Our New Old House

1918 Bungalow


Posts Tagged ‘50’

Another weekend, another visitor, another few projects closer to completion.

This weekend my college friend, Chantell came to visit. She’s from Chicago and is going to grad school at Syracuse. She took the train all the way from Syracuse to Chicago for the holidays, and took the train from Chicago to here for a weekend visit. As soon as we made plans for her to come, she asked me, “Do I get to help work on the house?” Clearly, she had no idea what she was getting herself into! But Chantell’s a good sport and is one of those crazy people (like me) who can find fun in even the most mundane and tedious tasks, so we put on the radio, sang some crazy songs, and got some work done around the house.

First she finished up the last bit of scraping wallpaper in the front bedroom:


While she did that I helped Brandon take the air conditioner out of our bedroom window. (More on that in a little bit.) Next I helped Chantell scrub the walls to get the last of the wallpaper residue off and get them clean and prepped for plaster patching. There aren’t any pictures of me helping with this part, but I was there! She’ll vouch for me.



Look what a difference washing the wall made! The paint almost looks nice enough to leave alone! The spot in the middle has been scrubbed.


In this picture, the left wall has been scrubbed, the right wall has not. Like you needed me to tell you that anyway.


While Chantell and I were scrubbing, Brandon took the closet door off its hinges and took all the hardware off the woodwork so I can start stripping the paint. Apparently, when the previous owners put up a new style of curtains, they never removed the old hardware, just added more and more brackets, hooks, and screws as they went. So here’s the bag full of hardware he took off two windows:


Some of the brackets had been painted over multiple times. Here’s Brandon’s screwdriver and putty knife stuck behind one bracket:


He also took the register off the heat duct and removed the hardware from the door so I could put them into ammonia and soak the paint off.

When the previous owners were getting ready to put up the wallpaper, someone scratched some math problems on the wall in pencil.


Like I said before, Brandon and I also took the air conditioner out of our bedroom window. This project was a BEAST! First of all, the thing had been there for like 20 years. It weighs a ton. It leaked condensation all over the window sill, causing water damage to the wood and the plaster below. That will have to be repaired later. Our first challenge was undoing all the crappy insulating they had done all those years ago.



Brandon popped the front cover off so he could get a better grip. What a mess!



After wiggling it around a bit, we figured out it had to go out and not in, so we let go from the inside and let it sag dangerously off the side of the house.


There are no pictures of the next few steps because it took all three of us to get underneath it and haul it down to the ground. I’ll admit, we dropped it the last foot or so. I brought up the dolly and hauled it to the curb.


 We closed the storm window and I cleaned up the inside of the window as best I could.  The paint is all flaking off and the accumulation of dead bugs and cobwebs was disgusting.  But our bedroom is now just a little bit more insulated from the cold.

 Since it was really nice outside on Saturday I took the opportunity to spread some mulch around the back door to cover up the mud back there until we can get a new concrete slab poured.  While Brandon and I were working on that we found the coolest spider underneath a bag of mulch!   


It’s called a Woodlouse Hunter Spider and it only eats what are known around here as “roly-polies.” (They’re known in other places as woodlice, pillbugs, or armadillo bugs.) It’s perfectly harmless to humans, but sure doesn’t look harmless! I looked it up to be sure. I learned a lot about woodlice too! They live in damp places in the dirt and eat decaying plants and wood. You’ll find them under logs, in wood piles, and in this case, under bags of cedar mulch. They are also harmless to humans, but can indicate a dampness problem if they’re found near the foundation of your house. Like earthworms, they help enrich the soil.

EDIT: A kindly reader named Ron informed me that Woodlouse spiders are in fact dangerous sometimes because they are aggressive.  They’ll bite and the bite can be painful and nasty and all sorts of terrible things!  So don’t mess with them.  Thanks Ron!

Ok, moving on from backyard biology…

After we went down the street to Grandma’s and had a Mexican meal that couldn’t be beat, we came back home and I taught Chantell how to use the heat gun.

First, I made sure she was protected from the lead paint fumes.  That meant fitting, adjusting, and testing the respirator.  Hilarity ensued.





Then we got down to the serious business of stripping paint. Here Chantell waits eagerly while I plug in the heat gun.


Chantell listened carefully to instructions.


And watched me demonstrate.



Then I turned her loose!



She almost finished the whole door!

We did have some time to relax this weekend too. The cats got the whole futon to themselves while we were working.


Scratch didn’t mind sharing though.


Remember Mr. Wizard?

