Welcome to ThroughTheWavyGlass.com and my first blog post! My name is Tim and I bought a house exactly 1 year ago today. Over the year I have relied on many other people's house blogs that I have found searching the internet for help in my own projects. I had the thought that it might be worthwhile to share what it is like for me to be living in, preserving, and restoring an old house to help someone else out.
For this first post, let's go through the wavy glass and take a look at my first year in the house!
First things first--Deal Day. I thought I had the steal of a lifetime. $94k on a house that once sold for over $200 large on one of the nicest streets in Flint. My loan officer agreed with the realtor and they both thought I would be able to drop the PMI after a year or so of repairs. I wasn't so excited about the insurance cost though. It was about $1,000 higher than I expected! Surprise #2.
You might wonder what Surprise #1 was. Well, apparently, the act of us turning the water on to test the faucets during the home inspection kicked off a slow leak behind the master bath toilet that found its way under the poorly caulked toilet to the living room ceiling below. The kind appraiser who came in to do his inspection took photos to include in his report but decided it wasn't worth notifying anybody about the leak until he turned his report in 5 days later. By that time the slow leak had turned the plaster walls and molding into plaster walls and molding. The leak created a puddle that buckled some of the beautiful oak flooring in the living room below. My realtor negotiated a $600 Home Depot gift card (about the supposed cost of making the repair) as part of the sale.
More on this later. For now, here are some pictures of the house before I moved in.
The first things I did were to take 2 broken windows to the hardware store for new glass, get a plumber to fix the toilet situation, and start a lot of outdoor cleanup. I was supposed to ease into DIYing but the leak was holding a gun to my head and I wanted it done right so that this wouldn't happen again. Money was already coming out of my pockets! Luckily my retired yet diligently working mother was able to go to town on some things like weeding and letting plumbers in while I was at work.
One thing I knew I would have to do when I got the house was to iron out the electrical system and restore water pressure in most of house. I decided to put electrical on the back burner because it functioned, I am pretty energy efficient, and I had to deal with a wet and moldy living room.
After having a couple plumbers come out who seemed sensitive to the history of the house, I went with one who recommended swapping the easily accessible horizontal pipes in the basement out for PEX before doing anything with the verticals. The original plumbing is galvanized pipe which is approaching the end of its life. The pipes (especially the hot water ones) only had a pathway about the width of a pencil for water to travel through.
Mineral deposits build up over time in the galvanized pipes. The plumber felt that it was likely the deposits in the vertical pipes would sink and congregate at the lowest level--the horizontals. It was a good call because they looked up into the verticals with their light and they looked pretty good. I ended up with PEX running all over the basement ceiling and the water pressure problem was solved without cutting into 1 wall or ceiling! Plus I saved a couple thousand dollars. No big deal.
One of the plumbers noticed I might have an asbestos problem on my hands (surprise #3) but more on that later...
Once the water pressure was restored, I rented a spare bedroom to my HS and college friend Ryan who wanted somewhere flexible to live while his job situation was in flux. I didn't move in until a few weeks later because I was so busy with Marching Band. Ryan confirmed for me that the house was not haunted which was reassuring.
I thought it would be nice to have a little extra income every month to use to upgrade the house. Then I got my first water bill. Surprise #4! That extra money would be going down the drain...
It seems about half the town of Flint has vanished so the other half of us are stuck maintaining the aging water system on our own dime. Your typical Flint homeowner has an approximately $60/month water/sewer base rate which is exorbitant. Because I have a big house with several bathrooms, I have a bigger line coming to the house which means my base rate is doubly exorbitant. I found all that out after calling the city to find out why a basic service like water was setting me back about $150/month. I'm not sure that a wider pipe justifies that kind of price but there isn't much I can do about it except hope that more people move here or they remove parts of the system as places get torn down. I should've looked into that cost before moving into the city. A mile down the road in Burton it is probably about $20/month...oops.
As I suspected, the neighborhood scenery improves during the fall. Going down the street is pleasant in all seasons but especially in fall as the street curves around the cut bank. Looking out at the window at the beginning of November looked like this:
As things started cooling off, I started doing more indoor things like research at the library and getting a better kitchen sink faucet.
I was pleased that the boiler worked just like it should when I first turned it on. The radiators do a fine job of radiating heat. We found that we needed to tone it down a little bit or we'd be sweating when we woke up in the morning.
Flint's brutal '13-'14 winter began in earnest in December. I finally decided on which room should be which color. I broke the tie based on what would look better decorated for Christmas. Check the post on the plaster repair project to see the finished product. Speaking of Christmas decorations, I started looking into how people decorate their classy colonials for Christmas and took some inspiration from a couple places. Check out my post on our Christmas and New Years Eve adventures to see how it came out.
I also came across a woman on Craigslist who was moving and had some antique furniture she needed to unload. After visiting with my mom, we came home with a period-correct floor lamp (with a mogul bulb about as bright as the sun) and an Art Deco dresser with triptych mirror. Here is the dresser:
The new year brought more cold temps and more snow. No "January Thaw" this year.
