Our New Old House

1918 Bungalow


Posts Tagged ‘52’

Still getting the hang of this plaster stuff.

I enlisted Brandon’s help this weekend in mixing plaster for me while I put it on the walls. Eventually he started putting it on the walls himself, so that part got boring, but together we finished patching all the cracks, holes, and corners in the front bedroom.



My first corner!

Kind of blotchy after wet sanding.

See how bad our corners are? This one has fiber tape over it.

Gosh, is that how my hair looks from the back?


I’m not particularly proud of how this corner came out. I’ll sand it down a bit and add another smoother layer.

Ok, enough about the plaster. Let’s talk about the weather! It’s been cold here! So cold I can’t think up a colorful simile with which to describe how cold it’s been. (Leave me a comment if you’ve got a good one.) Anyway, it was a great opportunity to show just what a difference plastic sheeting can make when you’ve got leaky windows and worthless storms.

Here we see a window with plastic sheeting intact. Notice: NO FROST! That means no warm, moist air is leaking out into the frigid outdoors, and no frigid outdoor air is leaking inside.

Now let’s look at a window on which the integrity of the plastic sheeting has been compromised by the claw of a scheming cat.

And in other news…


See if you can spot it in this photo:

How about now?

Yes, folks, the scraper was INSIDE Brandon’s bicycle. How it got there I’ll never know. But I’ll tell you, the only way I found it was by buying three new scrapers of the exact same kind that very morning. (Still sale priced at Menard’s, btw.) After I’d safely tucked them away in my tool box where they belong, the prodigal scraper glinted at me from inside the bicycle and we were tearfully reunited.

If I can stop hiding things from myself, this house may actually get done someday!

Totally Plastered!

This weekend I finished scrubbing the walls in the front bedroom and finally got to start patching nail holes, cracks, and imperfections.  For the small stuff I used this lightweight spackle stuff.


It was totally fun to work with. It had the consistency of marshmallow fluff!

Patching nail holes was super easy!

Now you see it…


Now you don’t…. or, WON’T after I paint.


After I did all the nail holes and imperfections, the room looked like it had a bad case of the chicken pox covered with calamine lotion.





Since I was having so much fun patching things I decided to take a stab at repairing the larger cracks. Keep in mind I’ve never done this before, so if I look a little petrified in my photos, that’s why. Someone at Menards recommended this self adhesive fiber tape. It seemed pretty easy to work with and I had the set of cracks over the door taped in no time.


Brandon had some fun playing with the macro setting on my camera.


And then he had some fun playing with the color enhance setting on my camera.


Wow, with that color enhance thing, all the little cuts and knicks and raw spots on my hands really look awful!


I’ve never worked with plaster before, so I took some time mixing it just right. The Country Crock tub Brandon emptied earlier while making his awesome mac and cheese worked great for a plaster tub. It took a little while to get the hang of applying the plaster. And I didn’t know how fast it would start to harden! Holy cow that’s fast!



More pictures later of the sanding and the biggest challenge, the cracked corners! I hope to get started on those tonight.

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.


Mrs. Griffis goes to Washington

Well, really Washington came to us. Being in Des Moines, these past two months leading up to the caucus have been exciting. I was stranded in Detroit on New Years Day and got to spend some time talking to journalists from all over the world who were on their way to cover the caucus. Since I was an Iowa caucus goer, I seemed to be rather interesting to them.

The caucus itself was mind-blowing. Nobody expected the huge number of people who showed up, but everybody was super calm and polite. Here I am in line to check in:


And here’s one side of the room voting on something:


It was fun negotiating and cajoling people to come join our group. Counting the number of votes for each candidate was tense, but I was super happy with the results. It was also a great opportunity to meet some people from my neighborhood. A few people in my precinct had been at the first Des Moines Rehabbers Club meeting that we hosted at our house back in November, so it was nice to catch up with them. They all asked how my house was coming along. I was thrilled to meet the lady who lives in a house across the street from mine. My grandparents lived in that house for 15 years or so before they bought a bigger house across the street and that’s where my mom and all her brothers and sisters grew up. The lady who lives there now is excited to show it to me and wants to know about my house too, so it’ll be nice to have another friendly neighbor on this street.

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.)