Marsha Canham's Blog

November 6, 2013

The joys of owning a 130 yr old house…an update

Filed under: Caesars Through the Fence — marshacanham @ 4:30 pm

So. I love my quirky little house. I loved it the moment I saw it online in the MLS listings…listings I had been checking on and off for three years, looking for something to replace my Forever House, which was also my Dream House and the House I Would Only Leave if Carried Out in a Pine Box. The latter didn’t happen, thank goodness, but I’m sure there are still claw marks on the woodwork and the driveway where the movers had to drag me away with the furniture.

Flash forward a year through many renovations inside and out. Mostly inside and since most are documented in previous posts, I won’t go into gory details. Suffice it to say I survived and the house has been transformed from one that caught my eye to one that is managing to snuggle into a place in my esthetic good graces. Gone are the butter yellow and hideous gold walls. Gone are the icky, dog-stinky, stained carpets in the bedrooms, hello hardwood. Gone is the ridiculously huge hot tub in the upstairs bathroom accented with black-and-jagged-green-lightning-bolts linoleum on the floor and curtains that should have been a June Cleaver apron…not to mention the FOUR layers of pasted wallpaper that wouldn’t have come off with a bulldozer. Welcome all new drywall and wainscotting, claw foot tub, neutral paint and tiles, and serenity.Gone also is the crusty, gnarly, stained fiberglass shower, replaced with a splendid linen closet and deep lovely drawers. The plumbing is still in place behind the closet should anyone wish to restore the shower, but for me, not necessary.

The family room was an obvious late addition to the house, possibly some time in the early 90’s, very poorly built without, I suspect, any manner of permit. The room itself is large, but smack in the middle of one wall was an ugly red brick fireplace eight feet across and jutting four feet into the room. Kinda hard to work around, but Carpenter Guy did a fine job with built in cabinets and shelves on either side, and wood facings to cover most of the ugly red brick. The verdict is still out on whether I’ll try to tile the ugly red bricks still showing. The floor is hardwood, but underneath it is…nothing. I discovered that last spring while I was listing to squirrels making merry in the space beneath the floor. One side of the house along the bottom was completely open to weather and critters and now has half a ton of gravel blocking it up and keeping vermin out. Unfortunately, while I was waiting for the gravel to be wheeled into place, I tossed about eight boxes of mothballs under the foundation, not realizing that once they were stoned in, the smell of camphor would take about six months to dissipate *snort*. Interestingly enough, the only place I smelled it was in the bathroom next door. Not in the basement, where one would expect there to be a gap where the room was attached, not even in the family room itself.

One thing I can’t fix is the ONE heating vent installed for the entire large room, and that was stolen (rerouted) from the bathroom next door which, consequently, has NO heating vent at all now. That bathroom was obviously made over at some time in the past…I suspect the 50’s from the pink sink, toilet, and tiles it had…from what used to be a porch attached to the kitchen. My grandmother’s house had one so it was a vaguely familiar footprint. The Demo Guy found an original farmhouse window and a doorway that had been covered over with drywall. The window I kept and sanded down the frame, then covered the four large glass panes with mirrors. Looks very cool. The room itself gets sufficient heat from the kitchen that the missing vent isn’t a huge problem, but the family room…oy.  Why anyone would build it with a massive fireplace that takes up half of one wall, and put three…count em THREE sliding patio doors on the other walls is beyond me. So one vent, three big glass doors, and a woodburning fireplace that requires more effort than I have yet expended to light a fire. Yup. Very COLD room in the early spring and now the fall. I run a heater in there every evening just to keep my toes from breaking off from frostbite. At least there is a lovely old glass-paned door to close it off from the front foyer, which also has no heating vent, and a second lovely antique glass door to close the foyer off from the kitchen. Double whammy to keep the cold out of the rest of the house…but wait!  That would imply there was heat in the rest of the house!

Well, there was. In the former living room, which is now my main floor master bedroom, and in the former dining room, which is now my office. Those two rooms could be turned into ovens with a flick of the dial. The kitchen, which also had an addition put on sometime in the 60’s…a very large room with lovely bank of big windows to extend what had been a tiny farmhouse kitchen. Another fireplace was put in, but gosh golly darn…no extra heating vent, and again, nothing under the floor except the dirt it was built on. Consequently, half the kitchen floor is like walking on an ice rink. The only heat on that half comes from the fireplace when it’s on. There are two other vents, but until my cousin, the HVAC Guy, came and replaced all the furnace ductwork in the basement and installed dampers and actually attached pipes to vents that were formerly just hanging loose…there was no heat anywhere other than the bedroom and office and whatever drifted up the stairs to the bedrooms. Did I mention the mysterious fan inside a wall on the upstairs landing? The switch for it is outside the family room. Electrician Guy, whilst searching for wiring that made any sort of sense to anyone outside a third world country, deduced that it was some sort of cold air return…but where it sucks air from or vents it to…is still a mystery. And why it needs a fan…who knows.

