Creepy Basement: Now with Fewer Cobwebs!

There’s a set of shelves built into a sort of alcove in our basement. For some reason they’re made of old doors. Before being made into shelving they were pretty nice solid wood doors. But they’ve been shelves for a long time and they’re absolutely filthy, with just years of dirt and dust and cobwebs.

After about half a bottle of Simple Green a several absolutely blackened rags this afternoon, they’re… not exactly clean, but less filthy. It’s progress.

The permitting process is still ongoing, so actual construction can’t begin yet, but we’re hoping it’ll start next week.

Roof status, plus how to replace a doorknob in 8 simple steps

Most of the roof now looks like this, with double-layer asphalt shingles:

The gutters aren’t back up yet and there are various bits of fascia and trim and woodwork that need to be replaced, but it’s come a long way.

Meanwhile, this week we decided we really ought to get a new front door lock and doorknob. At some point before we got the house, Banco Santander or their agents deliberately broke the lock so you can only enter the house from the back door. This isn’t malice on their part, of course, just standard procedure with foreclosed properties with lockboxes- they just pick one door for entry and make the other exit-only. But it does mean we need a new lock. So, off to Lowe’s, which is slightly further away from our house but carries prettier doorknobs, which should go nicely with the huge old solid-wood front door.

Of course, this turns out to be less than simple. This old door has a mortise-lock doorknob, not the cylinder type that’s used in most doors nowadays. Those are kind of a specialty item, and they’re a little tricky to size because you need to know the exact width of the slot they’re inserted into as well as the usual things like the backset (distance from the door edge to the key slot).

So, I called the local specialty key and lock place, Commonwealth Lock. These guys are good, and very well reviewed. Sure, it’ll cost a little extra to buy hardware there, but it’ll help us preserve this awesome old slab of door, and it’s a local business which I do like to support.

When I spoke with them they confirmed that they do carry a line of mortise locks, although we’ll probably have to special-order one to fit exactly. Their advice is to take the lock off the door and bring it in so they can figure out exactly what should replace it… and also they’re only open on weekdays. Apparently if you shop there you either have the sort of job where you can take time off to shop for doorknobs, or have the kind of money that lets you send your architect over to select doorknobs for you. Maybe this is going to cost more than a little extra.

Anyway, the procedure to replace our doorknob and front door lock is now turning out to be:

  1. Take a day off work.
  2. Remove the lock set and doorknob from the house.
  3. Leave the house unlocked while we go to the lock store.
  4. Select and order a new lock and doorknob.
  5. Return to the house and re-install the lock and doorknob
  6. Wait for the thing to arrive.
  7. Get out of work early or arrive late to go get it.
  8. Install the new lock.

And there you have it: Replacing a doorknob in 8 simple steps.

The good kind of shingles

We found some exciting new leaks in the last rain storm, but the crew has fixed them very promptly. A guy came by in the rain on Sunday to put extra tarps down and stop the leaking, and they patched them more permanently once the weather cleared. We’ll have to replace that section of roof later anyway, but the patches should hold for now.

Shingles are starting to go in on the roof, and the two missing windows in the basement have been replaced with actual windows.

Today when I came by the house to meet with our plumber/HVAC guy, a neighbor out walking her dog stopped us to say they were very impressed with the work the crew had done so far, and also with how they’d been careful not to get construction debris on anyone else’s driveway/yard/street/etc. Tibet Construction: Your Neighbors Won’t Hate You.

No good deed goes unpunished

Yesterday I may well have made a very serious error in my renovation project. I let the city inside my house to see it.

If I had lied to the city about where I was living on January 1, 2016 I could have gotten a tax abatement. But I didn’t feel comfortable lying. So I let them look inside to do a proper assessment of the quality and size of the building. Which means I’m going to pay more in taxes until 2018.

Pro vs. Pro-Style at Home

When Megan was in culinary school I thought a lot about the difference between ambitious home cooking and restaurant cooking, and now that we’re trying to design a kitchen together I have to think a lot about the difference between trendy “pro-style” home kitchen equipment and actual commercial kitchen equipment. And of course the entire design goal of a pro kitchen is different. A home kitchen is the heart of a home, where you hang out with your friends. A pro kitchen is a workplace designed to the needs of the budget and the health inspector. The style and comfort of the actual cook barely figure into the process at all.

People will say “I want a professional kitchen,” but they don’t mean a twelve-and-a-half-foot-long three-basin sink. In a restaurant kitchen, you need three basins to meet code: wash, rinse, sanitize. In my kitchen, I’m going with one basin. And I will wash both my hands and my dishes in that sink instead of having a separate handwash station.

In a restaurant kitchen, you give the cooks as little space as you possibly can, so that you can have a larger dining room. You don’t care if it’s cramped and hot and noisy, as long as the line cooks don’t get heat stroke too often.

And trust me, Sub-Zero almost certainly doesn’t make the stove in your favorite restaurant. If they’re not using hot-plate-style one-pot induction burners they’re using an old beast with pilot lights and dangerously sharp corners that doesn’t fit anywhere near a standard countertop.

Progress Continues

Work continues. We’re now halfway through the initial exterior work on the house.

Our contractors have also started on the basement. After an initial cleaning of thyey, scraped off loose mortar from the foundation stonework in the basement and put down a new layer of concrete and I believe some kind of vapor barrier as well. One side of the basement was low and damp and our contractor said water was probably coming up from below the floor, so we went ahead and had them jackhammer through the floor there and dig better drainage under the house, then fill it with gravel and lay a new concrete floor on that side.

In photos the basement doesn’t look like much right now. But before all this work it was like a mildew-smelling horror movie set and now it looks like the sort of place where you would not be terrified to go searching for spare lightbulbs.

Still to do in the basement: Adjust/repair basement windows, replace any insulation that’s compressed or missing, shore up a couple under-supported beams, level out a section of the floor that’s a trip hazard, replace HVAC and water heater, replace waste outlet pipe, replace utility sink…. probably some other stuff.

The roof, the roof, the roof is actually in pretty good shape

So, we got some good news: The crew from Tibet Construction started on the roof, and the plywood under-layer is in great shape and doesn’t need to be replaced. Some of the joists are damaged and to have support sistered in, but not all of them, so that’s non-awful news.


We also began planning the basement repairs. It looks like we’ll need to dig up some concrete in the basement to get better drainage, but at that point we can apply waterproofing on everything and have a dry basement. We hope.

Kitchen planning is almost done. There are an innumerable number of fiddly little decisions, and also some big decisions. One of them is that there’s a closet/wall type thing we don’t much like. However, since we’re opening up so much of the space, we have to be careful to preserve some amount of lateral walls or the building will go all floppy. Basically, we have a loadbearing closet we want to shrink, and need to get a structural engineer to sign off on shortening it by about 18 inches. If we can do that, though, we can have a gloriously huge kitchen island.

Status Update: Permits and Planning

Priority one on the Summit House is fixing the exterior before winter comes. After a few hassles and delays, we now have a permit and construction should begin any day now. We’re going with a light gray CertainTeed Carriage House shingle on the mansard roof, and white trim. We’ll worry about painting the exterior in the spring.

Meanwhile, the planning on the interior is moving along. We’re still flip-flopping on a few things but the designs are approaching completion and we have a list of Completed Decisions. One of those decisions was to use a 30″ range rather than a 36″ cooktop and wall ovens. Even as much as we love cooking, the giant cooktop isn’t that helpful. And if we find we’re short a burner once or twice a year we can always go for a portable one that plugs in.