Dear Previous Owner…

…thank you for not messing with this house too much. I really appreciate that you let the original doors and windows be, and didn’t start smashing out walls for that plague of open concept. I’m really happy you left the exterior alone, though it would have been more decent of you to have replaced that one part of the eavestroughing that was missing before you sold the place.

What you did to the kitchen was really bad,  but I feel like I have scolded you enough about that.

I do need to speak with you about the paint situation, though. It was maddening to discover that the dark grey paint that was used on the trim upstairs is a noticeably different color from the dark grey trim downstairs. Why would you do this ?

Even worse, was that while you seemed to use a good quality paint on the main floor, which has performed well, whatever you did upstairs was TERRIBLE. I don’t care what the underpaid staff at the big box store told you – you DO need to properly prep a surface that has been previously painted with oil paint, and you DO need to use an adhesion primer. If you don’t – well you can just peel that water based enamel or whatever it was off wherever it was applied. The faintest ding will chip it, revealing the light color underneath the almost black color you chose. This is partcularly evident in the areas that had the most hands – around the doorknobs and light switches, and the edge of the doors. If you had looked carefully – you would have seen that waxy brownish build-up from many years of skin oils. No paint will adhere to this !

So, dear Previous Owner, this is why I will need to spend many hours scrubbing off your inferior latex paint, using water and TSP and a scrubbing pad. Once it is dry, then I can apply the adhesion primer, then the enamel paint of my choosing.

The charcoal grey wouldn’t have been my first choice, but it isn’t terrible. I could have lived with it, if it had been properly applied. I want you to take a good look at this, and ask yourself if this was a good legacy ? You seemed to want to do right by the house, to make it presentable and attractive ? Whose bad advice did this ?

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Scraping Paint

It took awhile to feel confident on the scaffolding. It felt sturdy, but due to the projection of the corbels and whatnot, there was an 18″ gap between the scaffolding and the house. Even with the safety crossbars I worried that I would make an oblivious turn and step, tumble and fall off the edge.

Most of the wood detail on the front of the second story was sound, which was a major relief. A few areas were dried out or fragile, but nothing was mushy or hollow. I started scraping with a putty knife, then moved on to a heat gun for the areas that were large enough. The edges of the wood are the most vulnerable to igniting, so I brought a spray bottle of water with me, to wet any areas that seemed to smoulder.

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Work on the scaffold was further complicated by my aversion to the sun. As a pale redhead I burn. Migraines are easily induced by a glare in my eyes. I worked for a few hours here and there in the morning into the afternoon, before the sun moved to direct exposure, and after supper.

I discovered that some of the decorative shingles had an embossed pattern, of what appeared to be a flower in a vase. I had never seen this detail before, or noticed it on other local houses. This must have looked extra fancy when the house was brand new – another decorative detail on an exterior loaded with them. I wondered about who built this house – and why there was such an intense amount of exterior detail ?

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The areas that had been under an overhang had paint that was still very sound. I was quite surprised that it was holding up so well. I didn’t know when the house had been last painted – definitely not by the previous owner (c. 2005 – 2016) – and possibly not by the previous- previous owner (1974 – 2005). For all the issues with toxicity, those oil based alkyd paints really performed well.

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I scraped as much as I could reach. John was back up north, so I was waiting on his return for the rest of the scaffolding. More of it went up late in October, but it was a wet and cold fall, so my scraping ended there. In theory I had thought that it would take me (working alone) three weeks or so to get the front scraped and primed, then painted. This might be true – weather permitting – but other variables like waiting on scaffolding slowed this down. The storm windows needed to be removed, and the putty repaired, but  this also meant that the scaffolding would need to get raised a level to reach properly.

I ruminated about whether it was better to prime all the areas I scraped, or to just leave those areas bare until next spring, when I could resume, and work in a continuous fashion upwards. I did know that primer should be painted fairly soon after application – otherwise it accumulates surface dirt, which will impair the paint adhesion. I worried about whether the exposed wood areas would be more damaged, or if a winter of exposure would mean little ? (You can see the weather won, by where the scraping stopped.)

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One night I slept really badly, and kept waking up from vivid nightmares. One of the nightmares was that a man had broken into my house, and was standing over my bed, reaching up to take something off the wall. I woke up from this just before 7:00 a.m., spooked and got out of bed. One of my cats had knocked a box of screws off the  worktable downstairs, and they were spread out over the floor. I looked out the window in my front door – like I do every morning – as if my missing cat might be waiting there – and I could see that the ladder was laying in the driveway. It had been firmly attached to the scaffolding, so it wasn’t like it just blew over !

I went out in my pyjamas and moved it to the backyard, and felt deeply unsettled. Did the sound of the screws hitting the floor spook the thief and they abandoned it ?

I knew that creeps will suss out a place, particularly any place that was having work done, to assess how many tools might be on site to steal, security (if any), etc. Anyone walking by would have seen me using basic hand tools, and basic corded tools. I was more concerned that they planned to steal the scaffolding components and the ladder.

Was it a lazy opportunist planning to pawn or a creepy contractor stealing what he needed ? Both scenarios made me uncomfortable. EOA.

 

 

Starting On The Exterior

Many of us have been socialized to get all swoony about “potential”. When I first saw this house the peeling exterior and all the other issues were obvious – and I couldn’t shake those notions of just happily fixing it myself. I know how to prep and paint. I know how to reglaze a window – not a problem (right ?).

