South Slope Reno
Well, we’ve seen the door in the shop. Now it’s time to get it home. Of course, there is still one issue to be resolved: What hinges do we use? Nathan has quite a store of old hardware, and if you see what you like, you are welcome to it. This is a heavy door, that will require large hinges. We went through his hinge drawer, and there was nothing that was both pleasing and heavy duty. I was about to give up and order some, when Nathan opened another drawer and says, “hey, what do you think about these antique olive knuckle hinges?” Say what? But as soon as I see them, we agree immediately, these are the right hinges.
What a metamorphosis, from an old crappy beam that most people would walk by if it was lying in the street, to this fantastic door!
Before I continue with the door, let me just finish up with the skylight, which we’ve been doing at the same time. The old skylight was set into the roof just a couple of inches away from the parapet wall. Basonas’ opinion was that it will leak, and a new skylight installed so close to the wall would give trouble. So he wanted to build a frame and get it up from the roof, and then flash the distance between skylight and wall. The results are beautiful. This heat wave has given us the opportunity to experiment with different opening sizes of the skylight. Here’s a set of four shots, two interior, two exterior, before and after.
Yesterday I learned some more details of the construction of the door. Nathan is going to laminate the finished planks over a hardwood core, resulting in a door that will be about 2-1/4″ thick. He feels this will make a stronger door that will not be subject to warping, and which, in his words, will “last 150 years”. I’ll have to get that in writing He has a vacuum press just to do this work. (more…)
Our finances have somewhat recovered after being 100k or so over our original estimate for the gut rehab that we undertook, so we’re ready for some final touches.
First, we had a roof leak over the winter, we just cut a hole in the ceiling and let it drip onto a towel when it rained. When it warmed up enough to do a water test, it was clear that the leak was coming from where the dunnage (steel beams) for the AC units was inserted into the parapet wall. Rather than get the GC back, whose expertise seemed much stronger in interior work than exterior, I got my friends from Basonas Construction to come out and fix it.
At the same time, the old tin-covered wooden roof hatch that has to be pushed up from the inside gives Mrs. D fits, as it is very heavy and ungainly to open and lock. And she has some plans for the roof. So we’re going to replace the hatch with a steel spring-loaded hatch.
The skylight over the stairs gives us great light, but it’s the old wire-glass/copper deal. Basonas’ opinion is that it will leak sooner rather than later. Not only that, it vents all the time, so in the winter we have to seal the vent with bubble wrap. We’re replacing the skylite with a modern plexiglass model that we can open in the summer, and close in the winter. We’ll report back as these are installed. (more…)
Other than the final plumbing inspection, which is still bedeviling us, the stair rails that we had installed here are the last piece of this renovation.
In between, we’ve laid on a few more coats of varnish to the stairs to the basement, as well as to the second floor.
Our GC could not find anyone to do these kinds of rails (he’s a bit old-school) so we ran into Rich and his dad at Luna Welding ( www.lunawelding.com ). Rich is more than a contractor, he’s also an artist working in metals, and his dad is a carpenter. Rich came over and we all discussed the myriad options in posts, rails, and materials (there is a ton of choices) so as always we decided to keep it as simple as possible. Polished steel hardware (sprayed with a sealant to prevent rust), stainless steel cable, and an oak handrail to match the stairs. The price was $6600.
Rich showed up with his crew in a few days and put in the posts, then came back a few days later and finished the job. He even took care of varnishing the railing for us. We’re happy with the results.
Finished product above and here:
And some shots my wife took during the process:
During this process we were able to get all our artwork up on the walls, so it’s really feeling like home. The AC guy came by to charge the unit for the first floor, just in time for those 90 degree days, and, we’ve got our library unpacked and put away. Since I haven’t had the luxury of having it all in one place for a number of years, we took advantage of CraigsList to grab a few Billy bookcases locally. Here are some shots of the completed basement library.
(We can’t close the pipe chaise until the final plumbing inspection)
In a couple of weeks I’ll do a final post, detailing the screw-ups we made and things we should have done differently, and that will be it! Time to go back to reading.