So, way back in November when we hosted the Des Moines Rehabber’s Club’s inaugural meeting, I met a guy named Todd who blew my mind with his crazy talk about how I could strip stubborn layers of caked on, baked on paint that has covered all the metal fixtures in my house for aeons.  His suggestion included only one ingredient: ammonia.

“Just regular old Bo-Peep ammonia, soak your fixtures in a bucket overnight, and in the morning the paint just peels right off,” is what he said.

I was skeptical.  I went to the Internet and worked all my librarian magic in searching for evidence that this might work and found none.  Well, with nothing to lose but a few bucks’ worth of ammonia and a night’s worth of time invested, I set myself up an experimentation lab in the basement.

Here’s where I’m going to interrupt my story to interject a story from my childhood. When I was little, we had cable TV for like, three years. During those three years I watched as much Mr. Wizard as I could because I just knew I was going to become a scientist someday. So my five-year-old self started stealing things like oven cleaner from under the sink to spray on aluminum foil and watch it dissolve, and pouring ground pepper into a pot of water so I could watch a drop of soap disperse it. It drove my mother crazy, and led her to post a poison control phone number next to every phone in the house. One day she read in the paper that the producers from Mr. Wizard were auditioning Midwestern kids to appear on the show and that they’d be making a stop in Des Moines. She dressed me in my cutest jumper and my red yarn leg warmers, and we trucked on over to the mall.  We waited in line for what felt like hours, but at last it was my turn to audition.  I don’t remember a single thing about the audition except that I was very confused the whole time and I knew when I left that I wasn’t going to get to be on the show.  I don’t think I was crushed or even overly emotional about it.

So, back in the present, inspired by my childhood hero, I set about preparing my experiment.

Remember the extra doors I wanted to practice on before I tackled anything upstairs? They came complete with painted over hardware that I felt ok about throwing away if this didn’t work.


Here they are soaking in the radioactive-looking ammonia. I didn’t buy just “regular old” ammonia, I bought “lemon scent” ammonia. Don’t be fooled, people. The lemon scent is only there to mock you while the ammonia kills you slowly. This is nasty stuff.


I put the lid on the plastic tub, went upstairs, and forgot all about it until the next day. I half expected to come back the next morning and find just cleaner, lemon scented paint still stuck tight to the hardware.

But when I lifted the lid and pulled out the first piece of hardware… Heavens ta’ Murgatroid, it worked!  I grabbed a piece of scrap wood from the floor nearby (you need very specialized tools for this kind of work, you see) and started scraping away and the paint just slid off the metal like cheese off a greasy pizza.


When I finished the test pieces they looked like this:


I grabbed my husband, stuck a screwdriver in his hand and said, “Quick! Take off all the doorknobs and faceplates and door hinges all over the house! We have to soak them! We have to rid our house of the awful layers of paint and restore the metal! Do it now!” I grabbed my own screw driver and started removing the nasty old registers from the kitchen and the dining room. Fortunately, Brandon didn’t go about his task with quite as much zeal as I’d hoped to inspire in him. He dutifully brought me the hardware from two doors, which was about all I could handle in the tub at one time. It’s good that I have someone to keep me grounded in times like these.

So I soaked the registers and hardware with yet more ammonia and they looked like this:



(I added some more ammonia to the tub after I took these pictures so the hardware was actually covered.)


After about a day and a half of soaking I started cleaning off the loose paint. By this time it was just falling off the metal.



A quick scrub with a scouring pad got the leftover bits of paint from the grooves and corners.



They came out looking pretty good!





After I rinsed them off in the sink, I laid them on the floor and dried them really quickly with… you guessed it! The heat gun! I didn’t want any more rust forming than had already started on these registers.

I’m now on a search to find out how I can spraypaint or otherwise treat the registers to give them a bronze color or at least protect them from future rusting. As always, I’m open to suggestions.

And as a final thought…

Someone asked me about the shirt I was wearing when I did all this wierd science. The shirt simply says, “PANTS!” and comes from a group of badass musicians called $trick9 and The Truth. I got them all to sign my shirt at their CD release party last Friday, so in the hopes that some of their badassness would rub off on my blog, here is the PANTS! shirt.

(The shirt is inspired by this video and you can check out more about the band at www.yostrick9.com. They’re loads of fun.)


There can’t really be more wallpaper… can there?

Oh yes, my friends, there is more wallpaper. In fact, I probably haven’t gotten through half the wallpaper in this house yet.

