Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Two weeks ago I had a major score salvage-wise. I found about 150 square feet (in real numbers probably 13 sq. m. unless we need to throw away too much laying it) of 1" thick, 12" pine plank flooring, planed on three sides. Originally (i.e. before the morons ripped it out) the boards were glued up to 24" wide planks, almost 15' (4.9m) long! They've been cut into two pieces though. The boards are somewhat worn and at some point they nailed an oak herringbone floor on top of it - using ring shank nails... yuck! That means if we do use the wood we have to flip the boards as the tops are too far gone (ring shank nails seriously crack the wood once you pull them out). The boards are supposed to go into the back hall.

On Monday we took a pile of stuff out to the farm as the plumber was supposed to to some work on the heat system at my grandmother's place and we wanted to check his work. The pine stumps are gone (Mr. Martin managed to line up a backhoe operator who happened to be around and once the stumps were dug out attacked them with a chainsaw).

I started wiring the garden shed, but didn't get done. The worst thing is going to be digging for the feeder. Inside, there's not much going on - a light, a switch and two outlets, everything just screwed to the surface. I guess I'm more than half done and that was just about half an hour of work.

Yesterday my brother and me spent some time digging through the plumber's bid for the central heat. Our best guess: if we do ourselves what we can we get the price down to about half the bid. Besides, he seriously messed up some things - we certainly don't want a radiator that takes up more than half of the exterior wall in the small room for example! Even if we do everything ourselves we need to hire the gas stuff to a licensed plumber, the chimney relining (maybe we can do that ourselves too but not sure, nasty work at any rate and the chimney might need to be rebuilt up in the attic as it curves now) and the boiler installation (a licensed plumber needs to register the new boiler with the gas company).

The kitchen ceiling is likely coming down, we want to have a plaster ceiling there.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Progress Update

Over the Easter holidays we didn't get done as much as we wanted (does that sound familiar to my fellow house bloggers?) but still a lot - 7 pine trees have been cut down, the remaining plaster in the big room and kitchen removed, the kitchen sink is out (the water I feared last time actually came out of the fixture rather than the pipes in the wall), gas meter box installed. I also removed any wiring that won't be kept and threatened to fall off the walls with the plaster removed. Good choice - it seems the entire place was wired by morons. I particularly liked the screw driven through the conduit feeding one ceiling light...

The yard looks great without the pines!

Gotta love the precious brickwork around the chimney... this will have to be rebuilt completely I guess.

Most important project now: fix up the garden house enough to make it liveable for summer, i.e. fix the rotted section of the floor (where the roof had collapsed), clean it up a little and install some permanent wiring instead of the extension cord running along the fence. My uncle offered to visit us and help in summer, and he needs somewhere to sleep.

The plumber finally sent an estimate for the central heat... let's just say I see some quality time with pipe cutters, soldering torch and lots of copper pipe in our future.
By the way, the old plumbing is galvanized... heck, I mean the bathroom was installed in 1976 or 77! Who still used galvanized pipe then? Our bathroom in Vienna was plumbed with copper in 1962! So much for reusing what we can... accounts to nothing. I positively hate messing around with galvanized pipe and thour water is extremely hard... so likely they're almost full anyway.

Oh and another nice thing... when we arrived the front hall had flooded. Why? Well, even though pines are evergreen they do drop needles once in a while. If there's a roof underneath the tree, the needles will eventually end up in the gutters where they will sit until they're removed. If they aren't they'll eventually compost, which they did. Once my dad cleaned out the gutters, they were no longer clogged - instead they leaked like a sieve. Completely rusted out. That's fine, nicely matches the PVC gutters in the rear which slope in a nice wobbly pattern from rafter to rafter...

Friday, April 3, 2009

Leftovers of the original project...

Of course, the pigsty didn't magically disappear from our property...
Last summer we removed the brick stalls (using a 10 pound sledge hammer), the entire concrete floor and most of the plaster. One wall was declared good enough to leave plastered. The ceiling is still shot and the roof still got holes, that's how the place has been sitting ever since. We might attempt to combat the rising damp issue enough to turn it into a work shop, but getting the new house liveable is higher up on the priority list right now. We're also considering putting in decent windows and a decent door in the long run, but that's it. No second floor, no stairway, nothing.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Small update

In early February we managed to clean out a lot of stuff. The kitchen is empty except for the sink cabinet and one base cabinet (the sink is still connected to the plumbing and even though the water has been turned off years ago I got a stubborn drip trying to disconnect it, so we left in place for the time being). The remaining furniture has been stored up in the attic. The base cabinet we left was too heavy to get up the stairs, we'll have to store it somewhere at ground level.

The front room is empty too, except for a side board we're looking to find a new home for.