On my last reno blog entry, bkny asked:
“Ok, so denton, this basement is a true basement as in a cellar? and not as in a ground floor/1st floor/garden level? i am guessing that by the looks of the small windows. Can you recap your floor plan/layout? i think it’s great to have an extra bathroom in the basement/cellar? it could be a guest suite.”
Since we’re about done, let me re-cap. The house is a 16′ x 66′ semi-detached house, South Slope/GH. C of O as a two family although we are using as a one family. Two stories, plus basement which is probably 2/3 underground. Half of the basement we plan to use as a library, the other half is storage/laundry/boiler. We didn’t want to put a bathroom in the basement from the beginning, didn’t want the extra scrutiny. What the hell, we have a slop sink, right? But seriously we may put a toilet down there once the permit is closed out.
The second floor has the master bedroom, large walk-thru closet/dressing room, very large master bath, a office/computer room for me that also just happens to be the 2nd family kitchen right now, and another room that is my wife’s room/guest bedroom.
The first floor has a large living room, a small bathroom, the main kitchen, and a formal dining room, which opens onto the patio/garden.
We closed on the house at the end of 2007, and have been renovating ever since (a complete gut). We figured three months optimum, six months worst case, and here we are. All we have left is our own cosmetic work, and the stair railings. But much of that time was spent waiting for permits, drawings, and inspections. Probably six months of actual work.
However, to my great disgust, again, we have not passed the final plumbing inspection, which was gas pressure test, and finish. This particular inspector hates to leave without something. The gas pressure passed, and the finish passed. When the plumber showed up at the beginning, he pointed out that some of the gas unions did not meet code, and he replaced them all. But for some reason, one length of old gas pipe was not replaced. Even though it passed the pressure test, the inspector failed it because, don’t laugh, it was PAINTED. Not now, maybe twenty years ago. There was more rust than paint, but since it was connected to new pipe, the inspector stated that ALL the pipe had to be up to code. I happen to have a photo here, it’s the middle pipe.
I certainly don’t have a problem seeing that pipe replaced, in fact it was silly and penny-pinching for the plumber not to have replaced it, since all the other plumbing was replaced.
The same inspector failed the boiler last time he was here, incorrectly. I should have been here to argue the point, but wasn’t. (Big mistake! Always attend the inspections, because the contractors seem more interested in being nice to the inspector for future jobs than standing up for their existing paying client.) I had to send an engineer to the DOB to get the objection overturned. Another lie I was told, is that once the objection for the boiler was overturned, the inspector will not touch the boiler again. Didn’t phase this guy, he was right back at it. After asking a highly technical question that proved he really didn’t know much about these new mod/con boilers, and I got my installer on the phone to answer, he kept up about something else, and I battled him for at least fifteen minutes. Ultimately successfully, I might add.
But the upshot is that I still am looking at this *&^%&% second floor kitchen, an ancient stove connected to a gas pipe to which the service has been shut off, and a rickety sink for which I have absolutely no use. While my file cabinet and stuff sits in the hallway waiting for the next inspection to be over.
Meanwhile, we have vanished the stairs to the second floor.
Therefore, the basement is done! (Well, almost. The pipe chaise was left open due to the inspection, so we will have to close that up ourselves after the gas pipe is replaced. ). We were able to unwrap our good bookcases, and set up a lil’ ‘reading area’, complete with a cheap Arts and Crafts rug from Lowes. This coming weekend, I have a truck on reserve and my kids from Da Bush lined up to move our library from storage into the house, which will reduce our overhead by $250 a month. Here’s the main area.
The basement was the last major dust-producing process to be done, so we were able to lay out our rugs, and most importantly, install the turntable so we can hear music the way it was intended, as an analog waveform not a chopped salad. And the crew chief agrees, of course after screwing up the blinds. (That wall is not yet painted).
