Spring Home Projects

Spring maintenance or maintenance of any season is critical for the preservation and upkeep of your homes; but, let’s be honest, it’s not as fun as project planning. So, I ask, what are your short term and long term plans for your home?

In our bungalow, we have a long list of projects and plans, but some take priority over others. I know we are not alone when I say one thing needs repair immediately after something else. For starters, the original cast iron waste pipe from the second floor bathroom is leaking. Of course, it is our only bathroom and the leak is somewhere that we cannot see. Until we get to that project (sooner rather than later) we have a makeshift catch basin below the pipe in the basement to prevent the leaking water from damaging our brand new post-flood furnace. It’s a good Yankee fix for now. Anyone have suggestions for cast iron replacement and/or repair? This also speeds up our bathroom renovations. Who has experience with reglazing a cast iron clawfoot tub?

We need to rebuild the back porch steps, as the previous steps were washed down the river by Tropical Storm Irene. We have high hopes of removing our asphalt driveway and replacing it with concrete. Our projects could go on and on: electric upgrade, the kitchen ceiling, window sash repair, and more. But, it’s a labor of love when you live in a historic house. Taking care of the house is like taking care of part of the family (even though plumbing is not our first choice of tasks. I’d rather paint!).

If you have advice or stories to share, please do. It’s good project weather. Open your windows and bond with your house!

Painting, Alligatoring Paint and Plaster Walls

Painting is one thing. Dealing with decades-old, failing paint on plaster walls is another thing.

The last post about this room, Paint Chatter, pondered what the problem could be. While I began the paint removal process before Christmas, I abandoned the project for a few months when my citrus stripper method proved unsuccessful. Clearly, this room was going to be difficult. Based on communication with the previous owners and their knowledge of the house’s history, supplemented by staring at and pondering the state of the walls while reading about paint and plaster, I came to a conclusion.

This one coat of blue paint was improperly applied 83 years ago. Beneath this paint, there was not a coat of primer; rather, it was applied directly to the finish coat of the plaster. In other words, this room had not been painted since 1928.

Before undertaking the paint removal project.

Over the course of these project abandonment months, the chipping/alligatoring/flaking increased in surface area and/or began to drive Vinny and me mad. If we were to run our hands over the wall, the paint would flake off easily. And the room looked horrible. It had been relegated to storing our books, boxes, files and power tools (during basement repair).

There comes a time when you just have to jump into a project and not look back. For Vinny and me, that time was two weekends ago. The oddly warm March weather allowed us to open the windows while painting.

Care to jump in and see how we tackled the paint problem? To refresh your memory, here is one section of one wall:

Alligatoring paint in the blue room.

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Before we proceed, I have to add this DISCLAIMER: I am not a professional painter or certified for lead testing or removal. Our house has not been tested for lead, but if your house or building was painted prior to 1978, you should assume that there may be lead. With that said, I am not recommending my methods, but merely sharing as a fellow historic homeowner. 

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First, the problems in list form:

(1) How do you remove alligatoring paint without removing all of the paint? Do you have to remove all of it?

(2) What do you do when citrus stripper does not work at all?

(3) What do you do when you are fairly certain that the only coat of paint on the walls has been there for 83 years? While I am not a certified professional in terms of hazardous paint (e.g. lead), I know that paint made prior to 1978 is likely to have traces of lead.

I love our house and value historic integrity; but, sometimes you have to conduct a few experiments and then make some decisions and/or concessions. In the case of our house we decided:

(1) Citrus stripper did not work on the walls. (I used it another room for peeling, not cracking, paint, where it worked well.) An orbital  handheld sander, with a bag for holding the dust, did not work either.

(2) We would remove the paint with a 1″ metal scraper. We would not to remove all of the paint from the walls. This would require an insane amount of work; but more importantly it would create more dust and paint chips than necessary. Rather, we decided it was best to tackle the failed paint areas and leave the rest undisturbed.

(3) Not to repair the surface cracks in the plaster, because that would possibly create more damage. The cracks are not structural or causing plaster failure, so we figured it was best to leave it alone. (If you are repairing your plaster, that is obviously a job prior to painting.)

