We’re Off To See The Wizard…

June 20th, 2011 § Comments Off on We’re Off To See The Wizard… § permalink

The latest adventure here at The Woody Housing Project is the renovation of the living and dining rooms.

Things started slow in March and April with wallpaper removal whenever we had some spare time. There were many layers of paper and a layer of dark red paint. The paper was so thick and brittle that it was like peeling cardboard off the walls.

Here you can see some of the layers:

All winter long I sit at a desk while my need to renovate builds and builds. This spring I unleashed my pent-up energy on the living room and dining room ceilings. Dad and I tore down the plaster ceiling in those two rooms to pave the way for some improvements that needed to be made. The ceiling tear-down took 3 days and two truckloads to the dump.

After the plaster dust settled I cut down sheets of 5/8″ plywood and sistered all of the ceiling joists in an effort to stiffen second floor. The second floor wasn’t that springy but I figured I may as well do it since this is the only time I’m going to have full access to the joists. The joists are 2 1/2″ x 10 1/2″ x 30′ long and now have plywood glued and screwed to both sides.

The two rooms were rewired and due to a quirk of how the house was initially wired for electricity, the kitchen light, downstairs bathroom light, and porch lights had to be rewired as well.

After the wiring was done, the ceilings were insulated with sound and fireproofing insulation to help stop any home theatre noise from penetrating the bedrooms above.

The ceiling strapping was refastened to the joists and furred out to correct the sag that has developed over the last 110 years.

The last thing that Dad and I did before closing up the ceiling was to repair the pocket doors between the living room and dining room. Because of the sag, the doors have been resting on the floor rather than hanging from their track. After painstakingly removing the doors from their hanging hardware we cut 1 1/2″ from the bottom of each door and rehung them. I’m proud to report that they now open and close smoothly – something they can’t have done for at least 50 years.

We rented a drywall lift and skinned the ceiling with 5/8″ plywood to provide a solid nailing surface.

And now for the main attraction! I’ve dreamt of having a tin ceiling for many years and I finally made it happen. On the long weekend in February The Lovely Christina and I drove to Kitchener and placed our order with Brian Greer’s Tin Ceilings. Just before Easter The Lovely Christina made another trip to pick up the tin when it was ready.

It didn’t take long until Dad and I got into our routine – he lined up the panels and help them in place while I hand nailed them to the ceiling. We installed the pattern from the centre out: field panels, medallion panels, filler panels, moulding and then cornice.

Everything except the cornice went relatively quick. The cornice requires that a skeleton be built to provide support for nailing. In the picture below you can see how it was constructed: a rail and a series of 93 blocks painstakingly cut to match the profile of the cornice.

Here’s the finished product, with a protective coat of polyurethane. The dining room:

The living room:

Blue Bedroom Ready For Visitors

January 23rd, 2011 § Comments Off on Blue Bedroom Ready For Visitors § permalink

It’s been a long time since the first hammer-swing of demolition in the blue bedroom back in August but the bedroom is now finished and ready for visitors.

Here’s a quick summary of what’s gone on since I last checked in:

Once all the plaster was stripped from the walls and ceiling I was able to remove the inner layer of tongue and groove planking from the exterior walls. All of the electrical wiring needed to be redone and I also took the opportunity to run 2 coax and 2 cat-6 lines to the bedroom. The next step was custom fitting the insulation into the wall cavities – back when our house was built they hadn’t discovered insulation yet. The stud bays are all different sizes, none of which are recognized by insulation manufacturers which means it took me 2 days to insulate. The photo above shows the bedroom just before I replaced the tongue and groove planking.

Vapour barrier, drywall, baseboards and window and door casing went up next. When we bought the house all the original trim had been stripped from the room. I found a small planing mill near Arnprior that specializes in antique and custom moulding profiles that was able to supply all the casing, baseboard and rosettes. The crown moulding is a combination of 2 standard profiles carried at Home Depot and the panel mouldings (shown in the final photos) are also a Home Depot standard. The photo above shows the bedroom after the drywall primer and first cut-in was done. In the foreground you can see my production line for sanding and priming the trim.

The finished product. The Lovely Christina and I built our own padded and tufted headboards one weekend and picked out the perfect light fixture in Ottawa.

Another angle.

Since an old house has limited storage space we decided to buy the absolute largest dresser that would fit up the stairs. It took me, my dad and my neighbour Jim to haul the dresser up the centre of the front stairs.

Doors Open Pembroke!

September 18th, 2010 § Comments Off on Doors Open Pembroke! § permalink

Strictly speaking, this has nothing to do with The Woody Housing Project but it’s my website so I get to make the rules.

Today was the first ever Doors Open event in Pembroke.  The lovely Christina and I spent a good chunk of the day walking around town visiting the different participants.  We saw the fire station, the library, the armouries, city hall, the court house, and the museum at the local electric utility.

Our court house underwent a massive restoration/addition a few years ago and has been winning architectural and preservation awards ever since.  The building is beautiful and the tour was very good.  Here’s a picture of one of Pembroke’s most wanted:After some deliberation I decided to bail her out as long as she agreed to buy me lunch.

