Saturday, October 31, 2015

Kitchen Renovation - Work Begins

Once the kitchen had been cleared out, my youngest brother stripped the woodchip paper from the walls and ceiling. We also moved the cupboard into a spare room upstairs to hold our tools again. I swear, if I ever have to move this thing again it'll be in splinters! It's HEAVY! And have I mentioned big? Close to two m wide and 50 cm deep, nearly impossible to get around corners!

 Behind the cupboard we found two old wall designs, the top one probably done in 1932 before the new upper section was added. I like the older pattern much better!
With the woodchip paper gone the weird wiring routes came to light again. As I mentioned in the last post there were too few sockets. One above the cooker right by the window, one above the fridge and two by the door where no one could use them. The ones in the actual kitchen area were above the tile, probably because they were installed after the tile and did I already mention the previous inhabitants changed as little as ever possible? Fitting upper cabinets would have mostly blocked those two lonely sockets.
The original dishwasher wiring had been exposed grey conduit and clearly had to go (we removed the exposed section long ago and used the remainder to feed one of the two sockets by the door). That meant extensive wiring anyway so eventually the project turned into a full rewire.
We also really wanted to get rid of the small electric water heater. The taps needed brute force to turn off, the whole unit looked like it would explode any time and being an open system the flow rate was limited and every time the beast heated up it dripped water into the sink. And taps for open water heaters are expensive!

Since gas is much cheaper than electricity we wanted to have a gas-fired water heater installed. Ideally a 5l per minute over-sink unit like it had once been there but venting into the existing flue rather than into the room. The first plumber really tried to talk us into staying electric because it would be "much cheaper and better". He did send a quote  that came in at around three times of what we expected. Over-sink installation wouldn't be possible either because he expected the gas pipes weren't 100% tight any more and would have to be replaced if any work was done on them. A second, highly recommended, plumber was much nicer but his quote was nearly three times of the first one!

We then managed to talk my uncle into doing the work together with his former employer and bought a relatively new used Vaillant water heater. That way everything is legit and according to the regs but much cheaper. Gas regs in Austria are probably among the strictest in the world (only surpassed by Poland probably where the pipework is regularly inspected and tested for leaks by the supplier) and every change needs to be documented and signed off by the gas supplier. The newest edition actually requires homeowners to have their gas pipes tested for leaks by a certified gas fitter every ten years - otherwise insurance won't pay in case of an accident.

First we had the chimney sweep round for an inspection. The first time he showed up he couldn't do anything because the long-unused cleanouts on the roof had been covered over and needed to be opened (I think this set of three flues had been officially decommissioned for at least 25 years). We then got a helper up onto the roof and lit paper in the kitchen cleanout to determine which flue was ours. First we royally smoked up the kitchen because there were some 25 kg of sand and other debris in the flue, completely blocking it.
The eventual inspection went as expected, the "man in black" gave his OK on the condition of having a cast-in-place liner installed. That's just a fancy term for plastering the inside of the flue by pulling a piece of foam mattress up through the flue while at the same time pouring down cement slurry. Took a few hours and they were gone.

Moving the water heater as suggested by plumber #1 had the major advantage of being able to fit cupboards over the sink - the wall where the geyser will go now is too thin for hanging serious objects anyway. We had to remove a bunch of tiles though but some of them were damaged anyway - screw holes from pot racks, a big hole where the gas pipe for the old heater once exited the wall etc. Some of the tiles came off nicely, others stuck well and broke into tiny splinters, the last ones had to be chipped off with a kango!

Then of course we needed to run a hot water pipe to the sink. Opening the walls in preparation for that ruined even more tiles and revealed old lead pipes. Terrific! Of course one coupling started to leak immediately and trying to tighten the nut made it even worse. No loo there until I whacked another hole, discovered the transition to copper, cut that and capped it for the time being.

That's definitely not what you want to see when opening a wall!
The dark grey colour (silvery when scraped clean) and extreme flare whenever the pipe is joined are telltale signs of lead. Another is that lead pipe is rarely ever straight but usually a bit twisted and curved.
Note how they took the bottom part of a shutoff valve and used it as a T for the dishwasher tap! Of course I discovered this mess when all stores were closed. The next day I opened the loo wall all the way to the main stopcock only to discover that everything in the loo is copper anyway and only the 50 cm bit in the kitchen was lead. Of course I destroyed six tiles in the loo and we had a grand total of 5 1/3 left! It's just generic white 15x15 cm (6x6) tile so not that bad. The shade of white is never quite the same but that area has been patched before so it shouldn't be too bad. Those tiles cost us an incredible 6 Euros for a full square metre! Well, actually they were 25% off because the store was closing down so only 4.50.