Finding competent tradespeople, who will do ALL the necessary steps, are scarce. The actual cost of the paint would be several hundred dollars – that seemed doable. The true cost of the exterior repairs would be the labour, which I estimated to be at least 10x the cost of the materials.

I spent the first summer emailing and phoning around about renting a scaffold. When my ex and I had painted that exterior (in Toronto), the scaffolding rental company delivered it, set it up and took it down. However – at the local places I inquired this was just not done. This was a problem. I had never set up scaffolding, so I had no clue about how to do that safely, or even what components to rent.

I wondered about an alternate approach, like renting a cherry picker or scissor lift. The cherry picker seemed like overkill – and I wasn’t clear if an operator’s license or certification was needed, which I did not have. Scissor lifts seemed to be used only on very flat surfaces, like pavement, or indoors.

Experienced US members on an old house forum recommended pump jacks. This is a kind of basic scaffolding that that the user can raise and lower by themselves. No one locally seemed to sell them or rent them, and the only thing that was identified as a pump jack was the hand operated device for moving pallets. Nope.

My experience on tall ladders was limited. I didn’t think I had it in me to paint the peak using an extension ladder, which is almost three stories off the ground.

But I had to paint my house !

This spring John said that I could use his scaffolding. This was complicated by John working 9 hours north through the summer and into the fall, where most of his scaffolding parts were.

We got the first of it set up in mid September. I felt like I was going to have a nervous breakdown. I had NO excuse to not paint my house.

In the summer, while I waited for the scaffolding, I started stripping the living room window. This house has an odd detail that I have not seen on other local houses: carved flowers in the upper corners. The paint on it was very old, faded to a sort of ochre color. As I started to strip it, small traces of red were discovered around the flowers, and the ochre paint was more of a russet brown in the shaded areas. I worried that I might gouge up the carving but I didn’t. I managed to knock off one of the dentil pieces though. I looked for days and even sifted the soil below the window but never found it.

The window was looking pretty rough. The sill had been parged with cement, but had some adjacent rot that needed to be filled. The brick mould was gunked up with caulk and paint, and much of the glazing putty was loose or missing:

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The complex surfaces were challenging. I used the most flexible putty knife and a small slotted screwdriver to dig the paint out:

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When it was all stripped it looked even worse. What an accomplishment !

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During this time, major roadwork was being done on Hamilton Road, so gravel and dump trucks were routed down this street. The sight of a woman working on a ladder was apparently so startling that several drivers had to slow down to ask questions about the task at hand.

Once the holes were patched, the old pitch caulking replaced, the glazing repair in progress, and the window primed it started to look a little better:

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I was uncertain how to paint the window, exactly. If I painted the sash parts like the other windows, the flower detail would be lost again in the black. I wasn’t 100% about painting the carved sections with a contrasting color, but I thought that if it looked terrible I could paint over it. I thought it looked okay ? I used the door paint. The original colors around the window seemed to have been a very dark green, almost black around the window frame, then that tawny brown on the sash. The flowers might have been multicoloured, with the flowers having been red, with red paint in the grooves. The flowers themselves seem to be a product of artistic license, with the leaves and stalk of a tulip, with the flower being a sort of a daisy or cosmos ?

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I painted over the not-liked burgundy with the same dark green – Benjamin Moore Essex Green. As a whole I thought the house was starting to look more cohesive ?

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Trim, Benjamin Moore HC-188, Essex Green:

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Door, Benjamin Moore HC-02, Beacon Hill Damask:

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New Numbers

The house numbers that came with the place were never to my liking. They were brass that had oxidized from years of exposure, screwed onto a piece of varnished wood. The font was bad.

I always really liked the vintage number signs that were reverse painted on glass.

vintglassnum.jpgSometimes a person gets lucky on Ebay or Kijiji.

BUT – London city bylaw says that house numbers must be 12.7 cm tall. All the vintage glass house numbers were considerably smaller.

https://lfpress.com/2014/12/23/a-closer-look-according-to-londons-bylaw-street-numbers-must-be-at-least-127-cm-high/wcm/f651fba3-5f3e-b308-57e2-fc0fdccbd4c0

How they were made was quite primitive. The numbers were made with a crude stencil, and there was mirror, leaf or even textured foil in contrast to the black. I don’t know if the scalloped edge was done with glue chipping, or just a pair of pliers.

A long time ago I bought a bunch of thick bevelled glass panels, from french doors. The neighbour who was selling them had a late grandmother who was somewhat of a hoarder. How did she come to have dozens of bevelled glass panels but no french doors ? Did the doors rot away to nothing in her leaky garage so she saved the glass ? I will never know. Why I felt compelled to own them is another question.

I printed out numbers until I had ones that were the correct size. I forget where I learned this, but I oiled the paper to make it transparent. I taped the reversed numbers to the front of the glass and carefully painted the back (flat side) of the glass. I didn’t have One Shot Sign Painters Enamel – only plain old hardware store oil paint for metal, so I needed to do two or three coats to make it completely opaque. The nice thing was that any errors could be razored off once the paint was cured. I crumpled up aluminum foil until I was happy with the texture and  glued that to the painted areas with contact cement. I spray painted some mirror clips black, and hung up my new number sign, right under my light.

Despite this, cab drivers and delivery truck’s GPS routinely sends them to the far end of the block. This street is only one block long ! When I am waiting for a cab I now know to stand on my steps and frantically wave. The new postal carrier thought no one lived at my address. Why is my house is apparently invisible ?

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