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"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." ~Aristotle

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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Demolition Men, Chimney Sweeps and Not-So-Merry Poppins

We have an old house.

It's about 100 years old. It's a colossus of a thing; a perfect square: full basement, 1st, 2nd and 3rd floors PLUS an attic you can stand up in.


We purchased this home in 2007 and immediately began beating it up. 

And by "me," I mean Ian, and whichever Dad/Dad-in-Law was available. And a few (will they stay?) friends. 

It was dirty, hard work. We gutted the bathroom and kitchen and entire third floor and attic. We absconded with several hundred bats which were subsequently living in the house since we took out their walls. We rewired and re-plumbed. Installed a new powder room. Installed a custom kitchen. Installed overhead lighting, wall/plaster repair, carpet removed and replaced, hardwood installed, insulation ... Lots of this done before we moved in (God bless my folks for putting us up for a year). Most of the above happened before Ian's magical medical mishap a few years ago.

Fast forward to 2013: We were finally able to get moving on the third floor, to turn it into usable living space. The plan is for it to be a rec room of sorts, with the potential of a master suite/guest suite. Full bathroom going in. So we had insulation guys come and do their magic, we're in the process of framing out the walls and soon, drywall and flooring and lights and TA-DA!  Room.

In the meantime, we figured it made sense to make a few other improvements at the same time; ie, while the drywall guys were here. This meant that while the third floor has been progressing at a steady pace, all of a sudden people were coming over to do demolition. As in, "Hon, Fred will be here at 8 am tomorrow."

"Uh ...Oh. Okay!"

So we got a roll-off box (Dumpster is, in fact, a trade name. FYI). We started to hack away at the two remaining gutting-worthy rooms: the dining room and entryway. The reasons for these efforts are several, some of which are installing electrical fixtures, outlets, switches, insulation, general wall/ceiling surface improvement.  

Indeed, on Monday, Fred arrived. I got up early and decided to avoid the noise and do some cleanup work in the basement (on the future improvement list as well). Over the hum of the washing machine and dryer, I could hear the pounding begin. 

If you've ever experienced this type of work, you can scroll down and yawn. If you have not been a part of an old home remodel, let me give you a bit of important information: Old construction is not like new. If you don't know what "lath and plaster" means, see THIS on how it's done to begin with, and THIS to see what it looks like 100 years later when you're pulling those outer-coats down. Only in that last picture, it seems the homeowner is looking to patch a small hole. And leaving the lath (the wood).

We are not leaving the wood. It's gotta GO. Oh, and this includes the ceiling. See that grit at the bottom of the photo? That will be important later.

Okay.  So, our house is plaster, brick, lath, sometimes in that order, sometimes not.

Back to the basement. I take a break and come upstairs. Soon after clearing the kitchen, I start to encounter a faint haze in the air. Walking through the dining room the mist gets heavy, and soon I encounter the cloud. A cloud smelling of the strongest whiff of under-the-bed dust you've ever breathed. The border-less cloud which now engulfs both front rooms and hallway of the first floor. It lingers in the air as the smoke and ash in World War II movies. There is a smash, a crumble, and a POOF of more of the stuff ... a constant, slow-moving fog of ash.

Of course, I should explain one other facet of the death cloud: it contains coal dust. Homes of this era had coal furnaces on the lower floors, and the coal-based heat was piped throughout. This means that on its way through the wood and plaster and brick, coal left its black, gritty mark.

Which has now become airborne.
It settles gently onto couches. Chairs. Plants. Paper. A laptop. Books (Oh, God, the books). Picture frames. Carpets. The cat.

As I get about five feet from the front door, I realize it is too late; the prep work done by the men to prevent this disaster has been inadequate. While they took care to mask with sheeting and tape over the inner foyer door, it has not occurred to anyone smashing away at the tiny room that THE POCKET DOOR WHICH ROLLS INTO THE WALL BETWEEN THE PARLOR AND ENTRY HAS NOW PROVIDED A FLOOR-TO-CEILING DIRT FUNNEL.
Into the room(s). All. Over. Everything.

Tears were shed. Swearing was accomplished. Mom was summoned ...

In brief: we have commenced wiping down and vacuuming everything. EVERYTHING. As I said - PAPER. This stuff is not sawdust, it's not drywall dust. It's not even the thickness of talcum powder. But it includes a sticky quality that means when you run your finger across the desk, a fine powder sticks to your finger, sure, but a smear also occurs on the desk. A staining, gritty, sticky smear.

So that's what Rachel (and a few others) have been doing for the past three days. Ian & Co. have been tearing out the entryway and dining room. They're almost done. (We were much more successful in sealing off the dining room. Whew.)  The next steps will be some wiring and then the drywall cavalry and then I should be safer from dustdirt. Should. 

That is, until another project becomes ten others .... 



  1. I have no words....except for maybe wow... been there, know the coal dust, don't want a t-shirt to prove it !

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