(4) Not to build up the finish coat of plaster after removing paint. If our wall surfaces were uneven, we could live with that.

So, we set to scraping the loose paint while wearing respirators, covering the room in a plastic, disposable tarp. We set a fan to blow air outside and closed the door while we worked. It was not a fail-proof method, but it seemed to work well enough for our minimal purposes. (But because I was trying to keep everything neat, I did not take photographs of the paint scraping process.  And I’ll spare you from the frightening photograph of me in a respirator.)

We used a 1″ blade on a scraper and simply put enough pressure on the wall that when pulled down, it removed the paint. It was surprisingly effective in areas where the paint had completely failed. However, it did create nicks in the finish coat of the plaster, which was another reason to not scrape the entire wall surface (again – aside from the insanity of such a task).

A lot of paint came off very easily. We lightly sanded the edges of the paint-free plaster areas to hopefully insure that it wouldn’t flake under the new coats of paint.

After removing the paint and cleaning up the large paint chips that missed the tarp, we disposed of it and began to prep for painting, including taping all of the trim and window/door frame edges. We used grey primer, knowing that we were going to choose a darker color for the walls; on the ceiling we used white primer. This house likes two coats of primer, at least, because the shiny decades-old paint seems to slurp in that first coat of primer, making it look like it’s not there at all. A second coat seems to give a more stable looking coat. We also use two coats of paint on the walls and ceiling, for similar reasons. In addition, two coats or more coats of primer and two coats of paint help to even out the wall surface and hide some of the flawed areas.

And the finished product:

After! The color is Sailor's Sea Blue (eggshell finish) by Benjamin Moore. The wall on the right was the worst in terms of alligatoring paint.

Not totally after (pre-cleanup), but the walls and ceiling are finished.

The wall on the left in this photograph has a noticeable uneven-obviously-scraped surface, if you look closely in person. However, for now, my solution is to line that wall with our tall bookshelves.

How long will this repair last? I’m not sure, since the first coat of paint was improperly applied and is obviously still underneath the new paint. If it cracks and fails again, I’ll try a new way of paint removal. For now, this room has improved exponentially. Actually, I’m sitting in this room as I write this post.  The bungalow is an ongoing experiment, and I love it.

Now,  how have you dealt with paint related problems in your house? 

The Bungalow: Paint Chatter

How about some homeowner fun on this Monday morning? Let’s talk paint.

All houses have their mysteries, and ours is no different. One of the things that we loved most about this house was the minimal updating. In fact, the paint colors even gave the impression of decades ago and the shadows on the walls showed where picture frames and shelves had hung for those same decades. We placed “painting the entire interior of the house” on our list of aesthetic priorities. There’s just something so satisfying about a new coat of paint suited to your own tastes.

I love to paint. Honestly. Give me some work lights, good music or Gilmore Girls for the background, and I will paint all night long (I don’t really have time to paint during the day). Prepping and priming aren’t my favorite tasks, but I’m warming up to them. But I love colors: thinking about them for days or weeks, matching them, choosing lots of different colors, etc. And the end result is always worth all of the effort and the paint that somehow ends up on my face.

So far I have painted three rooms (living room, bedroom, guest room) with four to go (dining room, kitchen, bathroom and office).  The guest room, which is the smallest room, took the longest amount of time and the most effort because of peeling paint on the plaster ceiling. And then I was inspired to paint horizontal stripes (which, by the way, sound scary and require a lot of painters tape. but turned out great). I owe a great deal of thanks to a few flamingos and my sister Sarah for their help.

Now I am moving on to my next project: the office. It is currently a pretty shade of blue, but there is one big problem: the paint is chipping everywhere in this room. By chipping, I mean something akin to alligatoring. See below.

The chipping blue paint.

Another angle of the chipping or about-to-chip paint.

And that is only one small section of this room.  See here:

Most of the room looks like this.

More chipping. It’s on every wall. And some ares of the ceiling.

