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Wednesday, August 6, 2008

127 Year Old Gets Facelift

Or If Walls Could Talk

My daughter-in-law and I enjoy watching the Home & Garden channel program “If Walls Could Talk.” Monday we discovered that our walls in Ilwaco have withstood 127 years of life on the coast, including hurricane force storms the last two years, by divine providence. The old (I assume Finnish) workmen who did the construction must have had occult knowledge because there was seemingly no reason for the South side of the house to be standing.

I will back up for the benefit of readers unfamiliar with our little house by the sea. I lived on the Long Beach Peninsula when my husband and I married almost exactly eighteen years ago. It was agreed that when my husband retired from the FAA we would retire here. Being a loving indulgent husband not only did he make a down payment on a house in Gig Harbor for my children and I to live in, but two years later he sold a home in Bellingham to buy this old Victorian lady in the place I love. We chose the property because there is a little cottage behind the barn for my Special Needs daughter.

We’ve forgone a lot to have this house because we can’t afford to stay in Gig Harbor after retirement and the Long Beach Peninsula has been where I am happiest for my entire life. If necessary I could be happy in our Victorian lady if not one more improvement were made. Over the years we’ve owned her we’ve repainted and reroofed, but were not in a position to make major improvements.

At the same time that my husband was reaching twenty-five years with the FAA and thinking about retirement, Lockheed Martin took over his division. The opportunity to save his retirement checks for a real retirement and continue to live on our combined salaries was too good to pass up so we put off retirement. Now the economy is pushing it farther back, but it has become necessary to make repairs to our “retirement” home. After 127 years the old lady needs a facelift. Actually she needs a full facelift, but is only getting a partial this year.

For people who do Christmas shopping at Goodwill you can imagine that the cost of home repair is unnerving. I am pretty good at making a “penny scream,” using it up and wearing it out so writing checks with more than two zeros in the number is enough to send me scrambling for the valerian. Add to that the fact that we’ve had some bad experiences with contractors, we out and out procrastinated doing what needed to be done to the South side of our old gal. That’s the side that the hurricane force winds have been slamming us and so far we’ve been lucky. We just didn’t know how lucky we’d been.

It was like a blessing to have two contractors come recommended after spending a year figuring out who we did not want to hire. It was icing on the cake to get someone who shows up on time so with the small setback of having to have shingles ordered last week, I eagerly awaited Monday and for the repairs to begin.

Dean Halverson and his crew showed up on time and started removing the shingles. At first we were cheered by the fact that although we’d had some leaking windows the old shiplap siding showed no rot. Yeah! Dean thought he could salvage our windows and we heaved a sigh of relief. But when I returned to the house from an errand to find Dean and a neighbor—himself a retired contractor—in glum conversation I knew the smooth sailing had hit a reef. “Is there a problem,” I asked. “You could say that,” our neighbor J.R. said. “We don’t know why this side of the house is standing up.”

It turns out that there was nothing between the outside shiplap and the inside wall. Under the some tacky paneling the inside wall is 1X12 inch vertical planks to which Finnish newspapers and wall paper had been applied. I was not totally surprised. My aunt lives in a house in Seaview built in a similar way. The outside shingles are nailed to the inside tongue and groove paneling that is between exposed studs. At least she has studs. Our wall was being held up by thought.

Monday wrapped up, literally, with felt on the South side of the house. All the old shingles were hauled off in the back of one of Dean’s trucks to become a bonfire on the beach for the boys on his crew. The plan was to come back Tuesday, build a false wall with a nice big header, repair our old windows and start shingling. Dean went off to buy the materials for the false wall.

He and his boys showed up punctually at 8 AM Tuesday and began work. I took the dog out to the cottage and spent time with Amy before we went together to run Tuesday errands. I’m going to have to quit leaving because it is then that Dean finds the problems. If I hang around maybe things will go better. Anyway, Dean had more news. It wasn’t really bad news and I could have said no, but he wanted to talk me into buying new vinyl windows instead of him repairing the old wood ones. He was convinced that it would be less expensive and more durable.

Being a lover of authentic old houses my romantic nature wanted to stick with wood windows, but knowing that this is the side from which we catch Nature at her wildest my practical side won out and I agreed. We tried the Long Beach window shop only to be told that we could have the windows in two weeks. Longview Home Depot was a no. Dean just knew he’d find them in Astoria or Gearhart and flew off in his truck after the house was buttoned up. I told him to call if he found them so when dinner came and went I assumed that he’d come up empty handed. Just before seven o’clock he called to say that he’d gone all the way to Cannon Beach and not found a thing, but he was sure he knew a place in Portland. Portland! I said.

