“The Wall” Saga

I’m going to tag along with Megan’s quick post about the floor and do a short one on “The Wall.” This particular project was one of the biggest unknowns we had to tackle. It was a clearly rotten wall, but the big question was, “what is causing the rot?”

Rot is a tricky beast, and the numerous Youtube videos I watched preparing for this project reaffirmed that belief. The big issue with rot is identifying the moisture source. It doesn’t matter how much repair work you do, unless you cut off the source of moisture, the rot will continue to grow. With this particular wall, there were two possible sources for the water: the window, or the siding. Basically, either water was coming in through the window panes, or leeching directly through the wall. The window would obviously be the more desirable of these options, but either one is problematic.

This is the wall under the window. You can see the white streaks under where the paint has peeled away. This is the fungus that’s working its way through the wall. The paint has almost completely disconnected from the wall due mostly to the moisture. When I tried poking at the wall with an awl I was able to easily push the tip 1″ or more into the wood in several places. In some cases is slipped in up to the handle with little resistance. So, it’s in pretty bad shape, but here’s where the historical side of this whole project starts to play a roll. Usually, I would tear into this wall, determine how deep and wide the rotten wood extended, and rip out everything compromised by the water damage. Then I’d replace the missing wall with new construction and clean it up from there. But due to the historical nature of this building, I’m really not supposed to pull and trash a 300 year old board used in the original construction. So whatever the cause, however extensive the damage, I have to practice the gospel of Repair vs. Replace.

So as I mentioned, the first step was to determine where the water was getting in. We started and ended by having Megan spray the window with a hose. We found out immediately that of the 20 panes of glass in the window, every single one of them leaked on at least 2 sides. The result was water absolutely POURING down the inside of the glass. That pretty much answered my questions on where the water source was!

Outside doesn’t look too bad, but don’t let it fool you
The inside tells the real story…
A closer look and you can see cracking glazing putty. You can actually pick a lot off with your fingers…

Reglazing the window actually took the longest out of any step in this project, but it’s not particularly interesting so I’ll just hit a few bullet points. Point one: Old glazing putty dries like fucking concrete. Point 2: We used reproduction single pane glass, made in the historical side, for pieces that had cracks. Point 3: It took about a day and a half to get the 20 panes removed, scraped clean, replaced and reglazed. Not quick, but a quick spray with the hose told me we did a good enough job to hopefully stop the rot from spreading

Just needs to be repainted!

“The Wall” was a comparatively quick repair, but more interesting in my opinion. We used a process I’d never practiced before which involved locking the rotten wood in place with epoxy. It’s an old boat builders trick that allows them to fill and repair rot and beetle damage without removing and replacing portions of their boat. Essentially, you drill a series of holes into the rotten wood and then use them to pour in epoxy, saturating the wood until it essentially can’t hold any more. Once the epoxy dries, you can sand down and bumps or lumps on the outside and repaint the wall like normal. It essentially locks the wood in place preventing it from crumbling or breaking away. Assuming that you found the moisture source and prevent the rot from growing, the epoxy will keep the existing wood in place and solid. Pretty neat!

We started by scraping the peeling paint. There was a lot to remove.
I drilled holes about every inch or two across the face of the wall
The epoxy fills the holes until it spills out.

Here’s some pictures during the process that illustrate what we did. I ended up dumping the better part of a quart of epoxy into this wall, but by the end, the sound it made when I knocked on the wall had changed from sounding like a drum head, to something more kin to concrete. I took that as a good indicator. And here’s the final picture after we got it all painted up!


As with all of these projects, we will need to keep an eye on them and make sure the repair sticks. This will be no exception and we will have to be diligent making sure that the window repair took and remains sealed, and that there is no indication of water seeping through the siding. Fingers crossed that it keeps looking as good as it does now!

Here’s a quick slide show of all the progress pictures from this saga.

Tune in next time for more exciting before and after pictures!

This Old House

Ok! I’m back to bring you the first installment in a new series I’m calling: “Holy S**t There’s A Lot To Do!”

On this week’s episode I will give you an overview of the projects and work needed on the PB House. This list is, in part, derived from my initial walkthrough of the house from back before we committed to moving in and it’s broken up into a room-by-room analysis of the work that needs to be done. This walkthrough resulted in 6 pages of bullet points that I will supplement with pictures and some extra details. For me, this the meat of a project like this. I LOVE diving in and analyzing and getting a game plan, and I can talk about plans and schemes all day! If you don’t enjoy woodworkers talking about woodworking, or DIY-ers talking about the challenge they ran into and the clever solution they came up with, then you likely won’t find much joy in this episode. But if you, like me, are fascinated by just how dirty, screwy, complicated, bizarre, out of square, cracked, peeling, sticky, bumpy and funky a 300+ year old house can be, then strap in and enjoy!