The fireman who toured us around the fire station was very nice.  He even let The Lovely Christina into the truck:

This next photo wasn’t part of the event.  Graffiti is bad but it’s hard to be mad when you’re laughing.

Wedding Rings & Wrecking Bars

September 18th, 2010 § Comments Off on Wedding Rings & Wrecking Bars § permalink

The pace of renovations around The Woody Housing Project has been very slow lately but I have a good reason: The Lovely Christina and I got married! It’s incredible how much time and energy it takes to plan a wedding, even a small one.

After a beautiful wedding day surrounded by all of our best friends and family, an amazing honeymoon in Vegas and a couple of weeks recovery, The Lovely Christina and I decided it was time to renovate something.

The blue bedroom is one of the few remaining rooms in the house that is uninsulated.  The “renovation” that had been done by previous owners is the exact same that was done in our master bedroom.  For this reason we decided that the blue bedroom would be a good trial run for future projects.

Blue bedroom before.

Blue bedroom emptied out.

As far as I can figure the most recent “renovation” in this room was done by the people who bought the house to turn it into apartments. Additional electrical outlets were added, the ceiling was strapped and acoustical tiles were stapled up, one of three exterior walls was (poorly) insulated, all original trim was removed, and the walls were covered in cheap sheets of paneling. It was the quickest way to get the room into a rentable condition.


As you can see the the paint scheme was interesting: opposite walls are painted black and beige, all original trim was painted gloss black and all the window trim was painted gloss red. What would possess a person to do that to a room? Why would you want to torture your eyes like that?


The electrical additions in this room were installed in chiseled-out channels in the plaster and then covered with paneling. Yet another surprise in this house buried underneath a quick fix.

Obligatory action shot!

The plaster  underneath the paneling was compromised by the previous cover-up job and so it had to be removed.  The Lovely Christina was a big help – it turns out that she quite enjoys demolition.

All winter and spring I’ve been liberating empty paper boxes from the office in anticipation of this job.  I’ve found that lining the wall with empty boxes to catch the falling plaster is a very efficient way to clean up the mess.  You can see how dusty the room is.

‘Till next time.

Exterior Painting

May 30th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

Part of owning an old house is knowing when to do the work yourself and when to hire someone to do it for you.  I’m still learning.

When I bought the house the front gable end and the 3rd floor window above the driveway were in rough shape.

Last year I rented some scaffolding and set it up in front of the house in an attempt to repaint the 3rd floor gable end.  It turns out that I’m not comfortable that high up on shaky scaffolding.  It was also too far a reach to be able to scrape, prime and paint properly.  The scaffolding went back and I moved on to other projects.

This spring I called the professional painters and finally got the job taken care of.  A Genie Lift was delivered first thing in the morning and the painter showed up shortly after.  The job was done in a day and was professionally completed.

Front gable end:

Window above the driveway:

The Front Hall Is Finished

December 31st, 2009 § 3 comments § permalink

This is another project that has dragged on way too long. As part of the renovation and restoration of the front hall and staircase the existing carpet was removed and plywood was laid down on the subfloor. We’ve lived with this plywood for about 4 years and now that The Lovely Christina is a permanent resident I figured it was time to cover it up with something respectable.

In the above picture you can see the top of my head as I lay out some thinset to complete the third quadrant of the tile floor.

The buildup of the finished floor is as follows:
1) 2″ tongue and groove pine (subfloor/original finished floor).
2) 3/8″ plywood glued and screwed in a 6″ grid (with additional screws in problematic areas).
3) Thinset.
4) Schluter ditra uncoupling membrane.
5) Flat-fill with thinset.
6) Tile.

The tile came in 12″ x 12″ sheets but because of the pattern we wanted almost every sheet had to be custom cut. It took us a full week with exacto knives, cutting mats, and a reference pattern to cut all the tiles and assemble them in place on the floor. As a result there are only six full, uncut sheets in the entire floor – they are in the middle of the border.

The tiles were then transferred and reassembled in a staging area on the dining room floor so that the base for the tiles (plywood, ditra) could be prepared. Each partial sheet of tile was marked with registration marks to avoid any problems when I installed the tile. As I laid down small patches of thinset Dad would hand me the partial sheets for those areas. It was a very slow and time-consuming process but I think the results justify the headache.

With some advice from our local flooring store the initial installation was only a portion of the floor to form a cross. This cross was painstakingly laid out and with the help of lasers was aligned perfectly with the three bordering walls, the foot of the staircase, the cold air return duct, the front door, and the prime meridian. Once the cross had been installed and had set Dad and I proceeded to fill in the four quadrants.

The tile/pattern we settled on after much discussion (arguing) is a classic 1″ ceramic hexagonal tile with a flower and dot border in the main area and a dot border in the closet. We’ve seen similar patterns in old homes for years and figured it would be fitting for our old home.

We chose a dark gray grout to avoid dirty grout lines. My fingers were stained for about a week afterward.

Only half of the floor in this room was tiled. The remainder will (one day) have hardwood installed. As an interim measure we chose a laminate floor from the Christmas cash-and-carry sale at the local flooring store. The nice thing about the laminate is that it will un-install very easily when the time comes.

