Ten Projects for 2010

All the pondering of last year's work is over, and it's time to turn our thoughts to what we'll get done this year. It seems to work very well for us to make a prioritized list of projects at the beginning of the year, in order to organize our thoughts and get our priorities aligned. So we did it again this year, sitting down a few days ago to talk about what we needed to get done, what we wanted to get done, and so forth.

And because Noel didn't think it was nearly as funny as I did that we had 10 projects in 2009 and I could only come up with 9 for 2010, thus totally missing a terrific title, I padded the list a bit.

1. Finish off the hallway

We need to wash the walls, repair the plaster, and paint in the hallway. This is going to be our first project of 2010, because it's the largest and the one that is a gating factor for many other jobs we want to get done. That's because Alameda now requires any permit closure to include an interior inspection of smoke alarms in all required rooms, no matter whether the work has anything to do with the interior at all. And we have some large-ish holes in the plaster in our hallway that are just asking for trouble. (Any non-code work that is uncovered must be brought up to code, and I can guarantee you that none of the original framing in this house is remotely close to code.)

Because scrubbing sucks so much, I'm going to try using a scrubbing device. Isn't that a terrific idea? It may suck, it may fall apart in a few days, but if it saves me one day of scrubbing at the walls it will be worth it.

We've also decided that when we get the walls done, we can reward ourselves by replacing the little fixed window that used to be over the front door (it's filled in with plywood now). So there's a lot of incentive to get it done.

2. Kitty room

Our new kitty is a lot more active and bouncy than our late kitty (he's 3, she was 18), so now that we have the roof repaired and there is not as much water in the attic, we want to make the little dogproof room he uses for his litter box and food area less drafty and dirty (bonus for us: cleaner kitty to play with). So we're going to put up partition walls between that space and the rest of the attic. That will also make it a little brighter in there when the light is on.

3. Fixing the walls in the back parlour

When the foundation happened... oh, you've heard this story a million times, haven't you? Well, the walls in the back parlour still need to be repaired. We figure this is a good time to get it done, which fits well with our plans to a) get one or two kittens to keep the aforementioned kitty company, for whom we will need to kitten-proof the house, and b) do something with the floors, for which we will need to move all those bookcases. When we finish repairing the walls we can go right to the floors.

So yes, we will have 2-3 cats and 2 dogs and 5 chickens. We also have about 10,000 worms, but somehow nobody thinks that is animal overload.

4. Fix up the floors

We'd planned, until we talked over our plans for the next year, to just jump right in and rip up the dining room floor next week. But getting the hallway walls done is a higher priority for us, because it's keeping us from getting an inspection on some electrical work.

When we talked about the dining room floor, though, I told Noel that what I really wanted was to rip up all the weird plywood/vinyl tile flooring in the hallway, too. And he pointed out that once you do that you might as well rent the sander for a week or two and do all the floors downstairs, even if it does mean moving two pianos into the kitchen. So that's a pretty big project that we're planning for later this year, after I've made a mess of the existing hall floors by repairing the plaster and painting the hall.

(I'd love to also attack the kitchen floors (there are two of them, one on top of the other), but I know they run under the cabinets so there's no way it's happening any time soon. I'm an idealist but not insane.)

5. Stripping paint from the woodwork

A continuing project.

6. Build that arbor in the side yard

Because the passionflower vine is growing out of control and the dogs keep knocking its little trellis over. Also because it would look awesome.

7. Finish roofing the chicken yard

We started working on this last summer and got 1/3 of the way through. Basically, we ran out of convenient materials and didn't bother with getting/producing any more. But the roof we have is so nice that I'd like to finish off the job. And maybe put some gutters on the chicken shed, to eventually run into a rain barrel or two.

8. Put an electrical panel upstairs

This is associated with the larger project of getting rid of all that scary wiring. We've been planning for a while to put in a subpanel in the upstairs hallway, or rather in the part of the former upstairs bathroom that will be a hallway. And that is associated with the next job, which is:

9. Get started on the upstairs/under stairs bathrooms

It's not a hard job, it's not necessarily too expensive (since we will be doing the trade work ourselves and we ca go cheap on fixtures). But it does require drawings to the city and a willingness to get into a really messy project (quite literally, as part of it requires tying in to the sewer connection). We're finally at the point where we're ready to take out the permits and just get this done. I guess seven years of walking the entire length of the house to go to the bathroom at night finally got to us.

The first step in this project, amusingly enough, is to order a replacement print head and band kit for my large-format printer, the disrepair of which has kept me from printing out the plans. That is the stupidest reason ever to have put off the work for a year. Please do not remind me that print service bureaux exist.

10. Finally close the foundation permit

I think I've said enough about this over the last few days, but suffice it to say that after more than five years I'm ready for that project to just be done.

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posted by ayse on 01/04/10


The two times I've tied into existing sewer lines (addition and kitchen), it wasn't very messy. I rented a chain cutter for the 4" pipe for the addition tie-in, and there wasn't much mess when it came out. If there is mess, it suggests that something's not draining quite right.