To recap, our GC had given us a price to do the basement that was unacceptable, given our finances, of 20k (he later claimed that was for the WHOLE basement and the half that we did was only 11k). We then thought we would scale down our ambitions, and maybe do some of the work ourselves, and do it cheap. So we asked the Brownstoner community for advice about stripping and painting the walls, and we heard from another contractor, Shane Deary. We liked what we heard so we asked him to stop by. He offered to sheetrock, tape, and insulate the walls, epoxy the floor, rock but not tape the ceiling, and build frames for the windows. And install the needed doors as well as replace the rotten door to the outside with a new metal door. He quoted us 8k, and he did a great job, speedy and well done (he’s a carpenter by trade). We are very pleased with the results. We taped the ceiling, added vinyl baseboard, and painted. Some pix:
Shane’s email is email@example.com. We like him.
All we have left is the handrails (report to follow), the last plumbing inspection, painting, hanging pictures, touch ups of various kinds, and that’s it. Then again I get the feeling that a house is never done.
Well! The day before I was supposed to cash my refund check, twenty-seven weeks after I ordered them, the shower doors showed up from Brooklyn Kitchens. And they look pretty good, we think. (Although the master bath has a leak at a seam, so a service call will be in order).
Downstairs bath here.
Meanwhile if you’ve been following along, you recall that the stairs to the second floor were too short, and didn’t completely make the platform. This was solved by putting a ‘box’ at the top of the stairs and pushing them forward.
As we come to an end, one of the biggest nightmares has been the amount of dust that just doesn’t stop. I’ve realized that the basement ceiling, sheet rocked in 1968 and with many holes, has been capturing dust and debris for decades, as well as new stuff from the renovation. We decided that whether or not we had the money to do some basement finishing, the ceiling had to go. This is a perfect project for a homeowner to do to save money; not difficult or technical, just dirty, dusty, and time consuming. But we got it all down and out in the space of a few weeks. Here’s the space with the ceiling as was.
I’ve taken a couple of shots of ceiling pieces as they came down, to show what was sitting on top of them. Nasty!
The worst spot was below where the old kitchen and bath were. The plumbing had leaked for years, the joists had to be replaced there, but they had tried to reinforce it by nailing boards under the plumbing and filling in with cindacrete. That was vile getting down.
Getting rid of the debris was timed to not call any attention to ourselves. Everything went into black plastic bags, but nothing too heavy. Two bags in front of our house, and two bags in front of a just-converted rental with no tenants a few doors down. One sometimes up the block mixed in with trash from a larger apt building. Twice a week for a few weeks and no problems.
We’ve now come to the point where we have to decide what to do about the basement. As avid readers and book collectors, our library is about three thousand volumes. In our previous coop, we had space for about half, and the balance was in a storage place, which is now up to $250 per month. Our plan was to turn half of the basement (500 sft or so) into a library, but only if that would not put books at risk. (The other half is boiler, storage, tools, etc.).
We are two blocks from the highest point in Brooklyn, and we have been here fifteen months without the slightest whiff of mold, mildew, sewage, or water. We have done calcium chloride tests on the concrete floor, and moisture tests on the walls (thx smokychimp for that suggestion). We seem to be as dry as can be. And frankly I’d be equally afraid to try and pack a library in an upper floor of a small house without reinforcing the floor.
At the same time, we are pretty broke after this reno. We asked our GC for a price to ‘rock walls and ceiling, and tile the floor as cheaply as possible. His price was $19,000. That was very discouraging as we really can’t swing that right now. We decided to see if we could do it ourselves, maybe with friends, maybe just stripping and painting the walls, so we asked for some advice about the walls.
Thanks to that post, a contractor had an interesting suggestion, and we invited him over to take a look. To make a long story short, he quoted us less than half of what our GC did, which is manageable, and we retained him to start.
for a series of pix on progress.
Naturally our GC was not happy, altho he didn’t express it. But he did say, yesterday, that his office person had made a mistake and that the 19k was for the WHOLE basement. The HALF that we wanted was 11k. He would have got the job for that, but, that’s not what we remember.
