Archive for October, 2010

Exterior Painting

We’ve been following Dave Ramsey’s Seven Baby Steps for a number of months now and to celebrate being debt free except the house (yay!), we decided to save our cash and have the exterior of our house painted. Our buddy Frank recently launched his own business, “Frank Paints the Town” so it was natural for us to hire him to bring our faded 1900s bungalow back to some semblance of glory.  Over the past few months of preparation we invited a couple of contractors over to bid on the project just to experience the feel of actually contracting work out. For years we had planned on painting the exterior of our house ourselves. So in addition to Frank’s bid, we found a well-advertised guy on Craigslist and brought him in. When he was done surveying the work he quipped, “We’d hardly recognize the place” when he was done and started rattling off new siding, new windows…yikes. As appealing as it may be to blink and get a new house we certainly didn’t want new siding and we didn’t want to keep our hands that clean, either. Frank gave us the benefit of being able to roll up our sleeves and do some of the work ourselves and the chance to work with a  good guy. There are many nuances of exterior painting that a professional will help guide you through. Seeing what Frank has done so far on day three of the project has taught me that at times it absolutely pays to hire  a professional who will not just do the job but will explain how they’re doing it.

After dropping our little one off at daycare we stopped at Benjamin Moore in Mt. Prospect to pick out our paint colors. One of the many perks of being married to a designer is the ease of picking out colors.


Day one of the project started last week and involved Frank firing up a gas-powered power washer and blasting our siding, eaves, and window casings. In the power-washing process we lost half the back kitchen window casing (woops) and uncovered several large areas of decay. Finding decaying wood is a lot like what dentists must practice when examining the mouths of new patients. You’re not quite sure what lies under that faded soggy shingle. You don’t really want to know, either, but you poke and prod with various un-dainty tools like pry-bars, screw-drivers and hammers to see just how rotted the wood is…because it’s not a matter of if it’s rotted, it’s how bad is it rotted.

Rotted wood is just a plain fact in construction and on Columbus Day, also Day Two of the project, we channeled Christopher’s courage as we unearthed parts of the house unviewed in nary a century. Turns out large parts of caulk along the back window seams “failed” as my husband graciously put it. Fine, I get that. It’s bound to happen. The back of the house, under the kitchen addition, had a bigger scary story hidden deep within its plywood. Our kitchen breakfast nook was an addition put on the back of the house around 1940, according to our old neighbor Father Time who used to live next door. Well the folks who put the addition on didn’t put the addition on up to code (which isn’t that big of a deal) but what is a big deal is that the main structural support in back of the house/kitchen nook area is completely rotted away. Typically when you’re doing a high-tech investigation for rotted wood  you knock a screw driver or some other very technical instrument against the wood and the screwdriver simply bounces right off. Not this time. Jim tapped the screwdriver against the beam and we watched as the metal screwdriver plunged easily into the soft wood. We knew we were screwed. Now like anything else in life there’s two ways to do this, or in this case, three. There’s the cheap, easy way which goes something like this, “What rotted wood? Let’s cover it up with tar paper, re-side it, and forget about it.” There’s the mid-cost/mid-time way that goes like this, “Um….let’s replace the rotted part of the posts to take the load off of it and it will be good for 10-15 years.” There’s the mega-expensive, mega-time method which sounds like this, “Um…Shit. How about we rip off the entire back side of the house, shore up the entire structural support, and replace it all.” In order to ensure we selected the right option we called our very good friend and local home-improvement-engineer, John, to help steer us in the right direction.

“Eh Oh.”

In the end, we decided to go with Option B. Since we’re nowhere near ready or willing to put an addition on the back of our house we’re going to shore it half-way up and leave it for ten years. Jim will be tackling that fix on Saturday.

I’ve never torn plywood off a house before. I never climbed to the tip-top of a ladder, either. But I figured it was a lot easier than what Christoforo had to deal with umpteen years prior so I hustled myself up there, mini crowbar and huge utility knife in my hand and set off to work.


My job was to cut the caulk away from the plywood around the back windows so that we could strip off the window casings and more easily rip the sheets of rotted plywood away from the house. It’s startling to see the simplicity of home construction. A couple 3”X6’ boards here, a little blown insulation there, poof! Kitchen!  It’s also amazing to see how easy it would be to take the crappy-way-out of really doing this the right way.

As I sliced my knife through the caulk and started to rip away the siding, the scent of 100 year-old construction hit me. There’s a very specific aroma of a century-old house when you get up and close with it. I immediately remembered the dank, musty interior of my Aunt Adeline’s barn up in Wisconsin with its dirt floor, chicken-wire fences, and bunny rabbit cages.

Jim chipped away at the wooden, rotted medallions connected to the main, exposed support beams at the corners of the roof. They crumbled under the weight of the hammer and simply shattered away.  It was as if the house took a deep, big breath, its siding finally able to stretch with all of its flecked and dirty paint and rotted fixtures exfoliated and settled a bit deeper into its foundation, relaxed.

I spent the rest of the day on active Clean-Up Duty and picked up the zillion flakes of old paint, rotted shingles of wood, and old nails. I spent more time than I probably should have examining four recently vacated-for-Florida bird nests blasted throughout the yard from last week’s power washing. It’s exciting to see dramatic changes happen to our house. I never liked the green and white combo of our paint but I always thought it was just going to be something I’d live with. It’s exciting to see what working together as a team has done for not only our little house but for our lives and to remember if you work hard and focus you don’t have to “just live with it.”


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