We then proceeded to remove all plaster in the front room and most of the kitchen (one wall can stay up). The kitchen is done, the front room about 2/3 done. Some of the plaster in the back room, back hall and bathroom will have to be removed too, but not as much.

I finally drew up a floor plan in Autocad, here's a quick screen shot:

I already drew the new bathroom design (red). Grey is old construction. The pink structure is our idea of an enclosed porch or something like that.

Hopefully by the next time we go there (Easter) the trash pile will be gone, as are the 4 huge pine trees threatening our roof, the neighbor's roof and turning our back yard into something like a cave. If we're lucky we even already have the gas service pipe in.

I already replaced the 100mA main GFI breaker (RCD) with a new 100mA one in order to get up to modern code (besides, they're basic life insurance and to some extent fire protection). A lot of wiring will have to be redone though... the original wiring (the whole village did not get electricity until 1949) is in horrible shape, the cloth and rubber covered wires are actually bare copper by now. Originally there was one(!) circuit with the meter and fuse outside in the yard, when the new panel and meter were installed in 1976 the morons left the original feed in place and live, that means there was a hot wire dangling around somewhere in the back yard. The original cloth wiring is now restricted to the kitchen and the outbuildings, but that's more than enough.

The big room won't be rewired, we will only change the height of the sockets (they're too close to the floor for my liking) and add a few. My brother and me already redid the front hall, the only thing we need to add is a permanent 3 way switch (originally the only light switch was like 3m from the front door), we only stapled wire to the wall so far, which is legal but extremely ugly. As we don't know the exact size of the future front door yet we didn't want t put the final switch box in yet.
At least one outlet would be nice too. I need to find an unobtrusive location though, as we want to keep the ancient look of the hall.

The back hall and bathroom wiring are 1970s but a complete mess. Wires coming out of the middle of nowhere and going nowhere, the entire thing is fed off the ancient cloth wiring in the kitchen,... some serious hack work. Oh, and again, one single light switch next to the kitchen door, none at the other end.

Small room: don't know yet what we can keep... one outlet definitely has to be rewired, it's just connected to an extension cord buried in plaster.

The outbuildings have a light and a switch each, nothing else and need a full rewire.
A lot of the inside wiring is routed on the outside of the exterior walls in order to avoid going through the kitchen which is a bad idea - the junction and pull boxes aren't sealed against the weather, so we constantly have a cold wind and lots of dirt blowing through the entire conduit system.

If it's possible technically and legally we don't want to buy a new boiler but take the boiler out of our Vienna apartment which is only 6 years old but will be rendered obsolete by the new whole house pellets boiler next year. If we take this one we'll definitely need a chimney relined.

We still haven't decided what to do about the rising damp - Mr. Martin recommends to excavate inside and outside and install vertical insulation to keep moisture from seeping into the foundations sideway. I don't feel too confident this will suffice. I talked to a guy who had the stainless corrugated steel thing done at his place and strongly advised against it - said it ruined the walls. So now we're fretting whether to have the walls cut open or just let Mr. Martin do his work. The latter would allow us to keep the original wood floors in the kitchen and big room.

The kitchen ceiling will definitely stay up, the paneling has been installed to conceal the fact that one beam has been replaced. We asked a few experts about the insect damage and were told not to worry.

We still need to get the furniture out of the two halls and the small room though. Aah, lots of work...

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Sorry for the long break in posting! The summer was a row of endless negotiations I didn't want to jinx before anything was completed. Then I quit my job and took up history at the university, lovely decision but lots of work. Anyway. back to the blog.

When we got the estimates for the pigsty project we immediately tried to find alternatives (cheaper ones of course). The first that occurred to us was buying the house next door and fixing it up. Seeing the extent of damage though (combined with the absolutely insane price tag) we figured out it would be even more expensive than the pigsty because it would be completely new construction and larger too.

When we were out in the country after Christmas the house still hadn't sold and the price had been dropped to €39500 - a joke for a ruin on a miniature lot. As you'd say in Austria a towel-sized lot. For comparisons sake: in the same village there's another similarly bad house for sale, though with a lot 10 times the size of our neighbor's - for an asking price of 53 000. So 45k for that tiny lot is insane (even the 53k are a bit expensive given the fact that the house is a ruin).

House next door project dead. But: two other houses across the street were vacant at that time. One is pretty ugly, modern stucco exterior, ugly new windows, kitschy wood fence. The other one though... exterior had a 1930s look to it (at least the front) but there is a plaque stating a construction date of 1879. So we decided to have a look at it... and fell in love immediately! All rooms(!) but the hallway and the kitchen have open beam ceilings, living room and kitchen still have the original wide plank floors, deeply worn by 130 years of foot traffic...

