This Old House

There are certainly some foibles to renovating a 1953 home. Many we expect, since we renovated our current house when we bought it and it was built in the 70’s so it has some of the same issues. However, each house is always different. I thought I might share some of the hurdles we’ve encountered so far with renovating this house. Plumbing issues we’ve kind of covered, and they’re obvious. Old pipes, drains mostly blocked. Wiring? It’s a little messy. We’re tackling that too, as much as we can without ripping the roof off (that we, ahem, just put on).

The first thing to keep in mind is that the house has had several additions. It was initially a 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom home built out of gray 4″x8″x16″ masonry block. Then, someone added a family room and bedroom (with a separate outdoor entrance) onto the back of the house in the ’60’s, which were also built of the same block. In the ’90s, the one-car carport was turned into another bedroom/apartment with its own entrance, but by then block construction had become very expensive so this one was framed in. We believe that it was at this time that the brick was added over the original block, to tie the whole facade together where stick frame construction meets the block.

How these additions affect us now is mostly in how they connect. Crazy wiring I’ve mentioned. The whole house is built on concrete slabs, and in the 1950s, these slabs were just naturally a warm honey brown color. It’s quite pretty, and you can see it where we’ve taken up the original flooring (except at the moment it’s covered with a thick layer of dust). However, the living room, which is now continuous to the rest of the main living space, has a gray slab and it’s broken and funky where the two meet. This is the main reason we’ve decided to go with bamboo floors instead of finishing the concrete (that, and six years of living on concrete floors has made me realize that my feet appreciate some padding). It’s a cost that would be nice to avoid, but I think it will look really nice and we’ll appreciate it in the long run.

Slab transition

Something else we’ve run into with the house is the low ceilings in the living room (you know, the one with the beams?). We’re putting recessed cans in all over the place in the new living space, but when we got there, we realized we only had 4-1/2″ of clearance instead of the something like 5-3/8″ that you need for a typical recessed can. We visited Home Depot, Lowes, and the internet and finally found something that would work, but they were pricey. We showed them to Ricardo and he called around town and found some at a local place, $15 cheaper! Yay for Ricardo! They’re little halogen lights instead of regular cans, but they create good light in that room.

Small recessed cans

Also in that same room, and also because of the low ceiling, when we went to order a new door to replace one of the old windows, our 76-3/4″ rough opening was a problem (standard is 80″ and taller). Lowes flat out couldn’t do it, despite an hour and a half of hanging out there trying to figure out a solution. Home Depot could, and coincidentally also had a sale on doors that we took advantage of, but it sounds like we may need to plane an 1/8″ off of the pine framing. No big deal, right? We shall see. Apparently it’s the sidelite that’s the problem – since it’s a 48″ opening, we have a sidelite and a glass door. Something about not being able to center the glass in a door that’s any shorter. Sigh.

Removed block

All these little things, they’re all fixable, they just take a little extra time. It’s getting there. But old houses, man, they’re full of quirks. Sometimes it feels like every time we move something we find another weird thing. “Hey, did you notice that the kitchen sink cleanout goes into the living room?” “Wow, an old diagonal gas line running behind the kitchen cabinets.” “Oh look, there’s another floor under this floor.” Step by step, we’re peeling back the layers of weirdness.

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