Well, we’ve been busy-busy since Christmas. Reflecting on the last few years, I realized that we’ve had something overwhelming going on every Christmas since we moved into this house.
The first Christmas here it was a project I was doing at work – nearly six months of working sixty hour weeks and living on take-out for lunch and supper, with Christmas the only day off in a string of days that blurred together at the office.
The following year was the year my friend needed faux-fur-lined wedding cloaks made for her January 1st wedding but couldn’t get me fabric for one of them until December 27th.
The following year – last year – was the year that the sewer line needed re-doing. And while Ian managed to get that done and back together for Christmas, there was just so much re-building to be done after Christmas.
This year, our bathtub plumbing had been leaking through the ceiling more and more and we’d done everything we could to try to diagnose the problem without demolishing anything, but it wasn’t helping and as time passed the water had done enough damage that we needed to re-drywall the ceiling anyway. So we concluded ripping the ceiling down was a reasonable way to attack it – and as the pre-Christmas rush ramped up and the kitchen ceiling leaked more and more we’d say, “we just have to make it until after Christmas”. And so, in that week between Christmas and New Year’s, we did, indeed, clear out the kitchen and rip down the ceiling.
Overall this year’s project wasn’t too terribly stressful. Maybe that’s because it’s in recent comparison to the “rip out your basement stairs and use a ladder to get in and out, tarp everything in the basement and jackhammer up a one-tonne pile of concrete and cast-iron rubble as you tunnel into the concrete below your house and hope your assumptions about your foundation hold so that your foundation will… well… hold” project. But also, this was a project that, with some strategy, didn’t have to have much apart or unusable for long.
And, because of how we are, we had also begun talking about all the things we could make better rather than just putting it back the way it was. “What if we panel the ceiling instead of putting up gyproc?” “If we have to take the light fixture down, we better replace it because there’s no way I want that thing going back up once it’s out of our kitchen.” “We should put sound and fireproofing insulation between the joists so we don’t have so much plumbing sound traveling through the ceiling.” “Maybe we’ll be able to see what’s going on with Hannah’s heat duct in this wall here when the ceiling is open.” Etc, etc.
I’ve hated this light fixture since the day we moved in. It’s not often I take an instant dislike to something – particularly something from the 90s. Generally, even as it gets more and more dated, I have a certain fondness for proto-grunge, cheap-o industrial, gothy coffee shop chic. And I think if you put this light fixture in a coffee shop that was decorated in cobalt blue and brushed steel and playing soundgarden and serving me exotic apple ciders, I’d like it just fine. But in a century old home that’s already missing all its original hardware, it’s a slap in the face. Those crappy coffee shops weren’t replacing hundred year old hardware with their gross “stainless-look” crap.
So I hung mardi gras beads on it the day we moved in so that I can tell everyone how much I hate it, so that I can say, “THAT is how ugly I think it is. It is so ugly that mardi gras beads improve its looks.” Speaking of proto-grunge, we’ll be using some galvanized pipe in putting together its replacement. I hope that works out.
We took everything off the kitchen shelves and counters and put it in boxes or in piles in the back room. And then we ripped down all the sheetrock and vapour barrier. That part made a mess, but it only took an afternoon, and then the kitchen was usable again. Though there was a moment of realizing that the steam from cooking was knocking loose a bunch of grossness from the joists and so I had to fry onions under an umbrella for a bit and that was slightly hard on the eyes.
Other than that, though, the kitchen was completely usable in a “living out of boxes” kind of way.
So then when things didn’t move as quickly as we liked, or when we ran into a road block – it was just frustrating, instead of being devastating. People would hear about the repairs and say really, really sympathetic things, but we kept saying, “there’s no deadlines and none of our discoveries have posed any threat to safety or been really expensive, so overall we’re cool. Really.”
We spent some time talking about whether we were cool about it because we’d developed “living with reno” skills. Or maybe it’s because we’ve ripped apart enough houses that we don’t see them in quite the same immutable way that many people do. “When I was a kid,” I said, “for sure I would be troubled by gaping holes in the walls. I’d hyperventilate a little wondering what do you even do about something like that. But now I know that most of the surfaces in a house are just so much spackle and so whether it’s there or not is just a matter of presentation.”
That being said, things really didn’t move as quickly as we would have liked. Firstly, the repairs for which the ceiling was open quickly multiplied.
We found an electrical junction box hidden in the ceiling. (“Well that’s about as illegal as it gets,” Ian ranted. When I replied with a cocked eyebrow, he amended, “Fine, it’s not like it killed anybody – but without turning electrical code violations into criminal code violations, it’s about as bad as it gets.”) So we determind we needed to move it somewhere that it could be made serviceable.
We had also harboured hopes of running a cold air return to Hannah’s room because she generally freezes in her room all winter. But then we discovered that actually, she didn’t even have a dedicated heat duct – hers was split off from the bathroom’s heat. Given that she has no cold air return and we keep her bedroom door shut at night, it’s no wonder she wasn’t getting any heat. So we abandoned the cold air return and had to come up with a way of running a dedicated heat duct for her room. That ended up necessitating taking down the main heat bulk-head, which meant disconnecting every duct in the house and turning off the furnace for the day. Then it also necessitated opening up the drywall in the kitchen wall and sawing down one of the wall-studs to make room for the duct. And it also involved grinding down the backs of screws that were through the drywall and into the joist space because they interfered with the duct fitting.
After that, we put up the soundproofing insulation in the ceiling – which, by the way, we are very satisfied with. And we put up vapour barrier to secure the insulation in place until we can put up drywall on the ceiling.
Now everything’s paused. We’re planning on tackling the drywalling next weekend. After that we’re going to put paneling on the ceiling.
We had originally talked about paneling instead of drywall – because paneling is more charming, and why would you do both? We’ve decided to do both for fire safety though. We went back and forth, we talked about how the insulation we put up is supposed to be sound proofing and fire resistant and how surely wood paneling is a commonly accepted wall or ceiling treatment so it must be to code. We didn’t really want to do both because our ceilings are a nice height, but not so tall that we think nothing of losing 3/4 of an inch.
We talked, too, about buying intumescent (fire-proofing) paint to paint the paneling (we want it white, so that should be pretty easy) and how that should be modern and fireproof enough, right?
However, what eventually swayed us towards putting both surfaces up was when we posed the question, “regardless of the fire code, what if there were a fire in here and rescue workers were contending with our house, what would they expect our house to burn like?” (Either drywall or lath and plaster, but probably not old upcycled boards.) And then I found a couple of forums with contractors talking about it and saying, “sure, wood paneling looks great, but have you ever seen the way it can go up in flames?”
And when you think about it, intumescent paint would only protect the front of the wood, and behind the paint, there’d be wood and all this air between it and that fireproofing insulation. Whereas if we put up fireproofing insulation, and then some Type X sheetrock and then wood paneling on top of that and eventually paint the wood paneling with the intumescent paint – then for the wood to burn, fire would have to get between the paint and the gyproc where it would have very limited air.
We’re probably being paranoid. But this is the kitchen, it’s one of the higher fire hazard areas of a house and we just for sure want this house to see another century.