The roof is early 1990s tile, very solid. Electrical service has been redone in 1976 and is more than enough for us. Bathroom needed to be redone, but was there!

It's fairly small (just around 60 square m, 1 big room, 1 small, kitchen, 2 hallways and bathroom) but there are 2 attached very solid outbuildings that can be used as storage, shop, whatever and there's a cute garden house. The yard is small, but not tiny which is great - enough space but not much maintenance. It's completely overgrown though - in summer there were stinging nettles and other shrubs taller than myself!

Now for the bad part though... suddenly when the nephew of the old lady who had lived there (and passed away without a will) wanted to take possession his brother showed up and claimed rights on the house... followed by about half a year of debating.

Anyway, in late fall my parents bought the house for a pretty fair price!

So now we are the proud owners of this beauty:

It needs a lot of work, but it'll turn out great I'm sure!

The previous owners left almost everything in the house, so the first thing we did was sift through layers and layers of stuff. The old lady was some kind of shopping maniac, we found lots of clothes with the price tag still on - like pullovers for a price that would buy a guy like me 10 of them. We immediately made three piles: keep, donate, trash. The keep pile was the smallest - thanks heaven. We also threw out lots of furniture, the old lady was almost blind during her last few years but didn't really accept help, besides they had several dogs. Long story short: the place was and still is DIRTY, so anything neither valuable nor easy to clean was piled up outside to await trash pickup.

Don't worry, the panel doors and ladder won't go, the guy who'll pick it up knows that! On the contrary, these doors will go in during the renovation!

We also dug our way through hundreds of books.

Of course as with any old house related project there will be more work than originally anticipated of course.

Large sections of plaster are falling (not original, porrly redone in the 1970s), even the fairly recent 1970s wiring is in horrible shape, not to mention the frayed original 1950s wiring. Both chimneys need substantial repairs (one was already rebuilt from the roof line up by our trusty handyman Mr. Martin). Originally we wanted to line one of the chimneys for use with a gas boiler, but unfortunately it curves twice and we don't have flexible liners here... we'll see. Either we open the entire curved section, line and rebrick or we keep it for the wood/coal stove and vent the gas boiler directly.

The garden house roof has been completely replaced due to failing framing and tiles (it had been built in 1990 using the structure of an old shed which already looked pretty wonky in 1976 pictures).

The pigs stalls roof will need replacement too, but I hope that'll be a DIY job.

Even though the house looked pretty dry when we first saw it removing furniture showed mold and rising damp issues, so we decided to remove all floors and have the walls sliced through horizontally to get a moisture barrier. We really hope to save the beautiful old plank floors!

The bathroom in all 1970s glory is a gut job.

We'll also split it up into a bathroom and water closet.

In the kitchen we started taking down 1930s solid wood paneling covering the original ceiling. It's a horribly dirty job - the original reason why the paneling was put up: dirt was sifting through gaps of the original wood ceiling. Now the POs had concrete poured up in the attic and insulation put up, so no more dirt. However, the dirt of 7 or 8 decades is now resting on the paneling...
The original ceiling seems to be in rough shape, I've seen some insect damage to the beams... we'll see. There are 4 ways to go depending on the condition of the ceiling and our likings: replace entire ceiling with new reinforced brick and plaster, put back paneling, expose original ceiling or put up plaster and lath.
The only downside to removing the old paneling: way back when the house first got electrictiy they ran exposed conduit to the light aand across the ceiling to an outlet next to the window. The unpainted metal conduit with all its patina looks really cool, but we won't be able to replicate that look unless we try to put up the original again.

We also had the EVN electricity and gas guys out to remove the night rate electricity meter (for the hot water tank - I mean how silly is that? You can only get hot water 10PM to 6AM, if you run out during the day all you can do is wait or take cold showers!) and plan the new gas service. Originally the house had been heated using coal stoves, but around 1996 the old lady had electric heat installed. Result: a yearly 4000 Euro electricity bill! That's a sum that would make most people choke and run screaming... besides... those beasts don't really get the house warm! Running them at full blast all the time gets the house to a "toasty" 12 degrees Celsius. The coal stoves are great though - we fired up the smaller one and it got one room from "just above freezing" rto "work in t-shirt condition" within two hours. We even have coal left so we don't need to buy anything. The gas guy marked where the gas meter is supposed to go and left us a flush mount gas meter box. Once it's installed they'll run the service pipe and we can have a plumber run the interior gas lines. We didn't feel like going outside and taking a rotary hammer to the facade to install the gas meter box in 10 degrees below freezing weather.

In less than two weeks weÄll go there again and continue working on the house! *yay*

Until then a picture to tell how dirty the place is... this used to be the hallway ceiling light and just for pointing out the contrast I only cleaned half of it and snapped a picture.
Does it surprise you to hear it didn't give much light?