My heating bill was shocking. I was used to $80 being expensive in my apartment. Now bills were about 5 times that! We decided to make things a little chillier in the house and make use of the fireplace. It definitely provided warmth for football games but not much heat for the rest of the house. And may have raised the heating bill even more when I forgot to close the damper the next morning...oops!
I spent most of February preparing for the upcoming lacrosse season. Previously I had been a JV coach under my brother but he and my sister-in-law were going to have a son on the way in April so he stepped down and I agreed to take on the job of being the varsity coach. This was a bad idea because I was already strapped for time between taking care of the house, work, and off-season workouts.
I ended up burning out right around the time the season started in March and becoming sort of sick. One weekend in March Ryan and I did make it to the Sloan Museum's Perry Archives in the Flint Cultural Center for some research on the neighborhood and house. It would have been a disappointing trip were it not for locating a picture of the house in the background of the only photo of our street. It was taken in 1930. This picture has been very helpful in figuring out what things on the property may have been like from the start.
In April, we had a few sunny and "warm" days. One Saturday. I learned from the puremichigan.com website that Macomb Community College's Lorenzo Center was featuring an exhibit called "The Roaring Twenties: From Riches to Rags." I made the trip down and it was a really good exhibit. Look for a post on it in the future. After leaving MCC, I decided to take a different way home. And by a different way home, I mean that I forded (barefoot) the snow-melt-flooded South Fork of the Cass River at the Sanilac Petroglyphs historic site and then ate some delicious pizza while the sun set in Caseville before arriving home. As far as everything else this month was concerned, I just spent every day dreading the next (no rest for the weary) and trying to stay on top of the lingering heating bills.
One nice thing that happened in April was that my boss donated her console piano and an antique quasi-primitive drop leaf table to me because she had no more place or use for them.
The nice thing about May was that it finally started to feel just a little bit like spring. I had the opportunity to reattach a downspout that fell off the house. In the process I learned about masonry drilling and came to realize how much my rotator cuff injury that I sustained during the lacrosse season had impacted my ability to do everyday normal tasks. Like push pieces of metal through mortar while standing on a ladder.
In May I got interested in all things outdoors. In a nod to my degrees in the earth sciences and history, I decided it would be good to use native plantings. My house resides in an area that the pioneers of Genesee county described as "gently rolling terrain with park like oak openings." I'll write an entry on the native plantings you would see in such an area and how I am using them around my house in a little while.
My bank account still hadn't recovered from all the things I had to do in the fall so I wasn't doing anything major to the house in anticipation of what was coming up in the summer (see the asbestos information).
Things started warming up enough in June that I was in need of some draperies because my bedroom was getting so hot at night when the sun was setting. If I could get that under control, the house would stay cool enough to where it felt like it was air conditioned when you came in from outside.
Leftovers from yard cleanup and crappy shed teardown in the fall finally made it to the dump when dad and I rented a trailer to haul it all off with.
The wrought iron railings were starting to rust so I sanded the rust off with steel wool and then used tack cloth to clean the shavings off. I primed the railings with Rust-Oleum and spray painted them with Rust-Oleum satin black. It ended up turning into an all day project and a lot of sweat was donated to the garden.
I also began a quest to repair the front shutters which were literally falling apart. I'll write a post that details the process to get those back into shape later. This did require me to come up with a color since traditional black or white just wouldn't work. Black looked bad and white is boring.
And if that wasn't enough, I went on a quest to eradicate the myriad of invasive plants and weeds that had taken up residence. Glyphosate became my special friend.
July brought the end of all things lacrosse. My summer team was successful and improved a lot but I was ready for a much needed break from the sport. The big summer projects took place in July. One was not a DIY project and one could've been but my parents insisted on me hiring someone because of mold.
Marching Band kicked off during the last part of the month. I learned I would no longer officially be on the payroll. I had about 1 week of rest between lacrosse and band. During that week I didn't rest a whole lot. In fact I intentionally killed the entire lawn/weed bed. There was so much ground ivy and violets that I just decided it'd be easier to start over from scratch.
August consisted of me learning the sport of fishing and watering the grass seed. To replant the lawn I cut the grass as short as the mower could cut and raked out all the thatch. I used a spreader that put down enough seed to where the grains were almost touching. I also did some more research on the history of the past owners of the house. My roommate Ryan moved out. I also put a period on a difficult school lacrosse season by resigning. In the span of about 2 or 3 weeks I had taken a 20% pay cut. That's not good when you are trying to restore a house!
To compensate for the loss in income I have adjusted the monthly budget a little bit, shopped around for better home and auto insurance, and cut the cable on the TV. The summer projects have mostly wrapped up and the lawn is coming in quite nicely. Now I am planning on how to get the windows reglazed and painted, the portico columns restored, and the heating system in optimal shape before the next brutal winter comes. It is forecast to be pretty chilly again. The high a few days ago was in the low 50s and it's still technically summer. Such is Michigan.