The bad news is that things have come to a screeching halt because my GC had to go into the hospital for a new heart valve and a couple of stents, and the day before he fell off a ladder (not here) and shattered his kneecap.
The good news is that we are so close to the end that we are living comfortably, with only the stairs having serious issues. And we need railings shortly thereafter. Also, we were able to arrange a final inspection from our PE, who will sign off everything subject to stairs and railings being finished.
THAT means we were able to get rid of the second floor kitchen, thank goodness, and turn it into my office. For the last few months, my computer stuff has been hooked up in the unheated basement, gathering tons of dust to boot. I’ve already had to replace two case fans and a WD Raptor HD, all failing, I presume, because of dust.
I took the computer over to Park Slope Computers, on 19th and Prospect, and they did a great job cleaning it out, before I moved it up. Cleaning out my printers and scanners and so on was quite a task also.
The upstairs temporary kitchen is here. Hard to believe we actually ate and cooked in here for a few months!
But we are leaving the plumbing as is, after capping everything off. This gives us or future occupants the option to turn this back into a 2-family easily enough. We were able to shut off Keyspan service as well, that knocks $20 a month off the overhead.
Here’s the room almost finished. Yeah, my wife has to stick a plant everywhere, even if it’s mostly dead!
And then that leaves my good friend Brian Ackerman at Brooklyn Kitchens aka Garfield Kitchens. He did manage, almost on time, to take care of everything needed in the kitchen. There were a set of spice drawers that had to be made over–thrice. The third time the grain was running in the wrong direction, but at this point, we’ll just pretend we liked the contrast. However, we still have no shower doors! That’s twenty-three weeks and counting!
I gave him an ultimatum on a Monday that if he didn’t get them by Friday I wanted my money back. He asked for the next Wednesday, which I gave him. I didn’t call him and he didn’t call me until late Wednesday, when he called me practically in tears begging for more time because he just lost 80k due to a cabinet supplier that just went under with his deposits. Allegedly. Against my better judgement, I gave him until 3/3 provided he gave me a post-dated check to be deposited on that date if there are no doors. For your amusement…
Back to the big hold-up, the stairs. We’ve been through two sets already and it looks like we’re cruising for a third. We wanted a set of oak open stairs. We liked the first set when it arrived.
There were a few things we didn’t really notice at first. But when we did… First is that the stairs seem to be made by a Chinese robot. They were routed out and wedged from the back. This would have been fine if they were to be covered underneath, but they’re not!
Then there was some more sloppy stuff, like magic marker here and there, and glued labels, all of which would have been a bear to sand off. It was the GC who opened his mouth first, and told us he wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if he left us with the stairs. So he had a pow-wow with the stair guy, who agreed to replace them. This time I sketched out in Corel Draw exactly the way I thought the stairs should be.
When we started the job, the GC offered to replace the rickety stairs to the basement for $700, new pine. I told him we’d deal with the basement after the main work was done. It struck me that these oak stairs would be an upgrade to new pine, so we offered to pay the $700 for the oak stairs installed to the basement. This way everyone got a little something. The stair guy probably breaks even, the GC makes a few bucks, and we get better stairs to the basement. In fact they have been installed and we’re in the process of varnishing them now.
The new proper oak stairs were delivered. By this time the GC was in the hospital. These are gorgeous, massive stairs. I had to help the three guys get them into place.
The stair guy came over and suggested some smooth ways to fix them. I told him I can’t agree with anything unless the GC approved. The GC is finally out, came over last night, and we will have to have another meeting with the stair guy. That should be interesting.
We now have a almost-completed but definitely working kitchen. We are missing some trim pieces for the cabinets which Brooklyn Kitchens has promised in a week. We’ll see, because we’re still waiting for these glass shower doors, now sixteen weeks and counting. As soon as we get the trim pieces we’ll be done with Brian Ackerman except for the shower doors. If we don’t see them shortly after we’ll demand our money back and if not forthcoming sue.