Through the detective work of Dean’s wife the number of a place in Portland was found. “We have a plan,” he said happily. “I’ll call them in the morning. I know they’re going to have them. I’ll go get them first thing tomorrow.” “Okay,” I told him, not entirely convinced. “Just don’t go off on a wild goose chase. Make sure they’re there. We can always order them from Long Beach if we have to. Or Home Depot opens in Warrenton next Monday.” “No,” he insisted. “I want to get it done before your husband comes next week.”

This was so different from my experience in Gig Harbor the summer of the kitchen fire/remodel. That contractor had no problem with me having a nonfunctioning kitchen for the entire summer. I hope this job isn’t going to take ten weeks, but I doubt it because Dean is going to dog those windows until he tracks them down.
So tune in next time for "If Walls Could Talk," a DJ Construction production.

As a parting thought, I’d like to request recommendations for contractors in the Tacoma/Gig Harbor area. We’ve a 1974 house that needs some updating before we can even think of selling/retiring. My middle son suggested that his younger brother, author of the notorious last-day-of-school-fire several years ago, do some cooking in the bathroom, but frankly I don’t like the contractors insurance companies foist off on you so we’re planning to just hire someone for bathroom remodels and are taking names.


Lorraine Hart said...

My goodness...the house stayed up on good vibes alone!!

I'll have a chat with my husband about contractors in this area, see what he has to say.

It really is such a beautiful house Stephanie, well worth the work and expense for when you FINALLY do get to retire. Maybe the "This Old House" guys could come help!

Stephanie Frieze said...

Well, its a sweet little old Victorian with a funny traffic pattern and lots of eccentricities, but I love her inordinately. I hope the ghost (I sometimes hear someone walking upstairs when I'm here alone) be happy with the changes.

Lorraine Hart said...

Stands-The-Wind Cottage?

Stephanie Frieze said...

Ooo, I like that!

Am working on a cottage tour for you, Lorraine.

Anonymous said...

That wall sounds like what is known as "vertical plank" construction. It's common here in New England, and appears in certain locals throughout the rest of the country.

If it's in good condition vertical plank buildings are strong, here in New England we have many that are over two centuries old.

John Leeke

Stephanie Frieze said...

Mr. Leek, are you saying that the false wall our contractor has installed in the downstairs room was unnecessary? I will share your comment with him. I have never felt unsafe in the house. Thank you so much for commenting.

Anonymous said...

Well, I don't know. But, just take a look at the evidence. How long has the house been there? Were there any signs that the wall was not strong enough? Was it nice and straight, or was it bowing out of shape, or tilting and leaning? Was it holding up the second storey and the roof, or were they falling down?

In the photo the wall looks like it is still nice and flat and vertical and still doing it's job.

If your contractor added another wall, what will happen in the future? Will loads shift from one wall to the other, possibly causing problems? If your contractor had not seen a plank framed building before he may not understand it. On the other hand he may have correctly figured out that additional support was needed. Who knows? Only the test of time will tell the true story.

-- John

Joanne Barragan said...

Your flair for old houses tells me that you are an old soul. Old houses requires major renovations. Asking for recommendations about renovating an old house is a good idea. We cannot give this task to just anybody. We need someone who knows how to make things happen when it comes to roofing, insulation and repairs. I hope to see some new pictures. Thank you for sharing.

Joanne Barragan

Julio Wells said...

Staying in an old house is such a great opportunity. I love the classical house that I have right now, though I must admit that I had many repairs done to retain the strength of the home. I hope you retained the classical look of the house after the facelift. It’s good that you also had renovations done on your roof, sidings and plumbing parts so that you won’t have serious problems in the future.

-Julio Wells-

Tisa See said...

Giving a house a facelift is not all fun and games. It has to be given a lot of thought, considerations, and hard work, especially with the sidings and the roof. You have to think of ways to improve the functions and conditions of the materials without losing the look you want. Let's not just be all about aesthetics because what good would it bring if your house starts to come falling apart just after one heavy blow of wind.

ABC Roofing Inc.

Stephanie Frieze said...

Thank ABC. We have an awesome mastercraftsman.

Anonymous said...

ABC Roofing Inc
ABC Roofing Inc
ABC Roofing has been consistently ranked as one of Greensboro’s most trustworthy roofers since 2006. We install roofing, siding, gutters, skylights, decks, windows, and sunrooms. We can tackle ventilation issues, flashing problems, and chimney repairs as well. We’ve made sure that we’re proficient in installing all roof types, which means when you call us you get access to all the roofing options, including asphalt, wood, fiberglass, metal, or tile.