Fun, yes? Good thing I like a historic house puzzle. However, this one is driving me crazy. Why is the paint chipping like that? It is the only room in the house where this is happening. For reference, aside from the wall with the windows, all of the walls are interior walls. I’ve asked everyone who walks through the door, but no one has come to any conclusions, yet. Perhaps you can help. Here is what I know about the paint in our house (with thanks to the sellers who were kind enough to answer my questions):

The upstairs rooms have only been painted once, probably with one coat. Downstairs rooms have been repainted in the same color, except for the kitchen (new color). Any room that was repainted was done in the 1970s. The house was built in 1928. In other words, there is very likely lead paint in this house (pre-1978 as all preservationists know).

My questions relating to this information: How has one coat of paint lasted 83 years? Why is the blue room chipping and the other rooms are not? And, how am I supposed to remove that chipping paint? And will this happen again when I repaint?

Regarding the one coat of paint: it’s good to know now that some rooms have been repainted. But was lead paint that durable to have one coat last 83 years? Isn’t that impossible? So far in my paint endeavors I have not found evidence of multiple coats. Others have suggested that the house was wallpapered, then stripped of its wallpaper and painted. (I would not want that job.) Others have suggested that the house (the walls) froze last winter when it was unoccupied and unheated. And others have suggested it’s just a bad application in the blue room. That was my first instinct, but I’m still amazed at the other rooms that have had only one coat of paint.

Regarding paint removal: scraping creates dust particles and scratches the smooth plaster. Chemical stripping or something like citrus stripper is not effective.

While I love colors and painting, I am not an expert. If you have experience with chipping paint or can help me solve the old paint questions, I’d be very interested to chat. This room will take a while to finish; but, I will share what I learn and the end results.

Frosty Windows in the Bungalow

A few of the windows in our house turn frosty on extremely cold days. The ice is on the storm window some on the interior window, too.

Look familiar? That’s quite typical for my house, now.  I remember some icy windows in my parents’ house, too. To combat the ice, every winter my parents would blow dry the plastic over the large metal frame picture window in our 1957 ranch house. While we would lose our windowsills for the winter and the cats would sometimes scratch holes in the plastic, my parents assumed it beat the alternative of having icy window panes. It made sense to me. About 10 years ago, they replaced some of the windows, including that old picture window (with larger double hung windows).  After that, I didn’t see frosted windows or plastic over windows until this winter in our bungalow.

The 1-over-1 wood frame windows in this house are all original, glass included. They are in good condition (some TLC needed such as the sash cords) and I love them. Unfortunately, 16 of the 19 original 2-over-2 wood storms have been replaced with metal triple track storm windows. Perhaps they were cheaper or considered more efficient at the time, but those metal storms are a pain. The windows get stuck in the tracks and some of them hurt my fingers when I try to slide the windows up or down.

However, these metal storms are better than nothing. I say this based on accidental winter experiments and casual observations about my house so far.

(1) The windows that have metal storms with the glass down (screen up) are icy on the exterior rather than the interior (mostly) (see picture above).

(2) The windows that have the metals storms with the screen down (meaning I haven’t slid the glass down yet) are icy on the interior wood frame window (seen in the picture below).

(3) The windows with the metal storms that aren’t set in the tracks properly allow for a bit of ice on the interior window.

(4) With the metal storms set properly, these windows do not feel drafty.

(5) As for the wood storms? Two of those windows do not open, and if they did, would open to the enclosed front porch, so they are completely ice free. As for the functional wood storm? It is the one window in the house that does not allow any moisture or ice on the interior wood window and barely collects  ice on the exterior storm.

Not as bad in this window. Notice that the screen is down. Ice has not formed on the inside yet, but at night it will.

What’s the point of sharing all this? We are attempting to study the energy/moisture/air flow in our house this winter in order to assess heating bills and weatherization measures that we may need to take for later in the winter or next year. Vinny and I are in favor of the original windows, always, but we understand that some might need to be covered that hair-dryer-blown plastic sheet. That’s okay – it certainly is cheap enough. For now, we’re making observations like those listed above and we’ll see how it changes throughout the winter — and how it changes once our furnace is replaced (no central heat in Vermont in January – ah, another story for another day!) What are your best weatherization tips?

On a different note, I like the look of the wintry, frosted, icy windows – it certainly is winter in Vermont!