Photos show the progression of the kitchen first with the counters (Caeserstone) and then the glass tile backsplash.
We’ve had our share of problems, all resolved or in the works. The big counter slab facing the dining room was not cut square, which I didn’t notice until after it was installed. Therefore it doesn’t overhang the cabinets properly. They’ll be back this week to rip it out and fix it. Another Brooklyn Kitchens sub-contractor. I find not being able to cut a piece of stone square to be rather appalling in this day and age.
The other fiasco was the dishwasher/waste disposal installation. The insinkerator was installed a few days before the dishwasher was hooked up, as the plumber always seems quite busy. When the dishwasher was finally connected, it wasn’t draining. Furthermore the motor was giving off a burning smell. Everyone seemed to agree (plumbers and master plumber) that there was something wrong with the washer and I called Bosch to schedule an appointment (after complaining that it was highly unlikely a defective motor would have left the factory).
Then the foreman of the main work crew (who’s not supposed to know about plumbing) wandered over and wondered out loud if the plastic tab in the insinkerator had been removed. As he explained, there’s a tab in the dishwasher inlet that needs to be removed if in fact there’s a dishwasher. I ran to my computer, downloaded the installation instructions for the insinkerator, and the foreman was correct. The tab was removed and the dishwasher is working fine.
We have a toilet and shower in the downstairs bathroom, but no sink yet. The reason is that we had to return it to Brooklyn Kitchens because it wouldn’t drop into the vanity. Because the clips were way too large and messily installed. I don’t know where Brian gets his sinks made but it seems to be somewhere local. Three sinks have had to be returned four times for repairs. Sloppy, sloppy work. Pictures when complete.
The last big piece of this job is replacing the stairs. My feng shui guru (alexstark.com) had suggested that instead of the stairs going straight to the exit doors (your money flies out the door, as it has, lol) you should bring the stairs into the living room. Because we’re keeping this as a legal two-family house, albeit using it as a one-family, we want to have the option of having the stairs go either way, so we hit on the idea of bringing the stairs to a platform, and then having the last two able to be configured into the LR or straight to the door.
The old stairs:
The new open stairs:
Cleaning up by the stairs and door.
After a couple of minor problems, we have passed the plumbing inspection in the cellar, and are ready to finish up in the next few weeks.
Making great progress on the first floor. The floors are entirely in, only to get covered with masonite to protect painting and further work.
All the photos at
Still waiting for the upstairs glass shower doors from Brian at Brooklyn Kitchens and Baths. Twelve weeks and counting.
We made it very clear to the GC that we wanted at least a stove and hood in by Thanksgiving, so we could use the dining room and the multiple ovens. We made sure that the appliances were here when needed (btw we bought all the appliances from Appliance Showroom, behind Costco’s. They met Drimmer’s prices and were a pleasure to deal with).
Here we are just finishing the taping in the DR.
We’re doing the priming and painting, so there she is, doing it up.
The raw kitchen and DR, primed.
Here’s the DR, mostly painted (BM Linen White) with the speakers installed.
We didn’t expect to have plumbing in by Thanksgiving, as plumbing inspection was Monday. Indeed, we didn’t. We didn’t think we’d have cabinets either, as they were coming from Brooklyn Kitchen as well. Given the source, we were hoping for Thanksgiving 2009. However, to our surprise, they showed up Monday and were installed Tuesday by our GC. Of course, you may be wondering where the doors are. So are we. Supposedly they had QC problems so Brooklyn Kitchens says we should have Monday or Tuesday. We’ll see.
There’s a whole sequence of photos in the main gallery showing the crew chief inspecting the kitchen cabinets. Here’s one of the better ones.
Here’s how the kitchen was on Thanksgiving (those are a couple of trim pieces posing as counters).
The eagle-eyed will see the turkey in the bottom of the unplugged wine cooler, where it was placed to warm up while also being safe from the dog and cat.
We heard some people complain about these Wolf stoves. Here’s one who actually likes it!