Here is the finished product, with shoe moulding installed and painted and laminate floor in place. You can see part of the refinished staircase on the left side of the picture. This is one of the smallest, least-used rooms in the house but it has had the most time spent on it. It has been more than 5 years altogether. I’m looking forward to putting my energy into another room for a change.

Here is a view of the new flooring from the top of the staircase. In this photo you can see the refinished heating and return grates. The grates/grilles were spray painted gloss black while the interior of the ducts were painted matte black.

…just in time for Christmas.

Back Stairs, Back In Action

October 30th, 2009 § Comments Off on Back Stairs, Back In Action § permalink

Let’s think back to last summer… when we started to refinish the back steps…


After some pretty serious paint stripping, some repairs, some reinforcement, the patching of many holes and just a little bit of sweat, the stairs are finally done.

I painted them in the same scheme as the front stairs.

Which project to tackle next?

Beam Me Up

September 10th, 2009 § 1 comment § permalink

The living room floor has always been a little bouncy. The joists are 3 feet on centre and span 18 feet. Over the years the some of the bracing has been removed to make way for heating ducts and holes have been cut for plumbing and wiring. This summer, during a week of holidays I finally decided to do something about it.

The steel beam is 6″ wide, 6″ tall and 12’6″ long, supported on both end by jack posts.

Dad and I wrestled it into the basement and slowly raised it into place by stepping it up stepladders on each end. With a little help from Nicole we managed to get the jack posts under the beam and everything secured in place.


The living room floor is now nice and stiff. You can now walk across the living room without having the tv and all the lamps wobbling.

I Cannot Tell a Lie

August 5th, 2009 § 1 comment § permalink

In our backyard is a very fruitful crabapple tree. Starting each August it begins dropping over-ripe crabapples, turning our backyard into a rotten, slimy mess.

The rotten crabapples embed themselves in the grass, attract flies and wasps, stick to the bottom of your shoes, gum up the lawnmower, and give the local birds, dogs, squirrels, chipmunks, groundhogs, and raccoons the runs (or the crabapple two-step as it is known around here).

To deal with this problem I pick up hundreds of apples every day for 3 months. This year I finally had enough.

You can see how large the tree is in the above picture. I can’t tell you how old the tree is but I can tell you that one branch of a fork 3/4 up the tree had about 30 rings. In my experience I have never seen a crabapple tree that has been allowed to grow this tall.

Our friends Keri and Chris were visiting for the August long weekend and volunteered to help me cut the tree in half, thereby cutting the amount of crabapples in half.

I climbed the tree with my trusty electric chainsaw (don’t laugh, it gets the job done) and cut the branches as Chris directed from the ground. I took out about six smaller branches on my way up and then removed three large branches (about 10 inches in diameter) from the top. The picture above shows the tree with one of the three large branches remaining. This picture reminds me of something Dr. Seuss would draw.

The completed pruning job.

Pruning the tree was relatively easy… cleaning up was not. All of the activity of pruning knocked a few thousand crabapples to the ground all at once. We made one dump run with the truck fully loaded and I’ll have to do another run this weekend to clean up the remaining brush.


For your viewing pleasure I am pleased to present the very first Woody Housing Project video. If you listen carefully you can hear the smart-ass comments made by The Lovely Christina and Keri.

A special thanks to Chris for working in the hot sun on his vacation and to Keri for documenting everything for me.

The Master Plan

July 5th, 2009 § Comments Off on The Master Plan § permalink

This post is about a project that has been long overdue. In preparation for the impending homecoming of The Lovely Christina I decided to freshen up the master bedroom with some paint.

Since we bought this money pit I have treated the master bedroom as a sanctuary – the one room that was off limits to tools, dust, dirt, shoes, etc. It was nice to have one room that I could retreat to when the renovations seemed to never end. The downside to this is that the room was neglected – aside from a thorough cleaning when we moved in nothing had ever been done to it.

The before pictures were taken before we moved in. I tried to take the after pictures from the same angle for a better comparison. (From looking at the after photos it appears that I have an undiagnosed inner ear disorder – I may have to look into that.)

Standing at the closet, facing the front of the house. The old wood stove was recycled long ago.

The trim has been pained white (three coats to cover the brown) and the wall colour is “Promenade” by Behr.

Standing at the front window facing the back of the house.

The closet was painted a chocolate brown and had new hardware installed – the paint was left over from one of my Dad’s projects.

This was just a lipstick-on-a-pig job – a stop-gap measure to get us a few years into the future. The real renovation of the master bedroom will be a massive undertaking because it is a room full of cover ups:

  • there are at least two false ceilings;
  • the walls have been strapped and covered with horrible paneling;
  • the baseboard has been installed on top of the original baseboard
  • the chimney has been veneered with new brick;
  • the hearth is a mystery;
  • and the carpet that you can see in the photos is the second layer of carpet and at least the fourth layer of flooring.

…but these are all adventures for another day.

P.S. – thanks to Dad for helping me paint, Mom for making the lunches, and Ted the Angry Zombie for the grunts and moans of encouragement.