Roughly at that point we decided that after 66 years the old kitchen tiles might have reached the end of their life span - there were more screw holes and some had plenty of ugly surface cracks. Off they came!

Downstairs Kitchen - Before

The downstairs flat was and to some extent still is a typical example of the Viennese OAP living space. Someone moved in there in the 40s or even earlier (some people were born there in the 20s and never moved) and grew old. Rents are tightly controlled in pre-1953 buildings so a flat becomes cheaper and cheaper the longer you live there. Most people didn't want to change much while living in the place and the flats end up being a bit dated. Like 60s kitchen, 70s bathroom, lots of wallpaper and the wiring a mess with bits of everything from 1900 to 1995 or something.

In this case some bank employee moved in there in 1949, had a new kitchen and bathroom fitted, a few light switches moved and not much else. The work was easy to date because whenever there were bigger holes in brick walls they were stuffed with newsprint and then plastered over. The wiring done at that time was shoddy, cloth-covered wires plastered directly into the walls or wrapped in newsprint and then plastered in. Except for two sockets in the kitchen and the dishwasher feed none of the wiring was earthed. What little earthing there was was mostly connected to the lead water pipes.

The only later changes involved adding concealed wiring for a dishwasher in the late 70s or early 80s and replacing some of the gas pipes around the same time. Oh and the wood floors (solid oak herringbone) were sanded and poly'd at some point. In 1990 the previous tenant passed away and my parents rented the place to use as an office. The bedroom became our guest bedroom. At that time they called in an electrician to replace the worst bits of wiring. I can't remember much of what his two chaps did but if what they replaced was worse than what they left in place it must have been seriously horrible! Back then no one had mobiles so one of them kept knocking on our door asking to use our phone because they were stuck again and didn't understand something :-)

With some help I rewired the kitchen in the mid-90s but didn't add any sockets or lights, just replaced what was there.

So basically until earlier this year the kitchen was still a perfect specimen of late-40s design. White tile with sharp edges, a white steel sink with blue rubber edge mounted on brackets, 70s gas cooker (when the city converted to natural gas most older cookers disappeared) and a huge cupboard from the 20s.

The walls have two layers of woodchip paper with paint in between. Above the awful brown fridge (once white, later adapted to 70s tastes) there once was a small hanging cupboard, that's why the second layer of paper is missing there. The oversized radiator extends all the way under that weird piece of chipboard next to the sink. Originally there must have been a small gas-fired water heater above the sink but that was replaced by the useless electric monstrosity when the gas pipes were redone. The abandoned gas pipe was still there in the wall, only filled with plaster and painted over to match the tiles. That weird tap with the silver pipe was for the dishwasher. The cut hose was still attached until last month!

Then there was this huge cupboard. Solid wood with plywood doors and one set of sliding glass doors. Looks nice but the paint was chipping off like crazy and each part had a different but equally annoying smell - perfume, washing powder, mothballs etc. Basically no longer usable in a kitchen. We later discovered that it was built in two pieces, the lower section probably in the 1920s, the upper part in Sept. 1932. Note how the worn paint was just patched around the locks! That was done everywhere in the flat, some doors have three different shades of paint on them!
To the right there is an original but heavily modified built-in cupboard that uses the space next to the curved stairs behind that wall. Originally it had two full-width doors, a taller one on the bottom and a shorter one above. During the big renovation the doors were cut in half or possibly rebuilt as double doors (terribly asymmetric), swapped around and the lower part built out almost to the window ledge. The horizontal surfaces were covered with green and white swirly boards - not formica as you might assume but actually asbestos cement!

The floor is terrazzo but not original. As far as I can tell there was no cellar underneath but at some point they dug out the space between the existing walls and put in a new concrete ceiling to create another room in the cellar. The same thing was done on the other side of the house some five years ago so I can guess how it used to look like here. Considering they actually replaced the terrazzo the work must have been done in the 50s or even earlier. The previous tenant had a large sheet of vinyl put down in the centre and that still shows as a weird dull spot.