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1920s Craftsman Home Remodel: A DIY Odyssey

As the new owner of a 1924 “fixer-upper” craftsman’s home, I was very excited to begin the remodel. The house had been first remodeled in the 1970s with the addition of laminate flooring and sola-tubes. Double-pane windows were installed in the 1990s. From that point on, the house was rented out to rotating groups of college students, resulting in high abandonment. He had grand ambitions to remove the dark paneling in the living room, install better flooring, fix the sagging ceiling, and fix the sloping foundation in the dining room. My college-age son volunteered to help me. I was so excited to start making this cute little craftsman house my home.

Having founded Builders Site Protection, a surface protection and dust control company, he was confident that he could safely remodel an older home. I realized that lead paint and asbestos would probably be a problem since the house was built well before 1978. I made sure to bring my ZipWall™ studs, plastic sheeting, Lead Ready™ containment kit, carpet protection , safety clothing, tapes and tools. to my new home. We started with the bedrooms since they were the ones that needed the least work. The new paint and new carpet did wonders to improve the home environment. The application of paint colors with contrasting trim emphasized the window and door trim that stand out in Craftsman-style homes. Upon closer inspection, I discovered that in both bedrooms, the ceilings consisted of rectangular panels that likely contained a large amount of asbestos. Instead of donning a respirator and dust collection tools to try to remove the panels safely, I decided to paint the ceilings and leave them alone. This was to be the first in a long list of compromises between what he had envisioned and what happened during the actual remodel.

Next was the kitchen, which was in better condition than the rest of the rooms. After removing a large number of dead bugs from the tube by myself, I was impressed with the amount of light it brought into the windowless kitchen. When I realized that the floor was glue laminate and would be difficult to remove, I decided to leave it as it was and focus on the other parts of the house. The new paint and bright white trim did wonders to improve the look of the kitchen. An appliance repairman and an electrician got the kitchen stove working properly.

Dark paneling was installed in the living room during the 1970s in an attempt to “match” the paneling originally installed in the house during the 1920s. Over the years, the panels had been spray painted a color whitish and it was quite obvious. Although the panels would be easy to remove, the original wall panels from the 1920s likely contained asbestos. After I decided to texture the paint over all the walls to match and with the addition of bright white paint and trim, the walls looked great. New flooring and the addition of craftsman-style furnishings maintained the feel of an old home. The old house was really starting to look good!

A small additional room that juts out from the kitchen would be used as my home office. The office room was a challenge as the floor was sloped from an old foundation. After inspection by a foundation expert and also a local contractor, we decided we could live with the 1″ slope as it was quite common in the area and would cost over $3000 to repair. I was beginning to think this old house wasn’t It’s so nice after all! Using liquid cement to level the floor, we were able to provide a fairly flat floor base for the installation of hardwood flooring. Once the walls were painted, the flooring was installed and the molding, the room looked great.I recently discovered that the walls apparently have no insulation as this room is the coldest in the house.

Our biggest challenge was the guest bathroom. The bathroom had the original orange cast iron tub from the 1920’s and was in terrible condition. The cabinet was made of particle board that had deteriorated several decades ago, and the toilet ran constantly. The water supply came not from the back of the cabinets but from the side, so a large pipe and the house’s water supply shutoff were located inside the decaying cabinets. Surrounding the old tub was an inexpensive plastic frame that had holes, putty, and nails sticking out of its attachment to the wall. There was also an old set of thin particle board cabinets in one corner that we would have to remove as well. The faucet was broken and there was no hot water connection from the faucet. The closet and bathtub were not current code because they were too close to the toilet.

Removing the 5 ½ foot cast iron tub took the better part of a day. Unfortunately, it would need to be laid over the new flooring installed in the dining room, so surface protection was a must. We carefully protected the hardwood floor with a recycled cotton floor protection product and used blankets to help move the heavy old tub. Once removed, it took four men to lift and recycle it. Once removed, it was apparent that the floor would need to be reinforced as the tub had little support. After reinforcing the tub, we finished the floor with plywood leaving an 18″ access panel for the plumber. Old molded drywall was removed from the walls surrounding the tub. Almost ninety years, and at least twelve removed different layers of wallpaper from the bathroom walls that were under the drywall Then we built a thin 2 x 2 wall to isolate the bathroom from the outside wall of the house that had no insulation Since the room was so narrow , a 2″ wall would provide insulation but keep the tub and toilet up to code. We used a “green board” mold resistant board on the outside of the wall and a layer of breathable wrap on the inside of the wall so that moisture could escape and there would be no more mold problems in the bathroom. We also use Styrofoam to insulate the thin wall between the house wrap and the green board.

At that time, my son left for college and now I was all alone. Time to call the plumber! Once the plumber was contacted to install the tub, I discovered that the bathroom floor sloped 1.5 inches from the plumb wall, a similar situation to the dining room. At this point I was beginning to hate this little old house! Mortar was used to keep the tub level, however, the tub no longer rested on the tile floor, so a disguise was necessary to cover the visible area under the tub. Several weeks later, I finally finished cutting, installing, and sealing the tile and grout surrounding the bathtub. Although I carefully protected the tub with a temporary surface protection, I managed to make a small dent in the surface of the tub during cleaning. I was able to see firsthand the importance of protecting not only the tub but also the surrounding flooring and cabinetry. I also determined that from now on, it was best to leave tiled tub surrounds to the professionals! Now it was time to install the finishing pieces and repair the ceiling from the hole left by the plumber while he was installing the shower head. A little drywall repair, some decorative molding, and a fresh coat of paint on the ceiling all worked out great. Moldings were installed for the wood cabinets and baseboards and touch up paint was applied to finish the room.

Somewhere along the way I managed to clog my kitchen drains as they continued to back up into both sinks and my efforts to use a snake to unclog the pipes were futile. Will the repair work on this little old house never finish?

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