The wiring was simply intriguing and drove Electrician Guy nuts. Thankfully there was no knob and tube, but that was where the modernizing ended. There was one plug on the kitchen wall above the tiny counter and two in the midget-sized island. The goofy stove didn’t even have an outlet. There is no light switch for the kitchen IN the kitchen, one has to either turn the lights on from the hall leading into the office, or from the hall leading into the bathroom. I now have considerably more outlets but Electrician Guy has considerably less hair.

The 1940’s kitchen was totally gutted and just last week I managed to replace the sole remaining appliance that came with the sale. Big bold letters: FIVE APPLIANCES! Yeah. Two of the five were the dwarf sized washer and dryer that would be strained to hold a bath towel. The dryer wasn’t even vented, it just blew into the bathroom. The dishwasher was so badly encrusted with mouse poop that it went straight into the garbage bin. The fridge went into the garage after two days worth of soaking, cleaning, scraping to no avail. And the stove….the last of the Mohicans…departed last week after eight months of driving me crazy. Who puts knobs on the front of the stove anymore? Knobs that fall off with a flick of the wrist. And touch pad controls across the front that had things beeping and flicking and turning on every time I accidentally brushed against it. The oven…worked…but I never knew what temperature it was working at. I think it was about 25 degrees lower than whatever it was set to be, but considering it was a well known brand name, and probably very expensive when purchased new, I would have throfted it back to the store after the first week of use.  And the previous owners had a small child. That would have terrified me, had I survived the thought of all that mouse poop crusted on everything. As would the fact that the plumbing works now, which it didn’t when I moved in. Apparently the idiots who did previous renovations neglected to put in any sewer vents or install the big black drainage pipes in the basement on a downward angle. That was a fun discovery. Plumber Guy had to drill through a 130 year old stone foundation wall to angle the pipes correctly which is why, I suspect, the aforementioned idiots chose not to do it. But how do you live in a house for several years that fills with the smell of sewer gasses every time you shower or flush a toilet?

The mice, by the way, are gone. About a dozen direct, open highways into the house were sealed up inside and out. Nary a sign of vermin has been seen since the spring since the joint was de-moused. The basement is still a haven for spiders and daddy long legs, but I’ve been spraying with stuff that leaves a residue and that too has slowed the growth of eight-legged offspring. My grandkids are almost willing to go down there alone now. LOL.  Almost. Come the spring, a ceiling will go up to hide all the pipes and wires and wafting webs. The grotty old workbenches will be removed and the whole thing will get a fresh coat of paint, floors and all. That and the second phase of landscaping are in the plans, and after that…? Dare I hope, think, believe I will finally be able to put the hammers, shovels, saws away? Oh yes, I’ve been building myself a rather impressive collection of guy tools, some of which had me turning the air blue just trying to figure out how they turned on, but I’m getting better.

I still don’t pump gas, however. These hands have been wrist deep in kid poop and dog poop, but they have never touched a gas pump thingy




  1. you…as usual….crack me up!
    Glad the new diggs are looking up
    you are my “go to girl” if I ever get something that needs work

    Comment by Bren Mathews Barrett — November 6, 2013 @ 4:58 pm | Reply

    • And you know where I’ll tell you to “go to”, right? With much love and affection, of course. LOL visit my website Caesars Through the Fence, my pithy blog find me on Twitter @marshacanham

      Comment by marshacanham — November 6, 2013 @ 5:00 pm | Reply

  2. But I want to know what happened to the resident ghost that came, free of charge, with the house! Is she/he still playing with the kitchen lighting?

    Comment by JILLMETCALFJ — November 6, 2013 @ 6:44 pm | Reply

    • HAH. Electrician Guy was over on the weekend and fixed the transformer dufus, which was causing them to go dim….BUT…he wasn’t out the driveway when I flicked the lights on to admire them and….one of the pendulums wasn’t working. Luckily it just needed a hard whack with a baseball bat to get it going again (at least, that’s what I felt like doing). And so far, so good *snort* visit my website Caesars Through the Fence, my pithy blog find me on Twitter @marshacanham

      Comment by marshacanham — November 6, 2013 @ 8:55 pm | Reply

  3. No wonder you look so forward to your winters in Florida!

    Comment by Phoebe Conn — November 7, 2013 @ 12:09 am | Reply

  4. I am so glad I’m not the only one who won’t pump gas. Although I had to when my husband spent a week in the hospital. New Jersey has the right of it-no one is allowed to pump their own gas. So when do you get to leave your new abode and come back to Florida?

    Comment by Margaret S — November 7, 2013 @ 2:24 am | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: