Sunday, December 30, 2007

Howdy Neighbor

Over the last few days, we've met a few neighbors.  Across the street is Rita, who's lived in her house for 50 years, but told us about two other women who have lived on the street longer than she has.  Next door is Lou, a student a University of the Arts.  We also met Nick, a 27 year-old who's been here his whole life.   At this point, I think Greg is most excited about the elderly ladies and the hope that they'll bake him pizzelles if he shovels their stoops. 

Mirror Mirror on the Wall

On our first day in the house, we took inventory of items the previous owners had left behind: some smoke-filled curtains, a packet of frozen Salisbury steaks, and an enormous mirror. While it makes sense to use a mirror to give an illusion of more space in a small home, this mirror is not our style.  For one thing, the border (which only goes around the sides and top, not the bottom) is hideous.  For another, it's huge.  And while it is probably worth a lot of money, its presence in the living room became more and more of a hassle.  But how to dispose of such a big piece of glass?  It's too big for Greg's pickup truck, it's super-heavy, and it's treacherous.  We put on our thinking caps.  Dave suggested carefully wrapping it and then shattering it.  Unlucky, but the best idea we had.

The first step was carefully placing the mirror on top of a thick (but not canvas, because they cost $33) dropcloth and taping it.  Greg and Andrea taped a contractor bag over the spot the dropcloth didn't cover.

Then, shattering.  The mirror was a little sturdier than expected, but some heavy whacks with mallets and hammers eventually did the trick.

Unfortunately, they also put holes in the dropcloth, making it clear that this project was going to be tricky.

After the mirror was shattered, we carefully rolled up the cloth into a vaguely body-bag shaped pile.  However, giant shards stuck out in several places.  At one point, as Andrea straddled the now deadly mirror, I reminded her that if she punctured her femoral artery, she would bleed out in minutes.

In order to try and reinforce the cloth, we snaked contractor bags around the whole mess.  The giant shards pierced the contractor bags as quickly as they had pierced the dropcloth.  I looked around the room and noticed the rolled-up sections of carpet that we had removed from upstairs.  After some hemming and hawing, we decided to gently (with the help of a snowshovel) roll the body bag onto a swatch of carpet.

Then, nearly exhausting our supplies of contractor bags and duct tape, we taped the contraption to the carpet.

Next, we wrapped the carpet around the "body" and taped it up.

At this point, we felt like conquerors, and we were happily unbloodied to boot.

The last step was dragging the carpet outside and loading it onto the truck.  We've heard that the mafia used to dispose of bodies rolled up in carpet bags, and considering our location, we hoped the neighbors wouldn't leap to conclusions.

Tomorrow, another trip to the dump, and the saga of the mirror will finally be over.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The baseboard's connected to the ceiling...

Up until this point, we had hoped that the gutting would be primarily limited to the first floor--we didn't mind doing a shoddy job upstairs for now, painting over wallpaper, if it could save us money.  But we did want to rip up the carpet, knowing the previous owners' predilection for dogs, cats, and nicotine.  Ripping up the carpet in the office meant removing the baseboard. When I pried it off, half of the wallpaper came with it, revealing the expected paneling.  No big deal, I thought.  We'll take the paneling down on this wall and put up sheetrock.  Unplanned, but doable.  However, I soon realized that the perpendicular wall had been built over the paneling, which continued to the other side, the bedroom closet.  Thus, the closet wall would have to come down too.  OK.  Fine.  Until I realized that the closet ceiling had been built over the paneling, which meant that the ceiling would have to come down, too.  To summarize: office carpet=baseboard=wallaper=paneling=closet wall=closet ceiling.  It was like a giant game of pick-up-sticks.  

In the above picture, you can see the office wall paneling that has been pulled away from the frame, but that can't be removed because the perpendicular office wall is built against it.  In an attempt to preserve that perpendicular wall, I managed--with Amy's help--to knock down the drywall and then use the electric saw to remove the paneling.  I felt a huge--and likely unwarranted--sense of accomplishment about saving the back wall.  In the picture below, you're looking at the frame of the hallway wall; the wall dividing the office from the closet (what I have been calling the perpendicular wall) juts up against the frame.  On the other side of the perpendicular wall is the missing closet wall.  The doorway looks into the bedroom--so far, its walls are intact.  

Buried Treasure

As each layer comes down, we discover more buried treasures.  The most exciting is the little bottle of creme de menthe.

There was also a diskette keychain.

A Sorry playing piece.

And Lady Liberty.  

Day 4: Dumps

The walls came down, but now we have a problem: trash bags full of ceiling tiles and piles of paneling taking up space on the floor.  We are painstakingly removing nails from any beams that seem salvageable, but the rest of the stuff has got to go.  Greg has a list of city dumps, so we load up his pickup truck and take off.  The first trip is a qualified success: the overseer allows us to get rid of the scraps, but says we can't come back because these kinds of materials are prohibited.  However, there are more dumps on the list, so we load up again and go for a drive through scenic, economically depressed Southwest Philadelphia.  We barely get out of the truck this time before being told that we have to go to a different spot nearby.  When we get there, we realize that this is a commercial dump.  It's going to cost $90 to dump anything under a ton--literally 2,000 pounds--of trash.  Since we have closer to a couple hundred pounds (maybe?) of trash, and no way to bring a larger amount, we give up and drive home.  So far this morning we have spent about 3 hours getting rid of one truckload--there are still at least five more truckloads worth of trash sitting in our living room.  We consider the options--breaking everything down, bagging it, and letting it sit in the basement, putting out a few bags every trash day; looking for other dumps; crying.  We get to work on options one and two.

The next morning, operating on a tip from Greg's contractor cousin Roger, we locate a dump in Pennsauken that only charges us $20 to get rid of the truckload.  We also realize that the original dump will take our trash as long as it arrives in bags and not in a pickup truck.  So, Andrea and her friend Amy load up the little red neon to capacity--about 5 contractor bags worth of trash--and make a trip.  It goes well, so they do it again.  And again.  And again.   

Friday, December 28, 2007

Day 3: Layers

We've concluded that the previous owners either owned a paneling store or kept one in business--there are at least five varieties.  And that's not counting the layers of wallpaper: gold glitter spatters on top of green stripes on top ofwhite-based floral on top of gray-based floral--on top of plaster, in between layers of paneling.  

Today the walls start coming down.  Greg's cousin, a contractor, spent the morning looking things over and confirming that gutting the place and then hanging sheetrock is the best option.  It's a big expense that we hadn't planned on, but the difference it will make will be huge.  Below are the right and left walls.  The layers of paneling on the right wall were held up with glue, which makes for an interesting animal-print effect.   

The layers on the left wall were held up with ferring strips--not quite as picturesque, but it gives us something to hang the sheetrock on.

Day 3 is also the day that Andrea showed up to graciously spend her Christmas break helping us out.  As usual, she stole my camera and took pictures of herself.

Day 2: Down Comes the Ceiling

On Christmas Eve, Dave, Dennis, Greg and I removed the yellowed styrofoam/insulation tiles from the dropped ceiling in the living area.  The difference at the end of the day was noticeable, but the 10 contractor bags full of ceiling tiles pointed to a problem that would become much more significant in the near future: trash.

Day 1: Discovery

Our first day at the house was largely a day of discovery.  For example, we discovered that the walls are not really walls so much as layers of paneling and wallpaper.  Thus, we discovered, we would have to gut the house.  

We also did some cleaning, and, as the picture indicates, paid close attention to the toilet.  Our first trip to Lowe's was to buy a toilet seat to replace the cushioned one left by the previous owners.

We had a better idea of the kind of house the previous owners kept when we realized that the yellow wallpaper was originally white, but had been stained yellow by years of nicotine use.
We discovered the extent of the nicotine effect when we saw where a picture had been hanging on the wall--underneath, the original white wallpaper; on the sides, dingy yellow.

In spite of realizing that preparing the house to live in would take much more than a wallpaper steamer and some diligence, day 1 was a success.  Our own personal locksmith (aka Dennis) put in brand new locks, and our own personal cleaning technician (Barbara) cleaned all of the dog hair out of the refrigerator.  

As we were packing up to leave for the day, we noticed that the refrigerator was leaking--badly. Dennis and Greg rushed down to the basement to find the water valve, while Barb and I improvised with a trash bag and the bathroom mat to try and contain most of the water.  Eventually, we jimmied the copper piping so that the leaked stopped, but we were afraid to move the refrigerator back into its cubby.   


After walking the streets of South Philly, thinking about location, maintenance, and budget, this is the house that Greg and Nicole bought.  There's a lot of demolition to be done, many decisions to be made, and bills to be paid, but we're happy with our choice and eager to get started.