The Kitchen

The first stop on our tour is the kitchen. Out of 3 possible doors into our section of this old house, ostensibly the “Main Door” leads into the kitchen. This portion of the house is actually the newest, though it’s not known when exactly it was added. It is well known that the original house did not include this room, nor the adjacent dining room, but the oldest existing picture of the house, dating back to 1866, does include it. So we know it’s at least that old. Any other information on this addition seems absent from the public record and so it’s up to us to speculate on when it could have been added. My only input in this regard is that it must have been built in a time when people measured closer to 4ft tall than 6ft, because the “front door” comes in at a whopping 5′ 4″. The kitchen measures only about 10′ wide, but stretches nearly 30′ long giving ample room as long as you don’t mind cooking side by side.

Here’s the panoramic view
Long and thin. Just like me

In the kitchen, here’s a quick list of some of the work that needs doing:

  • Wash the walls
  • Repair cracks in plaster
  • Repair water damage in plaster
  • Seal peeling paint on ceiling and walls
  • Repaint all the walls, trim, baseboard, ceiling and cabinets
  • Fix the hole in the wall
  • Fills gasp around the doors
  • Get the windows to open and close
  • Realign window clasps
  • Repaint cabinets
  • Remove cabinet doors
  • Clean cabinets
  • Replace and reattach pulls
Cleaned right through the laminate

Gotta love that repair. Why not tape a piece of plastic of a hole in the plaster?
Has the house finished settling yet?
A topographical wall map!
This probably has nothing to do with the pipes
This looks good…
Cookies anyone?
  • Clean under toe kicks
  • Replace countertops
  • Replace stove
  • Replace sink plumbing
  • Affix floor vent to the floor
  • Glue down vinyl floor
  • Fix vent fan
  • Repair broken glass panes
  • Clean up rusty fridge

That should keep us busy for a little while.

The Dining Room

Cute right? The wallpaper has cats on it

This room is lined with pegs. They look like they are meant to hang coats on, which would make sense because this room has yet another exterior door in it. But it’s been speculated that they were actually for hanging up the chairs after dinner to make the room usable for other things. Keep in mind this was most likely where servants and staff would have eaten.

Technically a dining room, this little space with a cute wallpaper boarder will likely be an office or workspace for us. Or possibly something called a breakfast nook 🤷

This room was built at the same time as the kitchen and so is in better foundational shape than the earlier era rooms. The checklist here is fairly short:

  • Clean and wash walls and windows
  • Wrangle that cable
  • Scrape peeling ceiling paint
  • Prime and paint walls and ceiling
Cool door bro…
  • Repair plaster cracks
  • Paint floor? (Maybe?)
  • Repair broken window pane
  • Deal with whatever that door mess is

Living Room

Once the house’s kitchen, this monstrous room is now a sizable living area. Complete with two whole windows at one end and a fireplace at the other, this 10,000ft long room features a ceiling that towers above at a cavernous 7ft tall. It’s not like a cave at all. This room is probably the one that needs to most love. While not having a particularly long list, every project in this room is amplified due to its size. It also includes one of the worst areas of the house: “The Wall.” OooHoOOOoHhOhoo…

This is “The Wall.”
The wind and water has wreaked havoc and taken a toll from these old timbers…
It is literally falling apart…
If you think it looks bad now…wait until we start trying to make it look better!

I had Megan spray that window with the hose to see if it was leaking. What we discovered was that at least 2 sides of every pane in that window (20 panes) were basically made of cheese cloth. The water, even when directed from above, water absolutely RAINED down the inside of the glass. So that answered the question of why that wall was rotting away.

Now we just have to get it to stop…

Not creepy at all…
That insulation is probably helping a lot, considering water runs freely through the joints

So here’s the list for the living room, starting with “The Wall.”

  • Remove all the panes on both windows (40 panes)
  • Re-glaze the windows
  • Replace all 10 broken window panes (with era appropriate glass)
  • Clean off the foam “insulation” from between the sashes
  • Scrape clean the widow frames
  • Get rid of those curtains
  • Peel the desiccating paint
  • Infuse rotting wood with epoxy
  • Fill, sand, and smooth
  • Paint with Lead Blocker Latex Paint (oh yeah, did I mention there’s exposed peeling leaded paint in this room?)
  • Prime and paint walls
  • Repair plaster on ceiling
  • Scrape ceiling and beams **SO MUCH LOOSE PAINT**
  • Prime and Paint Ceiling

I’ll pause the list here to bring a moment’s attention to another feature of this room. The Floor

The floor is actually one of the most amazing true features of this house. Unironically, its beautiful and made from old growth boards, not one of which is narrower than my spread fingers. The unfortunate reality is that these 300+ year old boards are not in the shape to show off their beauty. Years of familiar patterns have worn through the utilitarian finishing, leaving the wood worn, dirty, and disheveled. The fireplace brick flooring has also suffered from age and use. One area is sinking and much of the dust in the room comes from the pulverized brick. It’s a lot of square footage, but it’s some of the work I’m most excited about.

