48.  I opted for something in the middle.

This morning I removed the jar and strained my herb-infused oil through a wire mesh strainer and a coffee filter.

Once all the oil was drained and pressed from the herbs, I added a few tablespoons of beeswax and heated the whole mixture up again to melt the wax.  I let some of the salve cool on a spoon to test the consistency.  When it started to skin over within a minute, I let the whole jar cool.  I must have gotten it about right, because when it cooled, it was about as solid as Bag Balm or Carmex.  Not drippy, but not difficult to scoop out.  If I had overshot, I could have added a bit more olive oil and reheated it.  It's definitely more of an art than a science!

After cooling for about 45 minutes, I had this:

I'm not crazy about the smell.  I have a sensitive nose, and I avoid most scented products.  This is definitely herb-scented, but not too offensive (to me!).  I don't have any painful cuts or wounds at the moment, but have a few small scrapes on my hands from my salvaging project a few days ago.  One is right in the crease of my palm, so I feel it every time I flex my hand.  The salve didn't completely remove the pain, but it's less noticeable.  It also hydrated the skin around the cut, so it's not dry and flaky.  I'll continue applying it to the scrape, as well as my poor abused cuticles, and see how well it works.  It can also be used as a sore muscle and arthritis pain relief rub, so I'll be distributing samples to some family members to test.  Results will be posted in a month or so.


My salvaging experiment

We went in on Monday night to work on salvaging what materials we could from the little tudor bungalow.  I had the help of two friends, my best friend's dad (AKA Dad), plus my oh-so-patient husband.  We got a call from the demo company at about 4:15pm, then met at the house at 5.

My first surprise was that I had been expecting two days to work on the house, but the company told me that they were going to demo it on Tuesday morning.  That gave us only 5-6 hours to grab what we could.  I'm still upset that we couldn't get in sooner, since Shayne and I were both off on Sunday, and we could have gone in then.  But oh well...

My first mistake was in not having a clear plan.  I knew I wanted flooring, windows, and beadboard, but I didn't do a great job of organizing my labor.  It took about 45 minutes for us to really get down to work pulling up the floor in the living room.  Meanwhile, Dad grabbed a screen door, well pump, sump pump, a bathroom vanity and sink, and some other odds and ends.  Obviously he wasn't wasting any time!  Lesson learned.

I tried to get the beadboard from the kitchen, but had limited success.  It was new, for one thing, and very thin.  Since it was painted over, it just cracked and splintered when I tried to pry it up.  I abandoned it and went to help on the living room floor.

With 3 guys working, the oak flooring came up quickly.  Dad also pulled the antique toilet, which was requested by a member of Old House Web forums.  Dad got the bathroom lights as well.  Do you notice a trend?  Dad is one mean salvager!

We tried the windows next.  Our original plan was to cut around the windows, then take them out whole, trim and all.  After Dad ruined two chainsaw blades, we nixed the idea.  I started bashing out plaster around the windows, thinking that he could just cut through the lath and exterior wood.  By the time I was done, most of the living room floor was up, and we decided to break for dinner.

After dinner, we started to pull up some pine upstairs.  There was a bit of learning curve to it, and we initially started on the wrong edge.  The boards are nailed through the tongue, so you have to pry them up that way or they splinter and break.  After sacrificing a few boards, we realized our mistake and started on the other end. We got about 15 or 20 boards, which was more than I needed to patch the holes in the living and dining room.

Two of our helpers left after dinner, so things slowed down.  We got a bit more oak flooring from the living room, then tackled the windows.  Instead of removing them whole, Dad thought it would be better to pull the trim.  That worked pretty well.  We took out the sashes, then the exterior trim.  The windows then just pretty much popped out.  We didn't realize how not-secured they were, though, and we dropped the first one out of the house and onto the ground.  Thankfully, nothing broke.

The second one went quicker.  But in the middle of that, I went onto the little sun porch to start taking off the trim from those windows.  I examined one, then turned around to go back into the living room and noticed a very unhappy skunk in the corner looking at me.  Yikes.  I tactically retreated and told Shayne and Dad that we needed to get out sooner rather than later.  Shayne took another peek on the porch, and the skunk was now ass-end out with his tail raised.  Definitely time to go.

We pulled the second window, packed up our tools, and loaded the trailer.  In the meantime, we also took off the arched front door with its storm door and the half-lite kitchen door.  By the time we pulled out the driveway, it was 10:30 pm.

All in all, we got 2 double-windows with vinyl storms, 2 doors, 1 arched storm door, 200 sq ft of oak flooring, 50 ft of 8" wide pine baseboard, 15 pine floorboards, a toilet, 2 bathroom sidelights, and a 3 ft tall door and frame from the upstairs attic.

The next day I went back, and the house looked like this:

I know we did well under the circumstances, but I'm a little disappointed with what we got.  There was so much more in that house that was salvageable, but we just didn't have the time.  And we didn't really know what we were doing.  Once we conquered the learning curve on each task, it went quickly.  But not quickly enough to get everything.  And the skunk kind of threw a wrench into things.

I had high hopes of getting every single window out of that house.  They all were in great condition, and we could have used them when we build our new home.  Same with the oak floor.  There was another 600 or so sq ft.  And the kitchen cabinets would have been awesome.  But we learned a lot, and I'm definitely going to do it again if I can find a suitable house.

And, even if I didn't get everything I wanted, I got the best of what was there.  The windows we got had never been painted or refinished, and they worked very smoothly.  The doors are very nice, and we got enough flooring for a whole room.  Not what I was hoping for, but certainly much better than nothing.

My other issue with the whole experience is my disgust at the waste.  That house was in perfect shape.  Really.  We could have moved right in.  It was clean, well-maintained, and very cute.  It pisses me off that it was destroyed just because it was in the way of some distant future progress.  So much was lost, even though we saved a little.  I feel guilty because I couldn't save more.

Indiana University is expanding into a neighborhood west of campus soon.  All the houses there will be auctioned and salvaged.  I have a feeling our learning experience will be helping us soon...