OK, so *smelly* would have been a better word choice.

And there sure better not be a mess, given how much we paid to replace the drain on this place (TWICE, since Contractor A's version didn't come close to meeting code).

This is a lovely post. I've so enjoyed following your blog for the last few years (years?!) and it's nice to see such a concrete, realistic plan. I look forward to seeing it all unfold in 2010. (Does the over-the-door window get added to the list, then??)

a, we get to do the window if we finish the hall. So hopefully we will be ordering it by March.

I am just curious-- are you bringing things up to current code, or are you using the State Historic Building Code? Because obviously your house is entitled to use the historic building code.

Kevis, it's obvious that if we went through the paperwork, we could use the historical code (we're only provisionally on the list because the age of the house makes it significant, but we'd have to be listed for it to go into force), but right now the things we're working on wouldn't come under that heading -- no matter what, if you uncover inadequate framing and it's possible to strengthen it without altering the appearance of the house, they require you to strengthen it. Since one of our projects involves stripping walls down to the studs, that'd be a place where no matter what we have to meet current building code.

In addition, being on the list would add layers of difficulty to our one major planned renovation, which is filling out the second story with a pair of bedrooms where there is an attic right now.

And the only real benefit to us would be if we wanted to leave a lot of the historical details in place which we really don't want to leave them: it's not that we never intend to put in fire blocking, and we are upgrading the wiring, and we did remove the gas pipes, and we do intend to comply with state energy law when we do our kitchen. But we also want to replace the windows (which every window expert says need replacing) with modern multipane low-e coated windows that don't create great drafts of cold air, and we want to put in a gas fire instead of replacing the little coal fireplaces that were here.

Our city already exerts a fair amount of planning control over us (all houses built before 1946 must go through a historical planning approval process in addition to the city's ordinary planning approval), so overall by using the historical code we don't see much benefit. The only thing being ancient has given our house is a grandfathering on matters of external appearance: having handrails on the front steps. They're required by code but altering the front appearance of the house would have required a planning process, so the building inspector gave us a pass on that. However, the stairs themselves had to meet modern code.

Thanks for your update-- yes, I understand about the framing, and electrical stuff, of course you want to make any safety issues that are applicable as compliant with modern code as possible-- after all, there is a safety reason for the continually upgraded code! Anyway, not knowing the full scope of the work that you are doing, my understanding is that historic building code can be very helpful in interior work where say, you have to do some work on a staircase, normally making that staircase have to come up to code as far as stair steepness and spacing, height of railings, and so on. For many Victorians, that would mean reconfiguring the whole staircase because the existing footprint is too small to fit a less steep staircase in. That is one example of many where the historic code can be helpful.
I am surprised that your house is not on the Historic Study List. But being on the list no longer matters, as the city passed an ordinance subsequently that made all houses built pre-1942 eligible for demolition control, and the State Historic Building Code does also apply to all the pre-1942 houses. The historic building code should actually make your project easier, not harder, as it is meant to help people who have houses that do not easily conform to modern code and provides more flexibility in meeting requirements. I only bring this up because many people don't even know that it exists, or think that it will make their projects more difficult as in your bedrooms in the attic example, where state historic building code is not really applicable to having your project permitted for construction. So just in case you have not fully looked into this, a link to the city's one page explanation: is here although you have to scroll down to the part that says "State Historic Building Code" on the page. There is a link in that document to the state site that has the actual law. I don't think there is any more paperwork to fill out than you have to do for any other project on your home, because as you said you are already subject to a planning and design review process for most work because of the age of your house.

You do have a good point, Kevis, about staircases in particular. Oddly, our staircase, with its winder and everything, conforms to modern code. And since just about nothing else inside the house gives any advantage to using the historical code, and some disadvantages -- we want to make some significant changes to the inside of the house from what the original was -- we've opted not to go for that. The only advantage would have been slightly less hassle over having no handrails on the front steps, but in the end the building department let us leave them as-is as long as the stairs themselves complied (and again, the footprint fit modern code just fine).

Our house is, if I recall, on the study list, but to use the historical code it was my understanding that you needed to be on the list, which involves some paperwork. It just never seemed to be worthwhile because once you're on the list you have even stricter appearance requirements than our planning department requires.

That's great that you don't need the historical building code-- I have actually never had to use it for my house either, though it is a bit newer than yours, 1899. I have really enjoyed seeing the progress of you bringing this house up to the beauty it can be again-- although what you went through with your foundation was just incredible!

Just to clarify, the Historic Study List is The List which is confusing to many people. You can find the listing here. Your house may have been too messed up to be on it, in which case you would have to fill out some paperwork and apply to be put on it. Happily for you, no need.

Note: We're getting pummeled with spam comments, so I've turned off the ability to use any HTML or include any links for the time being. Email with any issues.

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