(Consider this fair warning: I am cranky at the time of writing this. I worked overtime at my day job yesterday. Then I battled my way in to work this morning through an ice storm so I could work some more overtime. Meanwhile my darling husband’s day job called him this morning and told him not to bother coming in, they were closing on account of the weather. What makes getting out of bed on a cold, crappy, icy day even harder? Leaving behind a warm and snuggly somebody who gets to sleep eight more hours than you do. So, I’m cranky. Try not to hold it against me. Or, you know what? Hold it against me. I kind of feel like picking a fight right now anyway. But I digress…)

This weekend I scraped the last bit of painted wallpaper in the front bedroom, which left me with walls full of brown paper residue. Here’s the progress midway through scraping all that residue off:


I got bored of that room so I went on to the bathroom, which had sad looking strips of peeling wallpaper everywhere. I pulled it all down and made a pile in the hallway:


When I was done pulling, the walls looked like this:


Here’s why having wallpaper in the bathroom (anything more than a border or a trim) is a bad idea. See those water spots over the window and over the woodwork behind the shower? There was mold growing on that paper. The mold was hidden behind a layer of “bathroom ready” wallpaper. Wallpaper in the bathroom? Just don’t do it.



Now the joyful work of removing at least three more layers of wallpaper can begin! Hip hip hooray! Hip hip… oh f*** it.

While I was in the bathroom with a stepladder I took a picture that tells another cautionary tale. Well, two cautionary tales. I want you to look at the picture, see if you can guess what it is, and then don’t bother to tell me your guesses because frankly, I don’t care. Ok, you ready? Go.


The previous owners of my house smoked. A lot. Everywhere. Including the bathroom. An interesting fact about the bathroom in my house is that it has never had a shower. Just a clawfoot bathtub. Brandon and I installed a shower and have been happily cleaning ourselves in it ever since. But one day I looked up at the ceiling over our shower and found these puzzling spots. Turns out the tobacco residue on the ceiling paint has been loosened by the steam of the shower and is now congealing in little blobs over the source of the steam: the shower. So, the moral of the story, kids, is DON’T FREAKING SMOKE A PACK OF CIGARETTES WHILE YOU’RE ON THE JOHN!!! Or if you do, then just never install a shower. Either way.

Cranky Kelli, over and out.

When the going gets tough, the pretty girls strip.

So, if we remember back to my last post about stripping, we left off with the door looking like this:


I had used the heat gun on the paint on one side. This weekend I applied a coat of CitriStrip and let that sit for about 3 hours. Here’s the door with CitriStrip on it:


Ok, it ocurrs to me now that you can’t really see much difference between the first and the second photo. Whatever. Stick with me, people.

So, when I started scraping off the CitriStrip it looked all brown and clumpy and generally nasty, like this:



And it appears I didn’t do a thorough enough job with the heat gun the first time around. There’s still too much paint left after the CitriStrip. But this is a learning experiement! So, what have we learned? I learned that the CitriStrip does a fantastic job getting off the leftover old varnish, leaving the beautiful stain of the wood intact. After I wiped off the excess CitriStrip with mineral spirits and generally wiped down the whole door, here’s what it looked like:


I still have some clean-up work to do on this side, but it’s on its way to looking beautiful again! I flipped the door over to let that side dry while I started heat gunning the other side. Now that I have the hang of the heat gun I’m able to be more careful about getting all the paint off, and I’m also finding it easier to remove the paint from the carved trim edges with the heat gun than with CitriStrip. Fortunately, the paint on the other side of the door isn’t in as many layers and the top layer holds together in one big sheet of latex, so it’s coming off really well. Pictures of side B coming soon.

(As happens with so many singles, the B side of this release will end up being a bigger hit than the A side. But I’ll be in good company. Unchained Melody, I Will Survive, and Maggie May were all B sides. And now you can say you learned something today too!)

[Insert witty joke about stripping here]

I got my heat gun! Now when I say, “Leave me alone or I’ll melt your face off!” I can really mean it. 950 degrees Fahrenheit, baby! Yeah!

I’ve got two old doors that were in the basement when we moved in. They were originally the kitchen and the hallway doors. Someone in the past took them off and stashed them downstairs, but not before painting them with horrible layers of paint. Since I don’t plan on putting these doors back up, I decided to learn how to strip paint on them. No huge loss if I screwed something up.

(For the peace of mind of Brandon’s family, who read this blog, I’d just like to point out that Brandon was only in the room without a respirator to take the first few pictures. He hardly breathed any noxious chemical fumes at all. I took the rest of the photos myself.)








 Edit: I realized this morning that I forgot to post the last picture I took last night, of the one side of the door finished.  Here it is:


Thanks again to Nate and everybody else who recommended the heat gun for stripping paint. I’m totally hooked!