  • Nail down loose floorboards
  • Set nails
  • Sand wooden floor
  • Refinish floor
  • Reset brick in the fireplace
  • Clean brick floor
  • Seal brick

We’ve got some fun and new projects in the Living Room. I’m really excited to get into these projects and see what’s waiting under the paint and stain and finish.

The Washroom

Hey this place has a washroom! Washer and dryer not included.
It’s small, musty and actually super useful! It’s got a work sink, washer and dryer hookups and storage. In a house like this, having a place to store tools, paints, materials, extra window panes, etc., is going to be helpful. The space is a workroom so it doesn’t need to have the same level of attention (or time pressure) as the rest of the house. Despite that, there’s still plenty to do.

  • Clean junk out of cabinets
  • Wash walls, floor and countertops
  • Refit cabinet doors
  • Fix plaster cracks
  • Fix broken window pane
  • Clean work sink
  • Repaint walls and cabinetry
  • Fix window counterweights

This post is already too long so I’m going to call it here. We’re basically done with the “Downstairs” list (keep in mind there are 3 floors to this house), so we’ll pick up with upstairs next time. We’ll also have some posts coming up soon with the progress we’ve started making!

Thanks for reading this episode of “Holy S**t There’s A Lot To Do!”

A Series of Unfortunate Events

Hello readers! I’m excited to be able to write my first post for our little blog! Megan has put her updates on hold waiting for me to give a little background info on this whole project. So I’ll step up to the mic for a minute and tell you a little bit about how we got started on this adventure.

As we start diving into this project and begin to get a better sense of what we’ve gotten ourselves into, the question arises: “How exactly did we get involved in this?”

The truth is that we got involved through happenstance. We really only know one person here in North Andover (and she has since moved away -sad face emoji- ) . Through a series of coincidences and conversations she learned 3 salient facts in a fairly short period of time.

  1. That I, Rio, was a general handyman and woodworker and would be coming to join Megan in a few short weeks.
  2. That I, Rio, would not be employed when I arrived nor would I have any prospects for getting employed in the near future.
  3. That the North Andover Historical Society was looking for an unemployed handyman and woodworker to come live in their ghost house as a caretaker.

Being brighter than the average mammal, she put these facts together and swapped my contact info with that of the new Executive Director at the NAHS. Over the next few months, and after I relocated to MA, Brian the ED, and I, met a few times, interviewed, did a walkthrough of the house, and got to know each other, the house, and the upcoming project. There was a LOT that needed to be done…

One of many walls that needs attention

As it turned out, the previous caretaker, and those who came before him, were a good hand at the historical aspects of the house. They gave tours, dressed up in period costume, fired off muskets, and helped promote the National Historical Society and its events. What they did not do was repair the leaking windows, fix the cracking and falling plaster, or prevent the squirrels from making their home in the walls. So the new ED, decided to go in a different direction and got us, two newbs with 0 historical literacy and a below average interest in dressing in period clothing, but with a wealth of experience in repairing, replacing, fixing, tinkering, caulking, painting, building, tightening, scraping, mowing, cleaning and just generally maintaining.

Our little yellow house

So, now here we are. We move into the house in July, and we have until then to do as many of the large, disruptive, and necessary projects as we can. I’ll go into more detail about those in a future post. Between now and July, we are providing a combination of paid labor and volunteerism to get the house livable again. There is a lot to do but it’s fun to see the house start to transform. Once July rolls around, we will be living rent free in an historical house built over 300 years ago! In trade for living without the cost of rent, I will maintain the yard and gardens, plow snow, do routine maintenance, and keep the house in good working order. I’ll also consult with the NAHS regularly and recommend, oversee and perform larger tasks that need doing over the coming years. Anyone who knows me is probably thinking about what a perfect position this is for me and they would be 100% right. I love this kind of thing, and despite the fact that the projects needed to get this place livable are many and challenging, I’m already having a blast diving into them!

Getting started on our projects
A little caulk and a few old nails

So thanks to our friend Leslie for connecting the dots. And thank you to Brian for giving us a chance! I can’t wait to see how it all turns out.